Nithya Nathan-Pineau of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Scott Michelman emphasize their organization’s actions regarding immigration advocacy and education
By Leo Versel
Though they have advocated and acted in different ways, Nithya Nathan-Pineau and Scott Michelman share a common commitment to addressing the legal struggles and mistreatment that many immigrants to the United States face.
Nathan-Pineau, from the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Scott Michelman were both panelists at a Teach-In on Immigration organized by D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose on February 26.
In separate interviews following the teach-in, Nathan-Pineau and Michelman spoke about their organization’s work in immigration, explained how immigration activism has changed since the start of the presidential campaign, and related what has given them optimism despite Trump’s actions on immigration.
“I was hoping the audience would leave today’s presentation understanding the urgent need for engagement and some concrete ways they could get involved,” said Nathan-Pineau, Director of the Detained Children’s Program at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR).
“I wanted to inspire and motivate people to act, and to not feel hopeless,” Nathan-Pineau added.
According to Nathan-Pineau, her organization represents detained immigrant men, women, and children who are in custody of the federal government due to immigration violations in Maryland and Virginia.
Regarding the program Nathan-Pineau oversees, the website for CAIR’s “Detained Children’s Program” says that the initiative serves children between ages 9 and 17 through conducting “Know Your Rights” presentations, individual consultations, and direct legal representation or referrals. Nathan-Pineau’s program is one of three initiatives promoted by the non-profit organization.
“We represent people from all over the world,” Nathan-Pineau said. “In our Unaccompanied Children’s Program, we advocate for children from the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico, as well as children from regions of the Middle East and West Africa. It’s truly a global focus.”
Michelman, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the District of Columbia, has worked on a range of civil liberties issues, including immigrant rights, and teaches Constitutional Law at American University’s Washington College of Law.
“What brought me to the teach-in was an interest in helping educate people about the recent administration’s actions on immigration, and helping people understand the constitutional values at stake,” Michelman said. “I hope the audience learned from the teach-in what has happened, and what is wrong with what has happened.”
Michelman said that his organization represents anyone who has had their rights violated by the government. The ACLU advocates through legal representation, policy advocacy, and public education. Per the ACLU of D.C.’s “Immigrants’ Rights” web page, the ACLU advocates for the rights of immigrants, refugees, and non-citizens by “challenging unconstitutional laws and practices and countering the myths upon which many anti-immigrant laws are based.”
Since presidential campaigning began in 2015, Michelman said that immigration advocacy has changed in a number of ways.
“I think that people who are anti-immigrant have felt emboldened to express their view and become more intolerant of immigrants,” Michelman explained. “On the flip side, I think a lot of people without preconceived views about the role of immigrants in the United States have woken up to the dangers, prejudices, and terrible circumstances that many immigrants face.”
“I hope that when this wave of terrible policies passes,” Michelman continued, “we will have an American populace that is more educated, more aware, and more concerned about the plight of immigrants.”
Nathan-Pineau believes that the presidential campaign increased the need for greater immigration advocacy and awareness.
“I think the need is more acute because the rhetoric is so dividing,” Nathan Pineau said. “People are really afraid, and it’s important for the immigrant community, and for those who believe in civil rights, justice, and basic dignity and equality, to speak up for their beliefs.”
“It’s essential for Americans to know that immigrants are an important group in the United States,” Nathan-Pineau continued, “and that we won’t let this hateful rhetoric change the way that we live our lives.”
Nathan-Pineau and Michelman both feel strongly about the Trump administration’s immigration policies, although their organizations have responded in different ways.
“We are out in the community more trying to conduct immigration rights presentations, and trying to make sure people are aware of their Fourth Amendment rights in interactions with ICE,” Nathan-Pineau said. “Our work continues and becomes even more important as more people face detention and deportation.”
Michelman briefly described the ACLU’s legal response to President Trump’s executive order, which barred entry to the United States by refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Earlier in February, lawyers at the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center asked a Maryland federal court for an injunction to stop the government from reducing the number of refugees arriving in the US this year.
“We’ve sued many times now and in many places, seeking to have the orders overturned,” Michelman described. “We have also advocated publicly for changes in policy.”
As President Trump’s policies regarding immigration begin to take effect and impact Nathan-Pineau and Michelman’s constituents, both panelists said their organizations will ramp up a response.
“I think that the ACLU will be ramping up activity on all fronts to try to combat any violations of the constitution or civil rights liberties,” Michelman said.
Nathan-Pineau described the needs that the Capital Area Immigrants Rights’ Coalition will require to respond to a greater number of immigrant detentions.
“In the next year, I know we expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who are detained, so we will need more resources to be able to represent and provide counsel to more people,” Nathan Pineau said.
“I also see a lot of need in the community for education and for people to have access to good immigration information,” added Nathan-Pineau. “It will be very important to keep people abreast of what’s happening and the trends in immigration policy as the changes come out. That’s where we’re focusing our energy.”
Nathan-Pineau said that the successful legal challenges in support of immigrants’ rights have given her some hope with regards to this issue.
“One thing that I will remember from this last month is a pro-bono attorney who had a successful outcome in an asylum case, and the impact that had on the client and the team who worked with her,” said Nathan-Pineau.
“What gives me and my organization hope is that even amid some of the difficult news coming from the administration, we are still having success in immigration court and in the asylum office.” Nathan-Pineau added. “It’s important to keep the successes in mind.”