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AAA General Statement on Immigration

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July 24, 2011

TO: Virginia Dominguez, Leith Mullings and Members of AAA Executive Board
FROM: EB Ad-Hoc Group on Immigration (Hugh Gusterson, Ed Liebow, Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, Jay Schensul, Alisse Waterston)
RE: General Statement

General Statement
American anthropology has a long history of scientific interest in and professional concern for immigrant populations.  For example, Franz Boas, the founding father of American anthropology, wrote and spoke extensively on erroneous beliefs, anchored in pseudoscience, that immigrants in the early twentieth century from Southern and Eastern Europe were genetically inferior.  A century of anthropological research on immigration and host society responses to immigration shows that immigration tends to be driven by economic deprivation and political persecution, that first generation immigrants are frequently stereotyped in inaccurate and demeaning ways, that scapegoating of immigrants escalates in times of economic contraction (the degree of scapegoating being roughly proportionate to the degree of economic contraction), and that anti-immigrant campaigns tend to be premised on erroneous factual claims and predictions.

Anthropologists have deep accumulated knowledge about the sociocultural dynamics of immigration, as well as our historical obligation to advocate on behalf of immigrant populations who may have limited political visibility and voice. We are concerned by a dangerous trend in state legislation targeting new immigrants to the US, one that is borne out of fear and discrimination, and is at odds with more than a century of research findings on the causes and consequences of immigration.  We are also concerned that this legislation targets not only adults but also those who had no control over the fact that they were brought to this country as young children, and who would experience repatriation to their supposed country of origin as forced emigration to a radically strange environment for which they lack the cultural and linguistic skills to thrive.

Since April, 2010, five states (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah) have passed laws that target undocumented immigrants (often referred to in legislation as “illegal aliens,” a term that is itself demonizing and dehumanizing). Similar legislation is pending in at least 25 additional states.  According to the National Conference on State Legislators, during the the first quarter of this year, more than 1700 immigration or immigrant-related bills have been introduced in 50 states and Puerto Rico (

Enforcement of these laws is discriminatory, divisive, degrading, and costly (in both financial and human terms). Research by anthropologists and others clearly demonstrates that such laws materialize as a form of scapegoating when times are tough, and outsiders are unfairly blamed as a risk to civil society and for taking jobs and other resources to which they are not entitled. Under distressed conditions, draconian legislation is more likely to be enacted, even though these laws are generally ineffective in addressing the underlying problem and cause suffering for some of the most politically and economically vulnerable members of society. Laws such as those that seek to block access to higher education for immigrant youth will exacerbate the very problems they are supposed to alleviate. 

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) condemns this virulent form of anti-immigrant legislation, with its promotion of racial profiling, encroachment on civil rights, and pandering to a political climate of fear and divisiveness. In May, 2010, the AAA’s Executive Board passed a resolution condemning Arizona’s enactment of Senate Bill (SB) 1070, which grants police broad discretion to single out members of a specific ethnic group, and to encroach on established due process rights. Backing this resolution with its pocketbook, the AAA, its Sections, Commissions and Committees will not hold conferences in Arizona until SB 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid (this declaration does not apply to Indian Reservations within the State of Arizona).  

In May, 2011, the Executive Board passed a resolution condemning Georgia’s House Bill 87 for unfairly targeting undocumented immigrants with discriminatory legislation that weakens customary legal prohibitions of police investigations on immigrant status. The AAA, its Sections, Commissions and Committees will not hold any conferences in Georgia until HB 87 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid.

In keeping with our professional obligation, the Executive Board will continue to monitor closely and avoid investing in states that sponsor laws that:

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