The weekend of November 3rd, I embarked on a trip to Seattle with the Weekend Immigration Studies Program (WISP). The program is fairly new as this year was just the 3rd annual trip where eleven Whitties spent a weekend learning about the current status of immigration in Washington and how we can advocate for immigration rights as activists. We started off the weekend by meeting with legal advocate, Vanessa Montoya. Montoya works for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Granger, Washington. This organization strives to bring justice to the immigrant population through providing legal services, advocacy, and community education. One of the things that Montoya works on is providing support and assistance with DACA petitions. The next morning, we hit the road at 7am and arrived at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. When we arrived, we were met by immigration rights activists and resistance groups that camped outside of the detention center. One of the individuals, Wendy Pantoja, is a very passionate advocate and activist for immigration rights and gave us a rundown of the current state of the detainees in the detention center. We were fortunate enough to get to visit with a few of the detainees and hear about their experiences first-hand. This part of the trip was the hardest because being in the presence of so much trauma and hearing their intense stories really centralized the injustices faced by immigrants in the US. It is one thing to read about immigration rights or attend a rally, but being face-to-face with detainees and feeling the deep pain and suffering is a profound and eye-opening experience. This moment not only made an impact on me but forced me to recognize the great privilege that I have as a documented citizen of the United States, not having to worry about being detained or even worse, deported. It made me reflect on my experience being second-generation and coming from a family of immigrants. It brought back memories of the hardships the members in my family faced due to their immigrant status.
After our trip to the Detention Center, we met up with Whitman alum Miriam Zuniga who is a Clinical Care Coordinator for the non-profit organization, Puentes in Seattle, WA. Puentes provides mental health services and resources to undocumented migrants and families to help relieve the trauma and suffering that comes with being undocumented in the US. I found this meeting with Zuniga to be beneficial as one day I want to work in immigration advocacy. We had the opportunity to hear about her career experience and about her journey after Whitman. Finally, on Sunday we started our journey back to Walla Walla by stopping to visit another immigration rights activist, OneAmerica organizer, Mary Lopez. Lopez does a lot of community and civic engagement in order to bring justice to the undocumented people in Yakima, WA. Lopez is a working class mother, so in addition to providing for her family, she also does a lot of work for her community in order to bring about a change locally. Lopez talked a lot about the importance of representation in the local city council as well as educating immigrants of their rights and how to respond when they are pulled over by a police officer or when they are confronted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Getting to hear her story and how she works to bring justice to her community has empowered me as a college student in a way that makes this kind of work accessible, and possible even as a busy individual.
There is so much we can do to bring justice to immigrants in the US either on a legal level or grassroots organizing level. Every bit of advocacy that we do is so important and is crucial to giving the injustices in the so-called “justice” system, more visibility and hold our government accountable.