Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sheboygan - Day 3 (Tuesday p.m.)

If we were one state over they would have called it, “Minnesota nice.” Sheboygan was a different atmosphere than the last stops. We walk into a brightly lit church basement, food spread in back, tables with cloths and flowers and individual prayer cards at each spot. Welcome to a Midwestern church forum. I was pleased to see that the forum was so inviting- it is important to have a comforting space when so many are so afraid to come, so many afraid to speak out.

The event is a little panel heavy. Luz gives her same heartfelt testimonial, Maria talks about her struggles with the legalization process and how difficult it is to be separated from loved ones, how difficult it is to wait. A Cuban priest joins the panel, he is hopeful, says he has felt welcome in this country. The problems and the testimonies make him sad. Yet he has met good people and believes there is hope. Jorge Mayorga is also a priest working in Milwaukee and came originally as refugee from El Salvador. He reminds us that it is important that people like him who have had positive experiences in the United States give back something back. Veronica Castro comes from Southwest Texas and now resides in Green Bay. She has a Hispanic name, but is of Hispanic, Native American and German descent. Born and raised in the US, she said she was largely uninvolved in immigration issues because most of her life she was unaffected. Bilingual, she was often asked to serve as translator for businesses she was working with. Her call to personal action came when she took a break from work and decided to translate for immigrants seeking social services. It was at that time that she began to notice the anti immigrant comments coming from friends and coworkers, sentiments that the city would be better, more job secure and safer without this sudden influx of Hispanic workers. She was invited to sit in on City Council meetings in Green Bay and that’s really when it all changed. Her background is in human resources and she sees the discrepancies in the ordinance. The ordinance calls for heightened background checks on social security numbers. It calls for the revocation of licenses of business owners who employee undocumented workers. Veronica says that no one has the right to just walk into a business and demand their HR files. She also points out that corporations with factories that hire undocumented would be unaffected as they do not need the same licenses that small business owners like restaurants and convenience stores would need, small businesses one might add that are by and large owned by immigrants and ethnic minorities. Green Bay is the largest city in the United States to have passed an ordinance of this kind.

Christine talks again about NAFTA and the global acceptance of the movement of goods and the parallel stigma associated with the movement of people. Christine’s presentation and Veronica’s assessment of the Green Bay ordinance gives an appropriate juxtaposition of two sides of the same problem. A woman in the audience asks what we can do if the problem is with corporations, globalization, how can we make any difference? The answer lies with Veronica- take action on a local level. The issue is global, but the manifestations are local and can be extremely damaging. We must promote positive ordinances, oppose the raids, and treat people with dignity. These are all tangible, local and necessary. Another woman notes the location of the forum in a church and challenges us, “Chicago is a sanctuary city, why isn’t Sheboygan a sanctuary city?” Several in the audience clap acknowledging that they too believe it is time for a new sanctuary movement.

Another woman, a legal immigrant from Cuba is worried because she knows so little about the rules. She teaches piano to students who are both documented and undocumented. She claims, “I will continue to help, but am I at risk? Is it illegal to teach undocumented immigrants?” We assure her that it is not, but she highlights the uncertainty of many. It demonstrates the way that the fear is not limited to the undocumented, not only the immigrants, and as the laws become harsher their reach is spreading and so is the fear. It is a counterproductive fear because while the Cuban speaker assures us that she will continue to help, not everyone will. We remind her of her rights and we give her some information about the rights that everyone, documented or not also have. Fear is a powerful weapon and it is this basic information that is so essential to fortifying the movement. These simple interactions, these short idea exchanges are testament to the value of this tour.

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