Immigration activists push for law changes in Detroit Mercy talk

Jose Arnulfo Cabrera / Photo from Ignatian Solidarity Network


Jose Arnulfo Cabrera was 4 when he came from Mexico to the United States, and separated from his mother.

“The trauma that comes from that is horrible,” he said.

Cabrera is now the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s director of education and advocacy for migration.

He and professor Alex Vernon, head of Detroit Mercy’s immigration law clinic, spoke March 10 in an online panel as part of the university’s Undocu-Student Week.

Cabrera and Vernon shared insights on immigration policy, undocumented youth and the current state of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Cabrera, who immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, is a former DACA recipient.

A 2018 graduate of Xavier University, he worked as a government relations associate, lobbying on behalf of the Catholic Social Justice in Washington, D.C., before joining the Ignatian network.

Cabrera sees the current immigration system as broken.

He said the U.S. Citizenship Act would be a huge stride forward for immigration reform.

Among other things, it would replace the term “alien” with “non-citizen," he said.

“This is a big first step in addressing how we look at a human being,” he said. “…Part of this first step is removing those harmful words that remove the idea of a human being.”

The bill would grant lawful status to undocumented immigrants for five years and then give them the ability to apply for a green card.

“Those who have TPS (temporary protected) status, are DACA recipients or are farm workers, they can automatically apply for green cards,” he said.

This bill would help unify families who have been separated by deportation, help countries facing crisis so that citizens do not feel pressured to leave them and distribute Visas more diversely, he said.

Vernon, the law clinic director, lives in Windsor, Canada. He crosses the border to teach his students daily.

He explained various changes to immigration law happening under the Biden administration.

Among those that took place on the first night of Biden’s tenure was a White House memorandum freezing specific immigration regulations that were scheduled to go in effect under the Trump administration

In addition, Biden issued a presidential proclamation ending various bans of entry to the United States, and an executive order revising civil immigration enforcement priorities.

Of the events taking place later, Vernon discussed an executive order revoking presidential actions that left undocumented immigrants out of the census count, one dealing with diverted funds for border wall construction and a memorandum reinstating deferred enforced departure for Liberians.

In the Q&A portion of the event, Cabrera was asked how young activists can get involved in advocating for immigrants.

A huge step is joining and organizing advocate groups, he said.

“Building a community that tries to educate others and tries to create events like these where we have conversation about immigration is one of the best things,” he said.

He was asked about the psychological impact of being an undocumented immigrant and separated from his mom as a boy.

Both he and his mother ended up with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the experience, he said.

He added that he worries how any child will be able to deal with their own separation-induced trauma as they get older.