Immigration Issues Brought To The Forefront Ahead of Midterm Elections

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Boston College Graduate Students of Color Association (GSCA) hosted a panel on immigration, highlighting the issue for the upcoming midterm election. GSCA invited several professors to speak about the complexities and development immigration.

Esthefania Rodriguez, GSSW ’15, opened the dialogue on immigration by speaking about her own experiences as an immigrant from Venezuela. By receiving a diversity visa through the diversity visa lottery hosted by the Department of State, Rodriquez said she was able to come to the U.S.

“In 2000, 6,000 Venezuelans applied for the diversity visa and only 50 visas were allocated,” Rodriguez said. “It was a very difficult selection process and my mother and I were very fortunate.

“When I asked my mother what was the hardest thing about immigration, she told me it was the identity of it,” Rodriguez said. “I grew up with the identity of being a Venezuelan and then, all of a sudden, I was a Latina.”

Rodriguez expanded on her immigration story, detailing the difficulties she and her family faced, and providing a firsthand account of immigration and the transition to the U.S. “It was such a difficult transition in terms of language and trying to find a job, which put us in a different category,” she stated.

Through her own immigration story, Rodriguez said she hoped BC students could gain a glimpse of what immigration looks like today.

Mary Holper, an associate clinical professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at BC Law School, focused on her background in both immigration and law, specifically the transformation of immigration law from the mid-1990s through the present day.

“Green cards give you the right to live in the United States permanently, you can naturalize to become a citizen, but it’s not required,” Holper said on the history of immigration laws. “Green Card holders and citizens are two completely different things.”

She then noted three different ways of attaining a green card, which for immigrants to the United States include the H1B1 visa, given to those with high-level skill sets needed in the workforce; through family relations, such as a child or spouse; or the diversity visa, which is gained by way of lottery.

“There’s no line for those without skills or family in the United States to stand in,” Holper stated. “The United States has jobs that these people can fill, but they have no way of coming. The economic needs of the United States, therefore, are not well reflected.”

Peter Skerry, professor of political science at BC and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke about social policy and racial and ethnic politics, and the importance of geography in relation to perspectives surrounding immigration reform in the U.S.

Westy Egmont, who teaches social policy and community building as an associate professor of the practice in the Graduate School of Social Work, highlighted the difficulties seen in newcomer communities, and the deficiencies surrounding immigrant access to social services.

“We live in a country that does not yet know what it means to be inclusive or to be truly democratic or truly equal,” Egmont said.

Although immigrant populations face many difficulties, Egmont said the U.S. has also achieved great successes in reference to immigration reform.

“We are a nation with a refugee program that accepts over 50,000 people a year and that’s something to be proud of,” Egmont said. “We are a remarkable country and a bright light on this planet.”

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor