Drugs, crime and rape.
That’s what Presidential Candidate Donald Trump said “Mexico is sending” to the United states.
And to stop illegal immigrants, Trump wants to build “a big, beautiful, powerful wall.”
Then he wants to send those immigrants here, millions of people, back to Mexico.
People we see every day. People who are now part of our community.
Miguel Plasencia ’15 grabbed a sweatshirt from the Lion’s Closet. He wanted to represent his new school, so he threw on one of the first ones he could find. A white sweatshirt, SMLAX written in yellow letters across the front. The new seventh-grader, in his new gear, headed to lunch, but he was hit with an unexpected question.
Yo, you play lax? Another seventh-grader at the table asked Plasencia.
What do you mean? He’d never heard that word. Lax.
You play lax? They repeated.
He still didn’t know.
You don’t know what lacrosse is?
The kids laughed.
As a first generation American, Plascencia didn’t know what the sport of lacrosse was. His friends didn’t play it, and his parents certainly didn’t play it. In fact, his parents were both immigrants from Mexico.
His mom used a fake visa, with all her real information. His dad hiked over the border.
Plascencia’s parents came to America to provide for their family. And Placencia thinks that many Mexicans, the ones who own houses, live here and go to work here, come to America for similar reasons.
“Mexico is known for being a country for having a lot of drug-dealing and trafficking, but the people that come here to the United States . . . they are there because they have a job to do,” Plascencia said. “And that job is to advance their culture. To advance the people they love. To make people better, to make people smarter, to make their kids have a better future.”
Another first generation American, Hilario Vargas ’15 says his parents moved to the United States to find better opportunities. Opportunities that his parents didn’t have in Mexico.
His dad walked for hours to cross the border. His mom did the same, meeting her uncle on a nearby interstate.
“Being a first generation American and coming from a Mexican background, I believe, had already put me in a disadvantage to those people who were born here,” Vargas said. “However, it's all about opportunity, that's what really helped me and is still helping me. The opportunity to join an institution like St. Mark's and then a higher education beyond that.”
Plascencia and Vargas both came from similar situations, and when their paths crossed in the Great Hall, listening to former Headmaster Arnie Holtberg deliver a speech to new students, the two instantly identified with each other.
They hailed from Oak Cliff, which really helped out when Plascencia needed a ride home from a spirit party and no one else in the grade could give it to him. They both went to public school before, mainly hispanic. But now the two had an experience as first generation Americans that many others at school hadn’t had.
“[Being first generation] pushed me to be like them, so my kids could be like you guys were,” Plascencia said. “So that my second generation Americans can live comfortably and live well. That’s what I strived for. When I saw a lot of [other] guys and saw I was first generation, it made me want to go prove everyone wrong.”
As an immigrant, Student Services Supervisor Miguel Mesta has found a life at the school. He even learned English from the students here.
“They used to send me 10-15 boys a day, and I was taking them out to clean tables back in rooms and other little things,” Mesta said. “But when I was saying something wrong, it was always one student who would said ‘Mr. Mesta, you say it like this.’ That’s how I learned a lot from the students at the school.”
Immigrants, and descendants of immigrants, like these community members have always fueled the growth of this country. But there are still questions remaining regarding the issue of immigration. Important questions, ones that Trump brought to the forefront of the national headlines still stand: “Who do we let into our country?”
Local immigration lawyer Harry Joe addresses this issue.
“[Trump] says America’s need for these people is a magnet for them to come into the States,” Joe says, “and he’s right about that. This country has a very long history of needing and relying on immigrant behavior.”
The immigrant who wants to work is not the issue according to Wes Butler of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.
“From a law enforcement standpoint,” Butler said, “we want to stop the bad stuff, the bad people. Our big concern is not someone coming over here to work illegally. I don’t think somebody who’s going to be supporting their family working two minimum wage jobs is really going to start wrecking the economy.”
But even so, Butler has to enforce the law universally, even when it’s tough.
Like when Butler encountered an immigrated woman who had been living in the U.S. for ten years. She had two kids who were born in the United States. She had no criminal record. She was completely innocent of any crime, but he had to deport her, and consequently her children went with her.
“That’s the thing. It’s black and white,” Butler said. “There’s no gray in there. You can’t just sit there and let something slide. The law is the law. She came over here illegally, she overstayed illegally, that’s it. You can’t just all the sudden choose what you want to enforce. You have to enforce it all.”
Many politicians have proposed solutions to this issue. Trump’s solution: mass deportation and building a wall. But Butler, who works on the front lines of the immigration issue, knows the reality of the problem.
“There’s always a Trump out there or somebody with the same ideas that Trump has,” Butler said. “He doesn’t understand how impossible doing all that would be.”
Vargas has similar feelings about Trump’s plan.
“I don't know why anyone in their right state of mind would vote for a man who is as ignorant as he is,” Vargas said. “I don't know how easy it seems to him to be able to deport 11 million people but it would be impossible to do that. His plans for the United States are improbable and unrealistic.”
Joe doesn’t deny that there are bad people who come over to the U.S. illegally, but the idea of removing them all seems too difficult to pull off.
“And then those that are bad, those that want to cheat and steal, no country should take them, and the United States is no exception,” Joe said. “ But do we really want to kick them all out as Donald Trump is saying? Are we willing to pay the price for it?”
Joe says the the only way for Trump’s plan to work is to criminalize the hiring of illegal immigrants.
“Make it a crime for people to employ an undocumented worker,” Joe says. “You make it a crime to employ people who mow your lawns that are here illegally. Now, is this what you really want to do?”
As an immigrant himself, Mesta knows what it takes to immigrate to the U.S. and find a new job, a new life.
“But most of the people, I can say, they cross the border to get a better job, to live a better life,” Mesta said. “I put myself as an example. I grew up helping my mother raise a family. Moving into the United States, our idea was to work and send money to them to survive. And at the same time, I learned how to live here in the United States.”
Plascencia was curious. He knew his parents came from Mexico, but now their home was in America.
“If, somehow, Mexico and the United States went to war, who would you fight for?”
“I love my country of Mexico, but the United States has provided me with a life,” they both say. “And for that, I’d lay down my own life for the United States.”
And for Plascencia, that’s what being an American is.
“It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, where you come from, but it’s an ideal,” he says. “A sense of being. A sense of something greater than yourself.”