Students hold workers’ rights and immigration forum

May 16, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Days after Senate passes the 'Minnesota Dream Act,' Voz Latin@ brings the discussion to Bethel

News | Jon Westmark

Students hold workers’ rights and immigration forum

Sandra Alvaro Montejo shared a testimony of her uncle, who was killed while attempting to make it back to his family in America. | Photos for The Clarion courtesy of Patience Zalanga

Participants of an annual march on the state capitol in St. Paul received good news on Wednesday, May 1, as the Minnesota Senate approved what has become known as the “Minnesota Dream Act,” which if passed will allow students with non-legal immigration status to attend college at in-state tuition and receive financial aid.

Though the march commemorates Workers’ Day – a time to advocate fair standards and treatment of laborers – for many the Dream Act is intimately related. Similar to Labor Day in the United States, Workers’ Day is celebrated in nations across Africa and South and Central America. For immigrants from these countries who reside in the United States illegally, workers’ rights laws and immigration policies like the Dream Act are part of the same issue, and the announcement of the bill’s passage through the Senate was greeted with chants of “Si, se puede!” or “Yes, we can!”

According to Bethel senior Edwin Gonzalez, who attended the march, the day is not only to push for immigration reform, but also to acknowledge the mistreatment and exploitation of immigrant workers. According to Gonzalez, a major issue is the ability of corporations to employ a workforce that can be disposed of at any time with a call to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Gonzalez and Bethel’s Voz Latin@ group explored these issues with a forum and discussion on Friday, May 3 in the Underground. The event featured a testimonial, panel discussion from history professors Jimmy Patiño of the University of Minnesota and Bethel’s Ruben Rivera and a time for questions. Much of the presentation portion of the event focused on the history of the workers’ rights movement and the government’s relationship to immigration. “Part of the problem is this is ahistorical,” Rivera said. “We don’t know our own histories and our own inconsistencies and the convolutions in our own laws and how we literally work cross-purposes in America.”

Rivera also said that many times the discussion on immigration is dictated by political agenda, with little regard for Christian faith. “My goal here is to put the human back into the discussion, to establish that these are human beings, not political footballs or ideologies, but real people,” he said. “As Christians I think we should be able to have a different discussion than the ones that you hear.”

Voz Latin@’s purpose for holding the on-campus event was to challenge what Gonzalez called “cultural relativism” at Bethel. “These topics deal with a lot of things that people grew up thinking negatively about,” he said. “People come to the events that are fun and celebratory because they take little to no critical thinking; whereas these politically-charged events, that challenge a lot of their views, they don’t really come to.”

Gonzalez said that in the future he would like to see events like the workers’ rights forum and other United Cultures of Bethel events to be seen as campus-wide events instead of niche ones.

As for the bill, the Minnesota version of the Dream Act will go through the House next. The bill passed 41-23 in the Senate with only four republican votes. If the current version is approved by the House, an additional $250 million will be added to state higher-education spending. The national version of the Dream Act has been proposed multiple times since 2010 but has not passed through both legislative bodies. According to Gonzalez, the approval of the state bill by the Senate is a sign that comprehensive immigration policy is being discussed, and he hopes that events like the workers’ rights forum will help that discussion take root at Bethel as well.


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