Immigration in the News – August 2021

TPS Registration Extension

The Department of Homeland Security has announced extensions of the registration periods from 180 days to 18 months for initial (new) applicants for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under the designations of Venezuela and Burma, and the redesignation of Syria.

Biden Continues Use of Title 42

The Biden administration is continuing the use of Title 42 to quickly turn back immigrants at the southern Border. Title 42 allows immigrants found at the border to be turned back immediately at the discretion of the border agent without going through the normal screening process. Unlike the Trump administration practice, Biden is not using Title 42 to turn back minors who show up at the border alone.

“Migrant Protection Protocols” Renewed by SCOTUS

The Supreme Court ruled that the Biden Administration must revive a Trump Administration decision mandating that some asylum seekers remain in Mexico pending court decisions. These “Migrant Protection Protocols” require that individuals who arrive at the southern border requesting asylum are given notices to appear in immigration court and sent back to Mexico, until they are told to return to a specific port of entry at a specific date and time for a court hearing.

Legal representation for these people is rare, believed to be less than 7.5% of individuals subject to MPP. The lack of counsel, combined with the dangers that individuals face in border towns, have made it nearly impossible for anyone subject to MPP to successfully win asylum.

Goddard College Offers to House Afghan Refugees

Goddard College has offered to house Afghan refugees at their Plainfield campus for at least two months this upcoming fall. This follows Governor Scott’s announcement to the White House and the state that Vermont welcomes refugees from war-torn countries. There are no clear plans to bring Afghan refugees to the state yet.

Countries Pledge to Accept Afghans After U.S. Military Departs

The United States and 97 other countries said they will continue to take in those fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal. The joint statement notes that the Taliban have given assurances that people with travel documents clearing them to enter any of those countries could safely depart. But the international community has little influence over what takes place within Afghanistan’s borders. Many fear that the process of applying for visas and travel documents within Afghanistan will only identify those who wish to leave to the Afghan government.


Immigration in the News, July 2021

FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly and Humane Immigration System 7/27/2021

This lengthy document includes the following policies relating to asylum seekers:

  • Establishing a dedicated immigration court docket to consider the protection claims of eligible recent arrivals quickly and efficiently.
  • Authorizing asylum officers to adjudicate asylum claims and establish eligibility standards that harmonize the U.S. approach with international standards.
  • Maximizing legal representation by working with pro bono legal service providers.
  • Reducing immigration court backlogs by hiring more immigration judges.
Judge Blocks DACA Program, Barring New Applicants

A federal judge in Texas ruled that the U.S. government can no longer accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This is a major setback for immigrants who were brought to the United States unlawfully as children.

The Biden administration is ordered to close the program to first-time applicants while a Texas-led lawsuit makes its way through the federal courts.

Those currently in the program will still be permitted to work and be protected from deportation until a further court ruling.

Farm workforce act: A path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers, or indentured servitude?

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would grant undocumented farmworkers legal status and a path to citizenship. But because of its length-of-service requirements workers would be required to work for four or (in most cases) eight years after achieving certified agricultural worker status before they could qualify for permanent residence. As a result activists claim it would limit farmworkers’ rights to unionization and legalization and leave them vulnerable to low wages and poor working conditions.

The bill passed the House in March with bipartisan support, but is unlikely to pass in the Senate.

A Pathway to Citizenship and Economic Growth Through Budget Reconciliation

The Senate Committee on the Budget released a draft of its $6 trillion reconciliation budget blueprint which includes $126 billion to put immigrants on a pathway to citizenship.

This column at the Center for American Progress argues that this is an appropriate use of the budget reconciliation process because putting Dreamers, those eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and essential workers on a pathway to citizenship would add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to U.S. GDP over a decade and create over 400,000 new jobs.

Boundless Immigration News Weekly Recap: July 16, 2021

The White House will be assigning more immigration officers to review DACA applications and promote “public awareness” to remind current DACA beneficiaries to renew their work permits and deportation deferrals.

Notes in Remembrance of Lou Cherry

It was with deep sadness – and appreciation – that the CVRAN community learned that Lou Cherry had died in early April, in Asheville, NC, after a short illness. He had only recently relocated there from Vermont to join his wife, Arlene.

Lou was a person with wide interests, strong personal qualities, and deep commitments.

For CVRAN, Lou was a founding member in the spring of 2015, accomplishing two essential and grounding tasks: drafting and filing the Articles of Association with the State of Vermont, and successfully applying for recognition as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation under federal law. Lou was among other original CVRAN members who were part of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier where the organizing meetings took place.

Over his years of involvement with CVRAN Lou was gracious, caring, informed, and committed. His ability to think through challenges creatively and effectively – always with good humor – was an anchor for the young, dynamic organization. His early contributions provided an essential foundation for the recent years of fruitful engagement with refugees,
asylum seekers, and many volunteers.

Lou especially enjoyed taking part in the Central Vermont visits of the staff of the Mexican Consulate from Boston. They offered valuable services to hundreds of Mexicans who live and work on Central Vermont farms. His competence, personal enthusiasm, and devotion to Spanish were a gift to all. His creative culinary skills were essential when CVRAN organized Latin Fiesta nights.

Lou’s commitments reflected his own life, as the son of parents who came to the US from Hungary. He was deeply appreciative that his son, Eric, had served as a Unitarian Universalist minister in Cluj, Romania. That Transylvanian community had been part of Hungary before WWII and was a Jewish ghetto late in the war.

The following is from the April 29th obituary in the Times Argus, on his move to Vermont in the early 2000s:

With his quiet sense of purpose and wry sense of humor, Lou quickly found productive ways to engage with the central Vermont community and beyond. He had an infectious laugh deeply enjoyed by the community.

The CVRAN community will always remember Lou’s spirit and commitment to many progressive interests.

Montpelier Teenager Makes Substantial Donation To Help Asylum Seekers in Montpelier

Moss close-upRussell Clar, an 8th grader at the Montpelier Middle School and a member of the Beth Jacob Synagogue is our newest generous supporter. For his Bar Mitzvah service project in April, he was inspired to support the effort to promote refugee justice. Instead of receiving gifts himself he chose to have any gifts for him directed to CVRAN in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. He researched online and found CVRAN.

He sees the plight of refugees as a timeless issue, especially poignant now with so many people fleeing violence, poverty, and drought in their home countries. As a Jew, he is acutely sensitive to what it means to flee and to be a refugee.

Russell is a talented photographer and sells his unusual images of the natural world online. He is planning to donate some of the profits to CVRAN.

Thank you, Russell, for your generous spirit and creative project. The more than $800 you raised will support our monthly budget for the asylum seekers we are hosting while they await their work permits and final asylum hearings.

Biden Grants Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S.

Buzzfeed News recently reported that more than 100,000 Haitians residing in the U.S. since prior to May 21 have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Haitians who satisfy this criterion must file an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and pass a background check after which they will receive work and travel authorization.

Haiti has been suffering from social unrest, gang violence, and an ongoing constitutional crisis, all of which have made recovery from the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince even more challenging. The Obama administration had already granted TPS to Haitians living in the U.S. continuously since 2010; this protection was set to expire in October. The new protection Biden is providing will expire in 18 months.

TPS is a boon for Haitians living in the U.S., allowing them to live and work without fear of being suddenly deported. On the other hand it is temporary, preventing those who wish to do so from putting down roots and establishing a long-term connection with their community. Hopefully a better solution can be found before the 18 month reprieve expires.

Biden Increases Refugee Cap

Biden recently announced that he would increase the refugee cap for the fiscal year (ending September 30) to 62,500. This is a reversal from his prior statement that he would be leaving the Trump administration’s cap of 15,000 in place. The administration had seemed on the verge of increasing the refugee cap for months but President Biden never signed the final paperwork that would allow refugees to board planes for the US. When he finally announced that he would be leaving the cap at 15,000 it prompted fierce criticism from refugee advocates.

The new cap of 62,500 is in some ways more messaging than policy. Biden said meeting the new cap by the end of September would be unlikely due to budget and staffing cuts during the Trump administration. It’s nonetheless a positive sign that President Biden is taking seriously the need to shift course after the Trump administration’s policies.

Title 42 Used to Expel Asylum Seekers under Biden administration

Expulsions under Title 42 are a result of a 1940s  era public health statute that permits the CDC to close the border to “nonessential” travel. Back in March of 2020 when the Trump administration was barely beginning to consider taking coronavirus seriously it nonetheless quickly acted to activate provisions that prevent migrants from seeking asylum at our border with Mexico. Potential asylees were then, at the discretion of the Border Patrol agent, processed according to Title 42 and quickly returned to Mexico rather than according to Title 8 which governs normal immigration procedures and requires access to asylum. The Trump administration began applying Title 42 to migrants despite the lack of support for such measures by public health data even as the border remained open to tourists and other travelers.

President Biden is continuing this Trump-era policy in the face of criticism and legal challenges. Migrants are sent back into Mexico after having crossed the border, sometimes many miles from where they crossed in the first place. There, as this article from the LA Times explains, their problems are compounded because they are subject to gangs of kidnappers.   The expulsions by the Border Patrol are a bonanza for these gangs, who wait and pick up migrants after they are dropped off in a strange city. Once the gangs kidnap someone, the kidnappers check cell phones for US numbers, hoping to find friends or family already in the US who can be extorted for ransom money. Those hit up for ransom money may then be forced into debt in order to rescue loved ones.

The Biden administration appears to be worried that pent-up demand at the border will lead to more more border crossings and more asylum seekers, possibly increasing the administration’s political vulnerability as those on the right attempt to pin a “border crisis” on Biden’s policies. At the same time, there are legitimate reasons to seek to reduce the rate of attempted border crossings: it takes time to rebuild the capacity to process migrants at the border, capacity which was encouraged to atrophy under Trump. But we must continue to hold the Biden administration to higher standards, the consequences otherwise can be horrific.

Letter from Ashar Hafeez Ghumman, Director of Global Grace Farm, Provides Inspiration

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.

Hello Everyone:

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. . . .




Report Finds Migrant Workers Housing To Be Substandard

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.



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.