Kanika Suri, an individual consumed with wanderlust, was raised in metro Detroit by her first generation Indian immigrant parents. Kanika received her Bachelor’s of Arts in International Relations and Comparative Cultures and Politics with a specialization in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at James Madison College within Michigan State University.
Throughout her time at Michigan State University, Kanika interned with the Refugee Development Center in Lansing, a non-profit organization that focused on giving refugees both formal and informal learning opportunities in order to flourish as US residents. She quickly realized that she had a deep passion for working with refugees and immigrants, helping them find jobs, helping them adjust to another society, and working with, and for those less fortunate than her, especially since she spent more time at the Center than on her studies.
The combination of her unwavering desire to help the immigrant population and her love for public policy brought her to Wayne State Law School. She is enjoying the academic environment and exploring the greater Detroit area while pursuing her dream of practicing immigration or asylum law. Though many dream of saving the world, her only aspiration is to leave it a better place than that which she was brought into.
This Memorial Day weekend, like most American families, my family spent quality time at the lake. My mom, my siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, the whole family was there, legal U.S. residents, American citizens and undocumented immigrants alike, keeping alive the grand American tradition of barbecuing to celebrate America’s greatness. A tradition that everyone in my family follows every year, almost religiously, but for the last three years it has been very different. My uncle Jorge and my little cousin Ivan have been left out of the picture every year since my uncle was deported. Ironically my uncle Jorge was deported on January 20, 2009, the same day that president Obama gave his inauguration speech.
That day was a bittersweet day for my family. We were very hopeful about the promise of change that President Obama had promised to bring, but we were also very worried about my uncle’s whereabouts. He had been working out of state for a while due to the economic recession. That day, he was traveling to Texas, where he would work for several weeks, when the company’s van was pulled over by Border Patrol near Dallas, Texas. He was the only Mexican in the van, and was immediately arrested because they were suspicious of his legal status. One of his coworkers called us to inform us that he had been arrested by Border Patrol. When we tried to find him neither Border Patrol nor the local authorities could give us any information of his whereabouts since he was transferred several times from one detention center to another over the same day. It was not until the next day, when he called us from Juarez, that we felt some relief.
This is the same story that we hear over and over again about undocumented immigrants being deported, except that my uncle did not come to the U.S. illegally. My grandma, a legal U.S. resident, sponsored his visa to come to the U.S. After years of waiting for his visa, my uncle finally received it in 2002, and rushed to Detroit eager to reunite with his mother. Unfortunately, the immigration process can get very complicated and visas like my uncle’s expire and must be renewed constantly. Uncle Jorge had missed the deadline to renew it on time and the only valid document that he had near the border was his Michigan Drivers Licence. He was not aware that he had the right to renew his expired visa until the day he was arrested and by then it was too late. Now that he has been deported, processing his documents has been delayed for several years, and he must wait in Mexico meanwhile.
His wife did not want their American son to grow up without a father, so she packed up and moved to Mexico to be with her husband. My uncle and my cousin missed our Memorial Day celebration this year. As a matter of fact, my cousin is being denied his right as an American, to grow up in America. He is four years old now, and does not speak English, a language, that most Mexican-American children learn in kindergarten. This same story is repeated thousands of times. Many Americans are denied their right to grow up in America, to learn English, and when they come to the U.S. as adults, they struggle to assimilate into the American culture, a culture that was supposed to be their own.
My cousin is not able to grow up in the U.S. because of a broken immigration system, which Congress and the President have failed to fix. During his speech at the border last month, President Obama, called on Republicans to join him in a by-partisan effort to reform the broken immigration system. He addressed the senators and representatives that in the past had opposed to the idea of comprehensive immigration reform. The majority of these congressmen argued that the border must be secured first before immigration reform could be considered. The President responded to their argument by pointing out that their calls for border security have been answered. The government has focused its attention on the border security for the last four years. The number of border patrol agents on the border has more than doubled, funding for border security has drastically increased, deportations have skyrocketed, and thousands of miles of fence have been built along the U.S.-Mexico border. It appeared that the president was pointing his fingers to Republicans and blaming them for their inaction on the matter, but the truth is that Democrats and the President could have done much more.
Ironically, Americans along the border appear to dislike these changes. When Obama mentioned the fence and the deportations, the crowd booed and yelled, “knock it down.” On the other hand, when he said that it was time to provide a path that would allow these immigrants to legalize their status, to pay fines and “backed-up” taxes, the crowd cheered and applauded. It appears that Americans living on the border are not as worried about undocumented immigrants crossing the border. Then who are these congressmen representing, if the people along the border do not want a fence and do not want more deportations, and what kind of security are people along the border asking for?
It appears that communities along the border care more about security from the violence caused by the drug wars, and are not worried so much about immigrant workers. To me, border towns are upset because they want Border Patrol to focus on protecting them from drug cartels, not from their friendly neighbor Jose, who works in landscaping. They know that a comprehensive immigration reform would allow border security to focus on drug cartels and other violent criminals by allowing seasonal workers to travel back and forth legally across border checkpoints. Republicans and Democrats, however, continue to play politics with this situation, and innocent people continue to suffer the consequences, including American citizens, like my four year old cousin Ivan.
Julianna Rivera, a current Detroiter, spent most of her childhood in Southwest Detroit where she was raised by her mother Amanda. Julianna received a Bachelors of Arts in History and in Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish at Wayne State and will be shortly graduating from Wayne State Law School.
At Wayne Law, Julianna has served as the President of the Hispanic Law Students Association (HLSA) and the Symposium Director of the Journal of Law in Society; she has also worked as a Student Attorney in the Wayne Law Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic and as a law clerk at an Immigration Law firm. Julianna, along with fellow Wayne State Law Students, are also currently incorporating a non-profit, called The 313 Project, that hopes to work on legal and social issues affecting the Southwest community.
My dedication to immigrant rights and reform stems from my work and interaction with the immigrant population and from my personal experience as the granddaughter of an immigrant. Most of all, my passion for immigration reform emanates from my belief that I could have been easily brought to this country undocumented or documented and forced to climb an uphill battle in our broken immigration system and therefore, I believe that it is imperative that all immigrants should be treated as fairly and justly as anyone else in the United States.
I care about immigration because I care about people. I have an abiding conviction that my welfare is intimately tied to the welfare of others. Much of my life has been spent as a Christian pastor. Though I have left most parts of that identity behind me, I continue to hold a core belief that each one of us is a part of one whole and that the best way to relate to another is through love and kindness.
As I see it, the positive forms of all the great belief systems (atheism included) share such a commitment to common welfare. I am not interested in living in a world where pure selfishness rules, a world of competition, revenge, and an “us vs. them” mentality.
I believe that our survival as a human race depends on our gaining the ability to live together in and expanding a circle of mutual care and concern. Stephen Covey taught me about the supremacy of mutual understanding and synergy. He taught me that if we work hard enough we could find “win -win” solutions to the most complex problems of our time.
Whether or not it is realistic to believe that our leaders will ever mature enough to seek the common welfare of those in their care, I do not feel I have any choice except to labor for the creation of a just society; to work for inclusion against the human instincts of selfishness, self-destruction, and blame.
It’s not just philosophical for me. I work daily with young people and adults whose lives are a living hell. Every day I see first hand the suffering of people who have fled homes they love in order to make a life, only to find themselves in a country surrounded by inhospitality and hatred. For them and for myself, I will do everything in my power to create a better existence for them and for the rest of my neighbors. If I ever rest to enjoy prosperity while those around me are denied opportunity, I would consider myself a failure. Conversely, if I die trying to make a better world, without ever seeing progress, I will consider my life well lived.
Adonis came from Guanajuato, Mexico to Detroit at the age of nine and has lived here ever since. He graduated from Hope of Detroit Academy middle school, and from Consortium College Preparatory high school, as the class valedictorian. By the time he graduated from high school he already had 24 college credits. Adonis is a student at Wayne State University, majoring in environmental engineering.
You might wonder why an engineering student is so involved in civil rights. As an immigrant from Mexico, I have experienced firsthand the systematic oppression of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. I have noticed that the American economy’s demand for labor goes up and down and attracts immigrants during economic booms but not so much during economic recessions, such as the one we are in now. However, the immigration system disregards this need to allow the free flow of workers according to the demand, causing a jam in the system. I keep hearing so many immigrants that wish to go back home during these hard economic times, but they are afraid of leaving because they have no hope of legalizing their status and they know that crossing the border illegally is becoming more and more dangerous every year. I believe that in a global market where goods and services flow freely, it is necessary for workers to have more freedom following the demand for labor, otherwise pockets of high unemployment will form on one side of the border and growth will slow down or halt in the other side of the border due to the need for workers.
I first felt the lack of opportunities for immigrants like myself, when I started to apply to colleges and universities. I was more qualified than many of my friends to receive scholarships and other forms of financial aid, but due to my status as an undocumented immigrant, I was not eligible for any of these opportunities. Later on, after the approval of the Michigan Civil Rights initiative, I lost the little financial assistance that I was receiving. Then, more recently, policies that directly attacked and oppressed people like myself were adopted throughout several states, like Arizona.
This sequence of events helped me realize that these policies are hurting our communities and preventing hard working individuals like myself from uplifting our neighborhoods and ourselves. They block development and growth for not just immigrants, but America as a whole, by attacking well established communities within America itself. I believe that social disparities that promote oppression will only worsen if these polices are not changed. This is why I became involved in this civil rights cause. Someone has to speak up against this injustices, and if we don’t do it, who will?
A native Michigander, Vivian Chang was born and raised in Okemos, Michigan. She attended Wellesley College, a women’s college, and is now a law student at the University of Michigan. She hopes to work as a public defender upon graduation, and has done academic research on the intersection of criminal and immigration law.
Vivian is a second-generation Taiwanese-American and identifies as a queer person of color.
“If my Taiwanese parents were able to wait patiently in order to immigrate legally, why can’t yours?” Or so the logic goes.
My parents came to Michigan as graduate students, which presupposes that they had the resources to attend college in Taiwan. Once they arrived, one of my aunts served as a sponsor for both of them. They were exceptionally lucky. Not all immigration stories, not even of well-heeled Taiwanese families, are like that.
To say that immigration reform is not an Asian-American issue is to erase an enormous portion of our community, especially those who are not from privileged East Asian families. As a progressive Asian-American activist, I believe it is incumbent on our community to work in support of progressive immigration reform; this is an issue that is ripping our community apart. The immigration debate is not something that Asian-Americans can elect to ignore, either in our capacity as members of the greater Asian-American community or as allies to other communities of color.