A panel of four professors from different disciplines spoke about five generalizations and “myths” people have about refugees and migrants to a full house in the North Hall Common Room on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Assistant sociology professor Kaan Agartan said they are trying to figure out the myths “that guide, unfortunately, some of the uninformed discussions that we have about immigration and refugees in this country.”
The panel consisted of history professor Stefan Papaioannou, political science professor Joseph Coelho, sociology professor Lina Rincón and economics professor Luis Rosero. Agartan moderated the event.
The talk, “Breaking Down Myths About Refugees and Migrants” is the inaugural event for the Global Issues Lecture Series.
The first myth addressed was immigrants and refugees only want to make money and remain in their receiving countries permanently.
Papaioannou said immigrants who came to the United States from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries didn’t really come for the American dream, but intended to go back home after making money, which 4 million people did.
Rincón said her research is focused more on the past 40 years, and she has noticed differing narratives about refugees.
She said one of these narratives is about how refugees fear going back to their countries and believe things are better wherever they have moved.
Rincón said there is another narrative that nations don’t matter as much to migrants.
“In my own research I found that, especially for highly educated migrants, sometimes they stop caring about these loyalties. … Sometimes they feel disenchanted about countries in general,” she said.
Rincón said another narrative is postnationalism, which is the idea that migrants don’t think about countries being bounded by borders, and instead view both sending and receiving countries as mattering equally.
The second myth discussed was a functional country must have defined borders and enforce how people can cross them.
Coelho said there are states on paper, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the borders aren’t really there, making them “failing and weak states” that the U.S. and western-European countries consider to be “problematic.”
However, he added the creation of the European Union (EU) is “sort of antithetical to this old-west failing model. … The flow of people, goods, capital, culture and ideas should be fluid and should flow through borders and transcend them in order to create a form of economic cooperation, security and peace.”
He said society is just now seeing the “cracks” in the EU system with the United Kingdom voting last year to leave the EU and the recent increase of “hyper-nationalism.”
The third myth discussed was how immigrants and refugees negatively impact the economy.
Rosero said this myth “is really troublesome.”
He said undocumented immigrants make up 3.7 percent of the population but account for 5.2 percent of the entire U.S. labor force.
“We see an oversized contribution,” Rosero said.
Rosero also gave more statistics on how immigrants can be helpful to the economy. He said as a country, “we’re getting old.” The U.S. needs to increase the rate of migration in order to fill jobs.
Rosero also addressed President Trump’s plan to enforce existing laws to deport more undocumented immigrants. He said research shows the loss in gross domestic product (GDP) would be 1.4 percent in 2017 alone, and in the next 10 years there would be a 2 percent loss in GDP.
He said it would cost about $114 billion to deport the undocumented population.
The fourth myth was how an increase in crime is directly connected to immigrants and refugees.
Rincón said Trump’s new policy to target undocumented immigrants for minor violations “is not new and has been going on for a while.”
She added the problem is not that they are supposedly violating the law, but that the system is targeting immigrants and refugees.
Coelho also addressed this “new Trump-era idea of a gated country.”
He said of all the refugees who have come to the United States since 9/11, not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.
“Sometimes you need truth and fact to overcome perception,” Coelho said.
The fifth myth suggests that recent immigrants fail to go through the proper channels that previous generations went through.
Papaioannou said when looking at previous generations, such as those who arrived at the turn of the 20th century, immigrants had no legal procedures and “could just come in.”
He said for those who came through Ellis Island, 98 to 99 percent were let in.
Papaioannou said the comparison of immigrants today to immigrants from previous generations “doesn’t make sense. People 100 years ago did not have to go, by any stretch of the imagination, through the kind of processes we are describing.”
Rincón said, “Opponents of illegal immigration are fond of telling foreigners to ‘get in the line’ if you want to work in the U.S.”
Rincón said she has recently written a paper on the transition from a work visa to a green card and she has heard stories of people who waited anywhere from six to 15 years.
Rosero said his family emigrated from Columbia, and it took them 12 years to go through the process.
“If you’re making an economic decision, and the plan is 12 years from now, I don’t know how many people are going to be waiting,” he said.
After the discussion, Dean of Graduate Studies Yaser Najjar said, “You need to distinguish the difference between refugee and immigrants … These people are forced to leave their home country, and the main reason is war and occupation.”
Senior Wacuga Nganga said she is a nurse for Syrian and Iraqi immigrants.
She said she just had two patients who were planning to fly out to Australia to see their son, whom they haven’t seen in 10 years, but couldn’t go after Trump’s travel ban.
Nganga added, “There’s a lot of anxiety going on. One of my patients told me that if he had to be kicked out of the country, he’d rather go die in Syria. It has come to that point. They’re also feeling pressure, if I must say, and it’s just so sad to see.”