Updated: Oct 30, 2020
The head of Anne Arundel County’s new Immigrant Affairs Commission knows personally some of the challenges of being an American immigrant, and she believe the need to offer help to many residents in the county right now is particularly urgent.
Laura Varela-Addeo, the chairperson of the new commission, is the daughter of two teenage-aged Mexican citizens who emigrated to the United States. She was born in Colorado and has been a civil rights attorney exclusively working for immigrants in the DC-metro region for 14 years, she said.
The members of the commission just officially got introduced to each other on Wednesday July 30, during their first meeting. Varela-Addeo believes the county’s immigrants’ need for help is rather immediate, so she wants to get working on their issues sooner rather than later.
The COVID-19 emergency, the beginning of the school year, and the need to promote the U.S. Census means that there is a sense of urgency in the job at hand, just as she is taking on the role as chair.
“I think COVID, and the beginning of the school year...that's really pushing us into high gear to to really get started as quickly as possible,” she said. “I envisioned the commission meeting monthly. However, I think any subcommittees will probably be meeting more frequently as the deadlines approach. The school deadline would be the beginning of school, and the census deadline I believe is October 31.”
One of the top priorities for the commission is also to address the challenge of health equity in the county. A county press release stated that the number of Hispanic residents who have contracted the coronavirus is disproportionately high when compared to residents from other heritages.
“At 14.1%, the Hispanic community is leading the county by an alarmingly wide margin in the percentage of positive cases, compared to the African American community at 4.1% and the white community at 3.2%,” the press release, published on Thursday, July 30 reads.
“Our consistent goal with every county program we implement, whether before, during or after the pandemic, is equity and inclusion. We want to make sure that language, culture, and immigration status do not become barriers to health, critical necessities and services reaching every part of the county,” County Executive Pittman is quoted in the release.
Valera-Addeo believes from over a decade of working with immigrants in the region, that Anne Arundel County immigrants have had less opportunity for support than other areas of the region.
“One thing that was clear to me working in the DC area was whenever immigrants reached out to my organization in DC, anyone from Anne Arundel County, I knew that there was going to be a lack of resources in that county,” she said. “So we we generally would bring them into DC to system to the extent we could.”
But then Valera-Addeo moved to Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County,
“Once I realized this commission was being formed, I submitted an application,” she said “And was honored to be appointed to the commission and to be chair.”
She said she expects the commission to be goal oriented—both short-term and long-term.
In the short term she expects the commission meetings will be focused on health—outreach and education regarding COVID-19. The need for immigrant families regarding e-learning or virtual learning is expected to be addressed as well as the need to relay the importance of participating in the U.S. Census, she said.
Those topics may dominate the meetings in the next month or so. She also expects subcommittees to be formed to address specific areas of immigrant concern.
“I'm guessing we’ll probably have an executive committee, schools committee, perhaps a health committee, and government services (committee), to allow folks to have more direct responsibility for their particular issue,” Valera-Addeo said. “And that's something that we will probably try to form over the next two to three weeks.”
The commission chair indicated she, and even the committee, can't do the work alone. She needs community involvement
“I am waiting to to speak with the members and leaders. of the different immigrant communities in the county,” she said. “I need to lean on them and rely on those leaders for further information about what their communities need. In the short term, we will have a better understanding as to what those what those needs will be.”
And she was also asking the public, particularly those with immigrant-related issues, to reach out to the commission to give their input. She has already set up an email address to facilitate that: AnneArundelCountyIAC@gmail.com
"II do envision using one email address for people to voice their concerns, criticisms, positive feedback--whatever information they feel comfortable providing,” Valera-Addeo said. “Hopefully no spam.”