KNOXVILLE — The U.S. is currently embroiled in an ongoing debate about immigration. One Johnson student has personal experience, having moved to the United States when she was a child.
JUTN student Paulina Morelos Perez migrated to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was 8 years old. Although she is now a citizen of the U.S., Perez remembers growing up as an immigrant divided between two homes.
“Because I am Hispanic, my entire childhood and more than half of my life has revolved around two worlds,” Perez said. “It was difficult to blend in, like the other kids, at school when we had to talk about our families, our family traditions, or even the types of music we liked, mostly because no one would understand what I would be taking about,” she said.
Perez explained that her experience as a minority in this country has greatly influenced her worldview. She said she feels that she is more accepting of differences in the people around her because of her heritage.
“Living in America has given me the opportunity to explore my humanity,” Perez said. “I am bicultural, a blessing that has enabled me to be more welcoming of others and differences.”
Part of Perez’s worldview has been tested recently with political events surrounding immigration.
“I am able to see the work that immigrants have contributed to this nation, and I am hurt when others do not recognize that immigrants are big contributors,” she said.
Perez said that she understands many people come into the U.S. illegally, and she is not opposed to vetting, yet she feels there is always another side to the story.
“I understand that many, actually millions, crossed the border illegally, yet I also see that they were fleeing persecution, hunger or poverty,” she said. “I understand that some might be criminals, yet I also understand that I must not classify a group of people by the mistakes of others.”
Perez explained that she does not understand how immigrants can be treated as second class citizens when they work hard to contribute to the country.
“Many do not see freedom as a right, and thus, I stand with those who are oppressed, due to their legal status, because I feel like God has called me to stand with those who cannot speak up for themselves,” she said.
Perez said that President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration seems to come as an effort to protect the U.S., and she is not entirely opposed to the president, but she finds a deep issue in the way he communicates.
“I do not like his rhetoric,” she said. “He uses fear and oppression to identify with the public. I feel like his view on immigration is very skewed,” she said.
While she doesn’t like what she calls Trump’s rhetoric, she does believe the president loves the country.
“Trump cares deeply for America, and that is wonderful, yet I believe that he needs to understand that not all immigrants are criminals, rapists, or terrorists,” she said.
Perez said that she is passionate about extending help to immigrants and refugees of all countries.
“As a Christian, I believe that I am entitled to help those in need and it hurts to see that we are shutting them down completely due to their religious views,” she said.
Perez said she believes the idea of a wall along the southern border of the U.S. would not be as effective as increased security in the form of cameras or increased border patrol in deterring immigrants.
Perez explained that she thinks mass deportations could result from the executive order and that this will result in both emotional and infrastructural chaos. She said that she has already seen the consequences of this chaos.
“I have been a witness to the new struggles immigrant families are facing,” she said. “Their lives have been radicalized. Many are afraid of even going out to get their necessities, because they fear the police and being deported.”
Perez explained that she has witnessed families gripped with fear that they will be separated due to lack of documentation.
“They are afraid of being torn apart. My family is afraid that we’ll no longer be able to stay in this country,” she said. “My friends are scared of losing their families and several Latino businesses, who generate local, state, and federal income, are experiencing financial difficulties.”
For Perez, this fear could not be any more personal.
“This minority group, which I call mom, dad, friend and neighbor is experiencing isolation, and for me, it is difficult to live in a world where I am both free and restricted,” she said.
Perez said that she feels the topics of immigration and inclusion are addressed in a positive manner on JU’s campus but she added that talking about an issue will never replace firsthand experience.
“I feel like one will not be able to see the fear and the hurt in immigrant families until one interacts with them,” she said. “It is empathy that drives action and enables us to fight against injustice, not sympathy. Feeling sorry for someone never helps.”
Perez posed selflessness as a solution to the difficulty surrounding this topic.
“Jesus loved and died for people, we must remember that Christ asked us to follow in his footsteps,” she said.