BY COLLEEN COYLE – STAFF WRITER
This article is a member of a series focused on Diversity at Centre College.
On September 5, many Americans moved throughout their day, unaffected by the events unfolding at the White House, as Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, for other Americans, this turn of events was an important development in an issue that was fundamental to their presence in this country. This action by the Trump administration forced many undocumented Americans to consider what would happen to them if they were forcibly returned to a nation that some have no waking memory of.
The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA amid an ongoing immigration crisis raises critical questions for Americans (both documented and undocumented) across the nation. Among other pressing concerns are: How do we discuss those with DACA status without villainizing their parents and other undocumented people? What does it mean to be an American or an American citizen? What does it mean to be American if you were born somewhere else but understand yourself as an American? How do allies of undocumented Americans in the US assist the members of their community impacted by these decisions?
Centre College is not exempt from these questions, despite its “Centre bubble.” For the students who are directly affected by this, and for those who have family and friends that are directly affected by issues of immigration policy, these questions are crucial. Not only must affected students worry about their grades, papers, and commitments like any other member of Centre’s community, but they worry about home in a way that others don’t. A DACA student on campus comments that, “for the longest time I never talked about it…in the undocumented community, we talk about coming out to people as unDACAmented, and it’s a very emotional process. A lot of time people don’t realize the secondary worries and anxieties that come with being a young undocumented student…every phone call I get from my parents I internally panic for a second because I hope that everything is ok.”
Conversations about DACA and immigration on Centre’s campus and in the US often become sterile, and participants distance themselves from the reality that DACA is affecting everyday people – people who are essential members of our community. Dr. Satty Flaherty-Echeverría, Assistant Professor of Spanish, emphasized that in these conversations, “the word ‘illegal’ is not welcome, because it dehumanizes people.” Furthermore, when these conversations begin, it’s crucial to remember that as members of the Centre community “we all have a stake in this issue, and we should all understand that…we are in a place where we are allowed to question things, we are allowed to be educated about things.”
These conversations shouldn’t be isolated to those experiencing DACA and immigration policy changes, but should extend to each member of our community, ally or not. Dr. Stephen Dove, assistant professor of history and chair of both the history and the Latin American Studies program, recommends that “for anyone who either wants to understand this better or show that they do care about people as human beings, whether DACA students or not…have genuine friendships with people that are different from you. That means being aware if your friendships are kind of limited.” While at Centre, students often become isolated to their singular friendship circles and although challenging for some, expanding friendships to include a diverse set of viewpoints is a small but critical step in opening dialogues on our campus.
Fear of making mistakes can’t prevent us from having conversations about tough issues. Jailene Paz, President of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) points out that “we can’t be scared to talk about this…because we’re scared we might [mess] up…we don’t have the time because this is something that’s urgent.” Ultimately, Paz says “we need patience. Understand that as you’re learning, you’re going to need patience and to continually question what you know…because that’s what a good student and global citizen does.”
Each person who contributed to this article emphasized one thing: hope. Hope for a better campus and hope for a better nation. It’s time that members of our Centre community reevaluate our understandings of the issues our peers face today. If you aren’t educated about the issue, learn. If you don’t understand, ask and listen. If you don’t agree with something being said, speak. Silence doesn’t resolve anything, and it’s crucial that we show our support to our own as they navigate events that they very little control over. If Centre’s community approaches these students with love, allies or not, we will have more ability to understand, listen, and accept one another.