December 12, 2019

Members of the Catholic University Student Organization of Latinos (SOL) spent a day educating their peers about the push factors that force people to migrate and advocating for just immigration laws during a student-led Day of Action on Dec. 4. By maintaining a presence in the University’s Pryzbyla Center for 12 hours, the students were able to gather more than 450 signed petitions, which will be delivered to senators and state representatives on Capitol Hill next month. 

Sophomore psychology and brain science major Angela Zelaya, vice president of SOL, said the goal was to educate members of the Catholic University community about challenges facing immigrants to the United States while also helping to make a difference.

“In the Catholic Church, we’re supposed to help each other and we’re supposed to follow in the steps of Jesus who was here to help people who couldn't help themselves,” she said. “I want to make sure everyone knows there are dangers in other countries and that’s why immigrants come here for opportunities. People need a safe haven and I feel like that should be something we can help them with.” 

SOL received a $2,500 grant from Bread for the World to fund the project. Grant proceeds were used to produce a video of students sharing their perspectives on immigration and to purchase matching t-shirts and supplies for the day of advocacy. 

Sophomore nursing major Esther Paulino, president of SOL, said the day of action was SOL’s way of “doing something big” for immigrants on campus, especially those from Central America.

“It’s really nice to be able to see everyone wearing these shirts around and to know that other people care and that we’re not alone,” she said. 

For Paulino, the issue of immigration advocacy is a personal one. Both of her parents came to the United States as undocumented immigrants. Up until she was 17 years old, her mother was undocumented. Eventually her mother traveled back to the Dominican Republic to obtain her residency papers, but the process took longer than expected, requiring her to stay out of the country for three months at the beginning of Paulino’s senior year of high school. 

“This whole issue of immigration has impacted my life so much and it upsets me because other people have gone through it and had it much worse,” she said. “My mom was able to come back, but others are not so lucky.” 

Paulino said she hoped the Day of Action would open up a dialogue about immigration and allow students and members of the community to think about the issue in a new way. 

“Ignorance is bliss, but it can also blind you from understanding what other people are going through,” she said. “The reason why we can’t have a conversation between parties that are for immigration and parties that are against it is because there is no understanding of the opposing side. I’m hoping this helps people understand just how important this issue is in a lot of people’s lives and that this is bigger than just one single day.”