CoFIRED will host immigration reform conference

by Briana Tang | 11/5/15 9:15pm

United by a common interest in discussing and developing immigration reform, students from 20 different institutions representing all corners of the United States will arrive at Dartmouth today for the sixth annual Collegial Alliance for Immigration Reform Conference. The conference, organized by the non-partisan Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers, will run from Nov. 6 to Nov. 8 and has a varied schedule of events, including lectures, workshops, presentations and discussions.

Around 50 people from other institutions are expected to be at the conference. These students represent a mix of four-year and two-year private and public schools, from both the East and West Coast, including all of the Ivy League. There will be about 100 people at the conference including Dartmouth students, staff and faculty, CoFIRED co-director Dennise Hernandez ’17 said.

The conference is free and open to the anyone interested in immigration reform, CoFIRED co-founder and co-director Oscar Cornejo Jr. ’17 wrote in an email. Cornejo is in the Native American studies domestic study program in New Mexico and was unable to speak over the phone.

Faculty advisor to CoFIRED and Spanish and Portuguese professor Douglas Moody said that the event was organized entirely by CoFIRED.

“They’ve taken this all on themselves, from fundraising to the details of reaching out to people from other institutions,” Moody said. “I’m continually inspired by the dedication, energy and enthusiasm they put forth.”

CoFIRED did receive financial assistance from various parts of the College. Cornejo wrote in an email that CoFIRED would like to thank various organizations and departments at the College for their support, calling them “undocu-allies.”

The purpose of the CAIR conference is to “unite collegiate organizations, community organizers, students, activists, scholars and leaders of the immigration reform movement,” Cornejo wrote.

This conference will be important in unifying organizers, activists, scholars and students in discussing their role in the immigration reform movement, especially with the upcoming election, Cornejo wrote. CoFIRED hopes that the participants gain the skills necessary for leading reforms when they return to their institutions and help to foster long-term alliances across the country.

Cornejo wrote that the conference marks a turning point in Dartmouth’s history toward undocumented students.

Inspired to host the sixth Annual CAIR conference after attending last year’s conference at Princeton, CoFIRED sees the opportunity to host the conference as an opportunity to demonstrate Dartmouth’s commitment to immigration and undocumented students. CoFIRED, which is less than two years old, has not undertaken such a large project, Cornejo wrote.

Drake University anthropology professor Lourdes Gutiérrez Najera, who also taught at the College from 2007 to 2014, said that hosting the conference will allow Dartmouth students to share their experiences in activism and other campaigns to effect social change, which have been successful and deserve recognition. She mentioned CoFIRED’s petition to the Library of Congress in 2014 to drop the phrase “illegal alien” from its catalog subject headings as an example.

Additionally, Gutiérrez Najera hopes that the conference will bring more awareness of undocumented students to Dartmouth’s campus and the Upper Valley community. She said that there are people in the Upper Valley who want to support young peoples’ efforts for recognition but may not know how, so she hopes the conference will offer them concrete examples of how to be supportive in these efforts.

There are also young people in the Upper Valley who are unable to obtain an education because of their immigration status, she said, so she hopes that these students will become informed and learn from other young people like themselves.

CoFIRED alliance co-director Melissa Padilla ’16 said that conference is especially important with the upcoming presidential election. She hopes that the conference can be a way to bring information about immigration reform to the College.

At the conference, there will be presentations by FWDYale and California Statue University at Northridge’s Dreams to be Heard, a keynote address with Freedom University, — a school in Georgia that offers courses for undocumented students — a workshop with DREAM Act Coalition activist Erika Andiola, a film, lectures and discussions.

FWDYale will be presenting its mission, how the organization got started on Yale’s campus and its current projects and goals, FWDYale president and founder Carolina Rivera ’16 said.

The “What is Your Campus Doing?” discussion is one that CoFIRED is especially excited about, Padilla said. Students will have the chance to discuss what they are doing on their campuses, what things work and can learn from them and adapt their model.

There will also be various workshops.

During the CoFIRED workshop, CoFIRED will share how the organization arose and on what projects it has been working. The “Social Movements and Revolutions” workshop will be a reflective to talk with other students, with the purposing of creating a self-disclosing safe space.

Gutiérrez Najera will be running a workshop titled “DREAMer, DACAmented or Something Else? Language and Labels and their Impact on Undocumented Identity” with Dartmouth speech professor Claudia Anguiano. During the workshop, participants will discuss the “common terminology used to describe participants of the DREAMer movement” to “complicate the contemporary conversation about undocumented young people,” Gutiérrez Najera said. The workshop will also consider the implications the contemporary conversation has for United States politics, and how it specifically affects students and migrant families of color.

Gutiérrez Najera and Anguiano’s second workshop, “Real inclusivity in university settings? Undocumented Student Safe Spaces Training,” aims to make people aware of how to build safe spaces, Gutiérrez Najera said. The professors will use data from their research to provide specific strategies and resources meant to support undocumented students and help them to build networks of support, she said.

“I hope that the students will walk away with confidence as they return to their institutions. We are aiming to provide students with fresh ideas for implementing awareness and promoting inclusiveness around undocumented students on campus,” Gutiérrez Najera said.

Each of the respondents were most excited for different aspects of the conference.

Cornejo wrote he was most looking forward to meeting Erika Andiola and the Freedom University students for their work at the forefront of immigration reform.

“They are like my celebrities, my inspiration for the work I do. ​I look forward to seeing the scholars presenting on the theory and praxis of immigration activism,” he wrote.

Hernandez said that she is looking forward to the conference for its focus on fostering discussion among students and connecting students who share the same struggle.

Rivera said she is also excited to learn these students’ practices and experiences.