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Lecture explores immigration’s value

On Wednesday Oct. 5, St. Olaf Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees invited Mike Fernandez, former senior executive of Cargill, to give a talk titled “Immigration is Good for the Economy” in Buntrock Common’s Black Ballroom.

Fernandez has previously published an article entitled “Don’t Oversimplify the Immigration Issue, but Note the Minnesota Impact,” in which he identifies immigrants as the engine for economic growth and noted that they have contributed three billion dollars in taxes in Minnesota alone.

Starting his lecture by providing statistics, Fernandez stated that there are millions of immigrants in the United States, a sizeable portion of whom are undocumented. Taking this into consideration, Fernandez noted attention from politicians, some of whom want to “build walls” and increase border security. Meanwhile, other politicians argue about making a pathway to citizenship so there can be more diversity in the country.

Fernandez, himself an immigrant from Cuba, argued that the logic behind closing the border and building a wall is rooted in the United States’ perception of its southern, not northern, neighbors.

“Because Canadians look like us,” Fernandez said, “we prefer to hear them say ‘eh,’ but we don’t like to hear the word, ‘bandido,’ or see people who look more like ‘rapists’ and ‘thieves,’” referring to Donald Trump’s remarks regarding Mexicans during his announcement of his presidential bid in June 2015.

Fernandez was quick to introduce evidence that countered Trump’s claims, arguing that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit violent crime than other demographic groups in the United States. Since 1990, as the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. tripled, rates of violent crime declined by almost half. Furthermore, according to data collected in 2008, immigrants are underrepresented as a portion of the incarcerated population, according to Fernandez.

Fernandez also emphasized the ways in which immigrants have a positive economic impact. According to Fernandez, over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the United States were founded by immigrants. Despite the fact that immigrants comprise only 8 percent of Minnesota’s population, Fernandez noted a study which found that immigrants occupy nearly 16 percent of all scientific, technology and engineering jobs in the state.

Drawing from his personal experience as a former senior executive at Cargill, Fernandez argued that Minnesota, among other midwestern states, has a high demand for laborers in agriculture, food production and construction – a demand that immigrants are willing and able to meet.

Fernandez closed his presentation by expressing his appreciation for the St. Olaf Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees, who invited him to visit campus to deliver his presentation.

“I appreciate young citizens who care about how important immigration is to our economy,” he said. “The new generation is better off, and I can say that 20 years from now you will have a better future than you do now.”

Rebekah Gregory ’18, an event planner for the Advocates, stressed the importance of bringing experts to campus to discuss facts and misconceptions regarding immigration.

“Sometimes people make myths that are not founded in fact,” she said. “Inviting a person like Mr. Fernandez to give a testimonial brings one of the many perspectives yet to be heard by us, so that we can educate ourselves about things.”

St. Olaf Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees is a student organization dedicated to spreading awareness and education on immigration in the U.S. In addition to planning events such as lectures and guest speakers, the Advocates volunteer at local Northfield schools and with a Cambodian dance group.

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