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Op-ed: As the daughter of a deportee, I stand with undocumented students

By Ángela Gonzales-Torres

Feb. 21, 2024 10:22 p.m.

The United States’ immigration policies, which once granted citizenship to free white persons as stated in the 1790 Naturalization Act, now disproportionately exclude undocumented people of color from equal access to employment through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

As the daughter of a deportee, I chose anthropology and Chicana/o and Central American Studies as my academic majors to help me process how immigration policies have impacted me and also to explore ways of supporting others with similar experiences.

In 2022, the summer before my first quarter at UCLA, I joined the UCLA Labor Center and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance to observe the U.S.-Mexico border tour.

Visiting a migrant shelter and the Friendship Park in Tijuana, Mexico – where my father now lives – broadened my perspective on the myriad of challenges faced by migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and the deported. From fellow Bruins to other community members, it struck me that they have no choice but to remain on the San Diego side of the border because of their own legal status.

During this trip, I learned about the origins of the Border Patrol and its relation to labor.

Following the Civil War, many states initiated their own immigration laws, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to assign immigration regulation as a federal duty in 1875, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Notable immigration laws enacted at this time were the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1885 Alien Contract Labor Law, which disproportionately barred laborers of Asian descent from entering the country.

I also learned about seizing opportunities for community-building and justice.

“We can make very big, wonderful and phenomenal shifts when we think broadly and think as a community of constituents,” said Kendy Rivera Cardenas, a lecturer in the Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies and a Tijuana-based migration field specialist, in a statement to UCLA Newsroom.

Her words inspired me to commit myself to further research and solidarity.

So, I helped bring the Hostile Terrain 94 exhibit to UCLA at the Fowler Museum. Representing migrants who died crossing the Sonoran Desert from the mid-1990s to 2022, 3,400 handwritten toe tags were displayed on a wall map with coordinates where remains were found. Through this experience, I heard from numerous undocumented students how important it was to have allies on campus.

Directed by Jason De León and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project, the installation helps raise awareness around the 1994 immigration enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence,” which was designed to discourage migrants from attempting to enter the U.S.

In fall 2023, I enrolled in a Nonviolence and Social Movements class taught by Kent Wong, the former director of the UCLA Labor Center.

By learning about immigration initiatives that cause family separation, labor exploitation and even death, I grew more involved with the Opportunity for All campaign to hire undocumented students, which was initiated in October 2022, as stated in the initial letter to UC President Michael Drake.

While the course required a few service hours, I attended numerous teach-ins, protests and events, in awe of the power behind the student-led coalition and in support of a more accessible campus setting for my classmates.

Currently, less than a month after the UC Board of Regents deferred a promise to consider the campaign’s request, legislators and students launched the #Opportunity4All Act – a bill that would remove barriers to campus job opportunities for undocumented students at all of California’s public colleges and universities, according to a post by the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the School of Law and the Undocumented Student-Led Network.

Evelyn Martinez Guerra, a fourth-year sociology transfer student, said it is important for students to support their peers who are undocumented at UCLA so as to build an inclusive community.

“Showing up for one another creates a sense of belonging, which is crucial for the overall well-being and success of all students,” Martinez Guerra added. “Solidarity helps create an environment where everyone can thrive academically and emotionally.”

As my father taught me, we are stronger together. We must lift each other up, even if we get knocked down in the process of taking a stand for our beliefs.

Ángela Gonzales-Torres is a fourth-year anthropology and Chicana/o and Central American studies student.

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