Professors from the College of Arts & Sciences offered insight into the debate on U.S. immigration at the Sidney Gelber Auditorium Wednesday night in the first session of a five-part series of panels and debates called “Your Future, Your Vote: The Race for President 2016,” meant to highlight key issues of the election.
Lori Flores, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, said that the United States’ moral history is a direct cause of global migration.
“There are responsibilities and roles that the U.S. has played in those movements [migrations from Latin America and Middle East] of these people,” Flores said.
The notion that Latin American immigrants steal jobs from hard working Americans is a historical rhetoric driven by periods of economic strain in the U.S., according to Flores.
Flores said that during the Great Depression, some Americans blamed Mexican immigrants for the country’s economic distress. Flores further explained that in the 1930s and 1940s, the government conducted mass deportation raids, which encompassed anyone thought to have Latino heritage.
“This was a case of extreme profiling,” Flores said. “If you were heard speaking Spanish, if you had a particular name, if you looked a certain way, you were rounded up by immigration authorities and put on a train to the interior of Mexico.”
Gallya Lahav, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, said there are also several misconceptions about migration numbers. She took issue with the reported number of undocumented immigrants that are in the U.S., 11.3 million. She said this number could be skewed because of increases in border enforcement, but because of these statistics, people believe migration numbers are the highest they’ve been in U.S. history.
“In 1890, we could say the percentage of migrants per capita was much higher than it is today, which is closer to about 15 percent,” Lahav said. “Today, we are looking at a migration population around 10 to 13 percent.”
Lahav also claimed that close to half of the undocumented migrants to the U.S. are overstaying their visas. She said the majority of those overstayers are from Canada.
Another misconception, according to Flores, is that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes. Many do and because undocumented immigrants have forged social security cards, they can’t collect security deposits from their checks.
“Since they can’t claim it, it goes into our federal coffers,” Flores said. “$13 billion a year comes from undocumented immigrant pay into our systems that they do not in the end benefit from.”
Following the professors’ discussion, students debated whether amnesty should be given to illegal immigrants.
Fuad Faruque, a junior biology major, argued against amnesty. He also supported the building of a physical wall to strengthen the U.S.- Mexican border. Faruque said that a zero tolerance policy is needed for undocumented immigrants with criminal history.
“Seventy-five percent of drug possessions, 18 percent of drug trafficking and 30 percent of kidnapping were all orchestrated by criminal illegal aliens,” Faruque said. “After coming out of the federal prison system, many of the criminals are released into the cities rather than face deportation from Homeland Security.”
Christopher Cameron, a junior journalism major, disagreed. He argued in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants, many of who come seeking refuge from violence in parts of Latin America. Cameron said that federal and state deportation raids do not work to deter immigrants, especially those fleeing from violence.
“These raids tried to accomplish much the same thing as Republican border control efforts — deter immigrants from entering illegally,” Cameron said. “Yet since the beginning of the year, immigrants from Central American countries has only gone up.”
The second part of the series is set for Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Student Activities Center.