A round of gasps and looks of disbelief were exchanged among 13 students after hearing what a student from Texas declared over the webcam.
“I don’t want to compete with migrants for my job,” the student said. “They shouldn’t be allowed here.”
The Freedom High students then calmly retorted that illegal immigrants hold the jobs most Americans would never dream of doing, such as picking produce or construction. Thus, they said, migrants are not competition for jobs requiring at least a high school education and fluent English, which is what high schoolers today will soon be applying for.
Thirteen sociology and government students representing Freedom High School participated in a videoconference with students many miles away in Texas last week. The activity, which focused on illegal immigration and border crossings, was hosted by the Global Nomads Group. GNG is non-profit organization that sets up dialogues between students and promotes cross-cultural interactions. Earlier in the day, a similar discourse occurred on the recent revolts in Tunisia.
The schools that Freedom High School video-conferenced with were Brown Middle School and Silva Health Magnet High School in El Paso, Texas.
The exercise was an opportunity for students to become comfortable with the technology itself and to raise the awareness of global issues and provoke thought, said Dennis Holt, supervisor of secondary social studies for Hillsborough County public schools.
Immigration has always been a hot-button issue, Holt said, but it has been in the media more recently with a recent speech in El Paso by President Barack Obama on his plans for immigration policy reform.
The Freedom students provided personal opinions and asked questions about immigration and its sub-issues, including racial profiling, drug cartels and job competition between immigrants and citizens. A GNG moderator, who is also a student, directed the conversation between the schools by allowing them to ask each other questions and offer comments on an equal basis.
The El Paso studnets gave their insights on what it is like to live so close to the Mexican border and the violence associated with it. The discussion sometimes veered into a heated debate between the schools.
“I feel that the videoconference gave us a chance to share our views, but it caused the schools to butt heads on the drug cartels and who was to blame for them,” sophomore Karissa Mauro explained.
The schools argued over whose fault the existence of the cartels was, the Americans who kept purchasing the drugs, thus creating a market for them, or the actual members of the cartel and their relentless thirst for money.
Other students saw some flaws in the conferencing.
“It was a good platform for getting ideas over a distance, but one-on-one would have been better,” freshman Dominick Estremera said. “I learned that even though we’re not affected here, there are other students affected individually and as a community.”
Many of the students from El Paso shared accounts of how border violence, drug cartels and gangs have affected them as individuals and as a community. One student who is originally from Mexico described his disappointment in not being allowed to cross the border once a week to visit family; it was too risky, the student said.
Their Florida counterparts found it more difficult to relate with living so close to a border and being directly affected by border violence.
Sociology and American government teacher Melissa Haas attended the videoconference and helped her students compose the questions they were going to ask the other schools in advance. She said it was a great opportunity for her students to study culture from the perspective that our society is made up of so many different nationalities.
“It was structured to be more of a discussion than a debate to see how immigration affects schools across the country,” Haas said, adding the videoconferencing technology was new for them. “In my four years of teaching sociology, this was my first time. It was a good opportunity for the students so I hope we can continue it.”