Yearly Archives: 2018

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

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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

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