by Andrew Piotrowski
Looking back on my semester volunteering at ECIRMAC, I cannot think of a more rewardable experience I have had outside the classroom in my two years at the University of Illinois. Seriously, apart from all the social activities outside, this was the first opportunity I had in a long while in which I looked forward to adding to my daily workload. Although I was admittedly skeptical about taking on an extra two hours of work per week with my already full schedule, I am fortunate that I did so. In looking back over my previous posts, I am able to reflect better on the issues that confront the immigrant community in our country on a daily basis.
The issues that rage on in our public discourse about the government’s role in society are all issues that directly affect the immigrant community, as well. Apart from the obvious immigration reform, issues such as healthcare, law enforcement, and private accountability are all too prevalent in the daily lives of our immigrant neighbors. Because the path to citizenship is still an extremely difficult one, we cannot accommodate the needs of the people who live here by getting the government involved, but thankfully there are those who will stand on the side of those without voices, such as the wonderful people at ECIRMAC. Even in the short amount of time spent there, I saw many little signs which point to a more hopeful future for everyone who calls this country home. I am happy to say that I was successful in getting one Guatemalan client, who I blogged about previously, to contact a bilingual representative at Ameren IP and sort out the problems he had with his electricity payments. I have heard stories from community members who have no other options but to ask for assistance, and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction in giving them or hearing someone else give them a hopeful and positive response.
However, there are still problems which remain embedded in our system of government. The recent healthcare reform has not gone far enough in ensuring treatment for everyone who resides here and contributes to our economic benefit. Our immigrants are still afraid to find a landlord who will not report them to the INS, and therefore are limited to only a couple options for housing in Champaign-Urbana, none of which are desirable or even acceptable by our citizen’s standards. These problems will not be solved at ECIRMAC, but they can be observed by those who can act to alleviate them.
As long as there is a non-governmental response to the problems that still face our government and, more importantly, our immigrant community, these small flickers of hope that I saw will continue. Accepting and understanding the issues is key, and it is my hope that students in the coming years are eager to volunteer at ECIRMAC, and will not let the same apprehensiveness that I originally felt hinder their opportunity to do so.