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Eastern Sponsors Forum on Rights for Undocumented Immigrants

Published on November 12, 2015

Eastern Sponsors Forum on Rights for Undocumented Immigrants

“Speak Up, Speak Out,” a forum to draw attention to the challenges faced by the immigrant and undocumented community, was held on Nov. 5 at Eastern Connecticut State University. The Women’s Center, the Intercultural Center and the Social Justice Themed Housing group sponsored the event, exemplifying Eastern’s collaborative and inclusive commitment to equality.

Guest speakers for “Speak Up, Speak Out” included Eastern’s President Elsa Núñez, representatives of Connecticut Students for a Dream, the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance and United Action Connecticut, all offering insight on the various obstacles faced by the immigrant community.
“Not only is immigration a topic that is drawing considerable interest by candidates for next year’s presidential election, the issue of immigration and undocumented immigrants is of immediate concern in our local community,” said Núñez. “Perhaps as many as 50 percent of the residents of Willimantic are Latino, with as much as 70 percent of school-aged children.

“I am deeply concerned about issues of deportation and the fate of children who have come here with their families for a better life,” Núñez continued. “That is the dream that my parents had for their own children so many years ago, and through their hard work and the generosity of others, I was able to get an education, including a college education leading to my doctorate. Now I stand before you as a university president.  Whatever dreams of a better future that Connecticut’s young Latinos have, I want them to be able to access our educational system without penalty of where they were born or what nationality they have.”

Sanchez expressed her gratitude for Núñez’s support in organizing “Speak Up, Speak Out.” “I especially want to thank President Núñez for being an untiring advocate for the advancement of all students,” said Sanchez. “She has not only made higher education accessible to underrepresented students, but has worked to support their success once here in college.”

Sanchez conveyed her passion and personal connection to the ever-growing issue of immigrant rights. Being the child of an undocumented mother has inspired her to tell her story as well as provide other immigrant and undocumented students the opportunity to share their experiences. “I am the daughter of a hard-working and resilient woman. She is one of 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States,” said Sanchez. “Some have reduced me to an ‘anchor baby’ a term used to refer to children born to non-citizens who serve as ‘anchors’ to ward off deportation and provide a path to citizenship for their parents. As if my mom was not weighed down by her four jobs, her inability to get health insurance and living with a heart divided between two lands.”

Sanchez also advocated for a movement led by Connecticut Students for a Dream, a statewide organization of immigrant youth, their families and allies, which campaigns to make state financial aid available without regard to immigration status. “It was not until I joined Connecticut Students for a Dream that I realized the power of stories, of our voices and how we must never be silent about them. My truth is power. Your truth is power. We are a reflection of what we are fighting for – our communities and families,” said Sanchez. “Although they try to degrade, criminalize and deport our community they will never crush our spirit, they will never take away our humility, our determination and our dreams.”
Students were also given arm bands with butterfly symbols and phrases on them at the beginning of “Speak Up, Speak Out.” “The butterfly represents the beauty of migration as well as how natural and instinctive it is. It knows no limits and no borders but knows survival,” said Sanchez. “To move is natural. It is to survive and thrive. Our movement is constant; our route is ever changing.”

Written by Jolene Potter