Widgets Magazine


Sense and Nonsense: “iWeek: Immigration Week”

As the daughter of an immigrant, immigration and questions of citizenship have always been a part of how I understand the world. But it was not until last year, when I went to Arizona on an Alternative Spring Break trip focused on immigration, that I developed a deeper sensitivity to these issues.


My spring break trip involved a variety of experiences, from volunteering with an aid organization that provides water in the desert to touring the largest border patrol facility in the country, as well as speaking with border patrol officers, immigration lawyers and various activists in Arizona. For two nights, we camped in tents and experienced the bitter cold that migrants feel as they traverse the dangerous terrain by night, the time when they are least likely to be spotted. During the hot afternoon, we hiked the migrant trails, where scattered clothing, backpacks, energy drink cans and water bottles pressed upon us a strong sense of human presence and movement.


Experiencing the trails firsthand quickly reminds a visitor of the hundreds of bodies found in the desert each year. The graves and memorials that mark remembered deaths intensify the closeness of these lives; in me, they prompted a more critical reflection on immigration, particularly on its causes and how nations respond.


Immigration is a global issue of economic disparity and poverty. It is no coincidence that Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs, in his talk last week, emphasized allowing freer migration as part of the fight to end extreme poverty. The U.S. experience of deaths in the desert illustrates how poverty is a driving force. Migration is inevitable in a world with drastically richer and poorer states, and any critical understanding of immigration must keep this in mind. But beyond alleviating poverty, the topic of immigration also challenges us to think about our national and global identities.


As students in an increasingly globalized age, we experience the rest of the world in unprecedented ways through studying and volunteering abroad, traveling as tourists, interacting with international students, keeping up with the news, Facebooking, Twittering and the list goes on. Our consciousness of those beyond our borders is so much greater than that of previous generations, and it is still increasing. We can see ourselves in the 20-year-old Iranian protesting in the streets and the Haitian who has lost everything to the hands of nature. Our shared identity is pressed upon us. And yet we live in a world of nation-states, of countries with special obligations to their own citizens. Reconciling the tensions caused by this mixed identity can be difficult and is certainly inflaming. If Congress actually addresses immigration reform this year (a big if considering the deadlock on health care), we will see this internal debate played out, and it will not be pretty.


But students should not just think of Washington when the issue of immigration reform comes up. At Stanford, we are faced with it everyday. Our undocumented student peers (and there are undocumented Stanford undergraduates, brought to the U.S. as children and now with no welcoming home) cannot study abroad or apply for the same summer internships. Without reform, they will be helpless come graduation. Stanford employees, from our janitors and cafeteria workers to our staff members, make the issue of immigration more immediate. And even our international students, who are still not admitted through a need-blind process, force these issues upon us. Need-blind admissions for all students is a tough issue to bring up when the University is making budget cuts across the board, but we should keep in mind that Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Yale, Amherst, Middlebury and Williams instituted universal need-blind admissions before the recession hit.


Immigration is an immediate and crucial question. It is not just an issue for particular communities: it challenges all of us to understand ourselves and our place in the world. What does it mean to have a national identity? What does it mean to be a world citizen? How are we going to tackle world poverty, and how will we treat the least amongst us?


Starting Monday, the Stanford Immigrant Rights Project (SIRP) is putting on iWeek: Immigration Week, with events related to immigration each day. Go to one of them. Think about this issue. It challenges me every day and it will challenge you too. John Donne once said, “No man is an island.” Thinking about immigration is a chance to consider our individual and collective identities; these are issues we should all come to terms with.


Aysha is having an identity crisis and could use some help! Send her your comments at abagchi@stanford.edu.