Young Democrats host immigration advocacy group founder to discuss Georgia prisons |  Campus News

PJ Edwards, the founder of El Refugio, spoke virtually to the University of Georgia Young Democrats Wednesday night.

Edwards, a UGA graduate, serves as the board chairman of the nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the families of immigrants who have loved ones at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. El Refugio champions the rights of immigrants and offers free accommodation and meals in town near the center to make the visit easier.

The meeting was a collaboration between three UGA student organizations: the Young Democrats of UGA, the Undocumented Student Alliance, and the UGA chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. US President Shahrzad Zamir introduced Edwards to a crowd of about 40 at around 6:30 p.m.

Edwards focused on migrant detention and advocacy at the local and state levels. He first introduced El Refugio, listing hospitality, visits and education as pillars of the organization in his powerpoint presentation.

Edwards said his frustration with the lack of education about the immigration system led him to advocate for more dialogue and advocacy. Although the detention center is currently closed, Edwards encouraged participants to visit when it reopens.

“You look at the material very differently when you meet someone and you find a friend who is incarcerated and you understand their history and circumstances and the systemic injustice that comes with it,” Edwards said.

Edwards compared the different immigration policies of the Trump and Biden administrations, such as the zero-tolerance policies that separated families at the border. The Biden administration ended the policy in January 2021.

While the Biden administration has scrapped some of the previous administration’s restrictive immigration policies, it still uses Title 42, a policy originally enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which turns migrants away at the border when a ” serious danger” is the introduction of [a communicable] Illness to the United States.” According to the American Immigration Council, the US has processed over 1.3 million expulsions since the pandemic began in 2020 through August 2021.

Edwards said he believes the current approach to immigration aims to punish immigrants by detaining them, rather than finding humane solutions and addressing the root causes. Regarding advocacy, Edwards said El Refugio hopes to close those detention centers and keep people out of immigration and customs or Customs and Border Protection detention. The same goal applies to advocacy at federal level.

The private prison industry was a subject introduced by Edwards. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, as of September 2021, 79% of those detained by ICE were being held in private prisons. The Trump administration held 81% of people in private prisons.

CoreCivic, the company that owns the Stewart Detention Center, generated $1.9 billion in 2020 from its 100 distinct facilities and spent $2.1 million lobbying for anti-immigration laws, Edwards said. These companies make prisons highly profitable, which Edwards says El Refugio is working to change that.

Opening the floor for questions, Edwards was asked by Junior Nolyn Livings, YDUGA Social Chair, what tools the President had to implement the listed advocacy goals.

While the solutions are temporary, Edwards said programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or Temporary Protected Status are temporary immigration statuses granted to nationals of a country who have issues that make it difficult or unsafe for them to being deported to these countries is all available to the President, although it is the Secretary of Homeland Security’s responsibility to enforce and administer immigration laws. for all administration and enforcement of immigration laws.

Sophomore Arnab Biswas asked Edwards for his thoughts on Republican claims that the Biden administration is “soft” on immigration policy, despite applying similar policies to the Trump administration and facing criticism from others who see the opposite. Edwards said he doesn’t think the Biden administration has been tougher.

“We made it pretty tough for Biden and not much credit. Administration has done a few things,” Edwards said. “But we feel like we really have to look after him to get things done and he’s to be fair the administration is in a tight spot, he didn’t create or destroy some of those systems.”

The meeting ended with a discussion among the participants about their thoughts on the issues.

“I’ve really enjoyed knowing that these types of conversations are happening on campus and knowing that there are UGA graduates who are committed to this type of change and this type of support for the immigrant community,” said Junior Diana Lopez Garcia, a member of UGAYDSA who was there to support the US. “I hope and wish that outside of these specific clubs we can get it specific and into broader conversations.”