Immigration Experts Weigh in During Provost Forum 2019

October 22, 2019

A panel examined how today’s immigration policies are shaped by factors including public sentiment, morality, economics, history and political discourse.

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A panel discusses “Options for a Fragile World: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. and Europe” during the Provost Forum 2019. On stage, from left to right: Michael Hardt, professor of literature at Duke University; Eric Kaufmann, professor and assistant dean of politics at the University of London; Ana Raquel Minian, associate professor of history at Stanford University; Peter Wehner, vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and a visiting professor at Duke; and Deondra Rose, assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke.

Photo by Amanda Solliday / Office of Global Affairs

-By Amanda Solliday

As a global university and a place where experts can gather in North Carolina, Duke benefits from people with diverse backgrounds moving to and from campus and Durham, said Provost Sally Kornbluth during her opening remarks of the panel discussion, “Options for a Fragile World: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. and Europe” on Oct. 17.

“We must be committed to learning and growing together, even when we disagree,” Kornbluth said.

Deondra Rose, assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, moderated the discussion held during the second day of the 2019 Provost Forum, “Immigration in a Divided World.” In the session, Rose asked the panel of policy experts what they thought were the most common misconceptions about migrants.

Ana Raquel Minian, associate professor of history at Stanford University, told the audience that migrants are often simplified into three categories.

“Migrants are either portrayed in the press as heroes, as victims or as enemies of the state,” Minian said. “Actually, migrants are a very complex group of people, full of contradictions.”

Refugees flee their home countries for a variety of reasons, said panel member Michael Hardt, a professor in Duke’s literature program and the co-director of the Social Movements Lab at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.

“The exclusive focus on victimization and violence often slips too easily into a humanitarian logic that divides worthy refugees from illegitimate migrants,” Hardt said.

As a self-identified evangelical Christian and a Republican, Peter Wehner expressed concern that faith can be manipulated in immigration politics. Wehner, vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and a visiting professor at Duke, pointed to passages from the Bible, including the books of Leviticus – you should love the foreigner as yourself – and Jeremiah – do no wrong or violence to the resident alien.

“I think something has gone deeply wrong,” Wehner said. “I think faith can both be a force for good and a force for evil in politics, and history is full, replete – including American history – with examples of both.”

Despite the clear directive from Christian scripture, he said, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 25 percent of white evangelicals believe the United States has a duty to accept refugees.

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Audience members listen to a panel discussion, “Options for a Fragile World: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. and Europe,” held during the Provost Forum 2019 at the Penn Pavilion on Oct. 17, 2019.

Photo by Amanda Solliday / Office of Global Affairs

When Rose later asked the panel, “What public official would you advise and what would you say?” Wehner said he would address President Trump.

“Stop attacking the other,” Wehner said. “It’s creating a false picture of what migrants are. And it’s wrong, and it’s hurting people.”

Policies about migration and the rise of racism are deeply connected, Hardt added.

“One has to think of those two together, both in U.S. history and in the European situation,” Hardt said.

Yet, there’s little public support in any country for a completely open-doors policy, said Eric Kaufmann, professor and assistant dean of politics at the University of London.

“We need both realism and idealism if we want to address this problem in a satisfactory way,” Kaufmann said.

Policy solutions, Kaufmann added, should be calibrated to public opinion to avoid public resentment.

The panel ended the formal discussion by examining the value of the forum and recognizing how higher education institutions can encourage policy makers to engage in this type of comprehensive public exchange on a specific topic.

“It’s not easy to have some of these conversations, but I think universities just have to keep on doing it,” Kaufmann said.

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