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"Immigration Policy Then and Now" Panel Discussion at Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

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On Wednesday evening, June 20, we went to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood for a panel discussion concerning "Immigration Policy Then and Now." Panelists were: Mr. George Koussa, Community Liaison and our colleague Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC, who is himself an immigrant from Syria; and Ms. Veronica Dahlberg, the Executive Director of HOLA Ohio and the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Hungary.

The discussion was moderated by Ms. Dahlia Fisher, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications at the Maltz Museum. She very wisely encouraged audience participation.

We were glad to see that the museum theater where the discussion took place was packed with people of all ages and ethnicities.

We spoke with a young lady about 12 years of age and asked her if the people that she knew in her age bracket were aware of the current controversies regarding immigration. She thankfully told us they were, but it was tough to gain an understanding of what is really going on from 30-second clips on social media, so it helps if the party making a statement has credibility.

To no surprise, it was said during the discussion (and the audience seemed to agree wholeheartedly) that under the Trump administration, tactics to curb immigration have gotten a lot meaner and inhumane as evidenced by the recent militaristic ICE raids of Corso's Flower and Garden Center and Fresh Mark, where many undocumented people worked, and the procedures involving the separation of families. It was even suggested that we really don't have a solid policy now; it seems that ICE is being allowed to act with impunity and do pretty much what it wants without proper checks and balances.

Ms. Dahlberg shared with us her knowledge of how such recklessly brutal actions have devastated the Hispanic community across the spectrum, including those who are citizens, those who are documented, and those who are undocumented. Mr. Koussa shared with us his own experience of coming  to the U.S. back in 1987 and eventually becoming a citizen during a time period he termed as more compassionate and caring.

In terms of what can be done to put pressure on our elected officials to chart a new course on immigration matters, Ms. Dahlberg spoke of a planned HOLA Blitz. During this time, those concerned will be encouraged to visit their U.S. Congressperson's local office at selected times during the week of June 25-29, with the intent of having different groups showing up each workday hour for that week. Ms Dahlberg equated the Blitz to "gentle pressure applied relentlessly."

She believes safe spaces can be created for those under attack coordinated by those willing to take a significant risk to protect them, very much like the abolitionists who ran the historic Underground Railroad here in Ohio back in the 1800's.

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A woman who immigrated to the U.S. from South Africa (with the help of Ms. Margaret W. Wong as we were later told) contributed to the discussion by saying that many people must change their perception of immigrants and refugees; they do not come here to sign up for public assistance. Rather, they are mostly courageous and resourceful people who have chosen to undergo hardship in search of a better life for themselves and their families. She, herself, chose to come here because she wanted her son to have more advantages. She pointed out that a great many doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are immigrants and suggested it might be good if they organized and spoke out in favor of a more humane immigration policy for the United States.

Mr. Koussa spoke of the potential for good if an interfaith collaborative could be formed, composed of those who may not agree on a lot, but see the need to challenge the current path of the Trump administration and to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that has been badly needed for a long time. He went on to share some impressive statistics that proved that foreign-born people are an economic and social asset to the United States.

Mr. Koussa strongly contended that immigrants can help the U.S. be great again, thoughtfully borrowing from President Trump's 2016 campaign slogan—which was fine with us and everyone else at the Maltz Museum that night.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC

Aimee Jannsohn