(Mar. 12, 2018) Catherine Read speaks with community activists who are part of the Fairfax for All Coalition. These representatives are from local civic advocacy organizations that focus on supporting the immigrant community in Northern Virginia. Catherine speaks with Sookyung Oh of NAKASEC, Allie Boldt of Demos and Michelle LaRue of CASA Virginia. They all share important information about the work that they are doing every day to make our communities strong and safe for all residents.
In the first segment, Catherine interviews Sookyung Oh, the DC Area Director of NAKASEC (National Korean American Service Education Consortium). NAKASEC began its work in Virginia five years ago, and current programs are centered on immigrant rights, civic engagement, and parent and youth organizing. NAKASEC VA’s work is focused on the most vulnerable community members, including low-income, recent immigrants, limited English proficient, undocumented, youth, women, and seniors. It is a nonprofit aimed at building an inclusive community by creating economic opportunities for all, breaking down barriers and bringing people together.
NAKASEC took on two big legislative priorities this year. The first was advocating in Richmond at the General Assembly for a Driver’s Privilege Card for all, including undocumented immigrants. This would extend driving privileges to anyone who has been tested, trained and insured. Unfortunately this bill got killed in committee and never made it to the floor for a vote. Their second legislative goal was to extend in-state tuition to all eligible students who graduated from a Virginia high school. Currently DACA recipients are eligible for in-state tuition, but only after a full year after being granted DACA status. This bill would have loosened the strict requirements and opened up the doors for many more students to pursue a college degree at an affordable price. This initiative was also killed before getting to the floor for a vote. NAKASEC will continue to advocate for these benefits in the coming years.
In the second segment Catherine speaks with Michelle La Rue from CASA Virginia and Allie Boldt of Demos. CASA is an immigrant rights organization that aims to organize, advocate for and expand opportunities for Latino and immigrant populations in our local communities. Demos is a non-partisan, national public policy organization working for an America where everyone has an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.
Boldt spoke about the fact that being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil offense similar to not paying taxes. Civil immigration enforcement is separate from the criminal law system. Demos focuses on pressing Fairfax County to end all unnecessary and unconstitutional collaboration with ICE. Boldt would like to see the end of the over-criminalizing of the immigrant community. She was pleased to see that Sheriff Stacey Kinkaid has agreed to stop honoring ICE requests to detain someone past their scheduled release date, and would like to see the Juvenile Detention Centers follow suit.
LaRue shared that CASA is intent on protecting confidential and sensitive information about community members. They aim for local officials to guard this data, instead of freely sharing information with ICE officials. This includes personal contact information and immigration/citizen status. She would also like to limit ICE agent’s access to county facilities like jails, schools and other public facilities. Another goal is to end the practice of arresting immigrants and bringing them into custody on misdemeanor charges, when other citizens would simply be released.
The cumulative effects of the practices that CASA and Demos are aiming to eliminate actually have the result of making our communities less safe. Both organizations claim that the current policies of Virginia law enforcement’s unconstitutional collaboration with ICE breed mistrust and fear that endangers the safety, health and well-being of the entire community. Extensive research shows that, compared to counties that cooperate with ICE, counties that refuse to honor detainers have statistically lower crime rates, stronger economies and put less strain on social and mental health assistance programs. This is because there is greater trust and cooperation between the police and the communities when people do not fear being deported.
In addition to NAKASEC, Demos and CASA, the Fairfax for All Coalition is comprised of La Collectiva, DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network, and ACLU People Power. They are working together to move the needle on regulations at individual agencies and departments like the Sheriff’s Office and Police Department, as well as through countywide ordinance. The Fairfax for All Coalition has provided Fairfax officials with the resources to update their regulations and pass an ordinance. Both Boldt and LaRue note that if these issues are important to you, than you should not hesitate in making your voice heard. Reach out to your Supervisor and share your stories, experiences and opinions. The next opportunity to speak publicly about this will be on April 3rd at the Public Safety meeting held by Sheriff Kinkaid. Check the CASA website and facebook page for more information as the date approaches.