On efforts to ensure the most generous possible welcome for immigrants


Published: 10/22/2019 9:12:20 AM

In an article on Sept. 18, the Greenfield Recorder reported on the status of Greenfield’s proposed safe city ordinance. The proposed ordinance resembles ordinances passed in other cities and towns in an effort to create a firewall between federal immigration policies and local law enforcement.

There are several reasons for these ordinances. One is to create open channels of communication between local residents and law enforcement so that victims of domestic violence, for example, or witnesses to crime, feel free to share information with the police rather than hide underground for fear of reprisals. Another is to remain a welcoming community in recognition of the fact that the only population growth in the region comes from immigrants who are more likely to be of working age than the native-born population and therefore critical to the region’s economic growth.

Initially in favor of the proposed safe city ordinance, the Greenfield City Council subsequently became divided in its position. Its latest vote was in support of the ordinance. The mayor then vetoed the safe city ordinance proposal.

To explain his veto, the mayor acknowledged that Greenfield has long been a community that has welcomed immigrants and prospered from this approach. He stated that instead of debating the pros and cons of a safe city ordinance, Greenfield would do well to support existing programs, such as Center for New Americans’ citizenship program.

At the Center for New Americans, we have long had a positive relationship with Mayor Martin. Our students have visited him at City Hall and he has visited classes. He has also joined our end-of-semester celebrations. We appreciate his holding up our program as an exemplar.

Nevertheless, we must respectfully disagree with his position. While the Center for New Americans does offer assistance with citizenship applications, our mandate is far broader. We serve immigrants, refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers whether or not they seek a pathway to citizenship. We teach English. In conjunction with teaching English, we help people to apply for and obtain jobs. Our mission is to help immigrants to achieve their version of the American dream. In so doing and in partnership with other community organizations, we help employers who need hard-working, dependable staff to remain and thrive in this community.

We are proud to support more than 80 immigrants each year through their naturalization journey. We are equally proud to serve hundreds more with our classes, career guidance, support services and other immigration legal services.

Our classes are filled with people from more than 50 different countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, China, Tibet, Ukraine, Cape Verde, Moldova, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Colombia, Cambodia, Thailand, Venezuela, Senegal, Syria, and Egypt. Our students and graduates work in nursing homes, hospitals, and manufacturing, as well as in restaurants and on farms.

We recognize that only comprehensive immigration reform on the national level will provide a coherent path forward. In the interim, in the face of harsh national policies, we appreciate local efforts to ensure the most generous possible welcome for immigrants in our community. This approach resonates with the edicts across faith communities to “welcome the stranger” while also translating to sound economic policy.

Laurie Millman is the executive director for the Center for New Americans in Northampton.

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
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