Posts Tagged ‘student’

A First Look at Revoking Education Opportunities for NC Extralegals

June 24, 2008

Having taught English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students for the past two years on the Tex-Mex border town of Brownsville, the national trend toward limiting the futures and opportunities of immigrant students hurts me deeply. Many of my freshman ESL students earned a commended performance on this year’s challenging state reading/writing test. Students like these hard-working, highly-motivated immigrant students need to be given the opportunity to be productive citizens and use their array of gifts to make our nation a better place. It is in everyone’s interest to educate and enable every resident within American borders. It is because this first-hand experience with Mexican American immigrants that the North Carolina’s Attorney General’s decision struck me so deeply.

On May 13, 2008, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office overturned a policy adopted in 2007 which enabled undocumented immigrants with a high-school diploma to gain admission to the fifty-eight colleges within that state. North Carolina’s community college system, the third largest in the country, currently enrolls more than 800,000 students annually (Waggoner, Martha). With the new policy, undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to pay out-of-state tuition to work towards an associate’s degree, although this recent ruling does not immediately affect English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL), GED, or continuing-education classes(Mills, Jeff).

Retired community college system president Martin Lancaster was disappointed with the recent ruling, stating, “I believe that every North Carolinian, everyone residing in our state who will ultimately become a part of our work force, should be educated” (Waggoner, Martha). Martin Nadelman, President of Alamance Community College, said, “Personally, I think if you’re permitted to go to public schools you ought to be able to continue your education past high school…I hate to see them not be able to go higher and better themselves” (Mills, Jeff). Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican sponsor of a bill designed to further bar undocumented immigrants from all college programs including ESL and continuing education classes, commented that, “”They’re illegal. It’s as simple as that…[t]he state should be doing anything it can to discourage illegal aliens from being in the state” (Illegal immigrant curbs may fail).

When the North Carolina Community College System first barred illegal immigrants from higher education in 2001, they were the first statewide system to do so. This prohibitive legislation was only briefly overturned from November 2007 until May 2008. According to the Raleigh-based Civitas think-tank analysis of U.S. Census data, nearly 10,000 undocumented immigrant students will be affected by this reversal of enrollment eligibility (Taylor, Jameson).

In three years, many of my 140 freshman students will be walking across the graduation stage in Brownsville, Texas. I will be there in the audience, clutching my newly-received graduation cap from the University of Minnesota School of Law and wondering where these bright young adults will be studying the following year. I hope that our nation has decided to invest in every mind of every child in the United States in pro-education and pro-immigrant bills such as the DreamAct (co-sponsored by Barack Obama). It is our hope that North Carolina acts alone in denying students the opportunity to study simply because of a lack of documentation, and that in three years’ time immigrant students will be afforded the chance to pursue their full potential in our nation’s institutions of higher learning.

Immigration as Nonviolent Tactic

May 22, 2008

¨Those immigrants, we give them everything.  When they have a baby, they receive 2500€ and a cochecito (baby carriage).  And when those babies grow up, they get all the help in the world.  Those immigrant kids get into good schools instead of good Spanish kids who´ve been here and belong here.¨ (A man in Barcelona)

Americans have long been partial to isolationism.  Far too often, we think we are the only country facing certain issues, and therefore we look no further than our own borders for the answers to issues the entire world is facing.  Immigration is not an issue limited to the Rio Grande Valley where the government is so desirous of erecting a border wall, nor is it specific to our fruit fields, urban restaurants, construction sites, or factory jobs.  By definition, immigration is a global issue, a fact which makes a border-wall solution to immigration bitterly laughable. 

Nearly half of extralegal immigrants in the United States came here legally on visas and work permits.  One can look at this and campaign for militaristic campaigns to treat all students and workers on visas as if they were on an extended parole, but that would be missing the point.  The fact is that this makes absolute sense.  Immigration is no longer limited to the Vikings of 500 years ago, nor is one country outsending all the rest (though government officials would have us think our southern neighbor is invading us with good workers, family-oriented individuals, and bilingual neighborhoods).  Students and workers from all over the world come to the United States for a better opportunity, but they do not count on the lack of opportunities for earned citizenship and naturalization.  As a result, hundreds of thousands overstay their visas, holding out hope that one day their opportunity to pursue happiness will be legitimized by the government that invited them here in the first place. 

 Immigration is a global issue, and one which needs global solutions.  If a paranational organization were set up to monitor immigration laws in sending and receiving countries, like the ones which exist for shared water rights and common resources, then perhaps a freer migration pattern could result, one which focused more on the task of assimilation and integration rather than rigid quotas and discrimination.  Embedded in immigration is one answer to the complex problem posed by the disastrous overkill combats of the last century.  Many people wonder if there can be nonviolent solutions for war and conflict, and immigration and emigration, if controlled by an international entity, could sap such dictators and warlords of their necessary resource – “expendable” souls.  Few people praise death and desire war, but out of a sense of duty and/or fear, the poor have always been expected to shoulder the immense burden of war campaigns.  What if Hitler announced his plans to wage all-out war throughout Europe, and half his working class emigrated to Spain in a matter of weeks?  What would happen if countries were held accountable to their constituents not by a vote of paper but by a vote of presence? 

We are entering a new age of globalization, and immigration is surely one of the most exciting aspects of modernity.  Technology has shrunk distances, media has brought divergent cultures together, and ideas are being interchanged at the speed of cyberspace.  Immigration might be the 21st-century answer to empires, dictators, and overpopulation.  Giving people a choice of living conditions could reinforce good policy and punish bad governance.

According to an immigration advocate here, Barcelona is one of the biggest receivers of immigrants in Europe.  Ecuador happens to be the largest sending country, which makes sense based on the linguistic similarities and shared heritage.  However, the number 2 sending country is slightly surprising.  Italy, another nation in the European Union, would hardly seem like a country facing a mass exodus.  However, Italy´s current government is so awful that many Italians are more than willing to immigrate to neighboring Spain, even though it means learning Castellano and Catalan as well as leaving behind their heritage.  A government such as Italy´s cannot continue to make bad decisions, or it soon will be like the ruler alone on his own planet in The Little Prince, with absolute power over no one but himself.

Central Park to Sabal Palms

April 8, 2008

Nailing down Homeland Security’s plans is like trying to spot the elusive ocelot. When asked whether the agency intends to build the Fence north of the sanctuary, its chief spokesman, Russ Knocke, said: “I can’t rule that out, but I cannot also definitely tell you that that will be the case.”

It is quotes like this which make Dan Barry’s New York Times article about Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary important in framing our national conflict over the Secure Fence Act. The wall has millions of detractors with very valid reasons, from my students whose heritage and extended family would be affronted by such a wall to outspoken advocates for the endangered species huddling in these last remaining stands of a lost ecosystem. The federal government and a few outspoken, if misinformed, syndicated talk-show hosts keep lauding the wall as an answer to everything from immigration to terrorism and drug smuggling. They do not let the facts get in the way, nor their own statements about the wall being a $50 billion deterrent rather than a panacea.

New York Central Park, 2006

The indefiniteness of the Secure Fence Act could be attributed to either indecision or misdirection, and since the United States government seems more determined than ever to build a wall, one must assume the latter. Last week, heavy equipment cleared brush from the levee in Brownsville’s Southmost community, presumably in anticipation of wall construction through this tight-knit community. Some residents hadn’t ever caught wind of a wall, perhaps because the proposed plans were 600+ pages in English and only 30 pages in Spanish. Other people we talked to in the Amigoland Mall community this week doubted that the wall would bisect their houses. They had heard that the plans for the wall circumvented their community; what they didn’t know was that this was only Plan B, and the government has still not specified which plan they will follow or how faithfully they will follow these plans. The only clarification they keep reiterating is this: it is coming, and it is coming fast.

Jimmy Paz, the director of Audobon’s Sabal Palms Sanctuary, is equally at home with noisy chachalacas and my students he also refers to as “Chachalacas” because their incessant teenage chit-chat sounds like the birds nesting in his refuge. At 62, he has walked these paths more than 50 years, observed Border Patrol and new immigrants come and go, seen some birds make a comeback and other species fade into shadows. He realizes the importance of the ground he stands upon, the grounds he invites my students to walk and clean sometimes. Paz, whose Spanish surname means “peace,” realizes the tranquility his stand of virgin Sabal Palm forest can offer city dwellers and native Brownsvillers. He understands that wildlife is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s greatest assets, with eco-tourism being the 3rd largest industry in Brownsville. It is with the full weight of this knowledge, then, that he says building a wall to cut of his wildlife sanctuary is akin to “…putting a fence around Central Park.”

Having lived in both Manhattan and Brownsville, I can recognize the collective pride both communities share for their parks. What the Brownsville sanctuary lacks in park benches and ice-skating and dog-walkers it more than makes up for in endangered species, migrating butterflies, and bird-watchers. Central Park is the pride of New York, and to see my students’ eyes light up as birders told them the distances they’d traveled to come for Brownsville’s beauty, it was clear that refuges like Sabal Palms are the pride of la frontera.

Dan Barry’s article in the New York Times is noteworthy most because it connects these two distant communities. If New Yorkers could understand the peaceful coexistence here on the border, they would most assuredly stand in opposition to a wall’s disruption. If the refugees with whom I waitered could see the harmony of new immigrants and old residents, Spanish-speakers and English-only citizens in the Valley, they would be outspoken against this symbol of division. If the NYPD could see the way the Border Patrol lends its watchtowers for hawk-sightings sometimes or the way Sabal Palms has sensors to monitor illegal activity, they would surely campaign for more of this cooperation and less rigid and costly barriers. If Times Square were made aware of Jimmy Paz and his birds in Brownsville, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would seem the unconscionable, ill-planned, destructive and distracting suggestion that it truly is.

Sabal Palms Spanish Moss, November 2007

Who will speak for the students?

March 30, 2008

    Today one of my students celebrated his 17th birthday. This bright senior also managed to win first place in a South Texas Informative Speech District competition. As his coach, I will be traveling with him to San Antonio for the UIL Regional Meet. The event is sure to be packed with fawning friends and proud parents, as well as hundreds of other young high-schoolers dreaming of making it to States. However, this lad, for whom I wrote a recommendation to Rice University, will not even have his mother there. The only two roads north out of the Valley, Highways 77 and 83, both have checkpoints which temporary residents are not permitted to pass. While his mother can legally reside in border towns like Brownsville, she cannot witness her son’s beautiful speeches nor visit her talented hijo when he attends Texas Tech this fall.

    This young man is not alone. In my high school of 2,200 students in a city of more than 12,000 high-schoolers and almost 49,000 students, countless kids deal with this and more every day. Some students live with aunts and grandmothers during the week, separated from their biological mothers in Matamoros across an International Bridge. Others live lives of solitude in sparse apartments, forbidden by their parents to leave for fear of getting deported. Some students drive from Mexico every single day, others cook and clean for a family they traveled a thousand miles from the heart of Mexico to serve as a maid. Thousands and thousands of students shift codes every day as they make the long journey from their father’s espanol and their English classes, such as mine.

    Countless of my students benefit from positive immigrant legislation every single day. A trip to my classroom would show you boys and girls coming of age in Texas, the same boys and girls who are finding themselves in Pennsylvania and the same boys and girls learning their potential in Minnesota. Extralegal residents, endowed with the same souls and minds and dreams as children everywhere, are allowed to sit in these desks and listen to my lectures because of a landmark court case. In the 1982 Supreme Court Doe v. Plyler case in regards to “Alien Children Education Litigation,” Peter Schey helped prove it was a violation of the 14th Amendment to deny public education to undocumented children. Along with hundreds of students who have stepped foot in my classroom of F114, 100,000 children are annually admitted to Texas schools because of Peter Schey’s successful advocacy.

    Peter Schey is one of the preeminent lawyers in our nation today, and he is currently tackling further injustice toward immigrants and border residents by readying a class-action lawsuit against the government’s attempts to enact the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in Texas. He is defending UT-Brownsville Professor Eloisa Tamez as she opposes the government’s desire to survey and sequester part, if not all, of her Spanish land-grant acreage. Obviously, the border wall lawsuit is about more than just an unsightly barrier. At its heart, it would have the same crushing effects as denying 100,000 children an education. Schey realizes that building a wall between the United States and Mexico is an affront to every legal immigrant in this nation. Schey recognizes that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is a distraction from the real negotiations about immigration which must take place if my students are going to have the opportunity to attend university. Peter Schey is filing lawsuits because the DREAM Act is a law which helps people achieve their dreams, while the Secure Fence Act’s sole purpose is deterrence. Schey understands that the border region and its unique way of life are under fire, that the Secure Fence Act would affect la frontera exponentially more than any other region of the country, that asking border residents to make this staggering sacrifice is akin to Napoleon asking the chickens to sacrifice their baby chicks for the good of the cause in Animal Farm, a sacrifice none others are asked to make.

    My students are watching this nation. They are inspecting us adults to see if we really are trying to make the world a better place for all and not just a few. Students like those on Speech Club are contemplating careers in politics and law, so they are encouraged to see that famous attorneys like Peter Schey are willing to stake their reputation on cases which affect their lives. My students are watching me, waiting to see if I am willing to advocate for them in meaningful ways, waiting to see that I care enough to speak out. We must not disappoint these dreamers nor frustrate our future leaders; we must not leave a wall as a legacy for them to tear down.

Border Wall California by Jay Johnson-Castro


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