Immigration attorney Sister Sharlet Wagner is hopeful about changing views of immigration in the US – but there’s still a long way to go.
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I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Sharlet Wagner, Executive Director of the Newcomer Network at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. The Newcomer Network provides immigration legal services to people and connects them with other necessary services, such as food, housing and health care. As you look at the area of immigration, more broadly over the years, do you see a shift when there are different administrations in the United States? A shift between administration that affects immigration policy?
I do see a shift. I don't want to overstate the shift, because, in my time as an immigration lawyer, I have repeatedly been hopeful for some broad immigration reform and repeatedly been disappointed. Part of the issue with immigration reform is that it's not the administration who can bring it about. The administration certainly has something to say, and put its weight behind it, but it's Congress. And if we can't get something through Congress, the president can't sign anything into law. I haven't seen huge changes in immigration law because bills have not been enacted by Congress. What I do see is a shift in how the law is executed, and that is up to the administration. For example, under the previous administration, there was a tremendous increase in cruelty and the way the law was applied and executed. With the current administration, there's a shift in that. There are certain things the administration can do, and is doing, as far as admissions at the border, as far as how children are treated, as far as DACA, as far as deportations, and how the law is enforced. So we see the shift in those policies, [but] we haven't seen what's really needed, [which] is the shift in the law. That's longer lasting: a shift in the policies changes with each administration, and immigrants become a political football to be kicked back and forth.
When you think about public knowledge and public perception over the years, do you think that has shifted? That people are more aware of the plight immigrants now?
I do think there is greater awareness. I see kind of a paradox of greater xenophobia, or perhaps phobia that's just more out there. You see the hatred, you hear the hatred, hear the vilification of immigrants in really astounding ways. But I also see, perhaps because of that, a greater awareness of the plight of immigrants and greater activity and willingness to take action on the part of the public and those who are sympathetic to the plight of immigrants.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.