African immigrants in Minnesota urged to seek U.S. citizenship

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African immigrants and refugees have been asked to seek citizenship, to avoid problems that are often tied to one’s immigration status.

At the end of a one-day immigration informational session held on Friday Dec. 10, in Brooklyn Center, Minn., the head of immigration practice at the Cundy and Martin law firm, Vincent Martin, told attendees to remember that plea agreements in any court system, “affect your immigration status in some ways.”

He told them, “instead of guessing about the laws, it’s always good to check in with immigration attorneys.”

Organized by the African Immigrant Services, also called AIS, in collaboration with the Miracle Redemption Center International, the session brought together nearly 240 African immigrants who braved the inclement weather.

Martin discussed immigration policies and laws, including how to petition for family members, how to seek asylum, as well as permanent residency status and citizenship processes and applications.

Martin represents individuals and employers, families seeking to sponsor other family members, and those facing deportation.

Also contributing, Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy, Michelle Garnett-McKenzie, encouraged African immigrants to take advantage of legal resources to avoid problems in the future.

From experience, she said, some of the problems immigrants and refugees encounter could easily be resolved if they would seek appropriate resources and attend informational sessions.

Garnett-McKenzie has worked extensively with refugee and immigrant groups. She joined The Advocates in 1999 as a staff attorney representing asylum seekers and immigration detainees and, in 2003, became the Refugee and Immigrant Program Director, managing the asylum, detention, and walk-in clinic projects.

By nearly all accounts, the town-hall-style event was warmly received, as participants and beneficiaries expressed their appreciation and hoped that such a useful venture would be held often.

“The session was one of the best events I’ve seen in the African community. AIS did a great job”, said Duannah Siryon, founder of Pro-USA, an African immigrant youth sports development non-profit group based in the Twin Cities.

Saran Daramy, an African immigrant business owner who came to get information to help her cousin, said, “It was educational. A wide range of topics was covered. I think we should have more of it, to help our community.”

“Some of our African folks need guidance when it comes to immigration issues. But again, they just don’t know where to get basic information”, explained Abu Massaley, an African-born immigrant. “This event was helpful, because it provided an opportunity for them to understand what was at stake regarding immigration laws. I also think there is a need for AIS to do one-on-one session, where folks will be able to ask some very personal questions.”

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Cairbeh Dahn, outreach coordinator of AIS. “We exceeded our initial expectation, especially in terms of attendance and the level of participation.”

AIS Board chairman, Momodu Kemokai said, “Our goal is four sessions a year, serving about 800 African immigrants and refugees. And we are proud of the initial impact.”

AIS believes that these sessions are an important piece in a larger strategy to address a wide range of problems tied to immigration status.

 ” When African immigrants and refugees face problems related to their legal or immigration status, their housing, health, job, education and other aspects of their lives are also affected”, said Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of AIS.” That is why everybody wins when African immigrants and refugees gain greater access to a wide range of relevant legal resources.”

He said the just concluded session is the first, “of the journey,” his organization has embarked upon, and appealed to African immigrants and refugees to volunteer and participate in programs and services that are critical to their aspirations.

Noble Fahnbulleh, AIS’ volunteer and technology coordinator, said, “Linking African immigrants and refugees to resources is critical to our work at AIS.”

He meanwhile requested participants to provide AIS with feedback and suggestions on how to make future sessions more effective.

Earlier, Rev. Vandyke Noah of the Redemption Center, expressed appreciation for the session, because, “our people need this kind of opportunity to address their doubts and concerns.”

Established in 2005 and reactivated in 2009, AIS works to empower African immigrants and refugees to integrate into mainstream communities and to increase their participation in civic life.

AIS is at www.aisusa.org.