AAUW of Vermont Convention Hosted by Brattleboro Branch

Crossing Borders: Why We Leave Home

Saturday, April 25, 2009 Program

What drives people to leave their homes and settle in another country? This was the theme of the Vermont AAUW state meeting hosted by the Brattleboro Branch at the School for International Training.

Ana Rawson, the director of English as a Second Language programs in the
Windham Southeast Supervisory Union highlighted how schools provide for the
children of immigrants through ESL classes and social services. The supervisory
union that includes Brattleboro currently has 130 ESL students with 23 different
primary languages. Rawson gave a true and false quiz to audience groups about
immigration law as it relates to schools and children of immigrants and used our
answers (which were often wrong) to convey a lot of information.

We learned that children of both immigrants and undocumented aliens are
required to go to school and that schools are not allowed to ask for information
such as Social Security numbers that would identify who is or isn’t documented.
This law is the result of a Supreme Court case that was tested by California not
long ago.  Immigration and law enforcement officials are not allowed to ask for data
on students and schools are not allowed to provide it. She described a confron-
tation with a very large Vermont state policeman who was not aware of this federal
law and came to a school for information.
Rawson said that students whose parents are undocumented (about one per
cent) live in fear that their parents may not be there when they return from school,
which inhibits their ability to concentrate on their studies. If their parents are   Ana Rawson
deported, children are placed in foster homes. It is difficult for parents to get their
children back because they are legally considered to be abandoned. She also dispelled the myth that immigrants rely heavily on social services and public health care. In fact, immigrants may not use any public services such as
Medicaid, food stamps or welfare for the first five years they are in the
country. If they do receive services during this period, they will lose their
status as legal immigrants.

Edna Bartlett, the second speaker, emigrated to the U.S. to marry the
Vermonter she met on the Internet. Bartlett is originally from the Philippines
and has been in the US for two years. She is working as a nurse’s aide and
hopes to attend either Vermont Technical College or Greenfield Community
College to study to become an LPN. She said that as a youngster she
always dreamed of coming to the U.S. but never thought it would be
possible. She is polishing up her English by taking classes at Vermont Adult
Learning and was encouraged to apply for a Brattleboro Branch scholarship.

In the afternoon we heard from Mastora Bakhiet, who, with her husband and
three children, fled the Darfur region of her native Sudan to take refuge in
Indiana. Bakhiet told of her family’s fleeing the Sudan four years ago amid
Edna Bartlett the killings, rapes and burning of villages that is being carried out under the
direction of the government in Khartoum. She said the discovery of oil has led the Chinese government to provide military aid to the government in exchange for a share of the oil, with Khartoum hiring the Janjaweed to drive the villagers out of the oil-rich area of Darfur.

Bakhiet and two other women in Fort Wayne, Indiana, have formed a group called Darfur Women Peace and Development Network to provide economic development assistance to women in Darfur. She keeps up with what is happening through contact with her mother, sisters and other relatives who are still there.

This year, Mastora has left her husband with the children in Indiana (a culturally new role for him) while she works on a master’s degree in intercultural services, with a focus on leadership and management, at SIT. Brattleboro AAUW hopes to put her in contact with the Fort Wayne AAUW Branch when she returns home at the end of May.

From the left: State president Andrea Weisberg, Brattleboro Branch member
Louise Luring, Mastora Bakhiet, Brattleboro Branch president Susan Stein

Also on the agenda was the Friday night screening of Bjorn Jackson’s DVD Under the Cloak of Darkness, a look at the undocumented Mexican laborers who are keeping fifty Addison County dairy farms afloat. Since dairy farms need workers all year, they are not covered under the seasonal guest worker programs for agriculture. The Brattleboro Branch served a delicious potluck dinner to visiting AAUW members and arranged for overnight hospitality in members' homes.

Thank you Brattleboro Branch Members!

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