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Advocates talk refugees, immigration health care and legal representation at breakfast event

Immigration has been a hot topic since President Donald Trump took office, but issues are vast and often people forget that there are humans at the other end of the rhetoric.

Three expert panelists spoke Tuesday at an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation and tried to untangle some of the complexities involved with immigration, as well as highlight some of the lesser-known issues.

“Children are often forgotten in policy language,” said Dr. Julie Linton, an academic general pediatrician with a career devoted to community pediatrics, medical education, and advocacy.

Linton, whose grandparents were refugees who escaped the Holocaust, talked about immigration and child health. She said 1 in 5 kids in North Carolina are immigrants or belonged to immigrant families and that when they flee their home country, they’ve often witnessed violence, kidnapping, rape and extortion and faced death in the desert or drowning in a river.

“When they get here, they face an immigration system that looks more like a Tokyo map than anything that can actually help children,” she added.

She spoke about the need for medical care and the effect that even the threat of deportation can have on children. Immigrant children need healthcare, food, shelter, education, and often times, legal representation, she said.

Raul Pinto, a staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrants and Refugees Rights Project, said the chance of an immigrant staying in the U.S. increases exponentially when they have a lawyer.

He discussed some of the state legislative bills that would have an impact on immigrants, including House Bill 471, which would increase the penalty for driving without a license, and HB 145, which would penalize perceived sanctuaries for immigrants.

Pinto recommended North Carolinians who want to help stay engaged with legislators, connect with advocacy organizations and offer a ride to undocumented immigrants who can’t get a license.

“I think we can all do a little bit to make things better,” he said.

 

Diya Abdo, an associate professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Guilford College in Greensboro, spoke about Every Campus a Refuge.

The organization is an initiative which calls on every college and university around the world to host one refugee family on their campus grounds and to assist them in resettlement.

Abdo, a first-generation Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, said Guilford College is currently hosting two refugee families made up of 16 people. She said college campuses are perfect to host families because they already have a lot of resources — volunteers, space, etc.

“Even if a campus never hosts a refugee, saying that you want to makes all the difference,” she said. “When a campus says out loud that ‘we welcome, we are not afraid’ … I think that sends a powerful, powerful message.”

Hosting refugees also offers educational opportunities for students on campus, Abdo said. Guilford College will soon have an Every Campus a Refuge minor, in which students can earn 16 credits.

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