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Guest Voz

Guest Voz: Prince William County Immigrant Rights Advocate reflects on the Christmas plight of undocumented immigrants

Guest Voz: Prince William County Immigrant Rights Advocate reflects on the Christmas plight of undocumented immigrants

LatinaLista — John Steinbach is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Woodbridge Workers Committee and Mexicanos Sin Fronteras in Prince William County, Virginia. Both organizations that help immigrants, or at least the immigrants that have not been driven off by the region's punitive anti-immigration measures.

John Steinbach shares time with three Mixteca Indians who were rescued from forced labor in two Chinese restaurants.
Steinbach shares with Latina Lista readers not only what life is like for these immigrants who are under siege in his community but what life is like for immigrant advocates like himself and his colleagues who walk a thin line between following their conscience and respecting the law.
While Steinbach and his colleagues do it as a labor of love, and prove it every day by donating their own money to help fund the operations, more money is needed to meet the rising needs of a people who are forced into the shadows without a viable or dependable means to support themselves.
For that reason, Latina Lista invited John Steinbach to share with us what life is like for him and the immigrant community of Prince William County and to offer Latina Lista readers the opportunity to make a difference in these immigrants' lives by donating to help Steinbach and his colleagues continue their work (at the end of Steinbach's post is a partial listing of the support services offered by his organization).
Checks can be made payable to Woodbridge Workers Committee (tax deductible) or Mexicanos Sin Fronteras (non-tax deductible organizing work). For any questions, email John Steinbach
Contributions may be sent to:
C/O Woodbridge Workers Committee/Mexicanos Sin Fronteras,
PO Box K
Woodbridge, VA 22194.

Last winter, the Prince William Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an anti-immigrant resolution giving police draconian powers to arrest anyone suspected of lacking residency documents.
As predicted, in a county where over 25% of residents are immigrants, overwhelmingly Latino, rampant police profiling has been reported, and an entire community remains terrorized and traumatized.
In the aftermath of the Resolution’s passage, Mexicanos Sin Fronteras and Woodbridge Workers Committee (WWC) are still dealing on a daily basis with the fallout. Every day, we receive desperate calls on our emergency hotline from those affected — detainees held for months as prisoners after ICE raids, immigrant women afraid to report domestic abuse, day laborers seeking lawyers to help recover unpaid wages, victims of human trafficking (slavery) pleading to be rescued, reports of police profiling and other racist harassment, and numerous other, often heartbreaking stories.
We have been working under enormous pressure in a radically polarized political atmosphere. To help understand just how poisonous the environment is in which we work, the video testimony of one of the leading anti-immigrant critics in Prince William County shows it all. A person, who unbelievably, was appointed to the County Planning Commission.
Yet while we try to be the best Americans we know how to be in helping our fellow man, woman and child, we do it despite the threats, personal attacks, and intimidation, not just from the Minutemen, but also our locally elected public officials.

The mission of the Woodbridge Workers Committee (El Comité de Trabajadores de Woodbridge) is to provide employment support, identification cards, English classes, legal and income recovery services, food and clothing distributions, cultural opportunities, and community outreach for immigrant day laborers and their communities living along the Route One corridor in Woodbridge, Virginia.
As a result, we are empowering them in their struggle to obtain justice, and dignity. We are an all-volunteer organization with most of our small budget coming from the immigrant community and local supporters.
Thus far, the winter here in northern Virginia has been especially brutal. Last Sunday, on the streets of Woodbridge and Manassas, the temperature was in the 20s, with the wind gusting to more than 40 mph.
Despite this extreme weather, nearly 200 men were huddled outside the 7-11s desperately seeking work. Many told us that they hadn't worked in weeks and when they finally found some, their employers refused to pay them.
Many talked about losing their homes and going hungry. About a dozen volunteers for Woodbridge Workers Committee and Mexicanos Sin Fronteras braved the cold that day, purchasing, packing and distributing bundles of food.
Our work has taken on more urgency after receiving reports that some local nonprofits are refusing to provide services to those immigrants unable to prove legal residency.
It has been a devastating human, economic and social toll on the Prince William County immigrant community because of the anti-immigrant xenophobia that has taken hold of the hearts of some people — and it's only getting worse.
It will take more resources to combat the growing needs of this community and we need your help.
Our ongoing work with the immigrant community is done entirely by volunteers and the bulk of our budget comes out of our own thin pockets. Not to mention, there are ongoing expenses that require the resources of the greater community.
For example, although WWC is a 501c-3 nonprofit organization and member of the National Capital Area Food Bank, it still costs about $800 each time we provide a food bundle for 200 workers. The goal is to do a bi-weekly distribution throughout winter. To even provide just a warm cap, gloves and socks, in addition to any winter coats we collect, also costs us — a little over $10 for each worker.
We know this economy is tight and extra money is hard to part with these days, but we also know that without our help the untold suffering of countless Prince William County immigrants will only get worse — and that is too heavy a burden to bear on anyone's conscience.

The following is a partial list of all the work Mexicanos Sin Fronteras and Woodbridge Workers Committee do on behalf of immigrant communities:
Help coordinate struggling immigrant communities from the Shenandoah Valley to Delaware
Hosted the first national meeting of The Alianza Nacional de Comunidades Latinoamericanas y del Caribe ( NALACC) this November
Help plan for the first Virginia People's Assembly on January 10, 2009
Continue our work in the Virginia Immigrant People's Coalition
Participate in the National Capitol Immigrant Coalition.

In Prince William County
Coordinate legal challenges to the immigrant scapegoating
Continue our work consulting with the community
Conduct "Know Your Rights" workshops with local volunteer lawyers
Assist in conducting mortgage foreclosure workshops with local housing groups
Continue our cultural support work with the burgeoning Spanish-speaking Indigenous community
Provide English as a Second Language lessons every Monday evening to several dozen students
Organize food and clothing distributions for the Woodbridge day laborers
Respond to the ICE raids, especially desperate calls from prisoners (and their families) incarcerated at the Peidmont ICE facility in Farmville, VA
Operate our MSF Emergency Hotline (Volunteers respond to scores of emergency calls each week)
Work with and educate the broader community about issues facing the immigrant community
Coordinate volunteer legal support for victims of discrimination.

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