Unaccompanied Children Overwhelm Southwestern Border Facilities

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.

 

An “Anti-Sanctuary Act” in NH Threatens Sanctuary Cities Throughout the State

Police reform measures adopted by Lebanon and Hanover last year that prevent local and state police from collaborating with federal immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented immigrants are under threat.  The Valley News reports that a bill, referred to as the “Anti-Sanctuary Act” by its supporters, would force police officers to comply with federal immigration enforcement policies.  In addition it prohibits cities from adopting policies that prevent the enforcement of federal immigration law.   The bill is now headed to the Republican-controlled house.

Biden Ends Trump’s Ban on Green Cards, Allowing Immigrants to Work and Live in the U.S.

On February 24 President Biden reopened the country to people seeking green cards, saying that Trump’s ban on legal immigration ” . . . harms the United States . . . It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

This was a reference to Trump’s claim that the ban would protect American workers who were losing their jobs as the coronavirus shut down the economy.   But many of Trump’s critics said he was using the pandemic as an excuse to severely limit immigration.   But those who study patterns of employment in the U.S. say immigrants don’t threaten American jobs because they take jobs that Americans don’t want and in that way help to keep the economy going.

Immigrants who receive green cards become lawful permanent residents who can eventually seek citizenship in the U.S.  An analysis by the Migration Policy Institute estimated when Trump established the immigration ban that it could affect more than 660,000 people.

 

Vermont Refugees Could Benefit from Proposed Covid-19 Relief Bill

The Vermont House and Senate are preparing to pass a fast-track Covid-19 relief bill in the coming weeks that could include aid for low-income  families, grants for businesses impacted by the pandemic, and funding for affordable housing and schools to bring children back up to grade level.

Among the possible recipients are the Association of Africans Living in Vermont and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, with $350,000 designated for translation services related to the pandemic and to help immigrant and refugee families access workforce development projects and benefit programs.

The total cost of the bill the House Appropriations Committee is assembling is $60-$65 million.  The goal is to finalize the bill by February 26.  Rep. Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier), who chairs the Committee, said “Our construct was to do what . . . cannot wait for the normal budgeting process.  Are there people who are in trouble or needs that need to be met before the budget is going forward . . .”  The fast-track relief bill would provide funding for programs that have time-specific needs.

Senate President Pro Temore Becca Balint, D-Windham said the Senate is also considering funding for housing projects that need to be completed in the coming building season.  Balint said she’s aiming to get the relief bill to Governor Scott in two to three weeks.

In the meantime CVRAN will follow the bill closely and hope to provide advocacy for the refugees who might soon benefit from some of the projects it will fund.

 

Proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 Takes Shape

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, the Biden Administration’s broad overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, was announced on February 18 by its chief sponsors Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey; and Representative Linda T. Sanchez, Democrat of California.  They were joined by 10 other members of Congress in announcing the proposed legislation.

At its center is an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the ll million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  After passing background checks and paying taxes, they would be allowed to live and work here for five years.  After that they could apply for a green card, giving them permanent status in the U.S. and the opportunity to earn citizenship after three more years.

The bill also includes the most far-reaching changes in immigration law in three decades.  It would end restrictions on family-based immigration, making it easier for spouses and children to join family members already in the U.S.  And it would expand worker visas to allow more foreigners to come to the United States for jobs.

Unlike other efforts to change immigration policies, the legislation does not include increased border enforcement.  Instead it would provide funding to  process migrants legally at ports of entry and invest $4 billion over four year in Central American countries with the goal of preventing people from fleeing to the U.S. because of security and economic crises.

The Biden administration also acted on Thursday to limit the number of arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants, issuing temporary guidelines that require immigration agents to seek approval before trying to deport individuals who don’t present national security threats, have felony convictions, or have recently tried to cross the border illegally.

 

See No Stranger, a Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur, reviewed by Rachel Walker Cogbill

The title See No Stranger aptly captures the central message of this book: when we look at another person, we should not see that person as a stranger but rather as a part of ourselves.  What better message could there be for all of us interested in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to Central Vermont?

The author, a Californian Sikh activist, espouses revolutionary love even while she has experienced much hate and grieved with victims, documenting this with both oral history and film.  Her own family and religious group were often targeted after 9/11, yet much of the violence against Sikhs did not make the news.  Still Valarie Kaur’s experience with injustice goes beyond being a member of this one group.  She has traveled to Guantanamo; she has worked in maximum detention centers as a lawyer; she has been a part of political campaigns, community organizing, and demonstrations.  She has been a witness to both the tragedy of events and the amazing courage and resilience of victims despite their pain.  Valarie Kaur speaks with great authenticity of both the range of injustice and the simultaneous struggle for justice, compassion, and understanding.

At the same time this book is a memoir of Valarie Kaur’s own personal life and struggles.  She speaks with an intimacy that draws one into her own life, in some ways so similar and in some ways so different from one’s own.  The reader begins to trust her as a wise and intimate friend and can hear truths not easily heard from others.  After savoring her book over months with a book group, I wrote a poem about one chapter excerpted below.  I cannot more highly recommend taking your own journey with this book, which will surely touch you in ways you have not been touched before. Valarie Kaur begins with loving others, then loving our opponents, and finally loving ourselves as we learn to breathe and push for transition into a better world. What could be more impactful in our badly divided world today?

   Touched by See No Stranger
by Rachel Walker Cogbill

Yesterday a friend said to me
“As a mother I am only as happy as the least happy of my children.”
I think of children everywhere, and grown children
And their mothers, maybe fathers.
I know my worry for the pains of my children,
Relatively small that those pains may be.
I know just enough to imagine:

The immense grief, the anguish
Of Ros, the mother visiting the son in the Supermax Prison,
Who says he is okay, by phone on visiting day,
But she watches his eyes change.

I think of the mothers
Of the young soldier / guard at Guantanamo being corrupted by his job;
Or of Omar, his prisoner,
A youth imprisoned in Guantanamo at 16,
Just for throwing a grenade,
Shaped for one third of his life
By the inhumanity of a prison
Beyond human rights.

Of a prisoner finally released
From the solitary confinement
Of endless days, weeks, and years
In the SuperMax Prison,
Who said,
They made me an animal; I need to learn to be human again:
To talk, to walk, but never to choose being in a crowd again.”

I feel grief.
I feel the stories as if they were my own.
What is the magic of this author
Who tells stories so well,
That I trust enough to walk in her shoes –
And thereby all the shoes of those whose stories she tells,
And even in the shoes
Of those of us gathered together
To share the book,
As we reach more quickly
That deep heart-space together?

What is happening to my heart, and my being,
As I, too, am heard into new being
To be able to look through that glass a little less darkly
With you,
My friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biden Starts Working to Reshape Trump’s Immigration Policy

On February 2 President Biden signed three new executive orders, starting to move toward reuniting migrant children with their parents, rebuilding a working asylum system, and restoring opportunities for foreign workers and students to come to the U.S.  But there is much to do to rebuild an asylum and refugee system the can process large numbers of people .  Resolving the situation of migrants living in squalor on the Mexican side of the border and locating separated parents and children could take months or even years.

Mr. Biden said the orders would begin to address “the root causes” of migration toward the southern border and begin a review of the Trump administration’s destructive immigration policies.  “I’m not making new law.  I’m eliminating bad policy,” he said.  The orders work through task force investigation and evaluation, which will be done under the leadership of Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Biden’s pick  for the secretary of homeland security, the first Latino and the first immigrant to hold that job.  But one order did direct Mayorkas to immediately stop two Trump programs that put migrants on a fast track to deportation.

Still  the Migrant Protection Protocols that forced migrants to wait in Mexico until their cases are processed in court have not been officially ended, though Biden has suspended new entries to the program and is planning to work with organizations in Mexico to identify the most vulnerable asylum seekers who would be processed first.

The administration’s decision to move cautiously reflects the difficulty of unwinding Trump’s immigration rules, many hidden in “regulatory dark matter” as well as Mr. Biden’s concerns about the spread of coronavirus and a rush of migration at the southern border.

But Mr. Biden must balance this measured approach with immigration advocates’ urging to move to quickly open the U.S. to immigrants after four years of Trump restrictions.  Pablo Alvarado, who directs a day laborers organizing network and helped campaign with Biden in battleground states is already worried.  “Why is it when it comes down to immigrants, not the issue but the people, they are not willing to fight as they fight for other things?” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Biden’s Path to Citizenship Succeed?

Biden’s plan to offer a path to U.S. citizenship to nearly 11 million undocumented people is perhaps the boldest and most controversial of his proposals to overhaul the American immigration system.

More than 60% of the immigrants the plan would benefit have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and they have more than 4 million American-born children.  The adults are 5% of the American work force, especially in agriculture, construction, and the hospitality industries.

The path to citizenship would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. before January 1 to apply for temporary legal status after passing background checks and paying taxes.  As “lawful prospective immigrants” they would be authorized to work, join the military, and travel without danger of deportation.  After five years they could apply for green cards.

The bill would also usher in one of the most significant demographic shifts in modern U.S. history, allowing millions of people to come out of the shadows, to take higher paying jobs, and to apply for benefits such as welfare, health coverage, and Social Security.  Eventually these immigrants would become new voters, with the autonomy and power that confers.

Already barriers are going up in Congress and some states to defeat or at least weaken the new immigration initiatives.  In a sign of what might lie ahead, another Biden proposal – a 100 day freeze on deportation – was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas after the attorney general argued that the state would face high costs for services to undocumented immigrants who remained.

Other concerns of the opposition are that new citizens will vote as a solid Democratic bloc, displace American workers, and become a burden on public services.  Some predict that any movement toward legalization would encourage more desperate people to come into the United States.

But supporters contend that a shortage of blue-collar workers in low skill jobs highlights the need for immigrants.  About 5 million of them now work in jobs designated as “essential.”  Among the biggest backers of the Biden plan are employers in industries like dairies and meat-packing plants that rely on immigrants.

 

 

Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a Mexican Migrant Farmworker who Became a Neurosurgeon, Featured in Netflix Series “Surgeon’s Cut”

Episode 2 of Netflix’s series “Surgeon’s Cut” features the story of Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, who was born in Mexicali, Mexico into a childhood of poverty, then became a migrant farmworker, and with determination and courage worked his way to Harvard Medical School to become a world-class neurosurgeon and a professor of neurosurgery at the Mayo Clinic.

When asked about his amazing accomplishments, Dr, Quinones-Hinojosa said, “It’s never been a challenge to stay humble, because I am an immigrant in this country.”

President Biden Signs Six Executive Orders on Immigration on his First Day in Office

Six out of 17 executive orders signed by President Biden after his inauguration on January 20 are aimed at sweeping aside former President Trump’s anti-immigration policies, finally giving immigrants and asylum seekers in the American and global community reason for hope.

With an executive order, Mr. Biden has bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, often called dreamers.  During his term as president, Mr. Trump tried to end the program, known as DACA.  President Biden’s order also calls on Congress to pass legislation that guarantees these young immigrants permanent status and a path to citizenship.

Another executive order revokes the Trump administration’s efforts to exclude non-citizens from the census count, denying them representation and federal services, and another overturns a Trump executive order that pushed aggressive efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to find and deport unauthorized immigrants.  Yet another order blocks the deportation of Liberians who have been living in the U.S.

In a blow to one of Trump’s earliest actions to limit immigration, Mr. Biden has also ended the so-called Muslim ban, which blocked travel to the U.S. from several majority Muslim and African countries.  Mr. Biden has authorized the State Department to restart visa processing for immigrants from the affected countries and to deal with the harm to those who were prevented from coming to the U.S. because of the ban.

President Biden has also halted construction on Trump’s border wall with Mexico, a rallying cry of Trump’s 2016 campaign.  The order includes an “immediate termination” of the national emergency declaration that allowed the Trump administration to redirect billions of dollars to the wall.  It also states that there will be “a close review” of the legality of Trump’s effort to divert federal money to fund the wall.