By Lauren Grimaldi
The Loundy Human Rights Project held a panel discussing immigration and the Dreamer Act.
The panel featured top activists from across Chicago and beyond. The conversation, moderated by political science professor Bethany Barratt, featured immigration lawyer Priscilla Orta and Protection for All movement member Alejandro Monroy-Velez. Velez is an immigrant from Colombia that recently graduated with a master’s from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
Other guests included Irene Romulo from Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) and Angelica Magana, a Mexican immigrant, that became active in the community the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president.
Much of the event centered around issues within the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act. While the idea behind the act was positive, many of the panelists argued that it created a narrative of a good and bad immigrant.
Alejandro Monroy-Velez said that immigration policy in the past has been both inclusive and exclusive.
“…Behind all of this is a language where people are either given a good or a bad name in terms of being an immigrant,” Velez said. “Where those things come from are values and particularly the values we hold within a capitalistic society that is the United States.”
He specifically mentioned that being a “good immigrant” is often classified as someone that helps boost the economy.
“We really wanted to go beyond just the people who are able to benefit from DACA,” Velez said. “That are young folks who haven’t had the ability to be in high school, who have been criminalized whether intentional or unintentional.”
He also expressed that the fee attached to DACA is also problematic because it limits the number of people that can afford to apply for the program.
“A lot of the language being used is favorable to people that have had access and have had the opportunities to do what they want to do with school and their career,” Velez said.
Priscilla Orta spoke about her experience as an immigration lawyer. She said that clients will often come into her office assuming that the system will save them.
Unfortunately, Orta said, the reality is that there is not always a solution to their problems.
“They come into my office and I have to tell them that they do not qualify for asylum because they did not apply for something that they didn’t even know existed,” Orta said. “…although there’s a way out, the judges don’t care.”
Orta went onto explain that the system unjustly punishes even those that it should help.
“People who are perfect and innocent are caught every day in a system that does not care,” Orta said.
Because DACA has been rescinded by the Trump administration, the panelists noted that there is even less hope now than ever. That being said, all planned on fighting for ‘Protection for All’ as Congress looks to adapt a new policy on immigration.
Despite its many faults, Orta said that DACA did help correct some of the problems within the system. She said that while working in Texas she was given two cases of immigrants seeking asylum. The judge she was working under forced her to choose one person.
“If DACA had existed when I had to make this decision, they both would have been able to stay,” Otra said.