HEADLINES Immigration — March 4, 2015

imageYesterday, the House of Representatives approved Department of Homeland Security funding through September. However, immigrants are still in jeapordy due to a recent Texas ruling halting November’s Executive Actions. Millions of DREAMers, children eligible for Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), and parents eligible for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) will be affected if the Executive Actions continue to be blocked. Despite these tenuous circumstances, immigrants are succeeding and overcoming all odds. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

House Approves Homeland Security Department Funding Through September [Wall Street Journal]

‘I Am the Proud Son of an Immigrant’ [CNN]

DAPA-Eligible Immigrants Face Threat Of Deportation, Advocates Say [Huffington Post]

Undocumented: Immigration Activist Jose Antonio Vargas Visits DePaul [The DePaulia]

Crime, Violence and Poverty in Central America Drove Child Exodus to US Over the Last 2 Years, GAO Says [Fierce Homeland Security]

1 Billion Chickens Sold: Alabama’s Massive Chicken Industry, Immigrants and Obama’s Plan [AL.com]

Colleges Using Coffers for Financial Aid to Illegal Immigrants Stirs Debate on Immigration Reform [Fox News]

Sale of New York Nonprofit Will Secure Future for Shelter for Asylum-Seekers [Oregon Live]

Photo Credit:  ~flutterby~

We Need Your Voice Today! House Subcommittee to Consider Destructive Legislation

Statue of liberty600wideWe recently wrote about how the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee was preparing to debate four pieces of legislation that would strip protections for migrant children traveling alone, harm vulnerable newcomers and the communities that welcome them, and create unnecessary barriers for people seeking asylum. Today and tomorrow, this Subcommittee will take the next step towards passing these bills.

The four bills the Subcommittee will consider are:

This is not the first time we have seen these legislative ideas, many of which are mean-spirited and unwelcoming, as similar bills were also introduced in the last session. Rather than spend time and energy on these bills, we believe Congress should work to enact legislation that keeps families together, protects children, migrants, refugees, and other vulnerable persons.

Please join us in telling Congress that the faith community stands together to oppose these bills in any form. We invite you to add your voice today:

  • Call your Representative at 202-224-3121.
    • Here’s a sample of what to say:

I’m from (city, state, congregation/community) and as a person of faith, I urge Rep. [NAME] to oppose any proposal that strips protections for migrant children fleeing violence, creates barriers for asylum seekers, or expands the use of immigration detention. Please oppose such proposals including the Michael Davis Jr., in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, and the Protection of Children Act. I urge Rep. [NAME] to instead support legislation that protects vulnerable migrants and refugees seeking protection in the U.S.  

@(your representative) As a person of faith from (your district/city) please oppose H.R. 1148, 1149, 1153. Protect migrant kids & asylum seekers!

  • Take action through LIRS’s Action Center to send a message to members of the House Judiciary Committee urging them to stand with people of faith in opposing legislation that harms vulnerable migrants who seek safety.

Thank you for letting Congress know that people of faith believe migrants and refugees should be welcomed not endangered.

Stay tuned for further updates and as always, thank you for standing for welcome.

Photo credit: Pascual De Ruvo

‘Something With Their Hands’ – Through Courageous Eyes

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This week our feature is about FORAI – Friends of Refugees and Immigrants – a non-profit that provides training and mentorship for refugee women in St. Louis, MO. The participants create handcrafted items to provide supplemental income for their families and move toward starting their own microbusinesses. Not only do they walk alongside, listen, equip, and empower, but FORAI also does this through artistic and expressive means as women create beautiful and useful products.

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series focuses on migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

static1.squarespaceThe idea for FORAI was born out of Thanksgiving dinner at a welcoming table bringing together North Americans and newly-arrived Nepali-Bhutanese families. As Jennifer Owens, the founder and director of the organization, puts it “FORAI began with a meal.” Two Bhutanese families who had been in the United States for two weeks were invited into Jennifer’s home.

Jennifer writes:

Hearing their stories of being forgotten in refugee camps in Nepal for over fifteen years, after being forced to leave their home in Bhutan in the early ’90′s, left us all both shocked and humbled.

In 2008, the United Nations stepped in and began the process of granting asylum and resettlement to the Nepali-Bhutanese. Around our table sat some of the most recent asylees, full of hope for a new and better life.

And yet despite their glowing hope, what would life realistically look like for Yamo, a widow with two school-aged children, no English and little formal education?

This question would not leave my mind. The Lord did not let me forget these new friends, and the wheels began to turn. Slowly gaining momentum, He brought together people and ideas for a business and ministry partnering with refugee and immigrant women. Our vision for empowering the women, enabling them to earn additional income for their families while producing marketable handcrafts, came together in FORAI (Friends of Refugees and Immigrants).

Lun at work on a project with the company of her son.

Lun at work on a project with the company of her son.

Jennifer says she “could not stop thinking, ‘how will she [her Bhutanese guest] be able to make it here with so few resources?’” The short version of her solution was to empower refugee women to do “something with their hands.” From that beginning, the inspiration for FORAI grew.

Since 2009, FORAI has been fulfilling that vision while working with women from Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Togo, Kenya, Liberia, and Colombia. Each artisan is paired with a volunteer who works with her on skills including sewing, hand sewing, crocheting, and jewelry making.

Setting up a display of the jewelry, skirts, and scarves.

Setting up a display of the jewelry, skirts, and scarves.

FORAI is now a 501(c)3 non-profit selling their jewelry and textile products online and at festivals, home parties, and local churches. This venture successfully pays these artisans a fair wage for their crafts.

At its heart, FORAI “represents a community of volunteers, artisans, Americans, refugees and immigrants who are ‘coming together to create beauty and opportunity.’” One of these artisans is Lun, who has learned tangible skills and uses them to support her family as well as her husband’s family members, who are still in Burma.

FORAI's hand appliquéd animal bibs, teardrop earrings, and  Kalamkari wrap skirt.

FORAI’s hand appliquéd animal bibs, teardrop earrings, and Kalamkari wrap skirt.

At age 16, Lun fled her village in Chin State, Burma to reach Malaysia. As an undocumented worker, she was poorly paid and lived in fear under the threat of police raids. There she met her husband, Kap, and they had their first son. Then, in September of 2009, the family was resettled in St. Louis, MO.

Unfortunately, Lun and Kap are still separated from both of their families. When Lun thinks of Burma she misses how they “had [their] own house and lands. My parents were farmers.” The family suffered a blow when Kap’s work hours were cut by twenty percent. They were able to manage, however, because of Lun’s steady income from working at FORAI.

Founder and director Jennifer Owens with a group of FORAI artisans.

Founder and director Jennifer Owens with a group of FORAI artisans.

At the heart of what the Friends of Immigrants and Refugees do is clear in their name – they create friendships where people are welcomed and integrated. In their own words, these Friends are:

walking alongside refugee and immigrant women, giving them dignity and a voice so their stories may be heard. We are equipping them with skills, as they make a place for themselves in this new country they now call home. And we are empowering them economically.

To read more about the FORAI story and see their selection of clothing, jewelry, and textiles visit the FORAI Crafts site.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at cpessoa@lirs.org.

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

HEADLINES: Immigration — February 27, 2015


Obama_speech_on_AfghanistanThe recent ruling in Texas that delays the roll-out of the President’s Executive Actions and the funding battle over the Department of Homeland Security force many migrants and Americans alike to live in uncertainty amidst all this uncertainty. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Locking Up Kids [The Christian Century]

Federal Judge Halts Obama’s Immigration Detention Policy at Mexico Border [International Business Times]

Fate Still Unclear For Millions of Undocumented Immigrants [The Lowdown]

Senate Republicans Eye New Strategy In Immigration Fight [The Hill]

Cuban Migrants Could Lose Easy Access to Green Cards [USA Today]

Asian Immigrants Less Likely to Seek Deportation Protection, Data Show [The Los Angeles Times]

Photo Credit: Chuck Kennedy

Obama, Border Patrol, and Children — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

DadandSonFlag300x300President Obama held a town hall meeting last night on immigration. He discussed how despite the recent court ruling striking down his Executive Orders, he is committed to fighting for the millions of migrants who call America home, and for all who seek the opportunity that this country provides. 

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

DHS Funding Expires This Friday — Shutdown Will Have Harmful Effects on Migrants

button_icon_national_alert2Congressional budget decisions come down to the wire this Friday, February 27th when funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for Fiscal Year 2015 will expire.

Without Congressional action before midnight Friday, DHS will be forced to shut down. The struggle for DHS funding has been a tumultuous process thus far, with many Senators voting against the House-passed spending bill because it contains harmful immigration-related amendments. While a number of Senators, including Sens. Heller (R-NM), Flake (R-AZ) and Kirk (R-IL), have pushed for the Senate to pass a clean bill without amendments that would separate families and harm young people who came to the United States as children, Congress’ continued inability to reach consensus makes a DHS shutdown increasingly likely.

In the event of a shutdown, significant immigration enforcement activities, including immigration detention, enforcement and border security functions will remain in place. However, much like the 2013 government shutdown, a DHS-wide shutdown will reduce or make unavailable many services that directly impact migrants and refugees.

In the last shutdown, oversight and transparency functions within DHS operated at a reduced level, such as Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) community outreach unit and DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. E-Verify, the electronic employment verification system operated by DHS was unavailable, meaning employers were unable to electronically verify an employee’s eligibility to legally work in the United States and workers were unable to dispute any technological errors.

If DHS shuts down this year:

  • Federal employees whose jobs are necessary for “safety of life and protection of property” will continue to work. This includes border patrol officers.
  • E-verify would be unavailable.
  • Employee training would halt.

The key difference this year is that this shutdown will affect only DHS and not other agencies, like the Department of Justice. It is not yet clear how DHS will proceed in immigration court cases as their trial attorneys, who prosecute immigration cases on behalf of the government, appear before immigration judges in courts operated by the Department of Justice.

As always, we will keep you updated as we learn more about the DHS spending bill.

In the meantime, please consider visiting LIRS’s Action Center to urge your elected representatives to stand with people of faith in protecting the vulnerable and welcoming the newcomer.

‘A Song to Life, a Poem to the Will to Survive’ – Through Courageous Eyes

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Today I bring to you the incredible story and the moving poetry of Erick Fajardo. He and his family came to the United States from Bolivia seeking political asylum. Over several emails we corresponded about his experiences here and his work as a journalist and poet.

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series focuses on migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Back in Bolivia Erick Fajardo was a journalist, political writer, and college professor. His resume is impressive and includes such positions as Spokesman for the Governor of Cochabamba, correspondent for the newspaper Los Tiempos, and Chief of Desk/Press Advisor for the National Senate. After years of successful work, however, Erick and his family were forced to leave the country and remake their lives in the United States.

In January 2010 the government of my country sat me in a plane without any chance to choose. Or, to be more precise, they gave me the choice to elect between imprisonment or exile. After ten years as a successful journalist and researcher, today I clean kitchens to live. However, God gave me a talent: to touch people with the words, and your initiative [Through Courageous Eyes] is the first chance I got to tell others like me about my personal experience as a refugee.

Though his life has “changed dramatically” Erick still writes for the prestigious Bolivian newspaper, Los Tiempos. One of his recent articles is about the state of Bolivian art in Virginia. In this article he wrote about an exhibit of indigenous art by Roberto Mamani Mamani, an Aymara-Quechua Bolivian, held at the Smithsonian Museum of Native American Cultures.

The poem he chose to share with us is “a piece of social poetry” about his early experiences in the U.S. It was written at the end of his first year here, after dealing with “immigration procedures [that] are slow and tricky.” The family also endured a year without work authorization, social security numbers, or driver’s licenses. All the while, their few resources were spent on lawyers. Further complicating their situation, Erick was hurt in an auto accident; “six months after our arrival a truck hit me in the leg and I lost the only job I got: to run between the cars during the red lights delivering flyers to the drivers.”

Assimilating what “Exile” means

Exile is not a war flag of liberals nor of conservatives, but it is merely banishment.
And exile has no heroes or villains, just victims who left and victims who remained.

Exile is the implicit death warrant of a tacit political intolerance:
It is a statement that no one takes but running relentless.
It is the choice of those without choice: Instead of a sudden social death,
a distant, long and slow agony.

In exile there’s no patriots or stateless, but simply expatriates.
There’s no dishonor, nor glory.And although the power calls you “fugitive” and yours say “hero”,
exile is a condemnation to anonymity on foreign soil and oblivion in your own land.
Paradox! Here no one knows who you were, and there you are a most vague memory every day.

Exile is a beast without sex or creed.
It is not the original sin of revolutions or dictatorships but it is a vice of those in power.
Nazism banished Albert Einstein from Europe,
same as the anti-communism did to Charles Chaplin.
The same revolution of contradictions that exiled Trotsky,
today exiles who stands against some “socialism” of the new rich
and the misery of the eternal poor.

Exile is a human life that a political opinion overturned “to square one”.
When the accusation is “enemy of the state”, the oldest procedural defect is your same birth.
Such as an apostate excommunicated in New world, without degrees, certificates or citizenship;
As a castaway vomited from the metal belly of a ship, exile is a remote and uncertain fate.

An exile is a penitent grounded in limbo between undocumented and resident.
Is a without-time-sailor navigating an uncertain present;
a journey without charts across a geography without setting.
Exile is a train station called Uncertainty, an indefinite delay at an airport,
the stop for a bus you do not know how far goes or until what time comes.

Exile are larger and smaller things but only absences:
Tears of wife here and anguish of mother there,
The distant bark of an old dog and the vivid smell of homemade bread oven,
It’s sense of truncated utopia, of sleep engulfed by the same nightmare
which imposed us to awaken naked over the other side of world.

Exile is a slow and bitter pill that corrodes the continuity of our stories.
A pain that our understanding will digest in endless insomnia journeys,
but our soul, removed with forceps from homeland , will never assimilate completely.

Erick says his poetry serves “as an example of what to do, what not to do, or simply what to expect from a new country” but that mostly “it lets others know that, no matter how hard immigration is, someone else already felt your pain, your fears and your will to survive.”

I asked Erick about how he began writing poetry and whether it was before or after coming to the U.S. He replied with this story about the day he became a “poet of sadness.”

Nine months after my arrival, unemployed and sick, I fell to the bottom of a crisis. The stress, the fights with my wife and the trash food put me in the Jackson Memorial’s urgent care. A young doctor Cuban-American took off my gallbladder to save my life. He did it in half hour and he charged me as a year income.

Without medical insurance, Medicaid or any other to face the debts or the child support, an applicant for asylum easily turns into a poet of sadness. Until that day I was merely a journalist and a writer. It was the pain and misery, which turned me to poetry, giving “soul” to my texts. Since that day I began to write press releases to myself. Like pieces of memory that I was afraid to lost and I was trying to keep in a log.

To conclude, I asked Erick if he had a message he would give to other refugees or asylum seekers. His response, “If I got a message for other like us? Course I do! Our very survival is the greatest message.” He is proud of his two children doing well in school and getting good grades. He adds poetically,

The journey of every family of refugees in this country is a song to life, a poem to the will to survive. Our personal message is: there’s no such a thing as an “American Dream”: this country is as good or as bad as we do each of us.

Though Erick has translated his poem into English, the original in Spanish has its own power. Here is Digiriendo El Destierro for those who are able to read it.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at cpessoa@lirs.org.

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

Lawsuit, Obama, and Executive Action — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

640px-Liberty-statue-from-below600Though the President’s Executive Actions were dealt a blow in this week’s district court ruling in Texas, the Administration remains confident in the constitutionality of the plan, which will protect millions of hard-working migrants and their families from deportation and separation. 

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

Photo Credit: Derek Jensen (Tysto)

Texas Ruling Blocks President’s Immigration Actions and Impedes Family Unity

AmericanFlagGirl600This past Monday, February 16th, a federal district court in the Southern District of Texas issued a ruling that will temporarily block portions of the President’s November immigration actions. 

These include the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents  (DAPA) program and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While the ruling will suspend the implementation of these programs that would keep families together and allow people to live out of the shadows, this is only the first step in the legal process. The federal government will appeal the decision, hoping to overturn the district court ruling so these vital programs can be fully implemented.

Some of the major effects of this ruling include:

Continued debate on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding.

  • Congress is still at a gridlock concerning the DHS spending bill which will expire on February 27th. Senate Democrats are still united in calling for passing a ‘clean’ DHS bill which would not have harmful immigration riders attached to the House-passed bill. Some speculate that the Texas ruling could increase Republican opposition to a clean DHS spending bill; however, experts have not seen a definitive plan by Senate Republicans on how they plan to move the funding bill forward.

Continued threats to family unity and stability.

  • Family is the basic building block of strong communities. Temporarily suspending these programs means that families will continue to live under the threat of deportation and separation. Millions of families who have waited for the chance to live without the constant fear of deportation and for the opportunity to more fully participate in our communities and congregations will continue to wait in a dangerous limbo while the courts decide this case.
  • The temporary suspension of these programs also affects the number of children eligible for the newly-created in-country processing program which was established to help children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras find safety in the United States as refugees. Under this program, a parent with lawful presence in the United States (including DACA or DAPA) can apply for their children who meet certain eligibility criteria to be admitted to the United States as refugees. Without DACA or DAPA, however, these parents will be unable to access this program.

This ruling threatens the values of family unity and protecting the vulnerable that are central to our faith. We must continue to show support for the President’s November actions and the relief and protection they will provide to millions of members of our communities and congregations.

Please join us by visiting LIRS’s Action Center to send a message to your Member of Congress, encouraging them to support the families affected by this decision. 

Photo Credit: jvoves

‘I Cannot Just Sit and Watch’– Former Refugee From the Congo Breaks Down Barriers in California

Sedrick and San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, during his speech at the University of California San Diego on refugees issues.

Sedrick and San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, after his speech at the University of California San Diego on refugee issues.

I’m honored to share an interview with Sedrick Ntwali, documentarian, soccer coach, advocate, and former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sedrick is a beacon in his community, working tirelessly to help refugees navigate our country’s complicated systems and feel confident in their new home. This interview was conducted by Juliet Sohns, LIRS Outreach Program Intern.

Juliet Sohns (JS)You founded Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) and coach soccer teams to address problems related to ethnic violence, youth unemployment, public health, and conflict resolution. What keeps you motivated to work on behalf of your fellow resettled refugees?

Sedrick Ntwali (SN):  My motivation comes from my past experience. My family and I experienced the same situation that fellow refugees are facing today. I feel I need to open up my hands and help others as much as I can. Once, I felt the same pain. I faced the same issues. I witnessed the struggle of refugees. I cannot just sit and watch. I consider that their problems are mine as well.

I was also highly motivated and encouraged by the LIRS World Refugee Day Academy last June 2014, which made me do more for my community on top of what I was doing. Because of all the motivations I got from the advocacy effort by LIRS, I got the opportunity to speak out and address the issues of refugees to different stakeholders in San Diego and even to local newspapers and radio stations.

JS: You are a strong advocate for refugees in the United States, primarily in San Diego. What issues do you see resettled refugees dealing with on a daily basis and how is your community mobilizing to address them?

SN: There are several issues that refugees are dealing with daily here in San Diego:

Integration - especially for adults and seniors who are trying to navigate a new city and new environment different from where they are from. There are also cultural issues where the American culture is totally different from their country of origin, and they find it hard to cope.

Language barriers - one of the biggest issues. A refugee must speak English to be successful in America, especially to get a job. Even though they go to ESL (English as a second language) classes it takes too long for them to learn. Some refugees may spend four to five years only learning English.

Lack of jobs - in San Diego it’s not easy to find a quick job. Because of this harsh reality, many refugees are disappointed because they cannot work to support their families and pay their bills. Even if we see the great work of refugee organizations in place, I will also mention that there is still a huge work and effort that still needs to be done for refugees in San Diego.

I try to support my fellow refugees one by one as I can, especially Congolese. When new families arrived, I would help them navigate the complicated systems here. I would go with them to appointments for food stamps and other benefits. These places can be so intimidating and feel demoralizing, especially if you are new to it all.

The other big part of work I’ve been doing is advocating for improved access to education in local high schools where refugees attend. Many refugees are resettled in the same low-income neighborhoods and their kids are placed at schools with few resources. Refugee children need special attention. Many of these kids have had their education disrupted by conflict, so they are behind their age group.

Since last year I’ve been working with other local advocacy and community organizing groups in the neighborhood of City Heights trying to engage parents in their kids’ schools and appealing to education system officials for changes.

JS: You have shown remarkable interest in how social media can be used as a tool to create change. How did this influence your first documentary, Urban Refugee, and how has your thought process evolved for your next documentary about how Americans perceive refugees and the positive contributions refugees have in their communities?

SN: Of course in today’s world, social media is playing a big role, and for me I felt this was a huge opportunity to show and to raise awareness about refugee issues.

I am now working on my second documentary that will show the positive contributions of refugees in America, to break the stereotypes on how people often perceive refugees. In this second documentary I want to show people how refugees are not burdens, but a huge asset. I believe that there is no better way of doing this if not producing a documentary that shows the practical things that many people are not aware about concerning refugees. Using social media like YouTube, Facebook, and other venues will be the perfect way of sharing this story. The goal is not only to break common stereotypes, but educate people to have a positive view of refugees in America.

JS: What advice would you give to people, whether other resettled refugees or those who are interested to work on their behalf, who want to help improve the lives of resettled refugees and the possibilities for their futures?

SN: Those who are interested to work and improve the lives of refugees resettled in the United States should know that no one wants to be a “refugee.” Becoming a refugee is not a choice but due to circumstances. Treating refugees well and considering them as equal as others is very important in helping to improve their future lives. Sometimes if people know you are a “refugee” they can see you negatively. This happened to me when I first arrived to the United States. People who were trying to help me were the first ones to treat me differently. I felt like a stranger, like I had been branded and my name was “refugee,” not Sedrick.

For refugees either resettled or still in a 2nd country of refugee, I would advise them to be strong and keep their motivations high. Don’t allow your circumstances to define who you are. Be you at your best. Also, working hard and contributing positively to the country of resettlement or asylum is very important and will take lots of hard work and dedication, but you can succeed!