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Leon Rodriguez '84 — Humanitarian Considerations in Immigration Systems

Friday, October 21, 2022

4 p.m. – 5 p.m.

True North Classroom, Stephen Robert '62 Hall, 280 Brook Street


Join Watson Senior Fellow Leon Rodriguez '84 for a conversation about some of the themes he'll be covering in "Humanitarian Considerations in Immigration Systems: Status Quo and Imagined Future," the student study group he is leading this semester. Sarah Baldwin '87, co-creator of the Watson Institute's podcast, Trending Globally, will lead the discussion.

A frequently heard refrain in our national political discourse is that our immigration system is “broken.” While some argue that our system is overly generous, others believe that it is often cruel and restrictive in a manner contrary to our national interests and humanitarian values. Advocates, faith leaders, business executives, and police chiefs often question whether our immigration system even begins to reflect our national reality and our values. Not surprisingly, our domestic debates are echoed in many countries throughout the world.

While employment-based or family-based immigration also sparks debate, the greatest controversies surround immigration programs focused on those in need, such as currently undocumented residents of the U.S., asylum seekers, applicants for refugee status, victims of war and natural disaster, and/or those seeking to escape poverty and political chaos. Recent estimates by humanitarian organizations place the number of displaced persons throughout the world at 80 million, while the refugee admission policies of those countries willing to accept refugees sit at the tiniest fractions of that number. In the meantime, global climate change promises to bring global displacement to unprecedented and unimaginable levels.

The need for fresh and imaginative solutions to address these challenges could not be more urgent. Rodriguez will discuss the study group's work to imagine a viable future immigration system that prioritizes universal principles of humanitarianism and equity and plan an effective advocacy strategy to turn some of those ideas into policy.

Senior Fellows

Leon Rodriguez served under appointment for former President Obama as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") from 2014 to 2017. In that position, Leon directed the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and other elements of President Obama's 2014 Executive Actions on Immigration Actions. Leon also oversaw USCIS' refugee processing during the period of large-scale admission from Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Currently, Leon is a partner in the Washington, DC office of Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. He also serves on the board of HIAS, Inc., a refugee resettlement organization, and is chair of its External Affairs Committee. In addition to his service at USCIS, Leon has served in various other government positions, including as Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2011 to 2014. Leon graduated with a B.A. from Brown and a law degree from Boston College Law School.