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Dr John Sandy and Mr Daniel Koroma breaking the ice on immigration matters

Dr John Sandy and Mr Daniel Koroma breaking the ice on immigration matters

Sierra Leonean/African Immigrant Forum – A Resounding success – Despite the rain and the horrible weather conditions in Maryland on Thursday September 8th, 2011, Sierra Leoneans, other Africans including Ethiopians, Ghanaians, South Africans, Senegalese, Liberians, and some Americans attended a well planned and moderated face to face meeting with representatives from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Immigration Officers. (Jamie, Rachel, Deneice, and Erin), and DC Immigration Attorney, Lorde Rosa Jorge. Also in attendance were County Officers from Montgomery County African Affairs Advisory Group, including Mr. Bruce Adams, Director, office of Community Partnership, and the First Secretary, Mr. Saspo Sankoh representing the Sierra Leone Embassy. This very successful unique forum, first of its kind in the DC Metro Area was the initiative of Dr. John Sandy, Board Chairman, Sierra Leone Arc of Hope,  and Mr. Daniel Koroma, Senior Fellow with the Montogomery County Executive’s office, and also Board Member, Sierra Leone Arc of Hope.  (Photo: Panelists from lift to right: Mr. Daniel Koroma, Ms. Jamie Diatta, Deneice Kennedy, Dr. John Sandy, Ms. Erin Hottel, Ms. Rachel Ellis, and DC Attorney Loide Jorge)

The Sierra Leone Arc of Hope is a 501-C-3 Non-Profit Organization that is raising funds to build a children’s hospital in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The organization holds its 3rd Annual Fund-Raising event on 10/1/2011 at the Ukrainian Cathloic Nataional Shrine, 4250 Harewood Road, NE, Washington DC 20017. Other community leaders that were present included, Patricia Thorpe-Finney, President of Save Sierra Leone Foundation;  Mr. Mohamed Bangura, KOYA Progresive Association; Mr. Jesmed Suma, of  SLPW; Mr. Kanu, President of Lunsar-Marampa Organization, Rev. Kennedy Odzafi and Ms. Josephine Garnem, Co-Chairs of the Montgomery County African Affairs Advisory Group, and many others.

Members of the panel

USCIS immigration Officer, Deneice, who came from the Baltimore office informed the audience that her effort to engage the African community has been less succesful compared to other immigrant communities, but thanks to Dr. Sandy’s  leadership, the ice has now been broken. Members from the Montgomery African Affairs Advisory Group were also very appreciative of Dr. Sandy’s ground breaking initiative. Bruce Adams, Director, MC Office of Community Partnership, echoed the same sentiments when he said in a thank you note to Dr. Sandy, that “We appreciate your leadership”.

Some Members of the Audience

Having attended a briefing at the White House, Dr. John Sandy, and Mr. Daniel Koroma, made it their responsibility to bring the plight of Sierra Leoneans to the Immigration officers in an effort to build more community trust, dispel fear, encourage community dialogue, and build on immigration education process within the Sierra Leone community and the USCIS office. This planned face to face forum was an opportunity to have immigration officers  answer dire  questions on immigration issues and matters deeply affecting Sierra Leoneans and Africans in general. It was a resounding success as the audience felt comfortable asking the questions and congratulated the officers for the straightforward and sincere answers they gave that that educated the aaudience about the processes that leads to status change and citizenship.

The USCIS officers were quite pleased to be seen as real people, and the audience clapped and cheered to hear that they were more than willing to work with the Sierra Leone community and the embassy in understanding the complicated process of application, interview, exams, etc. They were all aware of the real fear, the long wait, the many denials, the deportation tragedies, the jobless conditions of illegal statuses, the rumors, and other issues affecting thousands of Sierra Leonean families in the diaspora and at home. They also learned from religious leaders of other setbbacks of families that were torn apart and the hardship local communities endure as a result. It was refreshing to see community leaders from UG Styles Productions, la belle collection, and the New Beginninh Initiative, bringing up deep rooted issues, requesting answers to questions many fear to ask during the processing of their statuses. The USCIS officers were also able to point out tools to help understand the process. They were very friendly and open on gray areas and pointed out that even though there are fewer officers serving millions of people they can be accessed via Internet, telephone scheduled appointments, letters, and outreach community programs (a new program to teach and educate local communities on the immigration process). The smiling immigration officers assured the audience that honesty in applications yielded bigger and better dividends. Of course they were able to give many examples of false or insufficient evidence that resulted in denials or deportation. The officers being trained in different aspects of immigration work are usually able to fish out information that were inconsistent or fraudulent.

It was concluded that the literacy level and the general education of immigration processing needs improvement throughout. Also a better understanding of Sierra Leone/African culture more in terms of respect and approach is needed on the part of the USCIS personnel. The importance of this communication line staying open cannot be emphasized enough and Dr. John Sandy assured all that this line of communication will be remain open.,

The audience congratulated Dr. John Sandy the moderator and Mr. Daniel Koroma for their  initiative and urged them to continue this exchange program as immigrants definitely need to clear the fear of meeting immigration officers and build some sustainable trust. Dr. Sandy urged the Sierra Leone community to participate in future forums. Unlike other countries that send representatives on related issues, Sierra Leone does not have a community outreach program to address immigration problems. Dr. Sandy and Mr. Koroma hopes that these forums which they plans to hold intermittently will serve that role for the Sierra Leone commuity.

Thurday’s immigration forum was the beginning of a new day for Sierra Leoneans because once they understand the process they will be better educated to successfully process their status changes and citizenship.  The leadership of Dr. Sandy is commendable and a sterling example of a Sierra Leonean taking action in bringing national issues affectiong Sierra Leoneans to the forefront.

by Dr. John Sandy, SLAH

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