IMMIGRANTS. The campaigns in favor of immigrants are permanent actions carried out by VACOLAO. | PHOTO: Courtesy VACOLAO
By Olga Imbaquingo - Special for El Tiempo Latino
The victims of misery who have migrated from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries, have also been unable to escape that dense silhouette of misfortunes in their new home: the Culmore neighborhood or the “island of disadvantages”, as one recent health study at that periphery of Falls Church, in Fairfax County classified it.
They come from more than 50 countries in the world, but the majority of those who live in the traditional reddish buildings with three floors are Latin. There the coronavirus found its ideal hosts: poor, sick, crowded, and undocumented.
60% of the infected of Fairfax County correspond to that ethnic group.
To assist them are services such as the Culmore Clinic, The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, Legal Aid Justice Center, Just Neighbors and others. Since 2019, this effort has been joined by Kaiser Permanente, a leading health provider in the DMV.
In the words of Tonga Turner, director of Community Health, Access and Social Health at Kaiser Permanente, the Bailey's / Culmore neighborhood was chosen, “because it is one of the most disadvantaged communities in Northern Virginia. Even before the coronavirus, its population already suffered from lack of health, affordable housing, transportation, lack of nutritious food and employment.” The organization is working to bring investments and alliances in favor of this group.
Opportunity for a life change
In this immigrant neighborhood, the brake on progress is their undocumented status. "Eligible people often don't know if they're entitled to some benefits and don't know how to get them either," said Erin McKenney, executive director of Just Neighbors. Its organization of immigration attorneys serves the poorest families.
Just Neighbors reviews cases and determines if they are eligible for green card. “If they have the possibility, they don't know it or have the money. For 100 dollars, which we do not charge half of the time, we accompany them in that process until the end. Sometimes we get the Immigration Service to forgive them for their charges, but that is getting difficult, "said McKenney.
Just Neighbors only covers 30% of the clientele with funds, because the Government puts more obstacles and applications do not stop arriving. McKenney knows what they would achieve legally: "They would earn automatic job protection, report abuse, opt for better jobs, earn 25% more, have driver's licenses, and their families would say goodbye to fear and stress."
At the moment her promise is: “We are here to help you; we will tell you if you can move forward with your paperwork and we will see how we can arrange payments to Immigration. The important thing is to know if they meet the conditions to change their immigration status, because that will change their lives for the better. "
But the pandemic has only flooded the population with needs. "Without a job and at high risk of becoming infected, the lack of money and not knowing how to generate income will reduce the possibilities of legalization," is McKenney's reflection.
On the fringes of prosperity
Culmore residents are victims of social adversities such as lack of health, food, employment and legality; They are also affected by the lack of rights as consumers, workers or tenants.
To make a difference there is the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Our lawyers go to the aid of the unpaid and mistreated workers. If the tenants live in houses in a deplorable state or want to evict them, we are here to help them, ”said Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, who is a community organizer and serves as the liaison between Legal Aid Justice Center and immigrants. In this time of pandemic, Legal Aid Justice Center is channeling its food distribution efforts, collaborating with the Medical Care for Children Partnership Foundation (MCCP) and World Central Kitchen. "We take care that they bring their masks, comply with the distancing and we send alerts of places to get help," said the activist.
Along with the coronavirus there is another pandemic around the corner: evictions. To prevent this tragedy, the Legal Aid Justice Center, along with other organizations, are seeking the moratorium extended beyond June 28. "In case of eviction call us at (703) 778-3450", was the request of Aranda-Yanoc.
Kaiser Permanente knows that Culmore is on the fringes of prosperity. In the time they have been meeting, according to Turner, “we have learned that the obstacles come from long ago, but the time has come to change, putting equality and justice ahead. We want to create programs that offer health and opportunities. ”
According to McKenney, Kaiser Permanente tries to work with and for the community and wants to do it with organizations that are already in this neighborhood. "I understand that they seek to identify the keys to achieving comprehensive change and together choose priorities."
If Kaiser Permanente's promise to work for health and nutrition becomes effective, McKenney believes that “people will be able to improve their conditions and children will progress academically; It is helping us understand the problems so we don't just patch this situation. "
A plan is ready
In this neighborhood, according to Aranda-Yanoc, most come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Some have lived in the area for 20 years and others have just arrived. Their immigration status is mixed, their children are citizens, and not all parents have papers.
Aranda-Yanoc highlights Kaiser Permanente's effort to understand and meet with organizations that give real support to the community, such as Culmore Partners, led by Nandre Navarro; Second Story, the Culmore Clinic, the Islamic Center, churches like St. Anthony or Police representatives, like Officer Eddy Azcarate.
According to Kaiser Permanente, color groups and immigrants carry the heaviest burden of the coronavirus, with the highest infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
"That disproportionate impact has a lot to do with poverty and inequality long entrenched at Bailey's / Culmore," Turner said. "Contributing to racial equality and social justice encourages us to invest in our community."
Kaiser Permanente has another proposition: Make good use of your leadership as a healthcare provider so that the voice of this community is heard among legislators, philanthropists, schools, property developers, and others.
The general lines that Kaiser Permanente has to support Culmore are ally with community clinics and other providers, offering subsidies, training and assistance to those affected by the coronavirus.
Making your Health Coverage Charitable Program available is your other offering to provide low-cost health care to the Culmore neighborhood, including refugees and immigrants. In addition, it will soon launch a program of medical examinations and direct connection to community clinics and other services.
The launch of the initiative to connect, through a shared digital platform, grassroots organizations, health providers and public agencies and bodies of Virginia DC and Maryland, is part of their plan, to facilitate the work of social services.
"We know that if we are committed to supporting the health of communities, we have to invest in determining factors such as food, education, social assistance, job opportunities and housing," Turner concluded.