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Immigrants are only 3.5% of people worldwide – and their negative impact is often exaggerated, in the U.S. and around the world

A sociologist shares what his research has taught him about migration.

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Academic research plays an important role in helping dispel myths and misconceptions about migration. Spencer Platt/Getty Images News via Getty Images

-Ernesto Castañeda is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at American University and the Director of the Immigration Lab. Castañeda explains why immigration is an important force counteracting population decline in the U.S. and why that matters to the economy and America’s global power. Below are highlights from an interview with The Conversation. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ernesto Castañeda speaks about his work studying immigration and migration.

What do you study?

I direct the Immigration Lab where we conduct research around migration – in all its aspects. For example, emigration – people leaving their countries of origin; or internal migration – people moving within a country. There are millions of people living in a different province or state than where they were born, such as in China or the U.S. We also study international migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, people that cross borders looking for economic opportunities or trying to reunite with family.

We have studied refugees from Central America in Washington D.C., as well as from Afghanistan. We have also compared immigrants from Latin America in New York and those from North Africa in European cities. I’ve been studying migration since 2003, so almost 20 years.

Immigration is a hot topic now. How different are they than when you started studying it 20 years ago?

It’s funny because in the media we always highlight the new things, and there are indeed new twists and turns, new characters. But the story, the dynamics, the human drama, the structural issues are basically the same. So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s why it’s easier to understand new crises, because immigration researchers have seen something similar happening in the past.

How politicized is immigration?

Immigration is something that has been with us for a long, long time. It’s something that is going to keep happening. It’s something that no one state can fully stop forever. But unfortunately, since as long as I can remember, it is something that has been politicized. There are a lot of misunderstandings by people in the public. Especially because politicians have, for a long time and in different places, used this topic for their short-term political advantage. So it’s something that is recurrent. Nonetheless, when I meet immigrants every day, the realities of their lives and what they are going through are very different from what you hear from the mouths of politicians and from a lot of media outlets.

My research has tried to understand what happened in the past and what’s going on right now in the streets in order to try to improve our understanding about immigration. If you look at all types of data, there are way more opportunities born of migration than problems.

The latest census shows that if it wasn’t for immigration, the US population would actually be in decline. So there’s a lot on the line as far as available workers, yes?

Yes, although some people think that the decline of immigration is not a bad thing, especially if it means maintaining a white majority. Yet immigration is not about a “great replacement” conspiracy but about the maintenance of a successful trajectory of economic growth, cultural vibrancy, scientific and technical innovation. In the economic system that we live in, one of the main ways that the economy keeps growing is by bringing in new labor. Cultural differences disappear across time and family generations. Furthermore, we are talking about changes around the edges. The great majority, over 80%, of the U.S. population has been and will likely continue to be U.S.-born.

Early in the pandemic, people were scared, and rightly so. It made sense to reduce air travel, border crossings and refugee resettlement. In the last couple of years, because of Title 42, which allows the government to prohibit the entry of persons who potentially pose a health risk at ports of entry, even asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico and made to wait there.

Nevertheless, just in the U.S., we have lost over a million people because of COVID-19. People are also worried about inflation. But inflation has also been made worse by COVID deaths, people staying out of the workforce and by declining immigration, all resulting in a scarcity of workers.

So in the last couple of years we’ve seen an important decrease in migration while American couples have on average two children, keeping the population barely growing. So, the current population will not grow without immigration. Declining population growth also means a decrease in economic growth and the influence of the U.S. abroad. If this occurs, then you’d have to be ready to make less money and spend more in goods and services. I don’t think we’re ready for that to be the norm. If we stop taking immigrants in, innovations, population and economic growth will take place in a different part of the globe.

In your almost 20 years of research, what’s one thing that would surprise someone who is not in the field you’re studying?

It’s important for everyone to know that most people do not want to leave their hometown. Most people want to stick around because that’s where their loved ones, family members and friends are. It is the place they know, and they have an attachment to the place. It takes a lot – like an invasion, hunger, a great educational or professional opportunity – to want to leave your home.

Another thing that’s important to know is that only around 3.5% of the world population lives in a different country than where they were born. There are as many people moving within China as through international borders. So, international migration is a very important phenomenon for immigrants themselves – we’re talking about the futures of many individuals and families. But in terms of the global population, it’s a very small proportion. And this is not because of immigration deterrence and border fences.

So we’re talking about an exception. Unfortunately, politicians and people make it sound like it’s the main problem.

People may think that immigrants are more likely to commit crime, yet it is the opposite. Immigrants are much less likely to commit any crimes than the U.S.-born. They are also less likely to use drugs.

The border wall is a monument to intolerance and racism that actively stigmatizes people in the area. Anti-immigrant policies and speech are driven by national politics, scapegoating, misinformation, and dramatic images about caravans, border camps, and border crossers without providing the full context and actual descriptions of reality. There are a lot of myths around migration, but when you look at the data qualitatively, quantitatively, in different societies, in different periods, it is almost the opposite from what people think. That is why academic research on immigration is very important to rectify the story.

Ernesto Castañeda has received funding from NIH, NSF, and American University.

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Sex work is real work: Global COVID-19 recovery needs to include sex workers

Societally, we need to recognize that sex workers have agency and deserve the same respect, dignity and aid as any other person selling their labour.

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Globally, sex workers have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic with little to no support from the government. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

During the pandemic, business shifted from in person to work-from-home, which quickly became the new normal. However, it left many workers high and dry, especially those with less “socially acceptable” occupations.

The pandemic has adversely impacted sex workers globally and substantially increased the precariousness of their profession. And public health measures put in place made it almost impossible for sex workers to provide any in-person service.

Although many people depend on sex work for survival, its criminalization and policing stigmatizes sex workers.

Research shows that globally, sex workers have been left behind and in most cases excluded from government economic support initiatives and social policies. There needs to be an intersectional approach to global COVID-19 recovery that considers everyone’s lived realities. We propose policy recommendations that treat sex work as decent work and that centre around the lived experiences and rights of those in the profession.

Sex work and the pandemic

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently reported that apart from income-loss, the pandemic has increased pre-existing inequalities for sex workers.

In a survey conducted in Eastern and Southern Africa, the UNFPA found that during the pandemic, 49 per cent of sex workers experienced police violence (including sexual violence) while 36 per cent reported arbitrary arrests. The same survey reported that more than 50 per cent of respondents experienced food and housing crises.

Lockdowns and border closures adversely impacted Thailand’s tourism industry which relies partially on the labour of sex workers.


Read more: Sex workers are criminalized and left without government support during the coronavirus pandemic


In the Asia Pacific, sex workers reported having limited access to contraceptives and lubricants along with reduced access to harm reduction resources. Lockdowns also disrupted STI or HIV testing services, limiting sex workers’ access to necessary healthcare.

In North America, sex workers have been excluded from the government’s recovery response. And many began offering online services to sustain themselves.

A woman stands backlit next to a dimly lit bus that reads 'Thailand' with green lighting.
Sex workers stand in a largely shut-down red light area in Bangkok, Thailand on March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Government vs. community response

Globally, sex workers have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic with little to no support from the government. But communities themselves have been rallying.

Elene Lam, founder of Butterfly, an Asian migrant sex organization in Canada, talks about the resilience of sex wokers during the pandemic.

She says organizations like the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform are working in collaboration with Amnesty International to mobilize income support and resources to help sex workers in Canada.

Organizations in the United Kingdom, Germany, India and Spain have also set up emergency support funds. And some sex worker organizations have developed community-specific resources for providing services both in person and online during the pandemic.

Global recovery needs to include sex workers

The International Labour Organization’s “Decent Work Agenda” emphasizes productive employment and decent working conditions as being the driving force behind poverty reduction.

Sociologist Cecilia Benoit explains that sex work often becomes a “livelihood strategy” in the face of income and employment instability. She says that like other personal service workers, sex workers also should be able to practice without any interference or violence.

In order to have an inclusive COVID-19 recovery for all, governments need to work to extend social guarantees to sex workers — so far they haven’t.

As pandemic restrictions disappear, it is crucial to ensure that everyone involved in sex work is protected under the law and has access to accountability measures.

A woman stands wearing a mask with a safety vest on in front of a collage of scantily clad women and a sign that reads 'nude women non stop'
A volunteer helps out at Zanzibar strip club during a low-barrier vaccination clinic for sex workers in Toronto in June 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Recommendations

As feminist researchers, we propose that sex work be brought under the broader agenda of decent work so that the people offering services are protected.

  1. Governments need to have a legal mandate for preventing sexual exploitation.

  2. Law enforcement staff need to be trained in better responding to the needs of sex workers. To intervene in and address situations of abuse or violence is critical to ensure workplace safety and harm reduction.

  3. Awareness and educational campaigns need to focus on destigmatizing sex work.

  4. Policy-makers need to incorporate intersectionality as a working principle in identifying and responding to the different axes of oppression and marginalization impacting LGBTQ+ and racialized sex workers.

  5. Engagement with sex workers and human rights organizations need to happen when designing aid support to ensure that an inclusive pathway for recovery is created.

  6. Globally, there needs to be a steady commitment towards destigmatizing sex workers and their services.

Despite the gradual waning of pandemic restrictions, sex workers continue to face the dual insecurity of social discrimination and loss of income support. Many are still finding it difficult to stay afloat and sustain themselves.

Societally, we need to recognize that sex workers have agency and deserve the same respect, dignity and aid as any other person selling their labour.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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OU researchers award two NSF pandemic prediction and prevention projects

Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its…

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Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention initiative, which focuses on fundamental research and capabilities needed to tackle grand challenges in infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention.

Credit: Photo provided by the University of Oklahoma.

Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention initiative, which focuses on fundamental research and capabilities needed to tackle grand challenges in infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention.

To date, researchers from 20 institutions nationwide were selected to receive an NSF PIPP Award. OU is the only university to receive two grants to the same institution.

“The next pandemic isn’t a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” said OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia. “Research at the University of Oklahoma is going to help society be better prepared and responsive to future health challenges.”

Next-Generation Surveillance

David Ebert, Ph.D., professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering in the Gallogly College of Engineering, is the principal investigator on one of the projects, which explores new ways of sharing, integrating and analyzing data using new and traditional data sources. Ebert is also the director of the Data Institute for Societal Challenges at OU, which applies OU expertise in data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data-enabled research to solving societal challenges.

While emerging pathogens can circulate among wild or domestic animals before crossing over to humans, the delayed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new early detection methods, more effective data management, and integration and information sharing between officials in both public and animal health.

Ebert’s team, composed of experts in data science, computer engineering, public health, veterinary sciences, microbiology and other areas, will look to examine data from multiple sources, such as veterinarians, agriculture, wastewater, health departments, and outpatient and inpatient clinics, to potentially build algorithms to detect the spread of signals from one source to another. The team will develop a comprehensive animal and public health surveillance, planning and response roadmap that can be tailored to the unique needs of communities.

“Integrating and developing new sources of data with existing data sources combined with new tools for detection, localization and response planning using a One Health approach could enable local and state public health partners to respond more quickly and effectively to reduce illness and death,” Ebert said. “This planning grant will develop proof-of-concept techniques and systems in partnership with local, state and regional public health officials and create a multistate partner network and design for a center to prevent the next pandemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes One Health as an approach that bridges the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment to achieve optimal health outcomes.

Co-principal investigators on the project include Michael Wimberly, Ph.D., professor in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences; Jason Vogel, Ph.D., director of the Oklahoma Water Survey and professor in the Gallogly College of Engineering School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science; Thirumalai Venkatesan, director of the Center for Quantum Research and Technology in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences; and Aaron Wendelboe, Ph.D., professor in the Hudson College of Public Health at the OU Health Sciences Center.

Predicting and Preventing the Next Avian Influenza Pandemic

Several countries have experienced deadly outbreaks of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, that have resulted in the loss of billions of poultry, thousands of wild waterfowl and hundreds of humans. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are taking a unique approach to predicting and preventing the next avian influenza pandemic.

Xiangming Xiao, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology and director of the Center for Earth Observation and Modeling in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, is leading a project to assemble a multi-institutional team that will explore pathways for establishing an International Center for Avian Influenza Pandemic Prediction and Prevention.

The goal of the project is to incorporate and understand the status and major challenges of data, models and decision support tools for preventing pandemics. Researchers hope to identify future possible research and pathways that will help to strengthen and improve the capability and capacity to predict and prevent avian influenza pandemics.

“This grant is a milestone in our long-term effort for interdisciplinary and convergent research in the areas of One Health (human-animal-environment health) and big data science,” Xiao said. “This is an international project with geographical coverage from North America, Europe and Asia; thus, it will enable OU faculty and students to develop greater ability, capability, capacity and leaderships in prediction and prevention of global avian influenza pandemic.”

Other researchers on Xiao’s project include co-principal investigators A. Townsend Peterson, Ph.D., professor at the University of Kansas; Diann Prosser, Ph.D., research wildlife ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey; and Richard Webby, Ph.D., director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Wayne Marcus Getz, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is also assisting on the project.

The National Science Foundation grant for Ebert’s research is set to end Jan. 31, 2024, while Xiao’s grant will end Dec. 31, 2023.


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Pfizer vaults into sickle cell market as GBT deal confirmed

Pfizer’s reported interest in acquiring sickle cell disease specialist Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT)  has been confirmed, with the
The post Pfizer…

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Pfizer’s reported interest in acquiring sickle cell disease specialist Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT)  has been confirmed, with the $68.50-per-share deal valuing GBT at $5.4 billion.

As we reported this morning, the deal gives Pfizer already-approved SCD therapy Oxbryta (voxelator) – which industry watchers reckon could see a dramatic uptick in sales with Pfizer’s marketing muscle – plus a phase 3 antibody candidate, a phase 1 follow-up to Oxbryta that could offer improved dosing.

Oxbryta is the main asset in the deal, with Evaluate predicting sales could reach $1.5 billion in 2028 – a leap forward from the $195 million it made last year and $127 million in the first half of 2022.

Pfizer is expecting big things from the takeover , predicting that the company’s SCD franchise will bring in combined peak sales of more than $3 billion.

The boards of both companies have recommended the deal to shareholders, and the two companies suggested it should close before the end of the year – assuming of course it doesn’t fall foul of any antitrust issues raised by financial regulators.

The GBT deal comes at a time when the market for SCD therapies is undergoing significant change, with multiple new drugs reaching the market after years of stagnation and progress also being made with genetic therapies from the likes of bluebird bio, Vertex Pharma/CRISPR Therapeutics and Precision Bio/Novartis.

Oxbryta came to market in 2019, a few days after Novartis’ injectable anti-P-selectin antibody Adakveo (crizanlizumab), which is also tipped for blockbuster sales but like Oxbryta has suffered from a slow rollout.

CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex are also in the running with their gene-editing candidate CTX001, in phase 1/2 trials which are due to generate final results later this year. If those results are positive the partners have said they could file for approval in the US before year-end.

Meanwhile, bluebird bio’s one-time gene therapy  lovotibeglogene autotemcel is supposed to be heading for regulatory filing in the US next year, although it has been delayed by an FDA partial clinical hold implemented after a persistent case of anaemia was seen in one adolescent patient in a clinical trial.

GBT’s inclacumab – another P-selectin antibody that could encroach on Adakveo – is in a pair of phase 3 trials due to generate results next year.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of orally-active pyruvate kinase R activators from Forma Therapeutics and Agios – etavopivat and mitapivat, respectively – in mid-stage development, and Pfizer has its own SCD candidate in PF-07209326, an E-selectin anatomist in phase 1.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t Pfizer’s first deal in SCD. In 2011 it paid $340 million for rights to rivipansel, a pan-selectin antagonist developed by GlycoMimetics, which failed a phase 3 test in 2019 and was jettisoned by Pfizer the following year.

The deal is another example of Pfizer splashing out on business development thanks to windfall cash generated by its COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty and oral antiviral therapy Paxlovid. It comes shortly after the group closed a $6.7 billion acquisition of Arena Pharma, bringing on board etrasimod in late-stage testing for ulcerative colitis, and made an $11.6 billion takeover bid for Biohaven and its migraine therapy Nurtec ODT (rimegepant).

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