“Mi Pais, My Country”

Student immigrants discuss how recent administration policies affect them


Reflecting over her past experiences in school, junior Ana Chirinos explains how the national debate over immigration has integrated into high school.

Esha Nigudkar and Alefiyah Gandhi


Video Transcript:

Alefiyah Gandhi: It was the way children died at border facilities, the growing isolationism of a country concerned with terrorism, that prompted such polarizing views of immigration at the border. A political issue amplified into a humanitarian crisis defines a time of political and social unrest. A more hard-line approach to immigration comes from a collective fear of the foreign, and has become the centerfold of the current administration’s political agenda. The decisions made on the national stage have trickled down to local communities, especially in diversity-rich cities and along the borders. In Katy TX, a growing suburban area near Houston, students that have immigrated with their families have been forced to partake in this ongoing conversation as the recent policy changes have affected their well-being and status in this country.

Andres Maldonado: Doesn’t matter who you are, or where you live in this country. You have to understand that immigrants are people.

Gandhi: It’s law firms like Alcozer and Associates that have been particularly influenced by the changing political climate. Stricter immigration laws imposed by the current administration have caused immigration lawyers to become more vigilant about the issue. Manager Andres Maldonado takes a more personal approach to his cases as he explains the effects of the current social stigma surrounding immigration.

Maldonado: When Congress enacted asylum regulations and asylum laws, they were very clear that any individual that presented themselves at a port of entry, or at our borders, requesting that protection, had the right to request that protection under the law. Well now we have an administration that is trying to go around that right, and creating different policies to make it more difficult for individuals seeking that protection.

Those policies have gone into our communities, and they have created this sense of fear. And it’s fear on both sides. There is the non-immigrant community, and well they’re saying that immigrants are criminals, so we’re going to be afraid of them. And then you have the immigrant community, and they’re afraid of the government, because the government is telling them we’re going to remove you from the United States. Now, when you’re telling someone that, and they’ve been here 20 years, 25 years, and they’re children were born here, and they’re grandchildren were born here, that creates bigger issues and broader issues than we sometimes consider.

Gandhi:While the stigma persists, integration of these communities becomes increasingly common in metropolitan cities, as one-out-of-four Houstonians were born abroad, according to houston.org.  Maldonado’s job places him at the front line of this issue, his passion for helping the immigrant community stems from his own experiences. 

Maldonado: I’m an immigrant myself, and I think it would be hypocritical for me to believe that I have any right, or any higher right, to be in this country than anyone else. It all comes down to privilege. Some of us have the privilege of obtaining a visa, and coming in through an airport, and then figuring out our sentence. But some people are fleeing for their lives. It affects us in so many different ways, but we just have to open our eyes and realize that, just because it doesn’t affect my family unit doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect somebody else’s. You never know who’s undocumented, because immigration status does not see race.

Gandhi: But as race becomes a more central concern in the minds of Americans, the opposition surrounding immigration has blended negative political rhetoric and racial biases.

Student Joe Rodriguez represents one of many individuals in Katy, TX who’s background demonstrates the convergence of two distinct cultures. Rodriguez explores how his ability to blend with the white majority has allowed him certain privileges.

Gandhi: Where are you from and how old were you when you moved here?

Joe Rodriguez: I’m from Guatemala- Guatemala City, in Guatemala- and I was eight years old when I moved here.

Gandhi: Why did your family move here?

Rodriguez: My dad was receiving threats that if he didn’t give us- if he didn’t give them- 50,000 in Guatemalan currency, they were going to kill us all. They had pictures of me going to school, they had pictures of my siblings, they had pictures of my mom, and it was really scary.

Gandhi: When were you first aware of your family’s immigration status?

Rodriguez: As a kid, I didn’t really realize what was going on at the time, all I knew was that we were just moving countries, and when we got to the United States, that’s when I realized what was happening. I hadn’t processed all that.

Gandhi: So aside from personal struggles, was there anything you struggled with in your school environment, or just with society in general, maybe because you were an immigrant?

Rodriguez: I think the kids were raised to not like kids from other countries by their parents. I don’t think it’s really their fault, but as a kid, it still hurts a lot to hear from a group of people, because you think they’re going to be right about what you are.

Gandhi: Although struggles with immigration are often internal, the way others perceive immigrants has an effect on how immigrants see themselves in this country. Student Ana Chirinos, who emigrated from Venezuela at the age of 3, shares how the perception of others has affected her high school experience in this current political climate.

Ana Chirinos: I had pale skin and blue eyes, and my accent went away after a few years here, so I was very easy for other kids to relate to I guess. I wasn’t different, I wasn’t new or mysterious, so it was- you know people just treated me like any other kid. Everywhere you go, but especially school where there’s a lot of young people concentrated into one place, it’s not hard to pick up on someone making a pretty awful joke, that people are just passing off as humor because it’s easier for them to justify it to themselves.

There have been instances of our president making jokes like that, and that’s worrying cause someone so influential, so powerful probably shouldn’t be making immature jokes like that, so it’s pretty dehumanizing when the person who’s supposed to be your president is making all kinds of jokes about immigrants like you.

Gandhi: When immigrants are dehumanized on the national stage, people in local communities, like student activist Katherine Ospina, work to make each and every immigrant’s humanity known. A raw passion to change the way people are treated within detention centers has encouraged Ospina to get involved in the welfare of these immigrants.

Katherine Ospina: So I’m part of this non-profit, I’m on the board, it’s called Pantsuit Republic, and practically what we do is we deal with a lot of topics- it’s practically a feminist organization, but one of them is immigration. The things that I’ve done have been just giving out cards to people who are undocumented in Spanish, to let them know of the rights that they have, that they still have rights, what they should and shouldn’t do if they have a policeman knocking on their doors. It’s all just for the common purpose of wanting to show people around us that you can make a change, and these issues are important, and you shouldn’t ignore them.

Gandhi: It’s the way people in everyday communities fight so vigilantly for a cause that affects so many people, the way students like Joe Rodriguez, Ana Chirinos, and Katherine Ospina make the Katy community more tolerant towards those that came from similar backgrounds. It’s very reason Andres Maldonado takes such a personal approach with his clients. Katy, Texas serves as a constant reminder of a fight towards acceptance, a beacon of hope for immigrants seeking opportunities.

Maldonado: It affects us in so many different ways, but we just have to open our eyes and realize that, just because it doesn’t affect my family unit doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect somebody else’s.