By Carmen Perry
Kenyon has been buzzing with talk of the arrest and possible deportation of Kenyon alumnus Marco Saavedra ’11. In light of the situation and in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Martin Luther King Day of Dialogue Planning Committee and ADELANTE sponsored a panel on Thursday, Sept. 22 called “Talking Immigration: Personal, National, Institutional Perspectives.”
The event featured three speakers: Christian Martinez-Canchola ‘12, Professor of Sociology Jennifer Johnson and President S. Georgia Nugent, with Professor of English Ivonne Garcia as moderator. Garcia opened the panel with a few facts about immigration in America to put the topic into perspective. Hispanics, at 16.3 percent of the American population, are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. This figure does not include the 3.7 million people living in Puerto Rico, who Garcia said have only “second-class citizenship.” She also said that most Mexicans who are now in the U.S. were born in the U.S.
Garcia then handed the dialogue over to Martinez-Canchola, who began by speaking about Saavedra. “If you knew Marco, you would know that he has an unconditional love for people,” she said. “He didn’t like the word ‘fight’ because it’s too violent.”
Martinez-Canchola, a native of Dallas, Tex., went on to speak about her experiences with undocumented citizens in her hometown. For them, deportation was a constant threat. “I certainly did live with the reality that that could happen everyday,” she said. “It was just the reality of the life they were living.” Martinez-Canchola shared a letter from a fictional 13-year-old boy named Tom, pleading the government to allow his father to return to the U.S. to be with his family. “I’m so frustrated … with the system itself,” she said.
While Martinez-Canchola’s discourse was largely about the human side of immigration reform, Johnson addressed the political issues surrounding the situation. “One of the questions I’m often asked … is, ‘Why don’t they just come legally?'” she said. Given our current policies, she said, legal immigration is nearly impossible. More people pack into the stadium for a Buckeyes game than applications are accepted for political asylum, according to Johnson.
Five thousand individuals can legally apply for asylum from Latin America, while work permits serve only a highly regulated and specialized portion of the immigrant population. An immigrant with immediate family in his country of origin can petition for family reunification, but Johnson said the money, time and backlog for those cases is massive. “Demand for immigrant labor is huge. And that’s not diminishing,” she said. “Tremendous demands, tiny options; you have a lot of overflow circumventing the system.”
Then there is the subject of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, the bill that would provide “conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien-students of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.” The act, however, would only apply to two million people, while there are 12 million undocumented individuals in the U.S., according to Johnson. “[It has] no real prospect, in my professional opinion, of being passed right now,” she said. “Have our tactics been effective? No … if our federal government hasn’t resolved the issue, then our states will.”
Nugent also addressed immigration policies at Kenyon. “Kenyon does not have a ‘policy’ regarding admissions,” she said. “Citizenship is not a criterion for admission to the College. … [Kenyon] does not only admit, but [also] provides aid to international students.” When she asked other schools in the Great Lakes Consortium about citizenship policies, “nobody had a policy and … none of them knew if they had undocumented students,” she said. The American Association of State Colleges recently polled about 600 selective colleges and found that 85 percent of them receive applications from undocumented students. Undocumented immigrants are guaranteed a K-12 education, but what happens after they graduate high school? “Supposedly, you fall off a cliff,” Nugent said.
In her speech, Martinez-Canchola said she prefers not to call undocumented immigrants “illegal.” To support her reasoning, she quoted writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal.’ That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
“I think sometimes we forget that these people have a story, have a life,” Martinez-Canchola said. “They are fathers, sons, grandfathers; they’re people.” The event closed with an invitation for students to talk about the issue. “It requires something from all of us,” she said.
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