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Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

I usually try to get to an event or two at the annual Concord Festival of Authors, and one year I ended up attending readings by new novelists held at Kerem Shalom temple.

Iris Gomez, an immigration lawyer, was one of them, and I bought her novel Try to Remember. The protagonist’s Puerto Rican/Columbian childhood in Miami was fascinating, but hard for me to relate to. Why, for example, would the family not seek help for a clearly deranged parent? Painful to observe.

I passed the book along to a colleague from the Dominican Republic, who immediately got what Gomez was trying to convey. She said, “Omigosh! This is the story of my life.” When the Latino employee group was looking for speakers, Gomez was chosen to join WBUR radio’s “Con Salsa” host José Massó for a lunchtime presentation.

It was interesting to learn about Gomez’s other life, as an immigration lawyer, and to hear her describe the duality of the immigrant experience. She grew up trying to bridge her family’s world and that of the new country. Today she bridges the worlds of  novelist and a lawyer, in both cases trying to build understanding.

From the website at her day job: “Iris Gomez joined [Massachusetts Law Reform Institute] as an immigration attorney in March 1992, is a nationally-recognized expert on asylum and immigration law, and directs MLRI’s Immigrants Protection Project. Prior to joining MLRI, she was a Senior Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. She also worked as a law school lecturer, a public defender, a farm worker lawyer, and has been the Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Immigration Law Center. She graduated from Boston University School of Law.”

José Massó was a dynamic and entertaining speaker. With both humor and seriousness, he told us about his culture shock coming from Puerto Rico to a supposedly liberal college on the mainland and about how he developed his concept of a third way for immigrants, one that takes from the two cultures but makes something new.

Photograph of José Massó: WBUR

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You might be interested in this article about how Dayton, Ohio, is welcoming immigrants as part of its effort to spur economic growth.

Dylan Scott at Governing magazine writes, “In contrast to some states’ anti-immigration policies, a few cities are actively trying to attract immigrants to boost their own economies. …

“City officials estimate that 10 percent of the Ahiska Turks in the United States have established themselves here in Dayton. But they aren’t alone. There are also immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Samoa and elsewhere.

“Watching some of these residents’ difficulty in adjusting to their new surroundings — some encountering language barriers and others struggling to secure housing — convinced city officials they needed to do more to help.

“Dayton’s Human Relations Council, a city department that investigates discrimination complaints, started in 2010 by initiating a study into allegations from Hispanic residents regarding housing discrimination. Around the same time, City Manager Tim Riordan and City Commissioner Matt Joseph resolved to make public services more accessible for those who spoke English as a second language.

“It didn’t take long for Dayton’s leaders to figure out that incremental steps wouldn’t do, that the immigration issue needed a comprehensive solution and the involvement of the entire community.

” ‘It requires a huge partnership. There are only so many things we can do as the city,’ Joseph says. ‘And the big thing is an attitude change. We have to make sure we’re encouraging people to be more welcoming and that the incentives are running the right way. That’s our role.’ …

“Dayton officials seized on a growing academic consensus that embracing immigrants is beneficial to the country as a whole and specifically the economy. A June 2011 Brookings Institution report concluded: ‘U.S. global competitiveness rests on the ability of immigrants and their children to thrive economically and to contribute to the nation’s productivity.’ The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote last year that research shows ‘immigrants significantly benefit the U.S. economy.’ ” Read more.

Photograph: Tim Witmer
Sarvar Ispahi, his son Uzeir and their family moved to the United States from Russia in 2005 after Ahiska Turks were granted refugee status by the federal government. They chose Dayton because a refugee community was already forming there.

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I have always wanted to attend a citizenship ceremony. It turns out the Boston branch of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services performs them every week at historic Faneuil Hall, which was a witness to some of the first rumblings of the American Revolution. It’s an imposing place for a great event.

There were 376 immigrants from 79 countries today (Belarus, Egypt, Sweden, and 76 others). It was moving to think about those 376 people wanting to be citizens and also to think about the United States as a place that can mean hope and opportunity. I did find myself wondering whether some of the new Americans were feeling a little sad, especially refugees and the elderly, who might be thinking about the way their homeland used to be — or could have been.

I saw Ione lining up outside. She looked happy and beautiful. Inside, I was surprised to observe a man I knew through my work also becoming a citizen.

The first announcement made me chuckle:”Is there anyone on the floor who speaks Russian?”

As things got underway, the supervisor from the Boston office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explained that the order of activities related to the different color packets given out to organize the applicants. (He referred to one kind of packet as “skin-colored,” which considering his experience and the broad spectrum of skin colors in the room, seemed odd.) Staff conducted people efficiently along tables where their papers got checked. Then the judge entered.

When the judge entered, the hall became a courtroom. Becoming a citizen is a judicial process, we were told. A young man sang the national anthem. The judge started out lightheartedly by reading the list of 79 countries, making comments about his visits to a particular country or about the country’s soccer status. (I guess “football” is an international language.)

In the solemn part, everyone took an oath of loyalty to the United States. As the complicated phrases were read aloud, the applicants held up their right hands and repeated the historical words about rejecting monarchs and potentates and serving in the military if required by law.

Finally, the judge asked the small citizen daughter of one new American to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was hard to speak. A wonderful moment.

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A friend of mine has a new blog on economic education.  He’s a very good writer with a great sense of history and how history repeats itself. Here he notes that there have always been vested interests in America giving immigrants a hard time. Those immigrants become integral to the fabric of American life, but sometimes their descendants forget the struggle and turn against newer immigrants. We need to remind ourselves of how well things have worked out when newcomers have gotten education, started businesses, hired people, run for office, invested in communities.

Personally, I love to think of America as built by immigrants. Besides, Erik is from Sweden and my daughter-in-law’s parents came from Egypt.

If you sign up to make comments on my friend’s blog, I know he will be happy. I myself am happy when people make comments.

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