In recognition of the national “Day Without Immigrants” protests, the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara held a special open session of its Seminar on Immigrant Education and Literacy Development on May 1. The seminar, lead by Professor Richard Durán and his graduate students Sugely Chaidez, Vichet Chhuon, Graciela Fernandez, Megan Lange, Roseanne Macias, Rassamichanh Souryasack and Charlene Bumanglag Tomas, was a first step to learning about the social, psychological and cultural dynamics underlying the immigration issue.
The seminar featured presentations by the graduate students, first on the demographics of immigrants and the then on the current immigration policies under consideration by the federal government. Both presentations were followed by wide-ranging conversations by a variety of students, staff and faculty of the Gevirtz School in attendance. Raymond Huerta, J.D., a legal civil rights specialist who currently serves as Liaison for Mexican Communities for the UCSB Center for Chicano Studies and was UCSB Affirmative Action Coordinator from 1974-2003, was a special guest. The two-hour session stressed how the university permits complex contextual thinking that often is abandoned in the heat of political debates.
Seminar participants quickly sensed the ambiguities in the topic of immigration when Professor Durán asked, “When we use the word ‘Asian’ what could we be meaning?” Students discussed how even ethnic terms and derivations were often in debate as many South East Asian languages were only verbal until the last century and therefore there is no written history. Other participants in the discussion pointed out that the history of colonization clearly influences a country, its language and its patterns of immigration.
Throughout the seminar participants repeatedly delved into crucial contexts that might help understanding of immigration and education. Historically, the United States has often wanted to control its immigrants and has often seemed to fear those coming to the country. Globally, the immigration issue is not just a hot button in the United States, as recent events in France prove. Economically, the group lamented the underlying agenda of commodifying people that seems to be a result of globalization and agreements like NAFTA.
After discussing the differences between HR 4437 – the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2005 that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those who aid them in the U.S. – and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act – that would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented, although it would not be and easy or inexpensive path – still under debate in the U.S. Senate, the seminar turned to education policy. The focus was on the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, bipartisan legislation that would permit undocumented immigrant children who have been in the U.S. for five years attending U.S. high schools to qualify for conditional status, which would authorize up to 6 years of legal residence. During that period the student would be required to graduate from a 2-year college, complete at least 2 years toward a 4-year degree, or serve in the U.S. military for at least 2 years. Permanent residence would be granted at the end of the 6-year period if the student has met these requirements and has continued to maintain good moral character. Ray Huerta pointed out this legislation has its roots in the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe (1982) that ruled children couldn’t be held responsible for the acts of their parents. Participants also stressed how this Act, which could help 65,000 U.S.-raised students annually, would also be one answer to the so-called “brain drain” problem, as these immigrants would most likely choose to stay in the U.S. after college graduation.
While the seminar was clearly a starting point for discussion, most participants seemed in agreement with one of the closing comments by UCSB Professor Tania Israel who said, “What we should be advocating is how to see these people as people. We need to discover how we can share our resources that would best benefit those already in the U.S. and those who want to come here.”
The conversation will continue on Thursday, May 4 at a panel entitled Immigration, Politics and Education to be held at the UCSB MultiCultural Theater from 12 noon – 1:30 pm. This free event is open to the public and will feature Dr. Laura Romo and Dr. Richard Durán of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, Dr. Edwina Barvosa-Carter of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and Dr. Marisela Marquez, Director of Faculty Outreach for the UCSB Academic Senate.
[Professor Durán is available for interviews; to arrange an interview, contact George Yatchisin at 805 893 5789]