By WILLIAM LANG
I jumped at the opportunity when Pima Community College urged employee participation in the “Arizona Educators Conference: Liberation Not Deportation” on April 7 in South Tucson.
A message from my campus president’s office said, “We strongly encourage you to join us and get the tools you need to work effectively with immigrant students and families. Please share this with your colleagues and employees. We would like to see a strong showing from PCC.”
To my surprise, just a handful of PCC employees attended. I believe I was the only faculty member.
However, the conference was well attended by University of Arizona students and organizers, and by community groups that share the same vision.
The packed schedule introduced me to new concepts, plans and processes. I had a chance to interact with individuals during group activities and meals.
IMMIGRATION TERMINOLOGY, HISTORY AND LEGISLATION
The information provided a good review for experienced participants, but much of it was completely new to me. After lengthy discussion, organizers held a group trivia contest that used a two-page list of immigration-related terms.
One key word used during the entire conference: “DACA-mented,” which is similar to Dreamer.
The term describes undocumented individuals who received a certain status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program announced by President Barrack Obama in June 2012.
Basically, the program protects qualifying individuals from deportation and gives them a work permit for two years. It’s important to note the deferred action does not provide lawful status.
Proposition 300, approved by Arizona voters in 2006, mandates that university and college students who are not U.S. citizens and who do not have lawful immigration status are not eligible for in-state tuition or for state-funded financial aid.
The mandate apparently conflicts with a June 1982 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark decision in Plyler v. Doe said states can’t deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.
Tucson immigration attorney Mo Goldman urged educators to follow the federal ruling. “What you are doing is constitutional,” he said. “You have no choice but to educate undocumented students. The U.S. Supreme Court has held so.”
The U.S. has 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants, including 400,000 undocumented black immigrants.
Conference sessions discussed new executive orders by President Donald Trump, including the impending border wall proposal and the revised refugee ban. A federal judge’s ruling is currently blocking the refugee ban.
GROUP WORK GETS EMOTIONAL
Participants were split into two groups: those identifying as “white” educators and those identifying as educators “of color.”
I chose “of color” since I identify more with this group because of my Filipino-Hawaiian background. I’m also half German. I grew up surrounded by white folks and attended majority-white schools.
During this touchy and risky discussion session, about 20 members of my group sat in a close circle. Discussion included sensitive topics such as LGBTQ and minority rights, abuse and white privilege.
The interactions were heated and confrontational at times, with emotions and tears at other times. I think it was good and needed.
Participants were also split into three color-coded groups: purple, blue and yellow. They discussed work- and college-focused scenarios drawn from actual student stories in Arizona.
One scenario: As class starts, one student makes a racist remark about the importance of building the border wall. Another student counters by talking about the positive side of immigration.
The student who wants the border wall tells his peer to go to the back of the line and migrate “the right way” like his grandparents did.
How do you confront this? What do you say to each student?
The color-coded groups also attended sessions led by Scholarships A-Z and Immigrant Student Resource Center leaders. Most were “DACA-mented” UA students. They used storytelling activities to help us understand what is happening in our communities.
A student from India with an undocumented family led my session. She tearfully shared her heart-breaking story of parents who sacrificed everything to bring their children to the U.S. to achieve the American Dream.
She discussed the fear and uncertainty surrounding her brother, who has been targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and may face deportation at any moment.
HOW TO BE A “SANCTUARY”
Session leaders tried to define what higher education and adult education institutions could do to protect and support immigrant and refugee families, as well as other marginalized populations.
We worked individually and in teams to create action plans “to make our offices and institutions a space that welcomes and supports all immigrant and refugee students.”
Questions posed included “what can we do?” and “where can we do it?”
We were asked to choose one specific item from a list of “commitments” organized into three categories. Each category listed action items with increasing levels of involvement.
Being new to process, I chose a commitment under the first category of “raising awareness.” I’ve committed myself to “make statements and make available basic resources in support of all undocumented students.”
The conference also shared information about the Arizona sanctuary campus movement. To learn more or sign the group’s petition, visit bit.ly/AZsanctuarycampus.
I went away from the conference with several posters and flyers, and I plan to share what I’ve learned with anyone in the college who has an interest in supporting undocumented students.
William Lang teaches English as a Second Language classes at West Campus. Contact him by calling 206-3237 or emailing email@example.com.
More information about the conference is available from co-chairs Matt Matera and Ana Hernandez-Zamudio by calling 305-9342 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.