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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.

 

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.

 

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.”