Several panelists spoke on issues regarding immigrant advocacy last Thursday at Montclair State University’s first-ever immigration symposium in the Feliciano School of Business.
Fernando Naiditch, the panel coordinator and professor at Montclair State explained that immigrants are often overlooked members of American society, which is why he wanted to bring this symposium to campus.
“In American history, the influx of newcomers has always resulted in anti-immigrant sentiment among certain factions of America,” Naiditch said. “My aim is to bring the discussion to life, and to focus on the contributions and the role of immigrants and immigration in the developing of this nation.”
The panel consisted of three guests: Kira O’Brien, a licensed social worker from Princeton University, Paul Cooley, an educator from Education First and Mark Edelson, a lawyer who immigrated from South Africa as a teenager.
O’Brien, who has worked frequently in youth-centric immigrant programs, started her presentation on the topic of forced migration, which is a common form of immigration to the United States.
“In forced migration, what we’re talking about is really the intersection of a lot of different issues that are happening at once,” O’Brien said.
She went on to describe social, political, economical and even environmental issues that are the driving force in causing many immigrants to leave their homes.
Edelson, who immigrated to the United States from South Africa in his youth, faced similar hardship to what O’Brien described. As South Africa went through its political struggles in the 1990s and early 2000s, his parents realized that he and his sister would have no chance at successful futures within the crumbling South African education system. They uprooted their entire lives and moved to the U.S.
“What I always try to do is humanize the immigrant community, and the best way for me to do that is to humanize myself,” Edelson said.
Cooley, who has worked extensively in communities of people who are affected by forced migration, also emphasized the importance of humanizing immigrants.
“I want everyone to know that no matter where you come from or how different you are, that people are special and they have hopes and dreams and they can touch your lives,” Cooley said. “It’s a lot more complicated than how many more people can come in here. It’s about dialogue, it’s about having conversations, it’s about having symposiums, and learning.”
DeAnna Woodward, a pre-major freshman, said that she was glad for the opportunity to attend an event like this on campus.
“I definitely do have a better understanding and I sympathize [with immigrants],” Woodward said.
Darian Mozo, a freshman linguistics major, said that as an immigrant herself, being able to attend the immigration event made her feel less alone on campus.
“There are more people like me who have had the same kind of experience, and I really liked it,” Mozo said. “Now after listening to all those people talk about their personal lives, I feel like I really want to do something about it.”
Deandre Clarke, a sophomore humanities major, also felt that the symposium was very important to have on campus.
“They had more than just one person speaking about some boring statistic or newspaper article, they were giving personal experiences and stories,” Clarke said.