Tag Archives: Alex Luna

Navigating Immigration Visas: Alex Luna Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

-By Alex Luna ’17

Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna ’17

During my time at Texas A&M, I have had the opportunity to live and travel abroad. I have been able to witness first hand that the life we live, as Americans, is not normal but rather special. We live in a nation where we do not constantly fear the threat of Coup d’état or where to find clean water to drink. We live in a state that allows upward mobility, where anyone can do anything through hard work and dedication. This is not the case for most of the world. As a country founded by immigrants for immigrants, we must continue to allow the fair entrance and chance of prosperity to people from every part of the world. A just and fair immigration system is fundamental to this tenet. Inspired by a weekend service trip helping an immigrant family while living in Argentina, I decided to focus my University Service Scholars Capstone Project on helping the immigrant community in Texas.

In 2014, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Garland Independent School District (GISD) was accused of a being a part of a scheme to exploit foreign teachers brought to the United States to work for GISD through H-1B visas. The H-1B Visa Program allows American employers to hire foreign skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions ranging from computer heavy industries to specialized teachers. The student population of the Garland Independent School District, over the past decade, has increasingly seen an influx of Spanish speaking students. To fill a much need gap in regards to the deficit of Spanish speaking teachers, the school district enlisted the aid of H-1B teachers. What started out as a program to meet the needs of GISD, turned into a lucrative business that exploited teachers from an overwhelmingly non Spanish-speaking countries to work in GISD to fill a gap for Spanish speaking teachers. Once the scheme was foiled by the school district, GISD worked hard to handle the mistreatment of these foreign teachers. Due to the negligence and abuse of the system, many of these teachers lost their legal right to work in the district and ended up in confusion with their formal U.S. immigration status.

Being born and raised in Garland, Texas and having attended Garland Independent School District schools throughout the entirety of my primary and secondary schooling, I felt a personal responsibility to give back to my home district and those who work there. My father has served as a member of the school board for eleven years and through his eyes, I have become intimately aware of this unfortunate occurrence. My high school Spanish teacher, Jacobo Luna, was one of the teachers affected by the mishap and was not able to stay employed with Garland ISD after the scandal came to fruition. This also inspired me to investigate the situation and motivated me to want to be a part of the solution to ensure this atrocity never occurred again.

As a way to help prevent another misuse of H-1B visas and to give the GISD teachers currently employed under H-1B visas a point of reference for information about the complicated visa process, I created the “GISD H-1B Visa/PERM Labor Certification Resource Database” service project. The project reads like an FAQ with two main sections entitled H1-B visas and PERM Labor Certifications. The resource contains extensive, detailed information about the visa and recruitment process for obtaining an H-1B visa and a PERM labor certification to obtain permanent residency. Both sections go into extensive detail about the logistics, definitions of terms, and application process. It is designed for someone to understand what a H-1B visa or PERM Labor Certification is without any prior knowledge. After reviewing the resource, a potential immigrant should be able to gain a general understanding of the H-1B visas or PERM Labor Certifications processes. The resource was designed to be user friendly and can also be used as a reference for specific questions regarding one specific part of the process.

Along with the general overview of the application processes, I created a detailed checklist for both H-1B visa and PERM Labor Certification applicants that will serve as an aid to the applicant. I also created a condensed pamphlet of information for both the H-1B Visa and PERM Labor Certification application processes. These will serve as an aid to the district when a H-1B teacher needs a quick reference to the process. The creation of these resources help to consolidate the information and clear up any ambiguity that the process currently holds in the eyes of both the employer and employee.

At the commencement of my research, I knew almost nothing about the immigration process and the strains that are put on those who are applying for visas. Much of my understanding of our immigration system was based off of rhetoric reported by our media. Needless to say, my opinion was very skewed to one side and lacking a clear understanding of the strenuous process. After conducting research and reading personal stories about the immigration process, I have become passionate about immigration reform. Our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of repair. Our nation was founded by immigrants for immigrants and we must always honor this founding statute. My project focused specifically on H-1B visa holders and PERM labor certifications but the problem is much greater than just these two issues. Too many educated, innovative people are being turned away for US immigration that would benefit our economic prosperity. These potential immigrants are looking for opportunities and will make their new home elsewhere if we do not change and reform our system. Our immigration system is a confusing process that unjustly sets limits on people who would serve as a great asset to the American people.

Working with the Garland Independent School District to develop a resource for immigrant teachers has been an eye opening experience. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined.  The University Service Scholars program encouraged me to make a difference in my community and left me motivated to continue fighting for just immigration reform. As Americans, we are almost all decedents of immigrants. To continue American prosperity, a reliable and just immigration system is necessary.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.

Alex Luna: Mate Club

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior Spanish and communication double-major Alex Luna ’17 shares what he learned about the value of political engagement in Buenos Aires, Argentina while studying there during Fall 2015.

By Alex Luna ’17

This past semester, I have been living and studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to attend a cultural language exchange club called “Mate Club de Conversación.” Mate is an herbal tea that the Argentines drink socially, to study, or stay alert during a long workday. It has become an integral part of Argentine culture. Preparing a good “mate” has become a tradition in itself. There has even become a judged, national contest each year to see who can prepare the best tasting mate. To put it frankly, mate is a BIG deal in Argentina.

At Mate Club de Conversación, we talk 15 minutes in Spanish and 15 minutes in English while sharing a “mate.” The setup allows us to both work on our foreign language while at the same time enjoying each other’s company. No topic is taboo at Mate Club. It has been here that I have fully understood what Argentina was, is, and hopes to be.

During the past six months, Argentina has been in their process of electing a new president. I believe that everyone should experience the political process of a foreign country for it will truly challenge the one where you live. Living in Buenos Aires, the national capitol of Argentina, there are people of every background and political mindset mixed together. Mate Club brings a diverse group of people from many backgrounds, age groups, and political mindsets together in one setting.

During my time attending Mate Club, I was given an insight into the minds of many different people and what they thought. In Argentina, it is not taboo to talk about politics or the political process. Friends, new acquaintances, and family can share opposing views without fear of ruined friendships or hurt feelings. Almost every conversation with a new Argentine friend started with a chat about politics in Argentina and the United States.

Argentines understand the importance of democracy for it was only a little over 30 years ago that it was restored from a harsh dictatorship. This fervor and invested interest in politics made me wonder what our political participation was once like during the birth of our country. Our deadlocked political system where we are scared to talk about our political views must be changed. For political change to happen, we must be able to talk about it freely, without fear of a lost friendship or heavily, heated debate. The Argentines understand this. We should learn from them.

These raw conversations have challenged the way I think about the world and who I am. If you are ever in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend attending Mate Club de Conversación. It is here that I have made friends and learned lessons that I will keep for a lifetime.

Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación
Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación

Want to learn more about mate? Traveling to Argentina and want to plug in with Mate Club de Conversación? Visit http://www.mate-club.com.ar.