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Local bar associations discuss faith and immigration at St. Francis College

February 6, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Three local bar associations, including the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Brandeis Society and the Muslim Bar Association of New York, hosted a discussion on immigration last week. Pictured from left: Hon. Lizette Colon, president of the Catholic Lawyers Guild; Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, president of the Brandeis Society; Hon. Robert J. Miller; and Aimee Richter, president-elect of the Brooklyn Bar Association. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Organizers insisted that the timing was coincidental, but it couldn’t have been better as three local bar associations came together to host  a discussion on immigration titled “Can Faith Trump Walls?” at St. Francis College last Thursday.

Members of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Brandeis Society and the Muslim Bar Association of New York hosted a Faith in the Law discussion at the college while Yemeni immigrants were protesting President Donald Trump’s “immigration ban” in front of Borough Hall not even a block away.

“This is a topic that was discussed months before the election, but we never got around to organizing this event,” said Justice Robert J. Miller, who moderated the discussion. “Now, with the events of the past weekend [at JFK International Airport], and the presidential executive order, it could not be a more real topic.”

The panel included retired Justice Robert D. Weisel, the recently retired former chief immigration judge for New York and New Jersey; the Rev. Patrick Keating; Nermeen Arastu, a CUNY law professor; Nyasa Hickey, from the Brooklyn Defender Services Office; and Sharone Kaufman, from the Catholic Migration Services Office.

Despite the variety of voices and religions represented, the panelists quickly fell on to the same page, and a theme of humanity echoed throughout each of their comments.

“The talk this evening is Faith in the Law and that’s not for one faith to dominate or one person to say, ‘Well, you should do it my way as opposed to another,’” the Rev. Keating said.

Arastu explained it most succinctly when she pointed out that when it comes to immigration debates, the idea of humanity can become easily lost, but cautioned that lives are at stake when it is forgotten.

“We see humanity in all of these people,” Arastu said referring to immigrants who were held up at JFK International Airport over the final weekend in January. “There is this ‘good immigrant’ and ‘bad immigrant’ rhetoric that we’re hearing, but even those with criminal records have families. Even those who have been charged with providing some type of material support, there is someone behind that.

“Each time I sit down with a client and talk about their asylum case or their removal case, it’s amazing to me how much I learn about different cultures and different people,” Kaufman said. “The stories that I hear are often unbelievable to me because they are so far from what I know and how I grew up, but the more I meet with my client and prepare for a hearing, the more I start to understand how they’re involved in the situations they’re involved in or what they’re fighting for despite the tremendous risk to their families and themselves.”

After the discussion, there was a Q&A session in which students and members of the various bar associations were able to ask the panelists questions. These questions ranged from the actual laws being implemented, to whether or not the attorneys thought that protests helped, but the theme of humanity remained in the foreground.

The Rev. Keating referred to the situation as a “moral imperative,” and Weisel explained that while he believes in the institutions set up to protect citizens and immigrants, they are flawed and that those protecting the same institutions need to remain vigilant.

“All of us who went to Catholic school will always remember this passage from the New Testament — ‘And she brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn,’” Miller said. “And you wonder if there would have been room for him in the inn in this country. It’s a sobering thought and we must reflect on it.”


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