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Weaving Civic Fabric

August 27, 2019
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The opening remarks of
Melissa Rodgers of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Director of the New
Americans Campaign, at the National New Americans Campaign Practitioners
Conference, August 2019.

Good morning.

When I walked into the hotel last night, I saw familiar faces from all over
the country. I’m so happy to see you all! Like every year at the New Americans
Campaign conference, I met some new people too, and had the pleasure of putting
faces to names I’d seen on email. So now, if you’re new to the NAC, you can put
a face on my name too – I’m Melissa Rodgers, I work at the Immigrant Legal
Resource Center in San Francisco, and I have the privilege of being the
national director for the New Americans Campaign. Welcome to California! For
those of you for whom this is your first NAC conference, welcome to the
wonderful community that is the New Americans Campaign! By Saturday, I promise
you will have new colleagues and new friends across the country.

Melissa Rodgers, New Americans Campaign director, sets the stage for the 2019 practitioners’ conference. (Photo by Shelly Erceg)

Before we jump into the rich exchange that is this conference, we need to
take a moment to pause. This moment in history is abhorrent. We and our clients
and our communities, live its viciousness and its horror every day. Even the
most secure of statuses—that of naturalized U.S. citizen—is under assault. We
have seen a barrage of policy proposals to change everything from the
naturalization application to the oath ceremony notice to the application for
disability exceptions to the fee waiver form. These changes are below the radar
and don’t get press but we know their impact. We have seen outrageously long
processing times for naturalization applications get even longer, stretching up
to two years at some NAC sites. We’ve seen ramped up denaturalization efforts. We’re
bracing for a new fee structure designed to exclude all but the wealthy. We’ve
witnessed a campaign of fear and intimidation. We’ve heard shocking language to
describe our friends and neighbors and the countries from which they hail. This
is not normal.

So in this moment, it is more important than ever for us to have community.
We are here together. We stand together. We are, every day, continuing to grow
the number of new Americans. And in doing so, we are giving families the power
to determine their destiny and shape this country. The theme of the New
Americans Campaign conference this year is civic engagement. Through
all your hard work, new Americans can exercise their right to vote. Through all
your hard work, families can put down stronger roots. Through all your hard
work, immigrants can affirm their belonging, and be counted in the census. Our
work builds the civic fabric of communities and weaves the threads of a
stronger democracy.

It’s demanding work but it could not be more important. I was in a New
Americans Campaign meeting yesterday where we started the meeting by sharing
pieces of our families’ immigration stories. These were stories of luck, of
hardship, of aspiration, and of opportunity. We all hold these stories in
ourselves, we inherit them, we pass them on. So too do the people we help every
day. These are the stories that will continue to shape the future of this
country. So keep up the good work. We need you!

Together you have helped over 400,000 people on their path to citizenship. Over
the next two days, we’ll be hearing from all of you about how you make it
happen. You do amazing work. Thank you! THANK YOU!

It’s a real pleasure to hold our seventh New Americans Campaign conference in
Orange County. Some of you got in early yesterday and have already been
enjoying Orange County, including the beach – I think the county has 40 miles
of coastline. But the reason we chose to have this year’s conference here is
because it’s the home of our OC NAC site. I want to thank our Orange County New
Americans Campaign site leader, Public Law Center, and the partners for the
entire Orange County New Americans Campaign. Anyone from Orange County please
stand up, so we can thank you!

I also want to thank my colleague Amber McChesney-Young. She’s been handling
the logistics that made this day possible. And, of course I also want to thank the
Master Mind for the NAC conference, Sarah Letson!

And, I want to thank our foundation partners, some of whom helped create the New Americans Campaign, and all of whom have championed our efforts and achievements to their trustees in order to secure the investments that make this work possible. Now I’d like to invite the chair of the NAC funders committee, Angela Cheng from the JPB Foundation, who is here with us to welcome you. Thank you!