Event Summary // America’s Broken Immigration Policies

The Global Policy Institute and Bay Atlantic University held a panel discussion titled “America’s Broken Immigration Policies” via Zoom on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (EST).

The Simpson Mazzoli Act of 1986 represents the last time in which Democrats and Republicans produced bipartisan immigration reform legislation. While many Americans would agree that some form of immigration is beneficial for the United States, a country populated by the descendents of immigrants, today agreement on reforms that would regulate immigration in an enlightened fashion is a dream. In the meantime, every day, tens of thousands of people from Central America and beyond try to get into the United States illegally by crossing the southern border. The situation at the US Mexico border is now close to chaotic. How can the Biden administration manage in a humane way this flood of people? Comprehensive immigration reform would require agreement and compromise between the two major parties. Is this even thinkable in a highly polarized, almost toxic, Washington political environment?

Full Video:


Elizabeth A. Kohler Maya, Attorney Bromberg, Kohler Maya & Petre, PLLC

Ernesto Castañeda, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, Director of the Immigration Lab, American University

Tatiana Laborde, Director of Partnerships and Grants, SAMU Foundation


Paolo von Schirach, President Global Policy Institute and Chair Political Science and International Relations, Bay Atlantic University

Event Summary

Kohler Maya explained how in her legal practice as an immigration lawyer she tries to help immigrants in their efforts to gain legal status in the United States. Navigating the complexities of various norms, statutes and regulations is very complex. She pointed out that the current legislation is quite restrictive; therefore the opportunities for would-be immigrants are reduced. She expressed the hope that officials in charge of immigration in the Biden administration, as well as the courts, will be less restrictive in their interpretations of current laws.

Castañeda provided a comprehensive overview of current immigration laws, and migration flows into the United States, in terms of provenance and composition. He pointed out that new immigrants are needed in America. For instance, the heavy covid death toll, while tragic, created labor force shortages that need somehow to be filled. Absent domestic replacements, these necessary positions could be filled by willing immigrants. He also pointed out that a revamped guest workers visa program could address workers’ shortages while diminishing the flow of undocumented workers. Many of them come to the US for work. Their ultimate goal is not to resettle.

Laborde described the sensitive work done by her organization, the SAMU Foundation, with offices in many countries. SAMU aims to support immigrants, and in particular unaccompanied children who obviously have very special and pressing needs. She also mentioned the welcome opportunity, recently created, that will allow SAMU to partner with Bay Atlantic University in Washington, DC in order to create new solutions for some of these urgent problems.

All speakers agreed that there is a pressing need to have comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, so that outstanding issues, such as millions of undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation, including so many who came to the US as small children and therefore know no other country other than America, could be addressed and finally resolved. That said, they all agreed that in this very adversarial Washington political climate it will be very difficult to have the votes necessary to pass meaningful reforms. In the meantime, they are all reasonably hopeful that the current Biden administration will use good judgment and common sense in interpreting and applying current statutes so that the plight of would-be immigrants and asylum seekers can be reduced. They all believe that good advocacy about common sense reforms over time will persuade voters that immigration is necessary and that sensible regulations via new legislation is both possible and beneficial for all Americans.

Speaker Bios

Elizabeth A. Kohler Maya, Attorney / Managing Partner, Bromberg, Kohler Maya & Petre, PLLC

Elizabeth is a 2002 magna cum laude graduate of the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia. During law school, she was active in the Association for Public Interest Law and competed on the Trial Advocacy Team. Elizabeth also completed various internships with non-profit legal assistance providers focused on immigration services, including Ayuda, Tahirih Justice Center, and the American Immigration Law Foundation.

Upon graduation from law school, Elizabeth served as a federal judicial law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Elizabeth completed her undergraduate degree at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, with majors in International Studies and Spanish. Prior to law school, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in Targu Mures, Romania.

Elizabeth began practicing immigration law with Rick Bromberg in October 2003 as an associate attorney. She is now a managing partner of Bromberg, Kohler Maya & Petre, PLLC. She is a member of the Virginia State Bar, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Immigration Project. Elizabeth is a member of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the US Circuit Court for the Fourth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2011 she was selected as Mentor of the Year by Catholic Charities for her work supporting and advising pro bono attorneys. She has been on the Executive Committee of the Washington DC Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association for four years, serving as Chair for 2018-2019.

Ernesto Castañeda, PhD,  Associate Professor of Sociology, Director of the Immigration Lab, American University 

Castañeda’s research compares Latino immigrants in the U.S. and Muslim immigrants in Europe. He has conducted surveys and ethnographic fieldwork in the United States, France, Spain, Switzerland, Mexico, Algeria, and Morocco. Castañeda is interested in the relation between the contexts of immigrant reception, including the avenues available for political voice, and the political inclusion of immigrants and minorities. His ongoing research projects compare different metropolitan areas along the US-Mexico border, address Hispanic Health Disparities, look into the causes of homelessness, and examine the link between migration and mental health.

Tatiana Laborde, Director of Partnerships and Grants,
SAMU Foundation

Tatiana Laborde is a Conflict Management professional with over 10 years of experience in program development, knowledge management and community building. She holds a master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the George Mason University where she was trained in facilitation skills and conflict transformation.

She has managed the development of different knowledge sharing tools with international grants totaling 1.8 million dollars with special detail to monitoring and evaluation. She has extensive experience working in cross cultural environments and developing partnerships with local and international stakeholders. She is currently working as the lead coordinator for SAMU First Response, focusing on the establishment of center for unaccompanied youth in the US.

She is an active member of the DC community. She serves as a board member for Shining Stars Montessori Academy where she has dedicated her time to the strengthening and advocacy for the advancement and growth of the school and its student population. Tatiana is also a blogger with a passion for working with youth and supporting fellow mothers.