Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Blog

Today in Dearborn Michigan, leaders from across the Arab American community gathered for the 2011 National Leadership Conference hosted by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC).

The event marks a historic opportunity for members of the Arab American community to discuss current hot-button issues and strategize the means to address the most critical of these in the upcoming election.

The first topic addressed by the conference was immigration reform post-9/11 and its impact on the Arab American community. In front of a crowd of over 125 community leaders from across the country, Dr. Jim Zogby, President and Founder of AAI, introduced a set of distinguished speakers including Ismael Ahmed, Associate Provost for Integrated Learning and Community Partnership at the University of Michigan – Dearborn; Reem Bahdi, Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor; Ahmad Chebbani, Chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce; and Hassan Jaber, Executive Director of ACCESS.

In introducing the distinguished set of speakers, Dr. Jim Zogby, President of AAI, told the crowd that “we want to have a discussion about how to broaden the debate around immigration reform to include the broad range of issues that affect us all.”

Mr. Ahmed outlined three important trends in immigration reform he suggested community leaders be aware of. First, about 25 percent of world’s population will end up in a country other than the one they were born in. Second, the world has been globalized not just by the shift in population, but by economic and technological factors. Thus, opponents of immigration reform are bucking a powerful trend. Third, a fringe element exists all over the world that we all need to be secure from, and that need greatly affects the debate on immigration reform, particularly for Arab Americans.

Next to take the microphone was Reem Bahdi, who discussed immigration reform on the northern border, and “how we go about organizing in immigration reform.”

Ms. Badhi pointed out that immigration facilities were specifically placed on the U.S. side of the border in order to facilitate the questionable search and seizure of individuals that would not have been allowed in Canada. Ms. Badhi recommended that the crowd to pay attention to the Canadian system of immigration reform.

Up next was Ahmad Chebbani, Chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Chebbani explained that there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in this nation, many of which are children that had no choice in coming to the United States. He then called for the need to pass the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway for these children to become citizens and receive an education.

 In Mr. Chebbani’s words, passing the Dream Act would positively benefit about 2-3 million children. The economic impact of would be substantial for the economy as a whole. Mr. Chebbani’s identified deficits in talent and education in places like Michigan and around the country. Contrary to the popular belief that undocumented immigrants detract from the economy, Mr. Chabbani pointed out that there is a 46% chance that an immigrant who comes to the United States would ultimately become a small business owner - feeding into our gross domestic product and creating jobs.

Up last was Hassan Jaber, Executive Director of Access. Mr. Jaber closed the discussion by telling a story of a young child separated from his parents and placed in detention.

He described in vivid detail the fear the child's eyes as he saw that child torn away from his parents in a nasty immigration dispute.

In a powerful moment in the room, the debate about immigration which may have previously been far away in the minds of some, was suddenly very close and very real.


Make sure to tune in to watch the rest of the conference online on our Livestream account.


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