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CELEBRATE! profile: Molly Costigan ‘10

Immigration to the United States and other developed nations has become a hot-button topic as governments continue to focus on security following the Sept. 11 attacks. But not all nations deal with immigration equally, which Molly Costigan ’10 discovered in work that is the fifth in a series of E-net profiles to showcase Elon undergraduate research during CELEBRATE! 2010.

Molly Costigan '10

Costigan, a Spanish major and Honors Fellow who worked with professor Donna Van Bodegraven, focused her senior thesis work on immigration and the impact of terrorism on the formation of stereotypes and opinions regarding immigration policy. The human services and non-violence studies minor hopes to continue her work with immigration issues after graduation, either as a teacher’s assistant in Spain or with AmeriCorps in the southwestern United States.

She presented her thesis in Spanish on Tuesday during SURF. Costigan sat down recently with the Office of University Relations to share her findings in more detail.

Q: What are you researching?
A: It’s a study of immigration from Mexico to the United States and from Morocco to Spain since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the United States and the bombing of the train station in Madrid in 2004. I’m looking at the changes in immigration since those attacks through documentary film, so there are seven films that I’m analyzing.

Q: What is the connection between immigration and terrorism?
A: What I’ve seen is that mainly in the U.S., but not so much in Spain, is that 9/11 provoked a fear of foreigners and an increase in patriotism, which put an emphasis on the rights of citizens. There were a lot of changes to immigration policy really soon after the terrorist attacks. I’ve seen connections in how we talk about immigration, using the rhetoric of protecting our country in terms of trying to keep undocumented immigrants out.

I had hypothesized that there would be this connection in both Spain and the U.S. But I feel like there were fewer changes in Spain after the March 11 attack there because a lot of people speculated 9/11 had a global impact. So maybe when I’m trying to look at Spain before and after the 2004 attacks, they might have already responded to the threat of terrorism, or they might have changed their policies after 9/11. Also, some immigration policy in Spain is controlled by the European Union in general, so there might not have been such an immediate reaction as in the United States.

Q: Why are you focusing so much study on immigration from Morocco and Mexico?
A: It’s an interesting area because immigration from Morocco is quite similar to immigration from Cuba to the U.S. because in some instances there’s a water crossing involved (from Cuba to the south of Florida and through the Strait of Gibraltar from the north of Morocco to the south of Spain). There’s also a lot of immigration from all of Africa up through Morocco and into Spain just like there’s immigration from Latin America up through Mexico and into the U.S. But I decided to focus on the two specific countries so I could look at how those immigrant groups are perceived within the country. For instance, in the U.S. we perceive Mexican immigrants differently than we do people from Argentina.

Q: What are the factors contributing to such widespread immigration from both Mexico and Morocco?
A: I looked at general discrepancies in things like minimum wage in the country of origin and the country of destination, the rankings in terms of world health and standards of living, infant mortality rate and unemployment.

Q: What were your findings?
A: I found that there was not as much of a connection between terrorism and immigration policy in Spain (as in the U.S.) There are some distinct similarities in the difficulty of getting to the country and the perception upon arrival.

Q: What was the significance of the documentary films in your research?
A: In looking at the films, I looked at the way that different modes of films are used to reflect certain themes. I found of list of six modes of films, and the directors of these films tend to talk about immigration through either observing the situation, explaining the situation or actually participating themselves. So of those six modes, the explicatory, observation and participatory were the three that kept appearing over and over again.

Q: Which films did you look at?
A: For the U.S., “Nuestra Comunidad – Latinos in North Carolina,” “Crossing Arizona,” "Mojados: Through the Night" and “Walking the Line.” For Spain, “I See the Stars at Noon,” “Living with Illegals” and ““Si nos dejan,” which I actually found on Youtube. I ended up narrowing it down based on films that had received a lot of recognition and films from primarily after the terrorist attacks.

Q: What is the inspiration behind your research?
A: I knew I wanted to do something cultural after I worked with the Latino community in the area. And when I found my mentor we decided I should incorporate my study abroad experience in Spain and documentary films seemed like a really cool way to study it.

Q: Why do you think this is important?
A: I’ve seen so many implications in my research in how we’re treating the Latino community now in terms of their access to resources and employment. It’s very similar to the way we’ve treated other immigrant groups throughout history with Irish and Chinese immigrants.

It’s interesting to look at how the groups have changed, but our tendencies have not. I think it’s important to understand the journey of how people get to the U.S. It’s truly a difficult experience and they would not do that if they felt that they had another option. In the films, by talking about these experiences the directors try to humanize the people so we see them as people and not just statistics.

The same is true in Spain as well, although there wasn’t as much of a connection to the terrorist attacks. “Si nos dejan” shows the living conditions of certain immigrant groups, which are unbelievable. So it opens your eyes to the reality of different groups of people.

- Sarah Costello '11

Eric Townsend,
5/1/2010 8:21 AM