The conversation of immigration policies in our country has been ongoing over the years, but even more so now with the current presidential election.
On Oct. 28, a mix of students, staff and faculty sat together in the Foster Auditorium to discuss experiences of how this year's presidential election has struck fear in many documented and undocumented immigrants of our country.
The panel consisted of the Associate Academic Dean of Penn State Law Victor Romero and law professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, whose work has appeared in the Colombian journal of law and Harvard’s Latino Law Review.
Romero’s work deals with immigration policy, individual rights and other federal court opinions through the equality and education principals set in Brown vs. Board of Education.
Gary Smith and two students comprised the remaining seats on the panel.
Smith has worked in the information technology field for fifteen years including here at Penn State.
The two students on the panel were Stacy Justo and Ramón Guzman. Both talked about their experiences as immigrants on the Penn State campus to give a student perspective.
The conversation started when Wadhia reflected on how the immigration system changed drastically after Sept. 11, 2001.
“Before 9/11 I worked in an immigration law firm and worked with many immigration cases and there were by parts and bills that would actually get to the senate floor, but today that is not the case,” Wadhia said. “It became more challenging after 9/11.”
Today there are 1.3 million undocumented people in America, Wadhia said.
The last time we had a real legalization program was the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, in which Wadhia also said it’s been very difficult to have a conversation about solutions of immigration during this presidential election cycle.
As she yielded the conversation to Romero, he talked about Donald Trump’s ten-point plan on America’s immigration system which can also be founded on his website.
Romero’s disagrees with points on Trump’s plan such as, “begin working on impenetrable physical wall on the southern border on day one, Mexico will pay for the wall.”
“A border wall is not going extend and cannot extend past the oceans and people can buy boats,” Romero said.
The panel then moved forward to Justo (senior-marketing) as she shared her family’s immigration story.
Justo said she was born in Chile and is the daughter of two Peruvian parents. They came to the United States when she was five years old.
When she was eighteen years old, Justo said she worked as a receptionist at an immigration law firm. People would call and share their cases and she noticed that people would get deported for little things.
She eventually got her citizenship and was able to travel abroad. Gusto said every time she would go through immigration trying to get back into the United States, the officers would give her family a hard time.
“Just because I am an immigrant doesn’t make me less of an American, I think in English, everything about me is so American,” Gusto said. “I was raised here.”
Guzman (senior-education and public policy) was born in the Dominican Republic. He moved here when he was six years old, and received his citizenship when he was eighteen years old.
Many conversations about immigration need to move past policies and talk about situations that help current immigrants assimilate and be a part of this country, Guzman said.
“Our conversations always talk about our entry point or exit point,” Guzman said. “Let's talk about the middle part because most people that are undocumented are that middle. How can immigrants in a nation of immigrants, by immigrants, support immigrants?”
As the conversation came to an end, the panelists were asked if they would be happy with the way the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act currently is or would they want to see a change.
“Yes, because it gives people an opportunity, I lived in in Miami and would hear about people dying in the oceans trying to make it to the US and there must be a reason why,” Smith said. “Beside the fact that this is a great country, that means that the place that they are coming from must be so bad that they’re willing to give up their lives for better, why can’t we as Americans, have a compassion for those people.”