Speakers bring diverse backgrounds to immigration reform

“Immigration Reform: The Current Debate” is a new class that features four professors with varying backgrounds and perspectives on the issue.

“We wanted to expose students to speakers who, as a group, bring different practical and academic perspectives,” said one of the professors, Ariel Armony, who is also the director of Latin American studies. “There is a tendency in universities to approach issues from one side, and we didn’t want to just present the sympathetic side of the argument because of where we are.”

The course tackles an issue that hits close to home, with an estimated 740,000 undocumented immigrants in the state of Florida alone, out of the 11 million nationwide.

Armony said that he conceived the idea for the class because of the progress of current immigration reform in Washington and subsequently brought it up to University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, who loved the idea. He then brought the idea to Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who also supported the team-taught class.

The professors come from different backgrounds: Armony, an expert on Latin American issues; political science professor Joseph Uscinski, who understands the American political system; Rudy Fernandez, who previously served under former President George W. Bush and is now the chief of staff to Shalala and vice president for government and community relations; and Fernand Amandi, who worked on President Barack Obama’s most recent presidential campaign and is a managing partner for his own communications consulting firm, Bendixen & Amandi International.

“I taught the election course last year that included [GOP hopeful] Herman Cain as a guest speaker, and we thought that bringing in big-name speakers who are practitioners would allow students to learn about immigration up close,” Uscinski said.

The course’s first class featured Enrique Gonzalez, special counsel to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped write the current immigration reform bill now in Congress. The second week featured Jorge Ramos, the popular anchor of Noticiero Univision.

“It’s a very unique opportunity that will only happen once,” said Reid Wilcox, who is enrolled in the class. “To hear from the architects of current immigration reform and leading thinkers on the issue is amazing, and it will only happen once, here at UM.”

Upcoming guests include the former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a 2014 Colorado gubernatorial candidate, and Florida Congressman Joe Garcia, a Democrat whose district includes Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade. Tancredo is an opponent of immigration and has referred to Miami as a “third-world country” in the past.


WHAT: Immigration reform course

Where: Storer Auditorium

When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays

The class features guest speakers followed by professors’ lectures.