On Friday morning, a University panel tackled the issue of immigration policy from the perspectives of academia, politics and personal narratives.
Moderator and Wilson School Professor Douglas Massey GS ’78 opened the discussion by explaining how the history of immigration policy has impacted today’s demographic trends. He noted that the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which eased restrictions on Asian immigration, ultimately limited the immigration of Latin Americans. He added that in later decades, as the U.S. Congress expanded border patrol, it did not directly decrease immigration rates, but instead increased the risks for immigrants moving to the US and attempting to gain citizenship.
Rick Sobel ’71, senior research associate at Harvard Medical School, noted that the country is made up of immigrants. He explained that the percentage of the U.S. workforce that is comprised of undocumented immigrants, such as those who may have arrived with an immigration visa but overstayed, hovers at around five percent. This statistic points to the necessity of establishing a clear path to citizenship, according to Sobel.
Sobel explained his criticisms of a proposed nationwide facial recognition system, which he classified as “citizenship de-form” as opposed to immigration reform. He explained that such a program would in fact harm citizens, requiring them to always carry a document with a photo ID that can be recognized and interpreted by a computer, such as a photo from a driver’s license or a passport. In addition, Sobel criticized the idea by explaining how it would result in the creation of a database of photos within the Department of Homeland Security — missing this photo ID would mean that a citizen would be unable to get employed, according to Sobel.
Rep. Ken Buck ’81 of Colorado’s fourth Congressional District noted the attraction that the high equality of living in the United States holds for immigrants from other nations, a positive societal benefit. However, Buck added that immigration policies and processes must adhere to current laws.
“If we don’t follow the rule of law with immigration, then we undermine [the law] in all areas,” he said, noting that although it is necessary for immigrants to follow the law in the process of gaining citizenship, this process must be made simpler.
“We need to make our legal immigration system more efficient and make sure that people understand that there is a penalty for disobeying our law,” he noted. Buck added that the urgency of the need for immigration reform is evident from looking to the current, “irrational” presidential race.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta ’06, an assistant professor of classics, spoke about the issue of immigration reform and policies from a personal perspective. Padilla grew up as an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic with his family in New York. He noted that he faced a significant difficulty because of being undocumented when he was applying to Princeton. When he received his financial aid package, Padilla said he realized that one component of the aid was federal work-study, yet Padilla knew that he could not work. And while the problem was fortunately resolved by the Office of Admission as well as the Office of Financial Aid, Padilla added that he remains frustrated by the fetishization of national laws when it comes to immigration policies. He explained that these policies should be questioned and reformed instead of blindly obeyed.
Massey concluded the panel by highlighting trends that reflect future national demographics. “The future demography of the United States is already set,” he said, adding that the current demographics of the U.S. population reflect a country that is younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, largely due to rising immigration rates.