Listening to Learn - Stories from the Immigration Response Team

Thursday, October 12, 2017

by Marissa Hill-Dongre, director, Immigration Response Team

In my role as the director of the University of Minnesota’s Immigration Response Team, I have the opportunity to talk to many people.  I outline changes to immigration laws and policies, discuss concerns that individuals and departments have, and answer questions about how these changes may impact immigrant and international students, faculty and staff at the University.

I also listen to many stories.  People share profoundly personal experiences, like:

  • The student with DACA who explained how her parent was in deportation (removal) proceedings in the past  She fears the same for herself when DACA expires. (More information about DACA can be found here.)
  • A student from a country included in the travel ban explained to me how hard it is to not be able to travel home (because he will be unable to re-enter). His family cannot get visas to visit him in the United States.  So he faces an indefinite separation from his family, forced to choose between his academic and career goals, and seeing his family.
  • A graduate student with DACA explained that he anxiously tracks developments with DACA-related bills in Congress.  Although he is married to a U.S. citizen, immigration laws are so complicated that unless Congress passes the DREAM Act or similar legislation, it may be impossible for him to get lawful immigration status in the United States once DACA expires. 
  • An admitted student from Turkey who spent the last 6 months working through a complicated waiver process with the U.S. Embassy to get a visa to attend  the University of Minnesota. He was finally at the point of being able to apply for his visa when this week it was announced, without any advance notice, that the United States and Turkey have mutually suspended the issuance of visas, indefinitely.

I try to explain to people not personally affected by these changes the myriad large and small ways U.S. immigration laws impact people’s lives. People are continually surprised when they learn that someone who is undocumented but has been in the United States since they were an infant could marry a U.S. citizen and still be unable to get lawful immigration status, or that people from certain countries who get work visas and have an employer-sponsored green card application regularly wait for five to ten years for the green card to be granted.

While immigration is a perpetual hot button issue, current events have brought immigration to the forefront - people who care about immigrants are suddenly eager to learn about how our system of laws treats people and are developing their own opinions about how those laws should be structured.  The opinions they form are informed by the stories of the people they meet.  I truly believe that we have to talk to each other, and perhaps even more importantly, listen to each other.  We must learn from each other’s stories in order to move forward.

My interest in and perspective on immigration and the United States’ approach to immigration laws is influenced by my family’s history and experiences.  You can listen to part of my story here. (Thank you to the Immigrant Stories project through the Immigration History Research Center for the tools to tell my story.) 



Thank you for this Perspectives piece. Speaking out about the "myriad of impacts" helps us as a campus to be more informed and inspires us to learn more about each other. The immediate and significant negative impact of these recent events is important to understand. Thank you for all your work with the IRT!


"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.