This week I was invited to speak about immigration law and policy matters to several organizations. We receive requests for talks several times a week, and I try to accommodate as many of these as possible. Immigration law is such a difficult topic, and through the years I have found ways to make this complicated mess of a system into something that is understandable to the general public. I will focus my comments on two of this week’s appearances.
On Wednesday, I participated in a “career day” at one of the most diverse primary schools in the DC region. Over the past 13 years, I have had a number of successful interactions with this particular school, including creating a new AmeriCorps program over a decade ago to help bridge the learning gap of newly-arrived immigrant children. Whereas a decade ago the kids were struggling, on Wednesday I saw a completely transformed environment. The students were bright, engaged and interested in my presentation and in the discussion. Ten years ago, the students in the same classrooms were reticent, shy and reluctant to say anything.
One topic, however, brought them some anxiety. Several of the Fifth Graders asked about immigration reform and what it would mean to their families, especially to their parents. Their questions and responses exposed a deep concern for these young people, most of whom understood that little or nothing would happen to them. Their parents, however, were a different story. Some had parents deported from the US, while virtually everyone else knew of someone whose parent or relative had been picked up by Immigration.
For many of these kids, Immigration Reform and a path to residency will mean that they will no longer have to worry about whether their parents will still be at home when they wake up each morning or return from school each afternoon.
Later that same day I was the featured speaker at a session of “Live and Learn Bethesda,” an informal education effort designed to bring interesting topics to the people of our community. I spoke to about 20 individuals of all ages about immigration law and where we seem to be headed with reform. Many were looking for answers about how the system worked and did not work, while others were professionals from immigrant communities. Some had preconceived notions when they entered the room, and most, if not all, had no idea how complicated or convoluted the process has become. These folks were most interested in how immigration reform could impact them, especially vis-à-vis the future availability of eldercare workers from Africa and the Caribbean.
All in all, the discussion showed me once again how little the public understands about immigration law in this country. It is no wonder that polls show that this is an issue about which most Americans are somewhat ambivalent. If they just understood more of the issues at play, they might be much more engaged.
On Monday, June 10, the Immigration debate comes back into the front pages as the Senate begins its debate and deliberations. It should prove to be good television – stayed tuned to C-Span 2 for all the action.