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Social scientists tackle immigration, from settlement to integration and membership

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Syl Kacapyr

Ever since Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, immigration has been central to the American experience -- and a source of anxiety about the integration of newcomers, how they are included and how we define our national identity.

Migration today is no different. But now immigrants share distinctive characteristics: They come mostly from Latin America and Asia rather than Europe, a significant proportion are undocumented, and immigrants are more likely to settle in areas where they traditionally haven't before.

These changes have rekindled political and policy debates about the costs and benefits of immigration, raising a myriad of theoretical, substantive and practical questions. These issues are particularly contentious when it comes to immigrants who settle in nontraditional destinations and how they are integrated and included as fully participating members of society.

These questions are at the heart of the Institute for the Social Sciences' three-year theme project Immigration: Settlement, Integration and Membership. Now in its most publicly active phase, the project hosts faculty from across Cornell to explore those topics via workshops, public panels and weekly seminars during the academic 2011-12 year.

"Scholars working on questions of settlement and integration and those working on membership and inclusion approach these issues from very different starting points," says team leader Michael Jones-Correa, professor of government. "The former are rooted in the disciplinary approaches of demography, sociology and political science, while the starting point for the latter is often history and the law. When these scholars work together, their interactions are likely to highlight disciplinary blind spots, which, in turn, can point to new frontiers in immigration research."

Highlights include an Oct. 3 public panel, 7-9 p.m., titled "DREAM Act: A Pipe Dream or Eventual Reality?" in Goldwin Smith Hall's Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium. The panel will talk about the DREAM Act pending in Congress from the perspectives of policymaking, advocacy, academia and immigrants' lived experience.

The Immigration Theme Project has been active since 2010, with a year of planning now under its belt. The team includes 10 faculty members from seven departments spanning four colleges. The scholars and their research topics are:

"This theme project is knitting together the expertise of immigration researchers across campus and fostering collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Our goal is to expand the theoretical frontier of immigration studies, while building on and strengthening the institutional resources for immigration studies available at Cornell," Jones-Correa said.

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