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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Panel cites changing immigration ideas

Published: September 29, 2006
Section: News

A discussion panel entitled Uncovering the Myths of US Immigration was held Wednesday night in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium. The panelists were Ali Noorani, Nadia Kim, Lucia Reyes de Deu and Alejandra Pineros-Shields.

Noorani, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, spoke first. He focused his speech on the evolution of the immigrant rights movement, which became highly visible during the rallies and boycotts of this past spring. He also cited a new bill, HR 4437, as the catalyst of the recent efforts because it calls for building a fence along the southern border of the United States, as well as classifying the crime of being or helping an undocumented immigrant a felony.

Noorani attributes the large number of people at recent rallies to the fact that people realized this affected their lives and the lives of their friends. Noorani pointed to the highly political nature of this issue, especially in the current gubernatorial race in Massachusetts, calling it the gay marriage of 2006, as its opponents are using the issue to scare voters to the polls.

Nadia Kim is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women's & Gender Studies at Brandeis. She became interested in the issue of immigration while watching the Los Angeles riots of 1992. She saw the media account as very sensationalized and simplified and noticed that Asian immigrants became invisible. Kim stressed that power in our society operates by pitting minority groups against each other and that if we open our minds to the larger picture we will have a lot better chance to figure out what to do.

Lucia Reyes de Deu is a lecturer in the Romance and Comparative Literature department at Brandeis. In her speech, she wanted to fight stereotypes, including the image that most immigrants are young and male and that Latinos are unwilling to learn to speak English.

Reyes de Deu pointed out that many Latino immigrants are actually women who find work in the US as domestics in order to earn money to support their families back home. She also said that there is no real basis for the stereotype that immigrants do not want to speak English, citing statistics that show a great gap between the demand for ESL classes and what is being offered.

Often, there are long waiting lists for classes that may not even meet the needs of adult learners because the tutors are volunteer native speakers who are not trained in teaching ESL. She did praise Brandeis efforts, recognizing the work of the ESL Learning Initiative, which pairs Brandeis students with employees who wish to improve their English.

Alejandra Pineros-Shields is a PhD candidate at the Heller School. She began by talking about how the US government views immigrants. Originally the office that handles immigrant affairs was located in the Department of Labor. It was moved in 1940 to the Department of Justice and again in 2003 to the Department of Homeland Security. Shields cites this as evidence of the popular conception of immigrants moving from workers to criminals and now to terrorists.

She also wanted to dispel a popular myth that immigrants are an economic burden on our society. In reality, immigrants pay income, excise, sales, property and social security taxes, but receive none of the public services that money goes to, with the exception of education. They do not collect welfare, food stamps, or Medicaid, for example. According to Shields, they pay for the services they receive, and then some.

This event was sponsored by AHORA!, Brandeis Hispanic and Latino student organization.