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Iscol lecturer takes on Trump immigration policies

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Rebecca Heller speaking

Rebecca Heller speaking

By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

Rebecca Heller, co-founder and director of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), urges advocating for the rights of refugees against the waves of right-wing populist xenophobia sweeping through the U.S. and Europe. She was on campus Oct. 18 to deliver the College of Human Ecology’s Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service Lecture.

Heller said her interest in the legal challenges facing refugees began on a trip to Jordan the summer after her first year in law school when met with six refugee families from Iraq. Each of the families independently identified their primary problem as a legal one, due to both the United Nation’s and U.S.’s complex bureaucratic asylum process.

In 2008, while still in law school, she founded IRAP with several peers with a mission to organize law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons.

“When [President] Trump was elected, we realized that the fundamental nature of our work was about to really significantly shift, where we were going to go from arguing that the refugee process should be improved and working with the government to find technical ways to make things more efficient, to defending the very existence of a refugee system or admissions at all,” Heller said.

After launching IRAP chapters at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Columbia, Stanford and New York University law schools, Heller began to think how best to mobilize and deploy her “army of a couple thousand lawyers” who wanted to fight for the rights of refugees.

The Monday after the president’s inauguration, a version of the travel ban was leaked to Heller. She fired off messages to her vast network of law students and pro bono lawyers, urging them to call their clients who had travel documents and say, “Get on a plane, right now. The doors to the U.S. are closing.”

Shortly after, Heller had the realization that whenever the travel ban order was signed, there would be thousands of people in the sky who had legal permission to enter the U.S. when they took off but would land as undocumented aliens – and no one knew what would happen to them.

“The travel ban was signed at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7. We had clients coming in that day, and we had lawyers waiting for them,” she said. After a client was detained upon landing, Heller worked with other organizations to file a civil action against the state agent who holds the defendant in custody.

“We stayed up all night and we drafted a nationwide class-action habeas petition … and we filed it at 5:30 in the morning because wanted to make sure it was on file with the court before any international flights could depart so that no one could be deported. We got a hearing for that night in Brooklyn at 7:30 p.m. … at 8:30 p.m. we won, and they released 2,100 people from airports all over the country.”

Rebecca Heller speaking with lecture attendees

Rebecca Heller speaking with lecture attendees

Heller and IRAP have taken legal action against all three travel bans. Their most recent filing, “International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump,” was won by IRAP. The 91-page decision was issued in the early hours of Oct. 18.

Heller, who lost family in the Holocaust, thinks often about the ship The St. Louis, which carried Jewish refugees from Europe to the United States. The ship traveled from U.S. port to U.S. port but was not allowed to dock. It eventually had to return to Europe.

“They’ve actually traced the fate of a lot of people from The St. Louis, and most of them ended up dying in concentration camps. … and I think – what if every single port The St. Louis docked at, there were 5,000 Americans standing there chanting, ‘Let them in.’ Maybe history would have been a little bit different.”

Quoting Dr. Seuss, Heller told the audience in conclusion: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Iscol lecturer takes on Trump immigration policies - Cornell Chronicle





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Talks at Twelve: Dana Weiner, Thursday, April 20, 2017

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Data-Driven Policy Making in Child Welfare
Dana Weiner, Chapin Hall Center for Children, University of Chicago

Thursday, April 20, 2017
12:00-1:00 PM
Beebe Hall, 2nd floor conference room

Dr. Weiner will address the challenges and opportunities associated with using data and research evidence to inform decision making in public policy.  Based on her extensive experience working within and around child welfare jurisdictions to innovate practice, align policy, and implement programs, her talk will identify key strategies for successfully incorporating new knowledge into service delivery in ways that are meaningful for leadership, staff, and (most importantly) the children and families served by these systems.  This discussion will include vivid examples of policy questions and the empirical answers that may guide innovation, as well as a discussion of the hazards and costs of uninformed policy decision making.

Dana Weiner is a policy fellow at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, where she provides analytic consultation and policy guidance to child welfare jurisdictions across the country.  Dr. Weiner teaches Data for Policy Analysis and Management to master's students at the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, and her research has focused on quantifying resource accessibility - analyzing the role of geospatial relationships in child welfare systems - and on evaluating the implementation of evidence-based models in child welfare and juvenile justice contexts.


This talk is open to all. Lunch will be served. Metered parking is available in the Botanic Gardens lot across the road from Beebe Hall. No registration or RSVP required except for groups of 5 or more. We ask that larger groups email Patty at letting us know of your plans to attend so that we can order enough lunch.

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2015 Bronfenbrenner Lecture

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The Obama Evidence-Based Revolution: Will It Last?
September 16, 2015

Ron Haskins
Center on Children and Families; Budgeting for National Priorities;Economic Studies, Brookings Institution



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Revisiting Urie’s role as Head Start turns 50

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Lady Bird Johnson at an early Head Start event

Lady Bird Johnson at an early Head Start event

A recent Cornell Chronicle article on Urie Bronfenbrenner's involvement in the founding of the National Head Start Program begins,

Testifying before Congress in 1964, Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner urged lawmakers to fight “poverty where it hits first and most damagingly – in early childhood.”Intrigued by his work, Lady Bird Johnson invited Bronfenbrenner to tea at the White House, where he shared his findings on early childhood programs he had observed abroad. In January 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver empaneled 13 experts – including Bronfenbrenner – to develop a federally funded preschool program for the nation’s poorest children.

Urie BronfenbrennerThe article goes on to detail Urie's unique contributions to the formation of the influential program:

Among Head Start’s architects, Bronfenbrenner stood out for his dynamic systems theory of human development – which became synonymous with the field of human ecology and inspired the renaming of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology in 1969. A champion of field-based observations in children’s homes, schools and neighborhoods, Bronfenbrenner upended the conventions of mid-20th century developmental psychology, which had taken a decontextualized, sterilized approach.

For Bronfenbrenner, it wasn’t enough to look narrowly at children. To understand the effect of a mother’s employment on a child’s development, for example, he urged investigators to consider the child’s age, the quality of daycare in the mother’s absence, her attitude toward her work, the family’s race and income level and the father’s employment status and attitude toward his partner’s work and family duties.


50 years later, recalling a founder of Head Start - Cornell Chronicle

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Talks at Twelve: Matthew Hall

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Latino Children and White Out-Migration from New Gateway School Districts
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Matthew Hall
Policy Analysis & Management, Cornell University

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2012 Bronfenbrenner Lecture

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Reducing Poverty-related Disparities: Science and Policy à la Bronfenbrenner
November 2, 2012

Pamela Morris
Department of Applied Psychology, New York University

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2012 John Doris Memorial Lecture

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What the U.S. Can Learn from Britain's War on Poverty
March 26, 2012

Jane Waldfogel
School of Social Work, Columbia University

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Second Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference

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Improving the State of Americans:
Prospects of Translational Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
October 22-23, 2009

Download a copy of the conference agenda (PDF)

This conference brought together scholars with expertise in translating basic research to address problems faced by communities and individuals. Speakers presented new research and research methods, focusing on how practical applications of research lead to interventions implemented in real-world home, policy, and community settings, disseminated to a broader community audience, and adopted by institutions and organizations.

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