Actual immigration reform requires a face, a name

By Brandon Desiderio
September 18, 2012

We, the Loquitur staff, believe in the biblical command to “welcome the stranger.” Regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, we as humans should offer a seat at the table for everyone.

This past week, with visits by award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario and life-long immigrant rights advocate Cardinal Mahony, many faculty, staff and students engaged in two days of discussion about the responsibility of Cabrini College to be a leader of immigration reform.

Here at Cabrini, of course, the realities of immigration are hardly foreign. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants, after all – though that fact seems to go overlooked or altogether ignored by many.

After Nazario and Mahony left campus, however, the discussion of immigration reform didn’t stop. The college began an in-depth conversation about their own long-term action plan, led by student leaders on immigration who reflected on Nazario’s and Mahony’s presentations.

As the college considers how to move forward to even greater leadership with regard to immigration, we want to call attention to the deep commitment of a group of faculty and students over the past four years.

We wish to recognize the vital partnership that the college has forged with the surrounding community. For about four years now, students from the Spanish department have been assisting with after-school programs in Norristown, where they’ve worked with Latino immigrant students at the public high school and, starting this fall, at Stuart Middle School.

Working intimately as academic tutors, life coaches and engaging role models, these Cabrini students have run the gamut of crucial roles that young minds require in order to succeed – but this wasn’t a simple or easy partnership to forge.

They recalled feeling apprehensive at first, faced with mentoring kids that were unresponsive during their initial visits. For the kids, at first their presence was thought to be temporary at best – in the four years since, though, they’ve been proven wrong.

Over the course of their time with the program, the Cabrini volunteers became aware that there were multiple layers to their work: what started out as help with math and English developed into a deeper understanding of the Norristown area. The low literacy rates among the Latino students and their necessary function in the upbringing of their own siblings painted a picture of adversity and disadvantage. Struggles like theirs have never been all that well advertised on the Main Line.

The more we learn of the dedication of the Spanish department faculty and ECG students, the more we admire their four-year commitment. Now a new group of ECG freshmen are being groomed as the program expands. These students and faculty set an example for all of us of dedication to our global community, across barriers of language, culture and immigration status.

We, as a global community, can’t continue with the way we’ve been debating immigration. This isn’t to say that one opinion on the subject should be picked over another – it’s just a matter of educating our hearts first, not our minds.

There’s no easy path to resolving the immigration system – but there’s also no easy path for immigrants to come here legally.

Both speakers, during their presentations, stood in front of the mural of immigrants on the wall in Grace Hall. This backdrop is why their visits were so important: immigration is our identity.

Without those from backgrounds unlike our own, how will we move forward as a country that prides itself on diversity, on unquestioned inclusion?

As a society defined by its inherent individualism, the answer to immigration seems obvious: fix it, and provide immigrants with the essential human rights of dignity and safety; with the ability to provide for their families and to play an integral role in an ever-expanding, ever-globalizing community.

The answer won’t come from asking “how,” but from asking “for whom”: for your neighbor, for your housekeeper, gardener, nanny, teacher, congressman – for the stranger who would welcome you if only you would welcome them.

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Brandon Desiderio

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