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Beyond Borders: Undergraduate Migrations Symposium

The inaugural undergraduate migrations symposium, Beyond Borders, featured the work of students thinking critically and across discipline about migrations. Beyond Borders was organized by our undergraduate migrations scholars—Aliou Gambrel, Danielle Berkowitz-Sklar, Joanna Moon, and Vanessa Olguín—with support from the Migrations initiative.  

People walking across rocky terrain

The symposium celebrated a range of innovative projects and connected scholars who are interested in migration issues. We also featured a roundtable with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Molly O’Toole '09, who is the Zubrow Distinguished Visiting Journalist Fellow in the College of Arts and Sciences.

May 7 Symposium Schedule

Session 1, 10–11:30 a.m. (ET)

Moderator: Wendy Wolford, vice provost of international affairs

Introduction by the Migrations scholars and Debra Castillo, director of the migration studies minor

Alp Demiroglu '21, Architecture: "Take What You Can Carry: Place-Making for the Forcibly Exchanged"

At the end of the First World War and the subsequent Turkish War of Independence, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne codified the boundary of modern Turkey and outlined the terms of the Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey. As a result, 1.3 million Turkish Christians and 500 thousand Greek Muslims were forcibly exchanged, leaving behind the spaces and communities of their former lives. In this case, a legal document (the Treaty of Lausanne) shaped the way migrants experienced space and created a sense of belonging in that place. Specifically, the “take what you can carry” provision of the Treaty defined movable and immovable property, thus changing the way that migrants assign meaning to spaces. While immovable property retains the memory of that place—that cannot be transferred to a new location—the selection of which movable property to bring is given more emotional significance.

This specific provision of the law thus acted as a place-creating mechanism, establishing a layered space of nostalgia and exclusion for both Greeks and Turks. By scrutinizing the legal framework of the Treaty, and exploring first-hand stories of this forced migration, we can then begin to understand how legal structures can have an active role in creating a meaning of place for migrants—of belonging to a specific territory or “nation.”

Aliou Gambrel '22, College Scholar and Africana Studies: "They Crowd Our Land"

This paper will critically engage with the vestiges of international economic development, and differing understandings of their presence in contemporary Senegal. Through a survey-based study correlating perceptions of “developed space” funded by foreign-aid with authority and agency in differing Senegalese spaces; the paper complexes and identifies regional and demographic differences in perceptions of space. Spaces, which are increasingly constructed by a patchwork of foreign actors often precluding Senegalese contemporary and historical aesthetic conventions for physical space.

With specific attention to the Millenium Village Project (MVP) in Potou Senegal, I posit that development and specifically its aesthetics may measurably influence regional-inequality, and perception of individual and civil society’s authority over physical space. Notably, I use photography of differing built environments to consider differences of opinion and their relevance to questions of identity and access as present in contemporary Senegal. I expand the evaluative mechanisms of development-based study beyond the immediate environment of projects, and to consider the larger spatial inequality and distortions produced by development. This, to reconsider the consequences of economic development, its historical products, and to more thoughtfully engage with the politics of space involved in development as it continues to determine lives.

Laura Miranda '23, Development Sociology: "Mining as a Migration Ecosystem: The Case of Porgera, Papua New Guinea"

This paper analyzes how migration patterns associated with the operations of mines in Papua New Guinea have shaped conflict between new and old indigenous elites, changed the mechanisms for elite selection and even the formation of kinship groups. To do this, it treats transnational mining companies as “macro” migrants; within the boundaries of state powers delegated to them, along colonial lines, TNCs in charge of mining operations have become what Golub (2014) calls “administrative leviathans” that rule over the territory—of the mine, and of its extended facilities (such as roads, electrical power and supply networks in general). The actions of these leviathans further perpetuate the socio-cultural-economic impacts of the mining company in the long term, especially given the migration flows that they set in place. This paper uses Porgera Valley as a case study of how the actions that a TNC takes to run operations impact flows of migration as it commodifies land, displaces and compensates local population, and favors the inflow of immigrants—and the displacement of others without claim to land. These migration flows take form as displacement and out-migration, in-migration (national and foreign) for the mine’s labor force, but also environmental migration itself and of people around the changing space of mine-town. These forms of migration have created pressures that resulted in shifts in conflict lines, in new conflict patterns, in nature, and elite composition.

Session 2, 11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Kate Griffith, Jean McKelvey-Alice Grant Professor; Chair of the Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History

Alexis Fintland '22, Industrial and Labor Relations:  "Immigration in the Trump Era: An Analysis of Institutional Failures and Policy Recommendations"

In this paper, I will explore the Trump Administration’s failure to implement and support policies that work to address the political injustices immigrants face on a daily basis while simultaneously recognizing their most pressing needs. I contend that among these many institutional failures, the most detrimental policies have violated both international and domestic law, failed to provide adequate protection for undocumented workers, and have ultimately criminalized immigrant communities. As the nation stands at a pivotal moment during a crucial presidential transition, it is necessary that our incoming administration recognize these detrimental policies and establish a firm approach to reform an incredibly broken immigration system. I argue that to resolve these institutional failures, the new administration should strive towards implementing policies that end the militarization of the U.S. border, increase protections for immigrants in the workplace, and help make the pathway to citizenship more accessible for all immigrants. By setting out to tackle these ambitious plans, we are providing the framework to create a system that builds up and celebrates immigrants in the United States, rather than working to tear them down.

Mimi Goldberg '21, Industrial and Labor Relations: "Re-examining Hoffman Plastics Compounds vs. NLRB under the Trump Administration"

When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB in 2002, its decision reflected an ongoing national debate occurring post-9/11 about immigration. The key issue of how immigration law affects workers’ rights was settled against undocumented workers, who became ineligible to receive backpay, the pay they would have received had they not been illegally fired, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Hoffman case faced heavy review from academics at the time it was decided; however, this attention has faded. Since 2016, immigration debates have reemerged more charged than ever before in response to the Trump administration’s policies. Due to all the recent developments in immigration policy, it remains unclear what the current effects of the Hoffman decision have been since 2002. During this research project, I will re-examine the effects of Hoffman Plastics Compounds v. NLRB since the beginning of the Trump administration in 2016. Particularly, I will focus on how the Hoffman decision has influenced other worker protection laws and how those laws are enforced by bureaucratic agencies. By thoroughly examining case law, law review articles, and publicly available information on enforcement agencies, I aim to evaluate how Hoffman has impacted the rights of undocumented workers 18 years since the Supreme Court issued its decision and 4 years since Donald Trump assumed office.

Luis Miguel Tamayo '22, Sociology and Spanish: "Culture Matters in Money Matters: How Culture Distinctly Affects Economic Behavior between Mexican Immigrants and Mexican Americans"

In contrast to past research, which has heavily relied on structuralist approaches, I am more interested in utilizing social structures as contextual mechanisms to the issue in question and focus my attention on the cultural meanings of economic actions among Mexican immigrants, following a culturalist approach on the subject. The structuralist angle pushes researchers to accept the traditional view of treating economic outcomes as simpler, linear, and uniform. On the other hand, the culturalist approach enables researchers to challenge conventional views on the subject in acknowledging the heterogeneous nature of economic actors (especially those with distinct backgrounds such as immigrant groups), the growing complexity of markets (barriers of entry, looking at legal frameworks), and the plethora of meanings and interpretations that defy the traditional notion of rational choice. I will conduct in-depth interviews on representative, non-randomly selected Mexican immigrants in the U.S. This qualitative work will capture the unquantifiable cultural element that quantitative approaches fail to include. My qualitative portion of the research project will resemble the work done by Jennifer Sykes et al. in “Dignity and Dreams: What the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Means to Low-income Families” in which they used in-depth interviews to reveal how people differentiate in how subjects perceive and spend EITC. Mixed methods research designs in economic sociology have proven to supply panoramic views, and I believe there is merit in applying such mixed methods designs to complex questions like the one I will be studying in this project.

Roundtable with Journalist Molly O'Toole, 2:00–2:45 p.m. (ET)

Our undergraduate migrations scholars, along with Shannon Gleeson, moderated a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Molly O'Toole '09. Her talk, "Extracontinental: How the Global Refugee Crisis Is Colliding with Immigration Policies," was an interactive forum about the global refugee crisis, migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration policy, its effects on people on the move, and the work of journalists covering these situations. O'Toole is the Zubrow Distinguished Visiting Journalist Fellow in the College of Arts and Sciences and an immigration and security reporter with the Los Angeles Times

Session 3, 2:45–4:15 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Gerard Aching, Professor of Africana and Romance Studies 

Vanessa Olguín '22, Government and College Scholar: "Contemporary Manifestations of the Ethos of the Underground Railroad: Humanitarian Work at the U.S. Southern Border and in the Mediterranean Sea"  

Contemporary movements of solidarity, and resistance have been present throughout our nation’s history and throughout the world from the historical Underground Railroad to the contemporary global movement for Black Lives. These networks of solidarity have incorporated sectors of civil society, engaging them in acts of widespread resistance and organized civil disobedience. The most prominent historical network of resistance, The Underground Railroad, evoked an ethos that in many ways can be seen in present humanitarian networks like No More Deaths and Alarm Phone, which are addressing the safety of cross-border migrants in the precarious and dangerous situations of the Mediterranean Sea and US Southern Border. Reminiscent of the response to the Underground Railroad, these individuals and humanitarian organizations, have been met with backlash, and repression through the criminalization of solidarity and care. Migrant agency, humanitarian organizations and the living ethos of the Underground Railroad, lives on in movements for sanctuary and for Black Lives, calling on us to aid and care for one another. My presentation will seek to examine the streaks of human solidarity for migrants across the historical, international and spatial lenses. Drawing on the inspirations of the Underground Railroad, I will finally seek to examine how we can imagine and incorporate solidarity, by using Naomi Paik’s notion of abolitionist sanctuary, that asks us begin to re-think and rebuild our social and political frameworks, and to center the radical notion of care for one another.

Angela He '21, Sociology and Asian Studies:  "How Organizations Adapt to Different Settings: A Comparative Study of the COVID-19 Relief Efforts of Chinese Immigrant Organizations in the U.S. and China"

Through 31 in-depth interviews, this study examines how Chinese immigrant transnational organizations (ITOS) facilitated COVID-19 relief efforts differently in the U.S. and China. I apply a social embeddedness perspective and use a framework of relational versus instrumental goals to show how organizations adapt to different settings based on the social relationships they have with the society they are working in. Using a case study of Chinese ITOs’ COVID-19 relief efforts, I show that even under pressing circumstances that would ostensibly precipitate instrumentality, organizations respond to the social contexts they are embedded in. While ITOs had the same instrumental goal of facilitating supply donations in the most efficient manner in both settings, their relational goals in the Chinese and American settings differed due to different relationships they had with each society. These relational goals were reflected in their approaches to organizational collaboration and public relations. Organizations’ relief efforts to China were employed to reinforce existing positive relationships as part of the in-group in Chinese society, while relief efforts in the U.S. were used to challenge the negative sentiment they felt they experienced as an outgroup in American society.

Hannah Schmelkin '22, Industrial and Labor Relations: "Education & The Syria Crisis: 10 Years On" 

What education opportunities exist for the young generation of Syrian refugee children and young adults, and how do specific educational initiatives put them on the path to success? It has been ten years since the beginning of the Syria Crisis in March of 2011. Many young Syrian refugee children have lived their entire lives only knowing the horror that the crisis has caused them and their loved ones. This has significantly affected their social, emotional, and educational perspective on their own lives and the world. My research focuses on Syrian refugee children's educational needs since the start of the global Syrian refugee crisis. I will set the stage by providing a broader context of the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically in Syria, Jordan, and other neighboring Middle Eastern countries. Then, I will zoom in on a small, rural town of South Azraq, Jordan, to highlight the challenges and opportunities that Syrian children and displaced students face in the crisis ten years later. I will highlight my own work experience with The Azraq Education and Community Fund and other nonprofit organizations and national programs that work towards and against the educational opportunities for the young generation of Syrian students. Education is a fundamental human right and the key to a brighter and prosperous future for Syrian refugee children.

Kaitlyn Zhao '21, Economics and Government: "Household Registration, Housing Quality, and Wellbeing: A Comparative Mediation Analysis of Vietnam and China"

A household registration system is a policy enacted to control rural-to-urban migration, utilized by Vietnam and China, that generates institutional barriers for internal migrants by excluding them from state-sponsored benefits and social services. Using published survey data, I examine the relationship between household registration, housing quality, and wellbeing for migrants in Vietnam and China by comparing the housing and wellbeing outcomes of those without household registration to residents with household registration. I then conduct a mediation analysis to identify how much of the effect of household registration on wellbeing is mediated by housing quality. I find that in Vietnam, lacking household registration is correlated with a statistically significant decrease in housing quality and wellbeing, and housing quality acts as a significant mediator in the relationship between registration and all three of the examined wellbeing outcomes (belonging, life satisfaction, and expectations of future satisfaction). Contrastingly, in China, while a lack of household registration is associated with a significant decrease in housing quality and belonging, this relationship is insignificant for measures of life satisfaction and expectations of future satisfaction. In addition, housing quality plays no mediating role at all. These results suggest that household registration likely interacts with various country-specific factors, such as regional economic development level, to produce differential effects on migrants depending on the surrounding environment.

Closing remarks: Rachel Beatty Riedl, Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and John S. Knight Professor of International Studies, Department of Government 

Learn More about Migrations at Einaudi