Whitman senior helps Walla Walla contribute to statewide immigration refom
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Dozens of concerned Walla Walla residents gathered on Sunday, May 1 to march for immigration reform. Participants arrived at Jefferson Park and marched down Main Street, past Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office. Whitman College students and faculty played an integral role in this year’s rally, which was organized by senior Ariel Ruiz.
Ruiz transferred to Whitman as a sophomore and has spent much of his college career working on immigration reform. He founded the group El Proyecto Voz Latina, which raises awareness of undocumented immigrants and advocates for immigration reform in Walla Walla. Aside from organizing rallies, Ruiz is currently working with Whitman administration to add a statement of support for undocumented students to the Whitman constitution.
“Club Latino has helped us out a lot, as has the Black Students’ Union,” he said. “But no group at Whitman can officially endorse [El Proyecto] because in the Whitman constitution there is a clause which says Whitman cannot take a stand on a political issue.”
There are currently seven or eight undocumented students at Whitman, and Ruiz feels that Whitman could do more to support them by taking a public stand on the DREAM Act and other issues affecting immigrants.
“Other colleges like Whitman have gotten so much farther than we have,” he said. “I’m not asking George Bridges to hold press conferences or present [the issue] before Congress, as presidents of other private colleges have done.”
Many of the marchers seemed to share similar sentiments about community attitudes toward immigration reform as they followed Ruiz’s dynamic presence and blaring bullhorn. The message chanted by participants was simple but strong: “What do we want? Immigration reform! When do we want it? Now!” and “We are Washington! We are Immigrants! We are Taxpayers!”
The march was coordinated by El Proyecto and OneAmerica, a statewide immigration reform group which Ruiz also works with. Similar marches took place around the state in Seattle, Vancouver, Ellensburg and Yakima. OneAmerica’s organizing director David Ayala Zamora spoke to rally-goers. Zamora noted that immigration reform activists in Walla Walla have much to celebrate, such as the fact that Washington is one of only two states which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
” There are not many states that can hold up the light of hope for immigration reform,” said Zamora.
One of the primary types of immigration reform that Zamora and Ruiz are fighting for is occupational reform. Zamora said that some Washington residents are hesitant to support full occupational benefits and rights to immigrants because they fear a loss of American jobs. He believes this fear is unwarranted.
“We are not taking jobs away. If we did, it happened a long time ago because we are still here,” he said.
Senior JoJo Robertson was one of the Whitman students who attended the rally. She felt that the rally was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon getting out an important message.
“Immigrants are often underrepresented and I think that it’s important for us Whitties to show support. So it was great to see some of the Whitman community out there because when you are so busy with classes and activities, especially around finals, it can be hard to make time for the things that are important,” she said.
Ruiz will be graduating soon, but hopes that many of the advocacy projects he has worked on will have enough structure and momentum to continue with a new group of student leaders.
“I think my efforts have developed enough focus to set up a program. And Whitman is a great place : undocumented students here have access to financial aid; it is my gut feeling that they feel very welcome and supported,” he said.
In spite of these steps, Ruiz hopes the administration will speak openly about its undocumented population.
“It is something we have to talk about,” he said.