Elina Lingappa is a sophomore politics and sociology major.
As students, voters, and activists, it is essential that we advocate for immigrants. For me, that looks like mobilizing on USF’s campus to create Students for Immigration Reform (SIR), a student advocacy organization. However, there is action that every USF student can take to make a difference.
As a space where students can cultivate community and support grassroots change, SIR encourages students to get involved in local community efforts. SIR is advocating for further transparency and accountability from government officials, while supporting NGOs in their endeavors. One way that SIR has advocated for the community is by participating in the Banner Drop Day of Action last semester, an organized event which called for Governor Newsom to release people from prisons and detention facilities in light of COVID-19.
In addition to SIR, several other organizations on campus also demonstrate the power of student advocacy. Latinx Undergraduate Network of Activists (LUNA) educates students on local community organizations and oversees important conversations, often through events such as the panels they held during their annual “Undocuweek.” Latinas Unidas also creates an important space, as they conduct dialogue about a plethora of issues impacting the Latinx community, from decolonization to representation. Latinas Unidas also gets involved in the community, as they successfully raised $600 this semester for Raices, a refugee and immigrant center for legal services. Clubs such as SIR, Latinas Unidas, LUNA, and more demonstrate the power of student-organized activism for immigrant communities.
And this organizing is needed now more than ever. To be fair, the Biden-Harris administration has taken some initiative with immigration reform, such as The United States Citizenship Act, which would create an eight year pathway to citizenship for 10.5 million undocumented immigrants, institute labor protections for migrant workers, and provide foreign aid to Central American countries. The administration has also planned to expand employment green cards, diversity visas, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) eligibility, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, President Biden has an inconsistent track record of keeping his promises. According to NBC, Biden has neglected his commitment to reunite families separated at the border, including his commitment to overseeing two Texas detention centers which receive 500 immigrants daily. USA Today also reported that Biden’s task force specifically assembled to reunite families has yet to bring together a single separated parent and child.
More locally, San Francisco’s progressive image is not without contradiction. According to data from the University of Southern California, the city has a long history of displacing low income immigrant families, despite San Francisco having an immigrant population of 34.3%, according to U.S. Census data from 2015-19. Ranked close to lowest of all Californian counties in “Economic Trajectory,” or a municipality’s ability to provide financial longevity to immigrant families, the economic mobility and high cost of living in San Francisco makes it nearly impossible for immigrant families to survive, much less thrive.
San Francisco systematically fails the very communities it claims to serve. The shortcomings of both federal and local government underscore the need for community organizing surrounding immigrants’ rights in lieu of simply investing efforts into electoral politics. In fact, San Francisco is well known for the 1989 Sanctuary Ordinance, which bans city officials from using local government resources to aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without a federal or state order. However, the ordinance may not have materialized at all had it not been for the efforts of church communities who protected undocumented immigrants, as well as community members like USF Law Professor Bill Hing, who contributed to the initial draft of the ordinance. All this to say, community organizing and grassroots efforts are the strongest tool we have to address empty political promises.
According to the USF facts sheet, international students comprise 13% of the student body, meaning USF has the 14th largest international student enrollment in the US according to US News and World Report 2019. Still, this number does not begin to encompass those on USF’s campus who hold dual citizenship or are the children of immigrants.
However, USF has failed to serve this community in some regards, which is why the University also needs to be held accountable. While San Francisco has been designated as a sanctuary city, USF has not declared itself as a sanctuary campus, hence the need for SIR and other student groups.
Student advocacy, in the form of clubs or other organizations, has the power to shed light on necessities such as sanctuary campus status. We should strive to work collaboratively with the USF administration on this vision of solidarity in order to support our communities in the most effective way possible. SIR holds space not only for education and community building, but also for students to get connected with organizations and volunteer opportunities in the San Francisco area.
Ultimately, it is time for USF students to partner with grassroots organizations around immigration. Our student body holds enormous potential to address the needs of those who are undocumented in our own community and the communities of the wider Bay Area. We must cultivate and aid bottom-up movements in order to foster effective and long lasting change to immigration policy. If we want to see real change, we cannot leave these decisions up to elected officials alone.