The University of Michigan Latino/a Studies Department hosted a teach-in Tuesday night regarding immigration and nativism, titled, “Against the New Nativism.” The event was organized by the University’s Migration & Displacement Interdisciplinary Workshop, Global Solidarity After Colonialism RIW and TriContinental Solidarity Network.

The organizers aimed to frame the immigration debate on nativism, which panelist and third-year law student Melissa Peña described as “a term which reflects a Euro-American project to indigenize white settlers, to frame them as the real natives in order to justify displacing indigenous people and excluding non-white aliens.” Another goal of the teach-in was to change the way people view immigration as a whole, shifting the framing from a legal issue to a moral issue and stressing a historical approach to how we view immigration.

This event was proposed in light of a lecture scheduled for Nov. 15 hosted by the University’s chapter of College Republicans with Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, titled “The Real Immigration Debate: Whom to Let In and Why.” Some at the University, like postdoctoral fellow William Lopez, have taken issue with the event. Krikorian’s organization, which was founded in 1985 by University alum John Tanton, has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Latino/a Studies Department wanted to approach the conversation surrounding immigration from a different lens.

A panel composed of undergraduate and graduate University students discussed recent changes in immigration policies and public reception to these policies, the most pressing issues in immigration, and some immediate and long-term solutions to these problems. The panelists’ areas of expertise ranged from refugee policy to border control to the politicization of undocumented immigrants.

Panelist Nicolas Espinosa, a Ph.D. candidate, said while anti-immigration narratives supported by CIS are becoming “more aggressive and more blatant since pre-2016,” they aren’t necessarily new.

“We’ve seen this historically,” Espinosa said. “There’s always been a pretty significant anti-immigrant movement, this effort from folks like CIS to paint immigrants as folks who are dangerous, or taking jobs, or exploiting the system. The narratives are just kind of being re-canned … That’s not to say that they didn’t exist before, they’re just becoming more intense and more out in the open.”

Panelist junior Ayah Kutmah, an LSA junior, said the current political narrative is that we are letting in too many refugees, when “in reality, (the United States is) not letting in people who should be considered refugees, pointing to the years-long process most refugees must go through to come to the United States.

“The backlog in refugee cases, the fact that it takes two years for a refugee case to be decided to be admitted to the United States … is against refugees,” Kutmah, who worked at Human Rights Watch over the summer, said. “The fact that from the moment they set foot in the United States, they incur the debt of the plane tickets, that’s huge.”

Audience questions ranged from how to change public opinion to the moral implcations of stringent immigration policies. 

Peña said one of the biggest problems related to immigration in the U.S. was Border Patrol’s inhumane treatment of immigrants who cross the border at Mexico.  

“(Immigrants) are fleeing violence, gangs threatening their lives and domestic violence issues over there and so a lot of the women are fleeing from that … and so they’re suffering from a lot of trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), like they break down in tears and forget what they’re talking about and stuff like that,” Peña said. “But because of border patrol, like the way they treat them, they add to the PTSD that they are already suffering from.”

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