We have always been a country of immigrants with people from 146 different countries among the over 300 million who live in the United States. New York City where many of us live has been viewed as a sanctuary city because of our history of welcoming and living peacefully with immigrants from many different countries and religions.
Since our beginning 175 years ago Fordham has always prided itself in educating many first generation immigrants. The social work profession has had a long tradition of working with immigrants. Immigrants were our first clients when the mother of our profession Jane Adams first worked with immigrants at Hull House. Also as social workers we are very aware of our ethical responsibility to work against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability
Recently, there has been serious attacks on the way that our country, our city, our university, and our social work profession has always related to immigrants. The first was the Executive Order about building a wall between Mexico and the United States and establishing tighter control over entry into the United States. We know that building a wall would be very expensive and might not really prevent drug traffickers from entering the United States. A major concern, however, that quickly emerged and might ultimately affect our city is that according to this Executive Order police enforcement and other government agency staff are now mandated to function as immigration officials. New York City has always prided itself in our local laws 982 and 989 that have protected immigrants who had contact with the New York Police Department, the Department of Corrections, or public social service agencies from being reported to the Department of Homeland Security. A current fear is that this may about to change.
The second Executive Order on immigration was even more disturbing. Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States would bar people from seven predominately Muslim countries—Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. Syrian refugees would be indefinitely banned while the entire Refugee program has been suspended for 120 days. If immigrants from these countries are already here, their visas are suspended, and if they are abroad now or have to leave the U.S. for any reason (for example, death in family or to speak at an international conference) they will not be able to renter. In addition, all work on those seeking asylum has stopped. The President has also said that Christians seeking entry would have preference as he alleged that it has been “almost impossible” for Christian Syrians to enter the country. A 2016 Pew study, however, found that to the contrary 99% of the nearly 12,600 Syrians granted refugee status last year were Muslims.
Many Christian leaders have joined the protest even though their parishioners would not be directly affected by these changes. Others have questioned why these seven countries were selected because the citizens of these countries have never been involved in any kind of terrorist activities on U.S. soil. What is of great concern from an historical social justice perspective, however, is that we have never had an immigration barrier that restricted people from a particular religion from entering the U.S and for over a hundred years have not had any restriction on immigration based on country of origin.
The enactment of this executive order would detrimentally impact the diversity of people in our country, city, and university. At Fordham faculty and students who are Muslim and from one of these “X-rated” countries might have to leave Fordham and the U.S. and return to their countries of origin. But what is probably most disturbing for us as professional social workers committed to social justice is that this Executive Order goes against what we have always believed and promoted in our interactions with colleagues, students, and clients.
Advocacy has always been an important aspect of our work and we have been involved in many struggles over the years with some of the most notable being civil rights and women rights. In response to the most serious attack to our social justice principles that we have ever witnessed, universities, organizations and individuals have participated in advocacy activities in many ways. GSS Dean Debra McPhee quickly issued a statement that stressed the long 100 year history of GSS in supporting and working with immigrants from all backgrounds and the president of Fordham University reaffirmed his commitment to help those faculty and students who have been affected by this ban and to continue to welcome students of all backgrounds and faiths.
Our professional social work organizations have issued statements and begun advocacy work. Many students are members of our professional organization NASW and as students can join at a reduced rate. Since 2008 the NASW Code of Ethics has advised social workers and students to work against discrimination based on national origin, religion, race or immigration status. Shortly after the Executive Order was passed, national NASW distributed a blog, calling the Executive order that would effectively bar Muslims “inhumane.” All accredited social work schools are members of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) that is committed to developing and maintaining standards for social work education of BSW and MSW students. Shortly after the Executive Order to exclude immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries was issued, CSWE spoke about their support of other professional organizations who had issued statements in opposition to the President’s orders and also their plans to educate faculty and students about current issues negatively affecting our clients. The International Association of Schools of Social Work. where Fordham is a member, issued an IASSW Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order.
Our students and many others around the country have been very engaged in advocacy activities. The day after the Inauguration over ½ million people including students and their families participated in the Women March in Washington and New York City. A number of Fordham GSS students participated in this peaceful demonstration, including one of my students who was accompanied by her mother, husband and two sons.
Advocacy efforts may begin with demonstrations but not end there. Shortly after the Women’s March GSS launched the 10 actions in 100 days campaign that involved sending postcards to Senators. To continue our advocacy efforts students have formed an Advocacy group and invite all to become active in planning and executing future advocacy projects. GSS student Madeline Lee who is organzing this advocacy/social action initiative reminds us that “this is such an important time to have our voices heard and as always to work to uplift those whose voices too often are left out of the conversation.” She will be conducting a survey to find out more about what students have done and are interested in doing. Her plan also involves starting a steering committee that will include representatives from different parts of our large, complex school. This group will help develop new projects and program, as well as educate and inform us about activities where we can participate.
Because of the suddenness and unpredictability of the Executive Orders we wake up with dread each morning in anticipation of what might be next. A particular concern relates to the future of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) In November 2015 President Obama issued an Executive Order that permitted children who were not American citizens, but had grown up in the United States to pursue a path toward citizenship. This program was designed to help young people who had been brought to the United States by their parents at very young ages and had never know any other country to remain here. Although almost 3/4 million children and families have been able to benefit from DACA, the future of DACA is unknown. Because it has never become part of our “official” law, the program unfortunately can more easily be eliminated. Initial predictions about the fate of this program, however, are encouraging. Because of overwhelming support for DACA, the President may be reluctant to overturn this Executive Order of his predecessor. (NY Times article: If Trump Goes After ‘Dreamers,’ Republican Loyalty May Be Tested)
Although all may look very bleak as we seem to be on a “darkling plain”, hopefully our balance of power will help protect us from a very challenging powerful Executive. At the time this blog goes to press, Federal Judges in Seattle and San Francisco, as well as in other districts around the US, have questioned the legality of the President’s Executive Order and thus allowed immigrants from the seven barred countries to travel here. Ultimately the Supreme Court may decide whether this Executive Order which seems to be opposed to previous national and local laws, as well as Fordham’s, GSS’s, and social work’s social justice principles should be enforced. In the interim it behooves us to advocate in any peaceful way we can against what we see as very serious threats to our profession, our school, and our country.
Elaine Congress, DSW, LCSW Associate Dean & Professor Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service 113 West 60th Street New York, NY 10023 firstname.lastname@example.org