The Dane County Department of Human Services’ Immigration Affairs Office hosted its first Immigration Affairs Luncheon on Dec. 5 to celebrate two years of advocacy, outreach and community partnership at the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s near east side.

“It is great to see all of your faces today. This is what makes Madison great – seeing us all united,” Fabiola Hamdan told the crowd at the luncheon catered by La Taguara Venezuelan & Latin American Cuisine. “Your support and encouragement have been a huge contribution to the work that I do which is providing immigration assistance to our immigrants and asylum-seekers in our community. This is event is a token of appreciation for all of your support you have given us and all of the work that you do.”

Immigration Affairs of Dane County provides outreach, advocacy and case management services to immigrants and refugees in the local community. The office acts as a key liaison on initiatives involving local government, elected officials, and law enforcement. Hamdan was named the first-ever Dane County Immigration Affairs Specialist back in 2017.

Fabiola Hamdan

The new office has partnered with local agencies through the Immigrant Assistance Collaborative and has facilitated and established the Immigration Enforcement Response Team along with many other initiatives like “Know Your Rights” trainings.

Hamdan introduced Yesenia Villalpando, who has been working in a new position to help her in her work at the Office of Immigration Affairs.  “Her energy and her dedication to work with our immigrant population is amazing,” Hamdan said. “She’s really a special person.”

Villalpando said she was excited to be working with Hamdan and many of the people in the room. “It has been a great learning experience for me as we continue to support and uplift our immigrant community in Dane County,” she told the crowd. “Doing this work is a passion of mine; it’s also very personal for me.

Yesenia Villalpando

“Throughout the year, I have witnessed the growth of our immigrant population both with and without legal status here in Dane County. Along with this comes a great need for additional resources in our community to serve this ever-growing population,” Villalpando added. “I have seen the impact when we truly invest and create equitable access to resources for this community. This is why the Immigration Affairs Office is so important – not just for myself, but for the broader community. At the end of the day, we are embedded in this community whether people agree with it or not.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told the crowd that it is so critically important for the community to have the kind of support that the Immigration Affairs Office provides.

“I think it’s important to look at our immigrant communities as assets and to understand the incredible diversity of knowledge and experience that they bring to Madison and Dane County,” Rhodes-Conway said. “While it’s critical for us to protect these communities and focus on their vulnerabilities, I think it’s also really important to celebrate what these communities bring to us and to support their advancement, the entrepreneurship, and the potential that immigrants bring.”

Special recognitions and certificates were presented to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi; Dr. Martha Stacker, Division Administrator of Children, Youth and Families for Dane County Department of Human Services; Ron Chance, Community Program Coordinator for Dane County Department of Human Services; and Dane County Supervisors Tanya Buckingham (District 24)  and Jamie Kuhn (District 16).

Parisi talked about the importance of the creation of the Dane County Department of Human Services’ Immigration Affairs Office.

“I want to thank everybody for being here to show support for Faby and her team but to also show support for our immigrant community. In 2017, it became apparent after the election of President Trump that he was going to be launching an offensive on the immigrant population across the nation,” Parisi said. “So we thought it was important that we responded on the local level in the most effective manner we could come up with. First of all, making clear that we disagreed with the federal policies and in Dane County, we welcome our immigrant neighbors and we believe it is our responsibility to help our immigrant neighbors as they take advantage of  everything that folks that have been here for a longer time have already taken advantage of.”

Parisi said that he hopes other people across the nation are looking at what Dane County is doing with the Immigration Affairs Office to replicate it elsewhere.

“We think that it is an effective model and that it helps people on the ground and it makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “Just as importantly, it sends the clear message that we welcome our immigrant community and that we are in it for the long run to stand side by side with them.”