Campus community shares thoughts on immigration

Tyler McNeil, Staff Writer

Students, faculty, staff and alumni discussed how immigration has changed over the course of American History on Apr. 8 in the Marvin Library.

“We think of America as the land of opportunity,” said Polly Karis, cataloger at the Marvin Library, “We think of faith not only as religious freedom but opportunity [as well].”

The discussion, part of a series of Community Conversations, was centered around the challenges immigrants still face 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act on Oct. 3, 1965 at Liberty Island.

Community Conversations is a program run by the New York Council for the Humanities. Guests were encouraged by Brenda Hazard, director of the Marvin Library, to fill out an evaluation at the end of the discussion to address the need for, “further public forums [at Hudson Valley].” The project is supported by the “We the People” initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The program centered on a segment from  “Remarks at the signing of the Immigration Bill,” a 14 minute video provided by the LBJ Library on YouTube. Those in attendance were also provided the text of Johnson’s speech. The discussion was lead by Brenda Hazard and Cylon George, campus chaplain.

According to Jay Deitchman, International Student Advisor since 2003, his Jewish Romanian parents always emphasized the importance of assimilation.

“It was a common sentiment to be able to try to blend in in order to find employment,” Deitchman said.

“Depending on where you are on the spectrum, blending in does not mean you’re trying too hard to be American,” said Cylon George.

George spoke as an immigrant as he grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. He came to the United States to pursue computer science and music at Hartwick College in 2000.

“There’s a common stereotype that immigrants don’t want to learn english and they’re lazy and that infuriates me because many of the people I work with know two or three languages already,” said Karis.

George continued to address the struggle immigrants have with current policies.

“One side of what is driving reform [for immigration] is a recognition on what we are lagging in the fields of math and science,” said George.

“What they find when they come to work here is that they cannot get their visas and they go back home and are therefore driving for their home countries,” George added. “We are missing out on thousands of success stories because of our policies on immigration.”

“It’s not necessarily whether a person is well educated or what skills they have, it’s looking at what a person could be,” said Deborah Renfrew, communications and marketing specialist.

“We forget about that,” Renfrew said.

Many agreed that being successful as an immigrant in the United States requires a challenging balance of learning a new culture and maintaining your own.

“Our sense of belonging is here but we [immigrants] should always remember where we are and still keep who we are in mind as well,” said individual studies major and immigrant, Aye Aye Tun.

Towards the end of the discussion, Hazard read the college’s mission statement.

“…to provide dynamic, student-centered, comprehensive and accessible educational opportunities that address the diverse needs of the community.”

The final question Hazard gave those in attendance was “How do you think [Hudson Valley’s] mission relates to immigration in the capital region?”

“All you have to do is look around campus to see that we have a very diverse crowd for a medium sized college,” Karis said.

With millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, immigration has been a heated subject beyond the doors of the Marvin Library.

Less than a month ago New York lawmakers rejected the DREAM act, a bill aimed at providing tuition assistance to illegal aliens. President Obama has been an advocate of immigration reform, but a divided congress has been unable to make progress.

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