Ali Noorani, the executive director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, discussed coalition-building to address immigration reform at a roundtable discussion Thursday at Greenville Technical College.
The luncheon brought together various groups, including the Hispanic Alliance, as part of Immigrant Heritage Month. Jason Lee, who serves as a representative for Bibles, Badges and Business, an immigration reform group, moderated the event.
Throughout the forum, Noorani referenced his book, "There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration." The book was released in April. In the book, Noorani travels throughout the country, interviewing religious leaders, law enforcement and people of various political backgrounds to understand how Americans are thinking about immigration.
Noorani said that while the immigration debate in the U.S. has been at a stalemate, what he found in South Carolina was an ongoing dialogue between community leaders in the state. In the book, Noorani dedicates an entire chapter to South Carolina, a state with one of fastest growing Hispanic populations in the country.
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"Nationally, people are worried and very scared and therefore we're stuck," Noorani said. "Where I get hope is like places in Greenville. Communities, pastors and business leaders are working together to try to find a different way forward."
According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants and children of immigrants make up 4.8 percent of the state's population.
Also present were members of the Student DREAMers Alliance, a group of Upstate students, some from immigrant families, who seek to build leaders in the community. The program was launched last year by The Hispanic Alliance. Of concern is South Carolina's ban on enrollment for undocumented students.
"There is great desire from families and students to be part of South Carolina and to contribute to our culture and economy. We believe this conversation is key in terms of starting a conversation that is broader than South Carolina," said Adela Mendoza, executive director of the Hispanic Alliance.
The National Immigration Forum, which was founded in 1982, works to advocate for the values of immigrants in America.
Noorani is a lifelong member of the Council on Foreign Relations.