Community Events: Wake Forest Hosts Immigration Panel Discussion

Hundreds of students, faculty, community members, and local reporters crowded into Wake Forest’s Pugh Auditorium on Feb. 3 to hear a panel of experts discuss the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. 

The event, sponsored by the Middle East and South Asian Studies and American Ethnic Studies programs, occurred just a week after Trump’s sudden travel ban of seven countries, which blocked thousands of people from entering into the U.S. and revoked 100,000 visas, according to the Washington Post. 

“There is a very real impact this is having on people,” said panelist member and immigration lawyer, Helen Parsonage, “There is currently a raging debate here in Winston-Salem whether or not to declare Winston-Salem as a sanctuary city.” 

The discussion was intended for the community to gain a better understandings of the gravity of the policy and how it affects students, staff, and Winston-Salem residents, especially as the City Council decides whether to respond to local petitions to legally declare Winston-Salem as a sanctuary city. 

Parsonage said the immigration ban has already impacted one former Wake Forest University doctor and Iraq citizen who was unable to return to his wife in Winston-Salem after his immigration visa was put on hold.

“The people that are targeted from [the ban] are not a threat to US interest as of now,” said Hank Kennedy, political and international affairs professor, “It’s going to take years to straighten out this mess.”

One female student who, like many other audience members had to sit on the floor because all the other seats had run out, held her hand over her mouth and slowly shook her head as the panelists debated the constitutionality and ethics of the travel ban. 

The student, freshman and London native, Erin McCombe, said she went to the discussion to learn more about the issue and to try to make sense of how she could get involved. 

“I feel heartbroken and nervous,” said McCombe as she walked out of the auditorium with an unsettled look on her face. 

The most haunting message that all four panelists conveyed was of the uncertainty of the long-term costs this ban could have on U.S. global relations and national security, especially as more U.S. allies continue to vocalize their opposition to the policy. 

“What we know now as we sit here may not be true on Monday,” said Parsonage. “This could only be the beginning… more countries might be added.”

When asked about what students and other individuals could do to combat the issue, law professor Margaret Taylor said, “The rallies at the airport make an important difference in showing our values and how we, as a society, have changed and our presidents don’t necessarily reflect our values as a people.” 

Due to the large turnout and success of the event, the administration has planned additional forums and events to continue to engage and inform students on current political issues. 

The university has also updated the “Community in Progress” website to direct any students who may need legal, emotional, or financial support through these turbulent political times. 

“It was encouraging to see so many students and professors come together to respectfully listen to the opinions of others,” said McCombe, “Honestly, I’m still worried about the unpredictability of Trumps actions and how this will change the lives of more immigrants and refugees.”