Opening Doors for New Americans since 1882
On Friday, I met with a colleague who was interested in learning more about the needs of immigrant farmworkers in Pennsylvania. I immediately thought of Jorge Perez-Rico as I always did when discussing immigrants in Central Pennsylvania. I sent off an email to Jorge to introduce him to my colleague and within the hour he responded with his usual friendly style and indicated his interest in connecting with her. Jorge Perez-Rico, a staff person at the Migrant Education, Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 in Chambersburg and board member of Casa de la Cultura, died on Sunday, leaving behind his family and a community he cared for deeply.
I first met Jorge shortly after starting at HIAS Pennsylvania. He contacted our agency after a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents on a local factory. The raid and subsequent detention of scores of young men and women was devastating to the community. Tearing apart families with deep roots in the area and sowing fears of deportation, Jorge did what I would learn he always did. He got to work and started making calls, reaching out to immigration lawyers and other advocates to help the community affected by the raid.
I went to Gettysburg with some colleagues and met with the families of the detainees to help evaluate the cases and see who might be eligible for relief. Jorge worked around the clock to communicate with the community and the advocates and arrange the meetings. HIAS Pennsylvania successfully represented several individuals detained during the raid. Our successful representation could not have been possible without the dedicated assistance Jorge provided throughout the long struggle in defending these individuals. I certainly could not have been a successful advocate without his leadership.
Through the years I had the honor working with him and the community he served although never as much as I would have liked due to the distance, lack of resources and large unmet need in the area. Whether it was one individual or family in need of help or large groups needing assistance because of new laws or regulations, Jorge was the lynchpin in helping to ensure that the community he dedicated his life to was served with respect and dignity.
I last saw Jorge this year at the statewide annual conference organized by the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) in Harrisburg. Jorge was of course in attendance together with perhaps 20 or more members of the community delegates of Casa de La Cultura. These members exhibited a dedication and commitment to the community that I could recognize from my years of collaboration with Jorge.
The immigrant community in Adams County and surrounding region has lost a leader. Immigrant advocates from the Commonwealth have lost a dedicated colleague. HIAS Pennsylvania mourns the loss of a good friend and expresses our deepest condolences to his family, friends and community.