Scared, scammed, stressed, and searching. That’s how many of my immigrant and refugee friends feel.
Scared because America’s current political climate fosters fear of the stranger, and rejection of minorities.
Scammed because too often immigrants and refugees coming from authoritarian and repressive countries don’t know whom to trust. They get ripped off by intimidating imposters posing as law enforcement agents, government officials, or legitimate businesses whose aim is to rob them of their money and possessions.
Stressed because they feel alone, exposed, unprotected, and unwelcome, not knowing whom to turn to for assistance which ranges from where to shop, how to navigate transportation, where to receive medical treatment, how to find a job, or where to secure sound legal advice, among many others.
Searching because they want answers, guidance, support, and much needed acceptance and encouragement from their local community.
So how do we answer these cries for help?
Become a welcoming community, and follow Hartford Public Library’s lead.
Hartford is a Welcoming City
Having worked several years for the City of Hartford, as well as having worked with many non-profits in Hartford’s neighborhoods, I’ve seen a lot, heard a lot, done a lot, and learned a lot about Hartford’s new arrivals, especially in the city’s Asylum Hill neighborhood. Hartford is a welcoming community. Mayor Luke Bronin and City of Hartford leadership have made that emphatically clear. Asylum Hill is representative of the city’s many neighborhoods in extending its welcoming arms to immigrants and refugees. Most recently it opened its Asylum Hill Multicultural Resource Corner at Catholic Charities Asylum Hill Family Center to serve all neighborhood residents, particularly newcomers.
Yet, long before the current social and political turmoil one organization in particular, the Hartford Public Library, invested significant resources to become a leading light and steady hand in supporting Hartford’s newcomers. Encouraged in recent years by innovative CEOs Louise Blalock, Matthew Poland, and currently Bridget Quinn-Carey, Hartford Public Library has achieved a national reputation for its immigration and citizenship programs. So much so that it enabled Homa Naficy, the library’s Chief Adult Learning Officer and former Connecticut Immigrant of the Year Award recipient, and her team to implement Hartford Public Library’s immigrant support initiatives. As a result of her leadership, she was chosen a 2013 Champion of Change by The White House.
Follow Hartford Public Library’s Lead
As a guide to following Hartford Public Library’s lead, the information offered below is excerpted from the Library’s website. Please follow the links as cited for detailed information on the following points.
1. Build Networks of Trust (Link)
Strategy 1: Recruit and train volunteers to serve as Cultural Navigators. These mentors are integral to easing the transition of newly arrived immigrants into their home city, Hartford.
Strategy 2: Build coalitions among key stakeholders. The Immigrant Advisory Group (IAG) serves as a city-wide vehicle for stakeholders to communicate current immigration issues and share best practices with each other. It is also a forum for participants to learn about immigrant cultures and experiences.
Strategy 3: Engage immigrants and the receiving community in Community Dialogues on topics of mutual concern. There are various approaches to this, but all lead to a plan of action. Hartford Public Library has piloted two approaches: City Wide and Neighborhood.
Strategy 4: Bridge cultures through facilitated book group discussions and films that portray the immigrant experience and its often complex cross-cultural dynamics.
Strategy 5: Foster the value that regardless of where you come from, Hartford welcomes you. Follow the steps in We Belong Here, the library’s toolkit for welcoming and supporting new arrival immigrants.
2. Raids & Enforcement Actions (Link)
1. ICE Detained Parent Rights EnglishSpanish 2. Nine Ways To Protect Yourself / Nueve maneras de protegerse3. What to do if you are stopped by Police, Immigration Agents, or FBI ArabicEnglishFrenchSpanish
4. Know Your Rights EnglishSpanish
5. American Library Association opposes new administration policies… Learn More
6. Hartford Public Schools Protect Immigrant Families Learn More
3. Legal Help (Link)
Hartford Public Library (HPL) Downtown Branch (500 Main Street) is recognized by the US Department of Justice, Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to offer legal advice by its BIA accredited representatives. Only Attorneys or BIA Accredited Representatives can provide legal advice. Notary publics, businesses, immigration consultants are NOT able to give immigration legal advice. THE WRONG HELP CAN HURT!
Follow the Legal Help link above for more details.
There are many agencies and organizations providing much needed support to immigrants and refugees, as well as support to advocates and volunteers who sponsor them. However, it is clear to me that America’s current social and political environment makes it imperative to engage more people in understanding the plight of immigrants and refugees. It’s critical to providing the necessary care essential to embrace them into our lives, our communities, and our country.
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Let’s live our American ideals. Let’s welcome the stranger.
Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor
Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.