Seth Dale is a minister in New Jersey, a supporter of the local refugee community and the son of Wendy Dale, a CVRAN member. He sent her the following letter he received, which could provide inspiration and ideas for refugees and asylum seekers here in Vermont.
I am Ashar Hafeez Ghumman and I am from Pakistan. I came to America in early 2016 but was detained for nine months in Elizabeth Detention Center and finally was released in September 2016. Since then I have lived here in Highland Park and Edison.
I ran an eye hospital in the remote Gilgit region of Pakistan and I was part of its establishment. This was a charity hospital and was the only eye hospital in the whole region. We had a three acre lot where we grew cherry trees, pomegranate plants, strawberries, and a little vegetable garden. This little garden was the main tomato supplier to our hospital canteen during summer months. Apart from tomato, we grew cucumber, eggplants, spinach, beans, and bitter melon. Since I came here, apart from missing other things of my country I missed my hospital and its garden. . . .
Last year I found out that that IRISE (a church refugee organization) was going to give an . . . opportunity to refugees and asylums to have small plots of lands to grow their own vegetables – especially their home country vegetables. It would also give people an opportunity to sit together and get to know each other and to form community. . . .
I had already started to work on my part of land when I got a call from Pastor Seth informing me that the Food and Farm Coordination Position was now available and, keeping in mind my past experience, he wanted me to join the project. I accepted with no hesitation! . . . I felt like this is a dream come true. Whatever I had left behind, God is giving me here. . . .
A report commissioned by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board found that up to 40% of the housing for migrant farm workers does not meet minimum standards for safety and cleanliness. The necessary upgrades to each dwelling would require at least $5000, money most farmers cannot spare because of the financial pressure of low milk prices.
There’s not enough housing for migrant workers, who are mainly single men, so overcrowding is a common condition. Many workers live in trailers, which can be of poor quality and are difficult to repair. A 2014 Migrant Justice survey found that 10% of workers’ housing units had no heat and about 15% had no running water. Units are not cleaned or maintained regularly and often lack trash removal or food storage.
The scope of the problem is not fully clear. About 2000 farmworkers live on the farms where they work. But there is no state oversight or inspection for workers’ housing, and if they are undocumented they are less likely to file complaints.
On April 21 the Housing and Conservation Board gave testimony about their findings to lawmakers. The possibility of using some of the millions of dollars in federal relief money coming into the state to improve housing conditions for migrant workers was discussed, but it is unlikely that a farmworker housing proposal will move forward during this legislative session.
Representative Tom Stevens said in an interview that the testimony “put it onto our radars to move forward policy work that can be funded in the near future.” But how money from the American Rescue plan can be allocated is not yet known.
The Biden Administration is struggling to keep up with a surge of young migrants, whose numbers increase day by day, outstripping the staff and facilities needed to process and house them. More than 20,000 children are currently in government custody; and by June there could be 35,000 needing care, a prospect that a former official with Health and Human Services described as “terrifying.”
When they first cross the border, young migrants – both teenagers and children – are taken to harsh detention facilities run by the border patrol. They are supposed to stay for no more than three days but often stay for much longer. After that they’re moved to 150 shelters and group homes run by Health and Human Services, where they’re supposed to get education, recreation, and medical and psychological care while officials vet family members, friends, and potential foster families who can take them in. But here again the young migrants can face long waits.
Under pressure from this latest surge in child migrants and criticism from Republicans and others, the Biden administration is rushing to erect facilities and recruit people to staff them. So far officials have opened 12 emergency shelters in vacant spaces like convention centers and military bases.
They have also been working to cut back the time it takes to conduct background checks on relatives, friends, and foster families willing to take the children in. Of 2000 minors released to sponsors since early April, about half were reunited with parents or legal guardians after an average of 23 days; those with more distant relatives or waiting foster families had to wait nearly two months. Yet the vetting process is vital to security and safety of the children.
The Biden Administration has recently made progress, bringing the number of minors in border detention centers down by 1000 from high of 5000 in March. But to keep up with the surge that will continue to grow into the summer, the health department says that by June it will need to release more than 800 minors a day rather than the 300 they are releasing now.