Addressing immigration is a task for students: remembering those around us

By: Bendan Kelly

Yes, the government is currently shut down. Yet that doesn’t mean that people have stopped working for social justice across this country. Earlier this month, Oct. 5, was the National Day for Dignity and Respect, and thousands protested on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in support of immigration reform.

Now, I could offers plenty of statistics on the flaws of our immigration system, but I will simply use the number: 11 million. This is the best estimate of how many people currently live within the United States without documentation. I could go on throwing out lots of numbers, but instead I’d like to remind us that it is the people behind these numbers for whom we should be fighting.

Every summer, the majority of university students are looking for employment. Some of us take the part-time job at local restaurants; others lifeguard at the nearby pool and get a nice tan. Two summers ago I was really late on looking for a job and was hoping for anything to come my way. So when a country club back home offered me a full-time job as a groundskeeper, I took it.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I soon figured out I would have to report to work at 5:45 a.m., and I thought 8:30 classes were bad. I showed up on my first day with my eyes glazed over as I struggled to stay awake. I was assigned to work with a man named Alvaro. Alvaro and I proceeded to rake every sand trap on the golf course by hand. Four hours later it was only 10 a.m.; my buddies were still in bed.

As the weeks went on and the same monotonous routine of raking sand traps, mowing fairways and planting flowers got tiresome, I thought about quitting; I was tired of early mornings and hard manual labor.

Then one morning, Alvaro and I were having a conversation and he told me how surprised he was that I had made it this long. He told me that college kids usually would have quit by now.

Little did Alvaro know that I was planning on giving my boss my two weeks’ notice that afternoon and going to look for another job. Yet, Alvaro and I began to talk more that afternoon in our version of Spanglish.

He would practice his English and I would practice my Spanish and we would piece together the words the other was trying to say.

He opened up to me and told me about his life back in El Salvador, his journey hopping from train to train to make it across the border and how his faith in God was the only thing that helped him make it here. Alvaro explained that he worked as a chef after he finished working with me at the country club. That way he could send his daughter to school and she could go to college like me.

I was ashamed that I was so unthankful for my summer job that I couldn’t quit that afternoon. I stayed through until the end of the summer, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons that summer from my time with Alvaro.

Alvaro told me on my last day of the summer to not forget him and his story. He also reminded me that I should remember to not ignore immigrants like him because so many people did every day on that golf course.

I share this personal story because Alvaro is just one of many immigrants with a story. It could be the man who cooks your hamburger, the woman who cleans your house or the person who cleans your classroom. It is time that immigrants shouldn’t have to live on the margins, but rather where they can be heard and live without fear.

That is why the time is now. Across the country at Catholic universities and colleges, students are organizing and coming together in support of immigration reform.

This is not just a “Xavier thing.” We have a chance to join together and be a part of a movement putting pressure on congressmen and congresswomen to say “yes” to immigration reform.

There are plenty of ways to get involved, and informing yourself is the first step. Dealing with immigration is not going to be easy, but we have to start taking steps in the right direction if we want to accomplish anything at all.

Brendan Kelly is a senior from Olney, Maryland, majoring in international studies with minors in Spanish and peace studies. He is the Xavier campus organizer for immigration reform through Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group for the faith community in the public square.