Kaibigan, Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights holds forum on immigration

Kelly Hwu

The fourth annual Fil*Anthropy event, hosted by Kaibigan, the Filipino student association, and Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights, took place Wednesday night in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum to discuss the United States’ current immigration policies.

The event, Immigration 101, featured remarks by Lawrence Benito, deputy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Maria Salazar (SESP ‘11), an ICIRR organizer. About 20 people attended.

Kaibigan president Lauren Uichanco said the topic of immigration for the event was brought up last summer. She said a member of the group’s executive board had read Jose Antonio Vargas’ New York Times story about life as an undocumented immigrant, which became widespread news, and realized the issue had not previously been discussed in Kaibigan.

“We want a light bulb to go off in someone’s mind,” the Weinberg senior said. “As long as people come out of this feeling some sort of impact, then we’ll have done a good job.”

Along with the advocacy event, Kaibigan held fundraisers Wednesday to raise money for the Philippine Red Cross, the group’s choice for this year’s philanthropic organization. Uichanco said the group sold various types of food at Technological Institute, and proceeds will go toward the victims of December’s Typhoon Sendong in the Philippines.

At the event, Benito spoke primarily about issues facing immigration and the politics that are involved. Benito said part of his work at ICIRR includes getting people to register to vote, grassroots organizing, helping immigrants become citizens, bringing people to talk to city officials and taking a stance for the undocumented.

“We are training people who share our same values and having them represent us,” Benito said. “We’re trying to build power, not separately but together.”

Salazar shared her personal story about her life as an undocumented immigrant and how she eventually obtained her citizenship before attending college. She said she resolves to help immigrants get jobs, deal with language barriers and cope with the psychological effects of drastic change.

During the event, attendees participated in an activity that involved people pairing up and sharing their family’s immigration stories and barriers their families faced.

“It’s about putting faces with numbers,” Benito said, referring to the 1,100 people who are deported every day.

McCormick freshman Sunjay Kumar is not a member of Kaibigan but decided to attend the event after receiving an email from NUCHR.

“My dad is an immigrant from India and I felt a connection to this event,” Kumar said. “I’m curious to know immigrants’ common experiences in America and also how they differ.”

Benito and Salazar discussed immigration reform strategies at the event. Benito said stopping the building of detention centers that hold undocumented immigrants is crucial to their cause.

Benito brought up the 2012 presidential election and how it ties in to the future of immigration reform.

“There were disillusioned immigrant communities who went out in large numbers to vote in 2008 and now they look at the presidential candidates and think ‘What’s going to be different?'” Benito said. “There’s one party that demonizes immigrants and one that takes them for granted.”

He said although immigration reform has not been conquered, he aims to continue getting people to vote in 2012.

“It’s about putting pressure on the president and elected officials,” Benito said. “I’m going to continue to fight until I get the job done.”

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