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County Executive Pittman Holds Inaugural Meeting of Immigrant Affairs Commission

Annapolis, Md. (July 30, 2020)   Last night Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman attended the first meeting of the Immigrant Affairs Commission, an advisory group he created by Executive Order before Anne Arundel County’s first confirmed case of coronavirus and before the COVID-19 public health crisis struck at full force.  Today, the immigrant population are among those communities hardest hit by the virus.

The commission was launched to ensure that the needs of immigrants in Anne Arundel are articulated and legitimized, and their voices heard and understood. 

The commission consists of 13 appointed members with strong ties to immigrant communities and robust backgrounds in the areas of business, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and immigration law.  In addition to a representative from the County Executive’s Office, the commission includes county government representatives from land use, public safety, health and human services, schools, the community college, the Circuit Court and a community services specialist from the City of Annapolis. 

"Our consistent goal with every county program we implement, whether before, during or after the pandemic, is equity and inclusion. We want to make sure that language, culture, and immigration status do not become barriers to health, critical necessities and services reaching every part of the county,” said County Executive Pittman.   “To achieve this goal, we are listening to leaders of every immigrant group in our county.  The current pandemic only adds urgency to this effort.”

During the meeting, the County Executive was joined by county Health Officer, Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, who gave a presentation on health equity and COVID-19 explaining that health equity is about everyone having a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, but the data show that racial and ethnic disparities are persistent in health measures.  At 14.1%, the Hispanic community is leading the county by an alarmingly wide margin in the percentage of positive cases, compared to the African American community at 4.1% and the white community at 3.2%.  

“Each person’s health is linked to others in our county. We’re all in this together,” said Dr. Kalyanaraman.  “While every community is experiencing harm, some groups are suffering disproportionately.  Unfortunately, this includes people of color, workers with low incomes, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn.”

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Health and Human Services, Pam Jordan was also on the agenda and presented information about the Food Access Warm Line (410-222-FOOD) noting that 25% of the callers to date have been connected to resources by spanish speaking translators. Her presentation also featured the robust bilingual programming that occurs throughout the HHS agencies including the Department of Aging and Disabilities, the Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, and the Mental Health Agency.

County Multicultural Officer, Sergio Polanco, gave an update on Census 2020 explaining that this year, more than ever, Anne Arundel County needs an accurate count, especially within hard-to-count immigrant communities “because the results of the census have a direct and significant impact on our county’s residents through congressional representation and allocation of more than a trillion dollars in federal funding, said Mr. Polanco.  Mr. Polanco and Ms. Jordan will be staffing each meeting.   

Before the meeting concluded, the County Executive appointed Laura Varela-Addeo as the chair of the Commission. Ms. Varela-Addeo brings to the commission vast experience in immigration law. For 14 years, she primarily represented immigrants who were victims of discrimination and wage theft. Her background includes the creation of several legal precedents in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia region that expanded immigrant rights. She also has sued police departments for using excessive force against immigrants as well as Virginia county jails for not providing sufficient medical care to immigrant detainees, which resulted in a death. 

“As an Immigrants' Rights litigator for 14 years,” said Ms. Varela-Addeo. “II know first hand that immigrants face enormous challenges in the United States; work, language barriers, childcare, education, access to medical care, access to government services and, sadly, a daunting vulnerability in the workplace.

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