Immigration concerns addressed at Poarch Law stakeholder discussion

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- Poarch Law expands its public education programs with a stakeholder meeting for people who are looking to help immigrants in Southwest Virginia. Wednesday's meeting is open to the public, providing people with a toolkit of available resources, explaining the immigration system and how it works.

The meeting comes as concerns about a potential immigration ban have people concerned across the nation and right here in the Roanoke Valley. Late last week, those fears were fueled as online rumors about a police raid on local immigrants spread on social media. Police say the reports of local officers working with federal immigration officers to indiscriminately find or identify people without immigration documents are absolutely false.

Roanoke City Police Chief Tim Jones released a statement saying, in part, "I have contacted the valley wide police chiefs to confirm these allegations have no factual basis. Baring a criminal nexus of some specific type, local law enforcement agencies do not seek out or profile individuals believed to be of illegal alien status. Social media posts of this type are only intended to instill fear and break down positive relationships with our communities."

Although the raids have been proven untrue, Christine Pockhart Poarch-- who is heading up today's discussion, says many are still concerned about what the future may bring.

"We're seeing such a heightened sense of anxiety about what's going to happen next," she says. "We don't know when and how enforcement actions are going to come-- but we expect that they will. We expect to see enforcement actions with employers and expect to see increased enforcement with criminal alien populations."

For immigrants who have been living and working in southwest Virginia for years, it's that's uncertainty that has continued to keep them concerned.

"You think of families that own businesses, students who are in high school, students that are in college," says Elda Stanco Downey with Spanish Roanoke. "There's a complete uncertainty of what will happen in the next few months. We're concerned about that uncertainty and how that is changing the fabric of our community right now."

The potential changes don't only impact illegal immigrants, but refugees who are escaping persecution in their home countries, families looking to adopt children from other countries and students who want to come to America for a better education. We also see a large portion of doctors that come to our region from around the world. That's something that Poarch says could have many of these doctors and physicians second-guessing their decisions because of the current uncertainty about immigration.

"We have a healthcare gap that is filled largely by foreign physicians," says Poarch. "We expect that to have an impact on physicians who are traveling or hope to be in the Appalachian region, which is an underserved medical population. [The physicians] are basically are now going to say, 'Thanks, but this is too much trouble.'"

Today's discussion is catering to people in the community who are looking to get involved and help those immigrants on a local level. It's broken up into two sessions-- the first is a guide to immigration, breaking down the truths from the myths and how national policy has a local impact. The second session will be more of a discussion-- as group members talk about using local leadership roles to make a difference.

It's free to attend and open to the public-- but registration is required. Click here to register.

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