Community Politics

CCR Coffee House Discussion Generates Strategies to Support Immigrants in SOMA

The following is from the Community Coalition on Race

On March 8th at Congregation Beth El, the Community Coalition on Race gathered nearly 50 residents from South Orange-Maplewood and surrounding towns as far as Madison to discuss immigration and how it is impacting our towns. The conversation took place as part of the Coalitions’ series of Coffee House Discussions which provide an informal environment for community members to discuss important issues concerning race.

The evening began with an opening statement from executive director Nancy Gagnier. She noted that after hearing the President’s executive order against Muslims coming into this country, the Coalition first and foremost wanted to express the commitment to stand with our sisters and brothers within the community who seek a haven in the U.S. After the recent demographic study conducted by the Coalition revealed that 23% ​of​ adult ​residents in SOMA are foreign born and ​41% of them are people of color, the Coalition wanted to consider what that means for our inclusion mission.

Immigration lawyer and local resident ​Ian Grodman gave attendees an inside look into the day to day issues that undocumented immigrants face. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America—that is one out of every 30 people. More than half of them have now been here for 10 years or more. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a sudden surge at the border of people coming into the U.S. and gaining citizenship in the U.S. is one of the hardest things to do as it is based on familial relations. Sixty one percent of these immigrants are based in 20 metropolitan areas in the U.S, the majority living in the suburbs like in Essex county. Through multiple true stories of the trials and tribulations of anonymous undocumented immigrants he works with, Ian painted a picture of what it is like to work here for decades while living in fear that any day you could be sent home.

During the event, each of the five tables were tasked with coming up with strategies to support undocumented immigrants in our towns. During the table discussions, groups discussed the plight of the immigrant that is perpetuated by many Americans not understanding the system and its effects on society. Some of the strategies included: speaking to known undocumented neighbors to offer kind words of support; sharing resource information, such as from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); proactively engaging in conversations with nay sayers to broaden their knowledge of the situation; and petition to have Essex County become a Sanctuary County.

To close, program director Audrey Rowe reminded attendees that their participation that night impacts how the community will continue to find ways to support and welcome immigrants. We are grateful that South Orange Trustee Steve Schnall and Ian Grodman participated, and we thank the Coffee House Discussions committee–Amy Harris, David Harris, and Joel Herbert—for their support. Without all of these community participants committing to engage on difficult topics, we would not be able to move forward in our integration and inclusion mission. Also, special thanks to our host, Congregation Beth El.

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