Hinckley Forum on Migrant Crossings and Human Trafficking Sparks Heated Debate


On Nov. 5, one Hinckley Institute forum held at the University of Utah grew heated after an audience member took a microphone and refused to return it to the moderator for a short while. The University’s Hinckley Institute hosts such discussion forums throughout the year as part of a mission to teach students respect for practical politics and the principle of citizen involvement in government.

During the Nov. 5 forum, Hinckley guest speaker, Dr. Annie Fukushima, an assistant professor in Ethnic Studies, spoke about migrant crossings and human trafficking in the U.S. Her lecture focused on Latin American contexts of the subject and she explored the topic through a de-colonialized and transnational feminist lens. Ultimately, Fukushima asked her listeners the question, “Who is seen as trafficked?”

Dr. Fukushima broached migrant crossings and trafficking in examining specific events and circumstances surrounding the 2010 case of U.S. v Dann. Dann, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Peru, was convicted of trafficking a victim as a domestic employee — whom Fukushima referred to as Liliana — through forcing her to do intense manual labor. Dann was able to imprison her victim inside of her house after promising Liliana a job. Liliana took what looked like an opportunity, previously having worked for Dann’s sister in Peru.

Dr. Fukushima called the case a “hallmark” case in California. Dann’s physical abuse and imposed labor on Liliana fulfilled the legal description of human trafficking. Dr. Fukushima remarked how, despite the fact that Liliana was in many ways “the perfect victim” of trafficking from a legal perspective, it took her crying and pleading for the case’s prosecutor to view her as such. Dr. Fukushima spoke on the notion that fighting against trafficking is often only seen as a legal battle against traffickers for bringing immigrants into the country rather than as a battle for justice for victims.

The question and answer portion of Dr. Fukushima’s forum grew heated after the microphone was passed to an audience member who, for a minute, refused to hand it back to the moderator and interrupted Dr. Fukushima during her response to his question multiple times. The man, who identified himself as Preston, did not provide a last name and left the forum before a Chronicle reporter was able to request comment.

“What is being done in these communities,” Preston asked, “To sway people from coming across illegally so that they can try and engage in the legal process and have recourse and protections as a resident of the country?” Dr. Fukushima attempted to provide a response, despite Preston’s further interruptions.

Preston stated that he worked with a group of veterans who patrolled the Mexico-Arizona border, east of the Tohono Indian reservation. He stated that he’d witnessed cases of trafficking and violence against women and children. Preston described an episode where his party of officers had allegedly come across a group of 94 migrants, 60 of which were children, which he claimed to have been trafficked people. After Dr. Fukushima asked him if he was bilingual, he replied that he was not, but that he’d personally witnessed what he alleged as of trafficking.

“It’s just not good information,” he said, in response to Dr. Fukushima’s lecture. “I’m sorry you are missing the point. You don’t really know what is happening. I am an eyewitness.”

Licia Duran, a U freshman who was seated next to Preston, stated that she felt unsafe due to what she described as aggressive behavior on his behalf. Duran remarked that she was particularly unsettled by one of Preston’s gestures, which she referred to as “popping his eyes out” towards another nearby audience member who asked Preston to be quiet during Dr. Fukushima’s response to his question. Duran stated that “It felt very scary. That guy was just being very hostile,” adding that she would have moved from her seat but she feared he would act react aggressively toward her if she had.

Molly Wheeler, managing director of community outreach at the Hinckley Institute said, “Typically these forums serve as a venue for discourse, and discourse can be uncomfortable or problematic.” She said that the Institute does not shy away from discourse — however, they intervene if “things veer more towards the disrespect.” When asked about the safety of the audience, Wheeler responded that “we expect to maintain safety and comfort in this setting at all times for our speakers and our students,” adding that “we never want a student to feel unsafe or unwelcome in our space.”  

When asked about the incident, Dr. Fukushima stated that “immigration is always a contested issue in the U.S. It has always been, as long as I’ve been doing this work.” She adding that debates on migration and refugees are “impacted by our current political climate that has also empowered people to be more visible about their anti-immigrant sentiments and practices.”

With regards to her question on whether or not Preston is bilingual, Fukushima stated that she believes being bilingual is “really important when we say we are working in community.” She went on to remark that “[Preston] said he met people, but the question is, did he talk with them? If you are not bilingual then you are not talking with them.”



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