Alums on the Front Line of Immigrant Rights Meet with Hampshire Students
Seth Freed Wessler 03F and Genia Blaser 01F spoke with students about the challenges facing immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States. The conversation addressed domestic policing, immigrant detention, criminal immigration systems, and racialized violence.
Professor of Sociology Margaret Cerullo invited Wessler and Blaser to address her class, People Out of Place: Global Migrations. Organized around themes of global mobility, Cerullo’s course tackles the intersectionality of systems of racialized violence in the United States and the ways in which people in motion are governed and how they resist. The alums each brought their unique perspective to the topics — Wessler as a journalist and Blaser as a defense lawyer.
Blaser is the supervising attorney for the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), an organization devoted to advocating for immigrants through litigation and education. She leads its community defense team, which creates Know Your Rights materials and other resources on interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Blaser formerly worked for the immigration practice at The Bronx Defenders, where she represented non-citizens in affirmative and defensive proceedings.
“I generally studied immigration when I was at Hampshire, not knowing that I wanted to be a lawyer at all,” Blaser said. “I was very interested in what happens to communities when they migrate, to the people who stay in their home country, in one place, and to those who leave.”
An investigative reporter at ProPublica, Wessler’s work is also deeply rooted in immigration. His reporting has spurred legislative reforms, inspired advocacy campaigns, and led to shifts in federal and state policy. His documentary,The Facility, gives viewers a rare look inside the Irwin County Detention Center, a private ICE facility in Ocilla, Georgia, designated for people facing deportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I came to understand journalism as a way to also be really skeptical and to ask questions,” said Wessler, who has long been drawn to storytelling and particularly the influence stories can have on our political lives. He urged the class to think critically about “what stories we tell — or that don’t get told—do to the world we live in.”
The conversation, which took place on Zoom, covered a wide breadth of topics and raised some powerful questions for our community to consider: How do you understand justice? What would a world look like that's not constructed to throw people out and hold others in? How do we tear down systems and actually think about what real safety looks like for individuals and communities?
Funding for the event was provided by the In/Justice Learning Collaborative and the Eqbal Ahmad Initiative.