Author Archives: ccttispblog

Ithacan Immigrant: Leelia


We interviewed Leelia for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant, who emigrated from Liberia to the US at the age of 16.  In 2012, Leelia and other family members came to ISP to get assistance in applying to become US citizens; all of them were successful in pursuing naturalization.  Five years later, Leelia has returned to Catholic Charities for legal immigration services so she can petition to bring her mother to come to the US as a permanent resident.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

My dad came to the US as a student at Cornell and became employed by them.  He then sent for me and my brothers to join him.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Because my Dad was already here.

 ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

We came in the fall so I thought it was pretty.  But it was cold; I wasn’t expecting that so it was kind of a shock.  My first few months here were fine.  When I started school though I changed my mind because the kids were very mean.  Kids are so mean to immigrants, especially when you can’t speak English.  I felt like a newborn baby learning how to crawl and walk all over because I had to learn how to read and write.  Liberian English and American English are so different.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pepperoni pizza.

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

TJ Maxx – they have good deals.

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

Monrovia is crowded, everyone is on the street, it’s loud, people are selling food, clothes, everything.  Here it is quiet.  No one is on the street being loud and selling whatever they want.  There’s not a lot of cars or traffic in Monrovia but here there’s a lot of traffic.


Getting Around Ithaca


Last month, Nga was referred to ISP for services since she had recently emigrated  from Vietnam to the US and needed assistance in getting enrolled in ESL classes, applying for health insurance and obtaining a social security number.  Nga’s husband, a former Vietnamese refugee who resettled in the US in the mid 1980’s, accompanied her to the appointment.

During our first meeting, the couple asked if we could help them get bicycles; the day was hot and after walking across town, they felt wiped out.  Nga’s husband explained how “it’s hard for us to get around Ithaca so we want to ride bikes.” He continued, “everyone in Vietnam rides bikes – that’s what we’re used to.  No one can afford to buy a car, we all ride bikes.”  It’s true, motorbikes are so popular in Vietnam, that the city of Hanoi actually hopes to ban them by 2030.  The couple didn’t want motorbikes though, they were looking to pedal.

In order to see if we could find them some bikes, we reached out to Emily, a volunteer with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees who is great at helping us out with our random requests. Emily then reached out to the folks at RIBs – Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles – a program run by Southside Community Center that refurbishes and redistributes bikes in Ithaca.  As a result, Nga and her husband received the bikes and helmets pictured above, free of charge.  Now the couple can be seen biking on one of Ithaca’s designated bicycle boulevards as they run errands around town.  On behalf of Nga and her husband, we wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks to both Emily from IWR and the folks at RIBs.

Ithacan Immigrant: Marie Jose


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Mary Jose, a native of Costa Rica, who moved to the US with her siblings through family reunification.  This fall, she will be leaving the Ithaca area so she can study at Temple University in Philadelphia.  Her aspirations include returning to Costa Rica and opening a non-profit for low income people who are diagnosed with cancer.  Mary Jose came to ISP to get help applying to become a U.S. citizen.  The picture below was taken last week at Tompkins County’s Supreme Court after she received her citizenship certificate. 


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came here to study and have a better future so I can open a non-profit back in Costa Rica.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My father decided to live here and I joined him later.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was beautiful.  I came here in the summer and my brother used to take me on bike rides and I remember thinking it was really green.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Last year was the first American Thanksgiving that I had so I can say that was my favorite American food.

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

Ithaca Bakery – I like the chicken noodle soup and their French vanilla coffee.

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

The buildings.  I grew up in the city and there were a lot of buildings.  Ithaca has a lot of trees.  The people in Ithaca are friendlier- people always say good morning and hi.  When I first got here, I wondered why people were always saying hi to me.


Disrupting and Dismantling Immigrant Families


The Trump administration has found yet another way to torment immigrant families who are undocumented. A new surge initiative is being carried out by ICE and is supposed to result in “disrupting and dismantling” smuggling and human trafficking rings.  On the surface this sounds like something immigration advocates would welcome and embrace.  But with closer scrutiny, it becomes clear this new initiative is also geared to disrupt and dismantle immigrant families as ICE agents have been given a new priority – to arrest and detain immigrant parents who pay for their children to be brought across the US border. Instead of only targeting the profiteers – the smuggling operations, coyotes, and human trafficking rings –  ICE has orders to also go after the parents.

The young children and adolescents crossing the border are considered to be unaccompanied minors once they are detained by Customs & Border Patrol.  Most of them are fleeing Central America; they are leaving countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they are vulnerable to gang violence and high rates of homicide. Admittedly, most often they are likely brought into the US by someone paid off by their parents – after all, it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options. Despite this, the Obama administration did the humane thing and allowed these families to reunite by releasing the children into the custody of their parents while asylum or deportation cases played out in immigration court. After all, unaccompanied minors are often traumatized and housing them with a caring parent seems like the most sensible thing to do.

However, last February a memorandum was released by DHS Secretary Kelly indicating Obama’s humane policy was about to end.  This memo, being issued to implement two of President Trump’s executive orders, included directives that raised red flags among immigration advocacy groups.  It laid out how new policies would be implemented that would target for deportation anyone who directly or indirectly facilitated the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States. Through this memo, a warning shot was fired by the new administration that disrupting and dismantling human trafficking rings wasn’t their only priority; parents who were reunified with their unaccompanied minor children as a result of the previous administration’s policies were also in the crosshairs.

Having unaccompanied minors and their parents being targeted in the above mentioned memo was so troubling that attorneys from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) prepared a practice advisory  in order to assist legal practitioners who  represent child clients in removal proceedings and to help them advise family members of such children.  It cannot be understated how important it is for legal advocacy groups to quickly respond with effective strategies when these types of laws are put into place. While I do not represent unaccompanied minors or have any of their parents as clients, I have many colleagues who do and am fully aware of what they are experiencing as the Trump administration targets yet another cohort of immigrants they view as a priority to put into deportation proceedings.

To date, there are reports of ICE agents visiting the homes of unaccompanied minors after they are released to start deportation proceedings against their parents.  There are other reports of parents being arrested and detained by ICE as they accompany their children to scheduled ICE appointments.  As I write this, Secretary Kelly has been reassigned and no longer heads the Department of Homeland Security.  It is unknown who his predecessor will be but I long for the days when DHS was led by someone like former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson who held the position under President Obama.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Travel Ban Back in Effect – With Rules As Stable As Quicksand


Here’s where we stand for now with the travel ban:

Nationals from six majority Muslim countries are barred for 90 days.  Those countries include Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Libya.

Refugees from anywhere are barred from entering the US for 120 days, and absent special circumstances, the total number of refugees is capped at 50,000. That number is half of what it was last year, and has already been reached.

There is one exception, however: the ban does not apply to someone who has a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the United States.  Standard immigration rules and procedures apply in that situation.

Things did not always look this way.  The underlying Executive Order issued on January 25 has gone through two White House revisions, multiple agency interpretations, and a constant volley of legal challenges played out in courts across the country.  And we’re still not done.  The Supreme Court addressed the ban twice already, but won’t decide whether it is constitutional until next term.

This uncertainty is holding an untold number of people hostage to the possibility they’ll forever be separated from their families in the US, or denied the new life they were promised, far from the deprivations of a refugee camp or the ravages of a war zone.

Seven months have passed since the original Executive Order went into effect, and a final ruling on its constitutionality might come as late as next May.  In the meantime, background checks will expire. Travel windows will close.  Indeed, many already have.  In the end, many people will have their right to enter the US affirmed, but will have lost the opportunity to do so.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how we got from A to B.

The original Executive Order temporarily barred entry for all refugees, and nationals of seven Muslim countries – the six countries mentioned above, plus Iraq.  It banned refugees from Syria indefinitely.  The ban applied equally to US Permanent Residents, visa holders, and visa applicants. “Religious minorities” were exempt though, which in practice meant that Christians could come in, but Muslims could not.  The ban went into effect immediately, without customary advance notice to consulates abroad or customs and immigration officials at US ports of entry.  Upon receiving word for the Order, the State Department immediately cancelled tens of thousands of visas.

Overnight, US airports became a holding ground for foreign travelers who learned upon landing that the law had changed mid-flight.  Among them were Iraq and Afghan nationals admitted under a special visa program aiding people who worked for the US military during the wars in their home country.  A grandmother from Iran was detained at LAX, even though she held a travel visa to visit her children, who happen to be US citizens.  Two brothers, US permanent residents originally from Yemen, hoped to reunite with their father, a US citizen living in Michigan.  Instead, they were handcuffed at Dulles, and forced to surrender their immigration documents before being put on a plane to Ethiopia.

Lawyers were initially prevented from even speaking to people who needed their help, but eventually secured relief in some of these cases.  The fate of other travelers who were turned back remains unknown.

Those first days were marked by chaos and uncertainty, because who stayed and who went back turned for the most part on where and when the plane landed. Emergency orders in Massachusetts and New York stayed parts of the Executive Order, but only in their respective jurisdictions.  Plus, each case produced different outcomes, depending on exactly what happened and who was involved.  Courts would eventually have to address whether the Constitution’s executive authority allowed the President to target Muslims at the border, but the question until then was simply whether people being detained or turned back experienced an “immediate and irreparable harm.”

On February 3, a judge in Seattle, Washington halted the entire Executive Order nationwide.  US gateways resumed normal operations, and Consulates abroad continued processing visa applications from affected countries.  Refugee agencies authorized by the Department of State to resettle new arrivals reaffirmed their readiness and commitment.  It was an unquestionable victory, yet anyone hoping to enter the US was advised to board a plane and get through the gate fast.  The ruling re-set the status quo, but everyone feared it would be reversed on appeal.

Ultimately, though, that decision was upheld, and nationwide, the number of strikes against the Executive Order piled up.  As doubts about the constitutionality of the ban came into focus, the Trump Administration announced that it would work on a revision instead of appeal to the Supreme Court.  This meant more uncertainty for travelers and family members while they waited for fate to unfold.

The second Executive Order did provide some relief.  Iraq was removed from the list of targeted countries, as were restrictions on Permanent Residents and current visa holders.  But the Administration insisted on barring nationals from the remaining six Muslim countries, despite thin objective support for the “national security” rationale it offered.

Moreover, Syrian refugees wound not be singled out permanently, but would now face the same 120 day ban as refugees from other countries.  But that didn’t answer the question of why refugees were even targeted in the name of national security when they are the most vetted category of travelers in the world.  Finally, the exception for “minority religions” that favored Christians was removed, but that just broadened the scope of an already overly-expansive ban, and looked like a pre-text for answering claims that anti-Muslim bias poisoned the over-arching scheme.

The modified Executive Order was blocked before it even went into effect, but the Supreme Court revived it three months later subject to the “bona fide” US relationship exception the Court itself invented.  A later decision clarified that extended family members (such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) were exempt, contrary to the Administration’s narrower take, but declined to clarify where Resettlement Agencies fit.  Whether their work on behalf of refugees is enough to establish a “bona fide relationship” is now before a lower court.  In the meantime, however, the answer is no.

This legal back and forth is emotionally devastating to people trying to figure out if they are affected by the ban or not.  One day they’re admissible, the next day they are not.

It’s also difficult for community organizations and lawyers to advocate on their behalf when the rules are constantly changing, or written in a way that is nearly impossible to understand.

Take refugees, for example.  We know from the latest round of judicial decisions that a formal assurance of assistance from an authorized Resettlement Agency does not exempt refugees from the travel ban.  Prior to that, however, here’s how the State Department explained the “bona fide relationship” exception:

A refugee who has a relationship with an entity in the United States that is formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course will be considered to have a credible claim to a bona fide relationship with that entity upon presentation of sufficient documentation or other verifiable information supporting that claim.  The fact that a resettlement agency in the United States has provided a formal assurance for a refugee seeking admission, however, it not sufficient in and of itself to establish a qualifying relationship for that refugee with an entity in the United States.

By way of background, I am a lawyer, with decades of experience making sense of arcane legal jargon.  I know what certain words and expressions mean in context, and can figure out the law’s reach based on how it evolves over time.  But I was stumped.

What’s the difference, I thought, between a relationship that is “‘formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course,” and one based on a “‘formal assurance?”  Refugees signed plenty of paperwork, so maybe that’s what exempted them from the ban – something they signed for the Resettlement Agency.

But the forms are typically signed well after a refugee enters the US and settles into a new home – sometimes days later, during a process called “orientation.”  But to sidestep the ban, the “bona fide relationship” had to be established before arriving, so straining to figure out exactly when the paperwork was signed after arriving didn’t make sense.  Nothing is signed between the refugee and Resettlement agency before the plane lands.

On the other hand, maybe the regulations meant to distinguish, not the nature of a Resettlement Agency’s relationship to a refugee, but whether some other entity besides the Resettlement Agency was involved – an entity that offered more than “formal assurances,” when the refugee was still being processed abroad.  None of this was clear from a plain reading of the guidance, and if I couldn’t make sense of it as an American lawyer, how could a refugee from another country understand.

As of today, we know that a refugee will not be granted admission to the US based on the assurance of an authorized Refugee Resettlement agency.  But the State Department faces continuing pressure to revise its guidelines, and more litigation is expected until they do.  Nothing is certain until the Supreme Court decides the case next term.  It’s all as stable as quicksand.

-Kathy  Bergin

Ithacan Immigrant: Zar

~8958845This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Zar, a Burmese national, who came to the U.S. through the refugee admissions program in 2011.  Prior to resettling in Ithaca, Zar and her family lived in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border for over 20 years.  She and her husband initially came to ISP when the family was eligible to adjust their statuses in the U.S. from refugees to legal permanent residents.  Zar and her husband then returned to ISP to get help in applying for citizenship.  We want to thank Tompkins Learning Partners for providing Zar and other citizenship applicants in our community with the tutoring needed to prepare for their citizenship interviews.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I wanted freedom.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

We had friends in Ithaca so we came here through the refugee program.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked it because it was quiet.  I visit other places and there are a lot of people and I like it quiet better.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I can’t think of any.  I don’t like American food.

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

I like Wegman’s.  I like how the food is fresh.

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

In my country the soldiers were no good.  In this country they are good.

Carrying Documents in the 100 Mile Border Zone and Beyond


A former client was recently riding on a bus through Rochester and was asked to produce his green card by Customs and Border Patrol.   This isn’t surprising since Rochester is located within the “Government’s 100 Mile Border Zone.” The Border Zone, which is an area that is up to 100 miles from any external U.S. border, is an area that the Supreme Court has deemed a “reasonable distance” in which it is lawful to engage in border security operations, including warrantless searches.  It allows for CBP to briefly detain travelers in order to ask them a brief question or two and possibly produce a document evidencing a right to be in the U.S.

Many immigrants, such as my former client, have legal status to be in the U.S. but fail to carry their documents.  In his case, he was a refugee who had adjusted his status to legal permanent resident (LPR) several years ago but didn’t carry his green card in his wallet.  Fortunately, he was only given a stiff warning about violating the law and was told he must carry his green card from that point on or be fined.  Over the years, there have been numerous accounts of incidences where immigrants traveling in cities north of Ithaca (Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester) were stopped resulting in various outcomes ranging from receiving a warning or feeling intimidated to being detained for further questioning or even arrested.  Given the era we are now living in where border security and anti-immigrant rhetoric seem to be part of the federal government’s discourse, it’s important more than ever for immigrants who travel through or anywhere near the border zone to be prepared to produce some ID regarding their admission into the U.S.

The law that the CBP agent was referring to when questioning my former client is very specific in stating every foreign national, age 18 or older, has to carry documentation of their immigration in the U.S.  This pertains to ALL foreign nationals, age 18 or older.  In other words, it doesn’t only pertain to those traveling in the 100 Mile Border Zone.

Since President Trump and his administration have serious intentions in shaking up the status quo when it comes to anything or anyone immigrant-related, it is advisable for foreign nationals who are in the U.S. to comply with the law in regards to carrying their documents.  There are many variables since foreign nationals enter the U.S. on all types of Visas as immigrants and non immigrants but the bottom line is they need to prove they have been inspected at the border and their length of stay hasn’t expired.  Here is some practical advice for those who are here as LPRs and those who are inspected and admitted but do not have LPR status.

  • LPRs need to carry their actual green card. For those who have entered the country with an I-551 stamp on their passport and are waiting for their green cards to be produced, they need to carry their passport.  For those who have expired green cards, Form I-90 needs to be filed with USCIS to get the card renewed, and once a receipt for filing is obtained, the local USCIS office can provide a sticker onto the expired card that shows the green card is valid for an additional year.  For lost green cards, form I-90 can also be filed to replace the green card and once a receipt is received, a temporary ID can be made again at the local USCIS office.
  • Foreign nationals inspected and admitted into the U.S. who do not have legal permanent residency also need to carry documentation regarding their immigration status. Immigrants enter the U.S. for a myriad of reasons including tourism, work, study, research, or seeking asylum.  They also may enter as refugees or have been granted temporary protected status.  Whatever the case may be, the documents made available upon arrival or after they have applied for some type of immigration benefit need to be carried since this is required by law.  Examples of this would be carrying a copy of a valid, unexpired I-94 admission record, Form I-551, a valid, unexpired employment authorization document (work permit), or a foreign passport showing a valid CBP admission stamp.

One more thought about the 100 Mile Border Zone.  Since becoming naturalized as a U.S. citizen doesn’t provide immunity from being checked by CBP and being questioned about U.S. citizenry, it is advised that naturalized citizens also carry some form of proof of becoming U.S. citizens.  The most convenient proof would be a U.S. passport card.

Given the high cost to replace a stolen or lost green card, foreign passport, or work permit, it is understandable why people carry a photo copy in their wallet and keep their original safely stored at home.  But it is the law, and not having the proper documentation available at all times can result in a misdemeanor with real consequences.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep


Ithacan Immigrant: Pakala


We interviewed Pakala, a Thai national, for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant.   Pakala moved to the U.S. with his mother in the 70’s when he was a teenager.  He expressed that he’s been here so long that he feels like he is already a U.S. citizen but finally decided to take the steps to formally become one.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

My mother had a job with the government with USAID right out of university and the last place she worked was in Laos.  When Laos fell to communism she was placed in the U.S. 

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My life has taken many twists and turns.  My relatives live here and I needed a haven.  Ithaca became a haven for me.  I ran away from reality and found a haven in Ithaca – as cliché as that sounds.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

The truth?  I was born in a large city and had lived in large cities so I thought it was quaint and at the same time I felt so far removed from everything else I had known.  That drive from Whitney Point to Ithaca, I felt like I was traveling back in time in a time I didn’t know because of the farm land, the farm houses and the old tractors.  But I grew to love it.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

My mother makes a mean meatloaf.

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

Buffalo Bookstore.  There’s a sense of community; a sense of everyone knowing everyone else.  I like the interaction of people there.

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

I find that Ithacans, as a community, care more about what makes the world whole – they look beyond the front door more.  I find that to be admirable and rare.


#With Refugees


On World Refugee Day, held every year on June 20th, the perseverance of millions of refugees is celebrated.  UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has a digital toolkit  available online where the pubic can show their support for families forced to flee.   We recently received the following correspondence and were asked to share it.  Please consider taking a moment to sign UNHCR’s petition to show solidarity and empathy for people forced to flee.

With World Refugee Day approaching, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, would like to share our #WithRefugees digital toolkit, which contains stories and content that we hope you will consider sharing with your networks.

With more people fleeing war and persecution than ever before, we are asking supporters to stand #WithRefugees and help create concrete solutions for the global refugee crisis. This year, we continue the #WithRefugees campaign and petition as a way for the public to show their solidarity with and empathy for people forced to flee. The petition calls on governments to make sure all refugee children get an education, all refugee families have somewhere safe to live, and every refugee can work or learn new skills to support their families.

In the toolkit you will find the story of Ekhlas, a resettled refugee originally from Sudan. Despite missing two years of school while living in exile, Ekhlas is a grad student who gives back to her new community in Portland, Maine, as a volunteer English teacher. At the end of the toolkit, you will find additional stories about refugees around the world, ways to share them on social media, and ways to engage with UNHCR.

Download the toolkit here.

The World Refugee Day website is

Hashtag: #WithRefugees

The toolkit contains:

  • Social media macros and video featuring Ekhlas, a resettled refugee originally from Sudan
  • Information about the Twitter hashtag emoji for World Refugee Day
  • Links to stories featuring refugees from various global refugee situations
  • Information on the #WithRefugees petition

Many thanks in advance for your help in amplifying World Refugee Day and the #WithRefugees campaign. If your agency has created materials for World Refugee Day, we would like to learn more about your outreach and how we might be able to promote your work.

Ithacan Immigrant: Voda


We interviewed Voda, a Nigerian national, for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant who moved to upstate New York after he married.  Voda originally came to ISP to access our legal immigration services and has returned to get assistance in applying to become a U.S. citizen.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came to New York City for vacation and that’s when I first met my wife.  I went home, and after that I visited the U.S. again for her birthday, went home, and then came back a third time and got married. 

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

We moved to Ithaca because my wife is from around this area and she wanted to be close to her family.  She thought this would be a good place to raise a child.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I looked at it like it was too quiet and boring for me.  I was sad for a couple of months and then I started acknowledging the beauty little by little and finally realized wow, this place is really beautiful.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Double quarter pounder with cheese and a vanilla milkshake.

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

Dick’s Sporting Goods – they have clothes that last long.

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

Ithaca is kind of a tourist destination.  It has so many beautiful places that my hometown doesn’t have.  My hometown was about the same size as New York City but it’s not a tourist location.