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Workshop prepares Adams County immigrant families

Written by Dustin B. Levy/Hanover Evening Sun | Dec 5, 2016 2:01 PM
immigrants_gettysburg.jpg

Members of the Hispanic community of Adams County listen to presenters speak during a Know Your Rights workshop Friday night Dec. 2, 2016 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Gettysburg. (Photo: Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- Dozens of people packed into a small music classroom at the St. Francis Xavier School on Friday night in Cumberland Township.

"Buenos noches," some said as they entered, carrying small, napping children in their arms.

More than 70 people, many immigrants or members of immigrant families, gathered for a "Know Your Rights" workshop to help Adams County families gather information they may need following the election of Donald Trump.

Trump's campaign sparked fear in the Hispanic immigrant community because of his promises of mass deportation and the potential to appeal President Barack Obama's executive orders like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

"This is a very special time when we need to keep our community together," said Amelia Contreras, the executive director of Manos Unidas, the host of Friday night's event.
Manos Unidas is an Adams County nonprofit that promotes the integration of the growing diverse local population. The organization provides health, law and tax services information to the Hispanic community as well as after-school services for children.

Mainly, it's a "focal point for the community to touch base," said Eliel Acosta, a Manos Unidas board member.

The high turnout surprised community leaders, causing the workshop to relocate to a large auditorium halfway through.

The event aimed to provide resources and answer questions and concerns for immigrant families following the election.

"There's a lot of fear because of the anti-immigration rhetoric that was shared," said Alicia Anguiano, a lawyer with Friends of Farmworkers.

Anguiano described the workshop as "planning for the worst and just being prepared."

Friends of Farmworkers is a Philadelphia-based advocacy group that provides free legal services to low-wage workers as well as community education on legal rights for migrant and immigrant workers.

The organization provides "a lot of community outreach in the Gettysburg area," Anguiano said.

Anguiano, Acosta and Contreras took turns presenting an array of information, entirely in Spanish, to those in attendance.

Acosta began by addressing rights for immigrants, documented or undocumented, when it comes to police interactions.

People in attendance were provided with resources such as a defense against deportation packet and contacts for immigration lawyers.

The workshop leaders also devoted a significant portion of the event to answering questions about the future of DACA, a major concern judging by the many children brought along Friday evening.

At one point, a mother asked what would happen if she were detained while her child was at school. Many others chimed in with personal questions.

Anguiano took some time to explain the electoral college to the attendees. The purpose was to let the families know that, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote, they are not alone in feeling anxious about a Trump presidency.

"It's not only us that feel this way," Contreras said.

A forum such as the one on Friday night helps to clear up misinformation, said Manuel Aguirre of Biglerville.

"We are speculating a lot," Aguirre said. "Changes are not coming now. A lot of people do not understand that."

Yessica Rico, holding her young daughter in her arms, called the workshop "helpful" in learning to be prepared for whatever the future may hold.

Rico and Joseph Gonzalez live in Gettysburg, where Gonzalez said he has noticed a rise in discrimination since the election. Specifically, he felt people have been trying to intimidate him at his workplace and on the streets, and he has heard similar stories from friends.

"Most of us are afraid," Gonzalez said. "Some of us are confused because we don't know what's going to happen, especially with the kids and the families."

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the "Know Your Rights" workshop was the amount of support displayed for a community often described as living in the shadows.

"We don't feel like we should be hiding," Contreras said. "We know the value that our community has."

Published in Adams County, News

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