VALPARAISO — As the national debate on undocumented immigrants rages, the Valparaiso University Law School is hearing from those on the front lines of the issue.
The law school recently hosted a screening of the movie “Documented,” which chronicles the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines.
Geoffrey Heeren, associate professor of law and director of the immigration law clinic at Valpo Law School, moderated a panel discussion following the movie last week.
He began by asking whether Vargas’ dream of becoming a legal citizen is still possible given the current environment of immigration enforcement.
Robert D. Vinikoor, who served more than 30 years as an immigration judge, said he believes President Donald Trump wants to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Saving the program, however, may depend on Democrats not opposing the construction of a border wall, Vinikoor said.
Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, said he’s concerned that while DACA may be saved, “Trump will get the enforcement dollars to go after their parents.”
Karla Lopez-Owens, who crossed the U.S. border from Mexico in 1999 and became a citizen in 2009, described the harrowing journey she and her family endured.
Once in the U.S., however, she benefited from the help of kind mentors.
“It really takes a village to raise a child, especially an immigrant child,” she said.
Vinikoor said the immigration system in the U.S. is broken, and there needs to be reform.
It has been more than 30 years since Congress passed the last immigration reform bill, he said.
The 1986 bill was a “total failure,” however, and greater numbers of immigrants came in to the United States after it was passed, Vinikoor said.
Despite the past failures and the current restrictive climate, all the panelists remained hopeful in the long run, comprehensive immigration reform could be achieved.
Lopez-Owens encouraged the audience to get involved in local politics and help shape policy.
She noted that throughout history, human rights haven’t been given without people fighting for them.
“That’s what we’re asking now,” she said.