By Carly Brook and Wendy Martinez
Though immigration is complex, that should not be a reason to disengage and be oblivious to its effects in our country, local communities and, in particular, our campus.
Two voices have come together to collaborate on this piece to demonstrate that understanding immigration can come from multiple perspectives and vantage points and cannot be reduced to a singular issue. This opinion piece is an invitation to Pacific Lutheran University to engage with the local and global aspects of immigration.
Immigration is a global issue. Global wealth inequality, neoliberal trade agreements and violence have pushed the majority of migrants to the U.S. and other countries in the global north. In addition to our economy’s labor needs, the desire for family reunification and for a better life have brought many migrants to the U.S.
There are heavy flows of immigrants all over the world, disproportionately from the global south to the global north.
Scaling down our scope a little bit, immigration is also a local issue. The Northwest Detention Center is a facility that detains immigrants throughout our region. A massive 1,575-bed facility and one of the largest immigration detention centers in the United States is right in PLU’s backyard.
However, actually getting to the facility is no easy task. The NW Detention Center is a gray complex complete with a razor-wire fence, and can be found only after driving deep into the industrial tide-flats of Tacoma.
Every day, many thousands of cars on the interstate pass within a 10-mile radius of the facility, completely unaware of its existence. However, for some undocumented students on PLU’s campus it can cause anxiety. The nearness of the NW Detention Center is an emblem of a broken U.S. immigration system that profits off of the detention and criminalization of immigrants.
Now, bringing it very close to home, immigration is a PLU issue. The erroneous perception of undocumented immigrants as criminals often clouds our vision of immigrants in our own communities. There are undocumented students on this campus, and they are our friends and our peers.
We disclose this, not so that they are judged, and not to assume that all students from immigrant families are undocumented, but for awareness and education. Leno Rose-Avila, the director of Seattle’s new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, served as a panelist for PLU’s Constitution Day lecture this year on the “Immigration Near and Far,” lecture.
He noted certain hypocrisy in the term “illegal.” Rose-Avila said that many congressional representatives break laws, yet we do not refer to them as “illegal” representatives. We do not refer to students who have received parking tickets as “illegal” students.
We think it is wrong to apply this dehumanizing term to immigrants, especially students brought across the border at a very young age. We agree with the many signs held at mobilizations around the country — “no human being is illegal.”
There is no single story of immigration in the United States. Immigrants are not one homogenous group but are from many diverse groups. We ask you to not make assumptions but to engage with the complexity and multiplicity of the stories and the issue.
Rather than simply restating the myths of immigration, look into how undocumented students, or “DREAMers,” have mobilized across the country for the right to take part in a society they call home. In March 2013, Washington State passed the DREAM Act, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, which allows students to have temporary residency while they receive higher forms of education.
Be conscious of the sacrifices that DREAMers are willing to make for their education. Some have walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., have gone on hunger strikes, have received death threats for their activism and have been arrested in order to advocate for access to higher education for themselves and other undocumented students.
One way to broaden your awareness is to come to the screening of “The Dream is Now,” a documentary that puts a name and a face to many of the DREAMers, students who made their immigration status known to advocate for their own educations. We encourage everyone to attend tonight at 5 p.m. in Ingram 100 as an important step toward making PLU a more welcoming, knowledgeable and supporting community for each and every student on campus.