The city of Memphis is taking to the airwaves to reach the Spanish-speaking community. “Preguntas Reales, Respuestas Reales” is a monthly, Spanish-language program on Radio Ambiente.
The show, which will feature advice from immigration attorneys and local government officials, is being produced with funds from the National League of Cities.
The program is part of the city’s participation in the League of Cities’ Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration project, which works to promote civic engagement and naturalization among immigrant communities.
“We want to develop a relationship of trust. We are not the feds; we are not going to deport you. We want to make sure that you know how to navigate Memphis government,” said Nika Jackson, the manager of Memphis’ Office of Multicultural and Religious Affairs. Her job is to be an interface between Memphis’ diverse cultural communities and the requirements of a civil society.
Issues from code enforcement to reporting violent crime are greatly complicated – not only by the language barrier, but by cultural differences. These differences can put immigrants at increased risk of victimization. Many immigrants come from places where calling the police is not a good idea. Political rhetoric also creates a climate of fear that has a chilling effect on constructive interaction with city government.
The Hispanic population, as a percentage of Shelby County, rose from 1 percent in 1990 to 3 percent in 2000. By 2008, there were more than 40,000 Hispanics in the county, amounting to 4 percent of the population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Census data show that 75 percent of Shelby County’s foreign-born residents are not U.S. citizens. Victimization of the immigrant community is rife. Their reticence to involve police becomes an incentive to criminals.
“Scammers are everywhere. This show is a way to say, ‘We have your back.’ There is an office where you can go,” said Monica Sanchez, host of the program.
“Maybe you have a mistake with your car or with your yard. If you let them know, then they can work it out.”
But she adds that the value is not only to illegal immigrants.
“There are lots of legal residents who do not know that they have additional rights here,” she said. “We don’t want them to fear the government. If there is a problem with their job or even with something more tragic, they need to be able to go to the authorities.”
As of Jan.1, all jailers in Tennessee were required to verify the immigration status of anyone detained and to report anyone who is in the country illegally. The law was signed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, who issued a statement qualifying his support and noting the “political posturing” that surrounded the law.
The Council of Economic Advisors under the second Bush administration concluded that immigration is a net gain for U.S. workers.
“Different approaches to estimating natives’ total income gains from immigration yield figures over $30 billion per year,” it stated. “Sharply reducing immigration would be a poorly targeted and inefficient way to assist low-wage Americans.”
Another study by researchers at the University of Arizona found a net benefit between immigrants’ use of social services and their contributions to the tax base and to economic output.
“We don’t want just to give, give, give. We want everyone to have the same thing. They are adding to the tax base and their numbers are not going to start decreasing,” said Jackson.
The show airs at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month on WGSF, Radio Ambiente, AM 1030. The next show is on Feb. 16.