Two memorable hugs my wife and I gave each other in November, 2008. The first you can probably guess: the Pennsylvania vote count went to Barack Obama and shortly after the election was called. What a night of joy and jubilation. The next embrace, in sadness, at a memorial service in Patchogue, NY, 11 days later for murdered Ecuadorean, Marcelo Lucero. Murdered by a white teen who, with his friends, engaged in their sport of "beaner hunting" on the evening of Nov 8th. November 4th the ushering in of a new era; November 8th, slipping back to an all too familiar incidence of bigotry and hate.
Shortly after that memorial service I received a call from a friend, actually, at that time, more of a Democratic acquaintance. Sylvia explained that she was upset about the level of animosity and ill will directed toward the Latino community. As she explained to me that day, "Mike, I do volunteer work with many Latinos and the people described by the haters are not the people I know. I'd like to start a group that could bring a different perspective to people. Are you interested?" "Yes, Sylvia, count me in."
Sylvia reached out to as many people as she knew who might be interested in starting a pro-immigrant group. The result was an eclectic mix of active, concerned and nice people. Our founding meeting was held in January '09. In attendance that evening were 4 clergy people, 2 writers, (one with grant writing experience) 2 retired school administrators, a documentary film maker and various and sundry activists such as myself. Most of us are caucasian.
Since there are several pro-immigrant groups on Long Island (Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Organizacion Latino Americano,LI WINS ), we determined that we could fill a niche. We would try to re-introduce people to positive notions of immigration, and our shared human experiences. Hence the name "Neighbors in Support of Immigrants" -- a name referring to people, not a process. In our approach to elected officials we would tell them that we are here for you. It's a difficult issue, and we hope that you can support CIR, but we're here to help.
Given the mix of talent in the group assembled by Sylvia, we decided to make our first project a video/oral telling of the immigrant experience on Long Island. The documentary film maker would direct the project, the rest of us would recruit local immigrants, illegal and legal, Latino and other ethnic groups. We also needed to identify a place that would commit to show or publish our immigrant stories. The East Hampton Library signed on and the Southampton Press has agreed to provide an outlet in their pages (negotiating by-line attribution as I write). And, oh yeah, we needed money. We received two grants, one from a private group and another from the County Govt. At this point we've completed 5 immigrant profiles. This project is called, aptly, I think, Profiles in Culture. (More details below.)
A moment to mention that we were able to pull this project together because of the skill mix of the people in the group. For example, I don't know which end of a camera to hold, but I have both media and elected official contacts from my former role of Chair of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee. Other members have their own network of contacts. Synergy anyone.
We've been involved with several other projects (listed at the end), just this past Saturday we sponsored a rally in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Before that we circulated petitions to prominent citizens asking them to sign on and support the DREAM Act.
We are just a simple group of concerned citizens motivated by nothing more than a more fair and just America. During the first meeting we went around the room introducing ourselves (we mostly knew each other) offering our thoughts on the purpose of this new group. I said that I don't believe that when everything is said and done that this country is going to deport 12 million undocumented workers, and that there's a place for a group like ours to help the immigrant meet the larger society and vice versa. I expect that at some point President Obama will sign a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill into law.
I've been a little surprised by the split in the DKOS community over the issue of immigration reform. There seems to be a genuine anti-immigrant strain in this community. The usual complaints seem to have taken hold with some at DKOS: immigrants don't pay taxes (they do), they cost more in social services than they contribute (A Dowling College, Long Island, study finds that the Latino community creates jobs and provides a net $2 billion surplus on LI), Latinos commit a lot of crime (not anymore than other groups), they're taking our jobs. When I respond to commentary in other diaries I just usually say -- and that is why we need comprehensive immigration reform. Often I suggest that the DKOSer read this report by the Council on Foreign Relations. The council sees no possible fair outcome other than comprehensive reform including a pathway to citizenship. I sometimes mention some of the negative impacts of NAFTA and that Congress needs to consider passing the TRADE Act, HR3012:
To require a review of existing trade agreements and renegotiation of existing
trade agreements based on the review, to set terms for future trade
agreements, to express the sense of the Congress that the role of Congress
in trade policymaking should be strengthened, and for other purposes.
Long Island and the East End in paticular is dependent on immigrant labor. We are mostly a tourist but also still an agricultural and fishing community. Where I live, Southampton Town, there are 6,000 second home owners. These economic characteristics are known and draw undocumented workers to our community. There is strong opposition to CIR in our town, many support an enforcement/deportation regime only approach. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has raided homes in our communities, separating and traumatizing families. Sometimes it hasn't been pretty, but as I mentioned to someone the other day, the anti-reformers are on the wrong side of history.
The following was part of a handout NISI shared with members of the local Democratic Club at a breakfast meeting last week.
Neighbors in Support of Immigrants (NISI) is an ad hoc group sympathetic to the difficulties faced by today’s immigrant communities and believe that all people share a common humanity and that everyone is entitled to just and humane treatment. We are troubled by the harshness that often underlies discussion of immigration issues today and have added our voices to modulate the tone of the debate. By making our thoughts and sympathies known to the public and to government officials at both the local and national level -- through letters, local council appearances, and coordination with regional and national organizations -- we hope to influence actions which will benefit our local immigrant communities. Our purpose is to influence the debate on immigration reform, to spur local government to provide services to ease immigrant acculturation to Long Island's East End communities, and to make the East End a welcoming place for immigrants.
Summary of our Activities:
- Profiles in Cultures. This long-term project will create videos and oral histories of immigrants on the eastern end of Long Island. We are working to produce written profiles for publication to local newspapers, video profiles for screening in local venues and on television and to create oral histories. The videos, and an accompanying discussion guide, will be used with a wide range of groups to stimulate discussion about immigration in our communities. A substantial amount of outside funding has been received. The Project has developed guidelines for the interviews, written draft funding proposals, and produced a media contact list. To date, 22 people have been interviewed and videoed and 5 written profiles produced. LTV serves as the site for the filming and the East Hampton Historical Society has agreed to serve as the 501C-3 financial recipient of grant monies.
- Lobbying for Support. Meetings with our senators and Congressman Bishop and other elected officials is very important. We have met with Congressman Bishop, Southampton Town Supervisor Throne-Holst and the LI representatives of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. We have discussed Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Detention Center practices, the guidelines used for rounding up and arresting immigrants, the impact of current practices on families and the local community and the Dream Act. We are now asking them to provide leadership in the fight for the just and humane treatment of immigrants and to commit to supporting prompt action for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
- Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Working to assure prompt passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), which includes a path to citizenship for immigrants already here, is among our highest priorities. We organized a letter writing campaign; over 50 local business and political and community leaders signed a letter that we authored and sent to our Senators and Congressman Bishop. We organized a panel discussion on Comprehensive Immigration Reform held at the Southampton Democratic Club. Joining other groups around the country, we organized a rally for May 1 to urge prompt passage of CIR.
- The Dream Act. Should Comprehensive Immigration Reform not pass, then passage of the Dream Act is a high priority for NISI. This Act will provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought to this county at an early age, have been educated in our schools and have graduated from high school. By completing 2 years of college or military service they will be on a path to citizenship. We organized a letter writing campaign. Over 50 state and local elected officials, CEO’s of local bank branches, local businesspeople and a number of prominent community leaders signed the letter that was sent to the relevant national Senate committee chairs and to New York’s senators and House Congressman Bishop.
- Communication. We have developed a blog site, http://supportimmigrants.blogspot.com/... Our goal is to keep the community and our membership informed about all aspects of the immigration reform movement. We have also established a media watch component that tracks both local and national immigration news items. These items are shared with our membership and with the larger community. Our members regularly write letters to the editor addressing local concerns and issues.
- Local Activities. We have been instrumental in helping to establish two local immigration forums supported by Congressman Bishop, NYS Assemblyman Thiele, and Councilwoman (now Town Supervisor) Anna Throne-Holst. We have also been successful in getting our members to attend local rallies in support a number of area issues.