WORTHINGTON — How can Worthington best welcome newcomers to the community, particularly immigrants? That question was the focus of Tuesday’s Welcoming Week screening of the short film “Abrazos” at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, which included a preceding Q&A session on immigration law and a talk with Worthington families in the movie afterward.
Suggestions from the crowd of about 30 people included learning to say hello to people in their own languages, getting involved with the International Festival, letting people know about resources available in the community and giving rides when immigrants need to check in at government agencies or go to immigration court.
“If you have the opportunity, and most of us probably will … really get to know your immigrant neighbors,” said Lisa Kremer, project coordinator of Familias Juntas, which organized the trip to Guatemala for children of immigrants featured in “Abrazos.”
The movie, whose title translates as “Embraces,” chronicles the 2013 journey of 14 children from Worthington as they visited Guatemala to see family members they’d never met before — grandparents, siblings, or even parents. Though the children are U.S. citizens, some of their parents were not, meaning those parents run the risk of not being able to return if they leave the country to visit Guatemalan family. As citizens, though, the kids could go to Guatemala, share hugs and stories, learn about their heritage and fly back to the U.S.
The film had its U.S. premiere in Worthington in 2014.
After the showing, two of the children featured in the documentary and two parents spoke a little bit about their experiences during the trip and after it.
“I feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself,” said Amy Ventura, one of the children in the movie.
“The big difference was actually meeting my brother,” said Eugenio Lopez, now a senior in high school, adding that if he hadn’t, he still probably wouldn’t believe he had a brother at all. Since the movie came out, Lopez has gotten a part-time job and has even started helping his Guatemalan brother out. He intends to attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College to earn a degree as an administrative assistant.
Ventura said she doesn’t get to talk to her family in Guatemala as much as she would like. There are multiple reasons for that — the expense for the Guatemalan side of the family, but also difficulty coordinating schedules and the remoteness of some of the Guatemalan families.
“Right now I’m in school in Jackson studying nutrition,” said Ventura, who hopes to visit Guatemala again someday, and bring her family too.
The legal process for immigration
Attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski, whose firm Kivu Immigration Law sponsored Tuesday's event, explained some basics and answered audience questions about the legal processes facing immigrants when they arrive in the United States.
She noted that she is seeing more unaccompanied children attempting to seek asylum in the United States, whose cases are time-sensitive because they would have to seek special immigrant juvenile status before they turn 18 and must apply for that status before they go to immigration court.
She also gave an update on Temporary Protective Status (TPS), which provides immigrants lawful status in the United States temporarily due to a crisis, which has been extended through Dec. 31, 2022 for people from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal. The status was set to expire in October, meaning that some immigrants would have had to return to their countries of origin after having lived in the United States for 20 years, Schutte Wadzinksi said.
TPS in itself does not lead to residency or include any path to citizenship, but while they have temporary protective status, people can apply for citizenship through one of the other three paths: family, employment or humanitarian reasons. The first two options require a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen sponsor — a parent, sibling or a child in the case of the family route, or an employer. And sometimes immigrants don’t fall into one of those three tracks, Schutte Wadzinski explained.
Immigration court proceedings can be arduous, and some people must check in with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on a regular basis. That’s on top of going to immigration court, located in Minneapolis for Minnesota residents and Omaha for Iowans, Schutte Wadzinski said.
“The government takes no responsibility for individuals actually getting themselves to their check-in or getting them to immigration court,” Schutte Wadzinski said.
Volunteer drivers can help with that. Anyone interested in helping people get to their required appointments can call Familias Juntas at (507) 360-3423.