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Saint Mary’s students confront immigration

| Sunday, September 21, 2014

Students discussed legal and illegal immigration at Saint Mary’s College on Friday as part of the discussion-based Justice Friday’s series. Notre Dame senior Juan Rangel and Saint Mary’s senior Dara Marquez led the conversation, asking students and faculty to consider their familiarity with the subject of immigration.

Rangel, head of the Notre Dame immigration advocacy club, said he immigrated to the United States at a very young age but upon coming to Notre Dame, he realized  immigration was not widely discussed amongst students.

“I realized that not a lot of people were aware of the issue,” he said. “Now I study immigration policy. On campus, I started a new advocacy club on immigration for immigration advocacy. I have also been active during my summers working for the Church in Chicago on immigration issues. This past summer I [was] in D.C. working on immigration policy.”

Marquez said the discussion began with an assessment of legal and illegal immigration in the United States. The audience shared their knowledge of illegal immigration based on their familiarity with media stories and personal experiences similar to Rangel’s.

The issue of the influx of migrant children from Central America came up quickly, Marquez said.

“That was a big thing, [and] it still is regarding migrant children,” she said. “I know right now there a lot of loose ends with that [in] different areas.”

Many migrants risk their lives traveling to the border based on information passed on by word of mouth that border patrol will allow them access if they are considered refugees, Marquez said.

“If you were to get caught crossing the border, if you were a woman or child, then they would let you go,” she said. “Different migrants were saying that was happening, [and] that could be a loophole.”

Instead of running away from border patrol agents, Rangel said migrants were willingly approaching the authorities, hoping they would be taken in and provided with care.

“They first go into similar detention centers,” she said. “They are turning military bases into housing facilities for children until they are able to return them to family members or the courts.”

Rangel said the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), a policy meant to clarify refugee status, was reauthorized in 2008. The bill enacted new human trafficking crimes, enhanced victim service provisions and strengthened the role of the Trafficking in Persons Office within the State Department.

In order to be considered under refugee status, Rangel said migrants must present a legitimate reason for fleeing.

“It was more of the conservative side [who] were proposing the change to adjust the issue and address the courts crisis that is occurring in the country right now,” he said. “A lot of these children did have refugee status when they were heard out. Five, 6 and 7-year-old children [are] asked to defend themselves. At this point, court cases are three years in advance.”

The criteria for refugee status is considered hazy in terms of qualifications, Rangel said.

“Technically, it would have to be discrimination based on criteria,” he said. “They found that the lawyers who were representing some of these kids were able to make connections to discrimination. Only 10 percent without lawyers were able to do that.”

Marquez said deportation is another topic at large in the United States when it comes to immigration policy.

“Aside from refugee children, there’s also the perspective of deportation, and there’s also the perspective of students,” she said. “They can’t receive financial aid. They couldn’t work legally in the country. They can’t get a driver’s license. Just recently, an executive order by the president said any undocumented student who fulfilled this criteria met the legal status.”

With the executive order issued by President Obama, Marquez said students must meet a certain level of education with no criminal background.

“Then they [are] able to obtain a temporary social security number,” she said. “You are able to renew it every two years as long as that policy’s active. There are some students who have already graduated college [and] can’t use their degree until deferred action.”

Despite these temporary securities, Marquez said she is still considered undocumented in the eyes of the law.

“My personal story is that I actually crossed through the port of entry when I was three years old,” she said. “U.S. citizens would sell the birth certificates of their children as ours.”

Marquez said she encouraged the students to listen to the stories of other migrants in the future in order to not only consider the point of social justice, but also to learn from additional experiences.

“There’s all these different perspectives on illegal immigration,” she said. “It’s just difficult for humans to have that piece of metal being the only thing that separates you. It kind of disrespects your own human dignity.”

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