With Trump immigration policy unclear, Anchorage continues promoting inclusivity
As the nation prepares for a holiday celebrating its immigrant heritage, the uncertain future of the country’s immigration policy has some people on edge.
President-elect Donald Trump said he plans to deport at least 2 million undocumented immigrants as part of his immigration reform plan. In a video message Monday, Trump said he wants the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate abuse of the country’s visa programs.
Yet in the city with the most diverse neighborhood in the U.S., activists are working to make the community more inclusive.
With a passion for social justice, Mara Kimmel was a natural fit to help lead the Welcoming Anchorage program. The program started two years ago, when the city joined the nationwide Welcoming America movement, which Kimmel said focuses on recognizing and recording “the contributions newcomers make in this country.”
Kimmel has worked on the initiative since her husband, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, took office last year.
When asked about the municipality’s role in Trump’s immigration plan, Kimmel said it is too early to say what it might be.
“I think we have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Kimmel. “In the meantime, the major message that we want to convey is that people are safe here.”
She said anyone who lives in Anchorage — foreign-born or otherwise — should be comfortable using the municipality’s services or asking for help. For example, making sure the municipality is compliant with civil rights laws regarding language access for people living in Alaska who are not fluent in English.
“We want to make sure that people can access safety and services that they need and that language isn’t a barrier,” said Kimmel.
Welcoming Anchorage is currently gathering data about refugees and immigrants living in the city. Kimmel said research has already found the three biggest barriers preventing refugees and immigrants from being more engaged in the economy are childcare, language and transportation.
“We are developing hardcore data and facts about what our potential is, what’s keeping people from fully engaging, and hopefully the idea is that we craft policy to break down those barriers,” said Kimmel.
The Martinez Bautista family, which moved here from the Oaxaca state in Mexico, are on official refugee status. They fled violence in their home village.
“I feel like here I am safe. And that’s why I’ve been here for 15 years,” said Pedro Martinez Ramirez through a translator.
His wife and three of his six children moved to Anchorage last year. He said he is not worried about the Trump presidency.
“We are not afraid because we are not criminals,” he said.
Dayra Valades also moved to Anchorage from Mexico. She left the Sinaloa state for Alaska to do research for her master’s degree thesis and ended up marrying her husband here a short time later.
Her husband is Mexican and has dual citizenship. While not a citizen, Valades has permanent residency.
She said she feels welcomed in Anchorage.
“I’ve been really lucky,” said Valades. “I feel like I fit here.”
Her views on the Trump presidency contrasted those of Martinez Ramirez.
“[Trump] has talked about what he’s going to do, and at least to me, it hasn’t sounded good,” said Valades.
She said she has friends who are undocumented.
“If they had their hopes up that someday they could become legal residents here or have their proper documentation, then now it feels like it’s going to be bad forever,” she added.
Refugees and immigrants come to Anchorage from all over the world, but Kimmel said there are currently no Syrian refugees in the city. While that could happen in the future, she said it’s a decision for the federal government to make.
On a national level, Trump has said he plans to restrict funding to sanctuary cities, places where local governments refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. A spokesperson for the municipality said Anchorage is not a sanctuary city.
In the meantime, Kimmel plans to remain dedicated to Welcoming Anchorage throughout the rest of her husband’s administration. She said beyond refugees and immigrants, the initiative also aims to help LGBTQ people, the disabled community and Alaska Natives feel more at home in the municipality.
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