Students from all three Tri-Co schools and other members of the community filled up Stokes Auditorium last Monday for an immigration panel, many of them hoping to receive useful information about Trump’s recent executive orders regarding immigration. The auditorium was packed, students were ready to take notes, and personally, I was empowered that so many people had shown up and were eager to hear from experts in the immigration field. However, as the panel progressed, notebooks began closing, fists began to clench in frustration, and it was clear that this panel did not address what many of us hoped for.
What stunned me the most was the lack of empathy for people who are directly threatened by the executive orders on immigration. One of the panelists stated that he did not believe people should be up at night worrying about these executive orders if they were not from the seven affected countries that are included in the travel ban. But how is this privileged, white man telling me what I should or should not worry about? How does he expect me to not be up at night when I fear that my family members may be deported and that my friends on student visas may have their visas revoked? Why does he feel like he has the authority to tell me what to fear or not fear? He stated that people should not be worrying as long as they are here legally, again reinforcing the idea that people who may not have US citizenship are illegal. However, human beings cannot be illegal, rather, it is the state that makes certain actions illegal. But this does not justify the panelist’s improper and insensitive terminology. He said he hoped nobody in the room had that issue or that they had not illegally stayed in this country after their visas expired. This statement fails to acknowledge that people do not overstay their visas because they want to commit an “illegal crime.” He failed to realize that sometimes people do not have a choice, either for economic or political reasons. For many people from my Latinx community in California, one can either overstay their visa or go back to poverty, violence, and uncertainty in their home countries. The fact that he said this knowing that there may be many non-US citizens in attendance just shows his failure to understand the complexity of immigration. Just because he may have a degree in immigration law, that does not mean he has any sense of the magnitude of impact these executive orders have had on non-US citizens.
Secondly, I questioned who this panel was really trying to address. Haverford stated this panel was in response to federal legislation, however, it was not clear what the actual conversation would entail. Because there were going to be three immigration specialists on the panel, I figured that it would be a space where non-US citizens could ask questions of immediate concern. However, it was clear that there was some type of implicit bias towards white people’s questions. Around me, there were students of color who raised their hands several times. However, it seemed as if they were ignoring this and picked people who only had to raise their hand once or twice, most of them were white. Many of their questions had little to do with actual threats to their own safety because they are not directly threatened as a result of the executive orders. Instead, many of their questions were from an academic or impersonal viewpoint, neglecting the fact that there were many members of the audience who were significantly more threatened than they were. Even people who stated that they were privileged to be US citizens were asking questions that were not of immediate concern, such as traveling to Latin American countries. Meanwhile, I was not given the space nor did I feel comfortable asking what should my undocumented family members do in case they were deported back to their respective Latin American countries, when they would no longer have the choice and be forced to go back. Another woman suggested that we should simplify issues and not address complex issues, seemingly forgetting that this was meant to be an immigration panel and that immigration is a very complex issue. She failed to realize that so many people cannot sleep at night because of their fears of being deported or someone close to them being deported. She failed to realize that this complex issue affects so many people’s lives. The fact that people like this were dominating the question and answer section and taking away the space from people who really needed it is truly problematic and unjust. Furthermore, at the end of the panel, it was the people who had asked the unattached questions who crowded the panelist table to ask even more questions, smiling as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, my friend, who is non-US citizen and did not have his question answered, had to wait in line to get a question answered about his immediate issues.
Moreover, the panelists clearly did not understand the gravity of the issue they were talking about. One of the panelists continually made jokes throughout the event in an attempt to encourage light-hearted conversation. I am sorry, but it is hard for me to treat immigration as a light-hearted topic when I’m in constant fear that my loved ones will be deported. Joking about being searched by the TSA for having a Quran is just one of the many inappropriate jokes that the panelists made. Instead of accepting their wrongdoing when called out by a student, they tried to justify their statements. The panelists have the privilege to joke about this delicate issue because it does not affect their lives. Sure, it affects the lives of their clients, but it was apparent that they could not comprehend just how much this issue affects people.
This panel had many students even more disillusioned with our society, especially since these people who say they want to help us simply make us feel more marginalized. I hope that Haverford administration will acknowledge the discomfort brought about by the panelists and address them.