No easy answers in U.S. immigration debate

Anne C. Richard

Anne C. Richard, a former assistant secretary of state under President Obama, kicks off the Forum on Inclusive Immigration Reform at FIU.

Advocates, scholars and students come together to discuss the future of immigration reform in the U.S.

When Anne C. Richard became an assistant secretary of state under President Obama in 2012, she made what she now thinks may have been an idealistic assumption.

“I always thought that the work we were doing (at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration) was part of the “middle of the road” of politics in the United States,’’ said Richard, who visited FIU as part of a student-led forum on immigration reform.

“We are and have always been a nation of refugees and immigrants,’’ said Richard, now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. “We have a long tradition of leading the world in terms of humanitarian assistance. Most Americans are very proud of that. But that identity is being called into question by the political rhetoric we are hearing today.”

“Are we still that country of refugees and immigrants?” she asks.

Richard, whose credentials include the Peace Corps, International Rescue Committee and Council on Foreign Relations, gave the opening address at the Forum on Inclusive Immigration Reform organized by three Ph.D. students from the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies: Jack Maguire, Maria Barbero and Katrina Livingston.

The event was hosted by the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs’ Dorothea Green Lecture Series and co-sponsored by the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

Participants included lawyers and advocates from Americans for Immigrant Justice, Catholic Charities Legal Services and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. Juan Gomez, director of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, moderated a panel on the local realities of the immigration issue and Frank Mora, director of LACC, moderated one on immigration and criminalization.

Citing the barrage of misleading and inflammatory rhetoric around immigration, Richard said universities have a special role to play in sorting fact from fiction.

“We need someone to provide data and facts back into our public discourse,’’ she said. “One of the things that bothers me the most is the fear mongering – that all Mexicans are rapists, all Central Americans are gang members and all Muslims are terrorists. It’s just not accurate.’’

Further, Richard noted that the politics surrounding immigration have kept the United States from doing anything to address humanitarian crises around the world, including in Syria, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

“At the end of the day, this is not normal,’’ she added. “You want to be able to tell your grandchildren what you did about these situations. Will the U.S. tradition of humanitarian assistance continue? Or will we end up like Hungary, which is very clearly anti-immigrant?”

“We’ve seen the protests against the travel ban and the separation of families,’’ she added. “Will there be a backlash? I don’t know.’’

Maria Elena Torano

The Hon. Maria Elena Torano, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the Green School, introduces keynote speaker Anne C. Richard at the Forum on Inclusive Immigration Reform.

Maria Elena Torano, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Green School, introduced Richard and said she believed FIU was the perfect places to host a discussion on immigration.

“We are at the center of the immigration debate,’’ said Torano, a Cuban immigrant who founded her own marketing and public relations company, as well as the National Hispanic Leadership Institute.

“We have students from around the world who come to FIU to learn, to grow – and we hope, to make this a better world. I am so pleased that FIU and the Green School are hosting this important dialogue – and inviting in the voices of those who have experienced it firsthand.”

Dean John F. Stack, Jr. said he was proud of the three Green School students who stepped forward to organize the event. The students plan to produce policy recommendations based on the outcomes of the forum.

“While there are no easy answers, it is only through an open and honest dialogue – with constructive input from all sides of the issue – that we can find solutions that ensure safety, principles, dignity and a path forward for all concerned,’’ said Stack.