Un Lugar is a leadership incubator for immigrants. The mission of the organization is to create immigrant advocates and community organizers with the ability and skillset to push forward issues affecting full-status and mixed-status communities at the local government level. In addition, it provides a place for immigrants to come together with community members. The organization is currently looking for a fiscal sponsor and will apply for 501(c)(3) status in 2019.
Founding and Early Successes:
Before it had a name, Un Lugar was founded in September 2017 as a place for immigrant victims of crime to come together and talk about their experiences. The founding group had been brought together by circumstance – they were all victims of violent crime, in Durham, North Carolina.
In the summer of 2017, Durham’s police department was still working through an unfortunate legacy left over from the previous chief of police, Jose Lopez Sr. (later forced into retirement), whereby, owing to naked racism by Chief Lopez towards central and Mexican-American immigrants, U Visa Certifications were regarded by the department as a fraud driven program, as opposed to one designed to aid law enforcement agencies in the policing of immigrant communities. As a result, the public policies were on the books at the Durham Police Department were little more than window dressing for a general policy of “no.”
In early 2017, Bull City Lawyer had worked with long-time community organizers to obtain previously unknown reports from the Durham Police Department that documented which U visa certifications had been rejected and on what grounds. The hybrid lawyer/activist team mined the report for data and was able to show to city council members and other stakeholders in Durham’s government that there was a pattern of denials that did not line up with state police department policy. What made the greatest impact is the presence of the violence survivors at meetings with the administrators. This was, for many of those immigrant survivors, the first interaction they had ever had with government officials.
Building Trust Within Policing and Government:
The new chief of police, Cerelyn Davis, was extremely responsive to the concerns, and by December 2017, presented a changed U visa certification policy at a closed meeting composed of Durham police department stakeholders, government stakeholders, and the Un Lugar organization. In 2018, the number of U visa certifications went up, and the team at Un Lugar continues to develop and continues to push for U visa certification policy changes in Durham and elsewhere.
Going forwad, Un Lugar strives for inclusive and incremental policy advocacy. A part of what the initial experience with the Durham Police Department’s Chief Davis showed to the team is that real policy change is possible through sustained engagement efforts, and through the building of working relationships with government and law enforcement agency actors. Similarly, the Un Lugar team is now starting to do is to go out into the immigrant communities in the triangle to talk about the lessons learned from their continued work with government and other stakeholders in Durham that have an impact on immigrant lives.