Costa Mesa ‘Hoods Bridge Immigration Gap

From the OC Register

By YVETTE CABRERA

You could say this is a tale of one city with two sides.

On the one hand, there’s the Costa Mesa that makes national headlines over its controversial policies on illegal immigration, its crackdown on day laborers, and more recently, its much trumpeted declaration that it is a “Rule of Law” city.

Numerous agencies and organizations attended the first annual Costa Mesa Community Picnic on June 12, including the Costa Mesa High School cheerleading squad.

Some called this latest move political posturing and just rhetoric. But it also sent shock waves through an already polarized community. So, rather than ease tension on the hotly divisive issue of illegal immigration, this move by the official side of Costa Mesa just further deepened the divisions.

Then, there’s the other Costa Mesa. I’m talking about the behind-the-scenes, on-the-ground residents who have to deal with the aftermath of the decisions taken by overzealous city leaders.

Click here for the full story

From ESL to Advocate

Ana Martinez started attending ESL classes in Montana Vista about a year and a half ago.

Since then her self esteem and confidence level have increased to the point that she is now involved in the community and speaking publicly on behalf of the community. One such instance took place on March 8. As the community of Montana Vista is becoming involved in the political process, they have engaged the department of Justice to effect true immigration reform. On March 8 Ana worked with the “Red Fronteriza” (The Border Network for Immigration) and spoke to community members as well as Justice Department personnel. In addition to this, they are currently organizing an immigration rally that will take place on April 10, 2010. It is awesome to see Ana involved in this as she is also encouraging others to seek justice for the community.

In addition to this, Ana is encouraging the young adults graduating from High School as she has gone with them to fill out applications for study grants and acceptance into the local community colleges.

Que Dramatico!

“Why do you have to be so dramatic!”  I thought as I rolled my eyes.   The speaker was telling stories of immigration officers pounding down doors and ripping mothers away from their children, of fathers leaving for work and being deported, never to say good bye.  It all seemed so extreme.  Maybe there were a few cases like that but, come on!  This is the United States of America.  We have order and compassion.  Let’s not be dramatic in our case studies.  Maybe you have thought the same things.  This is what I thought until it started happening in my neighborhood.

Lately our ministry gets more calls asking for help to find relatives that have been detained or deported.  Last week a mother called crying.  She was hiding in her closet with her four children, afraid to open the door to the immigration officers outside.  “We have never had any problems with the law before,” she cried, as my mind raced to know how to advise her.  “I don’t know why they have come.”  Clearly the immigration agents have a reason and right to ask her for her documents.  She has been in the US for seventeen years.  Her four children were born here.  Her husband was at work.  She stayed in the closet until they left.  What would you do?

What will we do?  Maybe you are rolling your eyes, thinking, “how dramatic!” but the fact of the matter is that the same scene could have played out this morning for your children’s schoolmates or one of your acquaintances.  Chances are that at some point throughout your day, you encountered a neighbor who does not have legal documents to be in this country.  There are around 12 million people in that situation in our country and knocking on their doors while they hide in the closet is not an effective nor American way to deal with the situation we find ourselves in.

There are many reasons that people do not have legal documents.  The system for obtaining documents is completely broken and we must come up with a way for people to literally come out of their closets and participate in legal ways in our society.  It is not safe for us to have neighbors driving around with no licenses or insurance.  It is not fair to workers for undocumented laborers to be working without paying taxes.  And it does not represent our best values to have neighbors who do work hard and contribute to our community be terrified to walk out the front door every morning.  This is the land of the free.

So what will we do to solve the situation?  Yesterday Representative Gutierrez introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for American’s Safety and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP).  It is a step toward looking at workable solutions that support our values of freedom and hard work.  Not everyone supports it.  Some say it is too dramatic.  As of right now there are no Republicans co sponsoring the bill.  But it is a conversation starter.  It is a solution oriented bill to move us forward as a nation.  Anne Lamott says to write “sh**** first drafts”.  Write something; get started.  This bill is a start- a first draft that we can examine and pour over and edit until we design a piece of legislation that will give some clear steps for undocumented immigrants to take so that they can earn a rightful place in our neighborhoods, workplaces and country.

The next time a neighbor calls I want to be able to say, “This is what you need to do- step 1, step 2, step 3…”.  No more hiding for any of us.  Let’s solve this thing together.

Crissy Brooks, Mika CDC, Costa Mesa

www.mikacdc.org

Crissy Brooks’ Blog

Why Rejoice About Tearing Families Apart?

I heard about the police sting on the day laborers almost instantaneously. One of my neighbor’s boyfriends was in the group that was picked up on 17th Street. I thought it was too bad but there wasn’t much I could do. He was, in fact, here undocumented.

Then more and more women began calling me saying their husbands had been taken, too. By Monday, I had six out of the 11 families whose husbands were arrested asking me for help. The rent is due this week and there was the immediate pressure of where to come up with the money now that their spouses weren’t here or in a position to provide for them.

Our organization, Mika Community Development Corp., doesn’t deal much with relief work. The whole premise of our ministry is to equip leaders to take responsibility for their community. I buy into the idea that if you point out opportunities and open up space for people to work and lead, then they will step into that role and be successful. I believe it is more beneficial for the whole community and affirms the dignity of the individual to offer work instead of hand outs.

As I sat in my office surrounded by these suddenly single moms listing what they needed to get through the week, I was perplexed by the fact that 72 hours earlier these women and their husbands were self reliant. They were formulating a plan to pay the rent.

Now, in order to show men that they have to be responsible for their actions, we have deported them, and the burden of care for their families is on the community. Churches, individuals and companies have pitched in to make up the short fall in rent for this week. As generous as this is, it’s just a short-term solution. Now the hard work starts of mapping out a long-term plan for these women and their children.

Of course I could do nothing. I could “let the market take care of itself.” And I’m starting to think this might be the best solution. I hear this admonishment often in the news and in our own city policy discussions –- this idea that if you open up economic opportunity it will either succeed or fail based on the demand for the product.

The more I reflect on the immigration situation the more I hear this phrase in my head. I keep trying to figure out how we got into this situation in the first place. At the risk of making a very complicated situation too simplistic, I think it goes back to us as a nation, trusting the market’s ability to take care of itself more than our laws.

The economic opportunity was so great in the last few decades that our systems couldn’t keep up. There weren’t enough visas for the amount of foreign workers we needed to keep up with the economy so we found ways outside the law to keep it going.

Then we changed our minds. We decided that enough is enough and now we want to enforce these laws. So we’re cracking down. The market has failed us. We are afraid there’s not enough for everyone and so we’re back to trusting in the law. In the mean time there are millions of people caught between our invitation into opportunity and our crackdown with the law.

So I cannot do nothing. These millions of people have become our neighbors and coworkers and friends and those who serve us in many capacities. I can’t do nothing because my faith as a Christian requires justice and mercy. Some say it was justice for the 11 day laborers to be deported. Now it is mercy that must follow through on the ramifications of those men being removed from our community and their families.

Several of my fellow Costa Mesans commented on the Daily Pilot story about the police bust using language of celebration and rejoicing. While I disagree with the reasoning, I can understand the support of the police actions.

What I cannot understand is those who rejoice in the fact that our neighbors’ families have been torn apart. Children are literally crying for their fathers, and mothers are scrambling to get by. You can say they brought it on themselves but why would you celebrate that kind of pain?

I have cried a lot this week. I cried with the women who don’t know how they will provide for their families. I cried with the men as I sat in a hotel room in Tijuana explaining that the church in Costa Mesa is standing with them and their families. But mostly I’ve cried alone in my car wondering how we became a city that tears families apart on purpose and then rejoices about it.

Crissy Brooks

Visit Mika’s Website

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An Immigrant’s Pathway of Hope

Northeast Community Transformation has established a partnership with Nachman and Associates, which is providing vital education and legal assistance to our partner ministries and their communities.

Lisbel first came to the US in 1994 as a six year old burn victim through Healing the Children, an agency which brings medical care to poor children throughout the world. Dan and Jule Ann Martin of Covenant CRC, and their children, became Liz’s host family. They cared for her while she made visits back and forth from the Dominican Republic to receive treatment. Indeed, Liz and the Martins had become family. By age 20, with the support of her family in DR, Liz had decided to stay in the US to fulfill her hopes and dreams.

She desired to attend college and study psychology so that she could become a counselor helping people like herself who have been through trauma. However, as the case with many immigrants who are seeking to live fruitful lives in the US, they are subject to a “broken” and often arbitrary system. Liz was initially turned down for her Student Visa for what David Nachman considered no good reason. However through the advocacy of his law firm, the persistence of the Martins, and Liz’s determination not to quit, she was granted her Visa a few weeks ago.

Liz and the Martins attribute this victory to the grace and plan of God. Liz states that she was “wondering what was going to happen but I am now excited, happy and relieved.” She did not lose hope after the initial rejection believing that God wanted her in the US to fulfill her dreams. She also believes that “God did not want it to be easy. If it was too quick, you don’t value it.”

The story of Liz is one example of how NECT’s partnership with Nachman and Associates has helped to create hope and justice for “aliens” seeking to dwell in peace in our land. NECT is also supporting efforts such as ESL, citizenship classes and advocacy for immigration reform along with the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church. Please pray for and consider participating in these efforts through a financial contribution and by being actively involved as a servant of justice. For more information about NECT’s Justice Education Program, contact Al Santino.

What Do People Know?

by Zach Hacker

ORANGE CITY – Nine people from the social work department at Northwestern College in Orange City want people to know more about immigration in their community.

Social work processor Valerie Stokes’ community development/needs assessment class has been working to find out what people in Sioux County know about immigration issues in their community. They presented the results of their work Thursday to about 40 people at a community forum at the Orange City Town Hall.

To gather their research, the nine seniors called every 10th phone book listing from Orange City, Alton and Maurice. Of the 411 people they contacted, 199 responded (48.4 percent) to their questions about perceptions and knowledge on Hispanic immigrants in Sioux County. Of those that responded, 122 were females and 79 were males, 96 percent were Caucasian, and they were between the ages of 18 and 96.

“In a matter of 17 weeks, they’ve accomplished a great deal by really assessing the community, by interviewing stakeholders and meeting directly with Hispanic women in the community, and then walking through this whole process of developing the survey, adopting it, implementing it and then analyzing the results,” Stokes said. “That’s a lot to do for students in a small amount of time. I am more than pleased.”

In their research, the students found what they felt were discrepancies in how people responded. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they thought there was “about the right amount” of immigrants in the community, while 64.4 percent were concerned there are too many illegal immigrants coming to the area.

Nearly 99 percent of those surveyed considered themselves to be a Christian. Of those, only 11.8 percent said the community “always” models the biblical passage “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Nearly 45 percent of respondents said Sioux County is “occasionally” a welcoming place while another 30.9 percent said it is “frequently” a welcoming place. But 87.8 percent said they have no Hispanic friends outside of the workplace.

Finally, 70.3 percent of those who responded said they thought immigrants strengthen the community, yet 45.6 percent said those immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes.

Julia Rathbun, one of the researchers, attended a focus group for Hispanic people in the community for more research. Although shed said not every member of the group thought they had been discriminated against, they did think the community as a whole had much to learn about them and why they are immigrating.

“One thing that we really learned was that Hispanic people want the non-Hispanic community to know that they’re not bad,” Rathbun said, “They’re here, basically, on the means of survival and to support their families.”

That general lack of understanding shown in the “knowledge” questions on the survey was surprising to the researchers and a problem they think needs to be addressed.

“I think people have a good basis of understanding,” said group member Rebekah Wilson. “We need to kind of take that to the next level. If we’re really as concerned as we say we are, we really need to know things. How many unskilled workers does this county need? How many years does it take to get a visa? What are people withstanding when they enter this country? Issues like that.”

The group suggested there should be three intervention stages in Sioux County to help Hispanic neighbors integrate into the community. With religion having such a major impact on the community, the class things each church should hold Sunday School lessons revolving around the topic of immigration. Secondly, it thinks the community should hold outdoor events during the summer to encourage community and relationship building, and third, it thinks local newspapers should publish a series of articles pertaining to issues about immigration in Sioux County.

The Rev. John Nelson of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City worked with the students in laying the groundwork for their studies. He said his church already is trying to reach out to the Hispanic community through real-time translation of sermons and English as a second language classes among other activities.

“We’re trying to break the barriers down, but we still need to work at it,” Nelson said.

The students and their professors think Sioux County could be a better place with the help of the three proposed interventions and community knowledge.

“The course is ending, and now the community has an opportunity to take hold of this information and run with it and develop a plan of action that will allow us to be who we say we are and who we want to be,” Stokes said. “We want to be a welcoming community. We want our Christian faith to show in our actions. We are a community of immigrants. We must figure out how to use that as an asset, to view that as a strength in our area.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Here are some of the most telling statistics in a recent survey of 199 Sioux County residents conducted by a social work class from Northwestern College in Orange City.

Q: Do you have a close friend or colleague with whom you socialize outside of work who is a recent Hispanic immigrant?

87.8% – No, I do not have a close friend/colleague
10.2% – Yes, I have a close firend/colleague

Q: Do you think there are too many, too few, or about the right number of Hispanic immigrants in Sioux County today?

52.3% – About the right number
28.0% – Too many, 12.4% – Don’t know
7.3% – Too few

Q: How concerned are you about illegal immigrants?

47.0% – Somewhat concerned
45.5% – Very concerned
6.1% – Not too concerned
1.5% – Not at all concerned

Q: Do you believe most recent Hispanic immigrants to Sioux County are here legally or not legally?

42.6% – Legally
42.6% – Not legally
21.2% – Don’t know

Q: Do you think Hispanic immigrants are unfairly discriminated against?

52.0% – Yes, discriminated against
40.3 – No, not discriminated against
7.7% – Don’t know

Q: Do you think Hispanic immigrants pay their fair share of taxes?

45.6% – No, they don’t pay their fair share of taxes
29.0% – Yes, they pay their fair share of taxes
24.9% – Don’t know

Q: What’s closer to your views?

69.1% – Immigrants today strengthen Sioux County because of their hard work and talents
29.1% – Immigrants today are a burden on Sioux County because they take jobs, housing and health care

Click here for a link to Northwestern College’s page about the study.

Click here for another newspaper article on the same study.

Click here for one more newspaper article on the study.

Another Crazy Making Irony

We say it’s a “Win-Win”- those situations where each party involved benefits. As cheesy as the term sounds sometimes, it is nice when things work out well for everyone. I heard of a potential “win-win” a couple of weeks ago when one of my neighbors asked me to look over some paperwork.

My neighbor has been working as a Nurses Assistant at a convalescent home for 21 years. He makes $10.63 an hour and works full time. He has been in the process of getting his permanent residence status. He has paid a few thousand dollars in legal fees and gone through all the steps. He is in the homestretch.

What he needs to seal the deal is a paper signed by a “potential’ employer stating that they will hire him once he has his papers. It seems fairly simple considering that he has been working under the radar at this company for two decades. I imagined that his boss would gladly sign the paper and congratulate my neighbor on becoming legal and thank him for his years of service doing the dirtiest jobs in the hospital.

Here it comes- the crazy making part: The supervisor won’t sign the paper! But it’s a “win-win”- you get a legal employee, he gets to walk proud, free of fear. Yeah, no.

In my naïveté I am always sure there is a way to make things happen. I offered to go with my neighbor to plead with his supervisor. I offered to threaten him with phone calls to the immigration authorities. I coached my neighbor to have his lawyer call on his behalf. We racked our brains.

Now the deadline has come and gone with no signature. My neighbor will have to begin the process again- spending years and resources on one more try.

What is the fear that keeps us from helping? What is the pride that let’s us play with others’ futures? What did the employer have to gain by not signing the paper?

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

Crazy Making Ironies

Sometimes things can get so nutty! A couple of years ago our city council passed an ordinance that placed a Federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent in our city jail. So now anyone who is picked up by the police is screened by an ICE agent. You don’t have to be convicted or guilty of anything, just brought in for whatever reason and you are screened for documentation.

A couple months back a friend of mine refused to sleep with her abusive ex-husband when he brought the rent over. He got angry. She got scared and threw a plate at him. When the police got there he was bleeding and she wasn’t so they took her away as the aggressor. It didn’t seem to matter that he had a history of domestic violence. So my friend spent the night in jail. There were no charges brought against her and the case was dropped.

Except then she was on an immigration hold after having been processed through our city jail. So now she is in the process of being deported, in which case her three American citizen children will be left in the custody of their abusive father or child protective services.

That all seems pretty straight forward and some would even say it is fair. Technically, the law played out (whether or not it is a just law is another question). Here’s where it gets nutty…

While our team is trying to get an immigration lawyer on the case I get a phone call from one of our city council members who was a strong proponent of placing the ICE agent in the jail. She is calling to say that she would like to recognize our organization at the next city council meeting with a Proclamation of our valuable community work.

The thing is that the woman in the process of being deported is the main force behind our “valuable community work.” She rallied the neighbors to open the community center. She is the one who pulls people together to support a neighbor in need. She is the main idea woman behind our community seminars and programs.

So I went to the city council meeting to receive an award for my friend’s work in the community that she is simultaneously being removed from by the same council’s policy.

I don’t know whether to laugh or scream my head off. Isn’t it confusing to celebrate one’s work on one hand and then condemn them on the other? It’s too nutty. It’s too real.

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

To the Least of These – The Undocumented

by Al Santino, NECT Director

My wife Haydee and I have been ministering to Juanita (not her real name), a 19 year old single mother who is an immigrant from Mexico without documentation or as some would say, “an illegal alien”. Juanita was a middle school student of Haydee’s in the Bronx. As with several of the girls at her school, Haydee had become her mentor, “mother” or “big sister”. She took the opportunity to invite Juanita to a recent movie night hosted by our church, Open Door Fellowship of East Harlem and this gave us an “open door” to minister the Gospel in both word and deed.

Juanita came to the US as a one year old child. She currently lives with her mother, 18 year old brother and younger sister. Juanita dropped out of high school but wants to work to help support her family and eventually get a GED and go to college. We accompanied her to an Immigration Clinic in East Harlem sponsored by the CUNY Law School hoping and praying that a lawyer could lay out a pathway of hope. However, there was little to rejoice about since she has no documentation and short of any immigration reform, no viable pathway to citizenship. Her brother was born in the US but cannot petition for her until he is 21 and even then there could be a 10 year wait for a Green Card. Upon hearing this sobering news, the look of despair upon her face was obvious. Juanita, like many in her condition, is trapped in poverty and despite her willingness to take responsibility has no open door to a fruitful life for her and her child.

Recently, myself and several local Hispanic ministry leaders in our denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, attended an Immigration Forum at Princeton Theological Seminary. One message was central to all of the presentations; “Will the Church be a herald of justice for the aliens among us or remain on the sideline in indifference.”? Through our Justice Education Program, Northeast Community Transformation is seeking to take an active role in educating and advocating for accessible and just legal services and immigration reform that will reflect God’s care for the least of these…the undocumented. Recently we began a partnership with David Nachman of Nachman and Associates, an excellent immigration attorney who is consulting us on some of these matters. We will continue to keep our partners and friends updated about workshops, legal services and other important information.

The immigration debate is complex. Emotional, simplistic or knee-jerk answers will not do. Neither will indifference or apathy. The Lord is calling His people to seek His wisdom and fulfill His call for mercy and justice. Those like Juanita are not “illegal” in God’s Kingdom. May God grant us mercy over our failure to work for justice and may He grant us conviction to love those such as her, ones whom Jesus called “the least of these, my brethren.”

Immigration Forum in New Hampshire

On May 5, the Indonesian Christian Reformed Church of Dover, NH sponsored an immigration forum to address the needs of the Indonesian community in the region.   This forum was done in collaboration with Northeast Community Transformation’s Justice Education program.   Rev. Michael Lapian of Indonesian CRC has been a catalyst in bringing Indonesian churches in the region together to form an association to work on community development and justice concerns.  Five churches and 35 people participated in the event.

The forum was led by attorneys Mona Movafaghi and Randall Drew, two excellent and justice minded lawyers who have been advocates for the Indonesians and for just immigration reform.  Some of the complex immigration issues facing the Indonesian community were addressed such as asylum and deportation, family sponsorship and labor certification.  The lawyers also discussed the need for churches and citizens to call on their representatives to enact comprehensive and just immigration legislation, which is currently being debated in the House of Representatives and US Senate.  They proposed the following be included in a letter to representatives:

1. Create realistic legal avenues for immigrant workers to enter the U.S. to fill jobs throughout our economy, through visa programs that ensure full labor rights, job portability, and a path to permanent residence over time for those who would not displace U.S. workers;

2. Establish a workable process to provide undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. an opportunity to come out of the shadows and earn the privilege of permanent legal status by: registering with the government, paying a hefty fine, undergoing thorough security checks, and meeting additional requirements;

3. Reform our visa preference systems and eliminate the family-based and employment-based visa backlogs that senselessly keep U.S. families separated for years and prevent American businesses from attracting the brightest talent from around the world;

4. Establish smart enforcement strategies that restore the rule of law in our workplaces and along the border, while protecting due process rights and facilitating the cross-border flow of goods and people that is essential to a vibrant economy.

In the often complicated and emotional immigration discussion, let us seek the Lord with a heart of mercy and justice: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the alien…(Dt. 24:19).”

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