Interview with Professor Mae Ngai

On December 4, 2018, Professor Mae Ngai, an American historian and a Professor at Columbia University, addressed many immigration issues during our interview. She acknowledged that the current administration has taken a firmer stance on immigration than before.


The spread of false negative stereotypes, such as Mexicans are criminals and Muslims are terrorist, is a manifestation of the Trump administration’s critical stance. However, this critical view is not outwardly expressed across all states. New York City and California don’t fully cooperate with federal efforts, particularly ICE, to find and deport unauthorized immigrants. Additionally, these states help immigrants to integrate into society. For instance, In New York City, immigrants, regardless of status, are eligible for a State ID.


Professor Ngai explained that the current Republican perspective on immigration arose from the fear of losing representation in government. They are afraid of the increasing immigrant populations, especially Latinos, which invariably vote for Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, are faced with a predicament. They don’t want to appear soft on immigration, but they also don’t want to betray their supporters. Consequently, there is a lack of consensus between both parties and polarisation among their voters, so they often resort to villainizing each other.


The trump administration has specifically targeted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. DACA is an immigration policy that allows some individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit. It is very similar to the Chinese confession program of the 1950-60s which paved the way for illegal Chinese immigrants to becoming legalized residents, provided that they confessed to being illegally resident.


When asked about what possible effects might American economic backing have on Latin American countries, Professor Ngai admitted that past American involvements have often exacerbated equality and violence. She also recognized that though countries have a right to control who enters their borders, American policies lack genuine compassion. Possibly because the stereotypes that flourish within our borders do great harm to the social acceptance of immigrants.