The Director of the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance Alex Martinez visited UMKC last week to discuss the conditions of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and undocumented immigrants in America.
Martinez leads the local activist organization with the mission to advocate for immigrant rights and higher education for the undocumented youth.
The Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance (KSMODA) strives to educate their communities to ensure that every person’s dreams are possible, despite their citizenship status, race or sexual orientation.
Martinez encouraged students to embrace feelings of discomfort as he voiced his own experience of being an immigrant in America.
“Our purpose is to share our stories,” said Martinez. “The process of thinking differently happens naturally once you get to know people who are affected by these issues.”
There are over 6,800 people in Kansas that have DACA. Taking away their status would result in a $348 million loss of gross domestic product (GDP) every year.
Martinez’s use of vulgar language captured the audience’s attention and allowed for his feelings of frustration to be easily detected.
As a DACA recipient, Martinez has to pay $500 every two years for a renewable work permit and to give his biometrics. Due to his unlawful status, he is required to pay for but not allowed to receive federal benefits.
DACA was an executive order by President Obama in 2012 that allows many minors who were brought to America to be protected from deportation. Martinez considers his position in America to be on thin ice because he believes that in the next Supreme Court session this year, DACA will end.
Martinez encourages students to be mindful of the language they are using and to educate themselves on the harmful identities that they are attaching to people.
The media last year commonly misconstrued DACA recipients as children and victims. Martinez openly voices his disapproval of these inaccurate labels.
Martinez emphasized that DACA recipients are different from DREAMers. DREAMers are people that entered the U.S. as children, and if they meet extensive criteria, can gain a pathway to permanent legal status.
“When you call me a DREAMer, that does not apply to me. But I want it to apply to me. Then, I feel resentful of the people that it applies to,” said Martinez. “It creates this division of ‘these immigrants are good enough to get this status, but you’re not.’”
KSMODA focuses on giving undocumented youth and their families the resources they need. This includes advocating for local students to receive in-state tuition to go to college instead of the high international student rates.
Martinez’s grassroots organizing includes holding elected officials accountable and lobbying in the Missouri legislature.
One of the most important parts of activism for Martinez is to never give up.
The Economics Club Secretary Sam Stockman believed it was necessary to plan the event because the economy is interrelated and dependent on social issues.
“I wanted to talk about more diverse experiences to make sure people know economics isn’t just numbers, graphs and these abstract ideas about the economy. But it’s real people and real lives,” said Stockman. “Experiences like this are what makes up an economy.”
The Vice President of the Economics Club Matthew Applebury emphasized how the mix of different cultures and values creates a stronger society.
“Diversity does not mean weakness but strength,” said Applebury. “It is important to be up to date on these issues, otherwise we may be misled by politicians or others who have agendas that are out to hurt and divide, not heal and unite.”
Martinez closed the meeting by asking the audience one word to describe how they were feeling.
Junior Sean Eagan felt speechless but responded with the word “privilege.”
Eagen reflected on Martinez being frustrated by individuals asking what they could do to help with the issue. He stated that the ability to vaguely see a problem in society and to think about how to help defines privilege.
“There is no such thing as being not racist. There is racist or actively anti-racist. There is no in-between,” said Eagen. “The bare minimum you can do is discuss things with people. I mean, you have to talk about things.”