What Works: Overcoming Backlash and Fostering Greater Understanding in Today’s Volatile Environment

Local government and grassroots efforts to welcome immigrants and refugees have proliferated in recent years, yet the nation has also experienced a spike in challenges that underscore the need for sustained bridge building efforts to unite diverse communities. This session will explore what works to foster greater community support for immigrants and refugees, and apply those lessons to issues that have triggered or are likely to trigger backlash, including unaccompanied children from Central America, Deferred Action’s renewal, decreases in refugee resettlement funding, and executive action by the Obama Administration. This is designed to be a highly interactive session, which will include brief context setting and an overview of what works in preventing and overcoming backlash and will give participants an opportunity to problem solve together. Moderator:

  • Rachel Peric, Deputy Director, Welcoming America -- Rachel Peric is the Deputy Director of Welcoming America, a national nonprofit that works to create more prosperous communities where all individuals – including immigrants – have the opportunity to participate and thrive. Prior to Welcoming America, she served as Executive Director of the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL), a capacity building and advocacy organization supporting adult ESOL and literacy programs in suburban Washington, DC. Her career includes work spanning a number of community building issues at the local and international level, including serving as a regional director with the United Way of the National Capital Area and managing international development programs with a private consulting firm, Management Systems International (MSI). The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Rachel also serves on the board of Art and Remembrance, a nonprofit devoted to using art and personal narrative to recognize individual courage and resilience. Ms. Steinhardt holds a BA in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in Public Management from the University of Maryland.


  • Maria Blanco, Vice President of Civic Engagement, California Community Foundation -- María Blanco is the Vice President of Civic Engagement at the California Community Foundation, promoting collaboration and advocacy across the nonprofit, public and private sectors to address community problems. Before joining CCF, Blanco was the executive director of UC Berkeley Law School’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity. In her long career as a litigator and advocate for immigrant rights, gender equality and racial justice, she served as the Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area and as National Senior Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a member of the California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, Blanco helped redraw California’s new state legislative and congressional districts. Blanco earned a bachelor’s degree from the UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. She has served on many California and national nonprofit boards, including the Public Policy Institute of California.
  • Luma Mufleh, Fugees Family -- Luma Mufleh is founder and director of Fugees Family, Inc. in Georgia. Originally from Jordan, she earned her BA in Anthropology from Smith College. Luma is a social entrepreneur who has created several businesses to gainfully employ refugees and immigrants in her community. In 2004, she created Fresh Start, a cleaning service that pays refugee and immigrant parents a living wage to clean residential and commercial properties. In 2010, she began Queen Food Company, a food truck business employing parents and graduates, which focuses on authentic, ethnic street food. Luma is now focused on building a permanent home for The Fugees Academy, the first school for refugee boys and girls in the US. In addition, Luma has coached soccer for over 10 years, and is currently the head coach of the Fugees Soccer teams. She has made numerous media appearances and received several awards, including the Search for Common Ground Award, The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award, and the Smith College Medal.
  • Steven Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition -- Steve Choi is currently the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, a coalition of nearly 200 member groups that represents New York State’s immigrant communities. From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Choi was the Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, which organizes, advocates for, educates and serves Korean and Asian community members in New York. Prior to that, Mr. Choi was Director of the Korean Workers Project at the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the only project on the East Coast focused on providing free legal services to low-wage Korean immigrants. His previous experience includes working for the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Boston, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Los Angeles. Mr. Choi received a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a M.A. from the University of Hawai’i, and a B.A. from Stanford University in History with Honors. He is the recipient of the 2013 New York Law Journal’s “Rising Stars” Award, the 2012 NAPABA Best Lawyers Under 40 Award, the Korean American Association’s “Man of the Year” Award, the Skadden Fellowship, the Wasserstein Fellowship, the Skirnick Public Interest Fellowship, and the Harvard Law School Asian Pacific American Alumni Award.
  • Eben Cathey, Communications Coordinator, TIRRC (Resource Person) -- Eben Cathey is the Communications Coordinator for TIRRC, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. From Smyrna, Tennessee, Eben directs TIRRC’s voter engagement work, strategic communications, and Welcoming Tennessee program, working to improve how immigration issues are portrayed in the media and strengthen relationships between immigrant and receiving communities. He earned a Master’s degree in Political and International Studies as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar to South Africa and has also worked internationally as a consultant on HIV education programs.