Mouada Fadul didn’t know an Immigration Resource Fair was taking place at the Northeast Regional Library on Cottman Avenue this past Saturday. She regularly visits the library and was just passing through when she found herself at the lower level of the building where the fair was taking place.
Fadul, who arrived in Philadelphia just two months ago, took an immediate interest in the fair. She was among the hundreds who browsed the offerings of English classes, employment resources, housing information and more.
Originally from Sudan, Fadul has been able to settle down in Northeast Philadelphia. Before coming to Philadelphia, she lived in North Carolina, where she said the lack of other immigrant families made her feel uncomfortable.
“When I came here I was just surprised at all of the immigrants here,” Fadul said. “The city is large and it’s a good thing for me to be here because there is a lot of opportunity for me in my field as a dentist here.” Fadul just found a job.
Fadul is a current green card holder and though she is enjoying her time in Philadelphia, she can’t help but worry about her family in Sudan.
Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that would target sanctuary cities like Philadelphia, which has vowed to protect undocumented immigrants in its custody by refusing to comply with certain detainer requests from the feds. Senate Bill 10 requires sanctuary jurisdictions comply with ICE detainer requests, and threatens to make sanctuary cities ineligible for certain state grants totaling about $1.3 billion. The bill also allows sanctuary cities to be liable for damages if any undocumented person commits a crime.
Late last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned immigrants from entering the U.S. if arriving from seven muslim countries. Sudan, Fadul’s home, is on the list.
“We’re worried everyday if something could happen, without reason,” she said. “I’m thinking everyday if there is something wrong with my family and if I will be able to come back to the U.S. if I visit. Even though I am a permanent resident.”
“In Northeast Philadelphia and in Philadelphia, we have many immigrants, and this event hopefully helped them in a number of ways,” librarian and fair organizer Bob Sisson said. “The basic idea was for people to have an opportunity to meet with different organizations and learn about the services that they offer.”
Organizations at the fair included the African Cultural Alliance of North America, Center for Literacy, City of Philadelphia Department of Immigration Services, the Mexican Consulate, Planned Parenthood and dozens more. Turnout was so strong that vendors began spreading out to another floor of the library.
Language barriers can often present a problem, but the vendors involved came prepared.
“Everyone has been very patient. It’s been a really good environment for communicating with what these organizations have to offer and helping these people for free.
Kevin Chin is a refugee from Cambodia and has been in the United States for 33 years. He still thinks America is a great country but now makes sure that he carries his identification at all times. He worries, at times, because he’s just not sure what could happen.
“I have experienced comments from people saying, ‘hey, go back to where you belong,’ even when I was young. But this is where I belong,” Chin said. “I am a citizen. I contributed 28 of my working years to the community and to the people that it helps. I am a refugee but I contribute a huge amount to make this country greater.”
Chin, a program specialist for the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program, attended the library’s resource fair to gather information for the different families that he interacts with in Philadelphia, hoping to receive information that may be a challenge for them to get otherwise.
“This fair is important for the family that does not have health care or needs help with services like [The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and mental illness, and these people are helping with that,” Chin said of the organizations. “We received an email blast about this and thought that it would be a great opportunity to get this information out to our parents.”
From 2014 to 2015, according to the Census, Philadelphia had an international net migration of 10,429 people — more than the previous year, and twice as great as 2010 to 2011. Philadelphia’s population growth in recent years is due in large parts to immigrants, many who settle in the neighborhoods around the Northeast Regional Library.
Fadul spent the day talking with vendors and meeting other immigrants with stories similar to hers. She’s finding her way in Philadelphia, which has a much larger immigrant population than where she lived in North Carolina.
“I feel most comfortable here then when I was in North Carolina … it felt as if there were only 10 small immigrant families,” Fadul said. “It’s a big difference from there, even the people. I don’t feel any difficulties by being here.”