Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, Ph.D. began this year’s Honors Colloquium, “Inequality and the American Dream,” with a myth-debunking and objective look at immigration, amid questions of deportation and immigrant rights.
University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley offered the opening remarks before the start of the 2016 Honors Colloquium, themed “Inequality and the American Dream.”
“I think it is important and timely to come together around these kind of topics as a community that believes strongly in the reality of the American Dream,” Dooley said. “As one of America’s land-grant universities, we are one of the primary engines that drive the successful attainment of the American Dream. [This is] not just for our citizens, but for those who will come after us.”
As the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and the great-granddaughter of Jewish and Sicilian immigrants, DeFrancesco Soto enumerated multiple times that the United States is a country built on immigration.
“Immigration is probably one of our deepest common denominators as a nation,” DeFrancesco Soto explained. “Yet, at the same time, it is one of the dimensions that most profoundly divides us.”
DeFrancesco Soto’s presentation took a very topical look at the divisive topic of immigration, which has become a huge topic of debate in this year’s presidential race. DeFrancesco Soto made references to Republican Candidate Donald Trump and his calls for mass deportation and a “border wall” between the US and Mexico. She also made mention of Trump’s statements disparaging Mexican immigrants, linking them to murder, rape, and drugs. She also mentioned Trump’s stance on immigration of those from the Middle East, and the fears of terrorism that are often associated.
“Are there some very bad people who happen to be immigrants?” DeFrancesco Soto rhetorically asked. “Yes. But these [people] are a couple of bad apples in a barrel of tens of millions.”
DeFrancesco Soto went on to point out the irony in the use of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan alongside the topic of deportation of illegal immigrants.
“You have to admit that it is ironic, because what has defined us as a country, since the beginning, is that we are a country of immigrants,” she repeated. “Funny enough, if there is one group that thinks America is already great, it’s immigrants.”
DeFrancesco Soto went on to explain the general sentiment about the American Dream that immigrants tend to have, offering statistics of different demographics. The meat of her talk, however, came from the historical and logistical issues with mass deportation, immigration reform policies, and other reformation tactics.
She drew parallels to the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists now towards Mexicans and Middle Easterners and the sentiments of the past toward Europeans and Asian immigrants. She offered one of her “fun, cocktail-hour factoids” as evidence of this.
“The US Border Patrol that was established in the 1900s was not established to keep Mexicans from crossing the border,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “They couldn’t have cared less about Mexicans. The Border Patrol was established to keep the Chinese from coming into the US from Mexico.”
She pushed forward, offering “the unsexy” solution to immigration issues in the U.S. is a constant push and pull, she said. The push factors, which make people want to leave their home countries, are not necessarily something we can control here. However, we can try to make reforms to affect the factors that pull immigrants into the country illegally, she explained.
Upon the conclusion of her talk, DeFrancesco Soto took questions from the audience. Many questions were emotionally charged. DeFrancesco Soto diverted questions away from her own personal views and pushing them toward objective facts.
“Our reality is that we are a nation of immigrants,” DeFrancesco Soto concluded. “In my humble opinion, being a nation of immigrants is what has always made, and will continue to make America great.”
The next Honors Colloquium will be Tuesday Sept. 27 at 7 pm in Edwards Auditorium, and will feature “Race, Diversity, and Education,” presented by Kimberle Crenshaw.