By Jesse N. Love with the Rev. Lyda Pierce
Additional Photos by Wikipedia and Nica Sy
Tacoma, Wash. – “Tak?” “Nie?” Amy Diehr, Education Services manager of Tacoma Community House points to illustrations on a white board. Before meeting with English students, Diehr asked volunteers in Polish, “Tak?” (Yes?) or “Nie?” (No?) on how they feel about different weather conditions.
Later in a small classroom, these guest volunteers engaged in Talk Time – where they met some of the immigrant students of Tacoma Community House who were eager to practice their conversational English. TCH hosts its Talk Time every Tuesdays at noon*, connecting volunteers and immigrant students in a comfortable, non-judgmental setting.
Several students opened up about their personal lives. Women from the Ukraine shared in English what they do for a living and where they worship. One gentleman shared he wanted to improve his English so he can speak to customers at his Korean restaurant. Another male student was excited to be in the States so he can work on his musical aspirations; he even shared some of his performances on YouTube with the group.
Tacoma has a very diverse population, especially in the neighborhood where TCH is located. The area is a new home for people from the Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam, Iraq, and East Africa. Diehr shared that the demographics of a community are partially determined by how many refugee slots are allowed by the US government. Certain numbers of refugees are allowed and when a set quota is reached, while allowances are made in special circumstances. This includes family reunions or military allies to the US (via a Special Immigrant Visa). These quotas are refreshed every year with February 1, 2017 as the last date of this reset.
Some of the students at TCH are very poor and may not have received any kind of formal education. So along with learning a whole new language to help navigate life in a new culture, students must also begin learning the basics – such as writing and taking notes. Students are tested for reading, listening, writing, and speaking; they can spend around 32 hours a week in class with 12 hours of English studies. Immigrant students are putting in this hard work so they can access better educational/career pathways and also help in grooming their own children for higher education.
With so many students enrolling in reading, writing, math, and computer classes at TCH, it is easy to understand that many are working hard to gain access to a better quality of life. What isn’t often told are the painful stories of refugees. Some are fleeing from war-torn areas, tyrannical governments, and places where young people confront death more than opportunities for living full lives.
In September 2017, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was rescinded by President Donald Trump. DACA allows young immigrants a two-year period of deferred action from deportation, giving them authorization to work and receive an education. Tacoma Community House’s work in serving those in need has felt the impact. “Students are scared. They come in and ask if it’s okay to come here or if ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will come into the building,” shares Diehr.
Audra Hudson is a United Methodist global mission fellow serving as a community organizer at TCH. “We’ve received a lot of calls made to Tacoma Community House inquiring what they should do in this time period. This week, we are hosting DACA workshops in association with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) that can guide DACA recipients who need to renew or chart a new course after DACA ends,” Hudson shares.
When DACA was first announced, TCH received more applications from students seeking their General Equivalency Diplomas. But, with last year’s election of President Donald Trump, there has been a decrease in enrollment according to Diehr.
Diehr and Hudson illustrated how the rescinding of DACA has undone the progress of immigrant families working to contribute positively to society. Diehr explains, “When Trump was elected, in Bellingham parents pulled their kids out of school because of fear of being taken away. The records of these children were in school.”
“Personal information, such as where they were born, where they live, who their dependents are, and who are their family members is kept on record,” explains Hudson. “Part of the agreement when young people submitted this info to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS, for their DACA application) is that DHS would not share this with ICE. But now, people are fearful that this information will be shared (between the two agencies) since DACA has been rescinded.”
On March 5, 2018, people protected by DACA will begin losing their permits. The rescinding of DACA may result in the disappearance of tax dollars now that recipients of DACA are forced to flee or quit their jobs. Children living in the US may also be forced into foster care, if their parents are deported. Young people who are living in the US, but are not citizens, may be relocated back to their parent’s countries of origin – where they may not even speak the language and/or worse, return back to a hostile environment. This is the limbo where DACA recipients and families are at.
Tacoma Community house continues to do what it has always done to provide programs to accompany and help immigrants and refugees seeking employment, education, immigration assistance, and advocacy for victims of crime. To provide the best possible support, TCH is working with partners such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) to provide up-to-date resources and materials for those have important questions regarding next steps in this time of rapidly changing immigration policies and practices from the federal government.
*If you have any questions regarding TCH’s Talk Time or what you can do to learn more about DACA, please contact Audra Hudson and Amy Diehr of Tacoma Community House.
You may also contact the Rev. Lyda Pierce, director of Hispanic/Latino Ministries (Office of Connectional Ministries, PNW Conference).
Special thanks to Liz Dunbar of Tacoma Community House.
Jesse N. Love serves as the graphic designer & print manager for the PNWUMC.