In Their Own Words: Students Discuss “The Politics and Policy of Immigration” Class

November 5, 2020

In “The Politics and Policy of Immigration” class at UNC Asheville, taught by Political Science Lecturer Giovanny Pleites-Hernandez, students are challenged to look beyond politically charged headlines and dig deeper into both the history and current state of immigration policy in the United States. Though their reasons for taking the class varied from personal interest to satisfying requirements, the students have all found an opportunity to deepen their understanding and engage in meaningful discussions.

For Peyton McClinton, a political science major, the course was a chance to build on what she’s already learned in her immigration law class with Mark Gibney, Belk Distinguished Professor of Political Science. “I’m interested, I want to learn more about it and see how it actually functions,” McClinton said. “This class has been really interesting to see what the House and Senate are doing, and to learn more about the Department of Homeland Security, and more about what’s currently going on in immigration.”

Cooper Woodard, a first-year political science student, took the course to satisfy his diversity intensive requirement. “It turns out that it’s a really interesting class, and I learned a lot about the specific legislation around immigration and how it has a direct effect on people’s lives,” he said.

For junior political science major Alexla Perez Sanchez, the course discussions hit close to home. “I just thought that it was going to be really important for me to take, because as an immigrant myself sometimes I feel like I don’t have the tools or the understanding of the whole system itself,” Perez Sanchez said. “So, I knew that this class was going to give me a tool and give me an opportunity to learn more about how I can help others and my family and friends and anybody who maybe just isn’t educated enough on the topic.”

The course lays the foundation for understanding immigration policy in the United States by examining the history of immigration, and moving into contemporary issues such as the “Muslim ban” and detention centers along the southern border. Exploring the politically charged issues from an academic standpoint has given the students a new perspective on current events.

International studies major Sumayah Haynes said she participated in protests in 2017 regarding the “Muslim ban,” though at the time she “didn’t really know…all the details and how complex it was.”

“But having this class, and I’ve been doing some of my own research, is really good and impactful,” Haynes. “It just made me want to learn more on the policy and on asylum.”

“I think it opened my eyes to how non-partisan things like deportation and strict immigration laws are,” Woodard said, “because I kind of had this previous idea that Democratic presidents have a different record on immigration, but it turns out that multiple Democratic administrations have been just as harsh on immigration.”

Students thinking about taking the course in future semesters should be prepared for a lot of reading, according to Pleites-Hernandez, and for engaging discussions, according to his students.

“Be ready for discussion and for open dialogue about immigration, especially in the second half of the semester, which I personally really enjoy and get a lot out of,” said junior Alison Sink.

“Come in here with an open mind,” McClinton suggested. “You might think that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to immigration, and then you take a class and you’re like wow, I really didn’t know anything. Definitely keep an open mind.”

For more information about courses in the Political Science Department, visit their website.