Univ. Dubuque students learn what it’s like to navigate the US immigration system

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) – Bryce Walter is a senior at the University of Dubuque. Monday night, however, was a 57-year-old widow who fled Eritrea with her three sons 15 years ago “because of the Eritrean government’s policy of forced and indefinite military service”.

“I know it’s going to be pretty tough just depending on the forms and everything you need to know how to fill out,” he said.

Walter is referring to an immigration simulation that he and about 50 other students from the university’s Wendt Character Initiative participated in. Each student was assigned the role of an immigrant or family member of an immigrant.

Students got a taste of what immigrants go through when dealing with the country’s immigration system, including long lines, language barriers and complicated document management.

“It’s really an intention to help explore and demystify some of these misunderstandings or preconceptions about what people may think the legal immigration process is, but more than anything to really highlight how the immigration system is complex and chaotic,” Yer Vang, legal director of the Immigration Legal Services Program with the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Dubuque, explained. The program was in charge of the simulation.

The Immigration Legal Services Program had held simulations like this before, but the COVID-19 pandemic had put them on hold for some time. On Monday evening, however, the group of Wendt scholars were able to cross the room and meet with lawyers, the embassy and social services. The cases the students represent today are those of people whom Catholic Charities have helped in the past.

Vang said the program is holding these events to try to bring people together on an issue that these days can be very divisive.

“The bottom line is that immigration shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” she added. “It’s really a question of humanity.”

Vang said their goal is to create a domino effect, hoping that these students, the leaders of tomorrow, will be better informed about the issues immigrants face when they come to the United States.

“Particularly in this setting, on a college campus, it’s our future leaders and it’s our future individuals who can become our legislators or our members of congress so they know that when they’re creating policies or rules or laws , it has real impacts on the lives of their own citizens and the people they represent,” she commented.

Organizers said those interested in learning more about the U.S. immigration system can contact the group at catholiccharitiesdubuque.org or by calling 319-364-7121.

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