Integrating Immigrant Communities: March 31 Panel Discussion in Lawrence, Mass

On March 31, the Ash Center is co-hosting a panel discussion addressing the topic of immigration from a local perspective. Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera will begin the discussion moderated by WBUR’s Asma Khalid.


By Maisie O’Brien

As Washington’s continued partisan gridlock has cast great doubt on the likelihood of passing comprehensive immigration reform in the near term, attention is turning to local initiatives – particularly as cities and states seek innovative ways to integrate immigrant communities into political and civic life.

Here in Massachusetts, the Ash Center is traveling to Lawrence, Massachusetts–known as the “City of Immigrants”–-to gain an understanding of the challenges and possible approaches to immigrant integration. Lawrence owes its creation to the waves of immigrants welcomed to the Merrimack Valley to work in the city’s teaming mills and factories.

Today the city still claims one of the highest proportions of immigrants in the state and a unique approach to integrating immigrant groups into the community fabric of the city.

As part of its public dialogue series Challenges to Democracy, the Ash Center is exploring a number of issues like immigration to understand its impact on the state of American democracy. To that end, the Ash Center seeks to learn in Lawrence what has worked (and what has not) in terms of how the community has worked to integrate immigrants into its social and political fabric.

Are these challenges unique to Lawrence, or can we build upon the city’s immigrant legacy and apply the lessons learned to other communities across the country on the frontlines, dealing with important questions and tensions that immigration can present? What steps can a community take to address issues such as integration, identity, and alienation—and their impact on economic security, public safety, and civic health?

Each panelist brings an important and distinct perspective to the issue of immigration, and many have decades of experience working to strengthen the Lawrence community. The panel will feature:

Jessica 4_1Jessica Andors. Jessica is the executive director of Lawrence Community Works, a nonprofit organization committed to improving affordable housing, family asset building, community organizing, and development in Lawrence. She received a Master’s in City Planning from MIT where she was honored for outstanding contributions to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. After graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College, she worked in the nonprofit sectors of New York and San Francisco. She currently serves on the boards of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations and Mill Cities Community Investments.

EileenBurns2Sr. Eileen Burns, SNDdeN. Sr. Burns of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur is the executive director at Notre Dame Education Center-Lawrence, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering low-income and undereducated adults in Lawrence. NDEC-Lawrence offers a range of vital education programs, including English language and citizenship instruction, computer training, nutrition classes, and a nursing assistant program. Sr. Burns lives and ministers in Lawrence.

zoilaZoila M. Gomez. Zoila is an attorney specializing in immigration law. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a JD from the Massachusetts School of Law. She has worked as a congressional aide, immigration case worker, and immigration consultant. In 2006, she founded the Law Offices of Zoila M. Gomez focusing on immigration law and immigrant communities. She also hosts a radio show, “Leyes y Mas” on WCEC Impacto 1490 AM, with the intent to further educate the immigrant community regarding their rights and responsibilities.

elianaEliana Martinez. Eliana is a Lawrence native and social studies teacher at Lawrence International High School. She has taught courses on Model United Nations, Caribbean studies, and U.S. history. She is an active participant in Teach Lawrence, a program that encourages the city’s young people to become teachers. In addition, she advises the Lawrence High School Writing Club, the International School Dance Club, and the Grade 9 Student Council. Eliana earned a BA and MA in Education from Brown University with a focus in history and social studies.

IMPACT_fungArchon Fung. Archon is the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at Harvard Kennedy School. His research examines the impacts of civic participation, public deliberation, and transparency upon public and private governance.  Archon leads the Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series with Ash Center Director Anthony Saich.

Asma-Khalid_300-130x130Asma Khalid. Asma is a reporter for 90.9 WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, and will serve as a moderator for the panel discussion. She has worked as a freelance reporter and producer in Washington D.C., North Carolina, and Pakistan, covering stories for NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  Her reporting has received a Gracie Award and accolades from the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Religion Newswriters Association. She holds a master’s degree in Middle East studies. Asma is writing WBUR’s Project Lawrence, a “series of stories in 2014 on efforts to turn around the long-troubled Massachusetts city.”

The panel, to be proceeded by a reception, will take place on Monday, March 31, 2014 from 5:30–7:30 p.m. As the discussion will be in the spirit of sharing our collective wisdom, it will be held at Qniversity’s open meeting space on the 2nd floor of Union Crossing, 50 Island Street, Lawrence.

The event is open to the public and free of charge. No RSVP is required. Spanish language interpretation will be available.

The event is co-sponsored with Lawrence Community Works, WBUR, Qniversity, and Lawrence History Center. The discussion will also serve as a preview for an April 5 symposium hosted by the Lawrence History Center, The History of the “New Immigration” Into Lawrence, Massachusetts and Similar Communities.


Maisie O’Brien is the Ash Center’s new Communications Coordinator.



Lawrence Panel Discussion-- for web






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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Participation, Representation

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