Panelists Discuss Immigrants’ Rights
by Marie Recalde


Embarcadero Hall housed over a hundred members of the UCSB and Santa Barbara community on Thursday, April 23, for a symposium concerning immigrant rights and reform at the local and national levels.

Eyebrows were raised, heads were shaken, and jaws nearly dropped upon hearing the hidden information many citizens of the world face. A covert issue that immigrants may soon face raises specters of the gruesome practice of segregation. California legislators are deliberating on creating two types of birth certificates: one for children born to undocumented immigrants, and one for everyone else.

Members of the discussion panel consisted of UCSB sociology professor William Robinson, doctoral candidate from UC Riverside, Jesse Diaz, third-year global studies and film and media studies double major, Laura Flores, and coordinator of PUEBLO (People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organization), Belen Seara.

Robinson, who also teaches global studies and Latin American and Iberian studies, kicked off the forum by emphasizing that there is a worldwide war against immigrants. “We need to look at the system of global capitalism,” Robinson said.

He said free trade agreements established by global powers devastate impoverished communities, with the corporate power exploiting the smaller country for profit. “Billions of people have been displaced and forced to work for globalized economy,” Robinson said. “NAFTA alone has displaced six million Mexican families, thrown them into poverty.”

Once below the poverty line, this sets the stage for forced, transnational migration, resulting in the biggest wave of immigration in the history of the United States. He said once they are here, they become scapegoats of a failing economy. “This system needs immigrant labor to remain just that, to be immigrant labor means to be vulnerable, deportable, this means controllable,” he said.

According to Robinson, there are an estimated 12 to 15 million undocumented immigrants from Latin America alone living in the U.S., where they face more than structural inequalities. Xenophobic hate groups, like the Minutemen, further disenfranchise immigrant groups. In addition, Robinson added that the racialization of immigrants further marginalizes their status in society and places ethnic groups against one another in competition for living wages. Robinson said that the federal government unleashed a wave of criminalization, harassment, and deportation; thus, it pushed the movement from offensive to defensive. He concluded by asking everyone to help disenfranchised people to take back the offensive in order to create local and global unity and social justice.

Diaz, who played an integral role in Los Angeles’s reform movements in 2006, took the stage next. He presented his research on the rise of the immigration industrial complex in the U.S. He explained that although President Obama had the power to stop the Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s raids, the government’s “enforcement first” policies contribute to the criminalization of immigrants, in turn legitimizing hate crimes against them.

“It’s going to be hard to unravel this immigrant industrial complex,” Diaz said. “It will be a long struggle to undo this because it’s so entrenched.”

Flores, representing IDEAS (Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success) and Dreamers for Change, then followed with her personal story of growing up as an undocumented student. After moving to the U.S. at age five, she faced the difficulties of learning a new language and strains at home. “Education evolved into more than escapism,” Flores said. “It became a passion.” Her zeal for connecting with people is incarnated in her own documentaries, which aim at approaching the immigrant narrative in a different light.

Flores screened a video she made, following a day in the life of Gustavo, an undocumented student at California State University, Los Angeles. His daily life consists of working two jobs, often up to 10 consecutive hours as a janitor, because he is not eligible for federal or state financial aid. He is only one of hundreds of thousands of students across the country in such a position.

According to Flores, undocumented students are not eligible for FAFSA or Cal Grants. The Federal DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, introduced in 2001, has yet to pass, but it is nevertheless a step toward providing undocumented students an equal chance at success.

She added that it is more a human issue over an immigration issue. “We, the immigrants, share the values of all the American people,” Flores said.

She pointed out paradoxes in the system: undocumented immigrants face discrimination, yet they pay into the social security of those who criticize them; immigrants cannot obtain a driver’s license, but they will be sold car insurance; immigrants cannot work legally, but they are allowed to pay taxes.

Concluding the discussion, Seara encouraged the student population to take action, because it has the strength to mobilize for social change. She pointed out that as complex and arduous as obtaining citizenship is, visas are not going to those who need them: students.

“It’s outrageous to give visas to some, but not to students,” Seara said. “They’re not going to the right people.”

The forum was then briefly opened to the audience to ask the panel questions. What the speakers all had in common was the passion to end social injustice and inequality. By the end of the discussion, some students were brought to tears by Flores’s presentation.

Some were fired up and ready to mobilize, especially in light of May 1, International Workers’ Day, which recognizes the social and economic hurdles that labor workers have overcome.