Panel discusses misconceptions of immigration at International House on Tuesday

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A panel of sociologists and other professionals debunked several common misconceptions of immigrants before an audience of students and community members Tuesday at International House.

The panel consisted of Mary Waters, Harvard University sociology professor and co-author of the report discussed at the panel; Irene Bloemraad, UC Berkeley sociology professor and co-author of the report; Tyche Hendricks, editor of KQED’s “California Report”; and Meng So, director of the campus’s Undocumented Student Program. Waters and Bloemraad presented information from a study concluding that immigrants have assimilated more quickly into U.S. society than they have in the past.

“Some politicians prey on people’s fears (about immigration). … What we found in all of these dimensions — even on the dimensions that aren’t good for you — everybody’s becoming American … working just as well or better as it did in the past,” Waters said.

Published in September, the study was a follow-up to a similar study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences in 1996. The 19 researchers who wrote the latest report found that immigrants are integrating more quickly than those of previous generations in a broad range of categories, from education and language to employment rate.

Additionally, researchers shared that immigrants have a lower rate of incarceration than native-born Americans “despite what you might hear from various people talking about this that don’t quite know what they’re talking about,” Waters said.

The panel emphasized the importance of understanding immigration — both in changing immigrant populations and U.S. society — because approximately one-quarter of Americans are first- or second-generation immigrants.

Only about half of all immigrants are naturalized — some of whom face barriers to naturalization if they are undocumented — which is a lower number than that of countries with comparable immigration rates such as Canada. Bloemraad said the lack of naturalization has large effects on the political involvement of American immigrants, most notably on their inability to vote.

“There’s a huge group of people … that have no formal voice in the political process,” Bloemraad said during the panel.

In California, there are an estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants. Many of the children of these undocumented immigrants are naturalized citizens, having been born in the United States. For these children, attending school can be additionally challenging, and on average, they receive 1.25 fewer years of education than students of comparable backgrounds with documented parents, according to the study.

Beyond the quantifiable problems found in the study, So said at the meeting, cultural reactions — such as being deemed “illegal” — affect the psyche of undocumented students.

“A lot of times, when I think about immigration, when I think about education, it’s not a question of politics — it’s a question of opportunity, extending the dignity of opportunity to all of our populations,” So said during the panel.

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @prezzliray.