An Open Letter to OLLI Concerning the Invitation of Mark Krikorian, Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, to the University of Michigan

To Lisa Barton and the Leadership at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Michigan,

I write to express my extreme disappointment that Osher Lifelong Learning, housed in the Geriatrics Center at the University of Michigan, has invited Mark Krikorian, the Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), to the University of Michigan to speak on November 15, 2018.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CIS as an anti-immigrant hate group for it’s “repeated circulation of white nationalist and antisemitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.” Data from the organization were used to justify Trump’s ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. The CIS opposes birthright citizenship due to the supposition that those born to undocumented immigrants of color will not assimilate into their notions of U.S. culture. Krikorian has shown a history of espousing similar views personally. He once tweeted, “How many rapists & drug-dealers are the anti-deportation radicals protecting?”. He called journalist Jorge Ramos a “white-Hispanic ethnic hustler.” He stated that Mexico’s “weakness and backwardness has been deeply harmful to the United States.” And he shared that Haiti was “screwed up” because “it wasn’t colonized long enough.”

Data from the CIS, despite frequently being debunked, are often used to justify Trump’s hard-line immigration stance. Thus, OLLI and the Geriatrics Center at the University of Michigan are providing a platform to a man who is directly contributing to the current immigration enforcement climate, one in which parents are separated from their children at the border, ICE agents wait to deport children with disabilities following emergency surgery, and immigration work raids have returned to a scale not seen since those in Postville, Iowa, ten years ago.

The damage caused by this enforcement does not just occur in southern border communities, but has changed the fabric of Washtenaw County and the Midwest. In May of 2017, ICE agents ate breakfast at Sava’s, located a few feet from the University of Michigan, before detaining the staff who had prepared their meals. This month, the largest worksite raid in a decade occurred in neighboring Ohio. Many of the arrests throughout our county (and the U.S.) target a single individual, but agents question or detain any men of color they find at the scene. This practice of collateral arrests is akin to legalized racial profiling. I and others at this university have documented the damage of immigration enforcement to our community, over, and over, and over again.

OLLI has invited me to represent the Latino community of Washtenaw County on June 28, 2018, in your “Voices of Local Minorities” session. I agreed to do so, and looked forward to the opportunity to speak about the diversity and richness of the Latino community in our county. At the same time, I was hesitant, because there are others who have been in the Washtenaw County Latino community longer than I have, whose children are more integrated into the school system than mine, and who have been contributing to our culture in a range of ways for years. Three of those individuals were just deported. We worked with them. We sat with them. We emailed politicians, advocates, and community leaders on their behalf. And, for each, we lost. We stood in the airport silently, with our fists in the air as their families sobbed, trying to bear witness to the suffering of modern day immigration enforcement in the U.S., in Michigan, and in Washtenaw County.

Thus, I find myself in a position that is utterly typical of members of minority communities: instead of sharing our rich diversity and culture, I am forced to argue for my humanity and that of my family and community. I am forced to stand in front of an audience and tell them why my brown skin does not make me less deserving of an intact family, and that my children and other brown skinned children in our county deserve to grow up next to their moms and dads just as much as their white peers.

Prior to this letter, I emailed with the organizers of Krikorian’s talk multiple times in order to inquire about their reasoning. I was told that Mr. Krikorian represented a “diversity of viewpoints.” This was, perhaps, as disappointing to me as the invitation of Krikorian itself. As I and many members of marginalized communities know quite well, the quickest way for moderates, liberals, and “allies” to allow for the systematic dismantling of our families, rights, and communities is to label the policies that permit this dismantling as “diversity of viewpoints.” Would you allow someone with a pro-slavery agenda to speak for OLLI? Would you invite a flat-earther to your physics conference? Would you pay for a man who believes in male genetic superiority to weigh in on the #MeToo movement? What is different about Mr. Krikorian’s rhetoric? Why are you comfortable giving an uninterrupted platform to a man who supports a president who calls members of our community “animals” and “rapists,” in which brown children are simply vessels in which to “send a message”?

I have reflected deeply on what to do about this, and was impacted by recent art shared by Latino artist Julio Salgado. I, too, am no longer interested in convincing you of my humanity. I am not interested in justifying my existence or that of my brown family. Instead, we will live a full, happy life, thriving, advocating, and recreating America to reflect the very multiracial multiculturalism that CIS despises. Thus, I will not be speaking at the OLLI event on June 28th, but will spend the time with my family and the community of advocates trying to keep our county intact.

I understand that Mr. Krikorian is being brought in to Ann Arbor from Washington, DC, at which CIS is located. I thus assume that his travel expenses, including airfare, hotel accommodations, and meals, are covered from University funds. I was also told that university lawyers were consulted about his invitation. Should OLLI or the members who opposed Krikorian’s invitation want to express their opposition in a meaningful way, I would invite them to donate at least the amount used to support Kriokrian’s invitation to organizations addressing the damage of his rhetoric to our community. The Immigration Action Coalition of the Unitarian Universalists of Ann Arbor is collecting funds for scholarships to support undocumented college students, some of whom have witnessed their parents’ removal in the past few months. The Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights has supported these communities, responding during the raids of local businesses and supporting families when parents have been removed. Both could benefit from the financial support extended to Mr. Krikorian. It is also notable that Mr. Krikorian benefited from access to legal resources provided by the University at no cost to him, while community members in our county are deported without any legal representation at all. Should OLLI or its members wish to provide legal support to these community members, as you did with Mr. Krikorian, you can support the efforts of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, who provides free to low-cost legal support to our immigrant community.

Lastly, I would like to remind the Board, as I had intended to say in my presentation, that Latinos are a diverse community. We are also not the only community impacted by the invitation of speakers like Mr. Krikorian. Thus, I only claim to speak for myself as an individual, and my decision not to consider Krikorian’s views in a formal presentation is only one of many ways to combat the damaging effects of his work. I have invited other individuals and organizations to share their perspectives with the director and leadership (contact information here).

Sincerely,

William D. Lopez, PhD, MPH