The Ins and Outs of Immigration

Rod Searcey

Junior Yang Lor has first-hand experience with the topic of one fall-quarter course. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, to Hmong parents from Laos, Lor landed in Sacramento in 1992. The junior sociology and Asian American studies major recently spent four Monday evenings learning more about one of today’s hot-button issues.

In Immigration: Rights and Wrongs, scholars from many disciplines presented a ton of facts and arguments. For example: there are 66 million immigrants and their children in the United States, or 23 percent of the population. Of 7.8 million undocumented workers in 2,001, 4.5 million came from Mexico. There were 460 recorded deaths among those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in federal fiscal year 2004.

All of which fascinated Lor. “I’ve heard so much from the media and filmmakers, and I just want to get researchers’ takes on what’s going on and how we can bring a solution,” he says.

Lor is the kind of student that faculty affiliated with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) were seeking when they launched this class, their second one-time seminar. Last fall CCSRE offered Confronting Katrina: Race, Class and Disaster in American Society.

The immigration course, which attracted more than 200 students and members of the community, sought to explore issues of domestic and international immigration, from national identities to demonstrations in France to U.S. congressional legislation. “We want students to hear what people who want to close the [U.S.] border, the Minutemen, are saying, and we want them to understand the perspective of those who say you should never have borders—that there should just be a free flow of people,” says psychology professor Hazel Markus, one of the course leaders. “Our goal is to have them leave the class understanding that there are multiple perspectives.”

Lori Flores, a second-year doctoral candidate in history who focuses on women’s labor in 20th-century Mexican-American history, was among 90 students taking the class for three units of credit. She was delighted that the material would inform her dissertation. Typically, “with immigration issues, women often get left out,” she says. “We often think of single male migrants, but it’s also important to think about women doing domestic labor.”

Future course topics may include terrorism, HIV/AIDS and poverty. Says comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, “Part of our mission is to show how these issues involving race and ethnicity are taking place in the real world.”