Historians look to help activists 'resist' immigration control

At the American Historical Association's annual meeting last week, one session addressed "resistance" to "immigration control" amidst an alleged "resurgence of xenophobic policies."

The session aimed to promote coordination between historians and activists, explaining that "historians have an obligation to provide a 'useable past' that can be applied to debates and actions concerning policy and the enforcement of laws."

A recent history conference hosted a session on resisting immigration control, American nationalism, and what it perceived to be “the resurgence of xenophobic policies.”

During the 132nd American Historical Association (AHA) Annual Meeting, professors from around the country gathered in Washington D.C. to discuss a theme of “Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective.”

Notably, a session titled “Immigration Control and Resistance: Historicizing the Present Moment, a Conversation between Historians and Activists” asked participants to consider what “historians as scholars and teachers” can “learn from legal advocates, social workers, and community organizers” who work with “immigrant communities in everyday practice.”

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"This roundtable will take serious the idea that historians have an obligation to provide a 'useable past' that can be applied to debates and actions concerning policy and the enforcement of laws, and that historians learn from engaging with community-based organizations," the event description asserts.

During the session, audience members were encouraged to “comment on what the resurgence of xenophobic policies and posturing means in respect to our understanding of American nationalism and how it plays out in communities, classrooms, and other spaces,” specifically referencing “Trump-era immigration policies.”

One of the presenters, University of Texas, Austin professor Madeline Hsu, explained to Campus Reform that the hope for such sessions was to help “advocates and academics develop better lines of communication to have an improved system for coordinating actions.”

Noting that scholars often possess “in-depth knowledge” about the issues activists confront, she asserted that “some scholars in law and philosophy...help develop ideological approaches that argue for more humane and less inflammatory treatment of unauthorized immigrants,” while others can offer “much more nuanced analyses of how unauthorized immigrants participate in US labor markets, their roles in the US economy, and participation in various communities.”

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“We can also help to improve understanding about migrant motives and living conditions, as well as the kinds of challenges and infrastructural limits that they confront,” Hsu added. “We have in-depth knowledge of legal and institutional restrictions on the lives of migrants—and the rationales for why they have far fewer rights and protections.”

As such, the discussion also touched on topics such as the current status of DACA, immigration-enforcement practices, changes to refugee and asylum policies, travel bans, and more.

“Participants will be asked to discuss how deportations, the issuance of visas, and asylum policies represent matters of foreign relations between nations, and to comment on how immigration must be viewed through a more global lens that acknowledges immigrants as actors governed by multiple nation-states and immersed in multiple cultures, economies, and societies,” the event description elaborates.

The discussion was just one of many breakout sessions, many of which touched on issues of contemporary relevance, including gender identity, free speech on college campuses, race relations, and Donald Trump.

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