Rasheed Murray, a sophomore psychology major whose father emigrated from Antigua, said he is in complete favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
“We call this place the land of the free, so how are we going to turn people away that want to come to America to get a better life just because they don’t have certain papers?” he asked. Murray attended the first program in a two-part series on U. S. immigration titled, “Who is an Immigrant?” last Wednesday.
The event, hosted by the Pan-American Solidarity Organization, a newly formed student organization, aimed to shed light and prompt discussion on the issue.
More than 30 million legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the United States since 1970, comprising greater than one-third of all people to ever enter the country, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Today, there are nearly 12 million undocumented individuals in the country. PASO was formed to promote awareness about Latin American and Caribbean individuals and their relations with the United States. The issue of immigration policy has become a contentious topic. At the center of the debate is legislation regarding the Mexican-American border. Some U.S. citizens feel that current legislation regarding illegal immigration across the border poses a threat to national security.
This year, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., reintroduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, a bill that could allow illegal aliens to get a temporary worker’s visa, legal employment and possibly amnesty. The bill failed to pass in both the House of Representatives and Senate in the last congressional term.
With the pending legislation in mind, PASO’s series plans to capture the immigrant experience by highlighting the personal stories of people who immigrated to the United States. It was important for PASO to have its first event focus on immigration, said PASO co-founder David Murphy.
“[Immigration is] such a pertinent issue
today,” said Murphy, a senior Spanish major. “It’s something that’s happening as we speak.” The program began with a screening of an episode from FX Network’s reality TV show “30 Days.”
The episode captured the story of Cuban-born border patrol agent Francisco George, who spent 30 days living with the Gonzalez family, a Mexican-American family whose five out of seven members were undocumented immigrants. Despite being strongly opposed to amnesty for undocumented immigrants, George found himself forming a close bond with the family.
Following the short film, audience members, many of them immigrants, shared their responses.
Some even shared their own experiences about living in poverty-ridden countries and being forced to leave their loved ones in pursuit of a better life. A woman, holding an infant, spoke about her desire to return home one last time to see her dying mother. Guest speakers Alejandro Aguilar and Ricardo Diaz were also invited to facilitate an open panel discussion. Aguilar, an adjunct instructor in the Spanish and Portuguese department, insisted
that conclusions cannot be made about immigration policy until people acquire as much knowledge as possible concerning the lives of undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a human being problem more than any political [issue],” said Aguilar. “As long as more people get to know the reality of the immigrants, the better the people will make their own conclusions.”
Diaz, a community organizer and independent
research consultant, said he believes college students have the power to affect issues like immigration.
“I don’t know why we don’t know the power that we have [as students],” said Diaz. He also said that many young undocumented
immigrants are unable to go to college
because of their illegal status in this country.
“It’s a shame that [Americans are] cornering people,” he said, adding that the current immigration system is sending a message to illegal immigrants, many of whom want to attend college, that says, “You won’t get out of the hole.”
Many students come from families that emigrated from other parts of the world or are foreign-born students themselves, Diaz said, adding that some, unfortunately, may have to hide that they are undocumented.
Gabriela Sanchez, co-founder of PASO and a South American international student, said she knows the situation in many illegal immigrants’ native countries. She said this event was held to inform Americans about the lives of people from these countries. She said her own personal challenge was,
“How can I make people see what I have seen?”
Chesney Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.