By Sylvana Chan
The Anti-Defamation League’s New England chapter (ADL) celebrated its 100th anniversary by hosting a panel discussion on immigration reform at the University of Massachusetts, Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library on Nov. 19.
ADL was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Today, the organization is known for fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry as well as defending democratic ideals and protecting civil rights for all.
The panel, “America — A Nation of Immigrants: Where We Stand Today,” was named after President John F. Kennedy’s book, “A Nation of Immigrants,” and sought to highlight some of the issues surrounding comprehensive immigration reform today.
“Every day we are reminded that the America of 2013 is based on the foundation of immigration,” said ADL regional director Robert Trestan in a prepared statement.
ADL has long supported comprehensive immigration reform that respects individual rights and human dignity, while maintaining safety. “It is time,” Trestan said, “for Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform. Millions of people are counting on them to act.”
The panel featured three guest speakers: Jose Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker and founder of the Define America campaign; Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C.; and Rev. Cheng Imm Tan, director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians. All of the panelists emphasized the flaws behind current immigration laws and called for change.
Vargas was born in the Philippines and raised in the U.S. from age 12. He did not know he was an undocumented immigrant until he tried applying for a California driver’s license when he was 16. He did not reveal his status as an undocumented immigrant until June 2011, when he wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine to promote dialogue about U.S. immigration. The essay also advocated for the Dream Act, which would help young people in similar situations obtain a path to citizenship through education.
Throughout his struggles to obtain the everyday things American citizens often take for granted, such as a driver’s license or loans for college, Vargas came to a sad realization: “To be an undocumented immigrant actually means obsessing over pieces of papers.”
“Yes, we are fighting for pieces of papers that would allow us to be here, but you are more than pieces of papers,” he continued.
Tan acknowledged this reality, reminding the audience that human beings have more in common than differences. She quoted one of her favorite Buddhist mantras, “What is so special about me that I should work for my happiness alone?”
Tan also urged advocates of immigration reform to take the fight to a local level by having conversations about immigration within the community and calling local legislators to demand action.
Whether Washington, D.C. passes comprehensive immigration reform or not, Vargas stressed that “we live in a country that dares us to dream as big as possible. And you owe it to yourself, to your family, and to this country to dream as big as you can, even though they won’t allow you.”
“So please, don’t give up,” he said.
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