The questions surrounding immigration policy have sparked an intense debate across the United States and North Carolina. Society remains divided on specific policies, but we also remain divided about some of the even bigger questions. For example, what does it mean to be “American”? Are immigrants generally intruders to be feared or new neighbors to be welcomed? And what values should our immigration policies reflect? This debate, in part, is about who “they” are and who “we” are.
Like many issues, we get into trouble when we rely on stereotypes and abstractions to define people, instead of sitting down together and hearing each other’s stories. That’s why the work of organizations like Uniting NC are so critical to our state. Uniting NC works to build community between immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Their efforts were highlighted in a recent Raleigh News & Observer story:
DURHAM — As immigration reform proposals sow heated debate nationally and across North Carolina, a nonprofit organization brought together American- and foreign-born residents Saturday to plant a different seed: Many immigrants living in this state – legally or not – often want to give back to their new communities.
That was the message echoed over and over during a workday that Uniting NC, a nonprofit organization working to foster mutual respect and cooperation among North Carolina residents, held at the Goodwill Farm Center in Durham…
The crop of volunteers sent out this week by Uniting NC included people from Burma, Colombia, Denmark, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Sudan and Vietnam. Some were political refugees who had been in this state and the country less than a month. Others were longtime residents who considered North Carolina home.
“Hopefully, people will hear about our work, and they’ll understand that immigrants are here to contribute as much as they can and are welcome to,” said Francisco Chavez, 27, a Mexican-born North Carolinian who moved to this state 15 years ago with his family. “Hopefully, this will lead to other service projects in the area.”
It’s a powerful story of overcoming differences of language, ethnicity and culture to work together for a better community. I’m proud of Uniting NC’s role in helping North Carolina become a more welcoming place for all people from all walks of life. Regardless of what happens with specific immigration policies, we need to find ways to work together to strengthen our communities.
-Chris Liu-Beers, Program Associate