Over the past few decades in the United States, the topic of immigration has risen as a prominent hot-button issue in politics, and with this rise, the process of crossing borders has become increasingly difficult. Many migrants and immigrants who make the journey to a new country in search of a better life are often met with extended periods of time waiting for approval once they get to their destination.
However, at the College of William and Mary, the student-run organization William and Mary Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Equity is working to raise awareness about the experiences of immigrants and provide resources for the College’s immigrant students. Club treasurer Adam Miller ’26 said the club has also extended its work to hosting guest lectures from professors, partnering with immigrant advocacy groups at other Virginia college campuses and working to hold events with similar groups at the College.
Club Secretary Micael Almeida ’26 added that one of the club’s main events is its UndocuAlly training sessions, which focuses on educating the College community on how to support undocumented students.
“It’s basically getting you ready to understand the issues undocumented immigrants face in this country, and it’s basically letting you know how it is that you can help,” Almeida, who identifies as an immigrant from Brazil, said. “How can you be an ally in their current situation?”
Miller further reaffirmed that the training is important for students to help point out commonly held yet harmful misconceptions surrounding undocumented immigrants.
“UndocuAlly teaches you how to be an ally to the undocumented community and how to be the voice in the room when nobody else has the right information,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions that go around, so we encourage people that come to our training, like students in class when somebody says something that’s inaccurate about immigrants in this country, so that they can be advocates for saying, ‘actually, that’s not correct.’ We also want to break up stereotypes and misconceptions, things like that.”
In regards to big-picture issues that the organization looks to tackle, Miller emphasized the importance of advocacy and education as these increase Americans’ awareness of the political reforms needed to ensure migrant safety and wellbeing.
“A lot of people are still quite relatively uneducated and unaware about the issues and challenges that face the migrant and immigrant communities in this country,” Miller said.
Miller also added that many Americans take for granted the freedoms offered by citizenship and the general stability of life in the U.S., asserting that U.S. citizens have the responsibility to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.
“They don’t realize that non-citizens don’t get the security of your person and knowing that you belong here, and you’re never going to have your life disrupted because of your immigrant or immigration status,” Miller said. “Your life is going to be affected by the winds of a bureaucracy that has decided that they don’t want you here anymore.”
Club member Daniella Morales ’26 emphasized that migration and immigration and the debates and challenges that stem from them impact countries all across the world, not only the U.S., even though it is still a significant area to focus on.
“All immigration and migration needs to be addressed because it is not just a US policy issue,” Morales wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “Immigration happens all around the world for various reasons and if we only focus on the US-Mexico border, we are ignoring the voices of thousands who need support.”
Morales, a second-generation immigrant, said she joined the WMFIRE to shed light on experiences like those of her parents and to fight misconceptions surrounding the immigrant experience.
“My parents are immigrants from Peru, and I understand all the obstacles they have had to overcome to be in this country and the difficulties they still face today,” Morales wrote. “I joined WMFIRE because I wanted to share their story by advocating that immigration is beautiful and that there is no one ‘right’ way to migrate.”
As an immigrant himself and outspoken activist for immigrants rights who has lobbied Virginia General Assembly delegates to make a change, Almeida said that being a member of WMFIRE has allowed him to advocate on behalf of his community and discuss political issues he is personally invested in.
“The mission is important to me because there are a lot of issues that immigrants and the immigrant community face – some of the issues of which personally affected me and my family,” Almeida said. “It helps create this bigger sense of community.”
Looking ahead to the future, WMFIRE plans to work with the College of William and Mary Law School’s Immigration Clinic to make connections with undocumented students and members of the community. Because the clinic has a long waitlist, WMFIRE can help the clinic reach more people by using its platform to raise awareness and money, Miller says.
CORRECTION (02/20/24): Article was updated by Anna Saal, the Standards and Practices Editor to update the organization name to William and Mary Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Equity. A previous version listed the group as William and Mary Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Equality. The article also updated the name of the training from Undocu-ally to UndocuAlly.