On November 9th - November 13th, 2019, SACIV welcomed two international visitors from France for an IVLP project entitled “Integration of Immigrants and Refugees." This project introduced the role of nongovernmental organizations in the refugee resettlement process. Moreover, during the meetings, the participants observed best practices of educational institutions in integrating refugees and immigrants.
The IVLP group arrived on Saturday evening and on Sunday, started with a tour to the San Antonio Missions, where they learned about the significant role which these places play in the history and culture of our community. In the evening, our guests were welcomed in the homes of the SACIV members where they had conversations about differences and similarities of living in the US and in France.
On Monday morning, the IVLP group headed to the Mexican American Unity Council (MAUC) where they met with the President and CEO. They were fascinated by the services and guidance this Council provides in areas of education, housing, and community and economic development of the Mexican American population in San Antonio. The discussion was mostly concentrated on the perspectives of affordable housing for large Hispanic population as the Council is organized and run in such a way that it doesn’t depend on donations from the community, but has a number of its own local businesses that are self-sustaining and this profit goes to affordable housing. The complex approach was well explained by the president and it inspired our IVLP guests.
Later that day, the delegation met with the Executive Director of Mexican and Americans Thinking Together (MATT). This non-profit organization was created with specific goals which were accomplished this past September. Therefore, the participants learned about the initiatives this organization developed for cultural interaction, education, and social outreach by working with government sectors, private organizations, academic institutions, and other civil organizations. Our visitors heard real stories about how Mexicans are integrating into the community and discussed general statistics and misperceptions that we sometimes see in media. The rest of the afternoon was free for our guests and they had a chance to see several parades and events commemorating Veteran’s Day in the US.
On Tuesday morning, the IVLP group met with a representative of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) - San Antonio Field Office, a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and is a vital US asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America’s travel, trade, financial and immigration systems. This meeting outlined the agency’s practices on the ground in investigating corss-border criminal activities including national security, terrorism, export enforcement, money laundering, drug and bulk-cash smuggling, human smuggling and trafficking, customs fraud, child pornography and other financial and immigration frauds. Our guests were very grateful a thorough presentation, which clarified the work and mission of the HSI.
Next, our visitors met with an attorney from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). This meeting demonstrated the best practices in promoting justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees from Central and South Texas. They were also briefed on the recent history of immigration to South Texas and the roles of the various agencies involved in the complex debate, including their advocacy work.
In the afternoon, they continued their discussions during a meeting with the Criminal District Attorney of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. The attorney shared her experience in working with the DA-lead Bexar County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Our guests learnt of the attorney’s perspectives on migrants’ vulnerability in being trafficked, as well as the kinds of outreach, awareness-raising, and support services that they provide to victims who are reluctant to ask for help because of their immigration status. The delegation heard real-life stories and examples of how to get the best from engaging different organizations and federal agencies.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, the IVLP group had their last meeting at the San Antonio Police Department where they discussed community participation programs and San Antonio’s status as a sanctuary city. Our guests learnt about the relationship between fighting crime and protecting the rights of the public and of alleged criminals. They also discussed transparency, accountability in the police force, interaction with different levels of government and the pertinent issue of nondiscrimination.
Overall, this French delegation found the visit to San Antonio quite informative and helpful in understanding the diverse perspectives in the debate over reforming US immigration laws. They enjoyed open conversations, sharing experiences, and learning life-long lessons of integrating refugees and immigrants. The visitors were particularly amazed by observing the mutual support provided and community involvement with this important issue. We greatly appreciate each partner, organization, and representative of San Antonio’s community for their collaboration and partnership in furthering our mission.