"Thank You" Immigration Workshop Participants and Attendees

Thank you to all the members, family, and friends who joined us for the “People as Populations, Politics and Prophets” workshop sponsored by the GNUUC Social Action committee. The workshop was crafted as an informational and inspirational event on the current state of migrant, asylee and refugee immigration to Nashville, Tennessee, and the United States. Click here to see slides from the presentation.

Nashville and the greater region are striking in that they are ranked the 3rd and 4th highest in the nation for percent increases to immigration between 2000-2017. Nashville is first in the nation for percent growth of children with immigrant parents during the same time frame. Taking that reality into account, speakers discussed two global regions that contribute significantly to the current asylee and refugee communities in the US- Central America and Central Africa. (Migration Policy Institute)

The panel of speakers included Ngangu Zola, former UN World Relief Associate, Avery Dickins de Giron, Executive Director, Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University and Judith Clerjeune, Policy Officer, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Right Coalition. 

The speakers’ presentations focused on driving factors behind immigration, as well as US policy responses to the growth. Tennessee has seen an increase in immigration, in many ways due to poverty and violence in the origin countries. Simultaneously the Federal and State-funded supports in Tennessee have been slashed in the last decade. 

Speakers compared and contrasted conditions in the two regions. The discussion explored global economic and resource interests, while touching on the intersection of local instability and global interests in these regions. Both regions play an important role in either industrial resource extraction (cell phones minerals in the Congo) and/or border security and land control (Central America). There was also discussion around public awareness of history and current realities in these regions as compared to other high-conflict areas. Both regions have experienced brutal conflicts,with some recognizing the wars as genocide. 

There was also some thought-provoking discussion around language and access. Once a population is given refugee status, a series of agencies (local and international) step in to resettle those who qualify for entry. Meanwhile, many other people entering at the border are assigned migrant, asylee or immigrant monikers by those processing the prospective applicants. There has been a general fluidity with which the US and other First World nations apply specific terms like migrant and asylee, perhaps aligned with the economic and political interests in the region.

When asked if there was a crisis, the panelists responded affirmatively but for different reasons. Some recognized that local power in the regions was dwindling, signaling further conflicts. Others recognized a disconnect between reality and US-based understanding. It was noted that in some areas, the humanitarian needs are growing.

While the overall discussion was informative and inspiring, it was clear through statistics and panelist accounts, that the immigration conversation will persist and grow. Each speaker gave their perspective on next steps. All felt recognition of, and conversations about, immigrant populations is integral for positive change. Each supported continuation of events such as this, while also encouraging people to become directly involved through legislative actions and/or directly connecting with communities. 

Following the panel discussion, Mary Early-Zald led a meditation and reflection period for visitors. The moving meditation had participants imagining the daily material, emotional, and sensory challenges that accompany immigration. We then discussed how the event made us feel, some recognizing times they have felt like outsiders, while others focused on a necessity to put try on the shoes of others; perhaps by learning a new language. Others talked about knowledge and the cycle of learning. Through direct action we both apply knowledge while gaining greater insight and understanding.

The event closed on asking participants to make a commitment to the immigration question overall. Many were interested in participating in TIRRC’s upcoming event, the TIRRC Votes Initiative. TIRRC will be registering voters and promoting immigrant issues in the upcoming elections. Others were keen on donating household items to newly arriving families through NICE. There was also discussion of working directly with the population through teaching English, supporting students, and providing much needed connection through some traditional charity-type work. If you would like to get involved, please contact Michelle McGonagle OR Nancy Collowick.

Thank you to all who attended and made the event happen. We look forward to keeping focus and energy around this very human issue.