Lucas Guttentag, a senior counselor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke at the law school about how he believes lawyers should focus on increasing public awareness of immigration issues in order to improve immigration policy on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

To improve immigration policy, lawyers should focus on increasing public awareness of the issues U.S. immigrants face, a lecturer from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told students Thursday.

Lucas Guttentag, a senior counselor for the department, spoke at the law school about his perspective as a former civil rights lawyer fighting for immigration reform. Guttentag said bringing awareness to immigration issues helps overturn “unconstitutional” challenges to immigration reform.

“We had to contextualize [unconstitutional blockades] and take them out of just an immigration context,” Guttentag said. “Part of that was building public awareness. Anthony Lewis, who used to be the Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times … started to elevate the issue based on many conversations and soliciting comments and explaining what the issues were.”

Church workers, Guttentag said, paid a price for bringing awareness to the need for immigration reform. 

“Churches and other places gave sanctuary to refugees from Central America whom the United States was going to deport immediately without giving them a fair opportunity to demonstrate that they qualify for asylum,” Guttentag said. “The church workers were prosecuted — a number of them were convicted.”

Guttentag said collaboration is necessary to develop a legal theory persuasive enough to win immigration cases in the courtroom.

“[It is important to] use connections with scholars and academics to puzzle things through,” Guttentag said. “The challenge as a litigator is to sift and distill and to think about which of those ideas … are going to move and work in a courtroom.”

Clinical law professor Denise Gilman said she agreed an interdisciplinary approach is important in winning immigration cases.   

“We definitely try to think about creative strategies for representing our clients that involve everything from having expert social workers or mental health experts talking about our client situations,” Gilman said. “[We have] faculty from the sociology or anthropology departments describe country conditions in the home country as relevant for asylum claims.”

Law student Hannah Alexander said she thinks the immigration system needs to be modernized.

“For federal courts and state courts, you can file your documents online,” Alexander said. “For immigration courts, you have to mail it or give it to them. They are so behind, and okay, it’s the 21st century —  so you [should be able to] submit stuff online.”

Gökhan Bacik talks in a Mezes auditorium about relationships between different countries in the Middle East. Bacik is the dean and a professor of political science at İpek University’s School of Government.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

A diverse audience filled a Mezes lecture hall Tuesday evening for a talk on the Middle East, with some audience members resorting to sitting on the ground and in the aisles.

The Department of Middle Eastern Studies hosted the talk, which discussed sub-state groups in the Middle East. The audience included faculty and students, undergraduate and high school alike.

“I brought the kids so they could get a perspective on the Middle East from a secular source,” said Cassandra Troy, an Austin High School English teacher. “Many parents were concerned about the situation with ISIS because we send a group of seniors annually to Turkey.”

The lecturer, Gökhan Bacik — dean and professor of political science at İpek University in Gaziantep, Turkey — specializes in state formation. 

“If I were to personally sum up what’s happening in the Middle East right now with one word, it would be ‘refugees,’” Bacik said. “Some cities in Syria have lost more than 200,000 citizens.”

Bacik said “revolution-storations” are responsible for these refugees.

“People want to dismiss regimes automatically,” Bacik said. “To remove regimes the people must act quickly to avoid disaster and state collapse.”

According to Bacik, the outcomes of revolutions can be unpredictable. Bacik cited the political coup in Egypt as an example of a successful revolution.

“People defeated the regime, and it left,” Bacik said. “Turkey officially views what happened in Egypt as a coup d’état.”

Bacik said that discussions about the Middle East must no longer focus on nation-states but rather small sub-state actors. Bacik believes conflicts in the Middle East cause populations to seek stability within smaller groups. 

“This is the golden age of sub-state actors,” Bacik said. “When extreme groups occupy an area and start killing peoples they are against, the only thing those people have to do, since there are no government machines, is turn to another sub-state group for protection.”

The lecture topic appealed to an interdisciplinary group; many art history, political science and Middle Eastern studies majors attended.

“We wanted to bring in a lecturer who would have an insight into a confusing area of the world,” said Jeannette Okur, Middle Eastern studies lecturer. “He came highly recommended by some of my former colleagues from when I was in Turkey.”

Students enrolling in introductory Italian classes next semester are more likely to have an assistant instructor than a lecturer who has taught for years.

Three lecturers will not be asked to return to teach in UT’s French and Italian Department in future semesters as either part-time or full-time. In place of those lecturers, graduate students will teach as assistant instructors. Carlos Capra, one of the three lecturers being let go, said it has not been made clear to him why the department is exchanging lecturers for assistant instructors.

David Birdsong, chair of the French and Italian Department, said in a statement that having graduate students teach classes is part of their education.

“The experience and training that graduate students receive as instructors are essential as they enter the job market,” Birdsong said.

Three years ago, UT established one of the only Italian graduate programs in this area of the country.

“When the Italian Studies graduate program came online three years ago, it was understood by all that some classes would be assigned to AIs and that as the program grew, increasing numbers of classes would be taught by AIs,” Birdsong said. “The dynamic involving lecturers and AIs, who often teach sections of the same courses, exists in every graduate program.”

Capra said it was irresponsible to replace lecturers with graduate students.

“The graduate students are new. They need jobs, but if there are no jobs then there are no jobs,” Capra said. “You do not make room for new people by getting rid ofthe old.”

Birdsong said his department has worked to ensure the impact of assigning assistant instructors to lecturing teaching positions was minimal.

“The Department of French and Italian is committed to teaching excellence by all of our instructors, including AIs,” he said. “Our Italian AIs work closely with their supervisor.”

Capra said his concern with the lecturers being let go is not with the potential drop of education quality.

“It might drop a little bit, but it will not be significant because there is a supervisor overseeing them,”Capra said.

Government junior Juliette Seive, who took her first semester of Italian with a lecturer and with an assistant instructor in her second semester, said she did not notice a significant difference between the
two classes.

“My first professor was definitely older and more experienced,” Seive said. “Other than that, I do not think there was that much of a difference.”

Published on October 24, 2012 as: "Italian lecturers phased out of classes"

I don’t imagine they award Pulitzer Prizes for short pieces in college newspapers. Nonetheless, Trey Scott’s article on the egregious discrepancies in punishment meted out to athletes in different sports for various infractions is a winner by all counts. It is a fact-based article that raises questions of justice, integrity and compassion — virtues that might have little interest to those whose chief concerns are the lucrative spoils of victory. If ever a sports-related article deserved to be on the front page, this is the one.

- Peter Fazziola, French and Italian lecturer