Complexities of immigration reform

NDSU professors give their expertise on the topic


On Tuesday, April 23, the department of sociology at North Dakota State hosted an immigration reform panel event with the intention of providing a platform to discuss immigration civilly.

The first speaker, Jeffrey Bumgarner, a criminal justice professor at NDSU and former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employee, gave the crowd some history on immigration reform in the United States.

Bumgarner informed the audience of the Alien Act of 1798, where state marshals would go around with the intention of identifying foreigners/immigrants to determine if they were dangerous.

If the immigrants in question were deemed dangerous, they were deported.

“Immigration enforcement has been around forever,” Bumgarner said.

This includes early federal law enforcement, postal inspectors, customs inspectors or surveyors and constables at federal facilities.

With mixed intentions of combating counterfeit money and immigration control, the Secret Service was created in 1865.

Bumgarner walked audiences through a quick version of American immigration reform up until current day.

He highlighted details like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, when the immigration and naturalization committees ceased to exist. After the Homeland Security Act of 2002, 22 existing federal agencies combined to form the department.

This was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

ICE is often portrayed in the media as one of their two existing operational divisions: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

HSI looks at customs and immigration laws like smuggling, cyber crime, trade violations, immigration violations and human trafficking.

“ERO is probably what people are thinking of when they think of ICE, and (are) objecting to,” Bumgarner said. ERO is responsible for going after fugitive aliens.

There is a prioritization about who they go after. “They do go after primarily criminal aliens, but not always,” Bumgarner said, meaning that they prioritize finding fugitive immigrants who exist in the United States without legal status.

“New immigrant community fulfills a lot of important roles in the Fargo-Moorhead community.”

Christina Weber, NDSU department of sociology

Sometimes, however, well-meaning immigrants who don’t follow the legal path to citizenship get caught up in ERO’s operations as well.

Customs and Border Protection is another ball game, though Bumgarner said, “I think the politics of the day not withstanding … has clouded the discussion of immigration enforcement.”

The following speaker, Christina Weber from the NDSU sociology department working with local female immigrants to compile information about their experience with immigration and moving to a new community.

Weber noted that the “new immigrant community fulfills a lot of important roles in the Fargo-Moorhead community.”

The work she was studying was focused on African women refugee experiences in the F-M community. The work she’s studying asks questions like: How do they integrate into the community? What factors lead to successful immigration? How can we better integrate immigrants and refugees into the communities?

She also talked about how many of the immigrants and refugees in the area are 40 and older in age, which presents unique challenges when integrating into a new culture.

In the interviews conducted, it was concluded that women experienced a great deal of social exclusion, and low English proficiency and transportation contribute to the problems these women face.

Women interviewed also reported a lack of connection with local residents and isolation from each other.

Between countries, traditions, religions and culture, women reported feeling isolated from other immigrants as well.

Expressions of sadness and loneliness were apparent “in almost all the women’s experiences,” Weber said.

There was an expression of wanting to be welcomed and have their voices heard across those interviewed.

Next up was Adam Taylor, a professor of philosophy, who spoke of the power of self-determination and autonomy.

His presentation began by talking about the autonomy of organizations and businesses, resulting in them being treated as persons.

“You can’t have organizations make a decision in a way that a person does,” Taylor said.

The concept of autonomy is applicable to persons, groups and states. This means that states can limit immigration.

The final presenter was Anne M. Blankenship, an assistant professor in the department of history, philosophy and religious studies, who talked about the original Sanctuary Movement from the 1980s and compared it to the New Sanctuary Movement today.

She reviewed why people then and now feel motivated by their faith to help immigrants and gave an overview to volunteer involvement today.

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