Thursday, July 26, 2012

South Philly in the Hot Hot Summer Sun

Since I was a little girl, a certain path of life was ingrained in my mind.  I would go through primary and secondary schooling, head off to college, and find a career that fit me.  Although I have gained perspective and understanding of the world over the years, I still expect myself to continue on this "track to success."  The thing that I never really thought about however, is that there are so many immigrants coming to the United States that once believed this path was possible for them too, but then had their dreams shattered when the time came around to apply to college.  This issue is extremely complicated and I am just beginning to understand the life that many immigrants live, and their struggle to obtain rights that I take for granted.

Today, we talked about immigration into the United States and every aspect of that topic itself.  We had a guest speaker named Judith Bernstein Baker who works for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that has been around for the last 130 years.  Once an organization that helped Jewish immigrants, it now serves people from many different ethnic groups who are trying to enter this country.  Nowadays, the primary reason for immigration is for family reunification, but there are also still a great deal of people who seek freedom from the persecution they face in their home countries.  Judith explained the lengthy, nit picky, and slightly skewed immigration process that everyone must go through to try to obtain some sort of legal residency in this country.  The periods of time that people are permitted to stay can range from a couple months to many years; but still, the extensive process causes many people to enter illegally, which is the most dangerous and risky ways of reaching America.  

In the afternoon, around one or two o'clock, we visited the Juntos organization in South Philadelphia.  Here, we were able to talk to a number of undocumented students, many of whom are in the same grade level that we are.  We broke into smaller groups and they shared their experiences of entering this country; most of them came when they were very young.  They also wanted to hear our stories and learn about the everyday reality that we live in.  When this one guy Eric talked about how difficult it has been for him to even keep trying in school because of all of the setbacks and discouraging advice he has received, I felt such empathy for him, and his story made me understand how important it really is for youth especially to have full citizenship in this country.  Without it, they are restricted from being able to make the best life for themselves, and many feel such pressure that they end up falling into the "pipeline prison."  

I am so glad that we talked about this issue today because, while I know a bit about the problem, I have never had a direct conversation with someone my age who lives this reality.  Not only did I learn more about the history of pro-immigration and anti-immigration organizations in Philadelphia, but my mind was widely opened to the struggle of these people; which is one that I only knew the surface of before. 

1 comment:

  1. Chloe,

    You dove head first into a major issue when we talk about “social justice”.

    Trust me, what you saw in Philadelphia is nothing compared to what you can see here at home if you open your eyes to what’s around you.

    There are two issues here:

    The first issue is immigration--the legal kind. I don’t know of any country that does not regulate the number of people allowed to immigrate into their country and some even have laws pretty much saying what KIND of people can immigrate.

    Even here in the US it was only after WWII that we abolished the laws that restricted how many Asians could immigrate to the US. Asians were singled out in particular. As a matter of fact, during WWII we would only allow 105 Asians PER YEAR to immigrate (where did they come up with that number?).

    Every country has a problem with providing services for the people residing in that country and for guaranteeing that their are enough jobs for their citizens so they limit the number of people who can immigrate.

    As mentioned before, though, even in the land of the brave and the home of the free we opened our arms for all immigrants as long as their skin color was white and they came from the nobler countries of Europe (meaning that the Irish, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Jews weren’t nearly as welcome).

    Then we have the second issue--ILLEGAL immigration. We tend to think mostly of Hispanics from south of the border but we also have a problem with illegal immigration from every continent except Antarctica. It’s as if no matter where they came from, they think it’s going to be better here in the US. Everything is relative.

    Even in the “nice” school you attend, you have plenty of students who are in this country illegally. They just don’t shout it out for the world to know--maybe because they could be deported. The position taken in California, though, is that every child is entitled to an education.

    The real problem, though, is that they have no real hope of getting into college, getting financial aid if they get into college or getting a decent job if they get a degree. We have laws in place that are actually enforced in those regards.

    This is why the DREAM ACT is so important to millions of people--both non-citizens and citizens.

    Right now up in Chico there’s a young man who passed the Bar Exam on his first try and the California Supreme Court is trying to decide whether he has the legal right to practice law in California. Federal law says he can’t be employed without proper documentation but if he works for himself, can this law be enforced? This is only a part of what the Supreme Court has to consider.

    I hope this has really opened your eyes, Chloe, and when you return you see things around you. There’s much to be done and we need the idealists to help right our wrongs.