In Bucks County, there are dozens of volunteer commissions that identify issues regarding drugs and alcohol, senior citizens and more. Each, according to County Commissioner Bob Harvie, provides feedback to the county government, which then works to address each group’s needs.
However, said Harvie, one ever-growing population has been lacking a voice for some time – first- and second-generation immigrants.
“We want to make sure that the county is hearing from those voices so that we know what kind of challenges are being faced here in our county by people of all different backgrounds and faiths,” he explained.
During the Bucks County Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2, Harvie announced the creation of a New Americans Advisory Commission, comprised of both immigrants and representatives of organizations that work with immigrants. Members’ terms will end on Jan. 2, 2024.
The group will meet periodically and play an advisory role in keeping the county commissioners informed about matters affecting new Americans, assist Bucks County residents in easing the path to citizenship and seek to foster interracial and interethnic communications aimed at identifying opportunities for equitable economic growth and the sharing of cultural experiences. Ultimately, the group’s goal is to help immigrants adjust and prosper in their new environment.
“The New Americans Advisory Commission is a sincere attempt at building bridges between racial and ethnic groups throughout Bucks County,” said Harvie. “As American households and communities become more diverse, so, too, must our dialogue within government.”
Dr. Umar Farooq, who emigrated from Pakistan more than 30 years ago and has practiced internal medicine in Bensalem since 1999, will chair the new commission. Farooq said he is “honored and humbled” to be selected, and said the goals of the commission “resonate with what I have been doing throughout my life in the United States – building bridges between the communities, working across the aisle, being part of civic engagement, advising new immigrants on the path to success and guiding them in this land of opportunity.”
After arriving in the United States in 1991 following two years in England, Farooq experienced firsthand the hardships that immigrants go through, all while working to complete his medical residency.
“There are some obstacles, especially for those with language barriers,” he said, proposing the idea of literacy and American history education programs for adult immigrants, who must learn both as part of the citizenship process. “No community should be left behind. Let’s all progress together.”
Also during the meeting, the commissioners appointed seven additional members to the commission, each having personal and/or professional experience in issues facing new Americans.
They are: Stephanie A. Gonzalez Ferrandez, of Bensalem, a family law attorney who has worked with immigrant communities for 25 years; Lois Heist, of Lower Makefield, a board member and English instructor for Welcoming the Stranger, a Langhorne nonprofit offering free English, computer and citizenship preparation classes for area immigrants and refugees; Razin Karu, of Bensalem, former student body president and Muslim Students Association president at Bucks County Community College, and current PA outreach coordinator for ICNA Relief USA; Eugene Potakh, of Lower Southampton, a Ukraine-born consultant and senior programmer for New York Technology Partners; Stephen Seufert, of Falls Township, executive assistant to Harvie, who will serve as the county commissioners’ representative on the advisory commission; Patrice Tisdale, of Warrington, a labor, employee relations and municipal law attorney and co-chair of the Criminal Justice and Education Committee of the Bucks County NAACP; and Duke Wu, of Northampton, a Temple University business student working as a business development intern for Siemens Healthineers of Malvern.
“I have no doubt that members of the inaugural commission, led by Dr. Farooq, will faithfully advise the county commissioners as we work toward a more inclusive community that believes in opportunity, freedom and justice for all,” said Harvie.
While the current membership of the commission stands at eight, its bylaws allow for up to 15 members. Appointments are made with preference for racial and ethnic diversity, with an emphasis on immigrants and first- and second-generation Americans, preferably from communities that have historically been marginalized or underserved by county government.
Additionally, the commission will strive to include members with diverse experiences, such as legal work involving immigration, teaching non-English speakers, interfaith dialogue, public safety, organized labor or business ownership. All are appointed to four-year terms.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org