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Many scientists are currently looking to become more politically engaged or to advocate for science/scientists in various ways – by marching for science, contacting elected representatives or attending town halls.
As a European in the U.S. on a Green Card I wondered what I can and cannot do in practical terms to advocate for science. There’s some concern among international scientists like myself about their safety when advocating for their cause. This could be a significant barrier to effective science advocacy, given that a large proportion (52%) of all biomedical scientists in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to 2014 U.S. Census data. In addition, there are many “DREAMERs” (undocumented immigrants as defined in the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in the U.S., a subset of whom come under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Order) who are in STEM. Indeed, surveys and other data suggest that 28% of DREAMERs are pursuing a STEM degree in the U.S.
We can all have a role as advocates. There are many ways in which we can advocate for science, scientists, and their communities. After discussing this issue with a range of people, I wanted to present here some resources, not as legal advice, but as a directory to find further information and make the decisions for yourself when advocating, if you’re an international researcher in the U.S.
One clear point concerns U.S. citizens – in many ways, we are relying on you. I am asking for your help. You are in the safest position when it comes to speaking up, particularly if you are a white male. International scientists are just one of the communities asking for your help, and I thank those of you already working hard in this space to advocate for all of us.
There are resources here that are of use to international and U.S. citizen audiences alike. I’ll detail below some sources of further information on marching for science, and you may also want to contact the local marches you are attending/check out the resources they are providing. Likewise, I’ll discuss a few ways you can contact local, state and national elected officials, but leave it to you to decide which method is most appropriate.
Things to consider when marching for Science
The March for Science takes place on April 22nd, 2017 in 500 locations worldwide. The events will include marches, rallies and additional events like science fairs, teach-ins and other public events depending on the location. For example, there will be teach-in events at the DC march (including one by Juan Pablo Ruiz of Labmosphere for Future of Research on challenges faced by those wanting to become scientists), and a science fair at the San Francisco march. So even if you don’t feel like being in the march itself, you may can still be able to be involved with public outreach events on that day.
Marching is a form of political action through public demonstration. One of the first things to check with your local march is whether there are measures in place to protect international scientists. This is important to consider because anyone who is not a U.S. citizen can, potentially, be deported if arrested during the march. Some states have been passing resolutions that specifically target protests, and so you should check to see whether there are such legal barriers in force where your march is happening, for example here at the ACLU.
The second thing to find out, if you feel it is necessary, is whether there will be an attorney-on-call at the march. If so, consider bringing along USCIS form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, which you can have the attorney sign prior to the march. If arrested, you have the right to remain silent but must share your name; and the G-28 ensures your right to an attorney, namely the one mentioned in the form. You may not always be afforded attorneys in immigration proceedings otherwise, so this can apparently go a long way to help.
You can find more resources on this at:
- The Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- The National Immigration Law Center
- The National Immigration Project: with bilingual materials instructing immigrants on their rights, with a special section on marches and actions
- United We Dream
- The American Civil Liberties Union which has also put together resources for immigrants marching, with brochures specific to the states you are marching in
- The March for Science is also producing a pamphlet to let immigrants know what their rights are.
While you have a right to record law enforcement, you should take care if you are on federal property, as it’s possible this could be used as an attempted high-level conviction that could give grounds for deportation proceedings, despite being legal. This seems particularly important in Washington, D.C., but you should check into this further if you are considering recording law enforcement at your local march, and ask for legal advice on this issue. For all marchers, a resource to help you to know your rights is available from the Climate Legal Defense Fund and the accompanying blog post goes into more detail here.
Other forms of advocacy beyond the March for Science
Contacting your representatives and town halls
It wasn’t until I spoke to a policy director at a scientific society that I realised I was wrong to assume that because I have no vote, I have no voice. Representatives and senators represent everyone residing within their districts, and so you are able to write, call or speak to your representative. ASCB has an advocacy toolbox and information on their website on how to make your voice heard.
Again, you should make contact with them in whatever way you feel comfortable. Depending on where you are, you may not feel safe going to a town hall or meeting in person, but you can get engaged even without being able to vote. See this page from Academics for the Future of Science (AFS) for more information on strategies to contact your representatives.
Advocating to the public
You don’t need to limit yourself to political advocacy. Advocating to the public through giving presentations to local civic groups, writing letters to the editor of newspapers, or writing op-eds for publications are also important contributions to advocacy . Science advocacy to the public can be carried out in the hope of increasing their scientific literacy, and thus a general public better informed about science will also become science advocates themselves.
Asking others to stand up for you
I will be attending the March for Science in San Francisco. As a white male, British and Irish citizen in San Francisco, I feel safe attending town halls and speaking to my representatives personally. However I recognise what a privileged position I am in to do so, and you shouldn’t do anything that you don’t feel safe and comfortable doing. The point of this post is not to dissuade, but to give you necessary resources and information to help you make an informed decision about actions that you can take (whether marching or not), without suggesting in any way what you should do.
If you don’t feel safe taking part in some of the actions described above, reach out to your lab, your department, those around you who you feel are better able to speak up on your behalf. Explain to them the reasons you don’t feel safe doing so, and ask them for help. Science is a team effort, and a team should look out for those who need help. I hope that you are able to find help and support in your lab, your peers, your institutions, and your scientific societies.
Feel free to engage and advocate through your scientific societies and institutions. Also get involved with the effort that is gearing up to try to highlight which societies are able to facilitate your advocacy needs, Scientists Speaking Up (@ScisSpeakUp) and for more resources on what to do after the march, see efforts such as AAAS’s Force for Science.
Do you have thoughts or other resources to share, or clarifications you would like to be made? Please comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles and resources:
- Empowering immigrants in rural America by L. Sofia Gonzalez in ASBMB Today
- Trump’s travel ban by Lana Saleh in ASBMB Today
- What International Scientists Should Know about Immigration and Travel by the New York Academy of Sciences
- A Dangerous Divide: The Two Cultures in the 21st Century by the New York Academy of Sciences
- The temporary suspension of H-1B premium processing and academia by Future of Research
- The International Postdoc Survival Guide from the National Postdoctoral Association
Many thanks to Erika Shugart and Kevin Wilson from ASCB; Adrián Isaias Reyna from United We Dream; Maryam Zaringhalam; Virginia Folgado Marco and Linda Molla from INet NYC; and Yaihara Fortis-Santiago from the New York Academy of Sciences.