Panel Discusses Immigration Policy in U.S.

Andover invited a panel to Kemper Auditorium this past Tuesday to speak about immigration and its effects on globalization. The presentation was appropriately entitled, “Immigration in America: Closed Borders – Open Arms,” the panel discussed both the economic and demographic impacts that immigration has on different communities within the United States. They also addressed common American misconceptions about illegal immigrants and the current wave of U.S. immigration. The Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) sponsored the panel in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The panelists were Dr. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Dr. Ramon Borges-Mendez, Dr. Marcia Hohn and Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan. Dr. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor from the New York University Steinhardt School of Education, was the first panelist to speak. History Department Head Peter Drench moderated the event. He opened the event by saying that immigration is the “self-image” of the nation because the U.S. is a country built by immigrants. Dr. Suárez-Orozco continued to say that immigration is both the history and the destiny of the United States. Roughly one third of blacks in New York City are descendants of slaves brought over from Africa over 300 years ago. Unlike Europe, Japan, and other wealthy countries, the United States has welcomed immigrants for centuries. The country is home to more than 12 million illegal immigrants. Last year alone, America received more undocumented immigrants than documented. Dr. Suárez-Orozco also noted that the border between the United States and Mexico is more heavily patrolled than ever before, but a record-high number of immigrants are still crossing the border. America is not the only country impacted by immigration and globalization, since both are worldwide issues. Although all nations are currently dealing with large-scale immigration, Europe will be facing a serious decrease in population within the next century, due to rapid aging, high social security rates and decreasing birth rates. Panelist Dr. Ramon Borges-Mendez, from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, discussed his studies of immigrants in New England. He explained that New England is the most diverse region in the United States, and it has no one dominant minority group. Of the 1.5 million immigrants in New England, 900,000 live in Massachusetts. To give the audience an idea of how much the minority population has grown in 25 years, Dr. Borges-Mendez said that in 1980, 2.5% of Providence, R.I.’s population was Latino. Today, the Latino population in the city is to 40%. In Lawrence, Mass., 95% of public school students are of Latino heritage. The next panelist to speak was Dr. Marcia Hohn, Director of Public Education at the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, Massachusetts. The center offers English language classes to immigrants and has recently launched a public education program to research immigration trends in Massachusetts. Dr. Hohn offered a different view on the current wave of immigration – she discussed immigrant home buyers and entrepreneurs. Dr. Borges-Mendez helped her conduct this study in three Boston neighborhoods: Fields Corner, a relatively diverse community, Allston Village, and East Boston, which has a Latino majority. By interviewing people in these neighborhoods, the researchers discovered that immigrants were reviving investment and commerce by starting their own businesses. The shops and restaurants attracted people from other neighborhoods and improved public safety. As a result, these communities underwent a second wave of development. Immigrants began buying homes and paying taxes. Dr. Hohn emphasized that the immigrants had done this without any changes to public policy. Contrary to popular misconception, the immigrants were giving back more to the community than they were taking. Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan said that immigrants were a major factor in the economic growth of the 1990s. He said that a more ambitious, multicultural agenda is needed for a successful policy on immigration. The House, however, refused a bill that attempted to address the challenges of illegal immigrants. In the past few years, the rate of illegal immigrants entering the country has jumped from 2.5 million a year to 12 million a year. In order to grant some of the immigrants U.S. citizenship, the government must pass a bill which sets a criteria for citizenship eligibility and regulates immigration through increased border security.