by Fatima Bahloul, Gemali Ibrahim, and Haroon Najam
In April’s Community Forum, attendees learned and discussed how particular legal policies regarding immigration, detention, and surveillance affect communities. The forum was part
of IMAN’s efforts to connect communities and their issues in order to promote human rights and racial equity for all and, in particular, to its ongoing work for immigration reform. However, in retrospect, the meeting also served as a precursor to IMAN’s recent groundwork for challenging the dangerous precedent set by Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for IMAN leaders to engage individuals that are facing immigration issues and for others in the community to voice their opinions in a free and comfortable space.
Qa’id Hassan, the owner of an organic food company, Whole Earth Foods, attended the forum because he wanted to publicly express his concerns for the rights of undocumented workers. His statements were striking because they highlighted the conflicting feelings many have about immigration reform. Undocumented workers are important to the produce industry, Hassan explained, because they ensure a source of cheap labor. In business terms, what Hassan meant was that cheap labor equals cheap food and, consequently, the public benefits from the disadvantaged situation of undocumented workers. At the same time, it is not fair that the public can purchase cheap produce at the expense of the rights of undocumented workers such as the right to healthy living conditions. In sum, Hassan pointed out the basic challenge we face: create and provide inexpensive products and services in ways that do not rob undocumented laborers of their rights.
Hassan’s articulation of his concerns highlighted the positions of the forum participants that were divided into two opposing groups: those that supported immigration reform and those that supported deportations of undocumented immigrants. One attendee, a Cuban immigrant herself, was concerned that immigrants are a burden to American society rather than a benefit. She cited personal experiences where immigrant friends benefited from social services and ‘juiced’ the system without contributing to their society. “They come here without any skills or an education,” she said.
These opposing views expressed in the forum were salient because they genuinely reflect the positions that community members are grappling with, especially in urban contexts where competition over economic opportunities is intense and proximate. Such opposition between community members, that face shared marginalization and discrimination in many other ways, is a serious challenge to creating solidarity and alliances to promote equity for all. However, the forum did provide the participants an opportunity to broaden their perspectives by sharing their opinions and listening to others, thus fulfilling its most important purpose.
IMAN hosts a forum on the first Wednesday of every month to educate participants on issues facing our neighborhoods while providing practical knowledge in community organizing. Our aim is also to provide a safe and constructive space for the community to connect, relate, and forge mutual understanding.