How do you create immigrant-friendly politicians?

 “Have you ever broken a promise?”

If the answer is “Yes” then this job is not for you, said a participant of the Ready to Lead conference.

On a recent Saturday morning, conference attendees sat around tables brainstorming the ideal qualities of a good politician.

The conference is the first of its kind in the country, taking people from the community who were immigrants or from families who migrated to the U.S., and giving them the skills to launch political careers.

The goal is to diversify the current number of elected office holders in the county by 20 percent in the next 5 years, said conference organizer Sayu Bhojwani, Founding Director of the New American Leaders Project.

Chicago is only the second city to host the conference after its inaugural event earlier this year in New York.  The conference is expected to move further West this year , said Bhojwani.

During the recent event in Chicago, which was co-hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,  participants learned how to create a successful speech, map their skills, fundraise and define clear campaign messages.

Thirty five new U.S. citizens and children of immigrants participated. Tahani Hammad was one of them.

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Hammad said she saw how much her parents struggled when they moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. Adapting to a new culture, language and country was difficult, she said.

Hammad works as the Director of Quality Management for Heartland Human Care Services and will be enrolling in a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago. The 26-year-old social worker said running for office would be an extension of her desire to help her community.

“I’ve always wanted to help and that’s how I fell in to social work,” she said. “I’m passionate about human rights and justice.”

Hammad said she would like to run for school board or other local boards.

Since 2001, 313,820 people have become citizens in Illinois, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Nationwide, roughly 1 in every 5 children born in the U.S. is a son or daughter of an immigrant, Bhojwani said.

“We need more (immigrant) representation… it will increase the chances of a more immigrant-friendly environment,” Bhojwani said. “We have the demographics and we are creating the right movement.”

 © Community Renewal Society 2011

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