June 17, 2009—Georgia State University’s new Center for Human Rights and Democracy convened a symposium on “Immigration Policy and Human Rights” at the campus’ University Center on June 17. The event drew scholars, lawyers, practitioners and community activists together to discuss pressing issues at the local, national, and global levels. With an audience that grew to more than 70, the day-long program included 22 presenters on four panels with themes ranging from conceptual justifications of immigration as a human right, perspectives on Latino immigration in the US Southeast, immigrant detention, and immigration debates in Europe. Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, provided the keynote address on “Charting a Path Forward—The Post 9/11 Backlash Against Immigrants and Human Rights Responses.”
“Immigration policy ranks atop the challenges facing many economically advanced democratic states,” said William Downs, co-director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy. “The lowering of barriers to the free movement of peoples has host country implications for national security, employment, housing, education and health care. Governments at all levels now confront these challenges in environments of severe budgetary contraction and voter suspicion.” Georgia State University political scientists Henry Carey, Jelena Subotic and Sean Richey served as moderators (as did Germán Torres from the Department of Modern and Classical Languages), and Sarah Gershon presented original research on “Civic Engagement and Latino Naturalization.” Faculty from other area universities (Emory University, University of Georgia, University of South Carolina Aiken, Agnes Scott College) joined colleagues from Europe (University of Strasbourg, France and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany) to debate, discuss and reflect upon issues of significant importance for researchers. Other participants (including those from advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations) complemented the discussion with rich and vivid observations of the often harsh realities of life as an immigrant.