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Hometown Refugee Rights Activist Returns To Speak at Davidson

by Jimmy Swansbrough '03

September 21, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

William Coley
William Coley

William Coley, who grew up in the Town of Davidson and has since traveled much of the world to assist political refugees, will bring his concern for that issue back home on Monday, September 24. Coley, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service's New Jersey Detention Project, will speak about "Are Refugees No Longer Welcome? Immigration Detention in the United States," beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room of Davidson College's Alvarez College Union. His talk is being sponsored by the college's Dean Rusk Program in International Studies, and there is no admission charge.

Coley, a 1988 graduate of North Mecklenburg High School, was one of four people worldwide to receive the 2001 Reebok Human Rights Award. Reebok praised his dedication, saying his work "has brought hope, inspiration, and strength to the lives of others."

Coley's attention to the plight of refugees began during his junior year at Wake Forest University, when he began volunteering to acclimate asylum seekers to United States culture. He received a Rotary International Scholarship to study immigration issues at the University of Zimbabwe, then completed Oxford University's Refugee Studies Program in 1997. He returned stateside to work for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The U.S. government's 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act mandates that asylum seekers to the U.S. must be detained until they can establish a "credible fear of persecution." Coley worked with JRS to establish services for the 300 or so detainees at the government's Elizabeth, N.J., detention center.

Those services included classes in English and religion. Coley also recruited hundreds of volunteers for a visitor program to support them during their detention.

His cause was waylaid in November 1999, however, when the INS suspended the classes as possibly "subversive." Coley has fought since that time to overturn the INS decision, and has organized local volunteers to continue the visitation program.

He continues to raise awareness of the conditions of detainees, providing post-release social services and creating transitional housing to assist them after their release. He is active with several immigration support networks in New York and New Jersey.

For more information on his talk at Davidson, call 704/894-2440.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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