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Alumni Panel Speaks to Students about Immigration

In March, Loyola’s Ignatian Service Learning Program welcomed a panel of alumni speakers to discuss immigration—a topic that has recently made headlines and sparked debate both domestically and abroad. Students from Justice Seminar, Spanish 4 Service Learning, Sociology Service Learning and Ethics classes were in attendance.
“The goals of the panel were to educate students on the key issues around undocumented immigrants, to stimulate broader and deeper discourse among students and to use alumni as models of individuals addressing social injustices and putting their faith into action,” explains Dr. Timothy Martin, director of the Ignatian Service Learning Program.

To begin the discussion, the panelists introduced themselves and shared their stories of immigration, experiences as students at Loyola and perspectives on the current challenges and opportunities related to immigration in the United States.

An advocate for undocumented children without legal guardians, Sonia C. Gomez ’06 works for Heartland Alliance as a family reunification specialist in their Youth and Residential Services program. Gomez was born in Costa Rica and lived most of her life in the Unites States illegally. She earned her U.S. citizenship last year. “I will carry the opportunities I had at Loyola with me for the rest of my life,” she said as she introduced herself.  

After graduating from law school in 2012, Cynthia Mazariegos ’03 founded Grupo REU Law Firm, LLC, to provide competent representation to the vulnerable immigrant community. “What I learned at Loyola was my foundation for everything,” she stated at the beginning of the panel. A first generation Guatemalan American, Mazariegos described her move from Chicago’s South to the North Side—and subsequent attendance at Loyola—as a “culture shock.” Through her involvement with Amnesty International and volunteering at Centro Romero through Loyola’s Life! Be in It! (now Arrupe) program, Mazariegos found her niche.

During his three years as a community organizer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Jesse R. Hoyt ’06 worked on a campaign that won driver's licenses for 250,000 undocumented immigrants and another that passed legislation to prevent private corporations from building for-profit immigrant prisons in Illinois. Hoyt is currently the lead organizer on the Healthy Illinois Campaign, which is working to pass health care for undocumented adults in the state of Illinois. “I began my social justice work at Loyola Academy,” he said. “This place encouraged me to be doing the work I’m doing now.”

After introductions, the program moved to a question-and-answer format facilitated by student panelists and moderated by senior Mitchell Deligio. Spanish 4 Service Learning and Justice Seminar student Bsrategebriel Negassi ’17 asked the group why some people may fear immigrants.

“It’s really easy ‘to other’ people,” responded Hoyt. “When we’re in spaces without diversity, it’s hard to figure out how we can move forward together.”

Next, Spanish 4 Service Learning student Brian Vance ’17 asked the panelists if they felt that Loyola was an inclusive environment when they were students.

“People at Loyola have huge hearts,” Gomez reflected. “I felt empathy, but a lack of education about the issue.”

Justice Seminar student Gabriela Manzanares Jule ’17 followed up with Gomez, asking her if she feared the consequences of revealing her undocumented status. “There was a general fear of everything and everyone,” she confided. “I felt I was putting myself and everyone at risk of deportation.”

Patrick Carpenter ‘17, a student in Dr. Martin’s Justice Seminar class, reflected, “I was struck by the intense devotion and passion the panelists had toward this issue,” he says. “They each had a different experience with immigration, but they all seemed equally passionate about enacting positive change in America. Experiences like this are extremely valuable for students at Loyola....I felt that this kind of interaction made the issue more real to students.”

Before departing, students asked one last question: What advice do you have for students to help impact the immigrant community?

“Take advantage of the opportunities at Loyola,” said Mazariegos.  

Hoyt responded with a question of his own, “What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?”

The Ignatian Service Learning program enables students to learn about social justice issues in academic courses across the curriculum. To learn more, click here.
 
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