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Hillsborough Community College held an Immigration event called The Bridge Project, that started with an interactive workshop and concluded with a professional panel of local and national experts talking openly about immigration. The event was put together by the Community Based Activism group at HCC, and it focused on the national discussion surrounding our immigration system. An emphasis on education was also stressed by the panelists at the event on the Dale Mabry Campus.

Beginning in a classroom, the event had tables set up with a different topic written on large pieces of paper. Colored pencils were also available to illustrated the discussions undertaken while speaking about each subject. At each table was a person available to discuss the issue based on their own personal experiences and knowledge. Students and faculty spent 30 minutes asking questions and discussing the issues that command a large majority of the news on television. The issues discussed throughout the room ranged from the labeling of an immigrant that’s legal versus one that is illegal. Data, statistics, criminal activity and deportation were all popular discussion topics being addressed as well.

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HCC student Bryan Lopez sat at a table and explained the process immigrants go through to become American citizens. “The first step is to get a work permit which is renewed every year,” he explained. “There isn’t much that comes with that status besides being able to get a driver’s license and you receive very little government assistance.” The next step is to apply for a green card and then the work permit becomes void. At this point the immigrant is considered a resident of the U.S. and can receive some assistance. After 5 years of having the green card and living and working, the resident can then file to become an American citizen.

After, the attendees numbering at over 40 people, filtered into the auditorium to listen to a panel discussing these issues in a more in depth discussion. The experts consisted of New York lawyer Cesar Vargas, political strategist/activist Yesenia Mata, UT Immigration professor Michael Coon, local School Board Chair Susan Valdez, bipartisan immigration activist Samuel Aguilar, and USF Graduate Director Heide Castaneda.

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Misconceptions about immigration were a focal point during the question and answer session with the panelists. Professor Coon addressed the delusion of undocumented immigrants are a burden to the economy. He addressed it by sharing how these workers that pay taxes will never see a social security check but they have contributed 7-12 billion into that pool. Also, when they spend it generates more jobs and they also contribute by paying sales tax. The more living here, the more electricity and household goods are bought he added.

Valdez stressed some important points to the audience of young students. She said that, “To break cycles you need to have courageous leaders in power.” “Know who you are voting for and where they stand.” She explained that to implement change students need to reach out to their elected officials to make change happen.

With misinformation abound in our society, it is important to study the facts and have an open mind when discussion divisive issues. The event ended with all attendees having a broader view of just how complex and outdated our current immigration system is.

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