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Penn Law professor Amy Wax under fire for remarks about race and immigration

Citing culture concerns, Wax said the United States would be better off with an immigration system that favored "more whites and fewer non-whites."

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, seen here in 2017 during an appearance on C-SPAN.
University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, seen here in 2017 during an appearance on C-SPAN.Read moreC-SPAN / C-SPAN

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax is once again the center of controversy, this time over remarks she made at a recent conference about immigration and race.

During a panel on immigration as part of the Edmund Burke Foundation’s National Conservatism conference in Washington last week, Wax reportedly said the United States would be “better off” as a country if the immigration system favored immigrants from Western countries over non-Western countries, something she referred to as "cultural compatibility.

“Let us be candid: Europe and the First World, to which the United States belongs, remains mostly white for now. And the Third World, although mixed, contains a lot of nonwhite people,” Wax said, according to a transcript posted by Vox’s Zack Beauchamp, who attended and reported on the conference. “Embracing cultural distance nationalism, means in effect taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites.”

Yoram Hazony, one of the organizers of the conference, has disputed the characterization of Wax’s comments. But others who attended the event said the reporting was accurate.

According to multiple reporters who attended the panel, Wax also claimed that immigrants are too loud, defended a vulgar comment President Donald Trump made about immigrants from certain countries, and said immigrants were responsible for an increase in “litter.”

“If you go up to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, or Yankee territory, versus other places that are quote-unquote more diverse, you are going to see an enormous difference, I’m sorry to report,” Wax said, according to BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray. "Generalizations are not very pleasant. But little things like that aren’t little. They really affect our environment.”

Nearly 1,000 people and groups, including more than 200 former and current Penn Law students, have signed a petition from the Latinx Law Students Association calling for Wax to be relieved of all teaching duties.

“These statements are racist,” the petition states, adding that they “exacerbate a hostile environment at Penn Law that makes students like us feel like we do not belong.”

A spokesperson for Penn said in a statement that Wax is free to express her opinions, and the school’s policies protect academic freedom and open expression.

“The views of individual faculty members do not represent the views of the institution, but rather their own personal beliefs,” the statement said.

» UPDATE: Penn Law dean calls professor Amy Wax’s comments on immigration and race ‘repugnant’

Wax declined to comment, but provided the Inquirer with a 2018 paper she wrote in which she argues for giving certain immigrants preference based on their ethnic and national background. In the paper, she expresses frustration over what she views as the reluctance of immigrants to assimilate, and speculates many immigrants only come “to take advantage of our wealth, our generosity and our stability.”

Meanwhile, debate has been ongoing about her recent comments.

New York Times reporter Jennifer Schuessler, who was present during Wax’s remarks and recorded them, said Beauchamp’s reporting was accurate.

“She couched them as being about ‘culture’ not race, but she did say America ‘will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,' " Schuessler wrote on Twitter.

Samuel Hammond, the director of poverty and welfare policy at the Niskanen Center, a moderate think tank, also attended the immigration panel and said, “It was without a doubt the most racist panel, and Wax the most overtly racist panelist, of the entire conference."

Even Wax’s defenders, including Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, aren’t arguing that Wax was misquoted. But Dreher wrote that the response "proves Wax’s point that it’s impossible to talk about the kind of immigration system that is culturally appropriate and wise for America to have, because of disproportionate racial impact.”

This isn’t the first time Wax’s comments have created controversy. In August 2017, she co-wrote an op-ed in the Inquirer that stated, “All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy."

In March 2018, Wax was censured by the university and barred from teaching mandatory first-year law courses after questioning the intelligence of black students.

While many have been critical of Wax’s comments, others have taken up her cause. Penn Law donor Paul S. Levy stepped down from two university board positions in April 2018 to protest treatment of Wax, and the National Association of Scholars gave Wax an award for “her continued academic courage in the face of threats to her livelihood and attacks on her integrity.”