Ali Noorani is a guest speaker at English in Action's annual fundraiser (June 18, 6 p.m.), which is being held virtually this year due to COVID-19.
Noorani is executive director of the National Immigrant Forum and author of the book “There Goes The Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice And Meet The Challenge of Immigration.” On his podcast, “Only in America,” he interviews people across the political and ideological spectrum about key issues surrounding the immigration debate.
He spoke to Aspen Public Radio about the contributions of immigrants in the US.
There’s a lot of noise around the immigration debate for people having a hard time seeing past the headlines, what are we missing? What should we be focusing on in this conversation?
Ali Noorani: Over the years of our nation’s history, immigrants and immigration have contributed to the well-being and the prosperity of the American worker and their family. It is very easy in this moment to lose sight of that. But in the context particularly of the COVID-19 pandemic, you see immigrants on the front lines of the response from healthcare to agriculture to logistics. And as we hopefully move into a recovery phase of the pandemic, the immigrant community will continue to play a pivotal role.
One of the focuses of English in Action’s virtual fundraiser is COVID-19; it’s affecting everyone, but there are so many ways it’s affecting immigrants disproportionately. Tell me about that, what are you hearing from these communities about the challenges they’re facing during the pandemic?
The immigrant community in disproportionate numbers is going to work. They don’t have the luxury of staying at home and dialing into that meeting, so therefore they’re at greater risk, and as a result of being at greater risk you’re seeing case numbers go up in immigrant communities. And then the question is what kind of access to healthcare services, financial relief—what’s provided to them?
You talk to people from across the political and ideological spectrum for your podcast and for your book, “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenges of American Immigration.” Are there communities that are meeting that challenges, and if so, what are they doing well?
I think the faith community really have to be given a tremendous amount of credit. You have the Catholic community, who is making sure that poor communities of color and immigrant communities are safe during the pandemic, but you also have Catholic bishops across the country lending their voices and leadership to the push for racial justice. Even some of your most conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, they have been a leader for the effort for immigration reform at a federal level, and they’ve also taken a leadership role within the conservative community in terms of advocating for racial justice. I think sometimes we think of the faith community as something separate from what are commonly believed to be kind of progressive issues, but from what I’ve seen is that sometimes it’s these conservative faith communities that are really helping Americans see how we need to be advocating for reforms to our immigration system.
And finally, you sign off your podcast by asking your guests to finish the sentence, “Only in America …” So, flipping the script here, how would you conclude that sentence?
So, I would say only in America can a diverse people struggle for justice. And there’s something so special and so unique about the United States that you can’t capture it and you can’t feel until you’re a part of it, and that’s why immigrants from around the world see the US as a beacon of hope and freedom, and that’s why we all have a responsibility to to ensure that that beacon remains lit.