The Dane County Immigration Affairs Initiative
Dealing with Fear and Giving Hope
|Fabiola Hamdan is settling into her new role as the immigration
affairs specialist for Dane County.
need to be talking with each other. The community is not only the Latinos or Anglos or you name it. It is all of us together. The way to make a good community is by
connecting with different groups and associations and so on and so forth. In all immigrant communities, there are documented and undocumented people, from the
Tibetan to the Latino communities. Slowly, but surely, I would like to get those connections happening and not only connecting, but at the same time, try to build
programs and initiatives that we can do all together.”
Hamdan has also been reaching out to the different faith communities.
“For me, it is so inspiring to have a safe place to go and talk,” Hamdan said about the faith communities. “People are very curious about my background, for
instance. ‘How did you get here?’ I don’t give a speech. We have a dialogue. After I do that, I learn a lot from the audience because I get to ask questions as well.
And I get to hear about all of these misconceptions, which of course we are going to have because we aren’t communicating with each other. When you think Latino,
don’t just think of this immigrant from Mexico. There is the richness of our culture. I think that needs to happen a lot. We need to be having those conversations and
really listen to each other. For example, we get Jewish, Muslim and Christina/Latino groups together. We did a dinner last year at Goodman Community Center. That
was really interesting to see the groups. And we all brought food and food brings everyone together. We did this very low-key gathering. We just did the women this
year. Again, it was low-key. It was us talking about our backgrounds and our stories and really trying to reach out. When you put these events together, at the
beginning, you don’t know what to expect. But always at the end, I have always met someone I would have never met in other circumstances. And if I am in the
supermarket, I will be like, ‘Hey how are you doing?’ Those are examples of the types of connections that we need to make.”
Hamdan is also acting as a go-between for immigrant community and the services that they may need to make an adjustment to Dane County life.
“I am so glad that I have these 18 years of experience with the county as a JFF worker,” Hamdan said. “That built my network enormously. Without that network, you
really cannot do the work. It helps also in my position just talking with various people. I am an immigrant. And I had to go through step-by-step to become a citizen.
Cesar said, ‘I am 100 percent American and I am 100 percent Bolivian.’ How cool is that. You don’t have to pick one of the other. But whenever I meet with
immigrants from different countries, the connection happens because I have already been there and done that. With other people, it might be difficult to understand
the immigrant experience. It’s a little bit harder. But when you walk the walk in my shoes, it’s a little bit different for the focus and all of that. I enjoy my position.”
While Hamdan faces an infinite amount of need in the immigrant communities, it can be made worse when waves of fear ripple through them when national actors
like President Trump make policies or pronouncements that can have a wide-ranging impact on the communities.
“We have a broken immigration system, so you don’t know what tomorrow will bring or what will come up,” Hamdan said. “Right now with DACA, we’re in limbo. We
don’t know what is happening. In the meantime, there are renewals that we continue to help with. It absorbs 100 percent of my attention right now to get the word out
and then assist for those who qualify to submit their renewals. The fear is there and it increases every time an ICE agent comes and picks up someone from the
community through word of mouth. People are really living in fear. We need to do the safety plans again. We have many wonderful people who are involved in this.
We already have the structure in place. We just need to do it. It takes time, yes. It’s a lot of work that we need to put in. But soon we are going to be doing that. I’m
working with a church to see if we can do some passports, to help kids get their passports. Again, that’s a lot of work. But I don’t do it alone. Everything that I do, I do
with an army of people who are so great and have so much knowledge.”
Dealing with immigration issues can be physically and emotionally difficult because one lives with the negative impacts every day. And so Hamdan believes that
people working on immigration issues also need inspiration and hope so that they can continue the fight.
“Immigration is very serious,” Hamdan emphasized. “But I want to connect some of the people with what’s going on in Madison. Attorney Alicia Armstrong and I have
been friends for a long time. Having lunch with her, I learned that Cesar Vargas was coming to Madison to speak to the UW Law School. And right away, I jumped
because he is the first undocumented attorney in the U.S. He was able to graduate as an undocumented student. But then when he wanted to take the bar exam to be
sworn in as an attorney, there was this thing about having documentation. He won the case and so he is our first undocumented attorney. Right away, the wheels
started turning. Alicia and I said, ‘We need to have him come and talk with us and meet him. In these times, we need to reenergize every day if we can. Hearing his
story is really powerful.’ And so, I connected with Karen Menendez Coller and we decided that on Sunday March 18th we would have Cesar come to Centro and talk
By Jonathan Gramling
It was a natural thing to do when Dane County Executive Joe Parisi established the
immigration affairs specialist position last October. Immigrants live across the Greater
Madison area and Dane County. And many are impacted by Dane County Human Services
while they become integrated into the fabric of the community and become self-sustaining
members. And there were so many national forces that were creating turmoil and panic
within Dane County’s immigrant communities.
When Fabiola Hamdan came on board in October, she realized that she had a lot to learn
because the immigrant community is so much more complex and broad than the politicized
notion of who Dane County’s immigrants are. And so Hamdan set out to deepen her
connections in the immigrant community.
“There is this rich milieu of individuals and communities who live here in Madison whom we
don’t even know,” Hamdan reflected as we sat in her office at Centro Hispano where she is
stationed once per week. “I think, for me, it is very educational to have those connections.
And I am connecting with them. At the same time, I want to bring their voices, their richness
in the culture to my outlets with the county and others in this community. I’m just starting to
meet with the director of the Nigerian organization here in Madison. I’m hoping to use those
connections and see if I can learn from them and if we can connect better. Everything has to
do with connections. . We have all of these connections. And we are a community where we
with people about his experience and really connect us in the things that he is
working on. Especially for our youth, I think his message is really inspiring. Also
at the same time, we had Sergio Gonzalez who wrote the book, ‘There Are Latinos
in Wisconsin.’ Karen connected us with Sergio and so we had this wonderful
event where these two young men came and talked to us, Sergio about this
amazing research that he has done and the book that he released. It was really
eye-opening telling us about how Latinos came to Wisconsin since the 1800s. And
then Cesar talked to us about his story. It was very inspiring. It was really
energizing. It was an inspiration for us to keep going with what we are trying to do
in our immigrant community.”
It’s a long and arduous road for many immigrants. Yet every family served and
stabilized is an inspiration and victory in spite of what at times seems like
impossible odds. Sí se puede.