Future of immigration murky : Experts at forum encourage people keep talking

  • Diana Sierra of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center participates in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Alisa Klein, City Councilor for Ward 7, left, Bill Dwight, City Councilor at Large, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz participate in a post-election discussion Tuesday regarding how policy and legal changes under the Trump administration could affect area immigrant communities. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lin Geng of Northampton, left, and Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of the Catholic Charities, participate in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz speaks in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lin Geng of Northampton speaks in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Bill Dwight, City Councilor at Large, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz participate in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of the Catholic Charities, center, listens while Lin Geng of Northampton speaks in a post-election discussion Dec. 13, 2016 regarding how policy and legal changes under the new administration could affect area immigrant communities. The event was held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

@JackSuntrup
Published: 12/14/2016 12:58:13 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Figuring out the future of immigration during a Donald Trump presidency is a messy task.

That’s the word from a forum Tuesday night at the Academy of Music on Main Street, which featured local officials, immigration attorneys and representatives from local nonprofits. About 200 people attended the event, which was part group therapy, part organizing push and part education effort.

“There are many people saying, ‘this is what’s going to happen. This is what you have to do. This is what you can do,’” said Tina Sanchez, of the Center for New Americans, which offers English classes. “We don’t know. Nothing yet has changed. We know the law usually takes a while before change happens.”

Sanchez recommended immigrants concerned about their status get in touch with reputable community groups or law firms.

Attorneys with one local immigration law firm, Curran & Berger LLP, were on stage Tuesday night. Joseph Curran, a partner there, said he had just returned from a trip to Washington D.C., where he said he visits once or twice a year.

Curran said he met with representatives of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Democratic senators from Massachusetts. He said they nodded in agreement when he talked of compassionate solutions to the United States’ immigration problems.

“It was like preaching to the choir,” Curran said. “Unfortunately, they’re in the minority, and they feel a little bit helpless.”

Curran also said he met with the Republican side. In this case, that meant attorneys who author legislation behind the scenes. Curran said he’s met with the same group of lawyers for the last seven or eight years.

“This time it was a little bit different,” he said. “There is something that’s going on. They talked about not wanting to hurt innocent kids. This isn’t the language I’m used to hearing there.

“I think this may be a chance for us to do something good there,” Curran added. “They’re looking for a deal.”

Curran’s encouraging account came with some caveats. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly, and Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, will all likely stake out tough positions on immigration come January, he said.

“Don’t be naïve,” Curran said. “If you have a criminal record, I don’t see any help coming. … If you’re Muslim, it’s going to be tougher.”

‘Make noise, don’t insult’

Curran said his advice would be to “make noise” but not to insult the opposition. He urged immigrants to tell stories, persuade people, call the White House and conservative members of Congress.

Later in the panel discussion, Diana Sierra of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, pitched the center’s rapid-response Sanctuary in the Streets effort — “an action network to support immigrants and stand against hate,” according to a sign-up form.

She called on white, middle-class allies to mobilize. And she argued white workers who may have supported Trump should align with the cause, too.

“I speak to you directly to join these efforts, because it’s white workers who are being targeted and who are trying to be hustled into thinking that they have more in common with a racist billionaire than the person of color who’s also being exploited alongside them,” she said.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz also spoke, and said the city would push back if the Trump administration or Congress tried to yank federal money from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

He said Northampton receives about $3.2 million in federal funds, about 3 percent of the overall city budget.

“Mostly it’s funding that’s directed at the most vulnerable populations in our community,” Narkewicz said.

“I have no intention to reverse the city’s policy at this point,” he said to applause. “And we’re going to push back if there are efforts (to defund sanctuary cities).”

Lin Geng, of Northampton, spoke to the crowd about his own undocumented status, and how he never made more than minimum wage working at restaurants for 14 years.

Geng said his boss at his last job encouraged him to get an education, and Geng said he graduated with an associate’s degree from Greenfield Community College this year. But when a scathing report on wage theft was published by the worker’s center earlier this year, his boss accused him of being a traitor for collaborating with the center.

“If going to school is to make people quiet, then I would rather just stay home,” he said.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.




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