October 17, 2006

OLAS hosts immigration talk series

The future of immigration reform rests on the results of the November 7 election, said Susan Gzesh, director of the Human Rights Program and a senior lecturer in the College, in the first talk of a series hosted by the Organization of Latin American Students Wednesday night.

“If Republicans are successful in running a campaign platform of racism and xenophobia, then it will be very difficult for the short term,” Gzesh said. “But, for the long term, you students are the future. It’s the beginning of a new era.”

Gzesh spoke to a group of 30 students about the history of immigration, current legislation, and her work as an advocate for immigrant rights.

She said last spring’s mass demonstrations helped stop Congress from passing a bill that would have criminalized illegal status in America and made it easier to deport immigrants without judicial review.

“I think the marches were a big wake-up call,” Gzesh said. “Congress woke up and what did they see? Future voters.”

Gzesh grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1972. She learned Spanish in her fourth year when she decided “on a lark” to drive to Cuernavaca, Mexico.

During law school, she spent summers working with migrant laborers as a legal assistant. Gzesh said the interests and connections she formed during that time followed her for the rest of her life. Currently, she is researching immigration policy for the MacArthur Foundation.

There is not enough discussion about why illegal immigrants are coming to America, Gzesh said.

“It is literally impossible to carry enough water for the number of days it takes to cross the Sonoran Desert,” she said. “We need to start talking about what are the political and economic conditions that are forcing these people to try to do that.”

Progressive immigration reform should, among other things, improve labor rights for immigrants and stop the deportation of family members, Gzesh said.