The third Classroom on the Quad on Wednesday featured an interdisciplinary forum in which a former attorney general, a state senator’s aide, faculty members and law students tackled various angles of the national debate over immigration.
“We are active citizens and voters, and immigration is one of the premier issues in the ’08 election,” Student Government Association President Emily Allen said. “It is a timely and complex issue that we wanted the entire University community to fully understand.”
Allen emphasized that as immigration becomes an increasingly divisive, hot-button issue on the political forefront, the complexity and large-scale implications remain pressing yet hard to grasp for most people.
“It is one of the most misunderstood topics ... lumped into sound bites of amnesty and building walls,” SGA Chief of Staff Kevin Kelly said.
Although attendance was low — only a few hundred people through out the day — SGA Executive Vice President Maria Town said the turnout was still good considering the last-minute roadblocks in the process.
After receiving a late call from the Facilities Management Division informing them that the quad would not be able to drain properly from the recent rain, SGA was forced to relocate the event to the Student Activities and Academics Center gym at Clairmont Campus.
Kelly said the last-minute relocation, coupled with the unusually cold and windy weather, made it more of a hassle for students to attend. Many professors did not take their classes to the event as previously planned because of the change, he said.
Two years ago, a Classroom on the Quad focusing on human rights drew about 1,000 people to the Quad for the discussion.
Among the themes presented, frequent refrains were misinformation, the extensive implications of immigration, the emotional weight of the issue and the mistreatment of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Bob Herndon, an aide to state Sen. David Adelman, spoke on the senator’s behalf about contemporary immigration laws and their consequences on a local level.
Adelman, a Democrat who represents Emory’s district in the Georgia Senate, canceled his appearance in order to deal with important bills that were on the floor.
Herndon spoke about the negative results of last July’s Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, which imposed stricter employment standards for Georgia businesses.
Herndon said he fears Georgia will suffer economic losses if migrant workers flee to neighboring states with more lenient laws.
“I don’t know the answer, but the problem needs to be addressed, because people shouldn’t be punished because of where they are from,” he said.
In the faculty panel discussion that followed, Alexander Escobar, chair of the President’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity and a senior lecturer in the biology department, concurred with Herndon’s assertions.
“I am flabbergasted by the hostility towards the Hispanic community and immigration,” he said.
Escobar clarified that he does not advocate illegal immigration but recommended allowing immigrants to work temporarily in the United States and then return home.
“How can we take these people’s jobs away, wave a carrot and say, ‘Come get these jobs,’ and then vilify them for it?” he said.
Associate Professor of Political Science Juan del Aguila advocated empowerment from within the Spanish-speaking community with steps like learning the dominant language.
“Assimilation is the key to success of any immigrant,” he said. “If you’re going to come here and your language skills are poor, learn English.”
He said this education promotes social mobility and does not demean the immigrants’ native culture.
Citing statistics, Assistant Professor of Economics Monica Capra said that while the illegal immigrants impose a strain on the economy, the influx of highly skilled workers balances the strain to create a relatively neutral net effect.
“Immigration doesn’t really matter. There is no large benefit, no large cost. Could it be better? Yes,” she said.
In light of growing debate on universal health care, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Multicultural Affairs at the Grady Health System Flavia Mercado discussed immigration in the health arena.
She noted that illegal immigrants with children born in the United States fear that efforts to obtain health insurance for their children would expose them and lead to their deportation.
The speakers closed by offering information on how the community could get involved.
Earlier in the day, the Immigration Law Society invited the Emory community to take advantage of volunteer opportunities that the organization offers, including donating books to a campuswide book drive held at Asbury Circle on Wednesday. Allen said the drive collected 2,000 to 3,000 books that day.
Public health student Judy Tessema said she attended the event even though she knew where she stood on immigration issues.
“I don’t like to see people mistreated,” she said. “Don’t blame people for your country’s problems when they’re just trying to get a better life.”
Tessema said she came because she wanted to convince her friends to join her side. She said she wanted her friends to know that the information she cited was legitimate.
Michelle McWilliams, Nursing School senior, said she was glad that the event was being held because “it’s something we encounter every day and should not be taken lightly.”
—Contact Prisca Pointdujour.