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Ignatian Justice Summit Participants Facilitate UndocuWeek at Saint Louis University

BY JULIA MURPHY | March 26, 2019

Last month, students from Saint Louis University successfully completed their first ever UndocuWeek, a series of events surrounding the issue of immigration justice.

The core group planning UndocuWeek included Alex Hernandez, a senior studying history, Rachel McBeath, a sophomore studying international business, Jibril Muhammad, a junior studying civil engineering, Julia Murphy, a senior studying English and Spanish, and Marissa Ornelas, a junior studying sociology and political science. Alex, Rachel, Jibril, and Julia attended the Ignatian Justice Summit last July in Cleveland with the Ignatian Solidarity Network and began planning for UndocuWeek then. Once they returned to SLU in the fall, they invited Marissa Ornelas, a student with experience working with the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and the Migrant and Community Action Project in St. Louis, as well as with the CARA Pro Bono Project, an organization that provides legal services to women and children incarcerated in the detention center located in Dilley, Texas, to join their group.

UndocuWeek organizers with keynote speaker Yosimar Reyes.

The group’s goal was to bring awareness about issues of immigration to SLU’s campus and to inspire direct action and advocacy on behalf of immigrants in the St. Louis area and across the country, in reflection of SLU’s Jesuit values. They applied for and received an 1818 Community Engagement Grant through SLU’s Center for Service and Community Engagement, as well as funding through the Student Government Association, to support their project. They also worked closely with the Cross Cultural Center and Campus Ministry as well as several student groups at SLU to make the week successful.

UndocuWeek, which occurred from February 17-22, began with the weekly Sunday night student mass hosted by Campus Ministry, which included a call to care for migrants in the welcome announcement and intercessions concerning immigration justice. On Monday night, UndocuWeek hosted a panel, “Addressing the Wellness of the Migrant Community in St. Louis,” featuring Sara John, Executive Director of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America, Nicole Cortés, Co-Director and Attorney at the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project, and Dr. Torrie Hester, Associate Professor of History at Saint Louis University. The conversation was moderated by Gabriel Carrillo, M.S.W., Assistant Professor of Social Work at Saint Louis University. John emphasized the necessity of working within communities of privilege to change the negative rhetoric and narrative that have circulated around migrants recently. Cortés stressed the importance of focusing on the human dignity and rights of migrants, rather than their economic contributions to the United States. Hester added her research on the history of immigration in the United States, specifically the fact that being “illegal” or “undocumented” has only become a politicized part of the conversation as of recent.

“Addressing the Wellness of the Migrant Community in St. Louis” panelists (L-R) Sara John, Nicole Cortés, Torrie Hester, and Gabriel Carrillo

On Tuesday, UndocuWeek partnered with SLU’s Hispanic and Latinx Leadership Organization for a screening of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, a film that explores the social and political conditions that caused so many Latin Americans to begin to migrate to the United States. UndocuWeek continued on Wednesday with “Chisme & Comida,” an event borrowed from the University of San Francisco’s past UndocuWeek events. Chisme & Comida offered the opportunity for students to have an open and honest conversation about immigration issues while sharing a meal together. Students from MO Dreamers, a group of DACA-mented and undocumented students in Missouri, shared their stories of navigating the educational system in the U.S. during the event.

Chisme & Comida, an event offering the opportunity for students to have an open and honest conversation about immigration issues while sharing a meal together.

The keynote of the week was given by Yosimar Reyes, a queer undocumented poet from Guerrero, Mexico who writes and speaks about issues of migration and sexuality. Invoking laughter and tears in the audience, Reyes shared about his family’s struggles but also about the joy with which they live their lives, despite the dangerous rhetoric the current administration has used against people like them. The joy inspired by Reyes’ keynote extended into Friday, when UndocuWeek finished the week off with Cumbia Contra la Migra, a celebration with food and dancing. Clothing and shoe donations were accepted all week to benefit migrants in St. Louis and at the border, and monetary donations were accepted at Cumbia Contra la Migra to benefit an immigration detention bail fund organized through the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America.

Overall, UndocuWeek events brought in over two hundred students, faculty, staff, and community members. Due to the importance of this topic now more than ever, and to the positive feedback received from attendees, the members of the core group organizing the event hope to make UndocuWeek an annual event at SLU.

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