As I sit waiting in the hospital with my parents, I cannot help but daydream about my future. Suddenly, I was interrupted and a woman asks me a random question that I never really thought of before. She asked “what surprised you the most about the United States?” This seemingly simple question left me speechless, and forced me to relive my past.
I didn’t have an immediate response, so she asked again. Perhaps it was the pressure or the brightness of the technology that conjured up the image of lights. I envisioned the brilliant, beautiful, and jaw dropping lights that mesmerized me when I saw them. These lights were so attractive that they looked like stars on Earth. They formed a long vast line that resembled a wall, but not a wall that stopped me from entering, instead a wall that made me feel free,welcomed,and safe.These lights were so alluring that they revealed hope; a hope that made me feel close to my destination and assured me that everything would be over soon.
The journey to reach those lights was relentless and tiring. It all began when my family decided to come to the United States. As a young boy, I never question that decision. I lovingly followed them trusting they knew what was best, despite having to leave my friends and life. Soon after, instead of cooking tamales with my grandma, I was helping my family decide how much food and water to buy to survive the deserts. Instead of playing with my friends in the streets, I was walking through Mexico until my body gave out. As I kept on going I gradually became aware of my surroundings. Instead of picking and eating vegetables at my home, I was avoiding thorn bushes and crawling through fences. I quickly realized the only way to survive was to grow up and take control.
During our last night, my sister carried me as my best efforts still left me unconscious. Later that night, when I regained consciousness, I was able to continue walking. Finally I saw them. The lights that were so captivating that they resembled the entrance to something magical, something so appealing that I never imagined existed on this Earth. The mystical feeling of the lights provided me with the belief that I could conquer anything that got in my way and have the courage to keep going.
My recollection of my past was interrupted by the same question: What surprised you the most about the United States? I, without hesitating, said, “the lights.” Judging be her face, my answer left her disappointed. Perhaps she was expecting a more elaborate story. However, for me, the lights will always symbolize my hopes and dreams.
Hello all! Long time no see!
The past few weeks have been extremely busy and we foresee the next few to be even busier. We have been planning field trips and college visits throughout July to see local colleges and have some fun! We had a blast on our first field trip to Cleveland where we went museum hopping with our students, some of whom had never been to a museum before. First, we checked out the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where we looked at artifacts, geological finds, and dinosaur bones among other things. Since many of our students are of Mayan descent, they really enjoyed seeing the Mayan artifacts that were found near the very places in Guatemala in which many of they grew up. Another favorite attraction was the motion sensor dinosaur game in which the player moves as if they are flying in order to control the dinosaur on the screen. This basically means you get to watch each other flail around for 5 minutes and take really funny pictures while they’re trying not let their CGI dinosaur crash. After the Museum of Natural History, we headed to the park and ate a marvelous lunch of chuchitos (if you’ve never had one you have to try them… they are like mini tamales and are soooo good). After that, we checked out the Crawford Auto Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art and headed back to Canton, exhausted and ready for bed.
Here are some photos from our trip:
Aside from our Cleveland trip, we are currently planning and scheduling college visit days for our students at Stark state, Kent State, the University of Akron, and the University of Detroit Mercy. Many of our students have never been to a college campus so they are excited to go, as all of our students plan to attend college.
The last major thing that Eric and I have been working on with our students is our core community service project. Each of the student groups (one in Canton and one in Dover) is organizing a project that they feel will benefit the greater immigrant community. Thus, our Dover group is working on a Know-Your-Rights presentation/play which aims to educate the immigrant community about their legal rights in the United States. The students want to educate community members on what their rights are if they encounter police or immigration officials, so that they know when an officer may be overstepping or violating their rights and how to handle the situation. Along with that, they are working hard to organize a “community meal.” This meal will be an opportunity for our students to share their Guatemalan culture with local officials and school board members through food as they speak with them about discrimination and unequal educational opportunities for immigrant students in Dover City Schools. In the Canton group, students are organizing a community art project that they hope will give the immigrant community an opportunity to showcase their culture and thoughts in a massive painted metal mural that will hang in Centro San José. With the help of a local Latino artist, they hope that as every person comes and goes from the building, they can see art that they contributed to, bringing home a little closer to their new home in the US.
Finally, Eric and I started an ESL class this week at the Immigrant Worker Project office. The class specifically targets immigrant students who have come to the United States in the last 12 months and have little to no experience learning English. Many of these students will be enrolling in American schools for the first time this fall, and we organized these summer classes in an effort to ease the transition to their new schools. We work with several Latino immigrant students that spend the majority of their summer speaking their native languages and have relatively little exposure to English despite living in the United States. Our class is led by TESOL-certified public school teachers and focuses on beginner English skills as well as language used in the classroom to give the students some preparation for school in the fall.
Though all of this planning and organizing has definitely been taking a lot of our time, we are so excited to see the product of our students’ efforts and the impact that they will have on the community.
Until next time,
Scout and Eric
Since the beginning of time, people have searched for ways to solve various problems in order to make life better and easier. Humanity has found solutions to problems of many kinds, whether medical, technological, or structural, all of which have led us to where we are now; a rapidly growing, technological, interconnected world. However, we look around and see that there are still many other problems to solve. Today, I want to call your attention to a different type of problem that I believe is greatly affecting modern societies around the world: a lack of strong family units.
According to The American Psychological Association (APA), about 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. In today's society we see more and more children growing up in unstable families where only one parent is present or in some cases neither parent is present, possibly due to people choosing to live together instead of getting married and having kids before forming a stable home. Aside from growing up without the support of two loving parents, many children grow up in violent environments in which they are sexually, physically or mentally abused. Finally, and probably most importantly, we see kids growing up in modern families that lack patience and communication. We live in a rapidly growing world that demands our constant attention and time; parents and children are more focused on the outside world than their own families, and communication is selective. It's sad to hear my friends say that their family is just people they live with and that sometimes they can go days without saying anything to each other except for “good morning” and “goodnight.” I believe all of this is a problem because the development of a child is strongly influenced by how well his or her family functions; the family is where we learn the social graces of loyalty, cooperation, and trust. It is where we learn to love ourselves and each other, to bear one another’s burdens, to find meaning in our life and to give purpose to others’ lives, and to feel the value of being part of something greater than ourselves; without communication or support, families can’t be successful. I’m so grateful for my family, my parents and my two siblings have given me a place to belong, a way to learn and grow, and a chance to be part of something great. They have taught me the importance of love, cooperation and patience and most importantly they have given me all of their support and shaped me into the person I am today, without their support I would have never started playing soccer or lacrosse, or I would have never been motivated to learn other languages aside from English and Spanish. My dad has taught me the importance of learning and education, he has shown me that with hard work and perseverance I can accomplish great things, every time I have a problem I know I can go to my dad and ask for advice: he listens, understands, and counsels me. My mom has shown me the importance of love and patience, she is been there for me during my most difficult times growing up as a teenager and she has taught me many important life skills such as cooking, time management, organization, and more that are helping me and will continue to help me in my life. Finally, my siblings have taught the importance of sharing and teamwork, and thanks to them I now know that there is not a problem that can’t be solved or a question that can’t be answered. We are not a perfect family, there are many things we can do better, but I am confident when I say that communication exists between us.
I believe the absence of strong family units due to the lack of communication, support between family members, and other factors, all of which are a critical problem. I recognize that there might not be a quick way to solve this issue, but with patience and time a difference can be made. Here’s three ways I believe that we can aid in solving this problem: first, by being an example to those around us, quite a few times I have had the opportunity to counsel my friends to talk to their parents about various things and it’s been really nice to see them come to agreements and communicate with their parents. Second, by asking school and other organizations to take part and encourage the formation of families, and third by decreasing the bad influence that social media, TV series and movies has on the public about families, because all of these not only distract the family members from each other but they also attack marriage and strong family units.
I believe that families are important, they determine a child's character and greatly influence his/her future, and even though today’s world does not admire marriage and strong family units as it did before, it is important for me to be an example to those around me and show them that communication and the desire to support and help one another within families is important. This is what makes a family strong and strong family units are essential for society because for a civilization to succeed, the family must succeed, and right now, as we can see, it is not.
In our first meeting with the Immigrant Youth Ambassadors, we asked our students to think about problems they see in their local community. We prompted them: What makes you mad? What do you wish you could change? How can we alter our communities for the better? This week, they came with answers, and one student had a unique response to these questions. This is a poem written by our very own Macario.
After writing our blog post on Tuesday, Scout and I heard the news about a massive ICE raid on an Ohio meat processing company, Fresh Mark. Nearly 150 employees were taken from the Salem, OH Freshmark branch and search warrants were served at the Canton and Massillon branches. The search warrants allowed ICE officers to access information about the employees at the Canton and Massillon branches, so while ICE did not detain anyone at those locations, ICE may now have access to employee information and will likely screen employees for fake work documents. The initial investigation into Fresh Mark was a result of the company’s participation in the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program. Several employees were believed to be using fake work documents and many will be given criminal charges for identity theft and fraud.
ICE officers and some of the 146 workers during the raid
This raid came about two weeks after another large raid in Sandusky at Corso’s Flower and Garden Center. Similar to the Corso’s raid, several detainees have been wrongfully arrested despite proper documentation and work permits. While the raid took place on Tuesday in the early afternoon, many wrongfully detained workers were released late into the night at the Brooklyn Heights ICE office. Additionally, several people were released with humanitarian concerns, such as a woman seven months into her pregnancy. While many parents were released, there are still several families and children that are separated from detained parents and living without either parent, sometimes in the custody of family and friends. Tuesday night we were at First Christian Church with many of these families that had been torn apart by the raids, including a young girl who had a parent deported six months ago and the other parent detained that day. Many of the families still do not know the condition of their detained loved ones and the Immigrant Worker Project has been receiving countless phone calls to help locate those arrested in the raid.
The ICE office where many of the workers were detained.
Some of our coworkers awaiting the release of the detained migrants.
The Immigrant Worker Project held three Know-Your-Rights community meetings to respond to community concerns in Salem, Canton, and Massillon. Scout and I helped organize two of these, and each meeting had remarkable turnout, with over 120 present in Massillon. In each meeting, the program director Jeff Stewart explained what had happened in the raid, what IWP knows about those detained in the raids, and how to prepare for an ICE raid or police stop in the future. IWP staff took questions and met individually with those affected by the raid to assess needs and provide free legal advice.
One of the employees that I spoke with said that Freshmark had encouraged him to apply to work even with fake documents. Another woman described how she told her boss that she was using a fake social security number, and that her boss told her it would be okay as long as she kept working. While it remains unclear whether ICE will press charges on Fresh Mark itself, it it appears that the company was complicit in or even encouraged some employees to work with fake documents. Fresh Mark continues to profit from the labor of vulnerable workers while facing relatively little backlash for improper hiring practices. For the immigrants work at Fresh Mark, there is rarely alternative employment that will allow them to support themselves and their families. One man described being able to find work in Guatemala, but not enough to provide for his wife and three children. Now the whole family lives in the United States and Fresh Mark was one of the few places the parents were able to find consistent work - they will have to find work elsewhere, likely for a farm. Many of the farms in the area are underemployed and do not have the workforce to produce their normal yearly harvests, so there are several jobs available in the lettuce and dill fields of northern Ohio. For now, he and his wife are out of work and have no source of income to provide for themselves and their children.
The effects of the raid go beyond those directly affected by it, as Latino immigrants across northern Ohio are expressing their fear of upcoming raids either at their place of work or in their homes. I spoke with one man who said he had not left his house for 36 hours following the raid because he was afraid that ICE might start going door-to-door in his neighborhood.
Jeff Stewart, IWP director, speaking with some of the Massillon immigrant community impacted by the raids.
Despite the recent terror and suffering that has been brought upon the Latino immigrant community, there have been countless moments of hope that have demonstrated the strength and unity of the whole community. The Immigrant Worker Project staff has been working tirelessly to identify and represent those affected by the raid. On the night of the raid, dozens of volunteers gathered at First Christian Church to take care of children whose parents had been detained and to gather supplies for families in need of assistance. Countless community members have pledged their support both materially and through volunteering for the families that were affected by the raid, and over 200 members of the immigrant community attended our KYR meetings on Wednesday. And of course, those affected by the raid have remained resilient in spite of family separation, financial instability, and fears over their own safety.
For now, there are several ways that volunteers and donors can get involved in working to support the families of the detained:
Donate to the Immigrant Worker Project in Canton to help identify those detained, provide social services and temporary support for families, and provide free legal assistance: https://www.facebook.com/donate/413083432500957/
Donate money or supplies for families to St. Paul Church in Salem - St. Paul is collecting money and supplies for the families of workers detained in the Salem Fresh Mark raid. Contact the church directly for more information - (330) 332-0336
Donates diapers, food, and other supplies to Lifesong Church in Massillon to support the families out of work at the Massillon Fresh Mark. Call the church directly - (330) 880-0211
Hello all and welcome back! Holy moly has it been a crazy week around the office. Eric and I were running around like chickens with our heads cut off in an effort to prepare for our mentor training sessions which took place on Friday and Saturday. We prepared an extremely thick binder folder with over 50 pages worth of resources to help equip our mentors with what they need to be effective advocates for the students in our program. We also created a 20+ slide powerpoint which aided us in explaining in depth what the mentoring section of our program entails and the logistics of mentor-student meetings as well as an in depth look at the college application process as it relates to students of varying immigration statuses, a know your rights informational section, a crash course on Latino immigrant psychology, and immigration 101 in 2018. As you can tell, the training sessions were quite long but very needed as Eric and I’s top priority right now is to ensure that the mentors we have selected will be outstanding educational advocates who have a well rounded knowledge of who our students are and why this program is so important to our students, especially in 2018 (see 4th article linked at the bottom of this post).
So you might be wondering: what does a know your rights lesson and immigration 101 have to do with a college prep mentoring program? Well, as the title of our program implies, almost all of our students are immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, or Peru and thus have varying statuses within the US legal system. Because so many of our students have complicated statuses it is of the utmost importance for Eric and I to ensure that the identities of our students are concealed and their human rights upheld at all times. Thus, our mentors must know their personal rights as US citizens and the human rights of our students within the US in order to ensure that they are protected if a compromising situation of any kind were to arise. Now, though the likelihood is very low of any of our mentors and mentees encountering officials from USCIS, or even police that have taken upon themselves the role of ICE, it is still crucial that our mentors be aware of their rights and the rights of their students as they will sometimes be driving them to tutoring sessions.
It has been frequently documented that many ICE arrests within the state of Ohio occur as a result of ICE or police pulling someone over on the road and questioning the individuals in the car about their place of birth or immigration status. While this may sound like it “makes sense” and is in the scope of duty for these officers this is more often than not untrue. Firstly, police officers are law enforcement official and are not legally supposed to work in conjunction with ICE or border patrol (except in rare cases). Thus, for police, questioning someone about their immigration status is outside of their scope of duty. For police officers pulling someone over for speeding or a traffic violation, they only have the right to question the driver of the car, requesting a driver's license and vehicle documentation, not their immigration status, as well as to ask the name and DOB of passengers. For ICE or border patrol officials, pulling someone over in order to question them about their immigration status is considered unconstitutional under the 4th amendment unless they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individuals in the car are undocumented (skin color, accent, and customs do not fall within this scope as that would permit racial profiling). Because police and USCIS officials do step outside of their scope of duty for the sake of immigration, thus infringing on the rights of those in question, it is crucial for our mentors to know their rights and the rights of their students so that they are both protected.
In an attempt to provide an example of when knowing one’s rights is crucial, I have decided to share with you all my recent experiences with border patrol agents who overstep their legal role and infringe upon the rights of suspicion-less individuals just this past weekend. As you may have seen in the news, border patrol often board greyhound buses at scheduled stops in various cities across the country and begin questioning passengers asking either “Where were you born?” or “Are you a United States citizen?” As I am a frequent greyhound rider, I have seen these interactions many times. On my last trip this past weekend, by bus stopped in Toledo, OH and two or three BP agents boarded the bus. Starting at the back, they began to question everyone about their status, only requesting proof of citizenship or legal presence from people of color, especially those who appeared to be of Latin American or middle eastern descent. When he approached the area I was sitting in I asked him why he was questioning these people about their status to which he replied that it was a routine immigration checkup. I stated that he does not legally have the right to question anyone on the bus without reasonable suspicion that they are undocumented or have committed a crime. He replied “I don’t need reasonable suspicion on a bus,” which is false as the constitution applies whether you are on a bus, in a car, or on the ground. This is just one of many examples of USCIS officials using their position of power to unconstitutionally question people about their status within the United States. Because this is a real issue that some some of our students face, it is of the utmost importance for our mentors to know their rights and the rights of others.
All in all, though it has been a frustrating, busy, and hectic week for Eric and I, we feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this work as we can confidently say that working in immigration advocacy is one of the most rewarding occupations/experiences.
If you would like to know more about your legal rights or those of your neighbors, please check out this know-your-rights crash course:
If you would like to read a testimony about the fear and stress that undocumented students face as they attempt to get an education, please check out this article:
If you would like more information about border patrol on greyhound buses please check out this article: http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/380514-immigration-agents-do-not-belong-on-greyhound-buses
If you would like additional information about border patrol stops and “100-mile” zones check out this article: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/9/16974510/border-patrol-greyhound-bus-amtrak-train
Before we get into the details of our first full week on site, we first want to introduce you to the
exceptional Immigrant Worker Project staff that keep the building running, sometimes working 60+ hours each week. Without them, our own project would not be possible, and we are grateful for the work they do each day fighting for the rights and dignity of migrant workers in Ohio. On top of all of that, they are all pretty cool so we figured that you all would love to get to know them too!
Jeff Stewart is the founder of the Immigrant Worker Project and works as the IWP Director. Jeff helped design our own project and has been invaluable in helping us find both students and volunteers this past week. He enjoys singing in the office and playing ping-pong.
Manuela Pena is an immigration advocate and has worked in issues of domestic violence for over 20 years. Manuela works primarily with women and youth in the office and knows many of the younger clients very well. Her tough attitude earned her the nickname “La Manu Dura.”
Melvin Rios is an immigration advocate and works in the office while attending the University of Akron. As an aspiring law student, he helps manage immigration cases. His nickname is “El Gato(rade)” (the Cat) and he is a master of foosball.
Silverio Mejia is the administrative assistant and will be the first voice you hear when calling IWP. He manages the clients coming in and out of the office and prepares documents for court cases. He is known as “El jefe de jefes” (Boss of bosses).
Akshita Patel is an attorney who founded her own law firm and works closely with the Immigrant Worker Project. She takes several of the juvenile cases and recently earned her law degree from the University of Akron. After reading this post, she informed us that SHE knows the most languages and speaks English, Spanish, Hindi, and Gujarati!
Juan Guico is the K’iche and Spanish interpreter. He is currently working on his GED and splits his time between the office and school. Despite being the youngest member of the office, he knows the most languages and is trilingual.
Anthony Wolters is an attorney with his own law firm that works with Centro San Jose. Anthony works on a variety of immigration cases including asylum law and DACA and is a graduate from Kent State Law School.
Alright, let’s get into the crux of this post.
What a busy week! As of Tuesday, we have finished our first full week in the office at Centro San Jose. We have seen a broad range of students coming in and out of the office for legal appointments among other things and have recruited many of them for our program. Along with in-person interviews, over the last seven days, Scout and I have made countless phone calls to both students and potential mentors that we think could be valuable members of the Immigrant Youth Ambassador Program. Now that we have done the majority of our recruiting, we are putting together training sessions for our mentors in order to prepare them to work with the students. The training sessions will focus on a crash course on current immigration law in the US, cultural sensitivity, the leaky educational pipeline, and an overview on the college application process.
In other news, Scout and I wanted to update you all on recent immigration matters in Ohio. This past Tuesday, there was a large ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid at a landscaping company in Sandusky, Ohio in which 114 migrant workers were detained. Scout and I received news of the raid via text while we were at the home of an undocumented student who will be participating in our program, talking with her about what she wants to accomplish in the future. It was a bizarre and disheartening experience to be simultaneously hearing about the hopes and dreams of an undocumented student while learning that over one hundred people of similar status were surrounded by ICE officers and over 200 law enforcement officers while at work and hauled away in trucks just minutes prior.
While ICE officials claim to have found evidence of some workers committing tax evasion and identity theft, ICE officers can arrest anybody suspected of illegal presence in the United States while on a raid. Therefore some of the workers may not have criminal charges against them, but would be taken in the raid as “collateral arrests.” Actions like these contribute to an environment in which non-criminal irregular migrants can lose confidence in their safety at work, leading to a labor shortage in Ohio agriculture. While many irregular migrants wish to work and study in peace in the United States, raids like the one in Sandusky are reminders of the constant insecurity that they face.
For more information on the raid: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/06/06/utter-chaos-ice-arrests-114-workers-in-immigration-raid-at-ohio-gardening-company/?utm_term=.55c38897ab3f
After the school year finally ended and finals had taken their toll, I was ready to go home and be a horizontal blob for a few days; but, I knew that the next two weeks, while restful, would be full of preparations in anticipation of the start of Eric’s and my project on the 29th. Alongside some much needed sleep, I phoned local banks, set up accounts, and made flyers (a job that i’m starting to think may become my creative specialty) to recruit participants for our program. Over the duration of this prep period, I was counting down the days until we began the project with immense excitement and residual nerves.
When the day finally came for me to make the drive back to Ohio, I packed my 1990 F-150 that has somehow survived the trek from Michigan to Ohio and back again time after time. The drive down was narrated by various podcasts and playlists that accompanied the hot midwestern sun, transforming my AC-less car into a giant oven, which slowly baked the left side of my body to a crisp within an hour. After five hours of driving, I finally arrived on site, ready to get to work in all of my sweaty, burnt glory.
Upon pulling into the parking lot of our main site, Centro San José, one sees an aging building which fits seamlessly into the community that surrounds it. This area of Canton is dotted with various social service buildings connected by streets that seem weathered by decades of midwestern winter snow. As one enters the building they are surrounded by welcoming blue walls and a sign from the church located on the first floor of the building that reads “Love Canton.” as you make your way up the stairs to our site, the blue walls reveal a humid hallway full of doors that occupy most of the wall space and enclose the various offices of the employees at the Immigrant Worker Project. Our office is painted a pale green and is occupied by stacks of papers, file cabinets, and a large chalkboard that reads “¡Bienvenidos! , ¡Utz Ipetik!, and ¡Chálash!” all of which mean "welcome" as is spoken in Spanish, Ixil, and Quiche (Ixil and Quiche are both native languages spoken in Guatemala).
Our first day involved a lot of what I would call housekeeping tasks such as organizing lists of contacts, creating spreadsheets and folders, and making to do lists for the upcoming week. However, after the day came to a close and a new day begun we dove head first into the project, phoning potential participants, making countless informational flyers, and collecting contact information for possible mentors and mentees. It is now our third day on site and I can truly say that our short time here has already flown by and so much has been done, but there is much left to do. We are eagerly signing up participants and mentors and anxiously preparing for the start of the mentor training week and the following start of the Immigrant Youth Ambassador Program. I can’t wait to see what is in store for this program and its students.