Emory Report
November 12, 2007
Volume 60, Number 11

Panelists add voices to immigration debate

• Regine Jackson, assistant professor of American studies
“It is a false dichotomy to separate this issue by economics or by race. What I see is that the United States may not have a problem with illegals as workers, but we have a problem with illegals as citizens.”

• Flavia Mercado, medical director, Department of Multicultural Affairs, Grady
“There is talk of health care costs rising because of illegals. But it is the uninsured who have caused this problem, not all of whom are immigrants.”

• Mark Newman, immigration attorney
“I don’t know of a single study that doesn’t conclude that immigration is a positive economic factor. We have the highest employment rate since World War II.”

• Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, senior lecturer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
“In politics, the complexities of the immigration often get reduced to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ That kind of debate makes it impossible to explore the issues.”

• Kate Nickerson, associate professor, Institute of Liberal Arts
“It’s difficult to go to any playground in the United States and not see an international child being looked smilingly over by white parents. People talk happily about these families as melting pots. But we need to question this metaphor and look at the issues for these children.”

• Scott Titshaw, chair, Atlanta Chapter of the
American Immigration Lawyers Association
“Until 1990, nobody who identified as gay could enter the United States. HIV-positive persons are still banned.”

• Lelia Crawford, director, International Students and Scholars Program
“What happens to people who come to Emory on a student visa, but want to stay after graduation? Many universities and corporations want them to stay, but United States law often prevents it.”

• Paul Ficklin-Alred, assistant director, administration, John and Susan Wieland Center for Ethics
“My ancestors had no desire to assimilate to American culture and rules – but that was in the 17th century.”

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November 12, 2007
Issues of immigration explored at brown bag

By elizabeth elkins

A challenge by Atlanta immigration attorney Mark Newman to “ask tough questions” set the tone for “Still a Melting Pot? The Evolving Issues around Immigration,” the school year’s first President’s Commissions-sponsored brown bag lunch. More than 100 people attended the Nov. 5 event in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library. There, eight panelists spoke briefly about their personal and professional experiences regarding immigration before taking audience questions.

“Are we really a melting pot?” asked moderator Ozzie Harris, senior vice provost for community and diversity. “Or are we a jam jar, or a garden? I don’t feel like I’m melting.”

Like Newman, Harris encouraged the audience to ask questions that challenged the panelists. He then asked audience members to stand if they were immigrants, if more than one language was spoken in their home, or if they had ever been made uncomfortable by their accent or their cultural traditions — indicating that a large portion of those in attendance had ties to immigration issues. Harris peppered his remarks with facts, including that from 1860 to 1930 the number of people living in the United States who were born outside of the country was drastically higher than it is today, and that more than 12 percent of Atlanta’s population consists of first-generation immigrants.

With these numbers in mind, the panelists and audience members began a passionate discussion. Many facets of the immigration issue came to light, including the post-9/11 difficulties legal immigrants face in securing citizenship, Grady Memorial Hospital’s role in insurance and health care for illegal immigrants, the role of race in the immigration debate, the economic impact of immigration, the incorrect assumption that most immigrants come from Mexico, the challenges lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender couples face when one partner is not a United States citizen, the concept of language and the political implications of immigrant issues.

Panelist Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, who is married to a Mexican and has a bicultural child, summed up the event with a message of open-mindedness and exploration.

“Doesn’t a melting pot mean some of this melts on to a little of this?” asked Hartfield-Mendez, a senior lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “English and our culture shouldn’t be a hegemonic thing. Maybe we should all learn a little Spanish.”