Robert Koulish on a panel from fall 2019

Justice and Legal Thought Scholars Director Robert Koulish (far right) spoke on immigration at three panels this spring, challenging students to consider the issue from new viewpoints. Here, he is pictured with fellow panelists from an event from fall 2018. PHOTO: Office of International Affairs

3 Theme Questions With... Robert Koulish

This year, for our 2018–19 annual theme, "Migrations: Populations and Practices on the Move," we have been asking our Scholars faculty and staff to share how they are connecting the theme to their respective programs. The first entry in this series, "3 Questions With..." was with Tim Knight, director of the Environment, Technology and Economy Scholars program. The second asked questions of Thomas Holtz, director of the Science and Global Change program. The third talks with Elisabeth Maring, director of the Global Public Health program. The fourth in our series deviated slightly from our format, tapping guest speaker Andy Shallal, founder and owner of Busboys & Poets, to answer three questions. The most recent of the series reverted back to form with Beth Parent, director of the Life Sciences program.



Name: Robert Koulish

Program: Justice and Legal Thought (JLT)

Resource: Multiple panel presentations, Spring 2019



Q1: What were the topics you discussed as part of these spring events, and how did those topics connect to your program as well as the broader Migrations theme?

This spring I spoke at three campus-wide events related to the topic of migrations and immigration in particular. JLT students were encouraged to attend, even getting extra credit.

The first panel was part of an interdisciplinary conference, “Kicked Out: U.S. Detention and Deportation Policy,” during which I spoke about my research on immigration detention and risk assessment analysis. The second, “Immigration: Reality/Deception, Action/Reaction,” was part of an interdisciplinary dialogue series by the University Libraries. I spoke here about how the Supreme Court, using formalist analysis, allows and even encourages the Executive Branch to fictionalize the “immigration crisis” at the border. Finally, during the University of Maryland’s Social Justice Day on April 11, I participated on a panel that debated open vs. closed borders.

At each event, the speakers were provocative, and the conversations generated a variety of fascinating questions from students. For example, at the “Kicked Out” conference, students asked questions about racism in U.S. detention and deportation policies. They were particularly concerned about local enforcement in College Park and on campus, and wanted to work with others on strategies to protect University of Maryland students.

Q2: What kinds of reactions did you get with this?

I got very positive feedback. Several students asked for more information on how to get involved. I told them about the immigration law and politics course I will be teaching this fall (MLAW358U), where we will be talking about the tension between immigration law and the rule of law.

In January 2020, I’ll also be leading a class at the Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, so students get firsthand understanding of these issues. I am headed to the border next month to work on logistics and attend a conference on national security—just made my reservations.

Q3: What does “Migrations” mean for your Scholars program?

The theme “Migrations” is an important part of the social justice component of JLT. The right to mobility plays a crucial role in the human rights canon of international law, and with the current policies and practices of the U.S. government, the need to talk about immigration issues could not be greater. I think it’s important for students to engage with ideas related to mobility, propaganda and national identity, which is at the heart of what citizenship and belonging is all about.

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