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Askwith Education Forum

Askwith Essentials: Humanitarianism and Mass Migration

An Askwith Forum to celebrate the launch of the Immigration Initiative at Harvard.

Today’s immigration policies are being intensely evaluated, as they directly affect families and individuals attempting to travel to and within the United States in unprecedented ways. Access to education and healthcare are just some of the challenges that are creating complex and unpredictable futures for undocumented and displaced people in our country.

The Immigration Initiative at Harvard (IIH), a new initiative kicking off this fall, is aimed at bringing community members together in thoughtful consideration of immigration policy and the everyday lives of immigrants. By showing solidarity with the struggles of immigrant communities, IIH plans to direct in-depth, nonpartisan research efforts and host a range of events focused on understanding policy consequences and promoting solutions.

This Askwith Forum, introduced by HGSE Professor of Education Roberto Gonzales, celebrates the launch of the IIH by bringing another leader in the field to campus: Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean and Distinguished Professor of Education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Suárez-Orozco spent several years on Appian Way; he taught at HGSE from 1994–2004, and he co-directed (and co-founded) the Harvard Immigration Project for eight years. At UCLA, Suárez-Orozco and his wife, Carola, co-founded Reimagining Migration, a collaborative initiative between professors at UCLA and educators in HGSE’s Project Zero.

Suárez-Orozco often speaks about the negative impact that catastrophic migration has on family relationships and childhood development, as well as the false perception that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes. Through his interdisciplinary lens as a cultural psychologist and psychological anthropologist, Suárez-Orozco sees education as an essential human right for children who are separated from their families and in the midst of a chaotic migration process.

Suárez-Orozco on:

Mass migration    
“Catastrophic migrations are life-thwarting, harming children’s physical, psychological, moral, and social well-being by placing them in contexts that are inherently dangerous,” Suárez-Orozco shared in an interview with the William T. Grant Foundation.

“Catastrophic migrations and violent family separations disrupt the developmental pathways necessary for children to establish basic trust, feel secure, and have a healthy orientation toward the world and the future,” Suárez-Orozco explained. “Catastrophic migrations tear children from their families and communities. Furthermore, the new data collected for this project suggest that physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are normative features of forced migrations, both during the journey and in the subhuman conditions that prevail in many migrant camps.

Immigrants arriving in the United States today are not here to commit crimes, said Suárez-Orozco earlier this year in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, pointing out that recent National Research Council studies conclude that both legal and undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are citizens.

“Education is fundamental in the context of forced displacement,” said Suárez-Orozco. “First, it brings normalcy in otherwise unpredictable and often chaotic contexts. Forcefully displaced children are first and foremost children. They have the same curiosity and urge to understand themselves and their world as all other children. They do not stop thinking and learning when they are forced from home.”

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