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Vol. LXIV, No. 4
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
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High School Senior Spearheads Public Forum on Unauthorized Immigration and the Community

Ellen Gilbert

“I came out of that meeting floored by how much I did not know about the plight of migrant workers — children included — right here in New Jersey,” said Princeton High School (PHS) senior Olivia Alperstein, recalling the genesis of her idea for a program on unauthorized immigration. The meeting was presented by El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (C.A.T.A), sponsored by the PHS Spanish Department. “I began to realize how little I really understood about unauthorized immigration in my state and in my hometown.

“After that lecture, I decided to become better informed and to create an opportunity for Princeton community members from various perspectives to come together to share information and to have a dialogue about the issues,” she said. “I spent last summer doing research and compiling interviews, and this fall I began the process of putting together a panel for a public forum.”

The result is “Why It Matters: Unauthorized Immigration and the Greater Princeton Community: A Public Forum,” to be held on February 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Arts Council of Princeton. The free community forum will be hosted hosted by Ms. Alperstein and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF), a community organization dedicated to improving the lives of members of the Latino community in the greater Princeton area.

Following a brief introduction, scheduled panelists who will speak include Amy Gottlieb, Director of Immigrant Rights at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); Reed Gusciora, Majority Leader representing the 15th District in the N.J. State Assembly; Princeton Borough Councilman and local attorney Roger C. Martindell; Jessica Culley, an organizer working with the C.A.T.A./Farmworker Support Committee; Justin Loughry. a criminal defense lawyer specializing in immigration issues; Ann Yasuhara, a resident of Princeton who has worked on behalf of unauthorized immigrants in the community; and John Nasir, a recent immigrant going through naturalization, who spent nine months in detention at the Elizabeth Detention Center.

Members of the audience will be invited to join the discussion at the conclusion of the panelists’ comments. “I am hoping that people from all perspectives will come together to listen and share their views,” said Ms. Alperstein. “I asked LALDEF to support me on the project because they have been the major group in the greater Princeton area working to help the Latino community. Their board is made up of a cross-section of the community, and they emphasize both education and civil rights advocacy. These days they are among a growing number of people alarmed at the treatment of unauthorized immigrants, ranging from secret detention centers where arrested people are held indefinitely, to mistreatment and multiple deaths in detention centers throughout the country. This is something we should be talking about, and the fact that a Princeton resident’s parent or sibling or classmate or neighbor is one of those being taken off the street or from his or her home in the middle of the night and arrested, is something we should all want to know about.”

The forum is being held just as the Obama administration granted temporary protected status to unauthorized Haitian immigrants who arrived before the earthquake.

Ms. Alperstein hopes that members of the Princeton University community will come forward to participate in the February 4 forum. “We have an enormous resource in this community when it comes to the work done by professors at Princeton University. Some of them have done extensive research on unauthorized immigration, and it would be wonderful to have them lend their take as members of the community.”

Light refreshments will be served after the event, which will be filmed and broadcast later on Channel 30.

For more information on “Why It Matters: Unauthorized Immigration and the Greater Princeton Community: A Public Forum,” contact Ms. Alperstein at

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