Russell 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.