The National League of Women Voters hosted a panel of guest speakers Wednesday afternoon in a forum dubbed “The Face of Immigration.”
The forum included talks on immigration law, the immigrant workforce in Santa Barbara, and the California Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold Assembly Bill 540, which allows certain nonresidents — including some undocumented students — who attend California high schools for three years to pay in-state tuition at state public colleges and universities.
“These students still have a chance of living the American Dream,” said Gabriela Rodriguez of the Future Leaders of America.
Rodriguez, who works alongside undocumented students, was excited to hear the news of AB540. Her one disappointment: The bill does not include financial aid, federal grants, or government scholarships.
But, she agreed, “The bill does even out the playing field a bit.”
Betty Newcomb, a member of the league for 68 years, is glad that the bill passed because she thinks immigrant students should not be punished for their parent’s decision.
“I hate to think about kids graduating with enormous debts,” said Newcomb. “It’s hard enough being a teenager.”
Santa Barbara immigration lawyer Arnold Jaffee came to speak about his experience dealing with broken families and to shed light on immigration law.
“The situation of immigration in Santa Barbara is very, very ugly,” Jaffee said. “If someone is here illegally, the policy is to get rid of ‘em.”
Jaffee said that it’s an everyday topic for families to come to him with questions like “When is my dad coming home?” or “My husband has been deported.” It’s families like these, he said, that may have to wait up to 10 years to reunite. In these instances, he said, federal immigration law lacks equity.
“There’s law and there’s equity. Law is the rule, equity is the heart,” Jaffee told the crowd of about 50. “Federal immigration law holds very little equity.”
Dr. Theresa Figueroa, a UCSB Chicano Studies professor who studies migrant farm work in the county, spoke on the accessibility to rights for farm laborers who live in harsh conditions and do work “we wouldn’t want to do.”
Figueroa said that 300-400 Mexican famer families — some citizens, some undocumented — in Santa Maria are to thank for the 80 crops bringing in $1.5 billion in agricultural produce annually. Santa Maria farm workers are living, she said, in garages and makeshift houses that she calls “conditions without pride that do not allow them to capitalize.”
“They have a house, but not a home,” Figueroa said.
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The National League of Women Voters Santa Barbara holds a forum every third Wednesday of the month. For more information, call (805) 965-2422 for details.