WEST PALM BEACH, FL — As Jupiter police held a news conference Monday morning about charging three young men with a hate crime in the death of a Hispanic immigrant in the city, about 50 people were gathered at the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County to hear from a representative of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) about the human tragedy that is playing out not only in the United States and Latin America, but in the rest of the world.
“The world is in the midst of a refugee crisis and we want to keep the issue of immigration front and center of the news,” said Aileen Josephs, a local immigration attorney, honorary council of Guatemala and a member of Florida Voices for Immigration Reform.
Josephs said that while the media is focused mostly on the refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East and Africa, the crisis in our own hemisphere has been pretty much ignored. She said that the growing anti-immigration sentiment in the United States is caused by lack of information about the reason many Central Americans are coming to America.
While Josephs acknowledges that many Hispanics are coming for economic reasons, she said that a large number are fleeing violence.
“Every year more than 100,000 Colombians are displaced by guerrilla warfare,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president of Policy &Advocacy Leadership for HIAS.
Nezer said that her organization is focusing not only in the Colombian refugee crisis but also in Central America, where drug gangs are targeting children and young people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“Young boys are forced to join the drug gangs or die, and young women who refuse to become the ‘girlfriends’ of gang members are also targeted,” said Nezer.
Nezer said that 70 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. hail from Mexico and Central America.
According to a 2014 report from the United Nations Refugee Agency, for the first time since the end of World War II, the number of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in the world exceeds 50 million people.
Josephs hopes that the people invited to the luncheon will disseminate the information to others in the community so that they will join forces with Florida Voices for Immigration Reform to pressure Congress to “provide this community (undocumented immigrants) some sort of legal status so that they can come out of the shadows.”
She said that Florida Voices for Immigration Reform is not advocating for citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. but rather for a way for them to obtain work permits, driver’s licenses and other benefits.
“It is not only good foreign policy but a national security issue,” said Josephs.