Beginning on February 19, five of the College’s student organizations hosted a week-long “Summit on Human Dignity,” focusing on immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which protects an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to be granted work permits.
“Summit on Human Dignity: Immigration & DACA” was co-sponsored by LASO, Pax Christi, SGA, CASA, and SPUD. LASO, the Latin American Student Organization, and CASA, the Caribbean African Student Assembly, are both Multicultural Student Organizations aiming to promote and share in their respective cultures on campus. Pax Christi, a religious organization on campus, focuses on creating and promoting an environment reflecting the call of Christian nonviolence. SPUD, Student Programs for Urban Development, aims to promote social justice through service in the Worcester community, frequently with members of the immigrant communities in the city. The Student Government Association also assisted planning and executing the events.
The Summit began on Monday evening with a screening of the documentary “Indivisible” in Seelos Theater. The feature-length film follows three young adults, Renata, Evelyn, and Antonio, who were brought to the United States by their parents illegally but in search of a better life, from Central and South American countries when they were young children. All three subjects are still living in the U.S. undocumented, while their parents and other family members were forced to return to their native country by circumstance or deportation.
Renata, Evelyn, and Antonio are DREAMers, protected under the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) passed in 2001 during the Bush administration, and DACA, established by executive order in 2012 under President Obama. However, once the Trump administration began efforts to phase out DACA in September 2017, the future of DACA and the DREAMers became uncertain. DACA is set to expire on March 5, and so far the United States Senate has failed to advance any immigration policies.
The future of DACA remained the subject of the Summit’s events on Tuesday during a panel held in Rehm Library entitled “Immigration & DACA: What’s Next?” The panel was led by Professor Danilo Antonio Contreras of the Political Science Department and the Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) Concentration, Professor Andre K. Isaacs of the Chemistry Department, and Professor Jorge Santos of the English Department and the LALS Concentration. The intention of the panel was to inform and engage students on topics such as DACA, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and other immigration policies.
Professor Santos felt a personal connection to the panel, the Summit, and the issues it focused on as the son of South American immigrants from Ecuador and El Salvador. He hopes that the panel will help to “continue the conversation and generate a sense of energy and urgency.” He says, “Eventually, the movement has to hit the streets and places of governance. At some point, this will have to be student led. I see myself as support and encouragement. Whatever I can do to help, I will.” He hopes that students who attended the panel and other events of the Summit leave with a “realization that they have strength and agency and a mission; That they can overcome.”
The third event of the Summit was a presentation from SPUD leaders entitled “For & With Others: Voices From Worcester.” Representatives from SPUD in areas of education, hunger, mentoring, and refugee assistance gathered in Rehm Library to discuss how their leadership is informed by those in the Worcester community that they serve, to share stories of spearheading social justice initiatives, and to inform students on how they, too, can get involved.
The Summit on Human Dignity concluded on Thursday evening with a closing event of advocacy entitled “DACA: Call for Action.” Students and other attendees gathered in Crossroads to sign advocacy letters to send to their representatives to take action on renewing DACA and protecting DREAMers. The Summit then officially concluded with a candle light walk and moment of silence on the Hoval for all of those affected by DACA and other immigration policies.
As for whether the events of the Summit will prove to be a success, Professor Santos says, “That will reveal itself in time. The worry with events like this is that the energy will dissipate after being vented. What you hope is that instead it coalesces into something focused and sustained. Only time will tell.”