Annual Meeting Boosts Spirits

by Fran Ansley

AKIN held its Annual Meeting on July 8, 2016, and it was a successful evening that boosted our spirits.

In planning for the event, we assumed it would be a small affair.  After all, on June 23 we had mounted a major push, strongly urging all members and supporters to turn out for actions called by Knoxville’s immigrant-led grassroots group, the Comité Popular.

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Photo Credit: Ralph Hutchison

June 23 was a watershed — and severely disappointing — moment for the immigrant community, because it was the day the US Supreme Court announced its split decision in the case of United States v. Texas. That result allowed a provisional injunction against Obama’s 2014 “deferred action” programs to stand, thereby postponing a final decision until after the President will have left office, and leaving in limbo hundreds of thousands of people across the country who had hoped for temporary relief under that program. (Click here to read AKIN’s statement on the ruling.)

So our expectations for turn-out were low, but in fact we garnered quite a respectable showing from both immigrant and non-immigrant communities, despite a lightning-laced storm that hit Knoxville that evening.  

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Photo Credit: Karla Meza-Cruz

A set of diverse speakers and shared conversation rewarded those who braved the storm. They presented both a look-back at the previous year’s work, and a look-ahead at the year to come. Speakers included:

  • Gina Davis and her student Karla Gotay-Lemus from Sevier County High School’s program for English-language learners (ELL), who told about a book project they have underway to share stories of ELL students from their school, and also talked about the importance of educating the general public;
  • Karla Meza, who recounted efforts by young immigrants across the state to support the Tuition Equality bill in this past session of the Tennessee General Assembly, explained why those efforts are so badly needed, and urged that they be resumed next year;
  • Dr. De Ann Pendry of UT’s Anthropology Department, together with Eleazar Sanchez and his daughter Lili Sanchez, who briefly explained the “DAPA and expanded DACA” programs left in limbo by the Supreme Court’s recent decision and told about the potential impact of that program on people like the members of the Sanchez family;
  • Fran Ansley, professor emeritus at UT College of Law, who described ways that both immigrants and refugees will be in the crosshairs of this fall’s election campaigns and next spring’s legislative session in Nashville;
  • Drocella Mugorewera, herself a refugee from Rwanda and now executive director of Bridge Refugee Services, who told about both the tough challenges and hopeful opportunities encountered by the wide range of refugees her agency serves, and about the importance of building local relationships that support just and compassionate welcome for foreign-born people in Knoxville.

At the end of the program we brainstormed collectively about ways to try to intervene positively in public conversations on immigrant and refugee issues during the coming election season.  And we discussed how important the fall election is going to be — both at the state and federal level — for the issues and people we care about, including both immigrants and refugees.

We also conducted some needed business.  The body approved changes in our bylaws, renewed the AKIN Steering Committee, and adopted a program for the coming year.  The Steering Committee is now as follows for the 2016-2017 fiscal year:

  • Co-Chairs:  Mary Ann Reeves and Karla Meza-Cruz
  • Secretary:  Meghan Conley
  • Treasurer:  Fran Ansley
  • Other Members:  De Ann Pendry and Lee Sessions

We closed the meeting with a prayer, offered by Rev. Jim Sessions.

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