Portes Lectures on Immigration

News  /  by Grace Blaxill '18  /  April 29, 2016

Lisa Kim '17/The Lawrence

On Monday at 7:00 PM, Professor Alejandro Portes presented to students in Woods Memorial Hall’s Heely Room about American perception of immigration as a segment in this year’s Capstone series. Born in Havana, Cuba, Portes currently acts as the Howard Harrison and Gabrielle Snyder Beck Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, along with being a Research Professor at Miami University.

Previously, Portes taught at Duke University, the University of Texas-Austin, and Johns Hopkins University, where he held the John Dewey Chair position. Portes received his masters degree and doctorate from University of Wisconsin, Madison. Besides publishing 30 books and hundreds of articles, Portes experienced further success when awarded with the W.E.B. DuBois award from the American Sociological Association, honoring his distinguished career in academia, and when elected president of that same organization in 1997.

Aptly titled “Tensions That Make a Difference: Ideologies of Immigration and Public Policy,” Portes’s presentation addressed the disconnect between the way American natives view immigrants and the reality of immigration policy. In Portes’s view, the American public’s stances on immigrants can be split into two categories: exclusionary negativism and forced assimilation. The former occurs when Americans support policies based on “blind emotion,” stemming from the fear that a mass of immigrants will overwhelm their way of life.

The latter stance involves the societal request for immigrants to lose all aspects of their culture, which drives a wedge between the migrant parents and their American-born children, a phenomenon that is at the core of Portes’s research. Portes went on to note that both ways to approach facets of immigration “seldom succeed.” Moreover, regardless of the current anti-immigration policies of American political parties and presidential candidates, the American economy will continue to need both foreign professional laborers and manual laborers, without whom the agricultural and technology industries would soon crumble.

Furthermore, according to Portes, immigrants hold significant political power within our country, as the hispanic electorate has substantially increased, and immigrants’ political goals are focused and their movements organized. Portes concluded the lecture with his solution of a three-year permit for immigrants entering the country, a regularization program for the 11 million undocumented aliens already here, and a reminder to the audience that the “history of immigration is the history of America,” inspired primarily by the need for more fair visa opportunities available to immigrants.

History Master Dana Kooistra ’19, a self-professed Portes “groupie,” introduced the professor on Monday night, and she said that in his lecture, “Professor Portes trusted his audience enough to pitch the lecture high, intellectually. So much of the popular discourse on immigration is simplistic and wrong, driven by rhetoric rather than research.”