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18th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference
September 27, 2021


18th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference

Multimedia Tabs


2021 ImmConf: Rebuilding a U.S. Asylum System in Crisis

2021 ImmConf: Access to Justice for Immigrants & Asylum Seekers in Immigration Proceedings

2021 ImmConf: The Future of Immigration in an Era of New Social and Political Realities

After years of intense government rhetoric, policies and practices focused on deterring all aspects of immigration and painting immigrants as economic and national security threats, is the United States poised to turn the page? Top experts at the 2021 Immigration Law and Policy Conference offered analysis on the status of where we are, eight months into the Biden administration; examined crucial, often overlooked topics; and shared their visions of the future and how immigration law and policy can respond to our changing world in a manner that is humane and in the national interest.    

This year's conference, put on by the Migration Policy Institute, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and the Georgetown University Law Center, was a virtual event and consisted of two half-days on Sept. 27 - 28 (afternoons Eastern Time). 

September 27

2 p.m. ET: KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas


3 p.m. ET: PANEL: Scrambled by Policy Shifts & COVID-19: The State of Play for Immigration

The shift from an administration that sought to reduce immigration across the board to one that views immigrants as a national asset was made even choppier by a global pandemic that chilled migration in 2020 while also making push factors more acute. Facing the latest in a cyclical series of migration spikes at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration has advanced an ambitious policy portfolio, including getting legalization through Congress; restarting an immigration adjudications system slowed by pandemic disruptions and rising case backlogs; working collaboratively with Mexico, Central America, and other neighboring countries on a regional approach to migration management and humanitarian protection that could result in more legal and predictable migration over the longer term; and tackling root causes driving migrant journeys.

Yet deep partisan divides, public anxiety over the rising numbers of border arrivals, the complexity of unraveling Trump policies amid a pandemic, opposition from Texas and other conservative states, and tensions among immigrant advocates anxious for faster movement all complicate the administration’s agenda. And overhanging the situation is the fact that a Congress with a razor-thin Democratic majority could revert to Republican control in 2023.

This discussion focused on the extraordinary shifts in immigration policy from Trump to Biden, what may be doable in Congress and by the administration, and what the future of immigration policy and politics looks like in the year ahead.

Moderator:  Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow and Director, U.S. Immigration Policy Program, MPI

  • Michelle Hackman, Immigration Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
  • Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Race and Ethnicity Research, Pew Research Center
  • Kevin Madden, Executive Vice President of Advocacy, Arnold Ventures; and former Senior Strategist and Spokesman, Republican presidential campaigns and congressional leadership
  • Anthony Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

4:30 p.m. ET: PANEL: Rebuilding a U.S. Asylum System in Crisis 

The U.S. asylum system has had serious problems for some time. Previous administrations have focused especially on those seeking asylum along the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico, utilizing expedited removal and credible fear screening to process arrivals. This focus shifted resources away from the affirmative asylum system for those seeking protection within the United States, which had been the principal mode of application for more than two decades. After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) focused its asylum officers on border asylum screenings, the caseload for affirmative asylum applications became seriously backlogged, with nearly 400,000 cases as of mid-2021. Moreover, since the implementation of expedited removal in 1997 until the latter part of the Trump administration, asylum officers have determined that a large majority of asylum seekers met the credible fear standard. Their cases are then decided in immigration court removal proceedings, where the asylum docket now exceeds 600,000 applications.

Panelists discuss the challenges of applying the border screening system (expedited removal) to large numbers of humanitarian arrivals, including the Biden administration’s announcement of a new role for asylum officers in an effort to take some pressure off the immigration courts. Panelists also consider protection issues raised by the arrival of many Central Americans who have tried to escape serious violence as well as the consequences of climate change-affected disasters and structural economic insecurity, often to join family already in the United States. The conversation also focuses on issues of regional protection as well as complementary pathways to protection that can work alongside the Refugee Convention and asylum laws. Experts discuss these challenges to the U.S. asylum system and how best to address the humanitarian migration that brings asylum seekers to the United States and elsewhere in the region.

Moderator: Andrew I. Schoenholtz, Professor from Practice and Director, Human Rights Institute and Center for Applied Legal Studies, Georgetown University Law Center

  • Alvaro Botero, Chief – Unit on Refugees and Forced Displacement, Department of Social Inclusion, Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, Organization of American States (OAS)
  • Ted Kim, Deputy Director, Refugee, Asylum and International Operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Laura Peña, Director, Racial and Economic Justice, Texas Civil Rights Project

September 28
2 p.m. ET: PANEL: Looking Beyond the Border: Ensuring Access to Justice for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers in Immigration Proceedings 

While attention to immigration enforcement has been focused almost entirely on the U.S.-Mexico border, changes in enforcement policies and practices beyond the border have also been part of the Biden administration’s vision and promises. Detention of immigrants continues to decline as compared to the numbers during the last administration. Both the enforcement agencies and the immigration courts have regained authority to carry out their functions under guidelines focused on public safety and exercising discretion to better manage workloads. These measures leave unauthorized immigrant men, women, and families in communities across the country largely beyond the bounds of enforcement priorities. They represent important signs of much-needed future changes for the estimated 11 million in the unauthorized population in the United States, the majority of whom have lived in the United States for more than a decade.

“Looking Beyond the Border” explores the role of state and local authorities in protecting public safety in communities of both unauthorized and U.S.-born residents. The discussion addresses issues relating to access to justice in the immigration courts, current challenges in the system, and ways to ensure respect for the dignity and rights of all immigrants and asylum seekers, regardless of race, orientation, or status. Panelists will address the urgent need to expand access to legal representation through a number of means, with the goal of universal representation.

Moderator: Anna Gallagher, Executive Director, CLINIC

  • Jojo Annobil, Executive Director, Immigrant Justice Corps
  • Sheriff Garry L. McFadden, Sheriff, Mecklenburg County (NC) Sheriff’s Office
  • Mimi Tsankov, President, National Association of Immigration Judges

3:30 p.m. ET: PANEL: The Future of Immigration in an Era of New Social and Political Realities

Immigration policymaking has been a highly uncertain endeavor over the past two decades, with endless predictable and unanticipated twists and turns largely stymying any momentum for significant legislative change. The one continuing result: Legislative stasis on anything other than immigration enforcement spending.

Several new political and social realities now overlay this already polarized space: The arrival of a global pandemic that has prompted a significant slowdown in immigration to the United States and shined new light on the roles that immigrants play as essential workers; the pendulum swing from an administration that used every executive lever of power to halt migration in all its forms to one that is seeking to unwind many of those actions; and deep demographic and labor market changes, with the U.S. population experiencing the slowest population growth this past decade than all but one other period since census counts first began in 1790, and immigration leveling off since the Great Recession of 2008.

In this environment, what are the prospects for Congress to wade into this highly contested policy landscape and emerge with solutions that can gain bipartisan support? What administration policies might contribute to changing key immigration policy outcomes? Experts examine the prospects for legalization for particular unauthorized immigrant populations as well as broader legislative and administrative reforms to an immigration system that was last revised in 1990, in light of the role that immigration is playing in current U.S. population and labor market trends and what that future could look like.

Moderator:  Muzaffar Chishti, MPI Senior Fellow and Director, MPI’s office at NYU School of Law, MPI

  • Charles Kamasaki, Senior Cabinet Advisor, UnidosUS
  • Esther Olavarria, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Immigration, The White House
  • Pia Orrenius, Vice President and Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
  • Bob Worsley, Former Arizona Republican State Senator; Founder, SkyMall, NZ Legacy, and ZenniHomes

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