Campus Hosts Immigration Conversation
April 5, 2007 8:49 AM
A group of about 20 concerned students, with representatives from groups as diverse as the General Union of Palestinian Students and the College Republicans, met in room 116 of the Ethnic Studies building on Thursday to discuss immigration policy in the United States.
The gathering was not only a part of Arab Awareness Week, but was also part of a nationwide event called Night of a Thousand Conversations, which encompasses many organizations and is designed to raise awareness of the issues immigrants are facing. Along with the other 999 gatherings, it was meant to be a conversation, not a workshop or lecture.
“Tonight there will be 1,000 conversations about immigration policy and how we can incorporate immigrants rather that shun them,” said Loubna Qutami, a 21-year-old sociology senior and representative for the Arab Cultural and Community Center San Francisco. “We’re not here to convert your ideas about immigration policy, but to get the word out that it is an issue.”
The group discussed the plight facing immigrants since the 1996 reconstruction of immigration laws. This reconstruction allowed immigrants to be detained, imprisoned and deported due to minor infractions, such as shoplifting or illegally re-entering the country after a vacation. Other topics included how the government has used 9/11 to further divide immigrants and prevent solidarity.
The gathering began with a series of three video clips. These detailed the plight of immigrants detained in a Washington DC area prison, the anguish felt by an immigrant mother when her daughter was detained for three days, and the story of a man who was detained when he asked someone to take his picture for him. It then evolved into a discussion of the video that the participants had just seen.
“Being convicted of a crime is enough to get deported,” said Nancy Hormaeha, a pro-bono lawyer who works with immigrants in Berkeley. She went on to describe that the “most obvious thing about immigration policy is the racism,” and that it is much easier for Europeans to get a visa than immigrants from non-white countries.
Another issue raised was that the United States Government is using 9/11 to divide immigrants into ‘terrorists’ and ‘non-terrorists.’ This is reflected by the fact that some immigrant workers hold signs that read ‘we’re here to work we’re not terrorists.’
“It’s part of another agenda to keep immigrants from becoming unified,” said Abtin Forghani, a 23-year-old BECA Senior.
After discussing these and other issues, such as the fact that Homeland Security detains roughly 20,000 immigrants daily, the participants focused their attention on another series of video clips. This time they depicted not only the plight of immigrants arrested and detained for petty crimes, but also the story of a young Indian woman named Aarti associated with the organization Families for Freedom. Aarti lost her father and uncle to deportation and gave a stirring speech about the rights of immigrants.
This series of videos spawned further discussion on what can be done about immigration policy. Participants debated about how children with immigrant parents are dealt with and how this differs in other countries.
“In Australia,” said Hormaeha, “if a child is a citizen they won’t deport the parents.”
Even though no concrete solutions were offered during Thursday's gathering, everybody came out knowing a little bit more.
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