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Students hear from panel on immigration reform

Anna Rehnstom, a junior majoring in finance, was troubled by a story she heard.

A young woman in Florida helped her sister, a victim of domestic violence, report the incident to the police. The woman was an undocumented immigrant, and was arrested and deported.

Rehnstom, along with other students, gathered near the MLK Plaza on Wednesday night to hear similar stories from a panel organized by College Democrats that discussed immigration reform, a topic that has received much attention in recent weeks since President Barack Obama proposed his immigration reform plan.

The panel composed of Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches; Luis Silva, former College Democrats president and a paralegal for Badawi Immigration Law firm; Pamela Gomez, communications director for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Now and Paola Everett, regional organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida discussed topics ranging from the challenges faced by immigrants to stereotypes surrounding them.

Meyer said immigration is often driven by famine, war, economic distress, oppression, inequality and injustice.

I want to address a myth that everyone wants to move to the United States and become a citizen of the United States, he said. Thats just a myth. People fall in love naturally, automatically and spontaneously with land where they are born If it treats them well, they dont say Oh, I want to move to America.

Everett said often even legal immigrants are the targets of discrimination.

There are citizens that are being deported because they look Hispanic, Everett said. Theres a whole new system where it isnt driving while black anymore, its driving while brown.

Colton Canton, a junior majoring in political science and creative writing and president of the College Democrats, said that the organization created the Immigration Symposium to create an opportunity for students to inform themselves on the issues surrounding immigration reform.

The point of this is so students can come up and ask questions, learn about the policies being proposed what are the problems with immigration and why immigration reform is such a huge issue, he said.

The issue of immigration reform is not unfamiliar to USF, and earlier this month President Judy Genshaft spoke in support of passing a piece of bipartisan legislation that would increase the ease with which work permits were granted to those who graduated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related fields at U.S. universities.

Silva encouraged students to get involved in organizations at the state and local level.

I think were now at a pivotal moment, he said. Were coming off the election year and were getting open to immigration reform. I think getting involved, letting your senators know that this is something the community needs, that needs to happen, and is something thats imperative I think the sky is the limit at this point. We may not get everything we want, but do have to work together.

Zakir Shareef, a junior majoring in political science and international studies, said though the event was sponsored by the College Democrats, he thought the panelists were not one-sided in their arguments, and presented interesting points to the audience.

Everyone always assumes that churches tend to be more conservative in their viewpoints, he said. But he was very open with immigration and he has a more humanistic view of it. It was surprising to know that he was more sympathetic to immigration.

Meyer said USF students, such as Rehnstom and Shareef, have the potential to make a difference about immigration by sharing the stories they hear to others.

If I were to say one thing, it would be that if (students) know somebody, or they know somebody who knows somebody, who cannot get into USF because they are an undocumented student who was brought here when they were a child, and their life has been cut off, Meyer said. They need to tell that story to every legislator they can, in every means possible they have and say If America is good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for my friend.