Amy Pope ‘96 Brings Her White House Experience Back To Campus

The former deputy homeland security advisor to Barak Obama is co-teaching a course with her former advisor this semester, and gave a talk on “Migrants, Refugees, and National Security” to the community.

Just a few months ago, Amy Pope ’96 was working in the White House. As deputy homeland security advisor during Barack Obama’s second term in office, Pope worked tirelessly to coordinate cooperation between federal agencies and respond to threats facing the country’s safety. Now that a new administration has been installed in her old workplace, Pope has a lot more time on her hands. She’s not only spending more time with her family and serving as a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, but is has also come back to visit her alma mater, both as a teacher and a distinguished visitor.

Pope was welcomed by a receptive crowd of students in Sharpless Auditorium on Feb. 28, as she delivered a talk on “Migrants, Refugees, and National Security.” Pope’s interest in migration harkens all the way back to her days at Haverford. As a political science major, she completed her senior thesis on European Union migration policy and was advised by Benjamin R. Collins Professor of Social Sciences Anita Isaacs. This semester, Pope is now able to rejoin her advisor on campus to help Isaacs teach her “Refugees and Forced Migrants” course. As the world faces an unprecedented refugee crisis with numerous people displaced by violence in Syria and across the Middle East, Pope has dealt at length with questions of migration and national security, and she was able to share her perspectives in answering the question, as Isaacs put it: “What the hell is going on?”

“I have been up close and witnessed every single piece of this puzzle,” said Pope. “I’ve taken it apart, put it back together again. I know where our weaknesses are, I know where the strengths are. And what I walked away believing quite strongly is that the goal of protecting the United States and the goal of admitting refugees and migrants to our country are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are reinforcing.”

Pope organized her talk into three sections: what perspective she brings to the issue of national security, how the United States is currently vetting those entering the country, and what she believes the U.S. should be doing next. Inevitably, she addressed the current administration’s rhetoric and policy directions and what effect she believes they will have on the nation’s protection. Time and time again, she stressed that distancing ourselves from other nations and groups of people is not only misguided, but it is downright unsafe.

“There is nothing to be gained by alienating populations here at home,” she explained. “By suggesting that some community is other than American… this kind of rhetoric can do incredible damage, and create great insecurity.”

Pope discussed the dangers of the current anti-immigration climate and its media representation, but also shared anecdotes from her time within the Obama administration that demonstrated the perspective which she believed are most fruitful to protecting the nation.

“There’s something President Obama said that I wrote down,” shared Pope. “He said, ‘There’s something unique about America: we don’t simply welcome new immigrants… we’re born immigrants. That’s who we are.’”

Following her talk, she participated in a Q&A with a very engaged audience of students, who took time out of their week of midterms to hear from the alumna. Myriad topics were raised, including Trump’s recent travel ban and planned cuts to foreign aid, the process of transitioning from one administration to another, and the experience of being a woman in government. Though Pope expressed definite concerns about the new administration’s direction, she hoped that a more Haverfordian perspective on migration would prevail.

“Even though I am much less idealistic than I was while I was at Haverford, it’s really that sense that was developed here, this calling to be on the right side of justice, to speak out when there are wrongs, to be part of the solution, that drives me to do what I do now,” she said. “And it’s why I went into national security, because I believe that having that point of view, having the respect for the rule of law, understanding the importance of our civil rights and civil liberties, is absolutely critical to our national security.”

-Michael Weber ’19

Photo by Rae Yuan ’19