A message to Cal Poly students who want to try social activism: now is the time

This letter reflects the opinions of business administration junior Ileana Terrazas. Letters to the editor do not reflect the viewpoints or editorial coverage of The Wire.

*Note: Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy

I was in the seventh grade when I first marched for Occupy Oakland, a rally that protested the concentration of wealth among the top one percent of the population. I marched in solidarity with my younger sisters, friends and teachers on a day when marchers in over 950 cities across the nation joined in protest.

My entire adolescence was spent in the Oakland Public School system, where I learned history from the perspectives of marginalized populations as early as second grade. Despite growing up in an environment heavily influenced by social justice, I experienced a wake up call during my senior year of high school when I learned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids were on the rise across the country. As a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, my heart broke for those who would never experience the same opportunities my grandparents did when they gained citizenship and started a family in the U.S. over fifty years ago.

I always assumed that my community in Oakland was protected because of our status as a “sanctuary city,” one in which local officials generally don’t enforce immigration laws. That is, until the day my classmate’s mom was taken by ICE.

The morning Elise’s mom was deported began like any other; she prepared lunch and got dressed, then walked outside for school. She was about to leave when she saw ICE officials speaking with her mom. After translating in Spanish and explaining to her mom that she must leave the country, Elise had a matter of hours to decide whether to leave for Mexico and put her safety at risk, or finish her senior year without a parent.

Although I was unable to see that this is a pervasive issue within my own city, Elise’s story opened my eyes to the realities of undocumented immigrants and their children. The dilemma is that many victims are afraid to talk about their situations in fear of the consequences their parents may face, so their struggles go unnoticed. This unfortunate truth holds even stronger under the current administration.

A couple weeks ago, the issue was brought to the nation’s attention when a government report stated that over 2,300 children were separated from their families between May and June under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. This policy persecutes every immigrant who attempts to illegally enter the U.S., no matter the severity of the conditions they are fleeing from.

The children of these immigrants are separated from their families and held in “detention facilities,” which are prison-like environments characterized by metal cages, ice-cold rooms, zero natural light and crying children. According to an article in The Atlantic, experts say the absence of parents in these high-stress environments could easily lead to long-term psychological harm for these children. One employee at a shelter in Arizona even quit his job because he was required to enforce a “no hugging” rule.

Outrage on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill prompted Trump to sign an executive order on June 20 to end the separation of migrant families and instead hold them in custody as a family unit. About 500 children under the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection were reunited with their families, but questions remain regarding how the administration will reunite children being held by other agencies.

The government released a plan that refuses to reunify families until after the court proceedings of the parents are completed. If the judge rules that the parent has a claim to pursue, they must endure a grueling application process to become their child’s sponsor, which can take weeks. This system keeps more children in shelters, many of which are already struggling to provide proper care. According to an article in the Washington Post, these shelters are experiencing an unprecedented influx of “tender-age children,” who are younger than 5. The executive order does not address the 2,000 children being held in these shelters and only prevents more families from being separated at the border, meaning the fight is not over yet.

As lonely and unsupported as Elise felt without her parents, thousands of children are experiencing the same psychological trauma right now—some as young as eight months old.

This is nothing new considering our country’s history of demonizing people to justify systemic discrimination. The U.S. has separated families by means of Japanese-American Internment camps, Native American boarding schools and Mexican immigrant removal programs.

Now that light has been shed on the mistreatment of immigrant families, we must leverage the resources we have as college students to further understand the systems of oppression we will hopefully one day disarm.

Enrolling in courses that focus on diversity issues can teach us how to combat the human rights violations permeating the country and our communities, but it is up to us to click the enroll button and utilize class time to engage in a constructive dialogue. It is imperative to become educated and stay informed on the crisis so we can help reverse the damage done by this administration and prevent another xenophobic president from ever gaining power.

I hope these atrocities can serve as a wake up call to our generation the same way Elise’s story was a wake up call for me. Education is the tool we will use to finally put our nation’s history of discrimination to rest, but the children currently held captive by our government without the nurturing presence of their parents need us to act now.

Whether your political participation be one of protesting at an event, calling your representatives, volunteering for a local campaign or organizing a fundraiser, the actions we take at this time are critical in foreshadowing the impact our generation will have when we become the next politicians, CEOs, educators and parents. Now is the time to take action, and there is no time to lose.

Linked below are ways to get involved: