Photo courtesy of Cotie San
By Thuy Hang Tran
Immigration laws and policies have always been a highly contentious political and social matter for Americans, even at Sewanee. Coupled with the unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and immigration crisis in Europe, the moral and legal debate on immigration has intensified. Seeking to foster a more comprehensive understanding of immigration, Sewanee’s Asian organization, AASEANS, and the Hispanic organization (HOLA) hosted an immigration panel at the Women’s Center on November 5, 2015. The theme of the panel was “debunking the myths.” Their goal was to reevaluate biases, assumptions, and stereotypes to examine the bigger political and economic issues. The panel achieved a striking balance of diversity by having professors and students, all from various backgrounds.
The panel began with the panelists introducing themselves and their country of origin. Four of the panelists were professors: economic professor Yasmeen Mohiuddin, who came here as a student from India, political science professor Mila Dragojevic, who arrived here as a student but with a unique background as a refugee from Serbia, Spanish cinema professor Arturo Marquez, who came here as a student from Chile. In addition, Professor Colbert was part of the panel, providing important facts, having been an immigration lawyer and professor. The students were Yubisan Ventura (C’16) from Peru and David Vargas (C’16) from Mexico, both who shared their experiences as undocumented students. Two other students were Tariro Kandemiri (C’18), who came from Gabon, and Audrey Tchoukoua (C’16), who is from Cameroon. The panelists shared their experiences coming to the US, including the difficulty of learning English (for students) and fitting in with the American culture. The panel went smoothly and many myths were debunked. Among these myths were the misinterpretations that “immigrants harm the economy,” “immigrants take away natives’ jobs,” “undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes,” and “immigration causes higher crime rates.”
Panelist Tariro addressed the question on the historical impact of immigration by describing how the British colonialism of Gabon and political instability caused people to leave the country. Both Ventura and Vargas asserted that undocumented immigrants choose to overstay because their parents were seeking for a better life. One of the assumptions that remained controversial was on the concept of whether “immigrants deserve to be here” with critics on both end of this argument. Regardless of our own perspectives on immigration, by bringing forth the personal narratives and scholarly perspectives, this event encouraged the audience and participants to reflect on these assumptions and analyze the issues of immigration in new and critical ways. And yes, immigrants pay taxes, documented or undocumented.