Upcoming virtual symposium tackles hard-hitting issues on immigration

By Amanda M. Perez

Upcoming virtual symposium tackles hard-hitting issues on immigration

By Amanda M. Perez
The University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas will host an online seminar to discuss immigration in the age of deportation.

The United States is in many ways a nation like no other. With more than 45 million immigrants living in the U.S., the nation is not only a land of opportunity, it is also home to different nationalities who live, work, and aspire to the American Dream. 

Although immigration has deeply shaped the country, policy concerns and presidential actions have greatly impacted the way society views immigration today. Alejandro Portes, a professor of law at the University of Miami and professor emeritus of sociology at Princeton University, recently co-edited the article "Children of Immigrants in the Age of Deportation" in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, where he shares his concerns that the U.S. has lost its compassionate moral standing when it comes to our longstanding vision as a melting pot of nations. 

“There are thousands of kids that through no fault of their own are being expelled out of the country,” said Portes. “It is a tremendous problem in terms of human suffering and justice that is happening before our eyes.” 

In an effort to raise visibility on the plight of immigrants and to spark change, Portes is leading a symposium on May 20 hosted by the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, which will assemble thought leaders around the pressing issues of immigration. 

“There are a lot of faculty members who are conducting research on migration at UM. This symposium has been created to bring about the necessary chemistry or synergy among them in an effort to spark future collaboration across disciplines,” he said. 

The seminar will open with remarks by Felicia M. Knaul, director of the institute. Among the many topics that will be addressed, Portes is expected to discuss how the pandemic has affected immigration flows, as well as continuing deportations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

“The pandemic is paralyzing regular immigration to the United States and stopped entirely refugee migration. U.S. consulates abroad are closed, and asylum hearings have stopped,” explained Portes. 

In March, as the coronavirus rapidly spread across the western hemisphere, the Trump administration closed its borders with Mexico and Canada and announced a halt in the ability for people to obtain a green card. Portes maintained that the continuation of the deportation campaigns, the mass denials of asylum requests, and the near end of refugee immigration has made the U.S. a very unpopular country worldwide. 

“Despite the crisis situation, ICE has continued to detain and deport immigrants,” Portes said. “Tightly packed ICE detention centers have also led to a spike in [COVID-19] infection cases among detainees.” 

According to Portes, the end of compassion and the shift to temporary immigration to source the labor needs of the American economy have brought in their wake a series of consequences, some of which were predictable and others unexpected. Most poignant is the plight of youths brought at an early age to the U.S. who have been educated in American institutions and live in limbo having no clear path to legalize their situation and finally join a society they see as their own. A second tragic consequence is what awaits those children of immigrants who have actually been sent back to a country that they do not know and whose language they do not speak. 

“These kids of the undocumented are in a hopeless situation. They are in the shadows, escaping ICE and not knowing what is going to happen to them,” explained Portes “This is uncompassionate and not worthy of how this country has handled immigration in the past, which was to support immigrants or refugees.”   

One of the goals for this symposium is to place the University of Miami on the map as an epicenter for immigration studies in the country. Portes noted that it seemed natural to host the virtual discussion in a region that has been profoundly impacted by immigrants and their children. 

“Miami is the only city in the United States in which the foreign-born population is larger than the native-born population,” pointed out Portes. “Miami is an experiment that shows what could happen when an area becomes so heavily affected by immigration, and it is clear that the experiment has been a successful one.” 

He hopes he can facilitate in shifting the thinking among the community members in Miami through this virtual symposium, and with future seminars. 

“It is a topic that is priority to us at UM,” said Portes. “We as a city are the economic and political capital of the hemisphere and bridge into the Caribbean and Latin America. This is our destiny for the city and our institution.” 

The symposium will be held on Wednesday, May 20, beginning at 10 a.m. View more details and a list of participants here. Register for the symposium here.