Lately, immigration law has been a hotly debated topic in the United States. What with President Trump’s constant cry of “Build a wall!” and the people’s angry response, it is imperative to keep up with the latest news on immigration law.
Historically, it is lawful to seek asylum in the United States, as much as it is a misdemeanor to unlawfully enter the US. What the Attorney General has decided to do with the system is to charge anyone caught entering the States unlawfully with the misdemeanor offense, regardless of whether or not they arrived “with the intention of seeking asylum.” Unfortunately, this self-proclaimed “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in parents being detained or deported for attempting to illegally enter the country, while children remain in the US, separated from their families.
In his live video on the World Relief Facebook page, Tyler Burns of the Justice Conference went down to the US-Mexico border in Texas withMatthew Soerens, the World Relief’s U.S. Director of Church Mobilization. In the spirit of World Refugee Day, the two discussed border separation and the role of the government, church, and people in this matter. At that point, over 2,000 children had been separated from their families over the course of six weeks. Although family separation has happened under different administrations as well, Soerens pointed out that Trump’s administration has “ramped it up significantly.”
Tune in on #WorldRefugeeDay – Wednesday, June 20th at 2PM EDT to hear from Matthew Soerens, World Relief's U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Tyler Burns of The Justice Conference. They will be live from the border in Tornillo, Texas where immigrant children are being detained after being separated from their families./// ACT NOW ///Sign a letter to President Trump | bit.ly/EITLetterFamilySeparationDonate | my.worldrelief.org
Soerens spoke briefly about being a parent and imagining “the horrific feeling it is for a father, for a mother, and then for those kids,” how terrifying it must be to be surrounded by people you don’t know and being unable to find your family. He then went on to explain that everyone has a responsibility to take action in this matter, since it is “something that our government is doing on our behalf, at the end of the day, this is a government for and by the people.” The two men then agreed that it is wrong for people to put kids at risk just to discourage people from “seeking asylum in the United States”, considering dealing with children is no simple and easy task.
However, as much as they disapprove of the border separation, they don’t necessarily agree on a free-for-all for all seeking to enter the US. Soerens believes that although securing borders is definitely something that the US should be working on, America can also be “a compassionate nation, and a nation that honors the law, and a secure nation” at the same time.
“The Family Separation policy of the Federal government requiring the separation of certain families who enter the U.S. causes serious and severe harm to the mental health and well-being of the children and parents who are subjected to it.”
This so-called security of the nation has also been called into question by the public, who worry that the Office of Refugee Resettlement is not doing the best job of relocating these “unaccompanied alien children” and possibly sending them to labor traffickers or abusers.
So why does this matter? For those of us who do not need to live in fear of being separated from our families or being deported, the US immigration law debates may seem like just another one of the various problems the Trump administration seems to run into. However, immigration law can affect you in many different ways, even if you’re not directly targeted, especially if you’re planning on living or working in the United States in the future.
As much as immigrants are consumers, they are also job creators. Some of the country’s biggest companies – Apple, Google, eBay, AT&T, Uber – were “founded or co-founded by an immigrant, or the child of immigrants.” Their innovative mindsets and work ethics have created countless jobs for Americans all over the country. In 2014, businesses run by immigrants generated $65.5 billion in income. Immigrants have become a vital part of America’s economy, as well as its community. In states like New York, immigrants are ⅕ of the state population and ¼ of the workforce. Immigrants provide America with cultural insight and stimulate growth socially and financially, leaving it a more enriched place to live in.
There are many nonprofit organizations that work closely with immigrants and do service work to help them out. The Open Door is a nonprofit organization that specifically does ESL work with adult immigrants. They provide free English lessons throughout the year, as well as during the summer in New York and New Jersey. The Open Door also provides resources to their students. This summer, I was lucky enough to intern with TOD and get an inside glimpse of the work that goes into planning each class and keep the organization going. Luckily, Liza Cho, a director of TOD, was open to a brief interview.
Liza enjoys coordinating programs at The Open Door NJNY that help students gain confidence and develop skills. Liza traveled to Panama in high school, and in 2002 she studied and taught ESL at the San Francisco University of Quito, Ecuador. She was a Fulbright Teaching Assistant to South Korea in 2004 where she taught ESL at a public middle school. Liza is a graduate of Wellesley College and Brooklyn Law School. Prior to joining the Open Door staff, she worked for over 6 years as an attorney with The New York City Law Department representing city agencies and employees in state and federal court. She lives in New Jersey with her husband James and son Wesley.
Q: How did you get to know TOD or get to be involved with TOD?
A: I learned about The Open Door through another non-profit organization I was serving with, Open Hands Legal Services. The executive director at the time learned that the Open Door was looking for a program director, so I met with co-founders and directors Luis and Maggie Iza and joined the staff.
Q: You were a lawyer in New York before working at TOD. What made you decide to commit yourself to this work rather than continuing being a lawyer?
A: As a lawyer, I represented city agencies including the NYPD. While I enjoyed many aspects of the work, I had an interest in immigration. I had majored in Spanish in undergrad and studied abroad in Ecuador, so I have had a longstanding interest in helping people who immigrate from Latin American countries to find their way in the U.S.
Q: What moments do you find most rewarding while doing this job? What do you think you gained through this work?
A: The most rewarding moments are when I see Open Door students succeed and achieve their goals. For example, when students apply for and receive scholarships to study, when they pass the GED, and when they are admitted to college.
Many of our students have overcome many obstacles in their lives. Seeing their commitment to work toward a better life for themselves and their families is inspiring.
Q: What is a challenge you encounter while working at TOD?
A: We are a volunteer-based organization, so sometimes it can be hard to recruit the teachers we need each year. But thankfully, we have always had enough teachers for each week. In addition, it can be hard to retain students through the full academic year, from September through May. Some students move away or work longer hours, and are not able to stay with the program.
Q: If you have to choose, what is something that everyone/anyone could benefit or learn from an internship/volunteer experience at a nonprofit like TOD?
A: People often say that the most rewarding part about volunteering is to have client contact — to actually interact with the people being served. So if you have the opportunity to intern at a nonprofit, I would recommend not just working in the office, but also meeting and serving the very people that the nonprofit exists to help.
Q: Could you relate a story/experience you had while working here that was most memorable to you?
A: Last year, when I was about 8 months pregnant, I was busy planning for an award ceremony with an important guest of honor from the Mexican Consulate. She was coming to our program to speak to our students. I wanted everything to run smoothly — from the food we were catering, how it would be served, and how everyone would be seated.
When I went to the lobby to get the event underway, all the students and volunteers were in the lobby with flowers and cake. A student played his guitar, another student played the accordion, and everyone began singing Mexican songs, even our guest of honor. The Open Door family had surprised me with a baby shower! Even students from the previous year who were no longer attending class came that day to give me gifts and congratulate me. It was a very special moment that I will never forget.
This article is part of Allison’s column “My Two Cents”. Check out her other articles here.