048 | Susan J. Cohen | Donald Trump's immigration legacy

Joe Biden campaigned on massive immigration reform. Here's what he's inherited, what he's already changed... and what he still hasn't.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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Susan J Cohen is an American immigration lawyer who has seen the last few decades of US immigration policy. She is the founding partner of the immigration law practice at Boston firm Mintz, an author and a songwriter. In 2017 she was part of a small band of legal minds who fought the so-called "Muslim ban" in court and won a short-lived victory. Here she talks about the immigration situation Joe Biden has inherited and what has changed and hasn't in the first two years of his presidency.

In this episode

  • πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ What President Biden's intentions are and what he tasked Kamala Harris with
  • 🦠 Title 42, Remain in Mexico and other programs used to keep asylum seekers at bay
  • πŸ‡²πŸ‡½ Record numbers of arrests at the Southern border
  • πŸ‡­πŸ‡³ πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡» πŸ‡¬πŸ‡Ή πŸ‡­πŸ‡Ή What's happening in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala or Haiti that's making people move north
  • 😰 The lasting impact of the Trump years on immigrants, lawyers and activists

πŸ“š Journeys from There to Here: Stories of Immigrant Trials, Triumphs and Contributions. Susan J Cohen, with Steven Taylor. River Grove Books, 2021. Buy it here. (This affiliate link supports Borderline.)

🎢 Beyond the Borders and Looking for the Angels, written by Susan Cohen and performed by students and alumni of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachussetts.

Show notes

[00:00:16] Intro
[00:01:32] The immigration situation Joe Biden inherited
[00:05:21] Title 42 and Remain in Mexico: How the US keeps lawful asylum-seekers at bay
[00:08:49] What it's like to wait at the US Southern border
[00:12:43] A historical record for arrests at the Southern border
[00:15:13] What's happening in Central America and Haiti to push people north
[00:18:42] The massive problems we'd need to solve to stem migration flows
[00:22:27] Patterns of discrimination and aggression at the border
[00:26:58] How the American public feels about immigration
[00:29:46] Changing the perception of immigrants


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[00:00:00] Susan Cohen: We can only counter these broad brush, negative stereotypes by telling individual stories of human beings, what they've gone through, what they had to overcome just to get here, which shows, you know, what they're made of.

[00:00:16] Intro

[00:00:16] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:23] If you don't live in the U S, you might've not heard about it for a little while. There were years when that's all we could hear, but things got pretty quiet since a certain president left office.

[00:00:35] We're nearly two years, believe it or not, into the Biden administration. And one of the big things that Joe Biden campaigned on was immigration reform. So how much has changed for immigrants in or immigrants to the United States?

[00:00:50] Today, I'm speaking with someone who has seen the last few decades of US immigration in action. Susan Cohen is one of the country's top immigration lawyers recognized by more words than I can cite here. She's also consulted with the US government agencies on some of their immigration policy. She is the founding chair of the immigration law practice at the law firm Mintz, an author of ~"~Journeys from There to Here~"~ in which she talks about a few of her clients and their own path to the United States. And she is, I learned just before interviewing her, a songwriter as well. So the music you're hearing on the podcast today is hers, and aptly it is immigration-themed.

[00:01:32] The immigration situation Joe Biden inherited

[00:01:32] Susan Cohen: Thank you for having me.

[00:01:38] Isabelle Roughol: That's a lot of, uh, that's a lot of skills in one woman. I'm impressed.

[00:01:41] Let's start with the news, and the politics. Um, so I'm here based in Europe. We hear a lot about immigration obviously and refugees at the moment, but I was really curious to, um, take a look across the Atlantic as well. We're, hard to believe, almost two years into the Biden presidency uh, and he had campaigned on, on pretty major immigration reform and overhauling that system. So now nearly two years into it, is he making good on those promises?

[00:02:13] Susan Cohen: Well, the, the answer to that question is, is the complicated answer. I think he's, he's certainly has very good intentions with respect to reforming immigration and making it more humane in the United States and changing a lot of the very restrictive uh, policies and practices that were put into place by the Trump administration.

[00:02:37] So he's coming on the heels of it incredibly xenophobic and restrictive immigration program, uh, that was carried out relentlessly by the Trump administration. And the Trump administration changed about 400 different policies, regulations, and infrastructure-related issues regarding the immigration courts, the processing of immigration cases, the lack of discretion that previously had been granted to adjudicators with them, the agencies inside us citizenship and immigration services, inside the courts, the immigration judges...

[00:03:17] So President Biden, I know, did campaign on an immigration reform platform and I think he really meant it. And he is just facing the reality that it's a really enormous problem to tackle, to try to make all of these changes and reforms to system where things are so deeply embedded, within the agency and within the mindset of some of the officers and people that work within the different agencies inside the Department of Homeland security.

[00:03:53] I think his intentions are very good. He has started to make some good changes, for example up until a few days to go; we didn't have any more travel bans relating to COVID. We were all very happy that the travel bans had finally come to come to a stop. And then he, as you ensure, saw just instituted a new, a new travel ban with respect to this new variant of the virus that impacts a number of countries in Africa, in Southern Africa.

[00:04:22] I am of the opinion that the travel bans are an inappropriate mechanism to try to contain the virus inside the United States. I think testing and proof of vaccination should be more than sufficient to make a determination about whether someone could come into the US or not. I think it's partially a political tool and it looks good, I think, across the base to the other side of the aisle to institute these travel ban.

[00:04:54] So that's just one thing that, you know, he, he has tried to resend a number of asylum related practices that were really repressive and that made a mockery of ideas of due process and justice in the immigration context for asylum seekers and those seeking to make the case why they should be allowed into the country.

[00:05:21] Title 42 and Remain in Mexico: How the US keeps lawful asylum-seekers at bay

[00:05:21] Susan Cohen: But he continued, he has continued, um, you know, some of the really awful and I would argue unlawful practices that the Trump administration carried out, particularly at the Southern border by utilizing our public health law, which is called Title 42 of the US code, which they, I believe, really manipulated to use it as a weapon to prevent immigrants was crossing into the country from the Mexican border, into the United States and they interpreted it, I think, and many courts, I believe the same, incorrectly to say that they believe the law gives US government the right to repel or expel migrants at the Southern border. The law doesn't actually say that. Um, it's an interpretation. That's a bit of a stretch. So that issue is in the courts.

[00:06:23] And, we could talk for hours about all of the restrictions that the Trump immigration folks put into place, but you know, one of the most shameful things, I think, that happened was that for all the people who were fleeing and seeking many cases as asylum at the US border, they instituted this Remain in Mexico program, which had never existed before, to prevent people from being admitted into the US even just to make the case or to make the argument whether or not they had a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

[00:07:00] And it had never happened before in the history of immigration, the United States, that asylum seekers, those who. There, you know, kind of a well-founded fear of persecution, wouldn't even be allowed to explain the facts of their own situation and why at least the government should hear them out and make a determination, make a determination about whether they had, or didn't have a credible fear, uh, or a reasonable fear of persecution.

[00:07:29] Certainly not just a right under immigration law in United States, but it's under international law. We signed onto the protocols, you know, um, the UN to respect the obligations of those treaties and those agreements that we've entered, entered into that they get black and white clear that if someone is fleeing persecution and claims a well founded fear, that the person has the right to request asylum, regardless of whether they cross the border legally or not cross the border legally. They have the right to request asylum. Whether the government agrees with them or not as a totally different issue, but as a matter of process and justice and fairness, they should have their, their cases heard.

[00:08:18] But under the Trump administration, what they did was they basically, they sent everybody back and wouldn't let anyone in. People are coming up through central America. Some of them are coming from other countries, Cuba, Haiti, South America, sometimes from Europe, we've had clients from Turkey and other countries and make the trip and find a way to get to Mexico and then try to come up through the border because they couldn't get in to the United States any other way and they were fleeing persecution.

[00:08:49] What it's like to wait at the US Southern border

[00:08:49] Susan Cohen: So for years, people have been waiting on the other side of the border. These are families in many cases with very young children. It's extremely dangerous down there. They don't have any good shelter situations. You know, many of the shelters that would provide beds filled up very quickly. You know, there are a lot of good shelters that are run by religious organizations and other groups at the near the border towns, but there aren't enough beds for people. And so, you know, many of these families have been just trying to camp out and find a place that's not too unsafe to spend the night, trying to get food.

[00:09:25] They just have that set up a system that required the immigrant themselves to sort of monitor their status about when they would maybe get a hearing in the United States. And what ended up happening was that because people had to move around and still do have to move around so much, they have no security, they have no roof over their heads. They don't have a computer. Um, they're being preyed upon, you know, constantly by you know, a lot of bad elements that hang out down there. Many times people wouldn't get any kind of email or message from the US citizenship and immigration service or ice that they might have a chance even to cross the border, to have a hearing.

[00:10:10] So huge percentage of people missed their hearings. And then I think that it was intentional and what during the Trump years actually to, um, cause as much discomfort and pain, frankly, to people that they would, you know, discourage them from coming and then they missed their, they missed their hearings. You know, then , they would get actually deported in absentia, but they'd never even gotten to the United States, you know, so they have to record against them. So there's a lot of that actually.

[00:10:43] Um, so Biden inherited all of that and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The kinds of things that he inherited, walked into is a very big problem to try solve, how to manage the Southern border, but it could be much more humanly done. And I don't think they should use title 42 to expel people on public health grounds. They could test them, they could quarantine them and they could put them up, um, and, and have them enter the country and have hearings. And if they don't win, then they, they have to leave. But, um, it's, you know, it needs to be done in a much more humane fashion because what people have suffered down there is atrocious. You know, many people have suffered in ways we can barely imagine.

[00:11:27] Isabelle Roughol: We have, um, similar strategies, if you can call them that, here in the UK, where, uh, um, there's what they call the hostile environment, which is a strategy they, they stole from counter-terrorism actually, which is to make life so difficult on, uh, on migrants, even if they're completely legal and do things by the rules, but to make it so unbearable that people will give up, and walk away... which by the way, does not work. It just makes them undocumented. They don't actually walk away because there's nowhere else for them to go to. So, um, and, and similarly, you know, not letting people arrive in the country to, to claim asylum as they're entitled to. Unfortunately, it's, uh, Those strategies are being implemented. I think, um, all over the rich world, it seems.

[00:12:14] Susan Cohen: That seems to be a growing very negative trend, unfortunately. And you know, the numbers of people in the world that will need protection are going to just keep growing due to so many factors, right, that we know about like climate change and increasingly repressive regimes and food insecurity, like you said, so we have to figure out a way to do it better, don't you think?

[00:12:43] A historical record for arrests at the Southern border

[00:12:43] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. So, so within that context, we heard recently it was reported that Us authorities had made,, I think it was 1.7 million arrests for border crossings in the fiscal year 2021, that it was a, uh, a historical record. So what's happening there. Is it genuinely an increase in a number of people who want to seek refuge in the United States? Is it just those policies that mean we keep arresting the same people over and over again? W what's happening?

[00:13:12] Susan Cohen: Yeah. Some like, I think some significant percentage are repeat, uh, crossers or attempting crossers, then I don't know what percentage exactly. But I think that also speaks to the issue you just said, which is, you know, the fact that where people came from life became intolerable and they have no other option. So they're going to keep trying. The numbers, I think are particularly high. Um, this, this year, perhaps because people haven't all gotten the message, the Biden administration has tried to send to beg people, to try to, to make things work in their home countries. And then they're not going to be letting everyone in.

[00:13:58] I think that there was an anticipation when he was running and after he got elected among a lot of the populations that the doors would just open, which of course is not, is not correct, but the messages don't always get through.

[00:14:15] There are so many institutional problems in many of the countries that the people are, are migrating from that I think the numbers will continue to be high. Um, they'll probably go up and down like they always do. They might not always be as high as they are now. At certain times of year, it goes down based on weather patterns and things, but I don't think it's going to stop.

[00:14:40] But it, the prior administration made it, they kept calling it a border crisis, a migration crisis. The numbers are not really astronomical and we could deal with them. It's really messaging that makes it sound much worse than it is. And what the Trump administration did was they just threw everybody in jail. And so, you know, the prisons were filling up. They're building more prisons to hold immigrants who are being detained pending immigration hearings.

[00:15:13] What's happening in Central America and Haiti to push people north

[00:15:13] Susan Cohen: But what the Trump administration also did, which President Biden wants to counteract, and he has kind of tasked Kamala Harris to do it, is to reinvest in infrastructure building and some of the countries that the people are fleeing from, for example, the Northern triangle countries. So El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras so that the country's infrastructure improves to a point where, you know, at least it becomes more tolerable and safer to live there. But there's a lot of food insecurity and there's a lot, there's a lot of violence.

[00:15:52] See what happens now in on-duty. Looks like the first woman just may, may well be the next person, a woman president and she's campaigned on a reform platform. So maybe she'll be able to make some changes in on voters data. But those three countries are really, um, mired in corruption and lawlessness. you know, there's just no way for, you know, for a large percentage of the population to live, uh, without being at risk.

[00:16:26] Um, and then you also had the Haitians, um, you know, a lot of Haitians tried to come into the US a few months ago was an anomaly that so many were massing at the border at the same time. Um, but that's another group that, you know, is also not going to stop trying to come because. Life is so difficult right now in Haiti, you know, and a lot of the Haitians that had been seeking to enter the United States came directly from Haiti, but a lot of them also had who had moved over the last, you know, 10 years or so out of Haiti and south America.

[00:17:07] Many of them were working and Chile and in Brazil as laborers. Um, and they had found a pretty good life in those countries and they were given work permits and things like that. But then when the pandemic hit, a lot of those jobs dried up. A lot of them were in service industry and construction, and a lot of the work just disappeared and they lost their visa. Since a lot of them actually walked all the way north from those countries, with their families, many of them with young children and babies. And then that was a certain percentage of the ones that were trying to enter in October where people that had actually been living outside of Haiti for a long period of time.

[00:17:48] I think the Haitians were also really motivated to come because they had heard that president Biden wanted to re-institute temporary protected status, which is a special status to protect your, your immigration status for a period of time in the United States when there's something happening in your home country that makes it unsafe for you to return there.

[00:18:09] And you know how these, these chains of information and communication, uh, flows sometimes it's like playing telephone, right? If people don't really get the most important details, they just hear that there's a program for Haitians, but they don't, they don't know that the program is only for Haitians who are already in the United States when the program was announced.

[00:18:32] So that also spurs a lot of people to come, but under incorrect assumptions about whether they would be granted permission to enter or not.

[00:18:42] The massive problems we'd need to solve to stem migration flows

[00:18:42] Isabelle Roughol: So we heard Kamala Harris, right? And in Guatemala saying, do not come, you know, trying to dissuade people to make the trip. And it's certainly laudable to want to improve conditions in the countries of origin. It just feels like it's something we've had for a while now. And it's a project that is years, decades in the making and, and involves, you know, transforming global capitalism and slowing climate change. And I mean, it's a lot of big things too, to really have an impact on these, on these flows of, of humanity.

[00:19:14] Susan Cohen: It's an enormous problem and it seems daunting and it feels like it's too difficult to solve, but we have to try. I saw recently a very interesting idea about a new way to think about helping solve that problem, which is in a paper I just read on the website of the Migration Policy Institute. The idea was to enlist all of the compatriots who are here in the US who have regularized their immigration status, who are still sending their remissions, you know, and payments to their families back home in Guatemala,Honduras... the, the remittances are enormous. The amount of money that people who have managed to succeed within the valid, legal immigration status in the U S, the amounts that they send back to their families monthly, you know, it is an enormous amount of money. Um, and the idea was that maybe some of them could be, you know, encouraged in some kind of organized fashion to help with the nation building aspect of building infrastructure in those countries. It's a very interesting idea, I think.

[00:20:34] Isabelle Roughol: Something I've been, I've been thinking about a lot actually, is how we can imagine an immigration system that is, I don't know, maybe I'm naive, but is cooperative instead of being confrontational. And where there are ways to encourage return and to encourage transfer of skills and technology and investment to the Global South as well thanks to, you know, people who come work for a number of years maybe in richer countries, but then have a desire to come back, which we know a lot of people do if they could.

[00:21:10] Susan Cohen: Okay. I think it's a really smart idea. And I think that it needs to be explored much further. Because people they come and go, you know? and it's interesting over the course of my career, I've, I've helped a lot of people that were really desperate to get a green card and stay in the United States. And then I've also helped them to move back to their home countries when they decided that it was time, when they wanted to understand what impact it would have on their green card. And then I've been practicing for so long that I've seen them come again a second time back and get a second green card. And I've also been practicing so long that. I have seen the patterns of families where I've represented a parent or both parents who have come and made a career in the United States for some time, but then decided they want to give something back to their home country and they moved back. And they're working in all kinds of really important fields doing really good work and have opportunities to contribute to their home country for period of time. And then I see their children come, they trade places.

[00:22:27] Patterns of discrimination and aggression at the border

[00:22:27] Susan Cohen: So you see the patterns go, they flow, they flow back and forth. I completely agree that it would be so much better all around to embrace a culture of cooperation and constructiveness in terms of the whole immigration system. We really need to do that in my opinion, to be more humane, mostly, you know, and, to not continue to engage in discrimination and discriminatory practices, which we see happening too often in the United States and I'm sure other places by officers of the various immigration agencies.

[00:23:08] The place I've seen it the most, or unfortunately I've heard about it the most from my clients, is at the borders and the airports, where there's a lot of mistreatment of people that goes on and, and there's, you know, the power goes to the heads of the officers and is sometimes abused.

[00:23:23] I had an anecdote in that book actually, that just sort of brings it home. One of my partners, who was very senior in one of the government agencies in the Bush administration, was traveling from Mexico to Texas at the airport. And he had global entry, you know, the permission that, you know, you can apply for that lets you easily come in and out of the United States without much fuss and you don't have to wait in long lines, but he was in line for some reason. And he was standing there. And the customs and border protection officer was berating this poor woman standing in front of my partner and treating her so badly, calling her like names treating her like she was a criminal and she hadn't done anything wrong. And she just maybe didn't speak English so well. And my partner spoke up in front of everybody else, he said to the officer: ~"~you know, you are the first representative of the United States that people will ever see when they get off the plane and come into this country. And I really think that it's important that you treat people with respect and appropriately, and there's no reason to be treating this woman the way you're treating her. And he was standing up for the woman and that CBP officer became irate. And he was so upset, maybe a little embarrassed, that he took my partner out of line and to secondary inspection. He said, ~"~you can't talk to me like that.~"~ And he went into the computer system while my partner was standing there and he canceled his Global Entry for speaking up on behalf of a fellow traveler, you know, just ask the officer to show some respect in the way he was treating people and how we talked to people in line.

[00:25:27] Isabelle Roughol: And only an American could even speak up that way because I, um, I would be terrified to be sent home. I wouldn't, I wouldn't even try, however right it is, to speak up.

[00:25:38] Susan Cohen: And that just is a reflective of this kind of cowboy attitude, right, that officers have oftentimes. Not all of them, but the too many of them, I think. I think they're kind of encouraged within certain of the agencies to be really tough and act roughly towards people when there's really no need for it.

[00:25:58] Isabelle Roughol: It's something that's come up several times recently in the podcast is this idea that we keep approaching immigration as a security thing. And it's usually in the hands of a law enforcement agency, rather than as, you know, economic development, uh, social care, foreign policy, you know, all those other things that are tied in with, with immigration. Um, it's always, always law enforcement first.

[00:26:26] Susan Cohen: It's true. And there's no reason that it needed to evolve that way, but it did. And we're stuck with that, you know, but we need keep working to try to ameliorate some of the harshness. And then a lot of it has to do with the kinds of people that are hired into the agencies and what the standards are, what the requirements are to be hired, who is attracted to those kinds of jobs, and how to reformulate that, right?

[00:26:58] Isabelle Roughol: Um,

[00:26:58] How the American public feels about immigration

[00:26:58] Isabelle Roughol: Does that reflect you think the, um, public opinion's view on immigration ? I mean, we know that in the political sphere, it's an extremely loaded topic, but do Americans in general feel as divided about immigration, as the political sphere is?

[00:27:21] Susan Cohen: I don't think so. The polling doesn't indicate that. The polling indicates that the majority of Americans support immigrants and immigration reform, and, you know, even to the extent of supporting the immigration provisions such as they are in the Build Back Better bill. And like 85 or 90% of Americans for sample are in favor of supporting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. And in general, the American people I think are more inclined towards immigrants than against them.

[00:28:02] But it's used like, as a policy issue, it's used and weaponized in very vicious ways by those who are of a restrictionist mindset. And they broadcast messages that spark fear and are based on exaggerated facts or incorrect facts a lot of the time, or they will just take something out of context. You know, President Trump did that all the time when he was campaigning and during his presidency. You know, they would make a policy decision based on a, a case that was an anomaly out of, you know, thousands of cases where maybe there was one bad actor or one criminal that did something, and, you know, just extrapolate from that and to sow fear in hearts and souls of, of their base, um, about immigrants and to paint a picture of all immigrants as being terrible and takers, not givers and people who are taking benefits that they mis-characterized, um, and, uh, jobs, which they also mis-characterized because, you know, we need immigrants in the United States, many unskilled immigrants, as well as skilled immigrants, has to do a lot of the work that our country needs to get done that American workers aren't willing to do or don't have the skills to do. So it's really facetious, very negative, really abhorent immigrant stereotyping and, and fear-mongering, and, but that unfortunately works just for some, for some percent of the people that are, that are paying attention to that.

[00:29:46] Changing the perception of immigrants

[00:29:46] Susan Cohen: But I think that the majority of Americans don't feel that way and appreciate immigrants, but I, you know, hoping that through all the kinds of, uh, good work that people are doing, including your podcasts and the work of many nonprofit organizations, human rights organizations, legal services organizations, and storytellers that people are getting the word out to more and more people to individualize the message because, you know, stereotypes just paint a false picture.

[00:30:23] And the only way to really understand the benefits of immigrants and their contributions is to look on a case-by-case basis and really show the cumulative effect of all the good people who are doing so many wonderful things, making the country better, adding to the culture, the fabric of our society instilling good values in their children, paying their taxes, paying into the system. And that's the majority of immigrants.

[00:30:58] Isabelle Roughol: Is that why you wrote the book too, to open people's eyes to who these people were as, as human beings, as individuals?

[00:31:05] Susan Cohen: That's exactly why I wrote the book. I was dealing with my clients on an individual one by one basis during the Trump years. Things were very, very hard. People were being separated, not able to come into the country. Their cases were put on hold for years, or they were no longer eligible for benefits under immigration law that they absolutely should have been entitled to because policies that the Trump administration put into place actually created quotas for denials and all kinds of things that never existed before. So cases that should have been approved got denied for no good reason, it was basically unlawful. It had to be fought in court, which we had to do sometimes to overturn the bad decisions that were, you know, basically politically motivated decisions.

[00:32:03] I felt that I wanted to do something more because it didn't seem like it was enough, you know, at that point to counter all the anti-immigrant actions that were happening left and right relentlessly day in and day out. And it's just a dark time for immigrants and for people who care about them. So, you know, thinking about other things that I could do to try to spread the word.

[00:32:30] And one of the things I did was I made some music videos based on songs that I wrote. Um, one about the Syrian refugee crisis. And another one about the massing of, of people coming across from central America, trying to enter the United States based on all the violence that was happening there and the ways that their lives were being put in danger, and you know, numerous assassination attempts, even of children and, you know, just shocking things.

[00:32:57] So I wanted to try to tell the story in music, and then I decided to get involved in and try to file some really large class action litigations and big litigations to try to stop some of the things that President Trump was doing. And a lot of those things were, were useful and I felt like I was making a difference, but, but I, I couldn't sleep at night and I was thinking, what else can I do? I mean, I just felt like I needed to do something more than, than what I was already doing. I really couldn't, I couldn't rest. I was too agitated, frankly. Didn't get a lot of sleep during the Trump era. Um,

[00:33:38] Isabelle Roughol: long years.

[00:33:39] Susan Cohen: yeah, I honestly, I was up almost every night. I was worried, you know, and I care so deeply about justice and due process. Then it's so important for me, um, that everyone gets a fair shake and that people are not demonized for, for no reason. And that their good qualities are allowed to shine, you know, and people can see.

[00:34:07] The whole point of the book, from my perspective was we can only counter these broad brush, negative stereotypes by telling individual stories of human beings, what they've gone through, what they had to overcome just to get here, which shows, you know, what they're made of. The immigrants that make it to the United States for very, very strong people. They been through so much. Some of them, you wouldn't imagine what they've physically survived, you know, some of the things that happened to them, the oppression, the torture, the jailing, for, you know, mostly reasons like standing up for democracy or trying to defend someone who's been falsely accused in another country, standing up for their rights against a corrupt regime.

[00:35:01] And then they make it here. That in itself is a miracle. And they're able to put the past behind them, which is also in my view, quite remarkable especially with respect to some of the things my clients and many others they know have suffered, because they're so happy to be in this country. And they, they want so much to be a part of this democracy and, and to contribute, and have a decent life here. Many people come for economic reasons, but many people come because they just are not safe. And, you know, they don't want to leave their country, but they had to leave it. They have no choice.

[00:35:48] And they try to make the best of it. And so watching that unfold with my clients, going through the legal process with them and watching them, you know, steal themselves for it and live to fight another day to try to win their immigration cases and seeing them put one foot in front of the other and move forward, leaving a lot of trauma behind and building something really empowering in their work, in their communities, with their families and we know with their religious communities as well, you know, churches, mosques and, you know, really contributing in so many important ways to the country. ,

[00:36:33] It's such a gift actually for me to witness that and I'm so really impressed and humbled by the resilience, the integrity, the work ethic and the determination of my clients. And I know my clients are just representative of all the other hundreds of thousands and truthfully millions of immigrants that come to the United States, so I wanted to tell some individual stories so people could see each person, you know, as a true fully rounded human being with a heart and a soul. So they could embrace them the way I like to do and see how wonderful they are.

[00:37:18] Isabelle Roughol: At the same time, you hinted at it, it's a lot to take on. It's a lot of hard things to engage with on a daily basis and it's, it's hard work and it's probably a lot of secondary trauma. Are you ever tempted to retire and go take care of your horses and, and, uh, leave it behind?

[00:37:40] Susan Cohen: I will at some point. I have more music to write and, um, I think I'll always spend a good part of my time, trying to broadcast about the benefit of immigrants to our country and to other countries then to try to, just sort of extend the light into our shared common humanity and try to really touch people in a way that they might see something differently for the first time.

[00:38:15] And, you know, when they look at, when they find out that someone is an immigrant or when they hear about an immigrant, but they might want to do more and reach out a hand and friendship, or to help with someone who needs to get a job or, you know, be introduced to other people, to get a leg up, and then maybe just have more of a chain of human interaction and understanding. That's the, you know, that's really important to me. I may a hard driving lawyer, but at heart I'm really just that, I'm a humanist, I, you know, I believe in building common humanity, um, and try to bring people together rather than tear us apart..

[00:39:01] Isabelle Roughol: Well, thank you so much for, uh, for choosing this podcast as one place to what to build that chain. I really appreciate it. And it was great conversation, Susan.

[00:39:10] Susan Cohen: Thanks so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to talk with you.

[00:39:13] Outro

[00:39:16] Isabelle Roughol: That was Susan J. Cohen who joined us from Boston, Massachusetts this week. Apologies if there were any issues with the sound quality, we did this one over Zoom. Her book is ~"~Journeys from There to Here: Stories of Immigrant Trials, Triumphs and Contributions,~"~ try saying that fast. It is published by River Grove Books in the US and there'll be a link in the show notes.

[00:39:36] I'm leaving you with her song Beyond the Borders, which is performed by students and alumni of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, including the first Syrian woman to be accepted into this prestigious school.

[00:39:48] A welcome and big thank you this week to three new members, Pedro Teles, Zach Honig, and Ann Solomon.

[00:39:55] This is the last episode of the season before going away for a little Christmas break and recharge, as well as preparing the next season of Borderline that you'll hear in the new year, as well as other projects. Thank you so much for listening.

[00:40:11] I will be resharing every week some of the earlier episodes of Borderline that you may have missed if you're a newcomer to the podcast. So look out for that in your podcast feed. Make sure that you follow the podcast in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, whatever your platform of choice is. And you can find all those links at borderlinepod.com where you can also become a member to support the program. I would really appreciate it. It will help us start 2022 with a bang and bring you a lot more of these deep conversations about not just immigration, but what it is like to live beyond borders, thinking about big issues with a broader view and perspective than a single nation state. That's what I'm trying to do here. My corny tagline that I think I'm going to make a thing is small media for big ideas. Thank you so much for listening throughout 2021. Couldn't do it without your support and your patient ears paying attention to my ramblings.

[00:41:10] I'm your host Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Susan Cohen this week. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. And I will see you in 2022. Happy holidays to all of you.

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. πŸŽ“ Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.