Course exposes students to the hot-button issue of immigration reform

Students interact with top government, private sector, and media figures to address immigration reform from all angles.

(September 10, 2013) — Budget battles and a debate over a possible military strike on Syria have made it unlikely that Congress will pass an immigration reform bill during its fall session. But in a semester-long University of Miami course held every Monday, students are interacting with top government, private sector, and media figures to address the issue from all angles.

Immigration Reform: The Current Debate helps students understand the complexities of the national debate on the thorny topic, examining the impact of recent waves of immigration on U.S. society, the workforce, education, media, culture, health care, and law enforcement.

“This is a course that presents students with a variety of viewpoints on this fundamental issue. We don’t tell students what to think. We give them the opportunity to listen from key people espousing very different political positions. Students listen to them, engage in a dialogue with them, and then form their own ideas on this issue,” said Ariel C. Armony, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, one of the key academic units involved in teaching the course.

“If nothing else, by the end of this course we will have solved the immigration debate,” Fernand Amandi, managing partner at Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International and a course instructor, said to about 150 students on August 26, the first day of the course.

Using multimedia news clips to present various sides of the issue, Amandi told the class that the immigration debate is the intersection of sex, politics, money, and race. “At the heart of this immigration debate is an impact of billions and trillions of dollars in the American economy,” said Amandi. He noted that the left-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress, estimates that immigration reform could boost the U.S. gross domestic product anywhere from $832 billion to $1.4 trillion, while the conservative Heritage Foundation thinks legalizing the undocumented would result in a $9.4 trillion loss in benefits and a net cost of $6.3 trillion.

Amandi is one of four instructors teaching the course—a team approach Armony is pleased with because it exposes students to people with “very different but complementary backgrounds.”

Besides Amandi and Armony, who is an expert in Latin American politics, other course instructors include Joseph Uscinski, assistant professor of political science in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, who is an authority on American politics and media; and Rudy Fernandez, UM vice president for government and community relations and chief of staff to President Shalala, who served as special assistant to President George W. Bush.


Rudy Fernandez, UM vice president for government and community relations and chief of staff to President Shalala, lectures to students on the first day of the Immigration Reform course. Fernandez, who served as special assistant to President George W. Bush, is one of four instructors who are teaching the class.

Politicians, lawyers, activists, media personalities, and leading scholars will be guest lecturers in the class throughout the semester, giving the students the opportunity to hear from and question the “key players involved in shaping the immigration debate,” said Uscinski.

On the first day of class, held inside UM’s Hurricane 100 Room, students heard from two guest lecturers: immigration lawyer Enrique Gonzalez, the special counsel to Senator Marco Rubio who helped draft a new immigration bill; and UM’s own President Donna E. Shalala.

“Twenty of us worked on the bill. Three days a week the senators and staff would meet to hash out issues,” Gonzalez told the students. “Any one of you could have been in that room with us. The youngest of us was 23; the oldest is me, at 46. That is the difference you all can make.”

President Shalala told the class that all four of her grandparents were from Lebanon and that she once helped coach one of her grandmothers for her citizenship exam. “This is an important debate,” she said. “We have gone out of our way to recruit speakers with different points of view. We want you to see all the arguments. We’re going to try to broaden your view of a very complex issue.”

Immigration Reform: The Current Debate is spearheaded by the Center for Latin American Studies and its Latin American Studies Program. The Department of Political Science is the primary departmental unit. The College of Arts and Sciences is providing lead support, with the Office of the President and the American Studies Program also backing the course.


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Students enrolled in the course Immigration Reform: The Current Debate listen to a lecture by Fernand Amandi, managing partner at Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International, an international research, media, and communication strategy firm. Amandi is one of four instructors teaching the class.

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