Panel discusses immigration in Maine
On Thursday, March 29, the Oak Institute for International Rights hosted a panel of three speakers, Dominic Suru, Blanca Santiago and Ben Chin, who discussed immigrants’ rights in Maine.
Suru is the multicultural coordinator for Youth Alternatives Ingraham, youth program coordinator for the Sudanese Association of Maine and executive director of the Sudanese Development Institute of Maine. Santiago is the former executive director of El Centro Latino de Maine, and Chin is political engagement director at the Maine People’s Alliance.
The panelists spoke of the many hardships that immigrants face in Maine and the uphill battle that the immigrants must fight in order to attain equality, a sense of safety within the community and a high quality of life.
Santiago works with communities of Latin American immigrants. She spoke of how Latino immigrants often work in the service industry and remain somewhat invisible to society. She explained how immigrants were treated like commodities, and while the world depends on their services and labor, immigrants are not treated with the respect that they deserve.
She said that the labor of immigrants was a “commodity that was important to industry, but [the immigrants] are incredibly invisible unless they are traveling in a car while brown.” The challenges that immigrants face are especially noticeable to women and families, as illegal immigrants must go to work in order to feed their children, but risk deportation every day.
Santiago spoke of how immigrants were unjustly targeted and criminalized so that the police could pull them into the station and attempt to deport them. Many times the immigrants do not speak English and do not have proper access to a lawyer, so they end up in holding cells for much longer than necessary because they were blocked from aid and not given the proper information. She explained how this cycle “sets up an environment of fear.” Many immigrants are scared to send their kids to school and to go to work.
Suru discussed the discrimination and mistreatment of Sudanese immigrants. He cited incidents where the Child Protective Services purposely gave bad counseling so that immigrant parents would lose their children. He also discussed how immigrants struggled with healthcare, which is often unconstitutionally refused to them. Through working with many immigrants, he knows that they need a lot a guidance navigating a new country.
Chin brought a more political aspect to the panel, stressing the need for immigrants to work to make a legal change. He maintains, “Congress isn’t going to do anything anytime soon.” The two main issues that he has been working with are the record numbers of deportation under the Obama administration, as well as the classes of Maine workers that do not have basic rights.
All three panelists stressed the importance of working for a change. Suru spoke of the incredible sacrifices that the immigrants must make in order to fight for their own rights. They are often working more than one job and living under a strained budget, fighting to make ends meet. But it requires a lot of time and effort to fight for change and equality. According to the panelists, the change must come from immigrant communities rising up and fighting for their rights by calling attention to the issues, and by using their own testimonials to get the attention of lawmakers.