Berkeley Talks: Professor Emerita Beverly Crawford on lies about migrants


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a family looks towards metal bars marking the United States border where it meets the Pacific Ocean

A family looks towards metal bars marking the United States border where it meets the Pacific Ocean in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2016. (AP photo by Gregory Bull)

“If rights aren’t enforced, do they really exist?” asks Beverly Crawford, a professor emerita of political science and international and area studies at UC Berkeley. “We can say, ‘Yes, they exist,’ but if they’re not enforced, people can be treated as if their rights don’t exist … Once a person steps outside their own borders, let’s say they’re fleeing persecution, or they’re fleeing poverty, or they’re fleeing environmental crisis or disaster, they are rightless, as if their rights don’t exist.”

Portrait of Beverly Crawford

Beverly Crawford (UC Berkeley photo)

Crawford, former director of Berkeley’s Center for European and German Studies, gave a lecture, “Lies about migrants: immigration policy in a time of post-truth politics,” on Oct. 16, 2019, as part of a series of talks sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). During the lecture, she discussed two problems in formulating immigration policy that leads to dehumanization — the absence of migrant rights and rival national identities. For example, in the U.S., there are rival definitions of what it means to be an American for American citizens. But, she says, it happens in other countries, too.

“What we have seen is the rise of the extreme right wing to dominate the narrative about immigration, both in the United States and in Europe,” Crawford continues. “What’s happened is, this extreme right, which dominates the narrative, has created a false narrative, and has turned to the weaponization of dehumanizing words and pictures to control the narrative based on people’s fear and emotion, and the formulation of an exclusionist immigration policy. We don’t have a comprehensive immigration law now.”

Listen to the full lecture and read the transcript above.