By Marcus Lavergne
The potential deportation of a substantial part of the U.S. continues to trouble community members around Nevada. As some sit with family and friends that they believe can disappear at any given moment, others worry about just how to fix a complicated immigration system.
Last Friday, a panel of social justice advocates sat down for a discussion on immigration and the everyday trepidations for the millions of undocumented people living in the states. “At the Border of Immigration and Justice” was both an event to create awareness and a plea to unite the community and advocate for change.
The panel guests included Astrid Silva with the Progressive Leadership Alliance; Patricia Gallimore, the president of the Sparks-Reno chapter of the NAACP; and Xiomara Rodriguez, the executive director of Tu Casa Latina, an organization that helps undocumented women in domestically abusive relationships. During the two-hour talk, they discussed their own run-ins with immigration troubles as well as resources for those in need of assistance.
Silva’s own story seemed to resonate with the other panelists. As a young person, she quickly learned about the challenges that came with being undocumented. Until she was able to get a work visa, she couldn’t do things that teens usually do including driving, going to movies or even going to space camp because she wasn’t able to acquire an ID due to not having a Social Security number.
“I didn’t understand the reality that I was facing,” Silva told the crowd. “Even then I remember having a little bit of a sense of privilege because I said, ‘Well, I speak English. Undocumented people don’t speak English, I do.’”
Silva found herself constantly having to lie about why she couldn’t do the things her peers could do, but when her grandmother passed away in 2009 and she couldn’t travel to Mexico to see her, she couldn’t accept the system for what it was. Her grandmother’s passing became the catalyst for a career in social justice and activism.
“When that happened, I heard for the first time about DREAMers,” Silva said. “I’d heard about these students who grew up here and couldn’t go to school and I was like, ‘Whoa, I belong to this. There are other people who are like me.’”
In 2014, Pew Research Center reported that undocumented or unauthorized immigrants make up around 3.5 percent of the U.S. population — nearly 11 1/2 million people. The demographic growth has stabilized since reaching an apex in 2007. Now people like Silva and other activists are dedicated to combating several facets of undocumented life that make living in the states tasking.
Progressive activists like Silva aren’t just facing foundational struggles; they’re facing off against people with opposing views as well. Fiery rhetoric seeped into the current election cycle has exposed a deep divide between those welcoming of less restrictive immigration policies and amnesty and those wary of a large undocumented population and the potential negative impacts on the job market.
One fear the panelists pointed out was a fear of losing friends, colleagues and members of their families through deportation.
This, among other issues, was a focal point of the discussion. Although exploits including the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals and President Obama’s 2014 executive order that expanded deportation relief to around 50 percent of undocumented people have calmed some immediate worries, the panel was focused on long-term solutions — solutions that can only be reached by a united front.
Although the panel had a lack of actual plans for transforming current immigration policies, there are some popular progressive stances. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has stated he would implement some form of executive action that would rework the visa system and also dismantle “inhumane” deportation programs.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has consistently stuck to his plan to tighten border control with a reinforced wall. Opponent Ted Cruz has said he would also introduce measures that would stomp out illegal immigration.
The point that became increasingly evident during the panel was the intricacy of the national immigration conversation and how there are aspects from both sides of the spectrum that could be employed. It may be that a combination of viewpoints could be the answer, but for Paul Lenart of the Industrial Workers of the World, education is the key to finding a collaborative strategy.
“What really impressed me was the intersectionality of different types of issues,” Lenart said. “This is a labor issue, this is a race issue, an anti white-supremacy question. It’s a matter of women’s rights issues.”
At the end of the day, social justice activists like Silva and Lenart are fighting to help facilitate a better life for a large working class made up of all types of different people. They’re encouraging others to actively join in.
Silva left the attendees with one message in light of the upcoming election — go out, be an active participant in the political system and vote.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.