The following story is about a high school student experiencing a political awakening. Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School senior Jasnen Valencia, also known as Jaz, wrote the following letter to Senator Tammy Baldwin for one of her classes:
Dear Senator Baldwin,
The government should allow immigrants a path to citizenship. Immigration has been around for a very long time because we are all immigrants. But the immigration system is broken and we are in need of an overhaul. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
An estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States as of January 2012 compared to 11.5 million in January 2011, according to the most recent estimates issued by the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics.
As an immigrant as an immigrant myself, I believe that the government should allow immigrants who are here illegally to become U.S. citizens as long as they are willing to work, to make money for their family and themselves. They obey the law. They respect our Constitution and our culture and pay taxes, as well.
Most immigrants come to United States for a better opportunity for them and for their family because their country is in poverty, too many dangerous gangs, not enough jobs, no money for food and water, or they are just searching for a better way of living.
Lastly, I would like to abolish the word term “alien” because we are mankind and we are all humans. Why not form one world? Immigrants are regular people searching for a better way of living just like all of us. We should not be called aliens because we are not from outer space. I despise that term when it is used to describe immigrants.
Thank you for your time in listening to my letter.
WPR’s Maureen McCollum then interviewed Jaz about why she wrote that letter. Here’s part of their conversation (which has been edited for brevity and clarity):
Maureen McCollum: Can you tell me why you wrote this letter to Senator Baldwin?
Jasnen Valencia: It was required for my Road Ahead class, which is a class for seniors. At first, I wasn’t too excited about writing because I don’t like writing. But, when I got into it, into the story, like writing it more, I got more excited about it and it was like a weight lifted off my shoulder.
Maureen: Jaz, you immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras and were eventually adopted. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Jaz: I got adopted when I was nine. I got a phone call from my birth mom in New York. She was asking my adoptive parents if they wanted to adopt me. Immediately they said yes. I just felt wanted and it was awesome. But at that time, I was kind of sad because I wasn’t like a normal kid. I felt different because I was getting adopted and like they weren’t my biological parents.
Maureen: So is your birth mom from Honduras or your your adoptive parents?
Jaz: Yes, my birth mom is from Honduras. She had me when she was 18. She couldn’t take care of me so she came to the United States to try to make money to send it to Honduras.
Maureen: How long did you live in Honduras?
Jaz: I lived in Honduras for maybe like like six years.
Maureen: What would you say to people who feel like the U.S. needs tougher immigration laws?
Jaz: I would say that immigrants are just regular people looking for a better opportunity, just like you and I. But we live in the United States, so we’re one of the lucky people. They’re trying to come to the United States so that they get that opportunity. And at the end of the day we’re all immigrants.
Maureen: This was the first time you had written something [political] like that. You said after you finished writing the letter, you felt excited.
Jaz: Yes, I felt very excited!
Maureen: Are you going to do something like this again?
Jaz: Definitely! Because when I first started writing my piece, I wasn’t excited about it because I wanted to like come up with something legit. Something that was powerful.
Maureen: Do you think more people your age need to start speaking up about issues? About anything going on within a political system?
Jaz: Oh yes definitely. I think it’s important because we are the people that it’s going to affect as we get older. So that’s why we need to speak up. So when stuff happens like we’re not like, ‘Damn I wish I did something about it.’ Like why don’t we just speak about it now and just do it, you know?
Maureen: Beyond writing letters, are there other ways you’ve been thinking about getting involved?
Jaz: I would like to volunteer with immigration and help people find houses, food, that type of stuff. I’m thinking about getting into immigration law, but I don’t know if I want to go to school for that long.
Maureen: That’s great. ¿Hablas español?
Jaz: (laughing) ¡Claro que sí!
After talking with Jaz, we reached out to Senator Baldwin’s office to see if she had a response to Jaz’s letter. Here’s what she sent us:
Thank you, Jasnen, for contacting me about this important issue.
Immigration is part of our American story and immigrants are a part of America’s future cultural and economic prosperity.
When I first joined the United States Senate in 2013, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass comprehensive legislation to reform our immigration laws, strengthen border security, and provide a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants. While that bill unfortunately did not become law, I continue to believe there is bipartisan support in the Senate to fix our broken immigration system.
I also believe it is essential that those seeking refuge or asylum in our country are treated fairly and humanely. I believe welcoming people fleeing violence and oppression strengthens America’s connection with freedom, the foundation of who we are as a people.
Please know that I will keep working to ensure that our immigration system grows our economy, strengthens our borders, treats immigrants fairly, and keeps Wisconsin families together.
Hear from more MG21 students throughout the year on “Wisconsin Life” and on the special, “Classroom Frequency: Student Voices From Wisconsin.”