By Brittany Carava
ASST. NEWS EDITOR
The UC forums were filled with high-spirited, passionate students, as Michael Lovette-Colyer introduced the panelists for the discussion on compassionate immigration reform Nov. 7. Retired state senator democrat Denise Moreno Ducheny, professor of law Sandra Wagner and democrat Congressman Scott Peters of the 52nd district made up the professional side to the panel. Paola Carrasco, freshman sociology major at USD also took to the stage to voice her opinion, joining the other panelists with looking through various lenses regarding immigration reform.
Carrasco started the conversation with her personal story of being an undocumented student in the U.S. and her experience at USD. At age three, her family migrated from her birthplace Chihuahua, Mexico to Arizona in hopes of better economic opportunity. Carrasco was raised in the U.S. and lived what seemed like a normal childhood. It was only until she went to get her driver’s license and apply for her first job that she realized she was different than her peers. Carrasco approached her mom and realized that the reason why she couldn’t do these things was because of her status as an undocumented citizen in the U.S. She was deemed “illegal” by her high school peers and felt isolated, as she couldn’t join in the same high school rights of passage as her fellow students.
When time came to apply for school, Carrasco realized that because of her undocumented status she would not be able to apply to public universities and receive federal aid from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). She turned to the private school option and was granted admission to USD on the Circle of Excellence scholarship, covering tuition for her full four years. However she was still stuck in the “poverty trap” because her housing was not covered in this scholarship and her family did not have the finances available to support her. Carrasco worked with university officials and together they found the funds for her to have housing covered as well.
As a sociology major, Carrasco is a passionate voice on behalf of the immigrant students and is working with student activists to ensure that this issue is on the forefront for the nation’s lawmakers.
The second panelist to present was Democrat Congressman Scott Peters of the 52nd district. This jurisdiction includes USD so it was very applicable to have him speak, as he is the voice for a portion of the student population in San Diego. A graduate of Duke University, Peters has served on many committees and was the Commissioner for the Unified Port of San Diego before becoming a member of Congress. He highlighted the economic benefits of the immigration reform and has rallied bi-partisan support for pro-immigration.
Another issue Peters focused on was the security at the actual border with fences along the Arizona desert that require border crossing officers. The U.S. government wants to create a three-phase infrastructure overhaul at the border to help increase fluidity and decrease wait times for people crossing into Mexico. The first phase has been completed, but the other two phases need more government funding in order for this to be executed. The U.S. government is modeling this border restructuring off of the one that Mexico has already created. Peters hopes that rather than spending millions of dollars on fencing in the middle of the Arizona desert, the government will heed these suggestions and allocate the money elsewhere.
School of law professor Sandra Wagner was the next speaker, who focused on legislation supporting better working conditions and job opportunities for immigrants. She explained how the current system is flawed, basing it off a lottery system. She argued that immigrants who could potentially be vital members to the business world in the United States aren’t allowed to live and work in the U.S. with a green card simply because they weren’t picked in the lottery.
Wagner also mentioned two forms of legislation that could be positive additions to the current status of immigration reform. The Skills Act would allow for green cards for graduates in the STEM (science, mathematics, engineering and technology) fields. The Guest Workers Act wouldn’t allow for permanent green card status but would allow for small business to have access to talented workers without the long procedure of filling immigration paperwork.
Finally Denise Ducheny, a retired California Democratic senator, highlighted the changes in immigration patterns since the last time immigration reform was brought to the forefront. California alone is home to 10.2 million immigrants, roughly the size of the entire state of Michigan, and Ducheny argues that they are a powerful asset to our economic status.
Ducheny served in the California State Assembly and was the first San Diegan, first woman and first Latino ever to be appointed to this powerful position, overseeing the state’s $100 billion spending plan. With this experience in economics, she explained the benefits of increased trade with Mexico and that more than a quarter of the businesses in the state are run by immigrants. She also demonstrated the successes of bi-national companies with Mexico and the U.S., with companies like Mattel, Samsung and Toyota. This supported that with a better immigration system, increased economic activity can be achieved.
Students enjoyed the different approaches to immigration reform and each panelists’ personal touch. “ I loved that Paola was present to share her story,” sophomore Kim Sierra said. “We were able to get both a business and humane perspective on immigration reform which I think is important.”
Students like Paola helped rally support from USD administration last semester when USD officially endorsed the DREAM act.This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.
With the support of both professionals and students, many believe that change will come and help resolve these issues that are important to so many across the country and here at USD.