Forum Seeks New Views on Immigration

Eugenean Latin American immigrants gathered Friday night at a forum to dispel inaccurate images people may have about them, to share their stories of affliction and to discuss the current bills in Congress that many feel threaten immigrants across the nation.

The event, “Latin American Immigrant Families Under Stress — Rebuilding a Future,” hosted by the Siempre Amigos Association, drew about 30 listeners to the EMU’s Fir Room.

Attendees learned about the strife immigrants endure before, during and after migration.

The Siempre Amigos Association, a local nonprofit, provides a support system for Latin Americans who have immigrated to Eugene, fleeing the suffering and political violence they’ve encountered in their home countries.

“We help to rebuild our lives and our futures,” association President Eduardo Pena said as he started the forum. Pena, an immigrant from El Salvador, shared the association’s goals of teaching English and basic life skills to newly arrived immigrants. He also stressed the importance of providing doctors to group members who have endured physical and emotional distress.

“Eighty percent of our people do not have medical insurance,” Pena announced, pronouncing his English words slowly and deliberately. “Our association is trying to set up ourselves in a self-improvement process.”

Midway through the evening, the forum focused attention on current immigration laws and the immediate need for reform. Guadalupe Quinn, regional coordinator for CAUSA, an active group for Latino and immigrant communities in Lane County, commented on the Bush administration’s stance concerning immigration.

“Our immigration laws are awful; they’re broken,” she stressed. “Their focus has been only on their (immigrants’) cheap labor, not on their families.”Quinn also attempted to remove the stigma of the “undocumented immigrant,” clarifying the long and complicated legal process to actually become a U.S. citizen — taking time that most immigrants simply do not have.

“Don’t kid yourself that immigrants want to be here undocumented,” Quinn said firmly. “They have no choice.”

Today, there will be a rally at the Eugene Federal Building, at East Seventh Avenue and Pearl Street, in honor of immigrant workers. Beginning at 4 p.m., the rally takes place on a day when immigrant workers across the nation are asked not to buy anything or go to work to reveal their essential economic contribution.

“Despite what people think,” Quinn said, “this country needs those immigrants in our workforce. – People in Washington don’t have a clue what it’s like to be an immigrant.”

Ruth Forman, supervisor of the Oregon Health and Science University Intercultural Psychiatric Program, spoke on her program, which treats immigrants who need mental health therapy after experiencing political violence and its repercussions. She noted the approximately 22 million internally displaced refugees worldwide, commenting on Latin America’s increased aggression and persecution over the last several years.

“We have realized trauma that is inflicted by another human being tends to have more consequences,” Forman explained. “We offer a healing space for our survivors.”

The five-year-old Eugene clinic currently represents members from 10 countries, overwhelmingly from Guatemala, offering them social, legal and emotional services that help assimilate them into the U.S.

“We are trying to build this bridge between the two cultures,” Forman said, adding that it allows members to feel safe and welcomed. The group, subsisting mainly from volunteer work, even celebrates holidays together, because many immigrants are separated from their families.