Roughly 130 members of the University community attended the 10th annual Benazir Bhutto and Ahmed Ispahani International Lectureship hosted by the University’s International Studies Institute Wednesday in the Campus Center Ballroom.
Eduardo Aguirre presented his lecture titled “Only in America! From Immigrant to Head of Immigration Services and More.” He is a former member of George W. Bush’s administration as the ambassador to Spain and Andorra, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Aguirre is also a Cuban immigrant who emigrated to the U.S. through “Operation Peter Pan.”
“Little did I dream as a young refugee boy that one day I would be serving my adopted country at such high public offices,” Aguirre said. “Only in America does that happen.”
The lecture began with a brief introduction by Juli Minoves Triquell, interim director if the International Studies Institute and associate professor of political science.
Aguirre started his speech by telling the audience about his background and professional experiences.
“With a lively debate on immigration, I want to begin by noting that those who are born here are blessed with U.S. citizenship at birth,” Aguirre said. “Many of us, like me, on the other hand, had a choice. We were born elsewhere, but we chose to come to the United States of America. As an immigrant, I adapted and I was helped by the kindness of many strangers in my adopted homeland.”
Aguirre said that it was through those who helped him that he was able to get his education, which allowed him to have a successful career in banking and unexpected appointments to public service positions.
“By naming me to three responsible positions in his administration, President Bush took a chance and underscored a fact that in the United States there never should be second class citizens,” Aguirre said. “Native born or naturalized, we need to have the same rights and shoulder the same responsibilities.”
Aguirre spoke about his experiences as the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
He recounted a story of when he went abroad in October 2005 to administer the oath of citizenship to some of the immigrants servings in the armed forces. He said that he travelled to Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany to naturalize active duty personnel over a course of 12 days.
“I feel truly blessed to live in the United States, where there are no barriers to what an individual can accomplish,” Aguirre said. “We live in a country where the most difficult barriers are really within us.”
The next portion of Aguirre’s lecture focused on immigration and his commentary.
He gave a brief background on Homeland Security and its creation following the 9/11 attacks. He was chosen to be the first director of the newly formed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
As the director, Aguirre’s main objective was to heighten productivity and eliminate the backlogged applications for citizenship and maintain the integrity in the legal system.
“We fundamentally transformed our nation’s immigration services into a more secure, efficient and effective operation,” Aguirre said. “We embraced a simple but imperative mission, making certain the right applicant receives the right benefit in the right amount of time and preventing the wrong applicant from accessing America’s immigration benefits.”
During his time as director, the application backlog was eliminated.
“In spite of what we accomplished in those short 30 months, it’s clear to me that the immigration system needs comprehensive, fundamental legislative reform,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre mentioned the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program of the Obama administration. He pointed out that the program does not provide a path to citizenship nor does it allow applicants to receive federal welfare or student aid. He said that as important as the program is, other reforms are necessary to resolve current issues with the immigration system and the undocumented population in the country.
Aguirre spoke about how illegal immigration to the U.S. has declined since its peak in 2000.
He also questioned the possibility of deporting the millions of undocumented immigrants from the U.S., saying that it is not possible to do so, as not every country would accept the deportees and the challenges with housing individuals awaiting deportation.
“Basic logic leads me to believe that rounding up and deporting a significant percent of our undocumented immigrant population is not only impractical but truly impossible,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre ended his speech by acknowledging the difficulties of solving the problems with our immigration system, saying that despite the difficulties, it should be done sooner rather than later.
“I like learning about the structure because this is an individual who has headed the structures that have led to we perceive immigration,” freshman political science and speech communications double major Fares Abdullah said. “I thought it was really important to understand the system.”
Senior political science major Jason Fuentes said that the lecture was insightful because while Aguirre served in a conservative administration, he had a different view on immigration than the conservative party norm.
“He had very much to say about how to deal with immigration and the law combined without being discriminatory,” Fuentes said. “I think that he had very good things to say about the reasonings why the U.S. government has to be more strict in vetting processes because of the Congress and requirements passed. He gave a fair rhetoric on immigration.”
Mariela Martinez, senior political science major, said that she enjoyed the speaker because Aguirre shared his personal experiences as a Cuban immigrant.
“It’s one thing to hear about what they’re doing on some academic issue, but it’s another to hear about their personal voyage to get there and fulfill that role,” Martinez said. “As the director of the UCIS, he expressed the real workings and the real politics that they must deal with. Hearing that from someone who is Hispanic and has had all that experience makes a much more compassionate and understanding case of what immigration services here in the United States attempt to do.”
Christina Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.