On Saturday, The Call For Humanity, a student-led organization founded by LSA sophomore Samir Harake seeks to improve the future of the country by working on global issues, held a symposium discussing the current immigration and refugee situation in the United States.
Harake said the organization also works to encourage student groups to reach solutions to various humanitarian issues, and hoped to create a space for individuals to discuss their experiences with division on campus.
“We saw a lot of division (last semester), but what really stood out to me was that people were still really passionate about who they were as individuals, their backgrounds and their communities,” Harake said. “I saw that as an opportunity to bring these individuals together to work on pressing issues and to help those struggling communities.”
The Call For Humanity invited professors from the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Albion College to serve as panelists, while also featuring various student presentations on the subject of immigration and refugees.
The discussion was focused on the current immigrant and refugee climate in the United States, the negative stigmas associated with the words “immigrant” and “refugee,” as well as the issues these people face when assimilating into American culture. Patrick McLean, director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service at Albion College, refuted one of the largest myth about immigrants in the United States.
“The idea that immigrants take jobs away from Americans is, in almost all cases, false,” McLean said. “They bring in new skills, start new business, acquire patents and win awards.”
Dr. Wassim Tarraf, an assistant professor at the Institute of Gerontology and Department of Healthcare Sciences at Wayne State University, was another panelist. He disputed common generalizations of immigration into the United States as being without reward
“The immigrant experience is not all bad in the United States,” Tarraf said. “It has baggage attached to it and good things attached to it.”
One topic the speakers addressed was the difficulty of immigrants and refugees to assimilate into life in whichever country they immigrated to. University Sociology Prof. Fatma Göçek said many refugees and immigrants face many physical attacks.
“Whenever social problems occur, violence is the first solution to occur,” Göçek said. “(Syrian refugees) are the ones most prone to suffer from violence.”
President Donald Trump’s recent set of executive orders targeting predominantly Muslim countries were also discussed. The panel highlighted the potential dangers these travel bans could spell for the United States and its citizens.
“On this particular issue (of immigration and refugees), I think the administration is nothing short of dangerous,” McLean said. “They play on negative stereotypes, they play on people’s fears and when you start to put people into categories it gets very dangerous.”
The ban, the panelists explained, could also affect foreign students and their decisions to travel to the United States for higher education. According to NBC News, foreign student applications from China, India and the Middle East to United States universities are down by approximately 40 percent of the schools surveyed while McLean stated foreign student applications from these global regions have risen by 20 percent in Canada.
Lastly, the panel touched on the issues immigrants — especially those who are undocumented — face when dealing with health care in the United States. Tarraf mentioned how the large diversity of the immigrant population vary by health, family size, marital status and income, among other things, can add to the complexity of immigrant health care.
“The diversity of the immigrant population has a lot of consequences, especially health consequences,” Tarraf said. “The policy is uncertain, and not able to deal with the problem entirely and leaves out the most vulnerable.”
Panelists left with audience with their thoughts on the future of this issue and how people can seek to make a change.
“(The millennial generation) is the first generation that, when asked to choose between money and experience, you choose experience,” Göçek said. “You are more interested in each other. I think as a sociologist, we have to think about how we treat inequalities here.”
When asked how citizens can act to help alleviate the problem of violence toward immigrants, Göçek remained positive.
“The most important thing is to be aware of the violence being naturalized in our society and to stand up when you see that violence being practiced.” She said.
McLean addressed the issue of the immigrant and refugee stereotypes, urging the audience to keep an open mind.
“Consider the narratives that are out there; there are many good stories out there and they are very resilient,” he explained. “It’s a testament to the human spirit.”
Engineering sophomore Pratik Vaidya said he connected to one of the broad ideas McLean presented throughout the discussion.
“Our community is driven by different motivations,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the same perspective. Don’t make conjectures.”
LSA sophomore Iman William felt she gained more information and insight into what can be done to help alleviate some of the issues facing immigrants and refugees.
“Change isn’t going to happen overnight, but there are things we can do right now to make a difference,” she said.