Students Must Take Initiative as Allies

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s racism and xenophobia did not take a winter break. When the president made disturbing comments about immigrants and the countries from which they hail, he insulted millions and negated ideas of respect, mobility, and equality — values fundamental to the Oberlin community.

The president’s dangerous rhetoric and policies have made the past year and a half an escalating nightmare for many members of our community. Thousands of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) live in Ohio, and Lorain County is home to a number of undocumented immigrants. Many of our neighbors live in precarious positions of safety and belonging due to their relationship with immigration — with Temporary Protected Status, Green Cards, immigrant parents, or undocumented family members. Rather than develop an immigration system that treats people with dignity, our government enforces a flawed program that puts far too many individuals at risk.

But not everyone is directly impacted by immigration, and many Oberlin students without direct ties to affected individuals are unsure how to engage. Many of us temporarily live in Oberlin and do not want to impose on existing organizations or burden affected friends with our questions. Too often, allies allow these fears to become reasons not to engage.

This Tuesday, President Trump met with law enforcement officers and threatened another government shutdown if Democrats don’t agree to pass an immigration package that will “get rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill.” At a time when racist and xenophobic rhetoric and policies exist without repercussion, silence or inaction from allies is dangerous. It is no longer enough to be angry or disaffected. This semester, allies to anyone impacted by immigration must do better and must do more.

Thankfully, Lorain County leaders have continually guided allies in the right direction through the years. In 2009, Oberlin’s City Council passed a pro-civil rights resolution, ensuring equal access to city services regardless of citizenship. This and similar legislation in Lorain predated the national conversation about sanctuary cities. The Lorain Ohio Immigrants’ Rights Association (LOIRA) tirelessly helps local immigrants navigate daily barriers. For example, in 2016 LOIRA provided vaccinations for 37 DAPA eligible members of the Lorain community, helping prepare them for the application process. In fall of 2016, the Multicultural Resource Center launched an Undocumented Student Initiative, pioneering workshop trainings for staff and faculty and providing individual support to students. In September, hundreds of Oberlin community members met in solidarity in response to the decision to end protections for Dreamers. Obies for Undocumented Inclusion continued the momentum with multiple allyship trainings. And less than one week into her time at Oberlin, President Ambar published a letter officially supporting undocumented and DACA students at Oberlin.

So many immigrants and community leaders have started and led efforts to oppose national threats. Allies, where does this leave us? Our choices are to either get involved or stay silent. Our ability to choose whether to engage in or turn away from these issues is inherently privileged. Undocumented people and immigrants are forced to confront injustices every day. Allies cannot simply show up for reactionary responses. The work must be continually creative, looking beyond the present to ensure lasting systems of support.

This semester, do something. Teach citizenship classes in Lorain. This would be a perfect opportunity to understand the contributions of immigrants in Lorain and the challenges they face — a necessary step in thoughtful activism. Attend the OUI Undocu-Ally Training on February 17, contact your representatives, or join a campaign like Movimiento Cosecha, which supports DACA recipients and mobilizes their supporters. At the very least, know your facts and engage honestly and meaningfully with immigrants.

In today’s political climate, many issues demand attention. National political forces may feel turbulent and unreachable, but committed allies can make a tangible difference in our community. The past year and a half shows that inaction is too costly an option. Following the examples of undocumented students and immigrants, get involved this semester. The work is critical, and opportunities are endless.