Students take action when immigration issues hit home


Credit: Maria Vacacela

Members of the Hudson Scholars program attended an immigration rally in White Plains last July. The rally was planned by PAL leaders Amy Chalan and Matt Fisch along with paralegal Luis Yumbla to garner support for families affected by deportations. The rally was meaningful for Hackley ‘s mentors after scholar Chrissy’s father was deported earlier this summer.

By Max Rosenblum, Politics Editor

Since President Trump’s election in 2016, the immigration issue — ranging from the controversy over the proposed border wall to the separation of families — has taken center stage in American politics. Although the issue is important for many, it remains impersonal for most. But its implications grow exponentially once the issue moves past the realm of the impersonal and into the realm of the personal.

This transition is exactly what the 150 members of Hackley’s Hudson Scholars program experienced this past summer. It began when senior Amy Chalan, the program’s founder and also a co-Editor-in-Chief of The Dial, discovered at a pro-immigration march this summer that scholar Chrissy’s father was to be deported the next day. From that point on, the immigration issue became a personal one for many in the Hackley community; the deportation of Chrissy’s father, Cristobal Paute, caused both the Hudson Scholars program and Hackley’s Progressive Action League to take action on what they viewed as poor immigration policy throughout the rest of the summer.

At the march, many affected by the influx in deportations and ICE raids around the nation spoke, and Chalan realized soon after arriving that one of the speakers was Chrissy’s aunt (his father’s sister), who held up a poster with an image of Chrissy’s family while speaking. She pleaded for help to the media and the public just as Chrissy did when he arrived, but nothing could be done due to his father’s deportation the next day. Chalan spoke with Chrissy and his family at the march and knew she had to take action.

The day after the march, Chalan and Matt Fisch, both co-leaders of Progressive Action League (PAL), brainstormed how to act. They recognized that finances would be the most pressing issue for Chrissy’s family as the main breadwinner had been taken, so they promptly set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the family.

“We shared the link to the GoFundMe page on Facebook ourselves, to politically active Westchester Facebook groups, and encouraged other members of the Hackley community to share as well,” Fisch said. “Due to the generosity of Hackley’s community, we were able to raise $12,000 for food and rent within just a few days for the family, and gave all proceeds to Chrissy’s mom.”

The next step for PAL was partnering with a community outreach organization called Hudson Valley Community Coalition (HVCC). Through HVCC, PAL continued to work with Chrissy’s family through their paralegal, Luis Yumbla, who performs much of his work in helping immigrants who are targets of raids.

Yumbla also helped PAL organize a rally in White Plains, Westchester’s county seat, in late July. PAL’s leaders and many of the Hudson Scholars mentors attended the rally, which was organized to garner support and media attention for four other local families who had family members with scheduled deportations.

In continuing to work with HVCC, Fisch and Chalan were accompanied by Yumbla in attending a Town Hall in the Bronx hosted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Their attendance at the event mattered: Yumbla, Fisch, and Chalan were able to successfully stave off the deportation of a Peekskill native for another two weeks after talking to Senator Gillibrand and her team and handing them a letter with the case details.

While PAL’s work with the immigration issue throughout the summer took multiple forms, the issue was most impactful for Hackley students during the week of the Hudson Scholars summer term when Paute’s deportation became public. Chrissy was spending his days on the hilltop interacting with Hackley’s student mentors, who could not help but feel personally connected to the situation.

One mentor, junior Emmy Wenstrup, had in the past developed a particularly close relationship with Chrissy.

“I met Chrissy P. during my first summer of Hudson Scholars,” said Wenstrup. “For the first week, we didn’t really have a special connection…until Mr. Sykes pulled me into his office one day…and explained that Chrissy put me as his inspiration on a form the scholars had to fill out asking who their inspiration was. Obviously that was super touching, and from then on we became really close, and apparently, he cried when I wasn’t able to be at the final campout. This summer, we were close as well, and when I heard about what happened, I felt awful, so my family chose to help out financially.”

However, throughout the days following the program, Wenstrup felt as if the situation became dramatized to an extent at which it negatively impacted Chrissy.

“He did look upset at the program,” said Wenstrup. “While the community did gather around Chris, I did feel that everyone was maybe making too big a deal about it and drawing too much attention to it, and I think that from knowing Chris, he probably would have preferred to have just stayed with his classmates… I do think drawing attention was beneficial to some extent, though, since it got the mentors motivated to donate and to go to the rally.”

Whether or not Paute’s situation became too overblown at the program, the connection it forged with the Hackley community resulted in the community uniting to provide support and resources to someone facing a tragedy and similarly ignited months of immigration-related volunteer work from PAL. This, therefore, demonstrates the power that a personal connection can have in causing members of a community to focus on a political issue, act, and engage in important social work that yields measurable results.

As for Cristobal Paute (Chrissy’s father), his arrival in the United States during his teen years made him DACA eligible. Now in his 30s, he has lived in the States for approximately 20 years. Today, because if his deportation, he is currently in Ecuador (the country from which he emigrated). After arriving there, his family flew down to visit — yet the Paute family will remain divided by the 2800 miles that separate New York and Ecuador.