DUNWOODY, Ga. — Dunwoody resident Lauren Menis organized and moderated a community-wide discussion entitled “Bearing Witness: A Humanitarian Crisis” on Jan. 26 at Temple Emanu-el.
Co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, the event garnered support from many local temples and churches. The discussion focused on the treatment of immigrants, known as “asylum seekers,” in detention centers along the Mexican border who seek refuge in the United States. The event featured three panelists who each spoke individually before all assembling on stage for a closing Q&A session with the 250 residents in attendance.
The first speaker was Traci Feit Love, president and executive director of the national non-profit Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG). She spoke about her experiences during their launch of Project Corazon which has been responsible for providing legal services to more than 7,000 asylum seekers.
Video footage was shown to emphasize the difficult selection process that many experienced in their efforts to find safety. While many families are placed back into dangerous conditions at home, the questionable treatment and imprisonment of asylum seekers continues to spark controversy.
“The asylum seekers that we [United States] put back into Mexico are at enormous risk because they are easily identifiable, they are targets for gangs and cartels that come after them, that kidnap them, that extort, that threaten them…” Love said. “It is a dangerous and cruel program [the NPP] and it needs to end…the Remain in Mexico Policy is doing its job in putting people out of sight, out of mind.”
Amilcar Valencia, executive director for a ministry for immigrants at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia called El Refugio, said asylum seekers face severe hardships in detention camps. Since his arrival in the U.S. from El Salvador in 2010, Valencia has been actively helping those affected by immigration detention.
“The conditions in Central America are so dangerous…2014 was the moment we started to see more asylum seekers come into the United States and they might have family members in [the U.S.]…those illegals should be with their community where there is support for them,” Valencia said. “The people who are detained have issues and barriers with legal representation, barriers for family visitation, phone access…many people are having many medical problems…they are not being taken to the hospital.”
The final panelist was Charles H. Kuck, managing attorney at Kuck Baxter Immigration and a past national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He has testified before Congress on multiple occasions concerning immigration law and reform.
Kuck discussed the problem with gangs and their threats of violence that are pushing many immigrants to seek safety on U.S. soil. He went on to describe the interview process for asylum seekers while clearing up many of the misconceptions about immigration law.
He urged the audience to take a stand and lend their support to efforts to improve the immigration process. The U.S., he said, is sending over 60,000 immigrants back to Mexico under the NPP where they experience life-threatening conditions on a daily basis.
“We talk about myths all the time, like that immigrants don’t pay taxes — and of course they do — there’s lots of negative stuff out there that people tend to believe because they’re told it enough without trying to get the facts of what it really is,” Kuck said. “We as a people need to get louder…let them [local elected officials] know that we should be doing more…the numbers [sent back] will go back up, the violence will increase, and things will get worse unless we demand changes from our elected representatives here in Georgia.”
The event closed with a Q&A session where many residents voiced their own opinions on the matter and panelists applied their expertise to provide answers.