Immigration policy and the 2024 presidential election

An April 2 symposium will bring together policy analysts, immigration scholars, and representatives of nonprofit advocacy organizations to discuss immigration policies and their impact.

A group of migrants along the Mexico-California border show their identification to U.S. Border Patrol agents, with brown mountains in the background and the sun about to rise, giving a spot of light in an overcast sky.
U.S. Border Patrol agents with migrants seeking asylum, mainly from Colombia, China, and Ecuador, in a makeshift, mountainous campsite after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States on Feb. 2, 2024, near Jacumba, California.  (Image: AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

As the 2024 U.S. presidential election kicks into gear, an issue already taking center stage both among candidates and the electorate is immigration. Immigration has been front-page news, from dramatic scenes along the border to the State of the Union address to a Texas migrant law playing out in the courts.

“Immigration is such a central theme in both campaigns. At the same time, all the media attention goes to the so-called ‘border crisis’ that we’ve been hearing about nonstop for three years,” says Chenoa Flippen, sociologist and director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration (CSERI). “So much so that there is a lot less attention to other really important things that the Biden administration has been doing.”

An April 2 symposium, co-sponsored by the Penn Migration Initiative, Population Studies Center, and CSERI, aims to shed light on other important aspects of immigration policy. The symposium will bring together policy analysts, immigration scholars, and representatives of nonprofit advocacy organizations to discuss immigration policies and their impact, as well as the role of academic research in informing the broader debate.

Much of today’s immigration policy has been shaped by congressional gridlock and the increased role of the executive branch in shaping the country’s immigration agenda, Flippen says. In President Biden’s first three years, he signed more than 535 immigration-related executive actions.

“We hope to move away from all the hype and media frenzy over the border and examine what the Biden administration has actually done. To what extent are his policies a break from the past versus a continuation of prior administrations? Over 500 executive actions is a lot to keep track of,” says Flippen. “We also want to understand the community impact of those changes.”

The first panel, moderated by political science professor Michael Jones-Correa, will look at contemporary immigration policy and the role of immigration in America’s future. It will offer a bird’s eye view of the Biden administration’s policies, the current debate, and what immigration policy might look like under different scenarios. Speakers include Ariel Ruiz, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute; Dara Lind, senior fellow at the American Immigration Council; and Angela Kelley of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The second panel, moderated by Penn Carey Law’s Fernando Chang-Muy, will feature Sarah Paoletti, law professor and director of Penn Carey Law’s Transnational Legal Clinic; as well as Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigration Integration Policy; and Erin Argueta, Senior Lead Attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The panel will examine the impact of Biden’s immigration policies and enforcement and will shed light on how current policies are experienced by local communities and institutions.

“We really want to provide a much more comprehensive, complex view of what’s happening on the immigration stage than people get in their news feeds,” Flippen says. “This is a continuation of decades-long policies, and this is an incredibly complex issue. We need to understand it in a broader context.”

Amanda Pinheiro, a postdoctoral fellow at Perry World House, is one of the co-organizers of the symposium. Her research “investigates the human cost of racially charged migration deterrence policies and practices in the Americas, foregrounding race in global migration research and policymaking.”

There are very new dynamics in terms of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, she says, from Venezuelans and Ukrainians to people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year, at the treacherous Darien Gap, more than half a million migrants crossed from Colombia to Panama.

“We have migrants from Afghanistan going all the way to Brazil and crossing 11 countries. These are unprecedented dynamics across the Americas,” says Pinheiro.

She says it’s important to pay attention to these dynamics in global migration, and she hopes the symposium sheds some light on how these migratory movements are shaping politics and how politics are shaping those movements.

“This issue will have a great impact on the outcome of these U.S. elections. We need to look at its political importance, but also we have to pay attention to what’s happening in this country from the perspective of the migrant,” she says.

Estefanía Castañeda-Pérez, a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn Migration Initiative conducting research on the consequences of border policing and immigration laws, is one of the co-organizers of the symposium. She says it’s important to center dignity and human rights protections when looking at immigration issues.

“The U.S.-Mexico border is often portrayed as a zone in perpetual crisis, which serves to increase support for stepped-up militarization at the cost of human rights protections,” she says. “Yet, the dangers that migrants experience are often minimized. We hope that audience members will get a greater understanding of the realities and challenges facing migrants and their advocates as they seek to address border violence from the perspectives of academic scholarship, advocacy, and policy.”

Registration information for the symposium can be found on the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration’s website: