By Raymond R. Beltran
“People should have to go through a [legalization] process,” said Pedro Guerrero, 17, from Point Loma High School. “But right now the process is what’s discouraging.”
During his lunch hour this Tuesday, he discussed immigration with four friends just as a May 1 forum on the issue was beginning inside the campus theatre.
He says that the cost of legalization, in the thousands, is outrageous for undocumented immigrants and with no guarantee, he wonders why anyone would attempt it.
Guerrero, who’s bussed into Point Loma High from Lincoln Park, says he gets most of his information from television news and an occasional newspaper. But mostly, he and his companions say they learn about the impacts of immigration from friends who live in the affected areas.
“I also hear they’re going to try to make police help deport people,” he adds. “That’s the Border Patrol’s job … police are supposed to be protecting the people.”
He and his buddies say that students definitely know what’s happening and that they obviously have something to say.
California State Superintendent of Education, Jack O’Connell, earlier this week pleaded with students to stay in school and avoid repercussions for scheduled May Day immigration walkouts, like truancy and missing their California State Testing periods.
“I think the most important thing is getting our kids educated,” said Bobbie Samilson, Point Loma principal who organized the school’s second on-campus immigration forum.
Last year, to avoid walkouts, senior Alejandro Villa initiated the school’s first forum, and this year, Principal Samilson invited the alumnus back to facilitate.
“Our hopes today is that any feelings or emotions about what’s going on, or about, … immigration reform are expressed here today,” Villa said to three packed series’ of forums.
There was a mild mannered question and answer session. Students weren’t as vocal as they would have been had they taken to the streets like last year, but the forum gave them a serious opportunity to get acquainted with the issues.
Guest speaker, Macedonio Arteaga, from the school district’s Race and Human Relations Department expressed concern that television media only broadcasts the less educated.
“Knowing the issues and being articulate are two different things,” Arteaga told the first round of students. “Think about what you do, how they portray you on the television … I don’t tell students not to walkout, but I tell them to be conscious about why they’re walking out.”
Migrant rights activist Enrique Morones was invited to the forum and first raised the question, “How many of you know where we are right now?”
Students declined to respond, so, topics like the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raids were discussed, as well as proposed legislation, like the STRIVE (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) Act introduced by Congressmen Luis Gutierrez (D IL) and Jeff Flake (R AZ) and a previously rejected bill currently being negotiated by Republicans and Senator Edward Kennedy (D Mass).
Students responded with the repetative ‘what does it all mean?’ For those who did comment, legislation seemed a far cry from what’s been happening to their families and in their neighborhoods as far as ICE raids, called Operation Return to Sender, that have deported up to 350 undocumented, locally, and split an unknown number of families.
“Do they only take the Mejicanos or what?” asked a female student. “In my neighborhood, they go in and they knock on the door and take [them].”
Staff, Sue Reamer and Vivian Love, said they thought the forum was successful no matter the mildness of the students. They also said they got something out of it.
“I didn’t know about the raids,” said Reamer, a classroom aid. “But I just wanted to know what we can do about this.”
A history teacher, who declined to state his name, thought that Morones’s presence would have fueled an already biased forum. Morones was invited by staff. Reamer said it wasn’t about debate, but it was really about expression.
“Everyone already knows the other side of the argument,” she said.
Morones told students that the Latino community is definitely being targeted, and though he denounced all acts of inhumanity, he said that they’d never see raids in an Irish community or along the Canadian border.
Applause from the crowd came when he acknowledged the organization of the black community in the U.S. to denounce celebrities Michael Richards, who lashed out towards black audience members in a racist tirade, and Ron Imus, who referred to Rutgers University’s mostly black championship basketball team as ‘nappy headed hoes.’
“We need to know how to work hand in hand with our African American brothers and sisters,” he said. “They know how to organize and confront racism.”
Approximately 125 students attended each forum, which lasted about two hours of the day. After the first half hour session, teachers brought their classes, which were half Latino and half white.
“I like knowing the black and white areas,” said Ahley Lagamma, 18. “I already know the gray … People like to show support and pride in their ethnicity, but they don’t know the rest and it’s important for this younger generation who is about to start voting.”