Fearing Deportation, Student Speakers Cancel At Equity Event

Felis Peralta addresses Clark faculty in place of four student panelists on March 1 in the Ellis Dunn Community Room. Peralta’s presentation described the differences between types of immigration status and laws. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

All four Clark students and alumni canceled their appearances on March 1 for the Diversity and Equity Center’s quarterly Power Privilege and Inequity Event series.

This quarter’s event focused on DREAMers, immigrants, refugees and their experiences with PPI at the college. The series began in 2011 with an event called Students Dealing With Economic Stress, according to the Clark website.

Primarily organized for staff and faculty, the event promotes a more inclusive environment and finds ways to support students more effectively, said Felis Peralta, multicultural retention manager of the Office of Diversity and Equity.

Peralta said on Tuesday there was a full panel of students and by Wednesday, the night of President Donald Trump’s first congressional speech, every student had retracted their commitment. As she gestured to the four empty chairs, two desks and two microphones that decorated the front of the conference room, she noted student fear runs deep.

Two students, one an alumnus and the other a current Clark student, agreed to Peralta’s request to write statements addressing the topic of this quarter’s panel and why they chose not to attend.

The room stiffened as Peralta read their statements aloud.

“I am currently engulfed in sadness, fear and anguish. By existing rhetoric in today’s society I am seen as a criminal and a rapist simply because of the color of my skin and the country I left behind,” the Clark alum wrote in their statement.

Peralta noted that the students’ fear is in part due to the recognition they gain from participating in a panel. They’re not scared of the panel, but rather the association with their immigration status. They worry it will put a target on their back.

The term DREAMers was coined to eliminate the use of “illegal immigrant” or “alien” when referring to undocumented citizens.

“It’s an umbrella term for students in the education system that do not have certain paperwork to be considered a legal resident or U.S. citizen,” Peralta said.

Daniela Vargas, 22, is a DREAMer who was detained in Jackson after speaking about her fears of deportation according to The New York Times. Despite Vargas’ refile of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a law protecting immigrants from deportation, immigration services proceeded to detain her. Abigail Peterson, Vargas’ attorney, told Buzzfeed News that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had processed a deportation request without a hearing.

Stories like Vargas’ are examples of why students feel uneasy disclosing their immigration statuses and experiences.

In place of the student panel, Peralta made the quick decision to continue the event, using it as a learning space for different types of immigration. “I decided to move forward with this so you could all hear what students past and present are going through and I also want to use this time to answer unanswered questions,” she said.

Dolly England, outreach specialist for the Diversity Center, said despite the missing students she is glad the event went on to provide insight for faculty. “I think it was extremely powerful that no one was willing to come and talk. I think that should speak volumes,” she said.

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