BY MERCEDES DIAZ GRACIDA
The following is a reflection submitted by Mercedes Diaz Gracida ’17, a participant on the Immigration Trip through the SNC TRIPS Program.
This spring break I had the opportunity to attend a TRIPS service trip. Our focus was on immigration in Chicago, Ill. The Sturzl Center organized a week that was filled with a spectrum of service sites that focus on immigration. The immigration trip really achieved the goal of Turning Responsibility into Powerful Service because not only did it provide a broad range of service sites but it motivated my inner self to advocate for those who aren’t able to advocate for themselves. Before departing for this trip we had Jennifer Nissen, Assistant Director of Community Service and Learning and Melissa Vergara, Director of Prevention Education and Judicial Affairs, as guests for one of our weekly meetings and instructed a workshop on catholic social teachings. The teachings were Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Preferable Option for the Poor and Vulnerable and Solidarity. Throughout the trip I could see that the nonprofit organizations and programs that help immigrants are following in some form of these social teachings.
This trip proved that although the Catholic social teachings are absent in the immigration system and in the treatments of those detained by ICE, procedures for the detainees and families, it also showed that there are hospitable and humane people that under great effort assist the population that is affected by the harsh immigration policies. Throughout the week we visited nonprofit organizations, assisting the organization and in each service site I was enlightened to use the great leadership skills that St. Norbert has allowed me to build throughout my years here. The sites that made the most impact on me were Enlace Chicago, Arise Chicago and the Immigration Court. Arise Chicago’s main goal is to build partnerships between faith communities and workers to fight workplace injustice through education, organizing and advocating for public policy changes. At this site Luke Sullivan gave a workshop on workers’ rights, focusing on wage theft that taught us different ways to organize a group of people who are passionate about change. Workers’ rights are a big issue because many immigrant workers are having their wages stolen from them. Many are working under conditions that aren’t legally safe. Many don’t report this due to the fear of deportation. At this site I gained strong organizational skills and methods that I could potentially use in future leadership roles.
Another site that gave valuable insight into the struggles that detainees go through was the Immigration Court. In the Immigration Court we met with Mary Naftzger a member of the Court Watch program. She was able acquire us access into the court cases and we were able to sit in on court cases. One of the observations that I made during the sit-in was the absence of legal representation for the respondents. The most common reason that the respondents were attending court was for a Cancellation of Removal and appealing for their removal. At this point the absence of lawyers in the court signified the lack of assistance to the population. Even if there was help, it may not have been affordable.
One organization that focuses on community education, violence prevention and advocates for the community and economic development of the residents of the Little Village in Chicago is Enlace Chicago. During our service at Enlace, my ability to speak Spanish was clearly a helpful tool for the success of the organization. While interpreting documents and translating for the clients, I saw myself as part of them and that I was in fact helping my parents, brothers and sisters understand how the laws function. I feel that I was part of a youth that was doing something to change the system and if this was the first step then I am glad that I was able to participate in it. It is good to know that there are people who are interested in and know that immigration has an effect in today’s society.
The activists from Enlace Chicago, Arise Chicago and Immigration Chicago are loud and strong voices that advocate for those whose voices are being ignored. These service sites opened my eyes and spoke to my heart about the struggles that the immigrant population are living with and to see the harsh treatments that they receive, not only when they are detained but throughout their everyday lives. At the same time I noticed that their fate is ultimately decided by the people in power and those who have positions in government. This saddened me because I felt that even though I am someone who one day hopes to advocate for their human and workers’ rights and the right to fight for the American dream, in the end I am just one of few. I hope that my brothers and sisters join me in the journey of raising awareness of the struggles that immigrants go through and that hopefully here at St. Norbert College we can continue to teach by example and continue supporting departments that see the importance for equal rights, human dignity and stand in solidarity with immigrants. I see it as my responsibility to provide hope for all and be someone that can be a loud and proud voice for those whose are ignored.
I am empowered by this TRIPS experience to make a change in the education about undocumented immigrants to those who do not know about the issues that immigrants face. I would like to take this time to thank all of those who were responsible for making this TRIPS possible. From the bottom of my dearest heart, I thank you so much for being flexible and especially showing interest in educating young minds about the issue of immigration. You are truly a representation of hope for humanity. Because of you I am able to continue the chain of positive change in our society because I am intrigued in learning plenty more about the subject and of the issue in order to properly educate those of the upcoming generation. Change is possible if proper steps are taken and hard work is put forth and I am one step closer to making a difference in this great nation! I see that this trip as only one of the many steps I will take. I am beyond blessed to have had this opportunity because I have met great people that are working hard to help the population that needs it the most. Thank you so much!