The room settled as the panelists shuffled in their seats before their presentation on immigration, migration and refugee status in the United States began. The panel and event titled Race and the University: Immigration Now was organized by the Women and Gender Studies department in Kirkland, EUC from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 15.
The entirety of the event was driven by discussions and presentations with Dr. Stephen J. Sills, Associate Professor and Director in The Center for Housing and Community Studies, Leilani Roughton, the Executive Director of the New Arrivals Institute and Holly C. Sienkiewicz, Director of the Center for New North Carolinians.
Dr. Sills’ academic research, he writes on his website, has focused largely on housing, health and labor especially pertaining to minorities and immigrants. On top of having an extensive research and academic background, Dr. Sills is fluent in Spanish, and has lived and worked across Asia and Latin America.
His presentation was quick and concise, making sure to hit all key points to set up for the next speaker. The presentation began with his main objectives that were going to be touched on, which ranged from the history of immigration in the United States and North Carolina to the movement of immigrants now leaving as opposed to coming in.
“We see a high density … of immigrants in both urban and non-urban areas,” Dr. Sills explained. Why might this be? The answer is farming. He explained that one of the most popular visas applied for is H1A, an agriculture-based work permit that has grown exponentially in the last decade.
Dr. Sills also made sure to differentiate between the terms ‘immigration’ and ‘migration,’ two terms that often get used synonymously in the heated political field. He continued to discuss the “pull and push” factor of immigration, noting that people move for different reasons, sometimes being pushed from their homeland and other times being pulled or attracted to something elsewhere. He briefly reviewed the history of Mexican migration to the United States, making sure to drive the point that there has always been a legal flow of immigration that are mostly farmers, a group that, should they dissipate, could impact the agricultural economy heavily in the United States.
With the basis set, Roughton began by defining the term refugee. She went on to give refugee statistics, making note that there are 68.5 million displaced peoples in the world today. What was rather interesting, and something which many do not talk about, is how long the process of applying for refugee status is.
The refugee process includes two security clearances, medical checks and interviews among other comprehensive steps. She ended with how federal and international law defined refugees and the policies passed under the current administration.
Sienkiewicz stepped in as the next speaker, and she piggybacked off of previous ideas, clarifying and introducing new terms to solidify the discussion about immigration. She talked about the broader group of people that did not fall into the categories of refugees and discussed Propose Changes to Public Charge, DACA and family separation.
To begin the discussion, she defined something called a “5-year ban” which is a barring of social services from immigrants that have been here for less than 5 years. She alluded to a certain leaked memo that came out of the White House recently that hinted towards policies that would redefine the criteria of applying for citizenship and permanent resident status.
In discussing DACA, a matter in which the judicial system continues to contradict and give pushback against the administration, Sienkiewicz emphasized that the DACA recipients do not get granted any type of path toward citizenship or permanent residency. Not only that, but the recipients of this policy are being subjugated to threats of deportation in the face of the dismantling of DACA.
To transition over to the discussion of family separation, she hinted at the psychological harm that family separation can cause. “From a human developmental standpoint, separating children at such an early age has devastating effects on their mental health and their trajectory and well-being,” Sienkiewicz elaborated by pointing to certain studies.
As Sienkiewicz finished and the panel came to a close, Lauren Benton, a junior at UNCG, seemed pensive. “I learned a lot, more than I thought I would,” she said, adjusting her bookbag. For Benton, the discussion of immigration is not very close to home, but she likes to stay up to date and remain knowledgeable about current events and discussions across the country. “I found the statistics they all gave really interesting too,” she said, as she thought back to certain graphs and numbers that explained concepts that might have otherwise been construed within political jargon.
Usually, here I would talk about other upcoming events that the organization that held the event would have, but because we’re at the end of the semester, no other events are scheduled.
With that being said, this is the last official article I will be writing for The Carolinian, and I would like to express my thanks to the newspaper for letting me get to write for them for the past year and a half. I loved every single minute of it. The experiences I have garnered by writing for the UNCG newspaper are incomparable to anything else in my life, and they will always and forever hold a place close to my heart.