Immigrant leaders gather in Philly

By Eric Gibble
January 24, 2011

Miguel Concepcion, former state director of Democracia Ahora, speaks on the the political climate for immigrants in Philadelphia.

Pulled over by the police along Fifth and Girard Avenue, a Philadelphia resident was asked to show her drivers license and registration.

However, the officer also asked for her “green card,” which is issued to permanent residents from other countries. Confused, the woman presented the officer with her American Express card, the only “green card” she carried.

Miguel Concepcion, former state director of Democracia Ahora,

explained that because of her dark complexion, the officer automatically assumed she was an undocumented resident.

The woman was Puerto Rican and had the same rights as any birthright citizen. After verifying that she was a citizen, the officer said “I’m sorry ma’am, have a nice day.” He went back to his patrol car and the woman was free to go.

The political climate for immigrants in Philadelphia was discussed at an immigration roundtable discussion and answer session at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Olney branch on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

Immigration leaders in the area also offered their advice on how to access health care, jobs, public sector services and affordable housing. The forum was moderated by Brad Baldia, executive director the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.

Concepcion said that because of anti-immigrant legislation like SB 1070 in Arizona, racial-profiling is being used against people of all ethnicities.

“If you were to ask me six years ago ‘Is this something that’s going to affect me?’ I would have said no,” Concepcion said. “But if you think that this is not close to us, think again.”

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, director of outreach and program evaluation for the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, noted that Pennsylvania needs an immigrant-friendly environment in order for business to prosper in Philadelphia.

“We have found that on many corridors in Philadelpha, 60 to 70 percent of the business in Philadelphia are immigrant owned,” Bergson-Shilcock said. “Philadelphia needs immigrants.”

For almost 60 years, Philadelphia lost a part of its population every year. More people moved out of the city than into the city.

Recently there has been a turnaround. Since  Mayor Nutter took office, the city has experienced a modest population increase for the first time at 7,000 people.

“Immigration is a really, really critical piece of that story,” Bergson-Shilcock said.

Members of Dr. Jerry Zurek’s ECG 200 Faces of Justice class were in attendance as well as immigrants, judges and political candidates from across Philadelphia. Allison Gillingham, sophomore English major, found the discussion intriguing and was also surprised by the vast experiences of the speakers that participated.

“It was informative to immigrants or anyone interested in immigration. I learned more than I would have in a classroom,” Gillingham said.

One of the topics discussed involved the process of applying to be a citizen.  For Gillingham, the complexity behind obtaining citizenship was exposed.

“There were so many useful things that I didn’t know about, like how difficult it is to become a citizen. It was a rewarding experience for everyone involved,” Gillingham said.

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Eric Gibble

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