DEKALB – Residents wanting to learn more about how to be advocates for their undocumented immigrant neighbors are invited to an ally training session Friday at Northern Illinois University.
Welcoming Western Counties: Solidarity and Sanctuary Coalition, a volunteer-led, DeKalb-based organization, will host the training, which is free and starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Room 1015 of Zulauf Hall. The group made news recently by lobbying DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith to sign a Welcoming Proclamation declaring the city to be welcoming to all people regardless of immigration status.
They also provided assistance and resources for families affected by a June ICE raid on Alfredo’s Iron Works in Cortland, during which several employees were removed from the plant by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
The coalition, which has offered “Know Your Rights” sessions before for immigrants and families, now is turning to surrounding residents to empower them to become better allies. Dana Yarak of Welcoming Western Counties will be on hand Friday to assist in the training.
“This will serve two purposes,” Yarak said. “For people to learn what good resources are, where people speak Spanish, what the attitude is around serving undocumented people. And we will also have representatives from many of these resources to attend.”
In speaking with immigrant and undocumented communities, Welcoming Western Counties learned that immigrants’ foremost worry is whether they have access to legal services, health care and family support if a breadwinner from the family is deported. So being able to create a list of resources available, which allies can point them toward in times of crisis, is vital.
“People will learn about immigration, some of the myths and realities around it, and what the best way is to understand yourself as an ally and a friend to the community in a way that’s actually helpful to them and not dangerous,” Yarak said.
Yarak said that although immigration has become a politically charged issue, it’s important to remember that all residents of the greater DeKalb community deserve to feel safe, regardless of their immigration status.
“The policies that have come about affect the community beyond just undocumented people,” Yarak said. “For example, all of our security, our law enforcement, depends on people feeling like they can trust the police and report crimes. Although most studies have shown that in an immigrant population, the crime rate is actually lower, it’s still necessary for people to have relationships with law enforcement.
“The person with the most hard-line attitude against immigration is still going to be affected by a reduction in security,” Yarak continued. “I don’t know how we go about winning people over or if it’s even possible other than to say this is the society and community we all live in, and we really feel like having an environment of fear is not the way to go.”