By Kyeland Jackson–
More than 20 student and faculty gathered to discuss immigration and the lives of undocumented students Feb. 25.
Gathering in the old SAC game room, two previously undocumented students and an immigration lawyer led the panel discussion and answered questions. Coincidentally, it was the same room where students met to discuss racial tensions after President James Ramsey’s Sombrerogate.
The students’ motives for immigration differed drastically, from more work opportunity to leaving after a band of armed gang members appeared at their doorstep.
Freshman computer engineering major Osvaldo Garcia-Tovar was one of the undocumented students on the panel. He advised attendants to treat undocumented students individually and with patience.
“Treat them case by case,” Garcia-Tovar said. “Try to understand that these are people from different situations.”
His family immigrated to find more work opportunity, though he said it is hard knowing who to trust. He and his sibling essentially “didn’t exist” once they entered the U.S., and he found he could not attend some colleges because of his background. He tried to apply to Georgia they did not accept undocumented students. Another barrier to higher education was financial, where he was asked to pay international tuition.
“Financial aide is one of the bigger issues that a lot of people don’t understand about undocumented immigrants,” Garcia-Tovar said. “For U of L, it’s around $10,000 a year for in-state…I think it’s almost $40,000 for international rates.”
Immigration lawyer Ron Russell talked about immigration law. He expressed his frustration at lack of bi-partisan support for immigration law.
“A lot of the arguments are pretty bogus,” Russell said. “On one occasion, they’re (senators) backing the bill 100 percent. Three weeks later, it’s the most horrible thing that congress could ever suggest.”
Russel said undocumented immigrants account for one-fifth of the nation’s crimes and a majority of them take dangerous, low-paying jobs.
The panel also discussed anti-immigration laws like Arizona S.B. 1070. The bill required Arizona officers to verify the immigration status of those deemed “legally suspicious” during lawful traffic stops.
One bill the panel said was “worse than S.B.1070” almost passed in Kentucky legislation. The bill would have fined citizens who were transporting undocumented immigrants. The panel deemed “transporting” as driving immigrants to the hospital, work or the grocery store.
The discussion was part of the “Love Thy Neighbor” event, hosted by Campus Housing. Graduate Director for University Tower Apartments Brian Hamilton created the event as part of a Resident Assistant social justice event series. He hopes the discussion made a lasting impact.
“What I hope students take away is to not be quick to judge or make those assumptions about undocumented students.”Hamilton said. “They come to the United States for a variety of reasons. Some for economic reasons….for others it’s to get away from violence in their home country.”
“This is a very complex issue, but I feel like we got all the important information through,” Garcia-Tovar said.
Attendants were told to help form an undocumented student council, or direct those students to the Cultural Center.
For students who know undocumented students, Garcia-Tovar said simply reaching out to to them can help more than they would know. “Make sure they’re (undocumented students) always okay,” Garcia-Tover said.
“There’s a lot more stress coming from the outside world than a student here on campus experiences.”