Helping your neighbor

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CHAMPAIGN — Leaders in the area say we need to help each other as a community. So that’s the goal behind an event this weekend. People can get training about how to be an immigration liaison. They say this is a way to help your neighbors and they want more people to get involved.

Lots of people are working together to make this happen. The Champaign school district, the Immigration Project, C-U Immigration Forum and more. The hope is simple: learn more about the laws so you can help other people figure them out.

As we get closer to Inauguration Day, more concerns about immigration are starting to come up. Immigration Project board member Ricardo Diaz says they know changes are coming.

“We knew the Immigration Project alone could not cover the rest of the state, so becoming allies with school districts, the Immigration Forum, the refugee center, the churches, it was important to get other people helping,” said Diaz.

His group offers legal services and support to Illinois immigrants south of I-80, but they want more people to get involved as community liaisons to help bridge the language barrier.

“Even when you know English and you understand some legalese, it’s still quite a complicated system,” said Diaz.

They teach classes like Immigration 101 to give people the tools they need to help their neighbors. Maria Alanis, who is the director of ESL and bilingual education at Champaign Schools is joining the effort.

“We have students born in over 80 countries in our school district,” said Alanis. “And we have over 60 languages spoken by our students and English.”

Alanis says she sees a need in her district because of how much diversity they have.

“There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry, because if you can just imagine what it must be like to know that you were born here but your parents could be deported,” said Alanis. “That’s a lot for anyone to handle and it’s especially a lot for kids.”

They say it’s a growing effort and they hope to help more people in the future.

“There’s a great fear, but importantly, there’s also a great need to understand what is going on and what can we do,” said Diaz.

The training is at noon on Saturday, January 7 at the Champaign library. Thirty people have already signed up, but there’s still space for more. Organizers are hoping to get about 40 people to come to the training this weekend. It takes about six hours. To find out more about it, click here.

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