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Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

One 2015 Mercer alum faces harsh realities of undocumented immigration system

Scrolling through Raymond Partolan’s Facebook page, it’s easy to see that the recent Mercer alumnus has no problem keeping busy.

Since graduating from Mercer University in May 2015 with two degrees in political science and Spanish, Partolan landed a job as the program coordinator for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), a nonprofit legal organization serving Asian Americans in the South.

As an overseer of the nonprofit’s external programs, Partolan serves to promote civic engagement for Asian Americans by encouraging them to be involved in public life.

“My work is pretty much divided up by seasons,” Partolan said. “Right now until election day (November 3, 2015) my job is really grounded in civic engagement work. I basically coordinate our field campaign.”

AAAJ’s field campaign entails knocking door to door and making phone calls to what Partolan refers to as “target voters,” or Asian Americans, and encouraging them to vote in the upcoming election.

But a major component of Partolan’s job includes “groundwork,” which the 22-year-old activist said was both inspiring and emotionally draining.

Two weekends ago, Partolan visited Steward Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia — one of the country’s largest detention centers, according to 

At the detention center, Partolan spoke with a 20-year-old boy immigrant detainee from Central America.

As Partolan sat on the other side of a plexiglass window and spoke in Spanish to the detainee through a telephone, he said he couldn’t help but feel moved by the boy’s story.

The detainee shared with Partolan that he watched his father being beheaded by gang members from his home country, which Partolan could not reveal in concern for the boy’s safety. 

The leader of the gang told the boy and his mother that if they didn’t comply with his commands, they would face the same fate.

“What was so meaningful to me was the fact that because I’m undocumented and because my parents are undocumented, I saw myself on the other side of that window,” Partolan said. “I could have been on the other side talking to someone through a telephone.” 

The detainee’s mom and two younger brothers decided to flee the country to find asylum in America. Partolan said that the family walked miles through the desert, swam through rivers and hitchhiked their way to the United States-Mexican border where they presented themselves and were immediately arrested. The boy’s mom was sent to a detention center in Texas while the boy was sent to Georgia.

Hearing these stories on a daily basis has forced Partolan to grow up more quickly than expected.

“I’ve only been out of college for three months, but I just feel like all of these stories that I’m hearing just make me older because I’m starting to take it all in,” Partolan said. 

Partolan is determined to continue serving the Asian American population. 

This upcoming December, Partolan will work as a registered lobbyist and lead AAAJ’s policy advocacy work at the state capitol building. 

Outside of the work office, Partolan is engaged in his church and is involved in a community group at Passion City Church.

Partolan, who is a trained violinist, is also looking into participating in the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I’ve actually already been extended an invitation to join (the orchestra),” Partolan said. “It’s just a matter if it fits my schedule or not.”



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