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Professor highlights mounting challenges of the Latino community after Donald Trump's election

On Feb. 15, Van C. Tran, an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University, visited Carnegie Mellon to discuss issues regarding Latino assimilation and challenges faced by Latino immigrants after President Trump’s election.

Tran was born in Vietnam, raised in Thailand, and moved to the United States with his family in 1998. His research focused on the immigration process of Latinos, the impact of immigration on society, and the ethnic inequality experienced by these communities. During the lecture, Tran presented several challenges Latino immigrants are likely to face under the current administration and the studies leading up to these conclusions. He examined historical trends of immigration, the social status and mobility of immigrants, and how they have been incorporated into the American identity since 1965.

Tran pointed out that the sense of loss of the white majority likely influenced the rhetoric and the result of the presidential election. The population of Latino immigrants has drastically increased in the past three decades. According to a census in 2013, a quarter of second-generation immigrant Americans were Latino, and the projected overall population of Latino Americans in 2030 is 15 percent.

Tran mentioned two contradicting views on Latino immigrants’ social status held by Americans: some believe that second-generation Latino descents are doing worse than their parent generation as well as their native peers, and they are on the downward spiral of social mobility. Others believe that second-generation Latinos gained advantages through immigration. These conclusions are different because the empirical evidence are mixed.

The racial distinctiveness, bifurcated economy, neighborhood poverty, and structural discrimination within the American society were the reasons why many believed Latino immigrants to be unsuccessful. However, Tran showed that Latino immigrants generally accomplished more after coming to America, because of the hyper selectivity of the immigration process and affirmative action, which allowed Latino descents to move upward. Despite the opportunities available, second-generation Latinos struggled in their attempt to Americanize due to their legal status and the inequality in the United States.

Tran specifically discussed the result of the 2010 census taken right after the Great Recession, and its connection with Latino immigration. The number of unauthorized Latino immigrants reached its highest in 2009, consisting mostly of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban immigrants. “[The Latino] population lives under legal exclusion,” Tran said. “[The Latino Americans] averted the bicoastal phenomenon in immigration, and settled in regions with no immigration history.” He also discussed the Latino assimilation in American society, and the general trend that shows after three generations, which is that Latino descents stop identifying with their origin. Tran noted that this trend implies that these Latino immigrants have then fully integrated.

Tran also pointed out that the progress made by Latino immigrants and their upward social movements were sometimes concluded to be the reason why the African American community was “held at the bottom of society.”

The domestic hostility toward Latinos comes not only from white Americans, but from various communities. The number of undocumented Latinos has reached 11.7 million, surpassing the number of African Americans living in the south in the 1960s. There has not been a reasonable change in immigration policy since 1980 to allow Latinos to legally work in the United States. Instead of resolving this problem, the current administration has chosen deportation as the only solution, but the deportation process at such a scale would take more than a decade and is unrealistic considering more Latinos are simultaneously entering the country.

Tran noted that, while nativism and xenophobia rose within the American society, more and more people and organizations began to advocate to extend civil rights to human rights, offering undocumented immigrants protection and basic human rights. Sanctuary states such as California established their own policy regarding immigrants instead of complying with the federal government. In conclusion, Tran remarked that this disparity between the state and federal government would likely have an impact on future U.S. immigration policy.