Campus and Community

A Note from UHD Interim President Michael A. Olivas: Tilting at Windmills and the Rule of Law

Michael A. Olivas, interim president of UHD.

Michael A. Olivas, interim president of UHD.

Dear UHD Family:

As many of you know, in my other life, I am an Immigration Law and Higher Education Law professor at the UH Law Center. I have spent most of my professional life and personal commitment to improving life for immigrants and to representing clients with legitimate claims to refuge and safe harbor. I have always considered myself an officer of the court, dedicated to zealous advocacy and a respect for all parties.

I have also labored to bring order and an educator’s concerns to bear upon students in Texas courts and legislatures, and in our nation, especially those whose parents brought them to the United States as children. As your president, I am proud that we are educating many hundreds of students, who have kept their part of the academic bargain through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other humanitarian programs of longstanding, with bipartisan support. A number of these are international treaties that cannot be abrogated with a signature or single act.

After the President of the United States signed Executive Orders to temporarily halt refugees lawfully en route to the United States—some even on U.S. soil but not yet processed through airport security—a federal judge enjoined the orders. However, persons who hold immigrant and non-immigrant visas (including tourists, students, scholars, business visitors and more than a dozen other such visas) have reasons for concern. The delay applies to seven predominantly-Muslim nations, but not to England, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, France, or other countries whose citizens or nationals have committed terrorist acts. And it is not clear whether Christians from those countries would also be affected, undermining “religion” as one of the predicates for asylum or refugee status. In other words, all bets are off until the courts rule or until Congress acts.

I write not to excite or even to quarrel, but to reassure and urge study, public discourse and robust debate. As should almost always be the foundation, let’s begin with literature, such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote, who satirizes nationalism and tilts against windmills, and Shakespeare, who once again shows his timeless relevance when Dick the Butcher in Henry VI urges: ”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (Part II, Act IV, Scene II)

Today, it is lawyers who have already begun to throw sand into the gears, requiring more adherence to long-settled law and constitutional norms. In my many years as a lawyer and law professor, I have suffered the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory, but I have never been as proud of my profession as now. In December, I invited UHLC colleagues and my former students, who now serve as immigration lawyers, to provide consultation for students at UHD. All sides of any argument in our system deserve and require advocacy and an informed polity. Where else will we find a better laboratory or debate platform than at UHD?

UHD students hail from many different countries and communities. At present time, we have three students who are from the seven countries impacted by the Executive Order.  I urge tolerance toward your fellow students, faculty and staff members at this time. Opinions about the U.S. President’s policies will no doubt be mixed, but let’s respect each other and engage in meaningful discourse. We will not tolerate harassment or hateful dialogue at this institution.

Let us step back from events, to inform ourselves of the issues, and to act charitably to all who are our neighbors and fellow Gators. At the end of this message, I’ve included several resources that may help, and we will compile and make widely available such materials. Everyone who chooses UHD and who is admitted into our community belongs there, and we must respond accordingly.

We have many such resources, and dedicated people who are here to assist. If any UHD student is directly affected by this particular policy change, please contact Student Affairs, so we can identify any ameliorative responses that may be available. Students also can visit Student Counseling Services if they are in distress and our Center for Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for further support.

Even over the weekend, UHLC Immigration Clinic lawyers were at Houston airports, identifying problems and acting on behalf of clients in changing and confusing situations.

UHD international students, staff, and scholars from any nation covered by the ban should hold off on any personal or professional travel outside the United States until the return pathways are more clearly defined.

I thank all the faculty and staff who have invested in our students, and I always remember that it is UHD students whom we have chosen to serve. We are committed to the dignity, autonomy, and safety of all our members.

Michael

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