COOL CLASSES: “Refugees and Forced Migrants”

This political science course integrates diverse disciplinary approaches—legal, political, sociological and anthropological—to explore the causes of migration, the dynamics of assimilation and incorporation of migrants in the U.S., and the process and impacts of deportation and (re)incorporation in Mexico and Central America.

Class name: “Refugees and Forced Migrants”

Taught by: Benjamin R. Collins Professor of Social Sciences Anita Isaacs


Here’s what Isaacs has to say about her course:

This course examines the cycle of immigration from Mexico and Central America, with a focus on the experiences of the unauthorized population, variously described as undocumented and illegal, and especially on the so-called generation 1.5, a cohort of individuals who came to the United States as children. Integrating diverse disciplinary approaches including legal, political, sociological and anthropological analysis, we explore and debate the causes of migration, the dynamics of assimilation and incorporation of migrants in the United States, and the process and impacts of deportation and (re)incorporation in Mexico and Central America.

The course is bookmarked by two defining experiences of uprootedness in the lives  of undocumented migrants: the first that occurs when they migrate to the United States, the second that occurs when they are forced to return to Mexico or Central America, either because they are deported or, in order to bypass deportation, opt to leave, typically because they see no future in the U.S., are fearful of deportation, or want to avoid being separated from a family member who has been “removed.”

There is an additional, core component to this course. We pay attention to the role of storytelling in the context of migration, discussing its uses and misuses, and drawing throughout on interviews with returning Mexican migrants that Professor of Economics Anne Preston and I have conducted with a team of Haverford students as part of our Migration Encounters Project. Towards that end, each student is assigned two specific interviews to work with, teasing out themes and distilling quotes and anecdotes that speak to the weekly assigned readings and class discussion.

It is my hope that students learn to understand the complexity of the causes of migration and its manifestations in Mexico and the Northern Triangle and critically assess U.S. immigration policy and how it has contributed to the rise of unauthorized migration. But it is also my hope that students gain an appreciation for the challenges that undocumented migrants face both in the United States and upon return to countries where they enjoy formal citizenship but where they struggle to belong. I want my students to come to appreciate the ways in which political, economic, and social structures impact undocumented and deported individuals and families and the resilience of so many in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I have reinvented my course on migration in order to focus on undocumented migration. This stems from a recognition that undocumented migrants and immigration enforcement dominate current policy discussions and initiatives and allow us to look beyond xenophobic rhetoric to understand the migrant experience. It also allows students to think about ethnography, oral history, and testimonials. My students use primary material that a Haverford team has collected and to think about the uses and misuses of stories in both scholarly endeavors and the policy arena.


See what other courses the Department of Political Science is offering this semester.

Photo: Professor Anita Isaacs interviews Ben in Mexico City as part of the Migration Encounters Project. Photo by Patrick Montero. 

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.