- Building the Center for Global Migration Studies
In 2010, soon after I began teaching at the University of Maryland, my colleague Ira Berlin sauntered over to ask a question: “Do you think immigration is the most important issue facing the United States today?” The query sparked a series of conversations between Ira and me. Over lunches and coffee, we discussed the ways mass immigration had transformed the United States since the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, how it had given rise to a powerful anti-immigrant movement, the great need for more and better dialogue about immigrants’ experience, and the importance of uniting the diverse scholars who study migration and immigration. We wanted in particular to bring a historical perspective to comprehending this so-called new America created by mass immigration—to bring attention to lessons we might gain from other historical periods when the United States was a society dominated by immigrants and their children.
And so was born, in 2011, the project we initially called the Center for the History of the New America. With generous support from the University of Maryland administration, particularly the offices of the provost and the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, we rolled into action. In 2012 the Provost granted us funds to conduct a cluster hire, which brought five new faculty in migration studies to UMD: Nancy Mirabal in American studies, Esther Kim Lee in theater, dance, and performance studies, Christina Getrich in anthropology, Thayse Lima in the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Andrés Villarreal in sociology. These five scholars and our executive director, Katarina Keane, joined us as the inner core of the organization, helping us connect to the many other scholars on campus whose work advances understanding of migration and immigration. We began holding conferences on the history and contemporary politics of birthright citizenship, on immigrants and entrepreneurship, and on migration, disease, and public health. We collaborated with the School of Public Health to provide, in a two-day health fair, free dental care for more than fifteen hundred low-income residents of Prince George’s County. We launched an oral history program—The Archive of Immigrant Voices—that trains students to conduct interviews with local immigrants and then makes the materials available to the academic community. With support from the [End Page 7] National Endowment for the Humanities, we developed a digital humanities project on Caribbean migration across the Americas. And in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, we began studying how K-12 schools teach the topic of immigration, with the goal of proposing improved standards.
Over time the Center’s vision expanded, growing more global and interdisciplinary. In 2016 the Center adopted a new name and became the Center for Global Migration Studies. This more accurately signals both our increased emphasis on migrations beyond the United States (and the transnational and multidirectional nature of those migrations) as well as our commitment to engaging both the social sciences and the humanities in our work. We continue to train students in the history and contemporary politics of migration, and our Archive of Immigrant Voices is growing as well. But global migration is receiving increasing emphasis in the work we do.
In 2015 the Center launched the Global Labor Migration Network, a project influenced by the historical and contemporary importance of labor migration around the world. According to the United Nations, 232 million people—more than 3 percent of the world’s population—are living today outside their country of citizenship. More than half of these are migrant workers. If we include internal labor migrants, the numbers soar much higher. In China alone, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, there are today 262 million internal labor migrants. This fluid system of migration is shaping most parts of the globe, from South and North America to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and many if not most of these migrants work under highly exploitative conditions. The interdisciplinary Global Labor Migration Network connects scholars from around the world in order to share research, engage in collaborative teaching and research, and, ultimately, shape policy initiatives. We organized an inaugural workshop in April...