Pilar Pintagro sees too many people "in limbo."
As an interpreter in counseling sessions at Family Services of Jamestown, she said she and her colleagues manage to make emotional connections with non-English speakers because they speak their clients' native languages. But, Pintagro has noticed many fearful members in the Hispanic community.
“When you’re so nervous, so stressed, so depressed and you hear something in your language, (you’re) like, ‘Somebody’s hearing me,'" Pintagro said as one of four panelists during the May 5 Tuesdays with Tracy.
Immigration was the topic for the weekly online conference with Tracy Mitrano, the Democratic challenger for the 23rd Congressional district, which includes the Greater Olean area.
The other three panelists were Nicole Hallett, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the Law School, University of Chicago; Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, director of the Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic at Cornell Law School, and Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program.
They discussed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; the importance of interpreting services; flaws in the immigration judiciary system; the need for immigration reform, and immigrants who work on farms. They also answered various questions from the comments section on the live video.
Dudley spoke on how immigrant farm workers, especially those who are not in the U.S. legally, need assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. For them, the rule of thumb when working is to “stay invisible.” Testing and medical assistance are nearly impossible for them to procure.
“Underlying this is that the immigration reform question has (created) isolation and fear,” Dudley said. “At any moment, they could be a passenger in a car, asked for their papers and be deported. All of this could be changed if we had a different immigration policy.”
Kelley-Widmer said the U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a DACA case and that the decision, expected sometime before June, will impact work situations.
“Our DACA recipients are in this state of panic,” Kelley-Widmer said.
Hallett spoke about the current experiences of immigrants trying to get green cards or work cards.
“It can take months,” Hallett said. “I think we need to change the system from bottom to top. We should get people that care.”
Immigration judges, Hallett added, can be pushed into making decisions because they can be fired at any time by the attorney general. She advocated for immigration judiciary reform too.
Among the questions the panelists discussed was the impact of climate change on immigration.
“If there’s climate change, then we will just see a growing group of these climate migrants around the world, and we’ve already seen it,” Dudley said.
Another question concerned how and whether immigrant households access the internet so their children can take online classes in the wake of COVID-19. Mitrano, whose partner is a kindergarten teacher, said she has heard stories of families sitting in library parking lots for hours.
Pintagro spoke of language barriers students face.
“They have to do their homework with mom and dad, but they don’t speak English. How can they help?” Pintagro asked.
In closing, Mitrano thanked the panelists for participation and announced the next live discussion would be on May 11 and would concern world health.
“We will be talking about immigration in context with that," Mitrano said.
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