Immigration 101

Ellen Futterman, Editor

As a way of getting more folks from the St. Louis Jewish community involved in immigration reform, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is joining forces with Welcome Neighbor STL and sponsoring a “Welcome Neighbor Dinner” from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5 at Jewish Federation’s Kaplan Feldman Complex.

“We wanted to initiate a new series that would engage members of the community who are interested and want more education and put them in a position to help us with our advocacy work and lobbying on immigration issues in Missouri,” said Alyssa Banford, director of civic engagement at JCRC.

Welcome Neighbor is a community group that supports immigrants and refugees as they begin a new life in St. Louis. It hosts a regular supper club where these new neighbors prepare a meal of traditional food from their country of origin and then tell their stories about coming to the United States.

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Banford said that’s the agenda for Feb. 5, starting with an authentic Syrian meal prepared by a family who came to St. Louis through the refugee resettlement program. The menu will feature a variety of Middle Eastern specialties, including manakeesh, which is described as being similar to pizza. Vegan and vegetarian options will be available and kosher meals can be ordered in advance. The cost of the dinner is $30.

Afterwards, those in attendance will hear from this family about resettlement here. 

“We hope the dinner is an easy point of entry for community members [who are] interested in immigration issues but haven’t yet dug in,” said Banford. “This will give them a starting point with a story and a delicious meal and the chance to get a sense from others in the community working on (immigration policies).”

Those interested in getting more involved can take part in a four-part “Immigration 101” series — at no charge —  led by the St. Louis Inter-faith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA). The curriculum focuses on the origins of mass migration from Latin American countries as well as current policy and processes, culminating with action steps. Classes will meet at the Kaplan Feldman Complex from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday nights, starting Feb. 10 and ending March 2. A sandwich dinner from HJ’s Café can be requested in advance for a small fee.

An advocacy-training program led by the American Civil Liberties Union will take place on March 11. Those who complete the program are invited to take part in “lobby day” in Jefferson City with MIRA (Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates).

“This series is an engagement pipeline — we’re bringing people together to develop a community that cares about immigration issues. Then we’re moving them into classes so that they can be armed with facts and history,” said Banford. “When this all culminates at lobby day, we’re hoping this community will feel educated and passionate enough on this issue that they will want to join us in our advocacy efforts.”

To register for the dinner, which is filling up quickly, go to www.jcrcstl.org/news/welcomeneighbor.html. For more information, contact Banford at [email protected]