It started with a discussion at a local faith-based community event in March 2017, between immigrants and people interested in helping them.
Over a meal at The Table, a handful of the participants volunteered to make binders for immigrant families in case they come in contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The binders would be “like an emergency kit” with things like their records and letters about who can take care of their children if the parents are removed from the house, Katherine Boehnke told attendees at Saturday’s Democratic Women’s Forum meeting at the Ramkota Hotel & Conference Center.
They didn’t end up making the binder, but they did form Immigration Alliance of Casper, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for local immigrant communities and educates the public, Boehnke said.
She and fellow Immigration Alliance of Casper founder Scotia Sutherland were this month’s speakers for the forum, which meets the second Saturday every month.
“We find that even those of us who think we’re informed always have something more to learn,” Boehnke said. “And I think because of the type of attention that immigration gets in the news, oftentimes we don’t always have the full story. So we’re going to give you some information that you can use as well to help advocate on behalf of immigrants in our community and in the United States.”
The Immigration Alliance of Casper’s activities include “Know Your Rights” workshops hosted in Spanish and in English for immigrants and allies. The group has partnered with the Natrona County School District last year to help immigrant families not fluent in English access information about their children’s education. Since establishing nonprofit status, the alliance has been able to offer financial assistance for legal expenses such as lawyers, court costs or the filing fee for the DACA applications, Boehnke said.
“The immigration process, whether you are documented or undocumented, is an extremely expensive process,” she added.
The group organized a “Families Belong Together” rally, joining similar events across the country to support immigrant rights and protest Trump administration policies.
“So we’re just keeping a watch on this and trying to hold rallies and do what we can when we can,” Sutherland said.
The group working is to provide the latest information about issues that impact the local immigrant community. Currently the Immigration Alliance of Casper is working with the Wyo Say No campaign, which is opposing the proposed immigration detention center in Uinta County, Sutherland said.
“The proposed plan would have it being run by a management and training corporation. It’s an organization that already has civil rights violations in the state of Wyoming. And it’s considered by many to be a private prison,” Sutherland said.
The group also works to celebrate diversity in Casper with efforts including community dinners, inviting immigrants to tell their stories at meetings and providing welcoming materials for people, “whether they’ve been here or whether they’re new to Casper as an immigrant, just to let them know that we do support them, we do want them here, we do value them in our community and believe that Casper is a stronger place because of their presence and the diversity of their experiences and the perspectives that they bring,” Boehnke said.
While much of their early work felt like putting out fires, they’ve changed the focus to a more proactive effort, Sutherland told the group on Saturday.
Their plan for the next three years is to work first on building relationships with immigrants and others in the community, she said.
“What we saw was we were doing a lot of events, but we were not having a lot of immigrants come to those events because they’re afraid,” Sutherland said. “And so what we want to do is build a relationship with our immigrant neighbors, and if they can’t come to us, we’re going to go to them.”
They’re also gathering information from and working with community leaders, including a recent positive talk with the chief of police, Sutherland said.
For the next year, they’ll focus on efforts to educate the community about immigration issues, and from there work on expanding advocacy, like their projects with Wyo Say No, she said.
The two invited others to find out more and join their efforts at the next Immigration Alliance of Casper meeting 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 at Wyoming Food for Thought.