JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas State University Multicultural Center hosted an Immigration Forum Wednesday night.
Panelists included ASU Assistant Professor of History Dr. Laquita Saunders, ASU senior Juan Robles, Hispanic Community Services, Inc. Executive Director Gina Gomez, Sister Elaine Willett of the Holy Angels Convent and Mireya Reith, director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition.
They discussed the DREAM Act, immigration reform and immigration in Arkansas.
"I think the DREAM Act is an awesome way for people that want to further their education," said Robles.
Robles is double majoring in political science and Spanish because he wants to use his education and personal experience to help in the immigration reform effort.
"My parents actually immigrated here from Mexico in 1989. In 1996, they actually applied to become residents of the United States, and unfortunately it wasn't until I turned 21 that was able to happen because the line was so long, and they were just very low on the list," he said. "When I turned 21, I was actually able to apply for them and this past March they actually became residents of the United States."
The panelists discussed the work they believe is necessary in Arkansas to assist one of the fastest growing demographic groups in America. According to a report released by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in January 2013, Arkansas ranked fourth among the states in immigrant population growth from 2000 through 2010, with the foreign-born population increasing by 82 percent.
The panelists commended the progress they believe has been made locally in helping immigrants integrate into the area, citing Jonesboro and Rogers, Arkansas.
"The community of Rogers is a perfect example, one that I'm very proud to look at. It's a community that was very conservative in their attitudes," said Reith.
"(The city) produced a congressman, Congressman (Steve) Womack that made his career as mayor by bringing anti-immigrant policies to his community," said Reith. "But now, that community is embracing diversity, hosting international festivals and will be the site of an immigration reform rally."
"Jonesboro's another example with the mayor that you all have that is very supportive of diversity and integration," said Reith.
Panelist Sister Elaine Willett was instrumental in starting the path for integration in Jonesboro. She founded Hispanic Community Services, Inc. 16 years ago, and now works with about 400 families at Blessed Sacrament Church, offering spiritual and family guidance and practical skills.
"They are here because they want to work. They want to make a good life for their families," Willett said. "I wish that they themselves would say on a given day 'Every last one of us is going to leave the country. We'll just walk out.' There would be an uproar and the economy would suffer greatly."
The final ASU event in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month is "Spanish Movie Night - La historia official", which will be screened at Wilson Hall Auditorium in Room 211 on Tuesday, October 8 at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, call the Multicultural Center at (870) 680-4052.