Immigrant panel kicks off Welcoming Week in York City

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

As the federal government shifts its focus to immigration reform and stronger enforcement, five York County residents who left their home countries opened up about assimilating into American life to launch York City’s Welcoming Week 2017.

Catalina Ruiz, a York City resident who emigrated from Mexico almost two decades ago, spoke of the stress she and her family have been under since U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions announced the end of a program protecting young immigrants from deportation.

Catalina Ruiz (center), a York City resident and Mexican immigrants, speaks during a Welcoming Week 2017 panel at Martin Library, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017. York City residents Subush Bistai (left), an immigrant from Nepal, and Valerio Kibinda (right), an immigrant from Angola, were also featured panelists.

President Donald Trump is giving Congress six months to resolve the status of young immigrants living in the country illegally. If Congress does not act, Trump's administration will begin to wind down legal protections for more than 800,000 individuals under former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. 

Some DACA recipients would be eligible for deportation as early as March 2018.

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Ruiz, 41, said her son, a DACA program participant, is luckier than most other DACA children because he will be able to reapply for protections under the program before the Trump-imposed deadline. 

But that doesn’t make it any easier for her as she watches her son worry about his freedom and future in the only country he has ever known, Ruiz said. 

While she is unsure of the legal basis of the DACA program, Ruiz said she knows “that program means everything to my son” as he studies in college. 

The five immigrant panelists featured at the launch event Monday, Sept. 18, in Martin Library  represented four continents and vastly different cultures. 

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Ruiz was joined by Valerio Kibinda, an Angolan immigrant and 15-year York City resident; Subush Bistai, who came to York City from Nepal five years ago; Maryanna Catic, who fled civil war in Bosnia in 1996; and Odalia Nunez DeMena, who was reunited with her husband in York City in June 2014. 

Early struggles: Though all said they now feel welcome and accepted in York City, Bistai said he struggled to find job opportunities in York until he got a better understanding of English. 

It can be uncomfortable to talk to others in a new language, Bistai said, which made it difficult to ask for help from neighbors and other city dwellers. 

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While finding a job, a car and a place to live can be minor problems for some, these challenges can be nearly insurmountable to people in a new country trying to speak a new language, Bistai said.

“After learning English, problems became easier,” Bistai said, adding his problems are now much like those of all other city residents.

Events: Welcoming Week 2017 continues through Sunday, Sept. 24, with the following events:

  • Pedicab Tour of York’s immigrant-owned businesses, 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 21: Pedi Cabs of York will guide a “Newcomer’s Business Tour” of six immigrant-owned business in York City. The tour will launch from the YMCA of York County, located at 90 N. Newberry St. Registration is required. 
  • “30 Universal Human Rights” event, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21: St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church will host an immigration educational event. The church is located at 839 W. Market St.
  • Celebration of York’s Diversity, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. - Saturday, Sept. 23: The YMCA of York County, 90 N. Newberry St., will host an event with cultural entertainment and food. The event will include Spanglish, Dominican Song & Dance and Peter Bottros, a pianist from Egypt, among others.