Wed. April 24, 2019, about 30 people gathered at the YWCA Olga Madrid Center on Castroville road to observe a panel of professionals who work in some facet of immigration.
The city prepared a proclamation of April 24 as the day to stand against racism in San Antonio. This was presented and signed by Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales in addition to many of the people in attendance.
Her opening remarks painted a picture of an evening at the Mennonite church 2 years ago when a surge of immigrants needed assistance and many San Antonians stepped up to the charge by donating all necessary goods and volunteering their time.
The panel was moderated by a diplomat, author, and immigrant, Enrique Moreno. He currently serves as the Consul for Community Affairs in Austin and emphasized that “ All Human Beings have a story.”
The panelists ranged from Lawyers to volunteers to Diplomats. Each panelist introduced themselves for ten minutes and then took questions from the moderator and the audience.
Laura Alejandra Cortes Franco is the manager for legal advice programs for the Department of Protection at the Mexican Consulate. She is a DACA recipient and in charge of DACA cases with her department. She is an advocate for assistance and prevention by way of Know your Rights Workshops. She wants more immigrants to know what the Mexican Consulate can do for them and what resources they can offer. She visits migrant detention centers in the region to reach out to vulnerable people, but she said most do not want to talk to her because she is with the Mexican Consulate. “ We do more than Passports,” said Cortes Franco, but there is a lingering stigma despite the wealth of resources available.
Veronica Sanders in the manager of the YWCA empowerment and economic advancement program. She spoke about empowering the community with education and access to medical information
Guillermo Hernandez has worked as a staff attorney with the non-profit organization Raices and is the managing attorney of the immigration department with the law firm Vidaurri, Lyde, Rodriguez & Haynes. He has defended asylum seekers from central America, deferred deportation cases and is interested in a bill for conditional driver licenses.
“The national policy right now is a mess,” said Hernadez as he spoke about his experience with immigration legislation at the city, state and federal level. He recounted a story about one of his clients calling him from a port of entry to say he is number 8000 and they are on number 3000 right now. He doesn’t know how long he will have to wait.
When asked how he would reform immigration policy if he could and he said narrow asylum laws, invest in the ports of entry to sustain the caseload and legalize people who have already been here for a long time.
Einas Albadri was born in Iraq and arrived in the US as a refugee in 2010. She is now the director of refugee resettlement with the non-profit organization RAICES. She said the services the organization has to offer to go beyond legal and reuniting separated families and into social by energizing resettlement programs focused on job placement, English as a Second Language program, healthcare programs and full integration as a “New American” versus an immigrant status. There are 3 San Antonio offices available to support these charges. Their ultimate vision is to end the detention centers.
Selene M. Gomez is a core member of the organization, SA Stands and the daughter of immigrants from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Growing up in a mixed-status family drives her to promote citizenship workshops and organize with adjacent social justice groups like the Texas DREAM Alliance, the Council for Minority Student Affairs and many others. SA Stands was formed after SB4 legislature on May 17 when local governments and law enforcement agencies began to do the work of federal immigration officers by asking about immigration status if they choose to, but only during a lawful stop or arrest. Local officers cannot stop someone solely to ask about immigration status. She hopes to normalize political conversations in order to get more people involved.
Mary Grace Ketner has a soft spot for immigrant children and empathizes with all of the families journeys. She volunteers with her church organization who makes backpacks for these families on their journey.
Attendees asked some intimate legal questions and were briefly advised and referred to further resources.
Some community members brought up concerns about private institutions adjacent to public services working towards divulging Citizenship status. The people on the panel could not reinforce the message more, “ No one ever has to legally disclose their status. You have the right to remain silent. Know your rights.”
The YWCA will host similar events this month. Please visit https://www.ywcasa.org/ for more information.