Recognizing Immigrant Contributions

Posted by Jóse Dejesus-Gil on 11/04/2016


I am an immigrant. I know this. I live it. Everyday.

As we draw closer to Election Day, there has been a lot of talk about the challenges those of us as immigrants face. This is true, we face many. We should also empower the incredible contributions we (immigrants) make to this country. In trying to figure out how I can help in continuing the conversation, it dawned on me the dire need for real discussions about immigration reform.

Bringing the #IAmAnImmigrant campaign to The New School created a space for conversations at an institution where students are hungry for social change. A campaign focused on raising awareness of our country’s diversity meant an entryway for people like me to get involved in the cause. During our event, I had the pleasure of speaking to countless students, faculty and staff about their stories. These stories ranged from students born in the United States with undocumented parents to allies of the movement finding new ways to spread knowledge around their communities. At the core of these stories, was a desire to change a broken system that has followed us for decades.

“I needed to share my story. I needed to understand that I was not alone in this fight.”

As a son of immigrant parents who migrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic for a better life, and an immigrant myself, the idea of mass deportation and the repeated talks of building walls hits close to home. Having close family members that are currently undocumented who have not been provided with a pathway for citizenship essentially means the breaking of my family roots. I needed to share my story. I needed to understand that I was not alone in this fight. The numerous names in the wall canvas we created during our event represents the struggle millions of people face everyday to be heard. The need to feel like they are part of the community they so honorably serve. This struggles crosses race, gender or socioeconomic status. This struggle is the reality millions of our people face.

Deconstructing the stereotypes and misconceptions about who we (immigrants) are and the value that we bring to the community is also crucial. There are often talks on both sides about pros and cons of coming up with a comprehensive plan for reform, but often little action. In a time when the future of our country is dependent on the election results of Tuesday night, it is more important than ever that our elected officials see the value in having the 11 million undocumented immigrants contribute to our society on all fronts. We are educators, entrepreneurs, and the driving force of an economy that will collapse if the decision of deporting these 11 million people ever finds the light of day.

And while I am one of many fighting to spread the word on the importance of comprehensive immigration reform, we must continue to raise our voices and demand to be heard. We have a social responsibility to be the voice of those who are afraid; of those who understandably feel defeated. Experiencing the overwhelming amount of students across the country on November 1st during the Day of Action sharing their stories and demanding change ignited in me a sense of hope. I am proud to stand alongside in their fight to build a movement that makes Congress accountable in fixing this broken system.

By Jóse Dejesus-Gil

Program Administrator for Parsons School of Design at The New School