Immigration is the United States’ history and destiny.
That’s the message social scientist Marcelo Suarez-Orozco delivered Monday in a University of Nebraska-Lincoln public lecture.
“Immigration accounts for how our country became the country it is today, and, more importantly, going forward it will determine who we become,” Suarez-Orozco said.
Suarez-Orozco is the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at New York University. He is considered a notable immigration scholar and has written essays, scholarly papers and several books on the topic, including Writing Immigration: Scholars and Journalists in Dialogue, published last year by the University of California Press.
In addition to the public talk, Suarez-Orozco met with UNL student groups and faculty. He also spent time on Monday at a Lincoln high school visiting with foreign-born students from about 50 different countries.
In his UNL talk, entitled “Rethinking Immigration and Education in the Age of Global Vertigo,” Suarez-Orozco challenged audience members to think about the human face of globalization, namely children and teenagers.
“Immigrants are not just workers,” he said. “They’re a family.”
Data shows that global immigration has remained stable for years, fluctuating between 3.2 percent and 3.5 percent, Suarez-Orozco said.
But many people in the United States want immigration to be much lower, he said, and today the issue often sparks debates and controversy.
When unemployment is between 5 percent and 6 percent, immigration is a non-issue, he said. When it goes up, however, the debate heats up.
Suarez-Orozco has advice for people who wish to discuss immigration: Lower the temperature.
People interested in the field, he said, should educate people who don’t understand immigration or the important role it has played in U.S. history.
“Few topics are as divisive as immigration, globally speaking … The gap has never been larger or more distorted than today,” he said. “We’re in a culture of sound bites or who can scream the loudest.”
Part of the problem is that expectations for immigrants are higher now than ever before, Suarez-Orozco said.
“One hundred years ago, it took two or three generations for Italians to master English,” he said. “Today, we require first generation people – children of immigrations – to learn English.”
But the immigration issue isn’t new.
Immigration is something people in the United States should learn to accept as a part of the country’s past and future, Suarez-Orozco said.
“This is not uncharted territory. We’ve been through this before … I think 100 years from now, we’ll look back and say a lot of wasted energy went into warring about things.”