Immigration Lawyer Elliott Ozment speaks to students about history of xenophobia

Photo and Story by Eric Goodwin / Contributing writer

Immigration Lawyer Elliott Ozment delivered an impassioned lecture Wednesday in the Honors College Building on the history of xenophobia in America, explaining various immigration laws and how they apply today.

Ozment, whose law firm, “Ozment Law,” specifically deals with cases of immigration, is a strong advocate for immigrant rights.

“We’re all descended from immigrants, and for us to be talking in 2017 about the hatred of immigrants is just an oxymoron- I don’t understand it,” he said.

Ozment said that although immigration tensions have flared in recent months, the issue is “nothing new.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Ozment said, comparing the anti-migrant movements in the 1910’s and 20’s to recent immigration restrictions.

One result of the movements was the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 which unprecedentedly set numerical quotas on the number of immigrants the United States would let in annually.

However, immigration was first addressed by the government with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited citizenship to Caucasians. Five years later, the requirement to become a citizen included residency in the United States for 14 years.

The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese naturalization outright and marked the birth of “illegal immigration,” providing measures for the deportation of Chinese people illegally in the country.

“Did you realize that we’ve gone through this many times before and we’ve always come out of it? This is just a wave,” Ozment said.

One woman asked Ozment what his law firm does when people are detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.

“We sue,” he replied.

Ozment noted that “today, we’ve turned our back on Syrian refugees,” and he said that in his mind, “nobody is illegal.”

Ozment’s words come in a time where undocumented immigrants face uncertainty, with President Donald Trump’s issuance of executive orders blocking scores of undocumented immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

On Thursday, March 16 at 12:01 a.m., Trump’s revised executive order, which would temporarily ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, was to go into effect.

However, Hawaii Federal District Judge Derrick K. Watson issued a freeze on the travel ban hours beforehand. Trump is likely to appeal the ban.

Musa Shamie, a Russian immigrant from Chechnya, Russia, who is now a senior at MTSU, said that as a Muslim, he understands the situation Islamic refugees face.

“I know what my religion teaches me, and I know what those people are going through. It’s a terrible situation when you’re getting killed by terrorists every day, you’re trying to leave and find shelter somewhere and you’re being rejected,”  Shamie said. “No religion teaches you to go and kill, go and torture, go and be a terrorist. What I can do as a Muslim is show my best behavior and practice my religion the best way I can. That has nothing to do with doing harm to people.”

Ozment gave advice for students wishing to help fight against discrimination in their communities.

“You need to make your presence known to elected representatives,” he said. “Join some of these rallies … Carry a sign.”

“You’re the only hope our country has. I’m 70,” Ozment said, laughing.

Any students interested in taking political action can also contact Education Professor Laura Clark, who is a member of the American Democracy Project. Clark will take students to the Tennessee Legislative Plaza next Wednesday for a nonpartisan chance “to get training in civic engagement with the legislature.”

Clark may be contacted at

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To contact News Editor Brinley Hineman, email newseditor@mtsusidelin

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