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Fluctuating immigration legislation brings changes to Ohio State courses

Nicolas Renouis, a third-year studying political science and economics, immigrated to the U.S. from Belgium and took the course “Politics of Immigration” because of the national conversation around the issue. Credit: Abigail Rice | Lantern Reporter

Type the word “immigration” into Google and the screen is flooded with headlines ranging from the federal government fighting over funding to Congress trying to strike a bipartisan immigration deal.

The headlines differ, just as the class materials, perspectives and goals of immigration courses at Ohio State do as well. Because when it comes to an ever-changing and evolving subject, a syllabus that is set in stone just won’t do, said Amy Bittner, an adjunct law professor at Moritz College of Law.

“Immigration has always been a changing animal. I mean, the laws don’t change very much themselves because Congress hasn’t made an agreement for any legislative change,” she said. “So what really changes with immigration is the enforcement of the laws, and that’s up to the discretion of the executive, basically the president.”

Bittner, a practicing immigration attorney, was brought to Ohio State recently to teach a graduate-level course on immigration law.

Bittner said she found herself devoting more time — on occasion spending entire lectures — on subjects such as President Donald Trump’s revocation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama era policy which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children with their parents from deportation.

She said some immigration concepts are subjects even the newest version of textbooks don’t yet cover.

“Since President Trump has come into office, things have been a lot more uncertain for the immigrant because there have been a lot of changes with regard to how [the Trump administration is] going to enforce the law and how the law’s going to be interpreted,” she said.

Nicolas Renouis, a third-year in political science and economics from Belgium, came to Ohio State because of his interest in politics. He eventually enrolled in a course on the politics of immigration.

“I really just wanted to know more about why most people immigrate, what most immigration looks like, where they go and the actual impact on host countries like the United States so I could actually be an informed consumer of the news,” he said.

Renouis said the information he learns about immigration through his coursework and through watching the news shows it has its upsides and downsides.

Renouis said changes being made by the current administration increased his interest in the subject matter — so much so that it has changed his preferred area of study.

“For example, the politics of immigration class, that’s certainly an interest of mine, and it was before the [Trump] administration, but the fact that there’s been so much focus on it in the past few months has definitely risen my interest. I don’t know if I’d have taken the class otherwise,” Renouis said.

Jeffrey Cohen, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, focuses on migration, development and nutrition. He said the current political climate on immigration has not necessarily changed his lecture content as much as the importance of the content has increased.

“We need to re-evaluate the way in which we think about migration and migrants and refugees. I probably spend a little more time on that than I did in the past,” Cohen said.

Cohen pointed to one noticeable change in his students — their increased interest in the challenges refugees face.

“I think one of the things that’s happened, of course, is that the plights of refugees have become better known in the current climate and people are really concerned with what’s really happening from a very humanistic sort of place,” he said. “They want to know that these are people that are being taken care of and being treated well.”

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