Immigration attorney and LCH CEO give Indivisible group ideas, encouragement
Two guests invited to Indivisible KSQ's fifth meeting, held on April 15 at the Kennett Friends Meeting House, merged the pressing concerns of the local Hispanic population with the more than 100 volunteers who are pledging support to the community as it struggles to retain normalcy during a stepped-up national effort to find and deport undocumented citizens.
Alisa Jones, the CEO and president of La Communidad Hispana (LCH), connected the many programs and services LCH provides with the current climate of fear that is pervading throughout the local Hispanic population. She said that LCH is often the first stop for the members of the Hispanic population in southern Chester County who seek social, personal and legal assistance -- as well as education -- but in light of current events, the numbers of those seeking these services has multiplied.
Since the presidential election last November, for instance, enrollment in English language programs and civics classes at LCH has quadrupled, she said. However, the numbers of those who tap LCH's job match program, which links potential employers to potential employees, has dwindled rapidly in recent months.
"Before the election last November, LCH had 212 people looking for a job. Today, we have 16 people looking for jobs," she said. "On a weekly basis, employers come into the office. Two weeks ago, we had an employer who runs a landscaping company tell us, 'I lost 17 of my 19 guys. I need 17 people and a minimum of 13 people just to start spring clean-up.'
"He told us, 'I don't know what I'm going to do. What are you going to do? I told him, 'We don't grow brown people. This is an economic impact of a political action. You as a owner, you as a voter, you as a resident, you as someone who contributes to the economic vibrancy of this region, you need to talk about your economic needs.
"We are the result of the decisions, and the result of the decisions have economic impact for small employers in this area, and they need to speak up about not being able to run businesses and not have an economic livelihood without a population of labor who wants a job."
Fear has become widespread throughout the entire Hispanic population, Jones told the audience. She said that it has become routine at LCH to see children coming into the center complaining of head aches and stomach aches and not wanting to go to school, as a result of their internalizing their stress, due to the current political environment. Further, she said that LCH has seen an uptick of calls from the Hispanic community who are afraid to even come out of their homes and drive to LCH.
"There is a level of stress and anxiety," she said. "They tell us, 'I don't want to get on the roads. I am going to be found. There are checkpoints.'”
A portion of Jones' presentation involved a back-and-forth idea forum. She approved of the suggestion to have KSQ members provide transportation/escort services for the Hispanic community. She also applauded the suggestion that KSQ members reach out to local political leaders in order to illuminate the plight of the local Hispanic community. In recent weeks, Jones said that no politicians have reached out to provide LCH with assistance.
Jones said that Pennsylvania State Rep. Eric Roe of the 158th District, who had been a volunteer in the LCH's civics program as an instructor, has not contacted LCH since being elected last November.
Several members of the Indivisible KSQ group told Jones that they were planning to attend upcoming meet and greets that Roe has scheduled throughout Southern Chester County, and asked her to suggest some talking points they can bring to Roe.
While prefacing that LCH has no political connection, Jones said, “As a person, I would say that we need to support comprehensive immigration reform that allows a path to citizenship for people who are contributing economically and socially to this country. We need to provide a path to citizenship for those who have children who are U.S. citizens, who cannot go and make a life in any other country. We need to provide awareness of the economic impact that immigrants have in this community. There are individuals who want to to work and there are employers who ant to employ them.
"Without that partnership, we are a weaker community from an economic perspective," she added.
“In this situation, there has been a lot more attention on the lives and the experiences of Latinos in this area, but we have to think that we have been living this experience for decades, and we will be here for decades to come,” Jones said. “This is a time that has unique challenges, but we see ourselves grounded in what we're here to do and how we do it, for a long time."
Immigration attorney Lindsey Sweet of the firm Sweet & Paciorek, LLC pointed out that although the immigration laws have been on the books for the past 20 years, there is a large gulf of difference between how those laws were enforced during the Obama administration, and how they're being followed during the Trump administration.
“It was a more humane way of exercising the laws on the books,” Sweet said, referring to the Obama administration. “What's changed is that element of discretion has been taken away. The law is being followed to the letter of the law, as opposed to discretion being exercised.”
The flip side of increased deportation efforts, she said, will be seen in the log jam of individual case paperwork in the immigration court system.
“If you're in removal proceedings, a case can take anywhere from 18 months to two years,” Sweet said. “If all of these people are all actively in removal proceedings, these cases could take as long as five to seven years, and I think that's an unintended consequence that the Trump administration has not thought about – that these people may still be in removal proceedings even after he's out of office.”
Sweet suggested that Indivisible KSQ members talk to law enforcement officers about their relationship with ICE, and encourage them to not cooperate with ICE agents in the tracking down of undocumented citizens. She also suggested that the group support non-profit legal agencies who are working with detained immigrants – such as Nationality Service Center in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Immigration Resources Center.
Her third suggestion was to continue KSQ's support of the local immigration center, by helping them develop emergency plans, providing them with information, and writing character reference letters that can help the community in the case of deportation efforts.
“If someone is detained and needs a letter saying that they've been a great neighbor for the last 15 years, it can go a long way in allowing them to be released on a lower bond, because you've said that they have been a good neighbor,” Sweet said.
Both Jones and Sweet discouraged the audience from spreading what Jones called “Facebook facts,” currently being seen on social media, that have incorrectly reported the presence of ICE officials at various checkpoints in southern Chester County. Jones said that one false posting said that ICE was stopping people on the corner of Route 202 and Route 1. Jones told the audience that she subsequently drove to the busy intersection, remained in her parked car for 90 minutes, and did not see any ICE checkpoints.
Sweet also recommended that Indivisible KSQ members should avoid any aggressive behavior toward ICE officials, such as attempting to intimidate them by driving behind their vehicles.
Indivisible KSQ co-founder Meghan Bushnell challenged those in the audience to apply their willingness to help the Hispanic population on a broader level.
“If we really and love and support this community, we need to think about the whole history, and slow down on the emergency stuff," she said. "What I'm hearing is that there is more fear than what is really happening, and that there are some fundamental ways to support that are not about ICE, but those who are underrepresented and underpaid.
“This is a time to engage, and a time for our community truly express the love that we have for each other. That's my dream for this horrible Trump era – that we as a people cross comfort zones and become more loving and connected to each other.”
“I hear you saying, 'We are standing on the side of love,” Jones told the audience. “I hear you saying, 'We are standing on the side of inclusion.' So that means that when you see a Latino family at Giant, you don't look down or at your phone. You say, 'Hello,' or 'Hola,' or you just smile and connect, instead of 'I don't see you because you're brown and poor.'
"Rather, you say, 'I see you and I'm so happy you're here shopping at Giant.'”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .