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GUEST COMMENTARY: Reflections on Irma’s immigration story

April 26, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

The community of Keene's efforts to help Irma Hernandez get her green card, and overall, help her family get established, demonstrates a long-held core value of Americans in action, welcoming the refugee and helping them create a better life.

Furthermore, it reflects our guiding principle of making America work for all its citizens, a belief that's facing considerable pushback of late.

One of the people I interviewed for this story, but space restrictions forced me not to include, expressed these values from the standpoint of walking one's faith. This person was the Rev. John Sampson, pastor of the Keene Valley Congregational Church.

"I think the reason that we as a faith community are supportive of this whole process from before Irma got her green card, the steps leading up to it, to her going to Mexico to apply for the green card, is because it's foundational to our whole tradition," said Sampson. "It's core to who we understand ourselves as spiritual people. It's out of that basis that we are called to help those who today who find themselves to be refugees and immigrants in our land. It's core to our opening our hearts, communities, and neighborhoods to them.

I can hear some people thinking, well first we should be helping those who are already suffering in our country, that to help the Hernandez family, or any immigrant family, is to reduce resources needed by others already living here. In my mind, we need to do both. It's not a question of one person's need being more important than another's. The problem is not in being generous or reaching out to someone in need, no matter what that need is or who it's for; instead, the problem is in our laws and policies that so benefit the few over the many resulting in the concentration of wealth and power and radically reducing the resources and opportunities available for the majority.

Helping Isaac and Irma Hernandez represents an investment in our community, in people who are already giving back, difficult though their circumstances are. During all their struggles to build a life, they have used their talents and labor to improve the quality of life of others, improve the appearance of our community and diversify our food options. Their kids help their classmates improve their pronunciation of Spanish. And, of course, by choosing to live and raise their children here, Isaac and Irma counter the trend of young families moving away. We need more like them, not less.

I believe that we in our community should set collective fairness as a priority, and to identify actions we can do to increase equity and opportunity for the residents of our community and region. At the same time, we should work to change those state and national policies that benefit the few over the many, be they laws that make it more difficult for people to vote, redistricting that favors one party or ideology over another, and tax policies that benefit the wealthy and block access to affordable education and healthcare for all along with reforming immigration laws.

My hope is that the efforts by a diverse number of Keene residents to help the Hernandez family will inspire and serve as a model that communities can use to help other families in need, be they an immigrant family or any other family going through hard times that desire a better life.



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