Love, Hope, & Dignity: A Summit on Immigrant Justice, Advocacy, & Solidarity

On Saturday September 30th from 10am to 2pm St. Aedan’s – The Saint Peter’s University Church sponsored an event on immigration titled “Love, Hope, and Dignity: A Summit on Immigration Justice, Advocacy, and Solidarity”.  Our goals for the Summit included sharing information, helping provide information to the community, listening to those who are worried, and strengthening our ability to advocate.

The 1st Step of Advocacy is Learning

While I helped coordinate the conference, I am new to this area of advocacy. I found myself directly involved with planning the Summit mostly because I’m a parishioner at St. Aedan’s and I am involved in social justice ministry there.

Like many Americans, I have a personal connection to immigration; my grandparents emigrated from Ireland nearly 100 years ago and my husband emigrated from India nearly 20 years ago.  I’ve accompanied my husband on his journey from his F-Student visa to his H1B1-work visa to his green card to his U.S. citizenship. It was a long, bureaucratic, and at-times extremely frustrating journey.  It was also an expensive journey.

But one thing became clear, or at least clearer, to me in helping plan this Summit: my husband’s immigration story is one of relative privilege, given he found work here after graduate school and then remained gainfully employed until he received his green card. The most vulnerable immigrants, however, are often arriving here under more stressful circumstances and may not have access to resources that can aid them on such a long, bureaucratically intense and expensive journey. So as we worked through the stages of brainstorming, then shaping the content, then time-lining the logistical agenda for the day, I was listening and trying to learn.

In this post I wanted to share some of what I learned and help foster connections in the community. Both acute and longer-term challenges exist, but both acute and longer-term community solutions are possible. But we must learn, relationship-build, and coalition build to work towards those solutions.

This slide was presented by Immigration Attorney Cristina Godinez of The Migrant Center at St. Francis Assisi Church in Manhattan

The Summit Agenda

The Summit agenda included the following, all presented in both Spanish and English:

  • Immigration “Know Your Rights 101” – presented by Cristina Godinez of The Migrant Center of St. Francis Assissi Church in Manhattan.
  • Immigration Policy Update – presented by Leslie Tejada of Senator Cory Booker’s office.
  • Workshop Breakout sessions. This was an interactive exercise where we walked through the assessment of needs, and how we, as a community, can help meet the needs and broaden our advocacy reach.

Ms. Godinez focused on acute needs, like how to identify a legal search warrant.  She explained that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents do not always used legal warrants; they will create an approximation of a warrant to gain access to and then detain the individual. But a legal warrant comes from a specific court and is signed by a judge of that court.  She also explained that undocumented immigrations possess most of the same Constitutional rights as citizens, with very limited exceptions (for more on that, you can check out this article I found after the event).

Organizations Supporting Immigration Rights in NJ

Many organizations co-sponsored the Summit.  These are individuals working within their own communities and also reaching out to coalition-build.  Their efforts are organized, a lot of it is in-person (not online), and effective.  In fact one of the first organizations to join us in planning the Summit was Migrante NJ, which has held two “Know Your Rights” workshops at St. Aedan’s and also recently sponsored a free health clinic at the church.

Summit Co-Sponsors:

How You Can Get Involved

From my limited perspective, there are ways to build capacity to advocate. I share these ideas simply by way of community brainstorming.

  • Learn, and advocate for those who are afraid.  Those of us who are not at risk of detainment or seeing a loved one get detained can serve as voices for those who are afraid.
  • Create more bridges between those in need and those with services. For instance: if you know someone who needs an immigration lawyer, you can connect them with The Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Or, if you know someone detained by ICE and need accompaniment help to the detention center, you can connect with First Friends of New Jersey and New York. If you want a safe space, you can connect with St. Aedan’s – The Saint Peter’s University Church and learn more about community and social justice services there.
  • Language translation services. In planning the Summit, we identified this as an area of need.  We were fortunate to have wonderful people at the Summit who helped translate from English to Spanish, but we need to capacity-build here. It’s a unique skill to help translate technical concepts for prolonged (1-2 hour) durations of time in front of an audience. Or in a one-on-one consultation. If you know individuals or groups who can help, please contact me.

Next Steps

I was completely new to this, and to be completely frank I felt overwhelmed at the outset. I pitched in with some of my skills (e.g. project management) but I also listened. And I know far more about this issue then I knew at the outset, which has improved my capacity to help.  And that’s my message to anyone reading this and wondering how they can plug into these advocacy efforts: find something you can contribute – what skill or interest do you possess that you’re willing to share – and then share that, and also listen.  The wonderful thing about community work is that you find your place organically, and you more often than not meet good people.

Please write to me at Brigid.DSouza@gmail.com if you’re interested in learning more about the efforts at St. Aedan’s – The Saint Peter’s University Church, or if you’d like to connect with any of the organizations listed above.

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