Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia can predict the knee-jerk reaction of an immigration advocate confronted by an immigration skeptic — someone who says immigrants are taking jobs:
“Immigrants don’t take jobs away from Americans, and here are the statistics,” Wadhia said.
According to her, that’s not the best way to go about it.
“They don’t want to hear about whether immigrants take their jobs,” Wadhia said. “They lost their job. I think when people ask a question that is personal, you have to meet them where they are and then have a broader conversation.”
For her Nov. 2 presentation “Facing Immigrant Exclusion: Then and Now” at the Lied Center, Wadhia will answer questions from inhabitants of a city she said she’s never been to before.
The blurb for the 7 p.m. event says Wadhia will be discussing immigration reform and the need for a more welcoming framework for understanding immigration enforcement.
The racial disparities in the United States’ immigration system and enforcement, Wadhia said, connect with the forum’s seasonal theme of recognizing and dismantling systemic discrimination.
Wadhia has worked in the immigration field for over 20 years, according to her LinkedIn. She is the associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, a faculty scholar and a professor of law at Penn State Law. Wadhia has been televised on MSNBC and C-SPAN, and is quoted in the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
Wadhia said that those directly impacted by immigration law and interested citizens should find her area of expertise accessible. She said she feels rewarded when boiling down the complexity of immigration law to a form that is simple to interpret and without spin.
Wadhia said she believes in the rule of law and immigration regulation, but that law must be balanced with equity and compassion.
Immigration law, according to Wadhia, is not just about immigration but about peoples’ “shared humanity.” She said the individuals she represents as an immigration attorney range from scientists to asylum seekers.
Wadhia, a second-generation immigrant herself, said there wasn’t a “lightbulb moment” that crystallized her choice of career, although she always wanted to use the law for social change.
“I just happened to be in a class where I had a connection, and I just happened to have a professor that was steeped in immigration, and gave me, you know, names and connections with people in DC, who practice immigration. I just happened to get that summer job right, I mean I think these are all coincidences,” Wadhia said.
Wadhia’s professor happened to be T. Alexander Aleinikoff, who stepped down from Georgetown faculty to become Deputy High Commissioner in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2010 to 2015. The summer job happened to be at Maggio + Kattar, a firm ranked as Tier 1 in immigration law nationwide by U.S. News & World Report.
“I think that is how life happens, sometimes,” Wadhia said.
Associate Dean Margaret Hu, one of Wadhia’s colleagues at Penn State Law, said she met Wadhia at an immigration law conference in 2012.
“Whether she is assisting in providing direct services to immigrants who need her help the most, or giving congressional testimony, documenting her theories in her books and articles, or whether her work is being relied upon by policymakers and cited by federal judges, Dean Wadhia is making an impact,” Hu said.
It’s important, Wadhia said, to provide a vision for the future “for what a system could look like that works for everyone that is more inclusive.”
What America will look like and how we define being American will be dictated by whether we change course from current immigration policies or simply learn the history, according to Wadhia.
“This is not about immigration for immigrants,” she said. “This is about American history, and the future of what our country looks like.”