Visiting professors painted sharply contrasting pictures of the treatment of undocumented workers in the U.S. and of immigrants in Argentina in two separate talks given Wednesday.
Pablo Ceriani, professor of law and coordinator of the Migration and Human Rights Program at the National University of Lanus in Argentina, focused on the improving legal status of immigrants in Latin America with his talk “Human Rights and the Politics of Migration.” He focused on Argentina, where he said major reforms are being implemented.
A recent appointee to the United Nations Committee on Migrated Workers, Ceriani said since Argentina implemented a new immigration law in 2004, the country has attempted to focus on the human rights of migrants in its policies.
“With [Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay], you can see the recognition of social rights to all migrants, regardless of their immigration status,” he said. “I mean access to education, health care and — an important thing to recognize — that migration is a human right.”
Lindsey Carte, a recent geography doctoral graduate, said learning about Argentina’s immigration policies made her want to compare them to the way migrants are treated in the United States.
“What I think is really interesting is how countries in Latin America have more and more progressive-seeming policies,” she said. “I really thought it was interesting to compare to our own context of laws.”
Despite Argentina’s laws and recent reforms, Ceriani added that immigration is still a sensitive issue in Latin America and these changes remain a work in progress.
In a separate talk, Sergio Chavez, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, presented the challenges faced by undocumented workers in America in his lecture titled, “‘Rooferos’: The Occupational Networks of a Highly Mobile Labor Force.”
Chavez interviewed nearly 40 migrant workers — 39 undocumented — from Guanajuato, Mexico, once they returned from working as roofers in the United States. He said the workers described the job as physically dangerous and mentally challenging.
“When you are [a] roofero, and you are on top of a rooftop, roofing plays a lot of tricks on your mind,” Chavez said. “So if you are thinking about your family, and all of a sudden you don’t see that you’re on gravel, you’ll slip and could break every bone in your body.”
Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, associate director of the Center of Mexican American Studies, said the mental health of migrant populations is an understudied issue.
“I actually think, in the body of scholarship, studies on mental health care are where we need to go next,” said Guidotti-Hernandez, who introduced Chavez. “Then we may be able to interact with them and better serve those communities, or provide support in those ways.”