There is fear in our communities. In the days following the presidential election, I heard from a lot of people who want to help, but aren’t sure exactly how. Though there are many ways to get involved, I want to offer an example of how a fellow AILA member and I volunteered a couple of weekends ago. Perhaps it will serve as a road map for others to follow.
Two Sundays ago, AILA member Brad Thomson and I spoke at a large community gathering at the St. Mary’s Student Parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The event was organized by the fantastic folks at Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) and was supported by a number of other community organizations.
WICIR organized the event in response to community concerns about how the incoming administration will treat noncitizens. There was a full house – more than 100 people attended, including immigrants, friends and family, community activists, and other supporters. Two Spanish-language interpreters were on hand to help, too.
I wanted to be prepared to share useful information, so after being invited to speak, I turned first to AILA.org to find materials. I also reached out to the AILA Communications and Outreach team to see if they could help point me to additional tools that would be helpful for the audience. I was quickly sent links to several important resources, including AILA’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) practice alert, an English and Spanish Consumer Alert, an advance copy of new talking points, and an AILA Quicktake video.
I forwarded the Consumer Alert to the meeting organizers so they could have copies available to hand out. I also sent them some “know your rights” materials prepared by the ACLU and other organizations, including a parental rights toolkit prepared by the Women’s Refugee Commission called Detained or Deported: What About my Children? WICIR distributed copies of a short summary of that packet and incorporated the full packet into their work.
Everyone was very concerned about what would happen to them or their loved ones. The first question had to do with DACA and what happens next. In addition to DACA, parents were concerned about what would happen to their children if they were detained; what their rights are if they are stopped at home, in their cars, or in a raid; and what changes President Trump could or might make.
Brad and I could not calm all their fears, but we did try to dispel some of the worst rumors and remind people that they still have rights, that they can still contest deportation, and that now is the time to consult with an immigration attorney to map out a path forward.
During the second portion of the meeting, a substantial amount of information was shared from community organizations and activists so that they could join together in a unified advocacy agenda. Plans were made to continue working with local agencies to ensure that the city remains a sanctuary and to strengthen that designation. Plans were made to lobby members of Congress to remind them that the majority of voters favor a path to legal status, and to ask them to support compassionate and informed immigration proposals and to stand firm against harsh enforcement-only actions. We need to educate our congressional leaders about the damage that bad immigration policies can do to our economy and society.
Above all, we emphasized to the attendees the power of their voices. We talked about the rights that they have now and that they will continue to have after the change in the administration. Everyone has the power to protect the rights of fellow members of the community, immigrants and citizens alike.
Finally, Brad and I set up a time to return to the church to provide an afternoon of free legal consultations to help people map their futures come January 20, 2017.
A few hours of our time meant so much to the community, and hopefully they will take the information and materials we provided and share them with family or friends who may be worried about their own status. By sharing our expertise, we can empower people and provide reassurances to those who are fearful in these uncertain times. Right now, the most important thing we can do as AILA members is to use our expertise to help those in need.
Written by Russell Abrutyn, Member, AILA USCIS HQ (Benefits Policy) Liaison Committee