Students, professors and professionals alike all gained something at the University of Houston’s Symposium on Immigration and the Immigrant Experience: Houston and Beyond.
The symposium, which ran all day on April 20, was sponsored by the UH’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. It featured the work of faculty members in the Houston community on the vital topics of immigration.
“This symposium brought together UH System faculty of all disciplines to present recently published research and works in progress on immigration-related issues,” Marjorie Chadwick, executive director of the UH Writing Center, said. “Importantly, the conference made the UH audience aware of immigration’s complexity.”
Early in the morning, Professors Liz Goodin-Mayeda and Rex Koontz moderated panel presentations on topics of community as well as music and literature. Sue Kellogg, Tracey LeDoux and Tom Behr wrapped up the morning presentations by exploring the vulnerable women and children of immigration, topics of communication and medical issues, as well as, narrative, political and theoretical approaches to immigration.
“I am really excited about this conference because we have many people from every campus of the UH and we have people of many disciplines here,” Sue Kellogg, a history professor at UH, said.
In the afternoon session, the symposium brought in distinguished keynote speaker, Charles Foster. Foster, a founding partner of the FosterQuan law firm, is renowned for his legal work in assisting Houston Ballet dancer, Li Cunxin, in his efforts to remain in the United States. His work is dramatized in the film Mao’s Last Dancer.
Foster traced the trajectory of immigration throughout American history, recalling that as recently as the 1960s, the United States did not have immigration quotas for countries in the western hemisphere. Foster spoke candidly about his work under both republican and democratic administrations and has seen firsthand their efforts to pass the still fabled comprehensive immigration reform.
Later, professors from the Immigration Law Clinic at the UH Law Center presented their recent legal work touching on topics of the judicial process, children and violence against women. The clinic is currently involved in around 130 cases and a number of their cases are setting precedents nationwide, including a unanimously decided Supreme Court case.
The litigation process is fraught and as Geoffrey Hoffman, faculty supervisor of the immigration law clinic, so well described, “Kafkaesque.” Describing his experience with immigration and bureaucracy, he along with his colleagues at the Immigration Law Clinic illustrated how complex the current immigration system is.
Finally, Michael Olivas, a distinguished law professor at UH, spoke about the contentious topics of immigration, examining the rhetoric of talk radio, as well as, news coverage. He also discussed the lingering impact of Plyler vs. Doe.
If there is anything you could take away from the symposium it is that there are many viewpoints on immigration and many good ideas out there. But for every good idea, there are challenges in making them happen. And until a comprehensive immigration plan passes that makes everyone happy, immigration will continue to be relevant.
“UH is one of the most diverse university campuses in the nation,” Chadwick said. “We are touched by the immigration process on almost every level.”