Coffee House Discussions generates strategies to support immigrants in SOMA

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — On the evening of Wednesday, March 8, the Community Coalition on Race gathered nearly 50 residents from South Orange-Maplewood and surrounding towns as far as Madison to discuss immigration and how it is impacting the two towns. The event was held at Beth El in South Orange.

At the beginning of the evening, CCR Executive Director Nancy Gagnier noted that after hearing the president’s executive order against Muslims from the identified seven countries coming into this country, the Coalition first and foremost wanted to express the commitment to stand with its sisters and brothers within the community who seek a haven in the United States. After the recent demographic study conducted by the Coalition revealed that 23 percent of adult residents in SOMA are foreign-born and 41 percent are people of color, the Coalition wanted to consider what that means for its inclusion mission.

Immigration lawyer and Maplewood resident Ian Grodman gave attendees an inside look into the day-to-day issues that undocumented immigrants face. According to the CCR, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America — that is one out of every 30 people. More than half of them have now been here for 10 years or more. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a sudden surge at the border of people coming into the United States and gaining citizenship in the United States is one of the hardest things to do as it is based on familial relations. According to the CCR, 61 percent of these immigrants are based in 20 metropolitan areas in the United States, the majority living in suburbs like Essex county. Through multiple true stories of the trials and tribulations of anonymous undocumented immigrants with whom he works, Grodman painted a picture of what it is like to work here for decades while living in fear that any day you could be sent home.

During the event, each of the five tables were tasked with coming up with strategies to support undocumented immigrants in the two towns. During the table discussions, groups discussed the plight of the immigrant that is perpetuated by many Americans not understanding the system and its effects on society. Some of the strategies included: speaking to known undocumented neighbors to offer kind words of support; sharing resource information, such as from the American Civil Liberties Union; proactively engaging in conversations with naysayers to broaden their knowledge of the situation; and petitioning to have Essex County become a “sanctuary county.”

To close, CCR Program Director Audrey Rowe reminded attendees that their participation that night impacts how the community will continue to find ways to support and welcome immigrants.