Profs talk immigrant issues

Since the 1965 Immigration Act, U.S. immigration policy has continued to evolve.

Joe Sulik

“At a time of dramatic transformation of power, influence, and resources in the world, we insure our moral and political strength, and cohesion as a society, through policies that promote diversity and inclusion.” Dean Eric Schwartz gives the keynote talk at the Immigrant America Conference in the Elmer L. Andersen Library on Friday night.

Tiffany Lukk

On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, experts say it’s becoming more difficult to immigrate to the United States.
To discuss the changing experiences of immigrants, professors from around the country congregated at the University of Minnesota on Friday and Saturday. Hundreds of people attended the event, where experts outlined how, in light of the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration practices have changed.
After the Korean War and Vietnam War, those who wanted to immigrate to the U.S. had to fit specific criteria in order to do so, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Chia Youyee Vang said during the conference.
Vang said one of the guidelines stipulated that people moving to the U.S. should be happy and show pre-existing loyalty to the country. She said potential citizens were expected to already be somewhat adjusted to American life, according to the guidelines.
The 1965 Immigration Act abolished the quota system put in place in the 1920s and replaced it with a preference-based system that focused on immigrants’ skills and relationships with U.S. citizens.
But the screening process for potential immigrants has only become more and more rigid, said Erika Lee, the director of the University’s Immigration History Research Center, which has planned the conference for the past three years.
“It’s only gotten more and more complex. The screenings, the paperwork — it’s extremely difficult to come to the United States,” Lee said.
She said Germany has pledged to take in 800,000 refugees, and last year the U.S. took 1,500.
President Barack Obama pledged that the United States will take at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year.
The Immigration History Research Center, which researches and collects the stories of U.S. newcomers, has observed changes in immigration through local demographics.
“We’re intimately connected with how much immigration is changing American society just by simply looking outside our office doors,” Lee said.
The professors at the conference spoke of both the hardships that immigrants have suffered as well as the benefits they offer with their arrival.
In a speech, Humphrey School of Public Affairs Dean Eric Schwartz directly referenced the United States’ lack of tolerance for those who resettle in the country.
“Our willingness to embrace generous and foreign leaning perspectives on immigration will enhance our capacity to play a leadership role worldwide including on critical
migration, refugee and humanitarian issues,” he said during the speech.
Accepting immigrants and refugees is important internationally as well as in the United States, Schwartz said.
“The economic well-being of our people depends on policies that promote diversity and inclusion,” Schwartz said in his speech.