Wagner’s Natasha Iskander Launches Optimistic Book on Migration Policy Development

Despite torrential rain outside, the Rudin Forum was packed on Monday
night with students and faculty eager to learn about, and celebrate, a new book
by Natasha Iskander, assistant professor of public policy at NYU Wagner. Creative State:
Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in

examines how policy in two countries has evolved to reinforce the link between
labor emigration and domestic economic development.  

Wagner Dean Ellen Schall introduced Iskander and commended her on
completing the difficult journey of transforming a dissertation into a book – a
major milestone for any faculty member. “However,” Schall added, “this is not
just any faculty member and this is not just any book.” Iskander’s importance to
the Wagner family, Schall observed, relates to one of the book’s
acknowledgements, which states that home is not a place, but rather it is the
people around you.

Iskander herself remarked that, for many families, “home” reaches
across administrative borders. Her own experience with maintaining personal
connections that straddle political boundaries inspired her throughout the
process of researching the book. Even as she “lived out of a suitcase for three
years,” she never lost sight of the importance of her work, in discovering how
labor migration profoundly affects both the place left, as well as the place
traveled to.

Iskander’s readiness to be on the road for her research was just one
of the many things that caught the attention of Craig Calhoun, president of the
Social Science Research Council. The SSRC provides funding for research that is,
like Iskander’s, field-work based. Calhoun noted the difficulty inherent in a
project such as Iskander’s that spans two countries, in addition to the
numerous places that receive migrant workers. Nevertheless, he mentioned that
Iskander, in her work on Creative State,
answered the SSRC’s call to “ask the hard questions.”

Rounding out the panel were former Mexican foreign minister and
current NYU professor Jorge Castañeda, and Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology
at CUNY and associate director of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker
Education and Labor Studies. Both offered insight into the political motivations
behind migration. Castañeda agreed with the book’s thesis that Morocco had more formal policies for
capitalizing on emigration, while Mexico “wrote policy without even
knowing it.” Milkman added that, in addition to financial ambitions, migrant
workers’ determination and perseverance are often responses to political
situations in their home countries.

As Craig Calhoun pointed out, Creative State
is an optimistic book, which gives readers hope that governments are able to innovate
and serve as sources of creative solutions. “Congratulations to Professor
Iskander on the first of what is sure to be many successful book projects.”

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