Translated en Español
“I’m sorry you’re an illegal immigrant, and you can’t go to college.”
Hampshire student and undocumented immigrant, Eduardo Samaniego, recounted what he was told his senior year of high school by his guidance counselor.
Samaniego, who came to the United States at the age of 16 and graduated in the top two percent of his high school class, talked to an audience of over 60 students, faculty and community members as a speaker at a public discussion on immigration policy in the Campus Center.
While working two jobs to support himself, and becoming heavily involved with activism for undocumented immigrants, Samaniego never forgot his college aspirations. His chance finally came in the form of a scholarship from Hampshire College, where his extremely strong academic and personal background allowed him to be awarded a full ride. Emphasizing how thankful he was for the opportunities he has been given, Samaniego directed greater attention to the fact that his situation was not unique.
“[If we lose DACA], 800,000 students will lose their ability to work, their ability to drive, to pay for a college education,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be basing this legislation based on their good grades, or their ability to contribute to the economy; it should be based on their humanity. This is yet another struggle, we’re not really victim….We didn’t want to leave our families, our jobs or our lives. We are displaced people.”
With speakers coming from the Political Science Department, the Legal Studies Program, the Spanish and Portuguese Studies Program, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the event focused on how immigration policy is made, the history of DACA and other immigration reform policies and what the campus community can do to support our community members.
The event was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies (CLACLS), the Political Science Department, the Legal Studies Program and the Spanish and Portuguese Studies Program.
Rebecca Hamlin, an assistant professor of legal studies and political science at UMass, began the event by discussing a history of broader immigration policy in the United States. While constitutional and legal precedence grants Congress the right to craft immigration policy, Hamlin clarified that a majority of existing laws were created between 1952 and 1996 in the form of amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
“Everyone wants [Comprehensive Immigration Reform]. Everyone likes it. But everyone has a different idea of what it is. There are over 350 million different ideas of immigration reform, making it difficult to write a law and figure out what to include, and what not to include,” Hamlin said, highlighting that no major immigration legislation has passed since 1996—over two decades ago.
Amy Stokes, a graduate student in the school of public policy, talked about attending the event as both a student and a Tennessee native.
“The reason I came to UMass in the first place was that, working for a nonprofit in Tennessee, I learned a lot about the barriers facing students in higher education….I want to learn how to fix that problem and increase college access,” she said.
After hearing testimony from several speakers on the state of immigration policy, Stokes said, “Being from the South, it’s easy to be a closet Democrat, and not comment, but here it’s nice to feel comfortable to express my feelings on the issue.”
The absence of new policy has not been for a lack of advocacy efforts, noted by several speakers. Even at the state level, speaker Luis Marentes, professor of Spanish and Portuguese studies at UMass, said, “On Beacon Hill, we have a supermajority of Democrats that can pass legislation aiding immigrants, but they haven’t. Beyond criticizing Trump, I hope we can make our own legislators accountable.”
In explaining the issues facing undocumented immigrants in the United States, speakers turned the discussion to how members of the community can make an effort to help. The director of the ACLU Immigrant Protection Project (IPP) of Western Massachusetts said, “If you want to come and help us, please do. We can train you, and we will do that.” Opportunities are available through activism training on Saturday, Oct. 15 in the Student Union Ballroom hosted by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.
Resources on campus for students affected by DACA are available from Student Legal Services. Pamela Dutta, administrative director of the UMass Student Legal Services Office, directed students to refer to the Legal Offices to confidentially discuss legal, academic and financial support at www.umass.edu/slso.
Kathrine Esten is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]