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Unaccompanied Children and Mothers; An Evening of Information and Discussion.

On Tuesday, November 18th, we went to the Mentor Chamber of Commerce Lunch where we sat with Lake County Commissioner Dan Troy and discussed immigration issues in the the Lake County area. Mr Troy told us that illegal immigration is not really a big problem in Lake County the way it is in California and Arizona. He said the most apparent situation is having to create more English as a Second Language Classes in the schools to accommodate those new to the the English language, but Mr. Troy said that even here the young people all appear to be trying hard. He talked to the local sheriff about the number of foreign born people in the local jails and he was told that it is a small fraction. After we ate we watched as two local citizens and a business were honored.

The Business of the Year was Chick Fil-A and we spent a few minutes afterwards talking to its owner, Mr. Glenn Efford who talked about how he was successfully working for a large corporation but didn't feel like what he was doing anything that really made a difference so he and his family moved to Mentor in 2008 and established Chick Fil-A and have never been happier. Mr. Efford particularly likes inspiring his young employees to provide good customer service which he feels is sadly lacking in many other establishments.

The Business Leader of the Year was Mr. Jim Brown who established the Classic Automotive Group in one location 35 years ago and now has multiple dealerships. Someone said that Mr. Brown "put Mentor on the map." Mr. Brown said that, to him, this honor was comparable to receiving an special academy award for lifetime achievements. He then went on to talk about the plans for the local airport and advised everyone to go slowly on it and not to overextend their assets; if handled properly the airport will be one of the community's most vital assets.

Lastly, Mr. Richard L. Kessler was named Citizen of the Year. He is retired and spends a lot of his time volunteering at the Society of Rehabilitation. Mr. Kessler said that "if you find a job you really like you never have to do another day's work" but there is also a lot to be said for the rewards of volunteering. In fact, he said that the best thing that could come out of this luncheon would be if he could inspire 2 or 3 people "to do something for someone who really needs it."

Tuesday night we drove to Sai Gon Plaza for a special meeting of the Cleveland Children's Coalition which was formed by our friends Mr. Joseph Meissner and Ms. Gia Hoa Ryan to address the crisis of children being held in detention at the U.S./Mexican Border.

The meeting that we attended in July, 2014 had only 17 or so people but tonight's event consisted of 100 people, some drove from as far away as Painesville as members of the congregation of St. Mary's Church.

Tonight's meeting was mostly an information session titled "Unaccompanied Children and Mothers; An Evening of Information and Discussion." There was good food from Villa Y Zapata at 85th and Madison and someone suggested we put in a plug for it which is what we are doing as well as a lot of good fellowship.

Sister Mary Harwood, who we see all of the time at events concerning immigration, presided over the meeting which was dedicated to the memory of Ms. Sala Gembala, the very active immigration attorney who recently passed.

During the welcome given by Ms. Ryan and Mr. Meissner, Ms. Ryan noted that what was to be discussed at this event meant a lot to her because she is an immigrant herself and Mr. Meissner considered the evening the "fruition" of what was started back in July, 2014.

The first speaker was Mr. Jeff Stewart of the Immigrant Worker Project who sat that even though this issue has been getting a lot of attention this year, it has been brewing since about 2009. He very effectively presented the case that people largely attempt to immigrate to the United States from Mexico and Central America in order to escape the violence that is pervasive in their homeland due to gangs and drug trafficking. Mr. Stewart said that such countries are "ungovernable" and "failed states.

Ms. Camille Gill, an immigration attorney who works with the migration and refugee service spoke about the prison-like conditions at the detention centers along the border. She went on to talk about the women and children who have been sent from there to Ohio if it is believed by the authorities that they have friends and family here and the legalities that that they must go through. It is estimated that there are over 500 children taking part in this process and the immigration court in Cleveland is meeting more and more frequently. One major problem is that ours is the only immigration court in Ohio so many people have to drive and/or be transported from all parts of the state to make their hearings that only last a few minutes.

While their cases are being resolved, the women have to wear often uncomfortable ankle bracelets so their activities can be monitored. Sister Rita told how she went to a sporting good store and purchased about 30 terrycloth wrist bands which could be worn under the bracelet to bring relief.

What was really compelling was the testimony of two immigrants who talked about the dangerous conditions that forced them to immigrate to the United States. We first heard from a young man named Geovany who immigrated here from Guatemala 3.5 years ago. Due to the fact that his family was heavily in debt and thus receiving threats, Geovany's father immigrated to the United States twelve years ago and his mother a few years later because both believed that their children would be safe until they could afford to send for them but this was not the case; Geovany was viciously threatened and eventually his father and mother were forced to send for him or risk having him killed. After being united in the United States, Geovany and his parents are working very hard so that they can obtain the money to bring Geovany's siblings here one at a time.

The other person who testified was a woman named Patrice from Mexico who is married with three children who told us how they were all forced to flee because the drug traffickers were demanding outrageous payments from their small business. Patrice is one of those forced to wear an ankle bracelet.

As to what can be done to help, Sister Rita suggested several things:

***Self education so that this problem can be intelligently discussed.

***Advocacy on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. Attendees were encouraged to contact their congressperson. Sister Rita said that former Congressman Steve LaTourette told her that for every letter that he received in support of immigration reform, there were 10 negatives.

***Action. For instance, as was noted previously, immigrants have to travel from all over Ohio to attend their hearing so transportation is needed. They must also be housed and fed if they arrive the night before. Translators are definitely needed. Winter clothes can be donated. A family could be adopted for Christmas and child care could be provided.

Above all, Sister Rita said that we need to stop looking approaching this as an immigration issue and see it as a humanitarian concern.

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