Fighting Immigrant Discrimination

From a 2011 press conference on

Reaching across cultural and language barriers, immigrant students at the San Francisco International High School have compiled profiles of individuals working to solve a problem the students are personally affected by or interested in. This group of change makers focuses on discrimination against immigrants. 

Rogelio Garza



Rogelio Garza is from San Antonio, Texas, but right now he lives in the Coachella Valley, which is about 30 minutes away from Palm Desert. He works as a video and graphic design teacher for after-school programs in a high school.

More About Our Change Maker

We asked Garza what his job was like:  “…Being able to learn from the students was a very powerful thing. I think I take that with me now even as I teach. As much as I think that I’m teaching the students, the students are the ones that are teaching me. They’re always the ones that let me know that things are always a little bit deeper or a little bit more serious, if we just read into that type of discrimination.”

 Many times, the students told Rogelio about the discrimination they saw in the classroom. For example, when people were treated differently by some teachers or just ignored altogether.

What You Can Do To Help

If you want to do anything to change the problem, you should try to learn how immigrants actually help the United States, instead of hurt it. Immigrants pay taxes, work in industrial businesses and generate jobs.

Most of the time, discrimination happens because people believe that undocumented immigrants come to the United States because they want money, but very often, a cause for immigration is safety. Sometimes, families run away because of the increasing violence within their country or the ever-growing drug trafficking business.  Immigration is not all about money and getting a job, but also about finding a safer, more solid place in which to settle down.

For more information, check the Refugees Transition website, an organization that aspires to give undocumented immigrants the sufficient skills in language and education to become self sustainable in the United States.

Student group:

Vanessa De La Torre Rodriguez,  15 years old,  is from Mexico. Anderson Cruz, 17 years old,  is from El Salvador.  Cesar Lopez, 18,  is from Guatemala.  Mario Chavez, 18,  is from El Salvador.

Kelly Engel Wells

Kelly Wells


Our group interviewed Kelly Engel Wells. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is currently living in El Paso, Texas. She works at Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Inc. She has worked on immigrant rights for around ten years and for four years she has worked with children talking to immigrant children who came to United States without documents.

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At one point during our interview, Kelly Engel Wells said, “I think all human beings have the right to stay with their families and be somewhere safe where their rights are respected. And sometimes that means leaving their home country and coming to the United States… I want to make sure that once they come here to the United States they are able to stay and that their rights are respected.”

Kelly Wells believes that immigrants have the same rights as people who are born here. She believes that discrimination against immigrants can be stopped as long as people are determined to stop it and think of immigrants in a different and fair way.

What You Can Do To Help

Ms. Kelly Wells said “Don’t be afraid to speak out; often times, people take advantage of immigrants who are scared because of their legal status.” If somebody treats you unfairly, please talk to a lawyer, or if your safety is in danger or you are the victim of a crime, go to the police. Remember, you deserve the same rights that others have. We think this is what the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means when it says “Everyone is born free and equal.”

To know more visit this site. 

Change is in your hands.

Student Group:

Abdias Aguilar, 17, is from Guatemala. Dulce Alfaro, 17, is from Mexico. Marian Frances Baquilar, 15, is from the Philippines. Madhelin Santos, 16, is from Honduras.

Shira Tevah

shira .jpg


Shira Tevah  is from Chicago and works in an organization in San Francisco called East Bay Community Law Center. She has been a law student for one year. Now she is going to work at an organization that does criminal defense.

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“The legal system is supposed to be equal for everybody, but in truth it is hard for people with less money to get legal services, it is hard for them to win cases in court, and it is mostly poor people who are in prison and jail in the United States,” said Shira Tevah.  “I think that is wrong. I think that most of the people who are in prison probably shouldn’t be in prison, especially if it is for small kind of crime or a crime that didn’t hurt anyone. So that is one of the biggest problems based on our society today. That is why I care about that and doing this job.”

What You Can Do To Help

Shira said, “I think people can change the problem of discrimination by getting together into a big, powerful group and fighting for equality and changing the laws.” As teenagers, what can we do is try not to discriminate against immigrants and try to ask our friends not to discriminate.

Student Group

Elvis Lin, 16, is from China. Luis Cifuentes, 16, is from Guatemala. Nicole Licona, 15, is from Honduras. Jahxton, is 17.

Laura Melgarejo


Our group interviewed Laura Melgarejo. She works for PODER (People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights). Laura was born and raised in Mexico. At the age of 15, she immigrated to the United States. Laura has been working with PODER for more than 10 years. Some of the work that Laura does is to go into the community and deliver community education workshops in schools and churches. The workshops cover various topics that include general know your rights information for immigrant families, DACA, AB-540 and CA Dream Act, and many other issues related to immigrant students/families.

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“I care about this problem because I’m an immigrant myself and I know what is it like to experienced discrimination. Also because the families that I work with experienced this every day, families feel that they do not have rights or can not change what affects them. That is why I want to empower families by telling them that they have the rights.”

What to do to help 
If you want to help change the problem of discrimination against immigrants, you can support the work of community organizations like PODER and networks like the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network .  When you see a problem, you have to speak up about it, otherwise we will always fall in the trap silence, thinking that it only happens to me and that I can not fix it by myself.

Student Group

Diohan, 14, is from Brazil. Jose, 16, is from Honduras. Johnny, 15, is from China. Ishmael, 17, is from El Salvador. Julio, 16, is from Guatemala.

Ron Gutierrez


Our group interviewed Ron Gutierrez. He is from the United States and works for Legal Services for Children (LSC). He has been working at LSC since 1996. His job is to help immigrants and youth with legal guardianships, foster care, education advocacy. They have attorneys and social workers on staff.

More about Ron and his work

We asked Ron why people discriminate against immigrants. Ron said one reason is that people see differences between immigrants and themselves. For example, some immigrants can’t speak English perfectly. Another reason is, many people think immigrants take resources from the United States. However, Ron said, “That is a sign of ignorance that people don’t know about how immigrants contribute to United States.”

We all agree with Ron, because we all see that how immigrants contribute in SF. Like he said, “Look in a restaurant, or a hotel, or other lots of places of hard labor, who’s doing the work?” We all know the answer is that mostly immigrants are doing the work. Additionally, most immigrants pay taxes to the government just like a citizen. So, do you think if an immigrant contributes so much, is it fair that they don’t have rights? We think life is about give and take, immigrants give things to United States, they should deserve the same amount of rights. So, why immigrants experience racism from others? Why can’t immigrants vote? Why immigrants have to wait for a long time to be a citizen by passing a hard citizenship test? Even a baby can be born with citizenship, but an immigrant has to wait for a long time, and it’s not even a guarantee!

What you can do to help

If you want to help change the problem of discrimination against immigrants, support the work of Legal Services for Children. Another thing you can do to help is go contact Refugee Transitions to volunteer to help immigrant students.

Student Group
Yoselin, 15, is from Honduras. Kelly, 17, is from China. Emmanuel, 16, is from Mexico. Cesar, 17, is from Honduras

Yoxeli Romero Santos


Our group interviewed Yoxeli Romero Santos. She is from Mexico ( Guerrero) and with the organization 67 Sueños.  She works with undocumented young people as a tutor.

More about Yoxeli’s work

During our conversation with Yoxeli she said that she loves when they do interviews with young people to learn their stories. They take their stories and make them into murals for the community. She also told us, “We are working on our fourth mural and we are working with students at SFIHS to make a mural for the school.” Our group felt inspired because this story shows how Yoxeli and her organization help undocumented people feel integrated and included in our society.

What You Can Do To Help
If you want to support immigrants and immigrant rights, you can support the immigrant people when you make donations for help to the organizations that work to protect their rights. Two organizations that do great work are 67 Sueños and Legal Services for Children.

Student Group

Juan Pablo, 15, is from Colombia. Marcela, 16, is from El Salvador. Stefany, 15, is from El Salvador. Scharly, 19, is from Honduras. Yaquelyn, 16, is from El Salvador.

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  1. John

    I do not believe that American discriminate against immigrants in general. Although I have heard some average-quality American tech workers complain about those who come here on H1-B visa’s, because they are generally smarter and work for less.

    Where Americans have a problem is with illegal immigrants.

  2. Missionite

    The word ‘undocumented’ somehow implies that illegal immigrants just forgot their paperwork, or are unjustly having paperwork withheld. Illegal immigrants have chosen to do something illegal, and now are complaining about being treated like they did something illegal, which they did.

    • Grim

      Of course, the fact that they did something illegal is well known, but it’s not so much about what they did, but why they did it. If the neighborhood you lived in had nothing going for it, and it was overflowing with gang members who kill residents for the most insignificant of reasons, wouldn’t you do the same? It’s also important to take in mind that the police in that country is close to incompetent and corrupted as it can get.

  3. Undocumented

    Using the word Illegal is not imposed on others awaiting the due process of law, which in the US provides for an innocent untill further proven positioning. To call someone Illegal would be setting up a process that finds anybody who may be seeking asylum or had no choice (which the US Constitution makes allowances for). Illegal is a case for courts to fairly and non objectively decide. We dont even impose that on criminals because technically convicted murderers, thieves and others would be prefaced with the word illegal. Now stamp that word with that connotation, prejudice on youth or someone with a deeper reason to have crossed borders and you have set them on a path to believe their lives are less than someone who was luckily born on this side of the border. More over you introduce blatant bias into a legal system that is intended to not be biased. Language is important and if you want to articulate the law to define instances and protect the rights of all peoples then we must begin by doing so correctly.

    • Sam

      Many protections in our legal system that are constitutionally guaranteed are for citizens and those here under valid immigration programs. So an illegal immigrants does not enjoy many protections that we might take for granted, like a jury trial or the services of a public defender.

      That is why the federal government can lock up illegal immigrants for months at a time. Immigration courts are totally separate and distinct from regular criminal courts.

      You are arguing that the differential treatment is unconstitutional and illegal, but that is not the case. You should instead argue that it is unfair and that illegal immigrants should have equal rights with other criminals.

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