Barry McNamara  |   Published September 14, 2016

Helping immigrants

Monmouth group trains to be liaisons, navigators
  • Pictured from left are Sarah Mills ’18 of Mapleton, Ill., Daisy Baeza ’17 of Chicago, Jessica Arroyo ’17 of Chicago, Neddy Velez ’17 of Chicago, Jasmine Johnson ’17 of Chicago, Rebecca Mills ’18 of Mapleton, Ill., and assistant professor Tim Gaster, who attended training sessions for assisting immigrants.
Learning a new language isn’t the only hurdle most immigrants face. They also face legal challenges, many of which can be daunting.

But a Monmouth College group is learning how to help area immigrants overcome many of those challenges.

Last weekend, Monmouth College faculty member Tim Gaster accompanied six students to Peoria, Ill., for two five-hour sessions on how to become immigration liaisons and immigration navigators.

Held at Peoria’s Friendship House and organized by The Immigration Project, the sessions are designed to help immigrants integrate into life in America, specifically by learning about their legal needs and how to direct them to other resources.

The Immigration Project is “trying to get their services downstate, and trying to get more people out in the communities,” said Gaster, who teaches in the College’s modern languages, literatures and cultures department.

Gaster certainly came away with ideas from the sessions.

One was to develop a service-learning class in his department, in which students would be taught to communicate in Spanish with immigrants about important subjects, such as where to seek legal counsel.

“We can help people and help them find the resources they need, but we are not lawyers, so we learned at the sessions that we’ve got be very careful about the type of advice we can give,” Gaster said. “We learned a lot about people who have scammed immigrants, charging for information, and we learned a lot of people have the need to get the right information.”

Gaster also envisions a course in citizenship, the capstone level of the College’s Integrated Studies curriculum. As part of the class, he said students “could volunteer in the community, help at clinics and be English conversation volunteers.”

“The students are eager to do what they can to help and begin putting what they learned into practice,” he said.

Monmouth student Neriangela “Neddy” Velez ’17 of Chicago said that she hopes she can take what she learns beyond the College.

“We, as a community, need to step up and help educate others on the opportunities that are available,” Velez said. “Getting out of our comfort zone is what allows us to create change. My motivation for attending the training was my desire to educate myself and learn to assist others. I hope to not just impact the Monmouth community, but to also branch out in my future communities.”
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