My entire experience at Teen JUST-US this summer has been amazing, fun, and incredibly educational. Being able to connect with teens from all over the region has helped me better understand the world we live in. During our cohort programs together, we often tackle difficult topics like poverty, homelessness, and immigration. One conversation that stands out to me was on the topic of immigration. We read texts focused on undocumented immigrants in the US who work essential jobs during the age of COVID-19. We talked about the dangers of COVID in general, but more specifically how the dangers affect someone who does not have access to healthcare, unemployment checks or adequate childcare. The number of COVID deaths that are reported to the public only accounts for those who die directly from COVID, not those who either have not gotten tested or cannot afford to keep themselves alive and well. Many immigrant workers cannot receive unemployment checks since they do not have social security numbers, forcing them to find jobs in essential services like grocery stores or agriculture. This makes them more susceptible to COVID since they can’t take time off of work or cannot properly social distance from other workers. If they do test positive for COVID, they often do not have adequate healthcare and possibly have to keep working. Reading about these undocumented immigrants made me see my privilege in a different way. My parents are both US citizens and we could never imagine ourselves in a situation like that.
Our cohort then continued the conversation and discussed the stereotypes surrounding migrant workers. Although everyone agreed with the necessity of migrant workers, we also agreed on ending the disgusting treatment of immigrants at the border. Parts of the US sees immigrants only as people who are going to “steal their jobs.” It is terrible to know that many people in the world dislike or hold prejudice against migrant workers when they are necessary for the country. Difficult conversations like this make me realize the bubble that I live in. I am surrounded by people who share the same beliefs and want to improve the world in some way. It inspires me to use my privilege to help underrepresented migrants both have the same opportunities as me and to grow to have a bright future.
Learning about immigration and how the US treats undocumented people has also helped me learn that all social justice work is connected. Immigrants who cannot receive unemployment benefits have the possibility to become homeless, adding to the homelessness problem the US faces. Something our group leader, Tyler, said to us that has stuck with me is “You can’t fight for one issue without fighting for them all.” When he said this to us in the beginning of the program. I didn’t believe him. Now, after learning about different social justice topics, I have realized this to be true and has inspired me to expand my social justice work.