WATCH: Immigration and Inclusion: Who Decides Who Belongs in America?

A group of Vanderbilt scholars with legal, historical and political expertise on immigration came together Oct. 19 to discuss the crisis around Haitian migrants at the southern U.S. border and the recent influx of Afghan refugees to the United States.

"Migration is a fundamental evolutionary strategy for the last 300,000 years-which is why people keep doing it and will continue to migrate," said Gabriel Torres-Colón, assistant professor of anthropology and co-author of Genetic Ancestry: Our Stories, Our Pasts (Routledge, 2020). "The issue today is that we have inequity within our social groups, and we need to put forth public policy to address the disparities among them."

The virtual panel-hosted by the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy-stressed the need to "recreate and reimagine" the immigration system to root out racism and bias.

The virtual panel features the following:

  • Sarah Igo, moderator, is the Andrew Jackson Professor and professor of history and the dean of strategic initiatives for the College of Arts and Science. She earned her A.B. in social studies from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. Professor Igo's primary research interests are in modern American cultural, intellectual, legal and political history, the history of the human sciences, the sociology of knowledge, and the history of the public sphere.
  •  Karla McKanders, clinical professor of law at Vanderbilt, is an expert on immigration, race and the administrative state and chairs the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration. Her research, scholarship and advocacy have taken her throughout the U.S. and abroad to teach and research the efficacy of immigration policies, laws and legal institutions charged with processing migrants. In 2020 she was appointed associate director of Vanderbilt's clinical program. As the founding director of the Immigration Practice Clinic, Professor McKanders supervises students providing representation to asylum seekers and unaccompanied minor children in their humanitarian immigration cases before the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and federal courts of appeals.
  • Jesus Ruiz is currently a National Academy of Sciences Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Caribbean History at Vanderbilt. His research-situated at the intersections of Caribbean and Latin American history, the African diaspora, and the digital humanities-focuses specifically on the histories of the Black Atlantic, Afro-Latin America, and colonial and early modern Haiti.
  • Emily Ritter is an associate professor of political science. Her research centers on the effects of international legal institutions on the strategic relationship between government repression and dissent activities, with particular attention to the methodological implications for causal inference that stem from strategic conflict behavior.
  • Gabriel Torres-Colón is a cultural anthropologist with research and teaching interests in race, politics, sports, and intellectual history. He theorizes across his work how humans embody and politicize difference in various social contexts. His ethnographic research includes the politics of difference among Christians and Muslims in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, racial experience in U.S. boxing gyms, cultural understandings of ancestry in the Caribbean, and the relationship between everyday life and political ideology in Puerto Rico. He also researches the intellectual history of race in anthropology and the intersections between early American anthropology and philosophy.