Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Place of Calm & Centeredness

“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does. Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community." - AFSC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala

Unlike the joint session of Congress last week, no one shouted or waved signs at the town hall hosted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Greensboro, North Carolina. People spoke about immigration without using dehumanizing language or accusing one another of not telling the truth.

How did it happen? Read more and find out ...

More than 300 people attended AFSC Greensboro's immigration Town Hall including, Tony Caravano, a representative from Senator Kay Hagan's (D-NC) office. Prior to the event, Khamala received a phone call threatening that two busloads of anti-immigrant protesters would be in attendance, but it did not materialize.

Mr. Caravano and other attendees heard the story of Sandra, a woman waiting to be reunited with her husband, the story of an ESL teacher who described the daily encounters and challenges faced by US citizen children like "Lucia" a young girl whose parents were dragged from their home in the night and deported, and Luis, who struggles to help fellow students stay in school. (Photo: Tony Caravano of Senator Kay Hagan's Office meets local students).

"Is it incompetence or ill will that is keeping him from us?" asked 12-year-old Fernando Hernandez, as he translated for his mother, Sandra. "How can it take six months to review a marriage license?" (Greensboro News and Record). (Photo:Sandra Hernandez and her son Fernando speak about the wait to reunite with her husband due to the immigration backlog).

The crowd also heard from a Gerald Chapman, an immigration lawyer and economist Andrew Brod, Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNC, debunking classic myths held about immigrants.

Senator Hagan to Consider Speakers in Forming Policy

"Planners of this event have been told that Senator Hagan is still forming her opinion on immigration issues," Lori Fernald Khamala of AFSC Greensboro told the crowd. "And so we wanted to share with her - and with all of you - the stories of people affected by our broken immigration system to help better understand these issues and help form the Senator’s opinion."

"These are not isolated incidents. These are the stories immigrants are experiencing every day here in Greensboro, across our state and across the country," she said.

Mr. Caravano, received AFSC's principles for humane immigration policy, A New Path, because change cannot wait until next year or even next month. It is already overdue. This reform must protect the wages, health and safety of ALL workers in our country. This reform must prioritize keeping families together.

Mr. Caravano took a few questions, but reiterated that,"The main reason that Sen. Hagan has asked me to be here today was to listen." Reading a statement from Senator Hagan, Caravano said that the Senator would consider the speakers’ accounts in a "comprehensive immigration reform" package to be written as early as this month. (Greensboro News and Record)

“The reform should cut back on waste, duplication and needless delays by reducing backlogs and streamlining the application process,” Caravano said. “We could provide incentives for individuals and companies to follow rules by restoring common sense in the current system.” (Greensboro News and Record).

Taking Account for Immigration Policy Change

“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does,” said Khamala at the close of the town hall.

“Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community. We are called to love our neighbor, and who are your neighbors? We are different races and colors. We are different ethnicities and nationalities. We speak different languages, but we are all one community. We have an opportunity to move forward with practical solutions that represent the best of who we are...

In the spirit of community, I now invite you to greet your neighbor, ask their name and wish them a good night. But first, in the manner of Quakers, let us spend a few moments in silence, reflecting on what we have heard this evening, and collecting your Spirit to leave this gathering in a place of calm and centeredness. So, take a deep breath, give thanks for this space, and center yourself in silence.

Thank you Friends. Go in Peace."

(Photos: Above - Dr. Michael Palmer, an ESL instructor, shares stories of his students' struggles. Right - AFSC NC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala with local students; All photo credits: AFSC NC)

Slideshow: You can see photos from the event by clicking here.

AFSC NC: To learn more about or contact AFSC Greensboro visit www.afsc.org/greensboro.

Myth & Facts: Read more by downloading AFSC's brochure on separating facts from fiction about immigrants in the US. Click here to download.