GHINAGLIA: Talking immigration at home

Last month, President Peter Salovey issued the University’s first public statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform. In an Aug. 6 statement, he noted that “universities have long struggled with an immigration system that does far too little to encourage talented students and scholars to remain in the United States and contribute to our society,” and wrote that “Yale joins the Association of American Universities in applauding the bipartisan group of 68 senators who voted for the bill.”

Even as the University continues to expand its influence abroad, Yale stands proud as an American institution. Over the past three centuries, Yale has educated many of this country’s most important leaders, and our alumni range from successful entrepreneurs to American presidents.

But less well-known are the handful of students that Yale admits each year from across the country — students who live in the United States, but have never quite felt like they belonged. For years, Yale has accepted these undocumented applicants in full awareness of the impact that they have made and will make on their own families and communities.

Admitting undocumented students is a testament to Yale’s commitment to providing a world-class education for the nation’s most highly qualified young people. It’s an affirmation that a liberal arts education should be offered even to those who can’t work legally in the United States. And it’s a recognition that undocumented students will help lead this country in the future.

Yet intentionally or not, Yale has often seemed to urge undocumented students to stay quiet on campus, to keep under the radar — to be grateful for their acceptance and hope that everything will turn out fine. Over the last decade, however, millions of undocumented immigrants nationwide have insisted on coming out of the shadows and into the light. They have asked to be recognized and counted, worked to share their stories, and argued for inclusion and greater opportunities. As a poster on the wall at my summer workplace reminded me, “Nothing good has ever come from our silence.”

Their efforts have changed our University.

In his freshman address, Salovey emphasized that Yale students should live without shame no matter where they come from. He voiced the conviction many immigrants have felt since arriving on campus. Undocumented students at Yale have known shame intimately. This very shame has driven them to keep their legal status secret from close friends. Undocumented classmates have crafted elaborate stories to explain why they couldn’t join friends on fancy vacations abroad. Many have kept quiet about the crippling stress facing family members caught up in deportation proceedings back home. Excited talk about internships and study abroad programs can serve as a constant, dreaded reminder for undocumented students that they may never live their college years to the fullest, and that their postgraduate job prospects depend on more than grades or the ability to impress prospective employers.

If we want to engage with each other honestly, we have to talk more about these and similar issues. For me, the freshman address and Yale’s statement on immigration reform mark the first step toward a newer, more inclusive campus. They emphasize our bounden duty, both as students and as a University, to engage directly with the major issues of our time, even if such engagement brings disagreement or discomfort. We can keep race, class and immigration in the shadows and hope they go away sooner or later, but these topics are not purely academic interests that we can afford to discuss dispassionately, or worse, ignore. They cut to the heart of how we live.

As Yale becomes a more globalized institution, it is critical, perhaps even refreshing, to realize that many of the problems confronting the nation around the world are experienced here in New Haven. In this spirit, Salovey’s statement reminds us that immigration reform is urgent not just for faraway “others” with little connection to our dining halls, extracurricular organizations or seminars. He asks us to recall just how involved immigrants have become within this community as students, scholars, workers and neighbors. They include our roommates and their parents, local G-Heav employees, and Yale construction workers. In taking a lead role in the immigration debate, Salovey draws new attention to issues that truly matter to this University, issues that have long concerned the thousands of immigrants at Yale.

Armando Ghinaglia is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at armando.ghinaglia@yale.edu.

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