Diversity Cafe meetings tackle immigration

Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen spoke this Tuesday at a Diversity Cafe, part of a set of meetings created to bring issues of diversity and culture to a wider audience.

By Lillianne Cadieux-Shaw

Lee Cohen talks to a participant at a Diversity Cafe held this Tuesday (Lillianne Cadieux-Shaw photo).

Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen spoke this Tuesday at a Diversity Cafe, part of a set of meetings created to bring issues of diversity and culture to a wider audience.

Held at Song’s Korean Restaurant, the Diversity Cafe tackled issues such as the differences between an immigrant and a refugee, the issue of race in immigration, and key immigration policies that need to be changed.

These get-togethers started out as a diversity outreach program in 2008, said creator Jack Potter.  They evolved into the Diversity Cafe. Twenty-eight volunteers are divided up by their country of origin to demonstrate diversity and plan events such as this one.

“People that have expertise in different areas related to diversity come in and speak, at a fantastic buffet of food that some people probably have never tried before, and they do a presentation on the topic,” Potter said.

“It makes it a really informal, friendly, welcoming environment to get to know each other and talk.”

Lee Cohen, the speaker this Tuesday, started practicing law in 1981.

In 1987, 174 Sikhs arrived by boat on the southern shore of Nova Scotia and landed on the lawn of a local family. Cohen took on the case and ever since has been passionate about immigration law.

“It was a career-changing moment,” Cohen said. “I knew almost immediately that I’d better not walk away from this.”

Related Links
Lee Cohen’s website
Diversity Cafe
SCANS Halifax

Cohen highlighted the importance of bringing greater awareness to immigration law and to the everyday struggles that immigrants face.

“Nothing is more informative or educational than, not listening to me, but listening to a person who’s prepared to stand up in front of a group of people and say ‘This is what happened to me,’” Cohen said.

Listen to Lee Cohen talk about his first immigration case: 174 Sikhs arrive on South Shore, Nova Scotia, to be greeted with racism and Maritime hospitality in equal measure.

Cohen talks immigration

The audience consisted of students from the Senior’s College Association of Nova Scotia (SCANS), which held a course last fall called, Immigrants: History, Politics and Language of Immigration in Nova Scotia and Canada. Volunteers from Diversity Cafe taught the class.

SCANS attendee Margaret Rockwell had a personal interest in attending this particular Cafe. Rockwell is a host family for a small group of Nepalese refugees, and was a student in the SCANS immigration course.  She related to many of Cohen’s personal anecdotes about dealing with refugees and immigrants.

“I find that I react to questions about immigration viscerally, very emotionally and can’t back up my opinions with facts,” Rockwell said.

“I just wanted to be better informed.”