The student behind the immigration panel: Malachi Purnell

By Aislinn Walsh
December 6, 2018

Spearheading the inaugural panel “Dialogue With Migrants: Why We Are Here?” is senior Spanish major Malachi Purnell, a student who is known by his peers and professors for his deep passion for immigration.

Sophomore biology major Bianca Huertas-Perez notes that Purnell is deeply invested in immigration rights.

Senior Spanish major Malachi Purnell is a fierce advocate for immigration rights. Photo submitted by Malachi Purnell.

“Every time you mention any topic related to immigrants and or immigration there is an inner flame that grows in him,” Huertas-Perez said. “He will fight (with words) to all of those that have negative ideas about immigration and he’ll try his best to convince others of what he thinks is best.”

His interest in immigration began in his sophomore year after he found out that one of his close friends was undocumented.

This discovery piqued his interest in immigration and he enrolled in Dr. Ray Ward’s ECG 200 class, Immigration: Faith and Justice. A hallmark event of the class was traveling down to Washington D.C to participate in an immigration rally.

“That trip in retrospect was one of the things that brought to start me going above and beyond when it comes to migration,” Purnell said.

immigration protest by paul.wasneski, on Flickr
For Purnell, attending an immigration march as part of his ECG 200 class played an influential role in becoming an advocate. “immigration protest” (Public Domain) by paul.wasneski

Since the completion of the class, Purnell has traveled to D.C several times to lobby for immigration rights.

Purnell also began to get involved Cabrini’s chapter of Catholic Relief Services Ambassadors (CRS), a national college campus program in which students who are passionate about social justice issues gather to discuss and educate peers about prominent social issues, like immigration.

Since its inception in 2006 the program has now expanded to over 122 colleges and universities across the country. However, Cabrini has the unique distinction of being one of the founding campuses.

Over the summer Purnell had the opportunity this summer to travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to attend the CRS Ambassadors conference SALT, the student ambassadors leaders together. He was joined by two other Cabrini CRS ambassadors.

It was at this event that Purnell was ignited with the passion to organize an immigration panel at Cabrini.

He attended a presentation by Marquette University ambassadors discussing their experience hosting the event “cookies and conversation,” a casual, discussion-based panel on social justice issues.

This event immediately inspired Purnell to organize and host an immigration panel on Cabrini’s campus.

“When I heard about this idea I literally ran over to [my friend] Mignon,” Purnell said. “And was like ‘Mignon, we are doing this [panel] this semester…. There is nothing you can do stop me’. ”

Having students speak on the panel shed an entirely different light on immigration. Photo by Renin Broadnax.

True to his words, Purnell jumped into swift action at the inception of the Fall 2018 semester to make the immigration panel a reality.

His tireless efforts cumulated in “Dialogue with Migrants” event on Tuesday, Oct. 30 in the crowded library conference room, which was attended by students and faculty members.

Perhaps what made the panel unique from others, however, is that panelists were not comprised by academic professionals, but rather Cabrini students themselves who had immigrated to the United States.

Purnell notes that he wanted the panelist to be students all with various experiences and backgrounds.

Dr. Ray Ward noted that he saw tremendous growth in Malachi in the planning and execution of the event.

“I’m proud of how much Malachi has come into his own this year,” Ward said. “I think he’s getting to know himself and his gifts and how to share that with others around him.”

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Aislinn Walsh

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