Inside USD

Supporting Compassionate Immigration Reform

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Immigration reform. Two important words that, together, give an estimated 11 million people in the United States a sense of hope. Yet for lawmakers in Washington D.C., these words seem like a never-ending tennis volley: Back and forth with little to show for working toward a resolution while peoples’ lives hang in the balance.

As it remains unresolved, one thing is clear: Catholic Church leaders and institutions of higher education — including the University of San Diego, university president Mary E. Lyons, PhD, her Executive Council, students, staff and faculty — are visibly and actively supportive of comprehensive immigration reform.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, summarized immigration reform as “Helping immigrants contribute to American life and answering the Gospel call to ‘welcome the stranger.’”

Dolan and other U.S. Bishops have called for various reforms to the immigration system such as: a generous, earned path to citizenship; making family reunification a priority; protecting the integrity of our borders; securing due process for immigrants and their families; improving refugee protection and asylum laws; and addressing the root causes of unauthorized immigration. The California Catholic Bishops said immigration reform should be both comprehensive and compassionate.

Members of the USD campus community sought university leaders to publicly support immigration reform, too. Students last spring successfully appealed to President Lyons and the university’s executive council to sign a letter in agreement.

A letter excerpt states: “Here at USD, we now redouble our long-standing support of comprehensive immigration reform, including the DREAM Act provision and a commitment to family reunification. We join in solidarity with those determined to ensure fair and equal treatment of undocumented youth in pursuit of the full measure of education and training on their path to citizenship.”

Since then, the university has hosted events in an attempt to educate the campus community. Notable speakers such as Jose Antonio Vargas, Francisco Mena and Father Neil Wilkinson have appeared, a Comprehensive Reform Task Force with a cross-section of campus leaders has formed, and a USD website was launched with key information, upcoming events and videos of students’ personal stories.

Immigration Reform Panel

The latest event was an immigration reform panel Nov. 7 featuring 52nd District Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA), USD freshman Paola Carrasco, USD School of Law Adjunct Professor Sandra Wagner and former California State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny.

The event centered on statistical information and economic factors surrounding passage of immigration reform legislation. Peters expressed hope for resolution, talked of some bipartisan support, discussed border security costs and how reform could spur economic growth. Ducheny showed statistical immigration slides and focused on the economic impact of long border waits. Wagner delved into legislation with examples of how it affects — good and bad — employers and employees and families seeking work visas and green cards in the U.S.

Assistant Vice President and University Ministry Director Michael Lovette-Colyer reiterated the Catholic Bishops’ thoughts on reform, but emphasized USD’s important role.

“While (the Bishops) didn’t necessarily address academic communities, I think it’s fair to say that all of us who study, teach or work here at USD, as a Catholic university along the US-Mexico border, are implicated by their call to take the reality of migrants and reality of migration into our study, learning and into our vocation.”

Lovette-Colyer said USD-led immersion and community service-oriented programs help its community better understand the situation firsthand. “Concern for our brothers and sisters to the south is long standing. It’s part of our DNA. Countless students, staff and faculty have been transformed by relationships they make and they come back advocating for a more compassionate, just and more humane system.”

Carrasco, a sociology major and Honors Program student born in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, provides a powerful human presence to this issue.

She was a toddler when her family moved to Arizona. It wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school when she asked her mother about getting a driver’s license that she first learned of her undocumented status. Subsequently, she was teased and shunned by one-time school friends when explaining her situation. Frustration became the norm after this revelation.

“I questioned my whole experience in the U.S. and who I thought I was,” she said. “It was an emotional turning point because I was no longer American, but illegal.”

Another hard lesson awaited her when she applied to college. She couldn’t fill out a financial aid application so she was limited to private universities such as USD because of its willingness to consider all student applications equally.

Through scholarships and multiple jobs — Carrasco has a work permit via the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — she is now a student at USD. College has been a big adjustment, but she has also been willing to speak up about her experiences to encourage others to do the same.

“USD is making an effort to be inclusive,” she said. “With our status as Changemakers, even though we still have a lot of progress to make, an effort is being made through the task force and through President Lyons and the executive council’s public statement to support immigration reform. The steps we’re taking to create a more inclusive environment makes it easier for me to feel more accepted.”

Carrasco hoped those who attended the recent forum learned about immigration reform and all of its implications.

“Aside from the facts I didn’t know and the different economic perspectives, I feel what’s most important is that we had a Congressman here, physically, supporting the issue. But the economics can get jumbled and I often feel that’s what is most enticing for people to hear. What I got out of it, personally, was sharing the human aspect. Hopefully, having that dual-sided comparison impacted how people saw everything. It certainly impacts how I saw it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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