On February 8, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law welcomed David B. Thronson, Associate Dean for Experiential Education and Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law, to deliver the second installment of the 2016 Chapman Dialogue Lecture Series. His presentation, “Immigration Law and the Family,” was followed by an interactive discussion with Fowler School of Law Professor Marisa Cianciarulo, director of Fowler School of Law’s Bette and Wylie Aitken Family Protection Clinic, and a lively question and answer session with several of the nearly 100 student and faculty guests.

Thronson posing with Law professor

Michigan State University College of Law Associate Dean Thronson and Fowler School of Law Professor Marisa Cianciarulo

Dean Thronson’s presentation focused on the underappreciated intersections between family law and immigration law, emphasizing that each of these spheres of law is involved in the enterprise of defining who can and should live together. Despite these similar points of focus, immigration law and family law often operate under distinct and often non-coordinated rules, norms and values.

The difficulty of identifying a pathway to status that is not overly burdensome was one focal point in the presentation and the dialogue that followed. Thronson explained the Catch-22 facing many undocumented individuals who wish to reform their status. There are substantial disincentives to leaving the United States after being here even if one is leaving to establish documented status. For example, once an undocumented individual who has been in the country for a certain period of time leaves, he is subject to 3-year or 10-year bars to reentry. While there was a time when we allowed individuals to acknowledge wrongdoing, pay a fine, and then proceed with paperwork, that method of reforming status was allowed to sunset more than a decade ago.

A large part of Dean Thronson’s talk gave particular attention to the needs of the millions of children affected by this intersection of family and immigration law – some who are themselves U.S. citizens but with undocumented parents, some who are undocumented themselves, and some who are U.S. citizens but living outside the United States. One of the problems with many current legal doctrines most affecting children is the fact that the characterization of children in immigration law is entirely dependent on whether a child is a dependent of an adult who has status. Furthermore, Thronson identified what he called an asymmetry in the system, where parents can extend status to children but children cannot extend status to parents. Among the guidance Dean Thronson offered in conclusion was the suggestion that we need to better educate the public and family law courts about immigration issues; and we need to start reforming our immigration law policies so that those policies are better informed by principles at the heart of family law, including looking to the best interests of children as a metric in decisionmaking.

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See the full 2015-2016 Chapman Dialogue schedule

Dean Thronson is also co-founder of the Immigration Law Clinic and served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Michigan State University College of Law. His research and writing seeks to develop frameworks and critical perspectives for analyzing the intersection of family and immigration, with a particular focus on children.

In 1994, Thronson earned his JD from Harvard Law School where he served as Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Human Rights Journal. After clerking for the Honorable A. Wallace Tashima in California, Thronson returned to New York City as a Skadden Fellow at The Door’s Legal Services Center, providing direct legal services to at-risk young people primarily in the areas of immigration, housing, public benefits and family law. He then served as the Gibbons Fellow in Public Interest and Constitutional Law at the law firm of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger and Vecchione where he litigated cases involving a wide range of issues including the scope of federal habeas jurisdiction to review immigration matters, the application of the Convention Against Torture, the constitutional adequacy of educational opportunities provided to urban children in New Jersey, and discrimination in New Jersey State Police hiring practices.

Thronson has served on numerous boards of directors, including those of the National Youth Leadership Council and International Social Service – USA. He currently serves on the national Interagency Working Group on Unaccompanied Children and his past governmental appointments include service on the Nevada Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, the Nevada Law Foundation, and the Nevada’s Governor’s Commission for National and Community Service. In 2006, he received the Friend of Working Families Award from the Nevada State AFL-CIO and in 2011 the Education Law Center honored him, along with other past Gibbons Fellows, with the Moreheuser Humanitarian Award. In January 2014 he was elected to membership in the American Law Institute and selected as a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

About the Chapman Dialogue Lecture Series

The Chapman Dialogue Lecture Series is a special lineup of distinguished lectures by innovative and thought-provoking legal scholars as well as some of the nation’s most prominent legal practitioners. Invited speakers present their research and ideas to a wide audience of faculty, students, alumni and special guests. Each Dialogue concludes with a lively Question and Answer session, typically led by one or two discussants from among the Fowler School of Law faculty.