Top photo: Forum participants discuss immigration policy
Middle photo: Jude Valdez, UTSA vice president for community
services, chats with Jaime Martinez, national treasurer of the
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Bottom photo: Some rules for the forum

UTSA Mexico Center forum highlights immigration issues and solutions

By James M. Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist

(June 29, 2009)--The UTSA Mexico Center hosted an open forum on immigration issues on June 24 at the UTSA Downtown Campus. With approximately 100 invited guests including lawmakers, educators, labor leaders, activists, business professionals, students and area citizens, the unique "open-space" process of the forum allowed everyone to contribute, making the event into what each individual wanted it to be.

The open-space process, as facilitator Juan Sepulveda described it, was "a daylong coffee break." Sepulveda, a Rhodes scholar who holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, said the most creative and productive times at conferences were the coffee breaks between sessions, when professionals from all levels, following no formal structure or schedule, discussed and analyzed the conference presentations. These informal moments allowed for great creativity, brainstorming and new ideas.

With just a few basic rules, such as "whoever is there is the right group," and, "it starts when it starts," the attendees created the day's agenda with 10 to 20 conversations emerging throughout the day. Predominant themes included access to education, teaching the citizenship process, workers' rights, international businesses' perspective on immigration and security issues pertaining to immigration.

Conversation leaders including scholars, immigration lawyers, importers and social workers with specialized institutional knowledge presented on the processes, court rulings and laws already in place and the situations they are encountering. In many cases, immigration is a local or state issue, and Texas has adapted. Various opportunities already are open to immigrants, documented or otherwise. Some states are managing immigration in their own ways, while the federal government is just starting to look at immigration reform.

Many issues are interconnected, such as K-12, bilingual education, student retention and higher education. Immigrant access to higher education is closely linked to labor, as in many cases, an immigrant who receives a college degree does not have an open pathway to employment without U. S. citizenship.

Common solutions began to emerge as discussions progressed. Some called for the creation of an entity, or for an existing entity, to take on the responsibility of educating Mexican citizens on the complicated naturalization process for U.S. citizenship. In many cases, it would be a matter of educating people that certain services and pathways are already available. Professional development and continuing education for lawyers, social workers and educators could reintroduce these pathways to citizenship, which in turn could be implemented at their respective institutions.

Many attendees agreed that future action on immigration reform must address the reunification of transnational families, protection of laborers from abuses, access to education and pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Note-takers at each cluster recorded the conference proceedings and in a "report-out" process, entered the notes from their groups' conversations on the Mexico Center's laptop computers. Mexico Center staff members will compile topics, notes, questions and action items into a document that will be released at a later date.

Through the Mexico Center, UTSA provides a forum to address crucial issues of how U.S. and Mexico policies and practices affect families and communities on both sides of the border. The UTSA Mexico Center's primary goal is to address and generate transnational dialogue and research on public policy issues that affect the people of Mexico and the United States in the hope that this dialogue will translate into bilateral and cooperative policy recommendations.

For more information, visit the UTSA Mexico Center Web site.

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