Jolt held a National Immigrants Day panel on Monday, which featured five international students from SFA campus.
Emmanuella Adegbola, senior biology major from Nigeria, Joice Acosta, senior speech pathology major from Mexico, David Ajiga, senior business economics major from Nigeria, Opeyemi Mulero, junior biology major from Nigeria and Maria Cruz, junior social work major from Mexico, were all part of the immigrant panel.
To open the panel, Dr. Aaron Moulton, assistant professor of history, provided insight on the history of immigration.
“There was not an established immigration system before the late 1800s. Immigration was pretty loose. There was never a fear of us running out of space or out of jobs. It was just assumed, if you were healthy, if you lived here long enough, we were going to make you a U.S. citizen. Our industrial system welcomed them,” Moulton said.
Moulton explained the laws and history of immigration up to the 2000s, and after the lesson on immigration, the students answered questions about their experiences.
All panel members agreed that they came to the U.S. to get a better education, except Acosta.
“I didn’t have a choice. My parents brought me here. I was three years old. I think it was a better life because my parents were really poor,” she said.
Adegbola, Mulero, and Ajiga are here on an F1 student visa, where they have to file a visa application from their home country, go through an interview process and ultimately be approved to enter the U.S. to attend a university or college.
Adegbola, Mulero and Ajiga gave the audience insight on what it’s like having to be a college student on the F1 visa.
“The hardest part is the interview for your visa because it’s really tough. They ask you questions, you have to know a lot about the U.S. and the education system. They deny a lot of people. If you’re not confident or if you kind of stutter, they can deny you. I remember I was at the embassy and they were denying a lot of people. That’s the toughest part coming here as a student,” Ajiga said.
According to the rules of the F1 visa, international students cannot have a job off campus.
“As international students, we pay three, four times more what you pay for tuition. I’m sure a lot of you get to work off campus, so you can get jobs that will pay you better. As international students, we don’t get to work off campus. I’m stuck with a $7.25 pay. I have to get my ring from that and pay whatever I have to pay from that. It’s been difficult,” Adegbola said.
The students said that when they initially came to SFA, they felt different and didn’t feel comfortable identifying as immigrant students.
“When I moved here, it was hard because in most of my classes, I was the only foreigner. SFA isn’t really diverse so it was hard, but I’m more comfortable with it because it’s my identity,” Ajiga said.
“At the beginning for me, it was hard because nobody knew anything about international students. Because of my accents, people found it hard to relate to me. When I came to SFA, it was easier. Some people don’t know about Nigera, so gradually it has gotten easier for me to put myself out there and talk about Nigeria. Now, I can identify as an international student in particular,” Mulero said.
“I’m an illegal immigrant, but sometimes I’m like, why should I say yes or no, because there’s so much racism at SFA,” Acosta said.
Acosta recalls a time she was in a class on campus when a student made a comment about illegal immigrants.
“I just went off but I started crying because I cry when I’m mad. Now, I use it to speak up. I have DACA and I feel like a lot of people don’t want to speak about it. I’d rather do something good and advocate for more people,” she said.
The next question asked was if students felt any privileges or benefits for being immigrants.
“As an immigrant, you work harder. You have to be a perfect citizen. You can’t have any bad records, you have to be perfect to have it [DACA]. If I mess up, it’s taken away from me. It gives us a benefit to have that and I feel that I am privileged in the fact that my skin color, I’m not as dark as other people. There’s still so many people that, ‘Oh, she’s darker. She’s going to get bullied’,” Acosta said.
Mulero said that during her experience as an immigrant at SFA, people have asked her if people in Nigeria live in huts and that students have asked her when she started wearing clothes.
“In Nigeria, it’s just like here. We have an airport. Some people are really surprised when I tell them about it, which is why I like telling people about Africa, Nigeria, because people really don’t know the real Africa,” Mulero said.
Once the international students graduate from SFA, they have 60 days to return back to their country. If they find employment here, they have to file for another visa to stay here and work a certain number of years. The goal for some students is to go back to their country and give back in any way they can, since employers pay employees more for studying in the U.S. and it is in high demand.
“I have considered going back, like self-deportation, especially this summer. You see the ICE raids, the deportation centers, I have considered going back. I have my options because I can stay here and wait on something to happen or I can go back. If I go back, I know that I’ll be okay,” Cruz said.
When asked what the university can do to provide more support to immigrants at SFA, all students on the panel agreed that scholarships would help a lot.
“International students come here to study. That’s the number one thing. We take school very seriously. It would be nice to be recognized for the effort we put into school. It’s a lot of mental issues going on, too, because school takes a toll on you. You feel like your parents are doing so much [back home] and you have to keep going because you’re not as privileged as anyone else,” Ajiga said.
Now here at SFA, the students all agreed that it was difficult to come here and that they’re here for the right intentions.
“We’re coming here for a purpose. Money is spent for education. I feel like there’s no right or wrong way to come here. You’re just coming here for a purpose,” Mulero said.
As an illegal immigrant, Acosta said that although some people come to the U.S. through what is considered to be the wrong way, there is still no right way to come to the country.
“If you’re coming here illegally, you’re not coming here to do bad stuff. The people that are coming here [illegally] are coming here because they’re poor. They’re coming here to have a better life. They’re risking their life, dying in the river, you think they’re coming here for bad reasons? No,” Acosta said.
Some of the proudest moments that the students have experienced in the U.S., include their expected graduation date and the opportunity to meet other international students.
National Immigrants Day is Oct. 28. To learn more about Jolt and their upcoming events, follow the SFA chapter of Jolt on Instagram @latinxsfa.