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"These politics and policies have effects on human life": UNC panel on immigration

Professors and students gathered to examine recent developments concerning immigration policies and their far-reaching implications on Thursday. A panel of scholars discussed how American migrants and citizens will be affected by current immigration legislation and the construction of the border wall. 

The panel started off by considering the history of the Mexican-American border and its militarization. 

Angela Stuesse, an assistant professor of global studies and anthropology, was one of the panelists. She discussed the deep history of the border. She said the border patrol was originally established to keep African-American slaves from escaping to Mexico and to keep Chinese immigrants from entering in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 

“It’s not really until the ‘90s, coinciding with the passage of NAFTA  and the Immigration Reform Law of 1996, that we really see the militarization we see today,” Stuesse said. 

Barbara Sostaita, a doctoral candidate in the department of religious studies, referred to Samuel Huntington’s "The Hispanic Challenge." She talked about how it painted a picture of Latino immigrants as separate from America. She discussed the idea that Latinos are resistant to assimilation because of their language and culture. 

“He talks about Miami, he talks about the west, and this idea that Latinos kind of don’t integrate ourselves into broader America,” Sostaita said. 

She also examined the effects of using certain words and phrases in discourse about immigration. She believes imagery of waves, floods and storms cast immigrants in a bad light. 

“Waves destroy, right?” Sostaita said. “We have this water imagery that’s used to discuss migration, and that can go into these misconceptions and stereotypes and ideas of migrants, especially from the south.” 

The panel also discussed the misconceptions and stereotypes that underlie support for the border wall. Such stereotypes included the ideas that immigrants are criminals and that they are a burden on the economy. 

“We have economic myths like, ‘immigrants don’t pay taxes,’ or ‘immigrants are stealing our jobs,’ ‘immigrants are draining our local resources,’” Stuesse said. “All of which are myths that can be debunked on different levels.” 

While immigrants do contribute to the economy, this argument may actually perpetuate other harmful narratives. 

Hannah Gill, the director of the Latino Migration Project, did research in 2010 that showed immigrants in a North Carolina community had lower rates of violent crime than other groups. She said people use the argument about economic productivity to fight existing stereotypes of immigrants as being unproductive. However, it can sometimes draw attention away from their inherent value as humans. She thinks that rather than fighting these narratives, people should shift the focus to broader themes of human impact. 

“Sometimes, changing the narrative instead of responding can be more productive,” Gill said. 

Melissa Luong, a second-year graduate student studying public health, came to the event to gain a deeper understanding of immigrant issues. She believes immigration policies have far-reaching implications. 

“Especially given the political climate and environment that we’re in today, this is a more salient issue,” Luong said. “These politics and policies have effects on human life, and I think it’s really important to try and understand that.”


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