While talk of the termination of the United States’ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continues to circulate through the national media, the conversation made its way to Shippensburg University on Thursday evening in the form of a criminal justice symposium.
Each year, criminal justice professor Stephanie Jirard chooses four professors to host an open forum with SU students and faculty. During the event, the panel examines a topic that has been heavily discussed in the news.
This year, Jirard chose immigration, and appointed political science professor Mark Sachleben, history professor Robert Shaffer, criminal justice professor Carlos Rojas-Gaona and economics professor Brendan Finucane to participate in the discussion.
“I think every American can agree that those who immigrated to America have enriched our lives,” Jirard said. “I think most people don’t agree on how open our borders should be. Obviously what we’ve learned in history is inaction is not an answer.”
It is important to be able to distinguish the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, as well as the reasons why these two labels are not the same, Sachleben said.
“This seems all very dry and cut, but when you get down to the facts it gets hard to discern who is moving for political reasons and who is moving for economic reasons,” Sachleben said.
Refugees, which Sachleben defines as individuals who escape their native country to avoid violence or death, often flee to neighboring countries. At this time, he said countries including Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey are taking in the highest number of refugees.
Sachleben said while some may believe the United States is accepting a larger amount of refugees, the number of refugees accepted in the U.S. has dropped from 89,000 to 50,000 people.
After mentioning Wednesday’s beginning of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, Jirard said banning the entrance of refugees into the U.S. will become one of the major regrets of modern society.
“During World War II we shut our doors to Jewish refugees, and we hang our heads in shame and regret it,” Jirard said.
Rojas-Gaona, who immigrated to the U.S. about 10 years ago, said coming to the U.S. was his lifelong dream.
“We are certainly a melting pot here in America — but as a sociologist said, some of the ingredients in the melting pot are not being used,” Rojas-Gaona said. “Latino immigrants deserve more attention. We are the largest and fastest growing minority, and we are going to be adding some more flavor to that melting pot.”
Rojas-Gaona discussed the perception that Latino immigrants bring more crime to the U.S., and said some researchers have found Latino immigrants to be 45 percent less likely than a natural-born citizen to commit crime.
Shaffer said the American misconception on immigration dates back to the country’s foundation with a quote by Benjamin Franklin expressing fear over how well newcomers could adapt to American society.
Shaffer also mentioned the hostility shown to Irish and Italian immigrants in the 1800s. American lawyer George Templeton Strong was especially repulsed by immigrants, and described the U.S. as being poisoned by immigrants.
Shaffer pointed out that this is not the first time the U.S. has banned the entrance of an ethnic group into the country.
In 1882, former President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S.
This law was originally meant to remain in place for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It was not until 1943 that the law was completely abolished, according to ourdocuments.gov.
Shaffer said the U.S. also discriminated against south and east European immigrants during the early 1900s.
“I think we can all agree that they can, and have, assimilated to the U.S.,” Shaffer said.
During his segment, Finucane said 1,500 economists recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump describing all of the ways immigration benefits the U.S. financially.
These economists included six Nobel Peace Prize winners, former advisers to George W. Bush and representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Finucane said the addition of immigrants into the American workforce has helped to prevent an influx of vacant lower income jobs.
Immigrants are also responsible for creating 40 percent of new jobs, bringing in $5 trillion a year and employing 19 million people, according to Finucane.
However, these estimates come with consequences for some groups, including recent high school graduates.
Studies show a negative short-term impact for graduates, with 3-4 percent of potential jobs lost to immigrants, according to Finucane.
“This is a situation where there is a need for empathy,” Finucane said. “These people have been on the losing end, and their incomes are going down.”
Finucane said the grievances of middle-class America became the feeding ground of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign, providing Americans with a way to express the anger they felt toward the U.S.
“That is the group that is so disgruntled and so at odds with the way America is going,” Finucane said. “There’s a sense of injustice that Wall Street was rescued and middle America was not.”