While the issue of undocumented immigration has been widely debated throughout the Penn community recently, a more subtle question has been brought up for discussion on campus — the deportation of legal permanent residents.
The Asian Pacific Student Coalition recently hosted guest speakers from One Love Movement — a Philadelphia-based grassroots organization that advocates for humane immigration reform — as part of a growing effort to shed light on the deportation of Cambodian citizens in the city and around the world.
“We want our constituents to care about these issues that Asian Americans face, but it’s kind of hard since a lot of people are apathetic towards these issues,” College junior and APSC Vice Chair of External Affairs Jon Kim said.
When he was a sophomore, Kim met One Love community organizer and co-founder Mia-lia Kiernan at an event he had helped to organize for one of his Asian-American studies courses.
According to Kiernan, One Love was formed in 2010 in response to a dramatic rise of detention and deportation of legal Cambodians living in the U.S. Under current immigration laws, legal refugees who have any kind of criminal record are subject to deportation.
“A lot of Cambodian-Americans we’re fighting for are being deported for crimes they committed in the past when they were placed in an impoverished neighborhood that lacked health support and a well-equipped education system,” Kiernan said, referring to the mass influx of Southeast Asians to the United States following the upheaval caused by the Vietnam War.
College junior and President of the Chinese Students’ Association Anthony Tran, who has also taken an Asian-American studies course on immigration, commended One Love for raising awareness about these issues.
“When I first came to Penn, I really didn’t know much about these problems,” he said. “Grassroots movements like One Love help form a more contemporary look at immigration issues today.
He added, however, that there is no clear-cut solution to these problems.
“Immigration law is mired in a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of overlapping agendas from different individuals,” he explained. “From their standpoint, I can understand what they’re feeling — the process is unfair. But I also understand that the government has to handle thousands of these cases but can’t go through all of them individually.”
For Kim, the decision to invite One Love to campus was a move that he felt aligned with APSC’s core values. He said that “ultimately, the best thing we can do is just raise awareness about these issues.”
Kiernan, who has also established alliances with student groups from Temple University and other Philadelphia communities, hopes to further build on the organization’s relationship with the Penn community.
“Education is such a huge part of this struggle. When we think about this issue, it’s not about just immigration or immigration reform,” she said. “What we really need to think about is the importance of the educational system.”