A panel of students and faculty shared their personal perspectives concerning issues affecting the United States’ Hispanic population on Wednesday as part of the weekly “Students Talk Back” series.
Director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute Robert Suro moderated the panel for the series, which was presented by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, Sol Price School of Public Policy’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute and the Sol Price Bedrosian Center on Governance and Public Enterprise.
Kevin Valero, a sophomore majoring in business administration and an undocumented immigrant and member of IDEAS Movement at USC, spoke about the Dream Act and potential he felt it held for undocumented immigrants and the United States.
Valero began by pointing to his ignorance of his situation as a child coming to the United States at the age of five. Though aware of his identity as a Mexican, he was not aware of his status as an illegal immigrant nor the implications of this status until he moved into high school and began thinking about the future.
“I was very young, so I didn’t know what moving from a country was, and there was no stigma attached to it,” Valero said. “Being undocumented wasn’t anything I thought about until the later years of high school, when I started thinking about my future and paying for college.”
Valero encouraged members of the audience to begin looking at the human aspects of the illegal immigration issue rather than just the politics. The first step, he stressed, was to stop using the term “illegal immigration.”
“I take offense to the term ‘illegal immigrant’ because how can I be illegal after being brought to a land?” Valero said. “It is dehumanizing.”
Continuing to emphasize the human angles of the immigration issue, Stephanie Canizales, a doctoral candidate in sociology, spoke about her work with unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant youths between the ages of 13 and 18 and mainly from Guatemala. Canizales said these youth come from persecuted indigenous groups in their countries and arrive in the United States in order to work for money to send their families back home.
“This youth population is not concerned with upward mobility, but with day-to-day survival, to every day, know that they came to the United States to provide for their families back home,” Canizales said.
Canizales went further to describe how the perspective of undocumented children who first come to America.
“Imagine a 13-year-old coming to the United States unaccompanied, coming with a group of adult immigrants and getting a job in a garment shop in Downtown LA to provide for his family back home,” Canizales said.
Canizales said the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students to gain full citizenry, focuses primarily on educated illegal immigrants, it fails to address as many as 67 percent of the 2.1 million illegal immigrant youths in the nation.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, spoke about the Hispanic community and its activism. Gonzalez emphasized that this activism went beyond illegal immigration to other issues facing the Latino community and, in some cases, all Americans.
“The Latino agenda has to be a broad agenda,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t put all our cards in one issue or another issue, but the emphasis should be on taking responsibility.”
Gonzalez said he became active in politics because he felt it was the most impactful avenue to bring change and affect people’s lives.
“There is such a great disconnect between the country and Washington,” Gonzalez said. “President [Barack] Obama and the bipartisan establishment have presided over the largest reconcentration of wealth in the modern era. In many places, the problem is not racism, the problem is ineffective government.”