Susan Rosato, Colchester English Learner Teacher, named 2021 Vermont Teacher of the Year

Susan Rosato has taught English learners in Colchester’s school district  for more than 15 years.  She began as one of two part-time EL teachers and  developed the program until there were three full-time and one part-time teachers to serve the increasing enrollment and needs of EL students in the district.

Currently Susan Rosato serves as EL teacher at Colchester High School, collaborating with classroom teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and administrators to teach and advocate for EL students from around the world, many of whom are new Americans.

“Sue’s ability to build meaningful and lasting relationships with students affords her a deep understanding of what it takes to support students as they learn the English language and acclimate to the culture of school in America,” said Amy Minor, Superintendent of Schools for Colchester School District.  “She values every student’s story – both what got them to her classroom and the part that is yet to be told.  Between curriculum and classroom lessons, translating documents, cheering for her students on the soccer field, communicating with families, coordinating summer school programs, and always welcoming her students at the door with a smile, Sue works tirelessly to ensure her students and their families feel safe, supported, and represented in our schools.”

Susan Rosario will be honored at the University of Vermont’s Outstanding Teacher Day, tentatively scheduled for April.  She is also Vermont’s candidate for the 2021 National Teacher of the Year award and will represent Vermont next Spring at the National Teacher of the Year program, typically held in Washington D.C.

 

 

 

 

Separated: Inside an American Tragedy – a book review by Margaret Blanchard

In this book, recently published by Harper Collins, NBC news correspondent Jacob Soboroff documents the current administration’s policy of separating refugee children from their parents at the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico – imprisoning and traumatizing thousands of children and parents fleeing environmental disasters and gang violence in Central America.  Facing this influx of refugees, Obama, during his time in office, did deport people and even separated some children from their parents or someone who presented as a guardian (but) only when officials were concerned for their safety.”  (Heather Cox Richardson, “Letter from an American”).  In addition, the Obama administration provided environmental aid to the refugees’ home countries, whereas the Trump administration cut off all such assistance to Central America, and implemented the practice of separating all parents and children, sending them into different prisons, believing that family separation would serve as a deterrent to potential refugees.

Imagine traveling on foot with your family members across more than two thousand miles of desert, evading gang violence, kidnapping, hunger and thirst, to reach safety – only to be separated from each other at the border, thrown into prisons as far apart as California and Florida.  And in many cases with no record of anyone’s whereabouts or relations.  Half of these children who were severed from their guardians are under ten years old, and more than a quarter are under five.

This puts me in mind of my father, a World War II veteran who helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp, describing the survivors as “walking skeletons.”  Our shocking and shameful policies appear dangerously close to replicating the conditions in such concentration camps as accounts of sterilization, unsafe conditions, molestation and assault, inadequate medical care, lack of advocacy or access to basic information abound.  These policies are grievously close to some of the criminal practices of our past: enslaving people, treating them as property, separating them from family, selling them to others, often in dangerous situations, without access to their names or locations.  Or the inhumane practice of stealing Native American children from their families and forcing them to attend Christian boarding schools designed to shame and punish them for speaking their own language, for engaging in their own cultural practices or spiritual traditions, and destroying actual connections with their relations.  Or imprisoning Japanese-Americans during WW II.

The psychological damage caused by this current cutting off and caging of minors is described by Dr. Colleen Craft, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families.  Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations – known as toxic stress – can disrupt a child’s brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health.  A parent or a known caregiver’s role is to mitigate this dangers.  When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even heart disease.” (p.245)

Added to the trauma of the separation is the incompetence of the system.  When the current administration decided, for legal and political reasons, to end the practice of separation, they couldn’t rectify the situation because they hadn’t kept accurate records of who and where the parents or guardians were.  Some had been deported, some had been released, and some were in prisons in other states.  Yet the Department of Homeland Security had no system set up for identifying their connections, tracking their locations, or reuniting them with their children.  Instead a system of cruelty compounded by incompetence has guaranteed the traumatization of thousands of desperate and courageous refugees and their children.  Physicians for Human rights has called the practice of family separation “torture.”

Groups like the Angry Tias and Abuelas in Texas, and the ACLU have provided some financial and legal help to those in detention, but they have little power under this administration to reunite families.  The Central Vermont Refugee Action Network (along with other volunteer organizations throughout Vermont) has provided assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, but the pandemic and its financial and legal consequences have slowed the process.  To avoid the humanitarian disaster folded into these environmental and political challenges, we need to face this tragedy head on.  This book offers a first step: a revelation of the abuse, and the subsequent and urgent need to identify the locations of the imprisoned children and their caretakers so they can be reunited as soon as possible.

 

ADDENDUM: From Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letter from an American,” October 6, 2020

“Today the New York Times revealed the findings of an internal investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general Michael Horowitz into the policy of separating children from their parents at our southern border.  The policy was engineered by Stephen Miller, but the Justice Department has tended to blame then-Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen for the policy.  Horowitz’s investigation has established that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were far keener on the policy than she was.  In a sign of changing times, a 32-page response to Horowitz’s investigation, written by Miller’s ally Gene Hamilton, said that Justice Department officials had simply followed orders from the president.”

 

 

Reading to End Racism Offers Online Resources for Children and Those Who Work with Them

Until Covid-19, volunteers with Central Vermont Reading to End Racism were going into elementary school classrooms to read high quality children’s books with students as a way of illuminating and discussing issues of multiculturalism, equity, racism, and immigration.  The goal is to raise awareness of the harm racism causes and help develop strategies to actively counter racism in order to create a supportive and welcoming environment for all children.

Now that Central Vermont Reading to End Racism volunteers can no longer go into local schools, the group has created a list of links to children’s books and videos that are free and available online with other people reading the books.  Reading to End Racism has many of these links posted now and more resources will be added throughout the year.

If you are a parent, grandparent, or teacher and want to create meaningful home instruction on vital themes while connecting school learning to a love of books and reading, check out the blogspot now so you can look for good books and ideas about how to use them with children.  Purchase the books yourself at your local bookstore.  Give them as presents and read them aloud.  Share the blogspot address with its list of video links on your social media sites with other families and with teachers.  Check back regularly to see what has been added, or sign up for email notifications.

The blogspot is divided into books from grades K-3 and 3-5.  For each book there is an introduction for teachers and parents, suggested topics for discussion, and a link to the video reading.

The address for the blogspot is http://cvreadingtoendracism.blogspot.com/.

 

 

How Canadian Court Ruling Could Impact Migration Patterns in Northern New England

On NPR’s New England News Collaborative it was reported that in July Canada’s Federal Court ruled the United States is no longer a safe place for refugees.  The court condemned the treatment of asylum seekers at U.S. detention centers and said the Safe Third Country Agreement between the two countries in now unconstitutional.

The agreement in question says both Canada and the United States are safe for refugees.  That means when someone seeks asylum in either country, they have to stay there – the first safe country they arrived in.  If they try to cross from one country to the other, they’re immediately sent back.  But the Canadian Federal Court ruling would change that.  The court states that sending refugees back to the U.S. is a violation of Canada’s human rights charter and says refugees should instead be allowed to pass over the border, possibly impacting migration routes in northern New England.

“A very close ally of ours – another country that’s been known for its human rights protections – is recognizing that this country, the United States, is no longer a safe place for people,” says Erin Jacobson, a professor and director of the immigration clinic at Vermont School.  “That we’re not honoring our International and domestic obligations to protect refugees.”

Independent producer Lorne Matalon reported this story and asked both the U.S. Department o Justice and Department of Homeland Security to comment on the Canadian Court’s ruling.  The DOJ declined comment; DHS did not repost.

The government of Canada is appealing the Federal Court Ruling.  The Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect until that appeal is settled.

 

27 Vermont Refugees Tell Their Stories in New Book

Suddenly You Are Nobody: Vermont Refugees Tell Their Stories by Jared Grange, published by Huntington Graphics in Burlington, gives a broad and vivid picture of Vermont’s refugee communities.

The people we read about came to Vermont from Bhutan, Nepal, Russia, Bosnia, China, Ecuador, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tibet, Vietnam, Mexico, Palestine, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Iraq.  Their road here was long and dangerous.   Most of them were escaping oppression, persecution and war, yet they still miss their lives in their own countries.  They still miss home

Slavojka Avdibegovic, a refugee from Bosnia with her husband Kenan, gives voice to the feelings of others:  “You live normal life.  Suddenly you are nobody. Yesterday everybody knows you, knows about you.  Next day you are no one.  You are low, below low.”  She is talking about her experience and her husband’s in a UN refugee camp during the Bosnian War after Serbian artillery shells destroyed their apartment and left Kenan a paraplegic.  Yet in 1996 they made it to the United States, to Burlington where they made a rich life for themselves, with family and friends, and work they love.

The sections on each country’s refugees begin with an introduction about the country’s history and upheavals  – the circumstances that led people to flee and establish new lives among us.  Numerous full-color photographs illustrate these moving and courageous stories.

 

John Lewis and Immigrant Rights

John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Georgia Congressional representative who died in July, believed the fight for immigrant rights was a continuation of the civil rights movement, the next chapter.

In 2013 Lewis was arrested for civil disobedience during a rally to support comprehensive immigration support.  In the next two years he continued to show up for immigrant communities, protesting at the Atlanta Airport when the Muslin travel ban went into effect and at the Atlanta Detention Center when the U.S. government separated immigrant parents from their children.

In the months before his death, Lewis encouraged a group of young people, saying, “We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are black, Latino, Asian, Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews. . . .”

“You are a light.  You are the light.  Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim, or diminish your light.”

 

 

 

Immigration Enforcement in America’s Past and in the Age of Trump

Two new books, Threat of Dissent by Julia Rose Kraut and Separated: Inside an American Tragedy by Jacob Soboroff, illuminate the history of immigration and how immigrants are being treated in America today.

In Threat of Dissent Julia Rose Kraut details America’s fear of foreigners and its history of excluding and deporting non-citizens because of their ideas and beliefs.  The Alien Friends Act of 1798 allowed a president to detain and deport any noncitizen deemed “dangerous to the peace and security of the United States.” Kraut traces how different ideologies were considered dangerous according to the fears of different eras. Anarchism gave way to Communism; and Communism in turn gave way to to Islamic radicalism. After being elected, Trump immediately announced a travel ban upon visitors from Muslim countries.  And though it was challenged for more than a year, a revised version was upheld with a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court.

But Separated by Jacob Soboroff, a news correspondent for MSNBC and NBC focuses on the tragedy of the here and now.  Soboroff was reporting from the southern border when he discovered that the Trump administration had been separating children from their migrant parents.  This humanitarian disaster was compounded by such poor record-keeping that authorities couldn’t keep track of which children belonged to whom.  Since the summer of 2017 at least 5,556 children have been taken from their parents – the true number is still unknown.  The American Academy of Pediatrics called separation “government-sanctioned child abuse”; the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights called it “torture.”

Read together Threat of Dissent and Separated: Inside an American Tragedy make it clear that the United States, a country that prides itself on its constitutional protections, also possesses a body of immigration laws that can be abused by its executive branch – as we’re tragically seeing now  with Trump in the White House.

An Alert from the U.S. Committee For Refugees and Immigrants

The current Administration apparently thinks we are not paying attention.  They think the American people are too busy with the COVID-19 pandemic to notice the gross violation of child-welfare standards and immigrations laws being perpetrated at our border.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is pushing back against the Administration’s flagrant violation of the law and its callous disregard for international human rights.   The need is urgent:

It recently came out that the Department of Homeland Security is allowing a private contractor to detain immigrant children in hotels, in some cases for weeks.  Children as young as one year old are being detained illegally and cared for by contractors with unknown credentials.  The children are then sent back to their home countries without the opportunity to seek asylum or join family members already in the U.S.

This is a flagrant violation of federal anti-trafficking laws and it places children at great risk of harm.. By law, children who entered the U.S. unaccompanied by an adult must be released into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for placement into licensed shelters staffed by childcare professionals.

The Administration is openly defying the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  This past week USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) announced that it would limit DACA renewals to one year instead of the usual two and would not accept new DACA applications.  These actions flout both the Supreme Court decision in June and a federal judge’s ruling last month.  We assume this tactic is designed to make it easier for the Administration to deport DACA recipients if President Trump wins re-election.

Contact USCRI at uscri@uscridc.org or (703) 310-1130 to donate in support of their work.  The need is urgent.

 

 

 

 

New Netflix Documentary Focuses on Immigration Enforcement

“Immigration Nation,” a six-hour Netflix series three years in the making,  gives a nuanced close-up look at immigrants and their treatment.  Reporting and observation show ICE agents in New York, Charlotte, N.C., and El Paso as they round up immigrants, process them – mainly for deportation – and talk about their work. According to The New York Times review, “Immigration Nation’ provides abundant evidence for things that some might call fake news, like the determination of ICE, under the Trump administration to remove immigrants in bulk regardless of whether they pose any danger . . . . But what sticks with you . . . is its depiction of the banality of deportation – of the huge disconnect between the everyday people of ICE and the Border Patrol and the everyday people they detain, arrest and process.”

Unemployed because of the Pandemic, Refugees Sew Covid-19 Masks

About a dozen refugees from Afghanistan are making masks in New Jersey to help protect against Covid-19.  So far they have produced more than 2,000 $10 organic fabric masks.  The masks are sold online through Global Grace Marketplace (https://global-grace-marketplace-cafe-square.site/) and fair trade stores across the country.

As the pandemic shut down the economy and furloughed refugees who had just started working, Interfaith Rise (http://www.interfaithrise.org), a church-based resettlement agency, began distributing sewing machines to those who had sewing experience.  One of the refugees developed a prototype and a refugee-only work force was formed.  Their sewing pays about $15.00 an hour and has helped to connect these new Americans to their new world.