The immigration debate in America

At a panel discussion Tuesday evening on immigration issues in America, associate professor of law Rachel Rosenbloom noted that the U.S is on pace to deport some 2 million people during the Obama administration’s first six years—a figure that would match the same total over the 105-year period since 1892. What’s more, she said the U.S. government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Rosenbloom, whose research focuses on immigration law and the country’s deportation system, said these numbers reflect a “system gone wild,” adding that U.S. immigration policy has implications for all Americans—not just those in immigrant populations.

“Regardless of anything that happens in comprehensive immigration reform, this trend is showing no sign of abating,” she said. “This is the world that we live in.”

Serena Parekh, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and Ramiro Martinez Jr., a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, joined Rosenbloom on the panel of Northeastern scholars who discussed immigration in America from a legal, philosophical, and criminal justice perspective. The event, titled “Immigration and Democracy,” was the latest in the educational series on civic sustainability titled “Conflict. Civility. Respect. Peace. Northeastern Reflects. Held in the Renaissance Park building and attended by nearly 100 students, faculty, and staff, the event was moderated by Jack McDevitt, associate dean of research for the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and director the Institute on Race and Justice.

“We don’t hear much reasoned conversation about the strengths and challenges of immigration in our country,” said McDevitt, “but our panel tonight will help us get there.”

Nearly 100 students, faculty, and staff attended the panel discussion on immigration in America.

Nearly 100 students, faculty, and staff attended the panel discussion on immigration in America.

In her remarks Tuesday evening, Parekh raised the philosophical issue of what America’s ethical and moral obligations are to its immigrants living here, both legally and illegally. This, she said, gets to the heart of an important fundamental question: What kind of a country do we want to live in?

Parekh urged the audience to consider two principles related to the country’s larger immigration debate, one of which is society’s interdependence with immigrant populations. “We’re quick to think about the benefits (immigrants) get, but we don’t consider the ways our lives are dependent on them too,” she said, pointing to agricultural and economic factors. The second, she said, is the distinction between legality and morality—which she said is often glossed over in political debate.

Martinez, for his part, focused on his quantitative research on the relationship between immigration and crime. His work looks at homicide rates in some of the country’s largest Latino communities and the effect changes in immigration patterns have on changes in crime in different cities and communities across time and space. This research, he said, has shown increases in immigrant populations don’t lead to a rise in violent crime in those communities, despite the implications of societal stereotypes.

Panelists also fielded questions on topics ranging from immigration advocacy and reform to the effect of immigration policy on American businesses.

The yearlong civic sustainability series is presented by the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the Office of Student Affairs, and the School of Law. It is hosted by Distinguished Professor of Political Science Michael Dukakis in conjunction with the Presidential Council on Inclusion and Diversity, the formation of which President Joseph E. Aoun announced in February.

Previous events in the series have focused on hate crimes, student reflections on experiential learning, the Holocaust, and the Boston Marathon bombings.  The next event in the series, titled “Gay Rights after Gay Marriage,” will be held Nov. 13.