Zach Szmara is the National Director of Immigrant Connection and serves as the pastor of The Bridge Community Church – a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic church in Logansport, Indiana. He has been a Department of Justice accredited legal representative since 2014 and has served over 2100 immigrants from 100+ nations in the 6 years he has led his local Immigrant Connection site.
In this column, he shares info about some of the initiatives that are happening in Cass County.
In the past 20 years, Logansport has undergone one of the largest demographic shifts in Indiana. Two decades ago, most of our neighbors had lived in Cass County or the surrounding area for generations; now our neighbors come from around the globe. Listen in around the kitchen table and most conversations would have occurred only in English but now there are dozens of languages spoken in our community. Our new immigrant neighbors have helped our community in countless ways. Our population was declining at a steady rate and has since stopped declining and has actually grown. Immigrants have invested in our city, starting businesses and buying homes. As a father, I am proud that my son gets to grow up with both the benefits of being in a small city (safety, friendliness, charm) and the benefits of being in a global city (ethnic, cultural, and language diversity). I don’t know of another city that brings together the smallness/closeness and global/world than Logansport.
This shift to our city means that we, as individuals and organizations, have to shift too. Too often, we expect immigrants will do the all the hard work of assimilating on their own. But the real goal of being a multicultural, diverse, welcoming city means that we have to also accommodate. I am proud of how our schools have led in this over the years. From hiring multilingual support staff, to translating announcements, to offering a dual immersion program – these are all investments of time, energy, and finances that support, promote, and welcome our immigrant families.
Other organizations and businesses have also invested in countless ways. Tyson Foods has provided grant funding for the past two years in order to make sure their team members and families have access to immigration legal services. Immigration is no longer as simple as waiting in line at Ellis Island for 3-5 hours. It now involves a complex, costly pathway that can stretch for years. Even more complicated is that immigration pathways are like a maze with moving walls as frequently policies change at a moment’s notice. Immigrant Connection at The Bridge exists to provide low-cost immigration legal services to our community. We are recognized by the Department of Justice to provide these services and have served over 2000 immigrant families from over 100 countries of origin since we opened in 2014. Tyson Foods grant funding allows all Tyson team members and family member to have free consultations which help assess ways to renew lawful status, move forward in the immigration process towards naturalization (citizenship), or petition for family members. The grant also funds Immigrant Connection’s Citizenship Classes which help prepare our immigrant neighbors for the citizenship interview in order to reach their goal of becoming naturalized US citizens. This partnership has allowed dozens of our immigrant neighbors to successfully navigate the citizenship process and even more successfully file other immigration petitions for themselves or their family members.
Finally, it’s important that every individual in our community provides welcome. This can be small things like taking the initiative to introduce yourself to your neighbors even if there is a language barrier. I can promise if you share one of your family’s time-honored recipes of cookies, soup, or chili with your immigrant neighbors, you will almost be guaranteed to enjoy their tamales, pozole, or pupusas the next time they make them. Communities, especially changing ones, thrive through relationships. If you’re searching for other ways to build relationships feel free to reach out to Immigrant Connection (574-735-0000) – we always need volunteers to take part in our citizenship mock interviews and our conversational English evenings. These are some of many ways you can give back, spread welcome, and build relationships in our small yet global city.