Ithacan Immigrant: Eh K’Pru

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This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Eh K’Pru who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Burma in 2013.  She is currently working on her GED and plans on attending college at TC3 to study English and then pursue a career where she can work with children.  Eh K’Pru, her mother, and brother came to Catholic Charities to get assistance with applying to be U.S. citizens.  We wish all of them good luck with completing their path to citizenship.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

Because I wanted freedom and to study.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My cousins live here and they told us if we came to the U.S. to live near them because it was nice.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked that there were a lot of parks, there’s a lot of nature, the people are very kind in Ithaca and the education is very good.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pepperoni pizza – but I only eat it sometimes, not everyday.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

I usually shop at Walmart.  I like to look for clothes there and shop for food.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

I don’t really know about Burma because I was too young.  I remember being in the refugee camp in Thailand – it was very nice and I enjoyed going to school.  I went to school with a lot of friends and we learned a lot of things.  We had 7 classes: math, science, history, Burmese culture, Karen culture, geography and just a little bit of English.  School here is totally different.  Here I studied English, math and global studies.  I got too old to finish school so now I’m working on GED.

 

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What’s Happening Locally in Regards to Migrant Children

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The following post is an email written by Catholic Charities’ Deputy Director and Justice & Peace Ministry Coordinator Laurie Konwinski in response to several inquires we received regarding the current situation from children being separated from their parents at the border.

Since Catholic Charities has been seeing and receiving inquiries about foster care for the immigrant children who have been taken from their parents at the border, I did some research and wanted to send out this information.  First, of course, it amazing and touching and inspiring to know that so many people care about this issue and want to do something for these children.  This gives me some hope in the face of this disgusting situation.

Some basics: when the children were taken from their parents, they were deemed “unaccompanied alien children” (UACs).  I know that sounds pretty cold, but that’s the official term used.  They were placed with the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  ORR contracts with not for profit social services agencies around the country who care for the children, providing shelter, medical care, food etc.  You can read more about the program here: www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/unaccompanied-children-frequently-asked-questions

Many of these programs have group home type settings.  Some of them supervise foster families who take the children into their own homes. In order to be a foster family you have to be fully licensed by your state.

From what I have read online, the refugee resettlement agencies in our area, including the ones in Buffalo, Syracuse and Binghamton, and of course our own Catholic Charities here in Ithaca, are not currently caring for UACs who’ve recently crossed the border.  In fact, I am not finding any information indicating that any of them do this particular service of caring for unaccompanied children.

HOWEVER today I spoke to a staff member at Catholic Family Center, which is the Catholic Charities agency in Monroe County (based in Rochester).  That agency provides many services to immigrants, including foster care to refugee children who have no adults caring for them.  These refugee children have gone through the vetting process and been granted refugee status by the United Nations and then allowed into the US as refugees.   That is NOT the same status as these UACs.

There was some confusion today stemming from a Washington Post article that made it seem like Catholic Family Center was about to receive many of these children.  That is NOT the case.  As far as the staff member I spoke to knows, none of the current UACs are heading to Rochester.

Having said that, who knows what will happen.  Maybe there is some chance that Catholic Family Center would be asked to provide foster care for UACs at some point.  It’s hard to say, given the unpredictability of the situation.  But it is definitely not happening at this time. And even if that were to happen, I don’t think people in Tompkins County would be eligible to foster these children, given that the office overseeing the program would be up in Rochester.  I will try to find out the answer to that question, but I’m guessing we are just too far away.

As mentioned in some e-mails, Cayuga Centers is an organization that provides foster care for kids in several locations, including Auburn.  However, from what I can tell the only location where they are providing foster care for unaccompanied immigrant children is New York City.  See:  http://cayugacenters.org/programs/immigrant-foster-care/

So it doesn’t seem likely that we in Tompkins County will be able to provide foster care for these unaccompanied children any time soon. But if I find out any further information on this I will let you know.   I salute the agencies and individual households involved in providing this care.  But of course what Catholic Charities and all kinds of other organizations and people are calling for is an end to the separation of families and ultimately to humane immigration reform.

Thank you for standing up for compassion and morality in these difficult times.

Blessings,

Laurie

 

 

 

Ithacan Immigrant: Yasmin

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This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Yasmin, an Iranian national who moved to Ithaca to study at Cornell.  She’s majoring in human biology/pre-med and aspires to becoming a surgeon hoping to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps who was a heart surgeon in her home country.  We first met Yasmin when she and her mother came to Catholic Charities seeking assistance in becoming U.S. citizens.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came for my education and to have a better future for myself and my children.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I got accepted to Cornell and when I came here I realized that it was a very nice city.  I love the natural environment and the people.  As you know it’s a sanctuary city, it’s a safe place, and the political ideologies match mine.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I would say my first impression was thinking Ithaca was like the movie Twilight because it’s a very natural environment.  I remember going to Taughannock Falls and Buttermilk Falls and thinking that.  When I first got here, everyday I would walk to class from my dorm and I would cross a bridge and take pictures of the water.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I definitely like hot dogs.  I didn’t use to eat them but when I came here I realized they are a pretty big thing.  I eat them with mustard only.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

Urban Outfitters – in Iran there was a mandatory hijab that you had to wear and our school uniforms had to be a dark navy; it was very conservative.  When I came here people were free to wear whatever they wanted and Urban Outfitters seemed pretty interesting.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

Here you have the freedom to voice your opinions and just seeing how people can voice their political opinions inspires me.   In Iran, people are very scared.  Even if they know the political system is corrupt, they don’t say it because they are scared.  There is a fright over there because they have been oppressed and I don’t see that here.

 

 

Call to Action: Tell DHS Not to Separate Families

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Unaccompanied child held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Photo credit: Customs and Border Protection/ U.S. government

“Forcibly separating children

from their mothers and fathers

is ineffective to the goals of deterrence and safety

 and contrary to our Catholic values.”

 Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration

In April Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized border crossings.   This has led to the separation of families as parents crossing the border with their families are taken into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, and then their children are deemed to be “alien unaccompanied minors” and placed in the care of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services.

Between May 6 to May 19 alone, 638 adults crossing the border were referred for prosecution, separating them from the 658 children who were migrating with them.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for an end to this tearing apart of families for several reasons, including:

  • “Separating families at the border will be incredibly costly… Currently, if an individual is not referred for prosecution or detained, the families of those arriving and charitable groups provide assistance.”

With the policy change, taxpayers will be paying    hundreds of dollars per day for each family detained. In contrast, Alternative to Detention (ATD) programs are much more cost-effective; “ATD programs … can cost as little as $5 per person per day and are extremely effective in ensuring compliance with immigration    proceedings and orders.”

  • Placing adults and children in separate immigration proceedings increases the immigration court backlog, already at over 692,000 cases, and makes it harder for these families to present evidence of the persecution that threatens their lives in their home countries.
  • Most importantly, “children are vulnerable and should not be separated from their parents.  Family unity is a cornerstone of our    American immigration system and a foundational element of Catholic teaching.”

The trauma of this forced separation on the parents and most especially on the children can cause lifelong psychological damage.  People fleeing horrific violence in their own countries have suffered more than most of us can imagine.  They have a right to apply for asylum no matter how they enter the United States.  It is unconscionable that our government exacerbates their grief by tearing children from their fathers and mothers.

Use the link below to CALL ON CONGRESS to

(1) Tell the Department of Homeland Security Not to Separate Families
(2) Prevent DHS from Receiving Funding for This Harmful and Costly Practice
(3) Propose More Humane Solutions, Such As Alternatives to Detention.

www.justiceforimmigrants.org/action-alerts/

Laurie Konwinski

Deputy Director/Justice & Peace Ministry Coordinator, CCTT

Meet Roe: ISP Intern

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My name is Roe Lay Si. I am a refugee from Myanmar (Burma) and I came to the United States 7 years ago and am currently a student at TC3 majoring in Human Services.  Because of my major, I am required to complete an internship.  I began to think that I wanted to get an internship at Catholic Charities because they are a non-profit organization.  I first heard about them when I moved to Ithaca and some of my family members told me they helped refugees and people who were in need.  I went to them to get help in applying to become a U.S. citizen.

Because I wanted to learn more about their programs  I scheduled a meeting and offered to be a volunteer.  They kindly said yes and I am now officially doing an internship with the Immigrant Services Program and volunteering with their Samaritan Center.  Through this experience, I am hoping to learn more about other refugees and their backgrounds, as well as their experiences in the United States.  And I am hoping to help bridge and connect people to the community who may be isolated.

One project I  am working on is trying to take a headcount of all the refugees from Burma who live in this area.  In Ithaca, the Karen refugees mainly are part of 2 large families  – one family probably has 60 members and the other family has around maybe 30 or 40 members.    I would like to then create two family trees for those who are related.  The family tree I am part of is the smaller one.  On paper 30 to 40 people might not look like a lot but if you were to see all of us on the street, it would be a lot of people.  Because I’m Karen, I will have to do my research and figure out who the Burmese are but I think there are around 50 of them in the area.

When I first came to the U.S., I was in living in Kentucky where there were many other refugees from Burma.  I learned a lot from what they were faced with and what I had to face myself. I told myself that I am still young and strong, I must continue studying because there are lot of opportunities that are waiting for me.  I needed to take advantage of those opportunities before it was too late.  Just like the older people say, “An early bird catches the worm.”

I have overcome many obstacles that other refugees face.  Things like learning English and then feeling comfortable speaking with others in English was very difficult.  Also, finding my way around town and learning directions was very hard.  Now I have a cell phone with GPS, but I didn’t have that when I first came here as a new refugee.  Since I have faced many of the same obstacles that newer refugees now face, I want to help those who are finding it difficult to build their new future.  I started a new life in a new country and now I’d like to give back to others by helping them learn from my experiences.

 

Keep Pushing for the DREAM Act

 

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Catholic Charities stands with the US Conference of  Catholic Bishops in calling on Congress to push forward the “discharge petition” which would bring the DREAM Act to the House floor.  As reported in this article, the effort was originally spearheaded by three moderate Republicans who have long been vocal about trying to save DACA, a program that protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children — Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Jeff Denham of California, and Carlos Curbelo of Florida. Curbelo.

A discharge petition allows a simple majority of the House – 218 members – to go around leadership and bring a bill to the floor for a vote. So far, 196 members of the House have signed the DREAM Act discharge petition.  That’s just 22 short of the signatures needed to force a vote on the bill, which is why we must keep pushing.

As of today, Rep. Tom Reed, Rep. John Katko and Rep. Chris Collins from upstate New York have all signed onto this petition to move the DREAM act to the floor. If you know anyone on Long Island in Rep. Pete King’s district, please ask them to nudge him too. We might finally get something down for the DREAMers!

Keeping the Faith through the Green Card Process

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Silvia and Carlos visiting family in Mexico before the visa interview

Marriage to a U.S. citizen is often said to be the fastest way for a foreign national to get a green card, especially if the couple reside together in the United States.  But taking the steps to get a foreign national spouse legalized exposes him/her to significant risks (e.g., deportation) so many couples often postpone filing a spousal application for years even though there is a path to legalization.  One such couple, Silvia and Carlos (not their real names), met with me in 2014 for a legal consultation so Carlos could finally get a green card.  Despite the couple being married for many years, Silvia struggled to overcome the fear that was stoked anytime they sought legal advice.

We saw an immigration attorney a few times but I was always left with the feeling that the odds were 30/70 against us.  When I heard about the risks that Carlos could face, I would picture immigration officers arresting him and would cry the whole way home.

The couple had originally met 2002, began dating, and were married a few years later in front of a judge.  They eventually had two children.  As the years passed, Silvia, who not only worried about Carlos’ immigration status, also carried enormous guilt about having never been married in the church.  Being raised Catholic, Silvia felt embarrassed whenever attending church because she felt that in God’s eyes, she and Carlos were living in sin. One night, Silvia prayed for guidance and the next morning she awoke certain that it was time to plan a church wedding.

I prayed and the next day, woke up and told my husband that I wanted to get married by the church and we would do that in August.  He said okay.  In my head I would always apologize to God and hoped he understood our situation because we were committed to each other and didn’t have an easy life.  Within 3 days, I also said to my husband that we needed to get his documents. That’s when we decided to come to Catholic Charities.

I met with Silvia and Carlos several times to prepare their case and then a few times while the case processed.  Since Carlos had entered the U.S. without inspection and had accrued unlawful presence, we not only had to file the spousal petition and green card application, but also had to file a provisional waiver that showed Silvia would experience hardship if Carlos wasn’t allowed to remain in the U.S.  During that time, Silvia often expressed how nervous she felt but still felt strong because of her faith.

 I come from a very religious Catholic background.  My sisters have always said I have a lot of strength and can endure a lot.  The reality is I was very afraid but luckily some light came in and gave me the strength to keep having faith in the process.  Once we did the paperwork, the waiting was intense but at the same time it was easier because every time we got a letter from immigration, we were one step closer.

After the waiver was approved and the National Visa Center had received the required documents for a visa interview to be scheduled, the couple traveled to Mexico.  Once there, Silvia would meet her in-laws for the first time and Carlos would be reunited with his family after an 18-year separation. When they arrived at the visa interview, Silvia waited outside since she wasn’t allowed to accompany her husband inside the U.S. Consulate’s office.  She described the crowds of people surrounding her and how her nerves almost got the better of her.

There were so many people down there trying to get their green cards.  I was so nervous while I waited outside that I had a panic attack.  I kept wondering what would I do if he didn’t get the green card.  I called my Mom and she said she would pray, and I sat down and said a prayer and a sense of calm came over me.  Then this one guy came out and he was crying because his application just got denied.  His family was waiting and he was trying to hold it in.  He went and hugged his wife and told her what happened.  It was heartbreaking and a little terrifying because what if they did the same to my husband?  But Carlos walked out and was smiling; he hugged me and told me ‘we did it’.

Carlos’ green card was produced in 2016 and Silvia describes the last two years as complete bliss.

 When I look back I realize getting married in the church lifted a weight in my soul and relieved so much guilt.  Then getting the green card was like a bonus I couldn’t imagine.  I never realized how much I took on because I was afraid everyday my husband could be deported.  But once we got back home and he had his green card, I immediately could sense how I now had a full partner. With him having these documents we can split more of the work.   Now he works as a baker, he has benefits and is about to get a paid vacation for the first time.  He drives, and I don’t have to worry about him being out and about.   He can pick up groceries, he has a credit card, he even has a credit score.  I guess if I had a dream, this would be it.  I had dreamt it for so long that I didn’t think it would happen.  Luckily, I was able to get some courage and I’m so thankful I had my faith.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Ithacan Immigrant: Mario

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This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Mario, who came to the U.S. following the back-to-back hurricanes that destroyed many homes and businesses in the Caribbean, including the hotel where he was working in the Virgin Islands.  Mario, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, survived his first winter in upstate New York and even though he wasn’t too keen on the cold weather and snow, he said his first spring in Ithaca feels like “paradise.”  He’s been accessing our citizenship services in order to become a U.S. citizen.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was searching for more opportunities.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I was in the Virgin Islands and we got hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and there were a lot of damages.  The apartment where I was living lost its roof and the hotel where I was working got completely destroyed and I got displaced.  I have a cousin in Newfield so I came here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was love at first sight.  I love the buildings and the people are very friendly and helpful and it has everything you want.  Anything you want, you’ve got it.  It’s an academic city so I feel comfortable.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pizza – I like pepperoni and bacon at Domino’s Pizza.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

Walmart – everyday we end up there.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

Ithaca kind of reminds me of my hometown in the DR – they’re not that much different.  It’s small and you feel the warmth of the people here like you do when you are there.  It’s not so big and not so small – both are the right size.

 

 

 

Public Benefits, Public Charge, and Public Comment

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Public Benefits: Whenever new clients come to Catholic Charities seeking legal immigration services we pre-screen them for other services and programs (often public benefits) they might qualify for if they are living in low-income households.  We then follow-up with a referral to programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), especially for those who have U.S. citizen children. So last February when I saw Reuter’s reporter Yeganeh Torbati was sending out the following tweets, I became concerned:

from @yjtorbati

SCOOP: The Trump administration is considering targeting foreigners in the U.S. who have used food aid and other public benefits, by making it harder for them to get green cards. More updates to this story coming

Story just updated w more details. DHS is considering effectively penalizing applicants for permanent residence who use or are likely to use a variety of welfare programs including CHIP, SNAP, Head Start, ACA subsidies, WIC, LIHEAP, and section 8 housing

Those tweets then linked to Torbati’s article  where she writes, “The Trump administration is considering making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to get permanent residency if they or their American-born children use public benefits such as food assistance, in a move that could sharply restrict legal immigration.” The leaked memo raised concerns with legal practitioners leaving them to wonder what was coming down the pike for those clients they might potentially represent with permanent residency applications or with petitioning for close family members to come to the U.S.  as legal permanent residents if they had accessed public benefits.

Public Charge: Currently, federal law allows immigration and consular authorities to deny admissions to the U.S. or adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident status to a person they deem likely to become a public charge. Under the current definition, a “public charge” is a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. It’s important to note that while the public charge ground of inadmissibility doesn’t affect all non-citizens (e.g., refugees and asylees), it does affect non-citizens who are applying for Lawful Permanent Resident status through family-based visa petitions.

Public Charge and Public Benefits: The draft rule would dramatically change the benefit-related criteria used to make a public charge determination.  The draft proposal would put someone at risk of being deemed a “public charge” if that person — or anyone in the person’s immediate familyincluding citizen children — receive any of a far broader set of benefits. The benefits and tax credits that would be considered include CHIP, WIC,  SNAP, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as subsidies to help people afford health insurance in the ACA’s marketplaces, and others.  This attempt for the Trump Administration to stop low-income immigrants from accessing healthcare, nutrition, and other critical program is a new low.

The proposal would have two main effects: 1) immigration authorities could use it to prevent some immigrants here lawfully who receive — or whose close family members receive — any of these benefits or tax credits from becoming permanent residents; and 2) prospective immigrants who want to reunite with their families could be denied from entering the United States, if the authorities rule that they or any member of their families have received or would likely receive any of these benefits in the future. Many see this as just another way for the administration to target immigrants coming to the U.S. through what Trumps has called “horrible chain migration.”

Yet again the Trump Administration is attempting to stoke fear in the immigrant community through its anti-immigration policies. And it’s working.  Since the memo leaked, I have received several inquiries from clients worried if accessing government programs might affect their pending immigration cases.  Clients ranging from someone who is a lawful permanent resident applicant and worries about receiving subsidies that help pay his ACA insurance premiums to a pregnant woman who is looking to adjust her status from fiancée to lawful permanent resident and needs emergency Medicaid for prenatal care are worried their applications may be denied because of accessing public benefits.  For cases such as these, it is important to note that at this time the rules governing public charge determinations in the U.S. have not yet changed.   But change might be on the horizon.

Public Comment: What started out as a memo, might soon be put into law as DHS has already sent it to the Office of Management and Budget for clearance. Any day now, the changes to how the government defines public charge might be published in the Federal Register where it will allow for 60 days of public comments. This document from the National Immigration Law Center gives more background into “public charge,” as well as advises immigration advocates to do the following:

Fight back! If a proposed rule is published, individuals and organizations can submit public comments and share stories about how the proposed rules would affect them and the communities or consumers that they serve.

For those who have never posted a public comment on the Federal Register, these tips might be useful.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

 

Ithacan Immigrant: Plel

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This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Plel, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Burma in 2016.  His wife was joined him in the U.S. this past year through the refugee resettlement program we have at Catholic Charities.  We are providing Plel with legal immigration services so he can adjust his status from refugee to legal permanent resident.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

Because I had family here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My mother lived here – we have over 100 relatives in the U.S. and probably 50 of them live in Ithaca.  We have lots of cousins.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

There’s not a lot of people fighting in Ithaca.  There’s a lot of beautiful things here like waterfalls and it’s clean.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Salad – I like the ones at GreenStar.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

I don’t really like to shop.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

In the U.S. there’s good education and a lot of jobs.  Back home where we lived, we didn’t have a good education, we didn’t have freedom and we got punished by the Burmese government and the Thai police so we couldn’t go anywhere.  Here, everybody is happy.