Students discuss immigration issue with panel

Imagine leaving school and noticing two missed calls.

Your first reaction is you’re late for dinner or need to pick up some milk.

But if you’re an immigrant, fear might be your first reaction – fear that the call could lead to deportation, that you’re being sent back home.

A home you’ve never lived in, in a country you’ve never seen.

The possibility of coming home to one fewer family member concerns many immigrants.

That was the subject of a panel discussion hosted by The Agora on April 1, as part of the One Book, One Community program.

“There is a sense of urgency to stop dividing families,” panelist Sergio Martinez said. “Kids are being psychologically affected by seeing their parents being arrested and taken away.”

The panel discussion focused on family issues, inspired by Reyna Grande and her book, “The Distance Between Us.”

The panel consisted of Sergio Martinez, who emigrated from Mexico and manages a restaurant in the Detroit suburbs, Diego Bonesatti, director of Legal Services for Michigan United, and Major Troy Goodnough, director of Jail Operations for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Each panelist gave his perspective on U.S. immigration policies, and offered opinions on the past, present and future of immigration.

“There are all sorts of battlefields and forms of debate about it, that’s why it’s been so difficult of a topic to cover,” Bonesatti said.

Goodnough’s  main concern was keeping our country safe and the borders patrolled. “It’s the one terrorist that slips in that brings us back to 9-11,” Goodnough said. “So we do have to take an aggressive approach to securing the border.”

Regardless of your ethnicity, if you break the law, there should be consequences, he said.

“If somebody violates the laws of this country, I think they should be held accountable for them, and holding them accountable is incarceration,” he said. 

However, the others panelists pointed out that this also keeps us closed off from other countries, ignoring the fact that immigrants once helped our country grow strong.

“It’s in the DNA of the USA,” Bonesatti said. Since the founding of the nation, immigration has been both an engine of growth and there has been resentment of immigrants, he said. “One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was complaining about the Germans.”

Martinez agreed that diversity in America is what makes this country so powerful.

“You can’t define American as purple hair and green eyes; there’s so many levels of diversity in this country,” he said.

One example would be the variety of restaurants the U.S. has; as a society we embrace other cultures and incorporate them into our own.

“If you want to eat out you have all types of restaurants you can chose because we accept the culture and everything that comes with the diversity of the country. “It makes us stronger because we’re more accepting – we grow as a people, we expand our minds,” he said. “The culture that people bring to this country is what makes us an amazing country that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Martinez, who was brought to this country age 5, referred to himself as a dreamer.

Growing up, he dealt with loss of family and challenges of not being able to do what other kids his age could do. 

  “We have dreams, we have aspirations, we want to be entrepreneurs, and all of those opportunities are blocked from us due to these laws not being updated,” he said.

According to Martinez, our immigration policies have remained the same for the past 20 years.

Panel members agreed that two of the problems are not enough visas available to meet the demand, and the length of time it takes to be considered legal.   

“I can leave here today and go to a local gun shop and I can buy a hand gun and in two hours have the ability to purchase that hand gun, but yet we can’t let
somebody come into this country,” Goodnough said. “It takes 7-10 years. The system is flawed; there’s got to be a better way.”

With such a lengthy process to become a legal citizen, families can become divided in the meantime. 

If a father were to be deported, the mother would have to pick up the slack — which isn’t always easy with kids at home, Martinez said. 

Goodnough agreed that there is an urgency to make changes to our outdated immigration laws.

“Amnesty is not the answer, but giving them an opportunity to become legal citizens in this country would make it better for everybody.

We can learn from our ancestors as we can learn from these folks from different cultures,” he said.