Andrea Dewees has worked as a translator at a pair of immigrant family detention centers in Texas. This week, she’ll appear at a series of meetings in hopes that she never does it again.
Dewees, a board member of the Alaska Institute for Justice, is hosting a pair of community meetings ahead of a Saturday rally at Capitol Park downtown.
“It’s an opportunity for people to come and learn about the asylum process, which all of these children and parents are entering under,” she explained. “It’s a little bit of information about that, what the process is, and talking about the dehumanization that is happening.”
The first meeting is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. The second is 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Northern Light United Church.
The rally will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday on 5th Street, at the park behind the Capitol. That park is home to the Empty Chair memorial, which commemorates John Tanaka, the 1942 Juneau High School valedictorian who was taken away by the federal government’s Japanese internment program before he could graduate.
Robin Brennan is director of the Institute for Justice, which was founded in 2005 and now has offices across the state. With just 12 staff, it serves about 900 immigrants to Alaska each year.
Brennan explained that while the institute helps process asylum claims for people fleeing persecution, it also helps crime victims who may be reluctant to come forward.
“The current tenor of our conversation, which is extraordinarily hateful toward immigrants, makes people very afraid to come forward when they are a victim of a crime,” she said.
Dewees, who now works at the University of Alaska Southeast, said one of her roles is to serve as a translator for people in those situations.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to get the help that they need,” she said.
At this week’s events, Dewees said, Juneauites will learn what they can do to provide that help. While she will share her experiences and explanations, she said the meetings are also a chance to organize.
Saturday’s rally is specifically about opposition to the policy of dividing families who are seeking asylum in the United States.
From Anchorage, Brennan said Alaskans should be paying attention to immigration policy and what it says about America in general.
“It’s incumbent on us that we make sure that we are upholding the values and ideals that our democracy rests on, in making sure people are safe and not being persecuted, and certainly not being torn away from their parents,” she said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.