Panel analyzes immigration policy and rhetoric in the Trump era

| Staff Reporter

Speakers discussed the immigrant experience in the age of Trump at the panel, “Immigration and Racial Rhetoric in Trump’s America,” April 15.

The panel was co-sponsored by Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), Sigma Iota Rho, the Washington University Graduate Workers’ Union, Teaching Racial Understanding Through Honesty (T.R.U.T.H.), Mi Gente, Asian & Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ), Student Union and the WU African American Students Association. Panelists came from a variety of ethnic and cultural advocacy groups, both on- and off-campus, to discuss immigration policy, racial issues and polarizing rhetoric in American society.

Speaker of Senate sophomore Sophie Scott also used the panel as an opportunity to announce Senate’s plans to compile a report and write a resolution addressing the experiences of immigrants and international students on campus, based on a survey sent to the student body Monday.

“Some of the things that we have seen so far in our survey results of what students want to see are reimbursement of visa fees, free legal counseling provided by the university or other entities as well as more opportunities for English [language] learning classes,” Scott said. “All of the student feedback that we have gathered including that of tonight, we will try to incorporate into the resolution.”

The theme of breaking down the language barrier resonated with panelist and APIDJ member senior Abby Wong.

“Earlier this fall, we had international students come to an API space and express that ‘I can’t voice what I am experiencing or the way that my professor is discriminating against me, because I can’t speak English well, and I can’t voice that because of the language barrier, and I need some people to not just represent me but also to listen to me…,’” Wong said. “One of the things that I hope higher education could bring is this way for international students to come together and be able to voice what they are experiencing and what they are thinking without judgement.”

Panelist junior Mashoud Kaba, the head of internal PR for the African Students Association, emphasized how Washington University could improve outreach to low-income students in order to foster socioeconomic diversity on campus.

“As a low-income student of color, I grew up in what people might call a ‘ghetto neighborhood’ where we have public schools that do not receive the funding that is needed,” Kaba said. “And along with not receiving the funding needed to give us the education that is required, we are also the students that the universities in higher ed don’t necessarily look at… And for me, that is really problematic for a school that is building up future leaders.”

Transitioning to off-campus issues, the panel also discussed the impact of President Donald Trump on public discourse surrounding immigration and racial issues.

“President Trump tries to use very subtle comments or remarks that are thinly veiled, and a lot of people see right through it,” Deena Essa, a panelist and a Ph.D. student in Islamic Studies, said. “But when you look through the comments and replies to his tweets … you will see that he is tapping into this subculture that [is] extremely white supremacist and extremely angry and frustrated.”

Panelist Ariel Burgess, the Vice President of Client Services at the International Institute, shifted the conversation from Trump’s rhetoric to the way that his policies have impacted immigrants and refugees over the last two years.

“In 2016, in St Louis, we resettled 1,154 refugees from a variety of countries,” Burgess said. “Then Trump came in to office and in 2017, we resettled 277 people. This year, 2018, we are not even going to make 250 refugees in St Louis. So it is not just rhetoric, it is also some of the…policies that are being rolled out.”

Antonio Maldonado, the President of the Hispanic Leaders Group of Greater St. Louis, said that he remains optimistic that younger generations can turn things around by voting and being politically active during the next election.

“This one man has really turned things upside-down, but the good thing about America is that we have elections, and we hope that in four years, we are going to try and fix some of the things that were done by this administration,” Maldonado said. “…The United States is going to look very, very different in 2065 than it does in 2019…Things are going to change, and we have to be flexible enough to be able to accept all of those changes, because we are still going to be American.”

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