There are currently 5,00-6,00 Guatemalans living and working in the Dover, New Philadelphia area. This provides an interesting dynamic for theses rural areas. Twenty years ago there was very limited diversity and now in an area with a total population of 35,000 people, more than 15% are Guatemalan immigrants.
This provides much-needed cultural diversity in the area, and it has also brought some challenges. These challenges have been amplified by the pandemic. Many of the Guatemalan immigrants work in meat and food packing plants. As people have been made aware through the news, these areas of business have been especially impacted with Covid-19 infections. Many of the Guatemalan workers in the area are undocumented so they are afraid to question or ask for better working conditions. Due to a variety of conditions affecting workers in the food industry, many of the workers have been and continue to become ill.
An example: A woman and her husband both work at a poultry plant and were both quite sick with Covid-19. Her husband was hospitalized and in the ICU for a period of time. Both ended up missing six weeks of work. They were not paid during that time so all of their bills went in arrears. She was afraid that they would be evicted but they received some rent assistance through a local program set up through a group called ONE that specifically looks at ways that the immigrant community can be supported. This particular fund was designed to help Guatemalan immigrants affected by the pandemic.
Although the pandemic is challenging for all it is especially difficult for the undocumented. They receive none of the relief assistance that government programs offer but have many – sometimes more – financial issues to deal with due to the pandemic. To exacerbate the issues is the reality that a significant percentage of the Guatemalan population in our area is unaccompanied minors. It is not uncommon to have a fifteen or sixteen-year-old come to the United States alone. They often come because they are escaping gang threats and violence. Many of these young people have been tortured, threatened, and had friends killed at the hands of the gangs. These children then come to the United States to seek refuge but they also must work to pay their bills and go to school to fulfill the immigration requirements. Many of these students sleep only a few hours every night. Covid-19 has made it difficult for these students to meet their bills.
In addition to the regular bills that must be paid for living expenses there are huge bills – $10,000+that need to be paid to immigration attorneys. The need for good, affordable legal representation is enormous.
An example: A young man that was taken in by ICE and held at an ICE facility for three months. He already had a case registered with immigration so he should not have been place in that facility but they pulled him in with an entire van of people. Everyone in the van was taken to an ICE facility whether ICE had the right to do that or not. It took this young 17-year-old boy three months when he could not work and $8,000 in attorney fees to be released. He is still working at paying that back in addition to paying his current attorney fees for his asylum case.
Finally, Covid-19 has put a disproportionate burden on the students in Guatemalan families. Many of the students have limited to no access to the necessary technology. Even those who do have access need regular help with the schoolwork, help that is not typically available from their families. The majority of our students have parents that do not speak English and many are not literate in any language. The majority of the Guatemalan immigrants in the Dover, New Philadelphia area are of indigenous descent so their first language is an ancient Mayan language. Some speak Spanish as well, but many do not. So even if the school sends information in Spanish, many parents cannot read or understand the material. The schools work hard to accommodate students but there is a real need for additional support.
HOW WE CAN HELP
These are but a few of the many issues the group ONE is addressing. Here’s how we can help:
- Donations to help with basic costs of food and rent for the people in such desperate need can be sent as a tax-deductible donation to T4C with a notation that it is for the group ONE fund to help meet the needs of the Guatemalan community.
- Legal assistance is desperately needed. If you are able to offer pro bono or reduced rates for legal assistance with immigration cases, please contact Rabbi Komerofsky.
- Tutoring and mentoring is needed for students, especially by those with Spanish proficiency. Please let Rabbi Komerofsky know if you are able to help.
Social Justice Alliance – Established 2019
The Temple Israel Social Justice Alliance was formed June 25, 2019 by Judy Tenenbaum, Joan Ortman, Debbie Sinopoli, and Shelley Schweitzer, after attending the Consultation on Conscience in Washington D.C., sponsored by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. The purpose of the Social Justice Alliance is to address and support social justice issues that are important to us as Reform Jews.
At our first meeting, three Legislative and Policy Priorities were selected by the group of 35 Temple Israel members. The attendees then split into the three groups to form the SJA sub-committees. Each group held their own meetings and put together action plans that included education as well as advocacy. Some of the highlights during the first year:
- Women’s Equality and Reproductive Rights – Chaired by Courtney Johnson-Benson
- July 31 – Melanie Anderson, Speaker for Domestic Violence.
- August 26 – Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin, Planned Parenthood Speaker, provided updates on Legislative bills and their importance.
- Immigration – Chaired by Barb Ferne and Rita Schaner
- August 11 – Temple Israel members participated in “Close the Camps” vigil in Cleveland.
- November 3-10 – Travelling Suitcase.
- January 24 – Shabbat speaker Brad Ortman, Immigration attorney.
- June 15 – Interfaith Exchange on Immigration “Guatemalans in our Midst: Greeting Our Neighbors with Cultural Awareness”
- Preventing Gun Violence – Supported by Joan Ortman and Rabbi John Spitzer
- September 29-30 – Collected signatures on petition to close gun sale loop holes, 148 signatures were collected.
- November 6, 13, & 19 – Attended gun violence programs at Walsh University
- December 3 – Gun Violence follow up meeting sponsored by Temple Israel and Coming Together Stark County.
The committee also sponsored a visit from Rabbi Lindsey Danzinger from RAC Ohio, who lead a Shabbat service and discussed Social Justice.