By R. Mark Frey
For several years, the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has organized an event to honor the works and contributions of community-nominated immigrants residing in Minnesota, North Dakota, or South Dakota.
The Immigrants of Distinction Committee (AILA) has been charged with organizing the annual event as well as selecting the individual(s) for the coveted Immigrants of Distinction Award. In reviewing nominees’ credentials, our committee considers the substantial contributions they make to their community or profession through exceptional leadership, high achievement or moral courage.
Past recipients include Osmo Vänskä (Minnesota Orchestra), Nyango Melissa Nambangi (Minnesota African Women’s Association), Leonid Hurwicz (University of Minnesota and 2007 Co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in Economics), Ramon Leon (Latino Economic Development Center), Toua Xiong (HmongTown Marketplace), Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf (Children’s Hospitals & Clinics), Olga Zoltai (International Institute of Minnesota), and Victor Contreras (Centro Campesino).
Several days ago, the Immigrants of Distinction Committee reviewed and deliberated over a number of highly qualified candidates and selected two young immigrants as this year’s recipients of its award. In making our selection, we considered the aforementioned criteria but were also intrigued by those candidates who had demonstrated involvement in efforts to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, what with the likelihood that we shall see changes in our immigration laws this year. This year’s recipients of the Immigrants of Distinction Award are Juventino Meza Rodriguez and Irma Márquez Trapero.
Juventino Meza Rodriguez is a young man who was born in Jalisco, Mexico and arrived in Minnesota at the age of 15. He graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a B.A. in Justice and Peace Studies and intent on making a difference.
While a student at Augsburg, Juventino served in the Student Senate; helped found ALAS (Allied Latina/os – Augsburg Students) and Minnesota Students for Equal Rights; worked with a number of organizations such as the Citizens League and the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network; and helped found and lead NAVIGATE. NAVIGATE is an immigrant youth-led organization which has sought to increase access to higher education for all immigrant youths regardless of their status in Minnesota.
NAVIGATE has also been involved in efforts to educate immigrant youths about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the application process. A common thread throughout Juventino’s work is that of achieving education for immigrant youths, comprehensive immigration reform, and social justice.
Irma Márquez Trapero is a young woman who was born in Sinaloa, Mexico and moved to Minnesota at nine years of age. She and her family settled in St. James, Minnesota where she lived until graduating with honors from St. James High School in 2008. While in high school, Irma served as a facilitator for Leadership Plenty through HORIZONS.
HORIZONS is a program for rural communities seeking to organize, educate, and energize activities toward reducing poverty and associated issues. She also helped organize the St. James Youth Council to give a voice to youths in that community.
Irma graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, in 2012 with majors in Political Science and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Sociology and Anthropology. While at Gustavus she was working in various organizations devoted to social justice issues there and in surrounding communities. At the same time, Irma was organizing workshops and forums about immigration policy, comprehensive immigration reform, and the DREAM Act.
Both young people show a commitment to social justice, immigration reform, education, equality, and a general betterment of their communities. Indeed, both show much promise in making a difference throughout the course of their lives. Like so many immigrants before them, they serve to remind us of the contributions made by immigrants and the creative force unleashed by immigration in this country.
Both Juventino and Irma will be recognized at a forum (“Educate, Honor, & Unite: A Community Forum for Immigration Reform in 2013”) at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, on March 14, 2013.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has been practicing immigration law exclusively for almost 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family immigration, naturalization, and removal defense.