NEW BEDFORD — The Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford hosted a public forum to talk about immigration Thursday at the Whaling Museum. 

Rev. David Lima, executive director of the Inter-Church Council, said the goal of this forum was to encourage discussion rather than a hostile back-and-forth that is often caused by sensitive issues such as this.

Over three dozen people attended and had the opportunity to ask their questions to a three-person panel made up of two immigration attorneys and Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants' Assistance Center.

Prior to the Q&A session, DaSilva Hughes spoke about what the IAC does for the city's immigrant community and the importance of immigration reform.

"Eleven million people are not going to just pack up and leave so we all do believe, I'm sure, that we need immigration reform," DaSilva Hughes said of the estimated amount of undocumented immigrants in the United States. "There's got to be a path to legalization."

As things stand now, she said her organization is constantly reminding undocumented immigrants to follow three simple rules to avoid trouble with the law: always file taxes, don't get into trouble and learn English.

DaSilva Hughes also explained there has been increased fear among the immigrant community since President Donald Trump took office and greater anti-immigrant rhetoric has spread through the media. She recently visited public schools from New Bedford High School all the way down to elementary schools to speak with students about their own concerns about deportation.

Along the lines of outreach, immigration attorney Frederick Q. Watt of Watt & Sylvia Attorneys and Counselors made the point that it's important to focus on the present rather than what's to come.

"The people who are advocates and professionals in the area need to do more to just explain exactly what is happening, not what we're afraid might happen tomorrow," said Watt.

Toward the end of the forum, one person asked about the assets immigrants bring to the community. Timothy Paicopolos, an immigration attorney with Fall River's Catholic Social Services that works specifically with juveniles, said his clients show a desire to work.

"They're in high school and they're working, they're getting their green card and going to college or just going right into the workforce and they couldn't imagine a life without working," Paicopolos said. "They're bringing enthusiasm into the workforce."

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