Paul Ratje/The New York Times

As the first of the three-part series "Pathways of Belonging," a Nov. 13 panel invited students, faculty and experts in immigration to discuss immigration law and advocacy.

November 27, 2023

Dyson Students’ “Pathways of Belonging” Initiative Partners With Local Human Rights Office

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Dyson students Jeena Jhaveri ’24, Chandra Jebodh ’24, Jalil Sediqi ’24 and Lyn Medearis ’24 collaborated with the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights to organize a panel on Nov. 13 in the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, the first session of a three-part series on immigration discussion. 

The discussion focused on the immigration process and its impacts on migrants. It aimed to reverse the negative narratives and stereotypes regarding immigrants nationally by highlighting the self-determination the community demonstrates, according to Ken Clarke, director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights.

“We want to provide perspective on these issues and to dispel and disrupt the myths and misinformation that are bound to immigrants and immigration,” Clarke said.

The panel was organized in collaboration with Clarke, who partnered with the class Applied Economics and Management 4000: Grand Challenges — Racial Equity in Organizations, taught by Prof. Jennifer Majka, applied economics and management, to work on a project that benefitted immigrants.

Throughout the class, the students conducted research on the impact of immigration policy, the understanding of the immigration process and the racialization of immigration.

“Completing a grand challenge course is required for Dyson students to graduate. That said, there are a number [of courses] to choose from, and we chose to enroll in a course that specifically addresses racial inequities in the U.S.,” Jebodh said. “Immigration policy in America is and has always been racialized, and acknowledging that is part of the process of fixing it.”

Inspired by the grand challenges course, which addresses racial inequities in U.S. immigration policy, a panel of speakers was convened. Their aim was to provide insights into the firsthand experiences of immigrants affected by these inequalities and policies.

“We made it a point to center the voices of actual migrants, whose voices are so often silenced, in an effort to let them tell their own stories, instead of those stories being co-opted by others,” Jebodh said. “The project also included ways that people can help and share local resources for those who might need them.”

As such, the event opened up with stories and testimonies of individual migrants coming from different regions of the world sharing their own stories and testimonies.

“There has been bigotry [towards immigrants] in the early days of immigration, but we see that happening in a different type of way — from the bigoted language from politicians and [othering] immigrants coming from the south of the U.S., coming into the southern border of the U.S., coming from Honduras, Haiti, coming from other places in which they have been treated in a certain way — and as a result of that, immigration has become racialized,” Clarke said. 

Nobel Htoo shared the challenges she faced moving from a refugee camp in Thailand to Tompkins County, including the discrimination she has faced as an immigrant in her daily interactions. While attending nursing school, she was told by one of her professors that she was not a fit for nursing school as someone who speaks English as a second language. 

The project brought together experts in immigration law and policy to discuss the history of how immigration policies have been racialized and offer insight into how that affects the people who immigrate here. Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr, law, and Prof. Beth Lyon, law, spoke to the legal aspects of immigration policies and advocacy. 

“America must be building policies to make it easier for people to come [to this country]; however that is not the case. Instead, there is a sharp increase in fear surrounding immigration and preference that it be decreased and this arises from the spark of the anti-immigration mindset people may hold,” Lyon said. “This can result in hate crimes, discriminatory domestic policies [and the] distortion of larger political processes faced by the immigrant community.”

Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program — a University-wide program that works to address the needs of farm workers and their families — spoke about pushing for increased funding and internal enforcement towards the northern border for these workers. 

“It is the growing recognition of who the farmworkers are and the role that they play in our food systems that will change the perspective of the public, which is important for those people who have remained invisible,” Dudley said. 

Rebecca Fuentes, community organizer at Workers’ Center of Central New York in Syracuse and long-time migrant activist and supporter, brought attention to the campaign “Green Light NY: Driving Together.” The campaign aims to extend equal access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York State as immigrants without licenses cannot address basic necessities, such as buying groceries or taking their children to the hospital, without risking detainment, deportation and family separation.

“[Lack of access to driver’s licenses] created a difficult situation for a lot of people who couldn’t exercise their right to go wherever they wanted to go, especially in rural New York where they do not have a lot of public transportation to be able to go to the grocery store, the doctor and pick up the kids from school,” Fuentes said.  

Yale-Loehr introduced the idea of the broken immigration system, discussing the challenges immigrants face as they try to find a sense of belonging amidst the journey towards U.S. citizenship. 

He highlighted the overwhelming volume of pending cases, or legal matters that have been filed and are awaiting resolution in the court system. This is exacerbated by a shortage of judges tasked with handling these time-sensitive matters, leading to a backlog, or a significant number of unresolved matters. Yale-Loehr said the backlog subjects many immigrants to years of waiting for crucial decisions, particularly in their pursuit of asylum, making the process exceptionally challenging.

Fuentes said that individuals can aid in improving immigration policy by writing to their members of Congress, supporting comprehensive immigration reform and contributing to immigration rights organizations. 

Dudley said that those interested in helping and providing support for local immigrants and migrants may look into organizations such as the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga, Cornell Law School clinical programs, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County and the Tompkins County Workers’ Center

In seeking to support local immigrants and migrants, Dudley highlighted several organizations, including the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga, Cornell Law School clinical programs, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County and the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.

Expanding on this sentiment, Clarke emphasized the invaluable contributions immigrants make to their communities worldwide, noting that their impact often transcends measurement.

 “Immigrants contribute community to the world, and that is not simply captured,” Clarke said.

Kimmie Jimenez is a Sun Contributor and can be reached at [email protected].