Biden Walks Back Earlier Pledges To Undo Trump Border Policies Quickly.

Fearing a rush to the southern border and a possible humanitarian crisis, on December 21 the president elect and his aides told reporters they would need “probably the next six months” to rebuild the immigration system for people now waiting in Mexico or in detention to enter the U.S.  They said the new administration would eventually resume processing asylum seekers along the border, but that initially only a limited number of migrants would be allowed to have their cases heard.

“Certainly the Biden administration is going to need a little time to undo all the damage and chaos in the immigration and asylum systems, but the United States does not need six months in order to uphold its legal obligations under U.S. refugee law and treaties,” said Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First.

In recent weeks the Trump administration has moved to finalize tough border restrictions that could be difficult for Mr. Biden to unwind.  One of these would bar migrants from coming into the U.S. if they are from countries deemed to be coronavirus hot spots.  The Trump administration has further restricted eligibility rules for asylum at the border and told officers to deny most claims based on domestic abuse or gang violence.

In March the Trump administration gave the Border Patrol power to turn away migrants when they crossed the border, whether or not they wanted to request asylum.  Border agents have expelled 300,000 people under the rule, claiming it is to prevent infection among American citizens and in detention facilities.

Mr. Biden promised during the campaign to revive America’s role as a world leader by accepting 125,000 refugees a year.  But on December 21 his aides said it was too early to commit to that number because so much damage had been done to the program.  For example Refugee Resettlement Agencies have been forced to close their offices in some cities.  And in countries outside the U.S., organizations for processing refugees have been gutted.

The Biden team also indicated that the new administration would not immediately end the policy that has forced 60,000 migrants to wait in Mexico in squalid tent encampments where kidnappings, torture, and assaults by drug cartels are common.

“The whole conversation (is about) how to deter these people when it should be . . . on how we welcome the most vulnerable people,” said Roberto Lopez of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

During his campaign, Mr. Biden assailed Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated thousands of families at the border.   He said he would form a task force to locate parents who had not been reunited with their children, but did not commit to bring back parents who have been deported.

“What the Biden administration chooses to do over the next few weeks will literally have life-and-death consequences for countless children and parents,” said Lee Gelert, an American Civil Liberties lawyer who has been representing these families.



Undocumented Immigrants in Vermont To Receive Covid Aid in 2021

The state is planning to send Covid-19 stimulus checks to Vermonters who didn’t receive federal payments earlier in 2020 because of their immigration status.  Governor Phil Scott signed the state budget that included $5 million to send checks for $1200 to undocumented adults and $500 to their children by early April.  The Vermont Community Foundation, a non-governmental organization, will administer the fund and send out the checks.

About 500 citizens and legal permanent residents who file taxes jointly with undocumented spouses are eligible to receive the money.  And up to 500 other immigrants without social security numbers but with “lawful” immigration status such as visa holders and asylum seekers could also receive the money.

One of the major goals was to make sure Vermont’s undocumented residents felt safe receiving the money in an environment where distrust of the state and fear of harassment or deportment is widespread.  Will Lambek, spokesperson for Migrant Justice, said that having the Vermont Community Foundation distribute the money as a third party means that the beneficiaries won’t be interacting directly with the state, nor will the state be getting people’s personal information.

Even though Vermont’s undocumented immigrants won’t receive the Covid-19 stimulus funds until a year after other residents, the money will help support them through the remaining time of the pandemic and will contribute to the larger economic recovery of the state.

A Real Cowman: Portrait of a Migrant Farmworker

By Kathyrn Kramer from Vermont Almanac

Gabriel says that the way to help cows not be scared of you is to touch them. Lay a hand, be gentle – it cuts down on their stress. You don’t want cows stressed because then they give less milk and have more difficulty conceiving. Since cows learn to recognize people by their smell, not by their looks, the more often they smell you and the kinder you are, the more they trust you. Contrary to what many people think, cows are curious, intelligent creatures. Gabriel’s current favorite is a Brown Swiss named Charlotte, Charlo for short, because, among a herd of Holsteins, she’s unica, unique. Other than that he can’t really explain why – nor can one of the dairy owners, when I ask her if she knows. Just as with people or dogs, you like some better than others. I ask Gabriel if the Holsteins ostracize the few Jerseys and Brown Swiss among them, and he smiles at this ridiculous notion.

Twelve hours a day, six days a week, Gabriel checks up on a herd of 1,500 heifers, locating the ones who are in heat and ready to be bred. All the heifers wear in their ears a computer chip that communicates, among other things, how much the heifers are moving around. When they’re “running around like crazy,” chances are good they’re in heat. And when he first checks on the heifers in the morning, Gabriel carries a can of pink paint that he sprays on the rump of cows not already painted. Then he notes which cows have lost most of the paint they wore before. This occurs because other heifers, aware that another is in heat, are inspired to impersonate bulls and mount her. They rub against the paint and the paint comes off. I can’t help but wonder who thought of this – shall we say – interesting method. For those of us who grew up thinking that to milk cows you brought them in from the field, filled a bucket with milk, and dumped it into a bulk tank – not to mention persuaded a sometimes recalcitrant bull to fulfill his fatherly duty – this is a futuristic world.

Like all the larger dairy farms in the state, in order to survive this one has to work the economies of scale. With about 1,500 milkers, despite the sophistication of their own systems (the quantity of milk each cow gives is measured daily by computer), the owners still don’t know from month to month how much money they’ll be able to count on. Trying to comprehend the complex regulations governing the milk industry is more mind-warping than trying to make sense of the I.R.S. tax instructions. Says one of the owners, “There are only two people in the country who understand milk pricing, and one of them just died.” To be able to make a profit, the farms have to milk the cows three times each on a 24-hour cycle, so a lot of help is needed.

Modest, unassuming, completely reliable, with a gently wry outlook on the world, Gabriel is a trusted and valued employee, one of a dozen or so migrant workers on this farm, and one of the between twelve and fifteen hundred in the state. Without them, the dairy industry, which has steadily declined since its high point in the 1920s when there were almost 30,000 dairy farms, would collapse. In Vermont there are now around 650 dairy farms, large and small. As one of the owners says, there are not enough people locally who want to do this work: the long hours for the kind of pay that the industry can afford. The situation is manageable for these workers, as most of them are provided housing as well as a paycheck, much of which they send back home. (There are a few workers in Vermont from places like Honduras and Guatemala, but the great majority are from Mexico.) Few of the workers at Gabriel’s farm have cars, so once a week a farm van drives them to a local grocery store. Some favorite foods that they can’t buy there – certain kinds of chiles, for example, or canned cactus – are supplied by someone who travels around peddling to farm workers. It used to be you could tell when the local workers had been to the grocery store because all the corn tortillas would be gone, but somewhere along the line the management has seen fit to order a lot more.

When Gabriel first came to this farm, he milked and cleaned the barns for three years. Says one of the owners, “He’s very talented. It’s like being an artist: either you have a feel for it or you don’t. Gabriel is a real cowman.” The owners have a vested interest in keeping Gabriel learning and stimulated, so he was sent to “breeding school,” where besides learning how to inseminate the heifers he learned how to give shots and check their feet to see if they need their hooves trimmed. He inseminates between five and ten heifers a day, and on Fridays forty or more. On that day he has help, because it’s hard, tiring work. But it’s critical work. Cows who don’t get pregnant end up on the beef truck.

Gabriel has been in the US now for 14 years. The first two he spent in North Carolina, working in construction, which he liked, but during the recession of 2008 the work was cut back to two or three days a week and an uncle who worked in Vermont told him about a job opening here. Besides being good at his job, he likes cows – and he likes the state. Just like Guerrero, the state in Mexico where he’s from, Vermont is mountainous and still part wild. There are many of the same animals in Guerrero: deer, raccoons, skunks, squirrels – although no chipmunks or wild turkeys. And there, he tells me, there’s a kind of mosquito that makes honey. When Gabriel was young he and his friends would look for their nests on trees to collect the sweet treat. “Are they really mosquitoes?” I ask, making a buzzing noise. We have that kind too, he says, but these are different. “Not wasps? Avispas?” “No, we call them mosquitoes,” he says. Sensing my skepticism, he had a friend at home take a video to show me: the mosquito crouched on a tree and, nestled in the bark beside it, its tiny golden-colored nest which it closes up at night.

When I asked him once how he learned so much about the natural world, he said, “Los abuelos.” All the grandparents in town. Town is a village of 20 to 25 houses. Gabriel’s daughter, who is 15, lives there with Gabriel’s mother. Her own mother is in another town, because that’s where she can make a living. There’s little work for anyone there. To keep in touch, Gabriel and his daughter talk by phone or video-chat a couple of times a week. She’s in school and is interested in computers but just as in many remote locations in Vermont the internet there is unreliable. Gabriel currently has no plans to go back, though he says he supposes he will one day.

He would like to have a farm of his own, but he owns no land and the land in Guerrero is very expensive. Many of the men who have returned from the US farm corn, but it’s subsistence living. Here, Gabriel likes the work, though the winters can be difficult, when so many things are frozen. He doesn’t complain about his circumstances – about feeling encerrado (literally, encircled), unable to move around safely outside of the farm. Like Gabriel, most of the workers are here without their families and haven’t seen spouses and children for many years. And rarely are they able to get to know people off the farms or meet a spouse, if they haven’t one. If the immigration laws were to change, Gabriel would like to stay and bring his daughter to live here. So would many of the other workers. In a state that urgently needs more young people to start and nurture families here, one would think that providing these essential workers with visas, if not citizenship, and welcoming them into aging communities would make sense. Yet, despite Vermont’s having been in the vanguard of a number of political and social advances over its history, immigration laws are under federal purview, so it’s not up to us. —Kathyrn Kramer

Trump Administration Settles with Migrant Justice Activists Targeted over Political Work

The Trump Administration has settled a lawsuit with three Migrant Justice activists who sued the Department of Homeland Security after being targeted and arrested for deportation because of their work in organizing other farmworkers for better working and living conditions on Vermont dairy farms.

The Department of Homeland Security has agreed to pay $100,000 to the three activists and to Migrant Justice and to grant the activists deferred action, thus stopping their deportation cases and allowing them to obtain work permits.

The agency must also distribute a memo about the First Amendment, which protects undocumented workers from being targeted for political speech, to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Vermont.

The government settlement includes a stipulation that the move is not “an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States of America.”  But one of the plaintiffs, former dairy worker Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez, 27, said in an interview, “We know what they’re going to say.  But we’ve exposed, through this action and through this lawsuit, the abuses they committed: retaliatory arrests against community leaders.”

So far DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have not commented.

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



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.