Shriver Center Advocate Discusses Trauma and Systemic Racism at White House Gender Policy Council Listening Session

In a listening session hosted by ASISTA, Shriver Center Training Attorney Lorilei Williams provided comments to the Gender Policy Council and Special Assistant to the President

The White House Gender Policy Council, established by executive order by President Biden in March 2021, works to advance gender equity and equality in both domestic and foreign policy. The Gender Policy Council plays an essential role in efforts to advance equity in government policy for those who face discrimination and bias based on multiple factors—including members of the Black, Latina, Native American, Asian American Pacific Islander, and LGBTQI+ communities, as well as persons with disabilities.  

On October 4, 2021, in a listening session hosted by ASISTAShriver Center Training Attorney Lorilei Williams provided comments to the Gender Policy Council and Special Assistant to the President, Rosie Hidalgo, on issues facing immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. The comments anchored the listening session in racial justice. 

Other attorneys and advocates from various organizations who presented comments during the listening session discussed themes of government policy, funding, and practice, and the needs of especially vulnerable survivors of gender-based violence, such as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, detained migrants, and migrants on the border. Advocates’ comments will inform the Biden Administration’s development of policies, programs, and initiatives to advance gender equity and equality. 

Below is a transcript of Lorilei’s remarks.

Hello. My name is Lorilei Williams and I use they/them pronouns. I am calling in from unceded Lenape land, also known as Brooklyn, New York. I am the training attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, where I design and lead curricula on racial justice, community advocacy, and leadership, rooted in my decade of experience practicing immigration law. My areas of expertise lie at the intersections of trauma, racism, systems thinking, community advocacy and migration. Thank you for having me. 

Racialization permeates our society on various levels by sorting communities and people to allocate resources and access to resources, and deny the same. This shows up in both obvious and insidious ways, from internalized conditioning that contributes to police officers disproportionately killing and arresting Black and Brown people, to legal structures that predictably cause harm, such as the continued detention of asylum seekers in for-profit detention centers that thrive on their exploitation. These layers of racism interweave and compound, emerging as complex systems of oppression that have profound impacts on survivors of gender-based violence, their communities, and those that serve them. 

Complex systems merit a systems thinking framework, which guides us to begin with research and analysis. We must begin with a nuanced, transparent and authentic understanding of the history of our legal structures, their context, and their racialized impact. 

Our nation is built on genocide, slavery and imperialism. In all these endeavors, we have targeted families and children of color, from Indian boarding schools to the quotidian horrors of slavery. We continue to destroy communities of color by separating families in our immigration, criminal, and family legal systems. We create conditions of debilitating violence for vulnerable families when we militarize the border.

We must be willing to witness and name the consequences of our history of systemic racism. Communities of color continue to be trapped in well documented cycles of poverty. A glaring example is the current housing crisis during a global pandemic, as communities of color are most likely to have devastating health outcomes, economic insecurity, and housing instability. 

When we keep in mind the intersectional vulnerabilities for those who are also both migrants and survivors of violence, the threat of continued instability and harm from these interlocking systems is not only predictable, but nearly inescapable. 

As you consider the impacts of the immigration legal system on immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, solutions should include intentionally raising awareness, internally and externally, of how trauma and systemic racism permeate legal systems in both glaring and invisible ways. Decisions and policies should build on the input of those most directly impacted and center their lived experiences. Finally, strive for transparency and accountability by meaningfully collaborating with community leaders, advocates, organizers, and service providers, and you will find creative solutions to the most complex structural problems.

Thank you for your time and consideration today. I look forward to being of service.

To learn more about issues impacting migrants, explore the critical work of these organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color:

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Haitian Bridge Alliance, Inc.

Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim

Detention Watch Network

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