Immigration in Today's World

Scholars Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, John R. Bowen, and Sir Keith Ajegbo discuss different aspects of immigration in today’s society.

Transcript (Text)

Immigration in fundamental ways is at the very, very center of the human story. We are what we are as a species because of human movement, because of human migration.

There's a strong tradition and liberal political theory, which says that, look people who immigrate into a country, come into a country, they have a different set of rights and can make a different set of claims than people who were always there, indigenous people. The people who come in, they've chosen to come, they have to sort of get with the program, whatever that is locally.

The problem with that is that maybe it works for North America. Indeed, that's where one hears that distinction made most strongly. But if you look at places like France or Britain, the people coming to live in those countries are people who were colonized. We're here because you were there is what they say. So they have a stronger claim that Britain having colonized them, having made them into subjects of the Queen, or mutatis mutandis for France, they now have some claims on Britain.

When I was going to schools talking to children about identity, I suddenly realized just how important religion was to their identity. Perhaps less so to—it's probably wrong to call them the indigenous white population—but the difference between what the white children were saying, in a sense, about religion and what some of the minority ethnic children were saying. So a different emphasis I think and a different understanding of what religion means to identity and getting accustomed to that was important.

How is our story today, the American story, different from the story of other countries that are facing huge numbers of new arrivals—Germany, Spain, Italy other countries? Of course, countries that don't have a history of immigration. We have a history of—this is constitutive of our national narrative. This is the center of how we tell the story of who we are as a people. A country like Germany doesn't have that frame. So for us, what's interesting is these transnational transformations and how they powerfully tell a story about how the new and the old are meeting, the kinds of frictions, the kinds of accommodations, but also the kinds of new opportunities and solutions that come out of this human experiment.

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