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Seminar for social workers examines plight of the undocumented


JUNE 25, 2010

The following appeared in La Prensa on June 25, 2010. Read below, or view on La Prensa's website.

Unique seminar for social workers
examines plight of the undocumented

By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

The preamble to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics clearly spells out their primary mission "with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty."

Thus it was no surprise that Martha Delgado, Social Work Field Director and Workshop Facilitator of the University of Toledo Social Work Department quickly associated that mandate with the plight of undocumented workers and immigrants. Delgado is responsible for UT's Social Work internships as well as for the curriculum for Master's and Bachelor's candidates.

The result was an informative "Social Work Practice Workshop" presented June 17, 2010, at La Galeria at 1222-24 Broadway Street in Toledo, Ohio.

JUNE 25, 2010

The following appeared in La Prensa on June 25, 2010. Read below, or view on La Prensa's website.

Unique seminar for social workers
examines plight of the undocumented

By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

The preamble to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics clearly spells out their primary mission "with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty."

Thus it was no surprise that Martha Delgado, Social Work Field Director and Workshop Facilitator of the University of Toledo Social Work Department quickly associated that mandate with the plight of undocumented workers and immigrants. Delgado is responsible for UT's Social Work internships as well as for the curriculum for Master's and Bachelor's candidates.

The result was an informative "Social Work Practice Workshop" presented June 17, 2010, at La Galeria at 1222-24 Broadway Street in Toledo, Ohio.

Why that venue? La Galeria is currently exhibiting artwork by Ricardo Quiñónez, a talented artist from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México, and an art instructor at Bowling Green State University.  

As longtime community activist María Rodríguez-Winter, the founder and operator of La Galeria, explains it, "I opened the gallery on May 1 and many people including Martha who came through it commented upon Quiñónez' works on immigration.  She had the idea of having social workers involved in immigration have a training session here. I asked Ricardo if he would be willing to participate and he said absolutely."

In addition to Quiñónez, the other workshop presenters were Eugenio Mollo and Jessica Ramos, both attorneys with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Arturo Ortiz, a senior paralegal with ABLE, and Betty Rios, Community Outreach Coordinator, Lucas County Job & Family Services.

The workshop was primarily attended by the individuals who supervise interns of UT's Social Work program at an array of area agencies.

The objectives of the workshop were:

  • Create a sensitivity to the psychological affects of the immigration experience through the art of Quiñónez;
  • Develop an understanding of why people, immigrate, the legal issues, adversity and challenges encountered by immigrants especially when accessing services such as in the case of domestic violence;
  • Clarification of the types of benefits and services that are available to the documented and undocumented; and
  • Provide an update and understanding of immigration reform legislation.

Quiñónez kicked off the seminar by showing slides of his work—which was also on exhibit throughout the gallery—and discussing those "things he uses in his art work including "symbolism, psychological space, fragmentation, liminal space and the human condition."

He listed several aspects of what can be seen in his work including "isolation, despair, anxiety, madness, pain, chaos, violence, desperation, emaciation, spirituality, life and death, and deconstruction.

"The intention is to generate a question," explained Quiñónez and obviously his technique was effective. Answering questions from the audience, he pointed out that "we never hear stories (about the immigrants), we hear only numbers."

Several members of the audience brought up the issues of sexual assaults upon the immigrants as well as how easily the undocumented can be preyed upon by human slave traffickers.

Jessica Ramos, who is an AmeriCorps attorney with ABLE, presented an informative overview of immigrants in the United States. She presented a brief history of immigration including the often shameful treatment of Asians by repressive immigration laws including the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was in effect from 1882 until 1943.

The main lesson here is that immigration bias is still very much a fact of life. As she pointed out, those who are HIV positive or have AIDS were barred from the United States until only January of this year.

She also discussed the various designations which were used beginning in 1875 to restrict immigration by prostitutes, polygamists, those convicted of "misdemeanor involving moral turpitude," those judged to be anarchists and political extremists, illiterates, and "lunatics."

Ramos also touched upon quotas and national origin acts, but she found a rare positive note in the Bracero program, which between 1942 and 1964 allowed the U.S. to bring in Mexican agricultural and railroad workers. Another highlight was the Cuban Refugee Act of 1966, which allowed more than 400,000 Cubans to enter the U.S. after fleeing Castro's revolution.

However, these beacons were offset by the REAL ID Act of 2005, which, among other things, restricted the state's abilities to issue driver's licenses to undocumented persons and changed and increased the burdens of proof for many asylum applicants.

Eugenio Mollo and Arturo Ortiz presented real life case examples of clients they have assisted and Betty Rios walked the audience through an explanation of access to government services for immigrant families that can be provided to them through the Department of Jobs and Family Services of Lucas County. These include Food Assistance, Cash/Financial Assistance, Medicaid, Transportation, Day Care, and Adult Protective Services.

The team from ABLE also presented an informative overview of pending immigration-related legislation in both the Ohio Statehouse and U.S. Congress. The state bills raise serious issues of ethnic profiling and divisions between the federal and local law enforcement agencies. However, none are as draconian as the now infamous Arizona SB 1070, which is scheduled to take effect on July 29, 2010. Gov. Ted Strickland has already publicly stated that he would veto any Ohio bill with similar provisions.

In a later interview, Delgado told La Prensa that she felt the successful program was "a beginning...we have to address this issue in a positive way." She said it was part of her department's mandate to "look at the social and economic environment and to advocate to effect change from a policy perspective.

"We need to have a good understanding of the issues from the humanity side as well as from the legal and policy perspective so that we can have an impact on the individual before us."

Added Delgado, "This was a good resource for those attending…it is a topic we needed to address."

She said the choice of the venue "gave it a soul and depth" that might not have been possible to achieve were the workshop held in a "more sterile environment."

Rodríguez-Winter strongly concurs. "I believe you can raise social consciousness through art," she says.

And you can judge for yourself. The Quiñónez Exhibition at La Galeria runs through the beginning of July. Hours are 11AM-5PM, Tuesday through Friday and Saturdays by appointment. Special venues are available for seminars.