Richard Aguirre, alongside many others, is attempting to bring hope to the undocumented community of Elkhart County.
Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations at Goshen College, has helped create a network called Elkhart County HOPE. According to Aguirre, Elkhart County HOPE, “aims to be a collaborative network of educators, churches, nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals who are willing to help immigrants (and refugees) who may be caught up in the latest enforcements of the Trump administration.”
The network was created after a convocation held in response to Election Day. After the convocation, Latino students flocked to Aguirre, Rocio Diaz and Gilberto Perez with reports of mockery and fears about deportation. Aguirre said the days following the election results made it clear that DACA students could potentially need help, whether it be lawyers, money or safety.
A recent Elkhart County HOPE effort was the creation of a textbook fund. Last fall, Aguirre shared the needs of students with his church, Berkey Avenue Mennonite, and was met with an overwhelming desire to help the undocumented students at Goshen College.
Judy Weaver, director of the academic success center on campus, saw the need for a textbook fund after working with students who didn’t own textbooks and instead borrowed from the Good Library and friends. When Berkey Avenue heard about the need for textbooks, they raised over $3,000 for first generation Latino students.
“I’ve seen a lot of students struggle and not be able to keep going in terms of studying,” said Alexa Valdez, a senior and leader of the Latino Student Union, “due to things that could be easily helped if people knew that those needs were there, like textbooks.”
The Elkhart County HOPE Network has been included in other efforts around the county. Many Mennonite churches are currently looking into becoming sanctuary churches. Churches that receive this title would offer refuge for undocumented persons.
Although helpful, Aguirre doesn’t believe that these sanctuary churches will be very practical.
“In the context I’ve had with immigrants,” he said, “if things get truly terrible here, people are just going to get in their cars and leave Elkhart County… and head to sanctuary cities like Los Angeles.”
Another effort being made to protect undocumented immigrants of Goshen is the implementation of identification cards. The city of South Bend, through La Casa Amistad Inc., a nonprofit organization, has already supplied many of its residents with these identification cards.
“An identification card is much more important than most people think it is,” said Aguirre. “You can’t usually cash a check without showing a government-issued ID. You often can’t get a prescription without showing a government ID.”
Other actions that require identification include entering a public school to pick up a child and starting sewer and water services in a house.
Unfortunately for Aguirre and others included in this effort, the Goshen City Council would most likely not approve any city funding for identification cards, according to Mayor Jeremy Stutzman.
La Casa Amistad Inc. is currently willing to create IDs for the city of Goshen. Aguirre and others have plans to talk to the city of Goshen, as well as businesses around the city about the possibility of accepting the cards as official IDs.
“The cards will help [undocumented immigrants] exist,” said Aguirre. “Why would anybody feel like [undocumented immigrants] shouldn’t be able to get their prescription medication? Or buy products in stores? Or function in Goshen? Why would that be a bad thing?”
For now, the Elkhart County HOPE Network is primarily focusing on students of Goshen College. However, Aguirre hopes to be able to reach out into the community once the network grows.
For students who are interested in getting involved in Elkhart County HOPE, Aguirre said, “If there would be students willing to help organize this network and help us find ways to efficiently communicate and link those who [can help] and those in need, that would be enormously helpful.”
Interested students can get in touch with Aguirre at firstname.lastname@example.org.