In October, Wharton sophomore Tania Chairez declared herself “undocumented and unapologetic” in these pages.
Her column not only publically revealed her immigration status, but it also shared her story of being born into poverty in Northern Mexico, overstaying a tourist visa in the United States and then growing up in Arizona. The column ended with her promise to “continue to fight for my rights as a human being and as an unrecognized American who is redefining what it means to be a ‘citizen.’”
On Wednesday, Chairez took her activist goal to a new level by advocating for the release of Miguel Orellana, an undocumented immigrant who has been detained at York County Jail since July 2011, at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices.
Chairez was arrested shortly after for blocking traffic outside of the ICE building as part of “a planned act civil disobedience.”
This radical act could lead to her being deported from this country. Yet her courage to stage a protest in hopes of advancing the status of undocumented immigrants is admirable.
Chairez put a face to undocumented students across the United States and used her story in order to advocate for another individual.
Aside from her advocacy work, she has generated and will hopefully continue to generate dialogue on this issue and educate her peers. In this respect, Chairez has proven to be an asset to the Penn community.
Around 120 students and faculty members gathered on College Green yesterday to vocalize their support. As with the show of solidarity for Liberal and Professional Studies student Christopher Abreu last year and Muslim students at Penn this year, the participants stood in a circle, this time, dressed in white.
The emotional display, however, should not allow us to forget that immigration in the United States is a highly complex issue that sometimes requires a dispassionate gaze. Chairez has shown us that the undocumented individual’s place in American society is something that needs to be tackled. But instead of being quick to uphold or denounce undocumented immigrants, it is necessary to think critically about how to tackle the question.