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Scholars bash Romney, Republicans on immigration

A panel of professors from across the nation converged at Purdue University to discuss immigration and the November election, but the 90-minute roundtable, billed as “nonpartisan,” quickly devolved into an attack against Mitt Romney, Republicans, immigration laws, and even America’s colonial period.

Immigration and the 2012 Election: An Academic Roundtable,” was hosted Sept. 20 by Purdue’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion. It included five scholars asked to discuss how race, ethnicity, class and gender shape immigration issues, particularly with regard to the presidential election.

None of the panelists spoke in favor of Republican policies on immigration reform.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California-Riverside, argued Republican strongholds basically stagnate the free flow of immigrants to those areas through stricter laws and enforcement.

For example, some of the tightest immigration laws hail from Arizona, a state largely controlled by Republican lawmakers, he said.

“The factor that consistently matters is how Republican an area is,” Ramakrishnan said. “Basically, you had a conservative insurrection on immigration well before the Tea Party insurrection in 2009.”

Ramakrishnan said this factor hurts Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as it’s difficult for him to get the support of voters sympathetic to illegal immigration causes.

Underscoring that, Romney also failed to provide a good explanation of his immigration plan at a recent Univision forum, said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, associate professor of social and cultural studies at the University of California-Berkeley.

She said she believes Romney treated Latinos disrespectfully by giving what she contends was a vague answer that skirted the issue.

“I did have a moment as a Latino watching Univision saying like, ‘we’re not that stupid,’” Bedolla said. “Like, you think that you can sort of back pedal around this question, but you’re talking about stuff that’s really really important.”

Ramakrishnan took it one step further, saying at least Romney side-stepped the issue; in most states, Republicans who call for immigration reform are zealous about it, and meet with support from constituents.

“You have many states where…you can go immigrant bash and do just fine,” Ramakrishnan said.

Diane Thomas, president and CEO of the International Center of Indianapolis, echoed that sentiment, noting Indiana is one such state where Republican lawmakers’ immigration reform efforts are met with favor.

For example, she said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) lost his seat in large part because of his support for the Dream Act, a bipartisan amnesty proposal for illegal immigrants. Indeed, one of the best ways to get on the front page of newspapers in Indiana is to propose anti-immigration legislation, she said.

Thomas called for more lenient immigration laws, and said the U.S. must follow Canada’s model on immigration or face the consequences. She said immigrants will move to Canada for jobs because they won’t be able to obtain work visas here, and that will ultimately hurt the U.S. economy.

“They’re gonna cream us here if, you know, we don’t get with the program,” Thomas said. “Look at all the international students who are here—you gotta leave and go work in Canada because you’re gonna get a visa you won’t get here. How stupid is that for us?”

Ramakrishnan said he believes even Canada’s immigration laws are too strict. He said all of America should embrace the politics emulated in Chicago, where he believes pro-immigrant, pro-union policies rule the day.

At one point a student asked why President Barack Obama has deported more illegal immigrants in four years than Bush did in eight. Garcia Bedolla largely blamed the previous administration. She said it was caused by the continuation and acceleration of a President George W. Bush-era policy that Obama chose not to stop.

Niambi Carter, assistant professor of African American studies at Temple University, said the problem of immigration is much greater than transgressions or politicians’ flawed policies – it is that America is inherently rooted in injustice.

“We like to treat justice as if it’s something that’s always there, there’s just been momentary slippages in the application of these principles that we supposedly live by, instead of treating them as real problems that are deeply embedded from the founding,” Carter said. “I don’t know how you get a just nation with slavery and Native American rule, I don’t.”

Fix contributor Ryan Lovelace is a student at Butler University.

IMAGE: Jon “Satch” Satriale, Flickr

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