Citizenship Day, 2018

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Each year, hundreds of thousands of foreign-born residents become U.S. citizens.

This week, many Americans across the country are celebrated on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day which were both held on September 17.  Constitution Week is also being celebrated and is held from September 17-23.  Citizenship Day is marked by ceremonies and celebrations around the country as many legal permanent residents take the oath of allegiance and become naturalized as U.S. citizens.

In 2009, I met with Eh, who came to the Immigrant Services Program at Catholic Charities to get help to apply to become a U.S. citizen.  Eh, a refugee from Burma, happened to be the first person our program offered citizenship services to.  Since preparing and filing that first application, we have assisted over 700 immigrants in our community to become U.S. citizens.  Because Citizenship Day is a good time for naturalized citizens to reflect what it means to become a U.S. citizen, I asked Eh about some of his thoughts on this topic.

Why did you want to be a citizen?

I couldn’t go back to my country so I had to be a citizen here.  In Burma, I fought the government, which was the army and the military, for a long time because we needed democracy.  We stayed on the Thai Burmese border then finally applied to be refugees. The U.S. government sponsored me as a refugee so I came here.

Has becoming a U.S. citizen changed your life in any way?

I think it’s important to be recognized as a citizen here.  Before I was a citizen we had to worry if we were legal or not even though we came in a legal way.  We wanted to fully feel freedom so we applied to be citizens.  When you’re a citizen you can vote, you have the same say as other people in the U.S.  When you’re not a citizen you can’t vote and you don’t really have freedom.

What do you remember about becoming a U.S. citizen?

First of all, I had to learn English.  When I came to the U.S. I took ESL classes for almost 2 years.  I was here 5 years before I could apply for citizenship.  I came here [Catholic Charities] to get help to make out the application and then after that you tested me several times on things I had memorized.  It was hard to study those things because it wasn’t in my language. I studied for 6 months and learned brand new things every day.  It was a step-by-step process.   You tried to teach me though and encouraged me so I passed.

It’s been almost 10 years since you studied for the test.  Do you remember any of the questions you were asked during your interview?

Oh yes, I’ll always remember them.  They asked me about Independence Day, who the first president was, and the history about the United State.  They asked me what river is the longest one, what state is the largest, and about the holidays in the United States.

I remember us repeatedly practicing who the speaker of the house was so I asked Eh if he remembered the correct answer and he did, Nancy Pelosi.

What do you remember about the ceremony?

I felt really good.  They had us to go to DeWitt Middle School and had the room fixed up real nice for the ceremony.  I looked out and I could see some of my friends had come to watch.  I couldn’t understand everything that was being said but I could understand some of it.  I was happy because I felt like I was legal, I could vote, and now I had freedom in the U.S.   

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

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Growing Up in a Mixed Status Family

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Sara visiting Taughannock Falls, Ithaca NY

I recently met with Sara who is the U.S. citizen child of parents who are unauthorized. Immigration policy researchers estimate there are several million children living in mixed status families, similar to Sara’s, where there is at least one citizen or legal immigrant child and at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant (Migration Policy Institute, 2016).  In Sara’s case, both of her parents are unauthorized and she and her 3 siblings were born in the U.S.

We spoke about the fact that Sara will be turning 21 soon and therefore will be eligible to apply for her parents to begin the green card process.  However, to become a legal permanent resident through a U.S. citizen child who has turned 21, an unauthorized parent must either be eligible to adjust their status in the U.S. or face leaving the country.

The facts that Sara presented about her case suggested her parents would have to go back to Mexico for consular processing.  Since they had accrued more than 1 year of unlawful presence in the U.S. they would automatically trigger the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility which in turn would bar them from reentry for 10 years.  Even though there is potentially a path to citizenship for Sara’s parents, it would be a long road.

When asked if being part of her parent’s legalization process concerned her, Sara replied,

Sometimes I have looked into getting them their papers but it’s not my priority.  Also, I know my parents have a lawyer.  They know that when I turn 21 they can start filing some paperwork.  So, I think about it sometimes, but it doesn’t consume me.  But still, 10 years is a really long time.

In the past I have assisted other U.S. citizen children who were born to unauthorized parents start the green card process.  However, those cases were for parents who were inspected at the U.S. border and therefore they could go through the whole green card process without leaving the U.S.  The inspection by a U.S. immigration officer was pretty much their ticket to a much easier process than the one that parents like Sara’s would have who entered without inspection.

Even though Sara’s parents would have to return to their home country for 10 years, she still felt optimistic about her future and the futures of her 3 siblings because she felt like she had helped fulfill her parents dreams which was to be successful in school.

I think one of my parents’ main goals in coming to the U.S. was to have better educational opportunities for us [their children].  My dad was 17 and I think originally, he planned on making money and then go back home.  But he met my mother when they attended adult education classes and then they got married.  I think my parents wanted to live here so they could give us a better education than they had.

Growing up I felt there was more pressure to do well in school or do great things because other immigrants come here and can barely speak English.  It put pressure on us that our parents expected a lot of us because we were born here.  Imagine you don’t do well with your grades and your cousins in Mexico do better. I graduated in the top 3% of my class though and got accepted into 3 colleges.

Even though Sara’s parents would have to leave the U.S. for 10 years if she is successful in getting their green card process started when she turns 21,  she thinks her entire family will be okay.

For my family, it comes down to intellectual capital. My parents really value education and me and my siblings have done very good in school with no tutors or other assistance.  We have been able to be at the level of other students who were not first generation.  A lot of people think if they send their kids to work, the family will be successful; education isn’t a priority. But I don’t think that’s the case.  Higher education is a long-term investment and that’s how you get your career.  In that sense my parents have achieved what they wanted to by coming to the U.S.  If my parents have to leave, I’m pretty sure me and my sibling wouldn’t go with them.  But we would be okay.  By the time they’d have to leave, we’d be in college and in the long-term we will have careers.

When asked about the positives and negatives of her parents leaving the U.S. and the 10 year bar they would trigger, Sara had mixed feelings.

If my parents go back to Mexico, they would have more freedom.  They wouldn’t have restrictions about going out and would no longer have to worry about being deported. Plus, they would be able to get jobs because they have a lot of connections there.  But it’s pretty sad knowing what my parents have contributed to this country and the fact that they would have to leave.  Obviously, there is a plethora of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and the fact that they can’t become citizens is ridiculous.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

 

Ithacan Immigrant: K’Pru

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For this week’s Ithacan Immigrant, we interviewed K’Pru, a Karen refugee who was resettled in the U.S. after spending over 14 years in a refugee camp in Thailand.  K’Pru, along with his mother and sister, came to Catholic Charities for our legal immigration services shortly after they relocated to the Ithaca area to get help in adjusting their status from refugees to  legal permanent residents.  Now (4 years later) we are assisting the family once again so they can become U.S. citizens.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came because of the civil war in Burma and my family wasn’t safe.  We moved to Thailand then came here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I wanted to live close to my cousin and wanted to learn English and find a job.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

When I came here it was spring time and Ithaca looked nice.  It was a small town and I liked how it looked.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pasta – I like spaghetti.  I eat that at the Statler.

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

I like TJ Maxx.  The store is cheaper and they have everything that I want.

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

In Burma, it was very different. We lived in a small village and had a house made out of bamboo.  We had a farm with small animals, cows, pigs, ducks, chicken and we planted vegetables, peanuts and rice.  Here we living in an apartment and  we garden in the community garden (the one that is next to Aldi’s).

 

 

Call to Action: Prepare for Proposed Change to Public Charge Policy

CLINIC

You can help!

Don’t let a change to immigration application standards hurt millions of families

About the proposed rule

The administration is expected to issue a proposed rule making it much more difficult for immigrants to apply for legal immigration status in the United States. The proposed rule drastically expands the definition of what it means to be a public charge, which could prevent an immigrant from maintaining or obtaining legal immigration status.

Previously, the government banned immigrants on public charge grounds if it found they would likely depend on public cash assistance or need long term medical care in an institution at the government’s expense. Under the proposed new rule, the definition is so expanded that it could deny immigrants legal status if any of their dependents, including U.S. citizen children, have used benefits established to help the entire community.

Why it matters

This proposed rule will hurt and separate families. As people of faith, we are called to stand with families, for the common good of all and to defend those made vulnerable by unfair policies.

This planned expansion of public charge forces parents to choose between needed public assistance to keep their children fed and healthy or leaving their family vulnerable to separation. It means pregnant women have to pick between care for their babies or applying for an immigration status that will improve their families’ lives permanently.

What you can do

When the proposed rule is published, there will be a period, likely 60 days, when the public can submit written comments to the federal government opposing the rule. The number of comments submitted during this period will impact whether the proposed rule will be finalized as-is, or if it will be revised. This is our best chance to make a difference. When the proposed rule is published, CLINIC will provide instructions on how to submit a comment. Learn more at cliniclegal.org/public-charge.

Prepare now: Your voice matters!

  1. If you are a member of a church or organization, start talking to leadership about having your organization submit a comment. Have the proper permissions in place so that you are ready to act when the rule is published.
  2. Start thinking through exactly how this rule will affect your particular community. Write some notes that can be inserted into your comment.
  3. Ask your place of worship or a local community center if they can offer space to discuss the rule when it is finally announced.
  4. Talk to others in your community about this proposed rule to raise awareness and help increase the number of comments submitted against this rule.
  5. Encourage members of your place of worship to brainstorm how you can provide alternative forms of assistance for families, such as a non-governmental community fund.

For the latest information, visit: cliniclegal.org/public-charge

Ithacan Immigrant: Paw Ta Shue

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For this week’s Ithacan Immigrant we spoke to Paw Ta Shue who has working at Catholic Charities this past summer as one of the United Way high school interns placed at various worksites in our community.  Paw Ta Shue originally came to the U.S. as a refugee from Burma and her entire family received assistance from Catholic Charities to become U.S. citizens.  She has plans of one day of pursuing dentistry as a career.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

My family came to the U.S. as refugees and we wanted more opportunities, better education and to be safe.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My cousins lived here and they invited us to come because we didn’t know anyone else in the U.S.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

We got here at the night and nobody picked us up so we were lost in the airport. My cousins were supposed to pick us up but they were a little bit late.  It was kind of dark so I couldn’t see anything outside.  So my first impression was that it was dark and I was feeling like we were lost.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I like veggie pizza.

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

I like to go to Kohl’s because they have so many outfits.  I love beauty – jewelry, make up, dresses, anything to do with beauty.  Kohl’s has all of that.

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

I was raised in a refugee camp so everything is different; the place, the stores, the school, the weather, the food and the culture.  For example, they had a small bamboo house and they hung up the clothing.  There they didn’t have a store that you walk around but they had a house.  In the Thailand camp we bought our food in small markets where everything was fresh or alive.  They had things like fresh fruits, live chickens and live catfish.  We took these fresh things home and cooked.  We didn’t have a refrigerator but we had a little cook stove where we made our own fire.  It’s so different than it is here.

 

Meet Paige: ISP staff member

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Hello, my name is Paige Cross and I am the new Job Development/Case Manager in the Immigrant Services Program. I suppose you could say that I’m used to being “the new kid,” though, which is why I find starting this position more exciting than nerve-wracking! As the child of a military family, I think that my experiences were enjoyable because wherever we went, we had a support system. We were never alone, whether we were halfway across the United States in Missouri or across the world in Japan. In addition to the built-in friends that were my triplet siblings, my family and I always had people around us who could help us navigate our new community.

One constant across the different countries of my childhood, college, and beyond has always been the presence of those willing to aid others. After I graduated from Colgate University, I went to Ecuador as one of four Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in the country. Each of us were placed in a different city, but the Fulbrighter in my city from the year before had decided to stay. While I looked for an apartment, she provided a room for me at her place.  She helped me navigate the bus routes, taught me how to pick up packages at the post office, and showed me where to find the least expensive mattress when I finally found an apartment of my own. She shared her knowledge and her network: friends of hers loaned me blankets without even having met me while she passed on business cards of trusted taxi companies and helped me get my own national identity card so I could stay in Ecuador.

When my first ten months in Ecuador were over, I continued the tradition of staying on as a professor contracted with the university. As my friend had already blazed a trail through the bureaucracy the year before, she guided me through the complicated process of obtaining a volunteer visa. Could I have done this by myself? I believe so – I certainly wouldn’t have been the first and at that point I also knew the lay of the land and the local lingo. However, I’m sure that it would have taken more time and effort and cost me more money and mental anguish. Having a supportive network of people familiar with the social, political, and literal physical landscape of the community alleviated some of the challenges associated with being a stranger in a foreign land.  So when the next Fulbrighter came a full two years later, I embraced the opportunity and responsibility of “showing her the ropes.”

I understand first hand how important it is to have guidance as a newcomer in a new country. I also recognize that, for many, this support is not just helpful but a matter of survival. In my role at Catholic Charities, I hope to help others as I have been helped by serving as a resource for the immigrant and refugee community in Ithaca. Now, after finally putting down my own roots in upstate New York, it is my task to help our new community members bloom where they are planted.

Paige Cross

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.

 

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