Immigration attorneys Mike Murray and Sara Fleming of FordMurray Law in Portland spoke at Bowdoin on Monday to address President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and answer student questions. 

Murray and Fleming noted that the haste of the administration’s policies have taken many immigration lawyers by surprise, making it difficult to predict how future scenarios will play out. 

“This administration is really taking actions that we haven’t seen before and it’s raising laws that I never even knew were on the books,” Murray said. 

The pair first discussed the implications of the Trump administration’s travel ban, an executive order that banned nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries as well as all refugees. The ban is currently suspended. A federal judge in Washington granted a nationwide order that halted its implementation last Friday, and a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld the Washington judge’s order yesterday. 

Murray said that Trump does have the legal authority to ban certain foreign individuals from entering the country, citing U.S. Code 1182, which states the president can “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants.” The statute says that the president can restrict immigration when they find it necessary and does not need a good reason or cause, Murray specified.

Still, Murray said the ban’s constitutionality remains in question. He cited a provision of the ban which allows the Secretary of Homeland Security and the State Department to make exceptions and admit certain individuals, including members of minority religious groups. If this part of the executive order turns out to be favoring Christians—who are a minority religious group in much of the Middle East—then the order could violate the establishment clause of the first amendment, which dictates that the government cannot favor one religion over another. 

Given the significance of the case, Murray expects it to ultimately end up before the Supreme Court. 

The attorneys also addressed President Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities, which suggested the federal government would try to take away funding from municipalities that did not assist in immigration enforcement. The attorneys said that the term sanctuary cities—generally referring to cities that do not enforce federal immigration laws—was not a legally defined concept but a political term.

Though the federal government generally enforces immigration laws, state and municipal government can choose to voluntarily assist federal immigration enforcement but are not legally required to do so. As a result, Murray was skeptical of the impact of the executive order.

“There’s really not a lot of teeth to that because there really isn’t much federal funding that’s given to states and cities to enforce these laws,” he said. 

Murray also noted that the executive order did not include any mandate for colleges like Bowdoin. 

“One great thing about it is that it doesn’t at all address whether private institutions like colleges and universities have to come into these agreements to enforce federal law,” he said. “It’s just not there. They didn’t reach that far.”

Fleming then addressed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program under the Obama administration that allows individuals who were brought to the United States undocumented as children to register with the government and receive a two-year relief from deportation as well as permission to work. 

During his campaign, Trump promised to repeal DACA upon taking office, but he has left the program intact so far. 

“DACA has been pretty popular across the board,” Fleming said. “I think there is a lot of empathy on both sides of the aisle for people who were brought here as children and who grow up in the U.S. and just want to continue their lives here.” 

She noted that the BRIDGE Act, a bill proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durban (D-Ill.) which would allow DACA-eligible individuals to continue living in the United States, replace DACA if the Trump administration dismantles the program. However, she questioned whether any immigration proposal would make it through the House of Representatives. 

The pair answered questions, both from the audience and from students who had anonymously submitted questions before the event. One anonymous student question asked about marrying an undocumented friend in order to give them legal status. 

“You are a very good friend. Friend goals,” Murray said. “However, you may not do that. You can’t do that. That is against federal law. It is a felony. It is visa fraud.” 

Although marriage to a U.S. citizen can give an undocumented person legal status, the marriage has to be real, Murray said. Trained immigration officers will interrogate married couples to make sure they actually plan on creating a life together. 

Another anonymous question asked about the politics of illegal immigration: “What’s so wrong about wanting people to enter the country legally?” 

In response, Murray said that immigration laws have not been equally enforced. 

“The immigration system is broken in many ways,” he said. “The Canadian border is much more open and porous than the southern border, so there is many times a very selective enforcement of immigration laws.”

Murray pointed out that the majority of undocumented immigrants are not actually from Mexico, and added that even if the United States perfectly secured its borders, the question of how to address these undocumented immigrants would remain. 

“If we came to a place where we felt, ‘OK, finally we are properly regulating who can come in and out of the United States,’ then at that point I think it’s only fair to legalize everyone who is here in the United States without perfect status,” Murray said. “Presidents again and again and again, whether Republican or Democratic, have decided not to do a mass removal or deportation of individuals who are here without proper status. If we are going to let people in that situation live here, we should give them full rights … We shouldn’t have a second class of citizens who feel as if they can’t reach out to law enforcement or public agencies if they need help.” 

Students’ reactions to the talk were overwhelmingly positive. 

“Very often in the media that information is watered or dumbed-down so that the regular consumer to understand it,” said Ural Mishra ’20. “So to get it straight from an expert who is well-versed in their field, I think that was really great.” 

Mingo Sanchez ’17 echoed that sentiment, saying that the talk clarified issues that he had previously heard of but not fully understood. 

“I was really surprised to learn that sanctuary cities are not really a thing, that there isn’t a formal definition for that,” Sanchez said. 

Several students said they hoped the administration would sponsor similar, expert-led events in the future. 

“More talks like this are great,” said Ellie Heywood ’19. “I think that’s what I want to see.”