ICLP Volunteer Blog: Immigration Coffee Talk

On October 30 I attended an event with the International Cultural Leadership Project (ICLP).  It was a “Coffee Talk” about immigration.  French and American students gathered to discuss immigration in the US and France, and around the world.

The event began with an activity that intended to gauge opinions about immigration and to get us thinking about our views on it.  A question would appear on the screen and if we thought the answer was “yes,” we would go to the right side of the room.  If we thought it was “no,” we would go to the left. If we weren’t sure or thought the answer was somewhere in between, we would stand in the middle.

Here is a list of the questions we discussed:


After the preliminary activity, we had a “Fact Check” session and learned the actual statistics behind some of the questions.  We learned that in fact there are more legal immigrants than illegal ones, which surprised a lot of people.  It did not surprise me, because I find it hard to believe that of all the immigrants the US allows into the country, there are even more that come illegally.  There is just no way that that many people can sneak in illegally.  The statistics were called into question because people wondered how we could possibly count illegal immigrants.  The response to this was that there are ways to calculate how many illegal immigrants there are.  The presenters were not sure of the specifics, but I have learned in my studies various ways we can know.  In my cultural anthropology class we talked about the importance of the census, and that illegal immigrants should understand that the purpose is not to root them out. The census is used to calculate budgets and to allocate money to facilities such as water and energy.  The under-reporting of the population results in not enough money being allocated to resources, which puts a strain on local government.


Something interesting I learned is that US border enforcement is actually not as beneficial as I thought.  During the time that enforcement was more stringent, immigration actually increased.  All border enforcement does is push border-crossers into more dangerous territory.

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An interesting comparison we made was about the tolerance of Americans towards immigrants and the tolerance of French people towards immigrants.  We learned that Americans are actually rather tolerant of immigrants.  According to one survey, 72% of Americans believe that immigration is a good thing.  When it comes to French people, however, the statistics were more surprising.  The statistics make it seem that French people are much less tolerant of immigrants.  When these statistics came up, the French people in the room got upset.  They questioned the source of the statistics, and were offended.  They thought that we were trying to compare, and say that Americans are more tolerant than French people.  Statistics such as “62% of French people say relations with Muslims are bad” is rather shocking.  Whether or not these statistics are accurate, it is true that French people have issues with immigration.  They tend to be more concerned with “cultural purity” and maintaining the “French way of life.”  Since North African Muslim countries are former colonies of France, there is a large population of immigrants who come to France in hopes of a better life.  This causes conflict because the culture and religion of the two groups of people are very different.  Also, some French believe that these immigrants are “lazy” and do not work hard enough.  In a country with that many social benefits and programs, citizens are very upset that their taxpayer dollars may be paying for someone who does not want to work.  This would be compared somewhat to Mexicans in the US.  Citizens are afraid that they come to this country and do not work or pay taxes, and change the culture by speaking Spanish and refusing to adapt.  I think that these beliefs are founded on stereotypes and half-truths, and that if people had all of the facts, they would understand that most immigrants actually want to adapt to the country, work hard, and become successful.

Facts about Americans

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Facts about French people

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Overall, I found this discussion to be very informative.  It definitely had a pro-immigration lean, but that was fine with me because I support immigration.  I think that much of the discussion intended to open up peoples’ minds and help them to form opinions based on facts.