Texas immigration advocate urges compassion

The phrase “home is where the heart is” evokes an entirely different feeling for those whose homelands are economically challenged or volatile. 

The above statement ties asylum seekers, migrants and immigrants together in a common bond. 

Amrutha Jindal, chief defender attorney at nonprofit advocacy organization Restoring Justice, expressed her concerns about our country’s past and current treatment of those who come to our borders for a chance at a new life in a keynote discussion earlier this month called “Bridges Not Fences: Intersections & Immigration,” hosted by University Ministry and Titan Dreamers.

Jindal is responsible for overseeing Restoring Justice’s legal programming and advocacy efforts as well as representing the organization’s clients in criminal cases.

Before her introduction, the poem, “Home” by Warsan Shire, was read by Marina Mahmud and Juan Munoz-Ponce, members of Titan Dreamers.

The poem reflects why people leave their homelands in search of asylum.  

Jindal said she found both the poem and program title to be a fitting opening to her immigration talk. 

“[Too many immigration policies are] focused on the fences that we put up rather than the bridges that we allow for people to come in,” Jindal said. “Those fences are often rooted in systemic racism and prejudice.” 

Jindal took 10 minutes to cover core needs of individuals, history of immigration and the criminalization of immigration. The history of this country’s immigration policies, she argued, has centered on a process that only allows certain people entry. 

Jindal is not only the chief attorney for Restoring Justice, but also currently works as the chief defender for people affected by Operation Lone Star, a program launched last year by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to curb illegal immigration and capture migrants entering the country from Mexico. 

Most detainees are Spanish-speaking males in their 20s and 30s trying to escape their countries’ dangerous conditions or help their families, not criminals looking to enter the country to do harm, Jindal said.

 “I’m not a criminal,” she said one of her clients told her. “I was coming here for work…to support my family.” 

After Jindal’s opening, each of the 5 panelists gave a brief overview of different topics based on questions from co-moderator Erin McDonald. Topics ranged from in-depth descriptions of various immigration policies to treatment of individuals at the border.  

Panelists included Professor Alex Vernon, J.D., an expert in immigration law; Dr. Charles Muwonge, Director of Special Projects in the Students Service Department at Macomb Community College, and a Ugandan native; Jose’ Arnulfo Cabrera, a former DACA recipient; Monica Vasquez, a Chilean American who is a nurse and current student at University of Detroit Mercy; and Odinga Cleophas Owino, a Kenyan national and a Jesuit who is in his first year at the University of Detroit Mercy.