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Fighting for immigrant rights

The aroma of spicy chile and sweet chocolate, alongside the quiet bubbling of thick sauce, often filled the home of Aricardo Guevara as his mother made her famous chicken mole. One of his favorite childhood meals, she would make it special for him every week. That was back when he was a kid. Now an adult enrolled at NMSU, the smell of spicy mole and juicy chicken wafts through his own apartment as he tries to recreate the savory dish.

Of course, his isn’t as good as hers. It probably never will be. But he still tries. It’s late January and he switches on the news as he prepares the traditional recipe. The newly elected president is on. Again. Guevara rolls his eyes and looks away, but turns back when he realizes what the new president is doing. He’s signing an order, an executive order. On immigration.

Guevara’s stomach drops and tears begin to fill his eyes as he realizes what this now means for not only his friends, but his family. The appetizing smell of mole that once reminded him of his Hispanic culture now fills him with a cold sense of fear and dread.

Since the signing of the executive order, a fiery passion has engulfed Guevara’s heart. Between the fear-driven phone call from his mother in which she indicated she was returning to Mexico, despite having a green card, or the empty seats in his classes that were usually occupied by his now fearful friends, he knows what he needs to do.

NMSU students and community members attend an on-campus meeting hosted by SOS in February. (Photo courtesy of SOS)

“The war begins right now,” he states. “I need to fight and do my part to make sure our community stays together.”

The way Guevara has chosen to combat this force is by reaching out to students around NMSU and the community. On a typical day you can find Guevara diligently walking throughout the NMSU campus looking for students to reach out to. It’s a sunny afternoon in the middle of February when he approaches a female student. “Have you heard about CAFÉ or SOS?” he asks. “They’re a local and on-campus organization seeking to help immigrants and protect them from everything that’s going on,” he says. He goes on to explain the mission of both organizations and encourages her to reach out to him. He scribbles down his number and hands it to her. “Call me if you know anyone who needs help.” She’s one of the many people he’s talked to just today.

“Here in Cruces, I personally know a lot of people where one of the family members, or a neighbor, is illegal. It’s everywhere,” Guevara explains. He says that a few weeks ago, around 2,000 students from kindergarten to high school didn’t go to class for fear of possible deportation. That was before Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) officials publicly reassured parents that federal agents wouldn’t be allowed to take students from school grounds. Of course, NMSU students have not been given the same assurance.

“Personally, I know four (NMSU) students that don’t know if they want to go to school,” Guevara states. “They have been asking me, ‘Arik, do you think I’m going to get arrested?’, and I can’t tell them for sure because we aren’t a sanctuary campus.”

Guevara says he is concerned about students who decide not to go to class. “Some of the students, they are seniors, they’re about to graduate in May, but they decide to stop going to class. They’re stopping their dreams because right now they don’t feel safe.”

On Dec. 2, NMSU Chancellor and President Garrey Carruthers said the university won’t declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for immigrants without legal status or ban federal law enforcement officials from campus. In an open letter to the NMSU community, Carruthers said that doing so “would jeopardize federal funding as well as our ability to issue student visas to our international students or visiting scholars.”

He explained that NMSU does not require proof of citizenship as a condition for admission and does not discriminate on the basis of immigration status. He also said that NMSU respects the privacy of all its students and does not disclose student information, except upon consent of the student or as required by law.

Associate Professor of Sociology Julie Rice sits in her quiet office scrolling through emails and local news updates. She clicks on the latest news story regarding ICE raids within the Las Cruces community. She shakes her head in disappointment as she reads the chilling article, aware that at any moment the same situation could befall the NMSU students she has come to know and love.

“It’s shocking to me now that ICE has been conducting raids throughout Las Cruces and the county, and that there’s still silence on behalf of the administration,” she says. Rice, an active member of the on-campus organization SOS (Standing with Our Students), explains that the organization has been trying for months to address and combat the issue of NMSU as a non-sanctuary campus.

“When the executive order first came out, we were driving a sanctuary campus petition,” Rice said, “but Chancellor Carruthers came out and said that we would not be a sanctuary campus and that he would not ban federal immigration officials from campus.”

However, Rice is determined to ensure students that the faculty do care about them.

“We have undocumented students and we have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, we have a large Hispanic student body, and a lot of them probably have friends and relatives that are undocumented,” Rice explains. “I think it’s just psychologically and emotionally beneficial for them to know that at least we care.”

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