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Immigrants in Action
Members of the Comité de Inmigrantes en Acción Santa Teresa (the St. Theresa Committee of Immigrants in Action) look solemn this evening. It is Friday, 5:00 PM, in the basement of St. Theresa’s Church. The basement boasts a distinctly cafeteria-like atmosphere: fluorescent lights, linoleum floors, folding chairs, bare walls, and long institutional tables. Appropriate, a church volunteer later informs me, as the room also functions as a soup kitchen for homeless and low-income families.
Outside, red late afternoon sunlight diffuses through the air and low-bellied cars cruise the streets, bursting with hip-hop beats. But neither the music nor the sun can penetrate the brick church walls. Inside it is quiet, except for the buzzing of blue-white lights.
The sparseness of the large space makes the Comité look small. There are ten members present this evening, huddled around one table near the entrance. They straggle in during the first half hour of the meeting, nodding hellos, hanging jackets, pulling up chairs.
Juan García, the Comité leader, has positioned himself at the head of the table. Beside his chair rests a bulging black briefcase and spread out before him are folders, binders, pamphlets, papers, all in neat stacks. The words Puerto Rico promenade merrily across his T-shirt, the “e” and the “r” interrupted by the ever-present gold locket that hangs around his neck. It is splayed open, as usual, la Virgen Maria holily presiding over the Comité.
García started the Comité in 1999, with the support of St. Theresa’s, a Catholic church on the West side of Providence, Rhode Island. The church secured him a paid position as an organizador comunitario – a community organizer. The Comité’s most immediate mission is simply stated: to assure permanent residency for the 6-9 million some-odd undocumented immigrants in the United States.
García, himself a documented Guatemalan immigrant, collaborates with the Latin American community in Providence and the surrounding areas to raise awareness about the most recent immigration policies and proposals and to encourage the people to organizarse. Organize themselves. As the Comité is part of the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty, a nation-wide network of similar groups, García also keeps tabs on events and advancements in other parts of the country.