Sunday afternoon, a group of students weighed down with duffle bags, pillows and suitcases trickled out of Houston Hall to start their respective journeys back to school.
The students were leaving the second annual Collegiate Alliance for Immigration Reform Summit, which was held on Penn’s campus this weekend. Twenty-five students from Georgetown University and all the Ivy League schools except Dartmouth College attended the summit.
Led by Wharton junior Tania Chairez and College and Wharton senior Angel Contrera, the students participated in a series of interactive workshops, discussions and lectures. They also worked to create a plan for the coalition moving forward.
“Last year, the coalition needed direction,” said Princeton sophomore Priscilla Agyapong, a member of the Princeton DREAM Team immigration rights group. “This year, it’s more fully defined. We talked more about how to actually make it happen.”
Starting on Friday evening, students began streaming in from all of the different schools. However, the real work did not begin until Saturday morning.
The students went through a series of workshops all day Saturday, including a team-building exercise and a lesson on how to spread the message about immigration rights. The students also heard a lecture from Law School lecturer Fernando Chang-Muy about the technical aspects of immigration law.
Despite being in workshops from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the students remained engaged.
“The conference had a lot of good activities, so it wasn’t tedious,” Agypaong said. “It was interactive.”
On Saturday evening, students also attended a lecture by Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a director at the National Council of La Raza, to hear about her work advocating for immigration rights.
“I feel the real essence of the immigration debate is about much more than immigration, but really about belonging,” Martinez said to the audience on Saturday. “Where we keep getting stuck is with politicians who are putting politics above immigration.”
The students rounded out their weekend Sunday morning with a discussion on the growing intersection of identities, such as the overlaps between the LGBT and the undocumented communities.
Looking past the issues, the summit was also a chance for the students to strengthen the coalition.
According to Contrera, the students created a more formal structure for the coalition, with a contact person at each of the eight Ivies, as well as Georgetown. They also discussed projects they will begin to work on later this year, such as creating a scholarship fund open to undocumented immigrants.
Future plans also include holding events at all the schofols simultaneously to raise greater awareness about immigration rights and constructing a website with resources for undocumented students and students who are immigrants in general.
“A lot of the focus of this collaboration is to compile all the resources from every school and all the resources we can find from our community,” Chairez said, noting that the group’s efforts will reach beyond undocumented students.
“All immigrants are the ones we want to target,” Contrera added.
Other student participants took note of the agenda-setting at this summit.
“I think the discussions we were having at this meeting are a lot more effective just because we’re not creating these vague goals,” Princeton sophomore Joan Fernandez said. “And in that aspect, it’s really effective. There’s a lot of energy and ideas.”
While plans and structures have certainly been made, the coalition is still changing and growing.
“It’s evolving,” Chairez said. “It’s kind of exciting to see where it’s going to evolve to.”
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