Social and Behavioral Forum

By By Al Hasnain

By Al Hasnain

Immigration accounts for 70 percent of the United States? population growth, and those numbers will ?continue indefinitely,? according to Alejandro Portes.

A professor of sociology at Princeton University, Portes was the keynote speaker for the fifth annual Rocco C. Siciliano Forum, titled, ?Immigration and the Future of American Society.? The College of Social and Behavioral Science hosted the event.

University president Bernie Machen and Rocco Siciliano introduced Alejandro to the packed Gould Auditorium. ?This is the largest crowd we?ve had yet,? Siciliano said.

Siciliano is recognized nationally for his lifetime of dedicated public service and for his leadership in the corporate world. This year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Utah and was also selected, following appointment by President Bush, as the chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission in Washington, D.C.

Portes? lecture reviewed the recent evolution of immigration to the United States.

?Immigration is the fastest growing portion of population growth in the United States,? Portes said. He is also director of the Center for Migration and Development at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs.

Paralleling immigration at the beginning of the 20th century to today?s, Portes? main argument was the second generation, rather than the first, was most likely to determine the long-term effects of contemporary immigration on American society.

In recognizing the importance of second-generation immigrants, Portes also warned against the common practices of assimilation.

Many children are forcibly assimilated into the system, learning English but ?forgetting their native tongues, foreign identities and ethnicities.?

Another factor which adds to the loss of culture is what Portes described as ?role reversal,? or when children assimilate much quicker than their parents?leaving no means of cultural communication between the two, Portes said.

The most significant threat was that of ?downward assimilation.?

Because of a lack of pre existing economic, educational and ethnic resources, many inner-city children are thrown into the world of crime, gangs ?and sometimes even death,? Portes said.

The problem is that ?children are not satisfied? with the results of first-generation immigrants ?crowding the bottom of the hour glass?which is the labor market.?

According to Portes, they have higher aspirations, but the reality of those aspirations keeps them in check.

Portes suggested two ways to shun away from the negatives of assimilation: providing access to strategic economic goods and exercising normative parental control.

?Assimilation is going to happen,? Portes said. ?But parents can support each other?this is vital.?

Portes proposed an alliance to protect the native culture of second-generation children. This was his idea of ?thoughtful assimilation.? By bringing schools together, students could learn English while retaining their native tongue. They could learn the values their parents wanted for them, while respecting those of others.

Following the lecture, a televised panel discussion dealing with immigration issues in Utah took place at the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Panel members discussed the possible application of Portes? proposals.

Utah?s 3rd Congressional District Rep. Chris Cannon said, ?Utah is one of the most bilingual states in America. Many people here want to see cultures survive.?

He mentioned the importance of creating a path out of poverty for many immigrants.

State Sen. Howard Stephenson also acknowledged the point, but mentioned the concern of funding the whole educational system with more than 100 million children born here in the last 10 years.

Nonetheless, Stephenson said the government was ?constitutionally and morally? obligated to come up with a solution.

The senator has advocated equal education for all children, but has received more than 200 emails against his cause. ?I don?t know when we began segregating,? he said.

Community activist Mike Martinez said, ?We still have a long way to go. The government in Utah has to acknowledge the immigration in the state.?

He also cited the importance of not relying on resources from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because the majority of immigrants consider themselves of different religious backgrounds.

William Afeaki, director of the Utah State Office of Pacific Islander Affairs, issued his concerns about standardized testing.

?We need money to bring [Pacific Islanders] to that level,? he said in regard to a lack of resources.

Martinez agreed, saying, in given circumstances, if a student fails, ?it is the failure of the system, not the student.?

Portes said, in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, other issues would have to be dealt with once the terror has been overcome.

He said the issue of giving ?30 million immigrants the opportunity to succeed in the world? was of significant importance.

[email protected]