Talk surrounding the border wall draws attention to claiming asylum and naturalization process
March 4, 2019
In what was regarded as fearfully similar to children throwing temper tantrums, the government shutdown in early January lasted 35 days. The record-breaking shutdown occurred when Congress refused to pass legislation that included over $5 billion for a border wall demanded by President Donald Trump.
The fight over the border wall drew attention to a topic that has remained one of the nation’s greatest political issues: immigration. With policies surrounding illegal immigration, asylum and refugee seekers, birthright citizenship, and gaining green cards constantly being re-evaluated and questioned, discussion regarding the topic can become heated and hard to follow.
“There was and still is a sense of dehumanization toward immigrants when Trump speaks of immigrants,” senior Taylor Bhuiyan said. “I think that is the hardest thing for me to swallow; when I watch the news every night and [see] clips of the United States president speak so vulgarly regarding them.”
Historically, immigration has positively contributed to the ‘cultural melting pot’ of the US. However, the broad discussion regarding immigration and all of the nuances involved make declaring a stance harder than ever comparted to some other issues.
“I don’t necessarily stand to the right or the left,” senior Stephen Achilles said. “I do believe that there is a big problem with the way we handle immigration today. I don’t think we’ve come up with the right answer and I don’t know what the answer to this complicated thing is.”
Junior Trey Campsmith viewed the shutdown as rather petty, disapproving of the month of standstill it took for the government to be able to make a decision, while remianing open to a wall.
“Regarding immigration policy, I don’t really see how a wall protecting our border is a bad thing, especially if the cost of it is insignificant to the national budget,” Campsmith said. “I do, however, think that it should be easier to get a working visa and we should incentivize legal immigration by making it much easier to come here.”
According to economics and government teacher Ruth Narvaiz, immigrants typically add to the wealth of a country.
“They pay taxes just like you and I do on every paycheck they get,” Narvaiz said. “In a lot of cases they come in because immigrants have specialty jobs that are required.”
Under the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, undocumented immigrants have the same rights to attend primary and secondary schools as citizens and permanent residents, and are required to attend school just as other minors. In addition, school officials have no legal obligation to enforce immigration laws.
“As an educator, I would hope that any student that walks through our doors would feel welcomed regardless of where he or she comes from,” English teacher Amanda Pfeiffer said. “We are charged with that, it is our jobs to make you feel welcome and that you deserve the highest quality education regardless of any other factors.”
Around half of Bhuiyan’s family are immigrants from Bangladesh, and she has witnessed her parents try to get family to the US her entire life.
“The process is long and requires a lot of interaction with our local and state representatives, so if [any of them] are unresponsive, the process can take months before any substantial progress is made,” Bhuiyan said. “I remember my parents filling out countless amounts of paper work for each member of my family.”
Senior Luciana San Esteban currently has permanent residency and is attempting to gain citizenship. Her father was born in the US and has citizenship, so he claimed residency for them when they moved from Mexico.
“We’re trying to get passports because I’m technically a citizen, but I have no official documents to prove that I’m a citizen,” San Esteban said. “I can’t vote because I’m not [recognized as] a citizen. For every college I applied to, I had to fill out that I’m a permanent resident and I had to send the pictures my green card and my alien number.”
The citizenship test requires knowledge of US history, geography, and government, as well as the ability to write and speak in English. US history and government teacher Carlen Floyd worked with a non-profit to help people prepare for the test.
“They can take the class as many times as they want [and] some of them took the class three times, just because they don’t want to fail,” Floyd said. “They’re so much fun, they’re so excited. They want to vote so badly, and they know more than a lot of native born citizens are walking around because they’re forced to.”
Attorney Marc Vockell, father of senior Carina Vockell, has recently begun offering free legal services to immigrants seeking asylum.
“I decided to focus on this field for two reasons: first, the clients I have had the honor to work for are amazing people who would be persecuted if forced to return to their countries,” Vockell said. “Second, because I love my country and its ideals, and believe in the promise of the Statue of Liberty, which has welcomed immigrants for centuries and made us the amazing country we are.”
For Vockell, the most difficult aspect of his work is representing victims of violence and thinking about the possibility of them being forced to return. He has worked with clients fleeing violence in countries where police are unable or unwilling to protect individuals.
“I recently spoke with a 19-year old El Salvadoran woman who looked like she could have easily been a Bowie student,” Vockell said. “She worked in a food shack and was approached by a local gang member who wanted her to become his girlfriend. Within days, her parents were approached by the gang asking where she was, and she knew she wouldn’t be safe anywhere in El Salvador.”
Her family raised $4,000 for her transportation the US border. Those seeking asylum must prove “credible fear” in an interview with an immigration official and will either be deported or then have to wait for a hearing.
“After a month-long journey, she arrived at the US border, only to be kidnapped by a criminal organization in Mexico,” Vockell said. “She [was held] another week before her family could gather and pay another $3,000. She is now in detention and has a good immigration case, but if she gets the wrong judge, she could get sent back to El Salvador.”
According to Vockell, an immigrant might attain work permission while awaiting the hearing or they might remain in custody the entire time.
“The standard under the law to receive asylum is to prove a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ based on a person’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group,” Vockell said. “The asylum-seeker also has to prove that the government in the home country is causing the persecution or refuses to prevent it. Recent policy changes by the current administration have suggested gang violence and domestic violence should not be the basis for asylum, but this issue is being litigated in the federal courts.”
Floyd volunteered at a women’s detention facility in Hutto, where women awaiting their hearing stay. She spoke with two women, both of whom were deported within a week after her visit.
“It’s former jails, they have guards,” Floyd said. “When you go to visit, it’s a screening like you’re going into a federal prison. The people are all identified by numbers. There are visitation rules, they’re always under supervision.”
Many of the asylum seekers at the border come from Central or Latin America countries and are often unable to speak English or Spanish.
“There is one professor at UT who speaks these [indigenous dialects],” Floyd said. “When they have to give their information, there’s one person in Austin, Texas who volunteers his time. He can’t do it all, so there are women who are here with their children, there are women who have fled who have no way of actually communicating.”
Senior Ariel Sandoval Olivia moved to the US from Monterrey, Mexico in 2013 to live with his father, who is a US resident. He described the room the family of four moved into as one so small that a king bed couldn’t fit.
“At that point my dad had some money, and he thought it would be enough to get an apartment here, at least for some time until he got a job,” Sandoval Olivia said. “Since he had no work here, there was no way to prove that he would be able to keep paying that money. It got a really bad, at some point my dad was like ‘please I’ll get the money out, I’ll pay a year in advance.’ No one would.”
After four months, they moved into his aunt’s garage, a typical garage for two cars, slowly remodeling and adding a kitchen, gas, and a refrigerator.
“My parents had a big bed, me and my sister slept on one of those sofa beds,” Sandoval Olivia said. “I couldn’t be alone any time, I mean you’re a teen and you want to be alone right, and having my little sister and my family [there], you can’t even talk at home, can’t even talk at school because there’s no one to talk to.”
Sandoval Olivia and his family remained in the garage for seven months before they moved into a house. Upon starting school in the US, Sandoval failed a required English test, which meant he was placed in an ELL class for two years, prompting him to spend the majority of his time learning English.
“If I wasn’t reading, I was with my headphones watching YouTube videos on how to pronounce words,” Sandoval Olivia said. “I would spend hours and hours getting the right pronunciation or figuring out what some phrase meant because I couldn’t get it right. People always tell you that the best way to learn a language is by watching movies, listening to music, or speaking it yourself.”
He retook the English test before eighth grade and passed it, although he was still required by law to stay in the class. For Sandoval Olivia, the thing that helped him the most was playing a multi-player online battle arena, where he decided to buy a headset to progress further in the game.
“I got my first headset, connected it to the computer, and little by little I started learning cues,” Sandoval Olivia said. “Next thing you know, I’m speaking to [others], they’re helping me, I have like a little [team] of them. They understood that I wasn’t from the country and they were helping me.”
Sandoval Olivia has been in the US for five years, fulfilling the proof of residency requirements. He will travel to Mexico to take a blood test before being seen in court on Feb. 8, which will determine whether he will return to the US or not. These steps have caused him to keep a very small circle of friends for fear it might impact his chances.
“I trust [my friends] to keep a secret if I need to talk to them, but I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Sandoval Olivia said. “Especially with how strict laws are here. If they were to just not care or try to disrespect me and bring a bottle of vodka hidden in one of their purses or something and they end up drinking at my house and they leave and they get into an accident, who’s to blame? It’s me.”
The process for permanent residency is long and costly. After spending $6000 on consulting a lawyer, not to mention paperwork and travel expenses, Sandoval Olivia has been very careful to protect himself.
“I mean if by any chance [drugs] get on me, I’m getting a blood test and [the test where they take your hair and scan it] to see,” Sandoval Olivia said. “If I’m around any of [my friends] and they happen to be some kind of scent or something on me, well that could ruin everything.”
Regarding the fear of immigrants in the news, Sandoval Olivia understands, but disagrees with the threat of a wall.
“If you see a country as your own house, I wouldn’t allow people I don’t know in my house, I need to know them first to open my doors,” Sandoval Olivia said. “If that’s the way the US wants to go, sure, but also you need to understand that this is a country made of immigrants, people from all over the world.”
In Floyd’s opinion, one of the most important things to remember about immigration is that this is not a faraway issue, especially living in Texas.
“This is not a problem that exists in Arizona; this is not a different school’s problem,” Floyd said. “We’ve got students here in our classes. This is not a national news story, this is in our classrooms’ and our families’ story.”