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!