Dr. Parsons Dick Leads Research on Global Mobility and Immigration Policy

By Andrea E. Walls | January 9, 2020

Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick

Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker ’42 Endowed Chair
Associate Professor of International Studies
Director of International Studies
: Introduction to International Studies; Research Writing; Conflict and Inequality in Latin America; Migration Politics in the Americas; Political Discourse in Global Context; Law, Disorder, and Globalization; International Studies Senior Thesis Seminar
Expertise: Mexico-U.S. migration from the perspectives of discourse analysis; the political economies of language; and gender, class, and ethno-racial relations
Languages: English and Spanish
Advice for Students and Faculty: “Undergraduate students today face enormous pressures: the high cost of education, an imperative to succeed early and often, and an overwhelming set of major geopolitical and climatological uncertainties. It is critical that we acknowledge these pressures and the very real effects they have on all of us, but especially on our undergraduates who are just beginning their adult lives. I have found in my own life that an effective way to carry on under the weight of pressure is both to get actively involved in contributing to the issues you care about and to take breaks from involvement, time for genuine reflection, and self-care.”

Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick has dedicated her career to the advancement of migration studies, advocacy of immigration rights, and support for undocumented students.

Before joining Arcadia in 2011, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Center for Latin American Studies and Temple University’s Center for the Humanities. 

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“As an anthropologist who conducts long-term ethnographic fieldwork in different cultures, I connected with Arcadia’s mission and commitment to international education,” said Dr. Parsons Dick.

An expert in migration studies and discourse analysis, Dr. Parsons Dick has written articles for peer-reviewed publications and scholarly journals, including American Anthropologist, Annual Review of Anthropology, and the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. On the podcast “Anthropological Airwaves”, she discussed immigration policy and President Trump’s border wall rhetoric as well as the responsibilities that anthropologists have in the public sphere.

Dr. Parsons Dick recalled when, while completing a Ph.D. in cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, a “dramatic shift in attitudes and public discourse” led her to where she is now.

In 2005, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437) passed the House of Representatives. This legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-NY), addressed illegal immigration by strengthening interior enforcement of immigration laws and enacting additional border security measures. The Sensenbrenner Bill sought to criminalize violations of federal immigration law, which would indirectly shift the responsibility of immigration enforcement to state and local law authorities.  

Given what’s happening with immigration policy and the lives it affects, it’s critical to be part of an educated, aware, and socially just University community.

– Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick

A catalyst for large-scale protests, the Sensenbrenner Bill did not pass the Senate. But it brought humanitarian issues and social justice to the forefront of the immigration debate both politically and ethically. The nationwide demonstrations marked a historic turning point in Latinx politics and civic engagement, calling for comprehensive immigration law reform and a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants. After the failure of the Sensenbrenner Bill, Dr. Parsons Dick felt compelled to conduct innovative research into how racializing discourses—practices that mark some groups as inherently dangerous and “Other”—not only informs immigration policy but also affects nation-building, labor issues, and global economics, especially in Mexico and Latin America. 

In 2015, Dr. Parsons Dick was appointed the Wenner-Gren Hunt Fellowship, a highly competitive award granted to less than five percent of applicants, to support the completion of her first book. Words Of Passage: National Longing and the Imagined Lives of Mexican Migrantspublished in 2018 by the University of Texas Press, is the first full-length ethnography that examines the impact of migration from the perspective of people whose lives are affected by migration, but who have not migrated themselves. In the book, Dr. Parsons Dick explores how people use migration discourse to critique the failures of economic development for working-class people who live between Mexico and the U.S. She concludes that talk about migrants, ranging from hardworking families to dangerous criminals, “has real consequences for migrant communities.” Rhetoric determines the distribution of resources and access to economic mobility attributed to state-sponsored development programs to income earned in the U.S.

In 2019, the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) recognized Words of Passage as a “Distinguished Book in Linguistic Anthropology.” The book will be featured during the Presidential Session on Distinguished Books at the SLA’s spring 2020 conference in Boulder, Colo.

At Arcadia, Dr. Parsons Dick received the Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker ’42 Endowed Chair (2019-2021) for a distinguished record of teaching, professional achievements, and service to the University.  

“I am grateful for the Steinbrucker Endowed Chair,” she explained. “It provides sabbatical support to design a new research project, work on my second book, and funding to coordinate collaborative education programs.” 

In the fall 2019 semester, Arcadia welcomed Abel Rodríguez, director of the Center on Immigration and assistant professor of Religion, Law, and Social Justice at Cabrini University, for “Justice at the Margins: Migrant Rights, Realities, and Resilience in the U.S. Borderlands.” Part of the Steinbrucker Lecture Series, the discussion explored human rights abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border, analyzed recent developments in U.S. immigration law and policy, and engaged the Latinx Society and Amnesty International, two student-led organizations on campus.

During the spring 2020 semester, Dr. Parsons Dick plans to promote additional programs that will develop the theme of global mobility and the social life of law. 

English major Jaqueline Ramirez ’22, whom Dr. Parsons Dick mentored in her fall 2019 Honors projecthas arranged a screening of “Living Undocumented,” followed by a Q&A. The Netflix docuseries highlights the experiences of eight undocumented families who navigate immigration challenges under the Trump administration. The event is planned on Jan. 23 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Castle Mirror Room.  

Emily Brown ’13, an immigration attorney, will guide a roundtable discussion about immigration compliance issues among employers to help international students manage their careers after graduation. Dr. Parsons Dick will also collaborate with Dr. Jennifer Riggan, professor of International Studies, and schedule a campus discussion of global migration and refugee resettlement in East Africa. 

Providing robust opportunities for the Arcadia community to come together and learn more about immigration issues is an educational imperative for Dr. Parsons Dick.

“Given what’s happening with immigration policy and the communities it affects, it’s critical to be part of an educated, aware, and socially just University,” she said.

Dr. Parsons Dick is working on her second book, tentatively titled Bad Hombres and Angel Moms: Communicating Commonsense Racism in the Time of Trump, which is under contract with Oxford University Press. Bad Hombres uses close textual analysis of President Trump’s rhetoric to examine immigration policy toward Latin America and its connections to racialization in the U.S. The work also observes how racializing discourses of sovereignty influences anti-immigrant ordinances within small Pennsylvania towns.

During the academic year 2020-2021, Dr. Parsons Dick will begin a new ethnographic research project working with local immigration lawyers as they help migrants navigate the U.S.’s increasingly complex and draconian immigration legal code.

Looking ahead, Dr. Parsons Dick encourages students to persevere through difficult times, advocate for positive change, and support their undocumented peers. As to comprehensive immigration reform and national policy improvements, she suggests, “[It will] require a serious unraveling of our country’s political polarization.”