Walking Forward in Uncertain Times

January 30, 2017

By Chris Compton

I spent Thursday morning at the Cathedral in Downtown L.A., listening to counselors from high schools, colleges and nonprofits discuss how they were supposed to talk to their students about last Wednesday’s executive orders on immigration. The event, organized by L.A. Cash for College and SoCal CAN with support from the California Community Foundation, was packed. More than 200 people, all drawn together by their concern over what the orders might mean for the tens of thousands of undocumented students whose futures hang in the balance.

What there was to know wasn’t good. Joseph Villela of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHRLA) broke down what the orders actually said. Their language is broad enough to potentially prioritize for deportation almost all of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and severely curtail the due process available to them. The deferment of deportation for those who had participated in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is no longer guaranteed, and CHRLA is cautioning those who have not received DACA not to apply.

There was good news amid the bad. Jon Waldrep and Javier Arguello of the California Student Aid Commission reminded attendees that, while federal funds and protection may be revoked, California still provides many resources. “I know it’s daunting, but California is still a welcoming state,” Waldrep said. “Dreamers are still eligible for CA Dream Act funds. That hasn’t changed, and we don’t see it changing.”

It was Ray Murillo, director of student programs at the California State University Office of the Chancellor, who crystallized what the crowd was thinking. He talked about a movie he’d seen in which the main characters were stranded on a ship, left to sink by those in power. They broadcast a call for help on the radio, and hundreds of locals came out to help them, in rowboats, canoes, whatever they had. “That’s what we have to do,” Murillo said, choking back tears. “We have to jump in our boats and save our kids.”

The sculpture pictured above is my favorite piece of art at the Cathedral. From across the courtyard, the figure seems to have its back to a blank, impenetrable wall. But as you get closer, you see this widening crescent of blue, until you realize there was always a way through. You just couldn’t see it from where you were standing. That’s what these counselors have to do. What we all have to do. Keep walking forward with the faith that we’ll see a way through.

It ended on a hopeful note. When the last speaker finished, we filtered out, shell-shocked but at least comforted by the knowledge that we weren’t alone in the struggle. I broke off from the crowd, took the escalator down to the garage and put my ticket in the machine to pay for parking. “Fee: $20,” the screen read, “Change is possible.”

Chris Compton is the communications manager for the California Community Foundation.

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