Coalition for Justice for Immigrants
Ridding the world of ignorance, one story at a time
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Elva Dominguez had had enough.
She was in high school at the time, and was fed up with being pulled out of class to help new students who could only speak Spanish. The particular student she was asked to help this time needed to know where her locker was located; where her classes were.
“I was sick of it!” Dominguez told a crowd gathered at the Dodge City Public Library Oct. 8 to discuss immigration issues. “I told her, ‘I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.’ I told her she had to learn English.”
The girl never spoke to Dominguez again, well, not for some time, anyway.
“A few years later I had to go into a bank and ask for a loan. Guess who the loan officer was? She said, ‘Do you remember me?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ She said, ‘You made me so angry -- so angry that I went and learned English.’
“I guess she wasn’t too angry with me; I got my loan!” Dominguez, who hosted the gathering along with Maria Musick, used the story as an example of the ignorance she said she suffered as a teen. While some might think the end justifies the means, Dominguez said she could have done the same with kindness and patience. She and Musick, who opened the meeting with a prayer, formed the Coalition for Justice for Immigrants, in part, to help rid the world of some of that ignorance.
Guest speakers included Copeland resident Penney Schwab, who for 22 years served as the Director of United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries, and Martha Mendoza, assistant principal of Comanche Middle School. A few members of the audience shared their immigrations stories.
“We all have stories,” Schwab said. “My maternal great-great-grandmother walked to Oklahoma from Mississippi on the Trail of Tears. They had a nice house; nice neighbors. They were removed for one reason: they were Native American.”
It’s important to hear such stories from immigrants and/or their descendants, Schwab said, whether it be a recent immigrant from Mexico, or the great- granddaughter of immigrants from, say, Germany. To love each other as we love ourselves … to cherish life as Christ admonished, we must know each other. And that requires seeing what’s around us.
“Know your community,” she said. “Look around and ask yourself how many local businesses are owned by immigrants. Look at the medical industry. How many of our physicians were born in other countries?
“They don’t drive other people out,” she stressed. “They fill a vacuum.”
The idea that immigrants push people out of jobs is a myth, she said, along with the notion that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes. “If you work for a major company,” Schwab said, “you have to go through ‘eVerify’.” EVerify is a national database that searches social networks, criminal records, and provides a background check. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants pay income and payroll taxes using a special ID tax number. Those using false social security numbers still must pay payroll and sales tax.
Like the immigrant students Mendoza has counseled, she too had to fight to understand an uncertain future while in high school, while her family worked toward citizenship.
“My parents were illegal,” she said. “We as kids were confused by this. Dad taught us a strong work ethic and to be thankful to be in this country. Dad taught us to always be good. The time would come when we would be citizens, he said.”
It is common among undocumented children, as they reach high school, to experience depression and confusion. Stepping out into the world after graduation and suddenly lacking the legal documentation with which to attend college and follow their dreams, can be understandably distressing.
“We educate kids from the start,” Mendoza said, “but we leave them just when our help means the most.”
Deferred Action was started Aug. 15, 2012 and allows undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit, during which time they can get their social security card without fear of deportation. It’s not a path to citizenship, and the individual must pass several stringent eligibility requirements. You can see more at www.uscis.gov. The program is particularly helpful for high school students and/or graduates who have been in the country for several years but lack the necessary papers to achieve higher education.
Mendoza’s family obtained their citizenship thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s Amnesty Act of 1986.
“My family [Mendoza has five brothers and sisters] drove to Wichita with a suitcase full of documentation proving we’d been here for more than five years,” she said. “We were so excited to be approved. In that two-and-a-half hour trip home, we made our future plans. Today, four of my five siblings have college degrees. Two are business owners in Dodge City, one is a detective and a business owner, and one sells real estate and teaches at Dodge City High School.
“We feel that everything Americans did for us was worth it, and we are extremely grateful,” she said. “Our goal as a family is to give back.”
A 20-year-old named Anna shared with the audience that after being in the United States only 10 years, she’d already taken over a small business previously owned by her parents. And she’d only recently received news that she’d been offered a job as a sales person at a radio station. It’s a job she particularly looks forward to because it will allow her to serve the community.
“I’m really thankful for everyone in this country,” she said. “I ask God every day to help me and every single young person.”
Another girl, named Sarah, noted that with the help of Deferred Action, she was able to start college and is working toward becoming an Emergency Medical Technician. Her ultimate goal is to become a firefighter. If that doesn’t pan out, she said, she’s got her eye on the Air Force.