Our Man in Arlington

November 14, 2017 3:06 PM0 comments

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Fear, loss of livelihood, hunger, separation from loved ones.

That’s what the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown has brought to a slice of Arlington residents.

Passionate testimony on their behalf was delivered Nov. 8 at the Arlington Public Schools Career Center after a dinner served by culinary arts students. The event was a south Arlington “field trip” for the civic discussants in the Arlington Committee of 100, who usually meet at Marymount University.

At stake as the giving season approaches is Arlington’s generally accepted role as a welcoming community for immigrants.

Recent rhetoric by Attorney General Jeff Sessions “made me sick to my stomach,” said former school board member Emma Violand-Sanchez, who runs a nonprofit called the Dream Project to mentor immigrants and help pay for college. “It’s painful,” she said, to have Hispanics “portrayed only as gang members. We have to develop a second skin to bounce back those insults. People are made to constantly demonstrate they are contributors to American society.”

Violand-Sanchez is appalled at the threatened cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allowed 750,000 “dreamers” brought in the country illegally by their parents to stay. There are 12,000 in Virginia whose removal would cost the economy $711 million, she said.

What will happen to Henry, the Yorktown High School valedictorian now a mechanical engineer and homeowner? she asked. Or Jose, who graduated from Arlington Mill High School and has a business and children.

Fear is also evident among an average 2,387 families served last month by the Arlington Food Assistance Center, said its CEO Charles Meng. Half of his clients are Hispanic, and many mistrust authority. When a uniformed crew of Transportation Security Administration employees showed at AFAC’s warehouse, many clients scattered, he said. Turns out, the TSA folks were donating 2,000 lbs. of food.

“If you’re hungry in Arlington, we’re here to help regardless of immigration status,” said Meng, who said his team never asks clients for papers (though he learned from one nonprofit that 600 client families are undocumented). “I don’t make judgments,” other than to steer folks toward a nutritious table.

Bethlehem Desta of the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Council helps operate one of nine State Department-authorized refugee resettlement agencies. “Changes are coming, and it began on Jan. 20,” she said. “It has created fear and panic among those already in the United States and families back home.”

With a stipend for each refugee, her group provides reception and housing placement, employment, translation services, skills counseling and aid for victims of domestic violence. More recently Trump announced the cap on refugees had been lowered to 45,000. But many of the clearances to travel “are time-sensitive,” Desta said, and those prevented from traveling within an 18-24 month period could lose out. Federal cuts also make it hard to maintain staff capacity.

Violand-Sanchez recalled that when she came here as a nanny in 1962, she “had no immigration status, but there were no barriers to higher education.” She had a social security number. All that has changed, and worsened on Sept. 5 when Trump announced he would end DACA, which is now in limbo until March 5. “Some of the families have been here for 20 years,” Violand-Sanchez said. They need legal information and support. “And we’re not going to stop supporting our students even if DACA goes away.”

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Quiz time: Who were Arlington’s father and son who both were sheriffs?

A.C. Clements ran our jail from 1920-24. Then his son, J. Elwood Clements, held the job from 1948-52, getting reelected in 1964 and serving until 1980.

The younger Clements described his father’s style to the Evening Star.  “When the sheriff needed help from a posse,” he said, “he went up to the nearest firehouse, got some citizens together and told them, ‘Get your guns, boys, and let’s go!’ ”

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