In 2006, local and statewide immigration organizations and activists from across the Southeast gathered with foundations and national partners in Atlanta, GA for the first ever Southeast Immigrant Right’s Conference. Towards the end of the conference, participants decided to create a network to continue communication, collaboration, and regional strategizing. A steering committee was charged with facilitating this network and the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network (SEIRN) was born.
SEIRN has since grown from being a network led by volunteer staff members from different advocacy and policy organizations in the Southeast, to a network with two staff members, a Steering Committee that includes immigrant activists directly impacted by the current immigration system, rural and urban grassroots organizational partners, advocacy and ally organizational partners, and a growing membership representative of the diverse communities we serve.
Through our journey, we have learned that it is crucial for our Network and the immigrant rights movement to include and lift up the voices and leadership of directly affected immigrant communities.
To build inclusive communities in the Southeast, we must create spaces where community members stand on equal footing with more established organizations, advocates and allies. This means creating spaces where members feel free to share their ideas, concerns, and stories in the language that they feel most comfortable. Although we still have a long way to go to reach our goal of creating multilingual spaces and bringing forward voices from other immigrant and refugee communities, the changes we have been able to make have made our Network stronger.
How to Build More Inclusive Spaces
1. Facilitate Bilingual Communications
To further our goal for inclusion, we started integrating undocumented immigrants onto our Interim Steering Committee. With this move, we knew we had to make adjustments to the way we hosted our meetings and how we shared information. Since not everyone on our Steering Committee is bilingual in English and Spanish, all our documents, calls, and e-mails are in both languages.
Having bilingual calls (this includes committee, membership, and strategy calls) has been especially challenging because we have had to rely on consecutive interpretation. We thought about having separate calls in English and in Spanish; however, we felt that would create a division between monolingual speakers, and both sides would miss important opportunities to connect., Therefore, we decided to continue with our bilingual calls even though they take a little longer and require more work.
2. Include Popular Education Materials
Another aspect that we’ve been working on at SEIRN is developing popular education materials that are both visual and easy to understand. In developing documents and tools, we are always aware of the limitations that people might have when accessing them, whether it’s due to language barriers, reading level, or learning preferences. Developing popular education materials is especially important now that our nation has embarked on the quest for immigration reform. It is critical for us to develop popularized materials so that our community understands what is being discussed at the federal level and how to engage in the political process.
3. Create Multilingual Spaces
Like many other organizations, we face some capacity and resource challenges. We are still working to include other immigrant voices in our work in addition to Latino immigrants. We hope that in the near future we will be creating multilingual spaces.
It is clear to us that our job is not to speak up for the immigrant community. Rather, we strive to create spaces that lift up immigrant voices and leadership in the decision making process, the strategy sessions, and in the conversations that guide our work.
Born in Guanajuato, México, Nayely Pérez-Huerta immigrated to the US in the year 2000. Like millions of other Mexican families, Ms. Perez-Huerta's family was displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Nayely entered the world of immigrant rights at the age of 16, as an undocumented student, and became the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college. In 2009, Nayely joined El Pueblo’s Advocacy team, and in 2012 she transitioned to her current position as Regional Organizer for the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network (SEIRN). Nayely is passionate about immigrant rights and social justice issues. Meet more MRBF guest bloggers.
To see all of MRBF’s current grantee partners working on immigration, please visit our grants section.