Panelists talk immigration, political participation as part of discussion

Steven Maiken

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Professor from various colleges spoke at a panel discussion regarding immigration and political participation as part of Central American studies symposium on migration.

Political science associate professor Karthick Ramakrishnan from UC Riverside, political and Chicana/o studies professor Adrian Pantoja from Pitzer College and assistant professor of sociology Veronica Terriquez from USC spoke at a panel concerning immigration and political participation, which was organized by the initiative Gender, Race, Identity & the Law in Our Lives (GRILL).

Ramakrishnan’s presentation, The Cyclical Politics of Immigration Policy, highlighted key immigration laws that were passed in the United States on both the state and federal levels.

He spoke about how when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 it was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, during which time Republicans were more apt to compromise their position on immigration issues. The act established restrictions, but gave legal status to millions of immigrants who could prove that they had been in the country since at least 1982.

“Though when it comes to progression, regressive democrats can sign anti-immigration laws too,” Ramakrishna said.

While conventional beliefs cite increased state legislative efforts resulting from federal inaction on immigration reform issues, he said immigrants that were moving to Republican-dominated areas in the United States are the real reason there has been state legislative backlashes. He cites a dramatic increase in federal activity, such as deportations continuing and increasing during the Obama administration, to make this clear.

In 1965, after President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, it effectively shut down the Bracero Program, which had allowed temporary manual laborers into the US since 1945 that led to the beginning of a dramatic increase in undocumented immigrants coming to the United States. It also eliminated the preferences shown to western and northern Europeans established in the racially discriminatory Immigrant Act of 1924, but still restricted immigration to the United States.

Pantoja’s presentation, Political Activism through Research, told about his effort to combine scholarly research with activism in the Latino community.

“In graduate school you’re not trained to be a social advocate in the real world,” he said.

His efforts center on convincing Republicans to support immigration reform efforts, because of the importance of the Latino vote in determining the outcome of elections. He cited President Obama’s need for the non-white vote in both of his presidential elections.

“Latinos played a critical role in the outcome of those elections,” Pantoja said.

Terriquez’s presentation was based on her work as principle investigator of the California Youth Adult Study (CYAS), The Emerging Political Power Among Youth from Immigrant Families, which focuses on how youths who had foreign-born immigrant parents were less likely to participate politically, as opposed to those whose parents were both US-born. However, these first generation born youths were more likely to engage in some form of political protest activity.

She said, “youth-led social change often politicized their own parents and made government officials more accountable, having a positive impact on their communities as well.”

Additional supporters include:  the Central American Research and Policy Institute (CARPI); the Gender, Race, Identity & the Law in Our Lives (GRILL) initiative; the Chicana/o Studies Department; the Political Science Department; the Queer Studies Program; the College of Humanities Academic Programming Fund; and the Mexico and Latin America Research Institute at California State University, Northridge.