Q & A with Sarah Blakeney

We’re excited to welcome Sarah Blakeney, as the Employment Services Coordinator to the Catherine McAuley Center team! Get to know Sarah and the employment services CMC has to
offer!

Q: Sarah, tell us a bit about your background.

A: I am originally from Virginia and moved to Cedar Rapids right after Thanksgiving of last year (2018). Before that, I served in the Peace Corps in Morocco for two years. While there I was also working on my Master’s in Public Anthropology, conducting research on experiences accessing healthcare in several small towns and villages in the southeastern part of the country. My service also included doing pretty much whatever my community needed help with, including English clubs and classes and job readiness.

Q: What was it that drew you to this position at CMC? Why help with employment?

A: I was drawn to CMC because I knew I wanted to work with a non-profit. I had taken a class about the refugee experience and conducted a needs-based analysis with Nepali Bhutanese refugees during undergrad, so being able to serve that population was a big draw. I believe employment is such an important part of becoming self-sufficient and can give people a sense of freedom as well as inclusion into a new society and culture.

Q: How do you go about supporting refugees and immigrants in their employment goals?

A: My job involves everything from meeting with employers to teaching clients what the
American workforce looks like. I meet one-on-one with clients to talk about what their
employment goals are, create an email address and resume, and identify job opportunities that fit their needs. I also work with clients enrolled in the Matching Grant program, which serves refugees who have arrived within the past 30 days with extra employment support in order for them to reach self-sufficiency by 120-180 days after their arrival. Additionally, I hold Job Club every Friday, which is a 5-week program that discusses many different aspects of the American workforce. I meet with employers’ HR or recruiting teams to get a better understanding of their hiring needs and ways we can support them and overcome any barriers that might prevent our clients from being able to successfully work there.

Q: What are some highlights from your interactions with employers so far? What other types of employers would you like to work with?

A: So far, I have really enjoyed working with Kirkwood Community College, The Hotel at
Kirkwood, and Raining Rose. These and other employers have been very open and welcoming to our clients and motivated to find ways to break down employment barriers. I am open to developing and strengthening relationships with area employers but finding organizations in Iowa City and Waterloo in order to better serve the clients we resettle there is at the top of my list.

Q: What benefits do refugees and immigrants bring to the table as employees?

A: Refugees and immigrants are resilient and motivated to provide for their families. If they were living in refugee camps, they might not have had the opportunity to work and support themselves and overall, they just want to become self-reliant. Most of our clients also speak multiple languages and are able to find ways to communicate and problem solve cross-culturally. They have had to adapt to a whole new culture and that experience can help them be successful in any work environment.

 

New: Refugee Child Care Program!

Twenty-three percent of all residents in Iowa live in a “child care desert” where there are three times as many children as there are open child care spots according to the Center for American Progress. This lack of child care can result in financial and personal instability as family members forgo employment to take care of their children or send their children to unlicensed child care facilities.

This has a particularly heavy impact on refugee and immigrant communities. Many child care facilities lack the appropriate cultural or linguistic training to provide comfort and understanding to parents of different backgrounds. making child care options for these families even fewer. CMC remains committed to ensuring we create an inclusive community where everyone has an equal opportunity to become independent and self-sufficient and is proud to be launching a new initiative to address the lack of child care and provide career opportunities for refugees, in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

CMC is working with local partners like Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, HACAP’s PACES to Quality Program, and 4Cs to guide refugees and immigrants through the training and DHS approval process and establish their own in-home child care businesses. This program is modeled after a similar program organized by Lutheran Services of Iowa in Des Moines that has had great success.

Hannah Miles, Refugee Child Care Program Coordinator

Hannah Miles, Refugee Child Care Program Coordinator, was hired to direct the program thanks to a federal grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. CMC is one of eight organizations in the nation that was selected for this funding. As the coordinating agency, CMC strives to not only increase the amount of culturally and linguistically appropriate child care, but also to help participants become more financially stable and self-sufficient by providing potential career opportunities and more accessible child care.

 

Making Sense of Border Policy

Family outside detention facility

A family outside the GEO Group-run Northwest Detention Center in Washington State. Photo by Seattle Globalist/Flickr

“I don’t understand the news about what’s happening at the border.”

“I am saddened and sickened by all of this.”

“I am ready to help!”

Abundant thanks to the many community members who have reached out to the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) over the last week out of concern for our neighbors affected by the current border policy.

At CMC, we believe in the dignity of every individual and that our future depends on inclusive communities that welcome, respect, and support a diversity of individuals and ideas. Like our partners at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), we stand for a border policy that protects children and respects the rights of persons seeking asylum.

Who are asylum seekers?

So are the asylum seekers in the news the same people CMC is serving? We know a lot of Eastern Iowans are asking this as they eagerly look for ways to be part of the solution.

To answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the difference between immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers first. This video explains it well:

Put simply:

  • Immigrants have moved to another country by choice, often for economic reasons.
  • Refugees have fled persecution in their home country and apply for refugee status overseas. They complete a rigorous vetting process before arriving in the U.S., where a resettlement agency like CMC provides comprehensive support for their first 90 days here.
  • Asylum seekers are also fleeing persecution in their home country, but arrive in the U.S. or at the border before applying for protection. International law grants them the right to apply for asylum in another country.
  • A series of short videos from UNHCR further describes the journeys of these migrant groups as they make their way to their new homes.
Welcoming refugees

CMC volunteers welcome a member of a refugee family at the airport

CMC encounters people from each of these groups through our Adult Basic Education, Resource Navigation, and Employment Support services, all of whom are coming to CMC for opportunities to build skills, find stability, and make meaningful connections with the community. Only people with refugee status (those who applied for protection while overseas) are eligible for CMC’s resettlement program, which is conducted according to strict specifications from the U.S. State Department.

Though the people seeking Catherine McAuley Center services may not be the exact faces you see on the news coverage of the detention facilities along the border, many of the people we serve also came to the United States in search of safety or greater opportunities for their families. Each gesture of welcome toward them is creating an inclusive, engaged community that will continue to advocate for our neighbors at home and abroad.

Supporting a welcoming community

To support a welcoming community here in Eastern Iowa, you can:

Volunteer
Become a tutor for one of the 100+ adult learners on our waiting list or share your time and skills with CMC in another way.

Give
We appreciate donations of any of the items on our wishlist that stock our food and hygiene pantry or are used to set up a newly-arrived refugee family’s home. You can even host a food or supply drive with your place of worship, employer, or other social group!

We also rely on donations from individuals to support our mission of offering hope and opportunity to our neighbors. Monetary gifts allow us to continue pursuing new opportunities to better serve our neighbors!

Spread the word
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates, and let your friends know how they can get involved! And as you learn more about the issues you care about like border policy, consider sharing your concerns with your federal elected officials.

Thanks for working together with us for an inclusive community!

AbUSed: The Postville Raid panel discussion

Luis Argueta, filmmaker

“So, my purpose was to come to Postville for four days, interview a couple people, go back to New York and put all those interviews in a series that I have on YouTube about immigrants. Well, those four days turned into two weeks, and that first trip turned into 29 trips before this film was completed.

The reason that happened is because I met Father Paul and Jennifer Cooley and Sister Mary and the immigrants who you saw in the film. Their stories were so impactful that it made me realize that I didn’t know anything about immigration, even though I am an immigrant myself. And second, that this was a very complicated story that deserved a lot of attention.

Now ten years and three films later, I’m still coming back.  And every time I come back, it’s like coming home.”

Filmmaker Luis Argueta, was captivated by the stories in Postville, Iowa, following one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history. In April, community members gathered at the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a screening of Luis’ film AbUSed: The Postville Raid, and a panel discussion among people with firsthand experience of the aftermath of the raid. Here, we share some highlights from their conversation.

Film screening

Could you talk about the legal aspects of the Postville raid? From the legal perspective, what was unusual or unique about what happened there?
Yer Vang

Yer Vang speaks about the legal aspects of the Postville raid

Yer Vang, Director of Immigration Legal Services at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque:

 

What’s unique and different, I think, for many of us, we think of Law and Order. Every individual defendant gets their chance in court and they have a right to counsel. And if they can’t afford an attorney, the government is supposed to provide them with a public defender. Not so in the context of immigration law. And I think what’s hard for people to understand is immigration law is this hybrid of administrative law that’s not in the context of our judicial branch. But, in fact, under our executive branch, under the Department of Justice.

So even though the proceedings may feel like a criminal proceeding, these individuals [in Postville] were not allowed to have an attorney present… Even to this day, immigrants in immigration court are not guaranteed immigration lawyers. Not even children. They’re expected to defend themselves in front of a judge, in front of a government attorney who’s trying to deport perhaps a 15 or 13-year-old immigrant.

The other piece that I think is unique about this that you heard in the documentary was how fast these 389 individuals got processed… As the video shows, many of these folks were coerced or … assigned immigration documents that said “I’ll take this plea so I don’t have to sit in detention for longer than necessary and then be deported.” And many of these individuals did not understand the immigration consequences or the long-term consequences of signing these forms or taking these plea deals.

But I also want to highlight another very important piece of immigration law that this incident also raises, which is a U-visa, which affords immigrants who are victims of certain crimes to be able to seek temporary relief and stay in the United States and work lawfully. In Postville, many of those would qualify for the U-visa.

And so, attorneys, such as myself, could then assist immigrants to screen and see if they could qualify for the U-visa.  Now they also had to still show not only were they victims but that they cooperated or were willing to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation of such crimes. And so, it’s really not just saying I’m a victim, but going through the multiple steps and proof of identifying that you’re a victim. That you’re cooperating with law enforcement… But I think what’s even more sad, is that several of the individuals weren’t screened for immigration relief and could have avoided being detained and deported.

I think this incident in Postville raises a lot of constitutional questions that people have and concerns.  Unfortunately, I think our immigration law has not kept up with the changes of what’s needed and the larger fix, I think has to do with legislative fixes that change certain protections for immigrants. Because immigrants, if they’re processed in such a way, should be allowed a right to legal counsel. But that’s not the case as it stands right now.

 

What practical steps can those here this evening take to become strong Rosa Parks for the immigration system?

 

Dr. Jennifer Cooley

Dr. Jennifer Cooley encourages the audience to stay informed

Dr. Jennifer Cooley, Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Northern Iowa:

 

I may make mention, just being here tonight is the first step. Being aware of our history, because as Americans we have a tendency to forget our history.  We have collective amnesia sometimes.  Or selective amnesia.  If we remember, as we saw in the video, despite some of the horrific things that happened, there were some good things that came out of it.  Legislatively and bill-wise, right?  Having immigrants being advised of the consequences to the immigration.

I think in light of this past year and a half, the … fear and anxiety in immigrant communities all across this nation is real.  We know, and I know I hear first-hand from my clients as well as people in the community know, again the fear that most immigrants are so afraid of going out, that they don’t leave. All they do is stay at home.  Perhaps maybe go to church and perhaps go to work and get their kids to school, and that’s about it.  And so, when you think about immigrants living in fear constantly, daily, how that affects their psyche, it’s indescribable what it does to a person and young people.

But I think, steps that you all can take is to educate yourself, to be aware of these issues, regardless of where you stand on immigration. And I think it’s so important to know the facts and not buy into the myths and the rumors about what, the rumors of immigrants dealing daily with in the jobs.  But really understanding the true facts of what immigrants offer to this country and that immigrants are part of the social fabric of our lives and build our communities and that they add value rather than detract or are negative blights on our community.

It’s so important that when issues like this come up, that we speak out and be present and let our representatives and legislators know… But we need people like you to speak up and speak loudly about laws that really are unfair and unjust and do more harm than good for our communities.  Not just for the immigrant community, but our community.