Immigration Summit sparks discussion
Jesus Perez was originally from Mexico, but graduated from Patterson High School in Baltimore City as an undocumented immigrant.
Now he interviews on various radio and television to address immigration laws and reform.
“Maryland voted for the right thing—to move forward,” Perez said at Baltimore’s sixth annual Immigration Summit Wednesday, held in the West Village Commons. “It’s been a really long fight. I want a better life.”
The DREAM act offers in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who have filed for taxes for three years – the law passed at the Maryland ballot box Nov. 6.
Perez was one of many “dreamers” – undocumented immigrants – who spoke at the event in favor of laws similar to the DREAM Act.
“It’s not easy being on camera saying you’re undocumented, putting yourself out there and having to explain it to your parents,” he said. “I want a better life. Why not educate all the young people?”
Missael Garcia, a student who also spoke at the summit, is in a similar situation to Perez.
“I have made many mistakes, but those mistakes have led to good decisions,” he said speaking in one of the sessions. “One of those decisions was going back to school.”
Garcia said that the first couple years he attended an alternative school in West Baltimore, he didn’t take his studies seriously. But his teachers encouraged him to consider his future and he ended up graduating in the top five of his class
After that, he spent one semester at community college paying out-of-county tuition.
When he could no longer afford the institution, he got involved with the DREAM Act movement.
“My hope is to go back to school and pursue business,” Garcia said. “A crazy dream that I have is to build a business in Baltimore City and bring more jobs to the city. As long as there are people who believe in equal rights, there will always be hope.”
Beth Clifford, co-coordinator of the event with Santiago Solis, senior director for the Center for Student Diversity, said that in past years, some ideas for legislation have come out of collaboration at the annual summit.
Breakout sessions focused on different issues such as promoting the integration of refugee communities in Baltimore, resolving barriers to employment for immigrants, and immigrant struggle in the workplace.
Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Towson University President Maravene Loeschke gave special remarks during lunch at the summit as well.
Keynote speaker immigrant rights advocate Deeana Jang said there is still discrimination in the country based on national origins and race. She also believes that the current immigration system is broken.
“Adult children of U.S. citizens from Mexico have to wait almost 20 years to reunite with their families,” she said during her speech. “Filipinos have to wait almost 24 years. The demographics of our nation are rapidly changing. We must work to change the hearts and minds of Americans.”
Elizabeth Alex, Lead Organizer of Casa de Maryland from the Central Maryland region, claimed that Towson’s campus has been doing many things to propel the movement.
“There were a number of events just in the last semester that called attention to the issue. Raising awareness on campus and reaching out off campus, so that high school students know that this is a welcoming place. I have seen significant changes just in the past four years,” Alex said.