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Students prepare to teach immigrants their rights

BY JOHN DOETKOTT | NOVEMBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Some UI students will soon spread the message to communities across Iowa: No human being is illegal.

That was the lesson of the day on Nov. 7, as a handful of students attended a “Know Your Rights” training session.

Sponsored by the UI Center for Human Rights, the special training session was for students interested in educating immigrants about their constitutional and human rights. The first of a two-part training program, Saturday’s session taught students how to deliver “Know Your Rights” presentations which educate immigrants on their rights should they be arrested or detained by government agencies.

The next training session is slated for early next semester.

The training showed students how to communicate properly with immigrants, where to hold “Know Your Rights” presentations, and what materials to use. The training also prepared students to work with foreigners.

And that work can often be surprising, said Chelsea Moore, a UI senior and intern with the center who helped organize the training.

“They can expect the unexpected,” Moore said about the students who will give the presentations. “I think you have to prepare yourself to be a little shocked.”

Sandra Sanchez, director of the Immigrants Voice Program for the American Friends Service Committee, said many immigrants may be hesitant to attend presentations because of documentation issues — something in which trainees also must be prepared.

She delivered the training presentation, as she has been doing for the past 14 years. An immigrant from Mexico herself, she said it is critical for both immigrants and Americans to understand their rights.

“In the minds of most Americans, immigrants have no rights,” Sanchez told the group. “You are the hope for this country.”

The training is part of the UI Center for Human Rights’ 10th anniversary celebration, which will also include speakers, films, and will end with a large human rights conference.

“We’re really just trying to get ‘human rights’ in students’ vocabulary,” Moore said.

Sanchez said the overall goal of the program is to educate immigrants before problems arise.

“I believe prevention is the best medicine,” Sanchez said. “We are trying to help them become integrated in a faster and more successful way.”

Center officials hope students will plan “Know Your Rights” presentations sometime next semester after the second orientation session.

Jennifer Hagedorn, a second-year graduate student originally from Dortmund, Germany, said she became interested in immigration issues after taking a class on immigration last year. A teacher who has worked with immigrant children in Germany, Hagedorn said she wants to educate people about their rights as human beings.

“I’ve always been interested in human rights,” Hagedorn said. “You have more rights than you think.”

She hopes to work for an nongovernmental organization and help immigrants understand their place in society.

“They don’t have to be afraid of who they are,” Hagedorn said.


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