Ithacan Immigrant


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Zaye, who emigrated from Liberia to the US in 2001 through family reunification.  We first met Zaye in 2012 when she and her daughter came to ISP to get assistance to apply to become US citizens.  Like many other of our clients, they were eager to naturalize so they could vote in the 2012 presidential election.  Zaye recently returned to ISP to access our legal immigration services.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

I came to the US through the refugee resettlement program because there was war in my country.  My parents were brought here by my sister during the war and then they sent for us.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I decided to live here because my sister and her husband lived here.  At that time, her husband was a professor at Ithaca College.  They helped my kids go to school to learn, read, and write English.

 ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Ithaca is a good place, especially if you have kids.  It had the best education for my children and for that I’m very grateful.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Thanksgiving turkey.  My brother-in-law makes that so good.  He stuffs it with a whole lot of things and we have a fine time.

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

Aldi on 3rd Street.  I still go there.  I like Wegmans but it’s expensive.

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

There’s a great difference between Tappita and Ithaca.  If I were to stay in my hometown after the war, it would have been difficult for my kids to go to school.  We wouldn’t have had the money to educate them.  Here, some of them have completed college, and some of them are still in college.  They had great opportunities by coming here.  All my kids are citizens now and they continue to work hard.  I taught them how to be independent and responsible.


TPS makes ethical sense for immigrants amid Caribbean recovery


A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to protect immigrants in the U.S. from being deported to hurricane-battered islands in the Caribbean.  They petitioned the Trump Administration to grant “Temporary Protected Status” to immigrants from islands where, a month after two monster storms, basic life necessities remain in short supply.

With attention rightly focused on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, thousands of people have also been displaced on islands outside the U.S.  Dominica lost most of its agricultural stock, and Barbuda is uninhabitable.  Rebuilding will take years, if not decades.

Nearly 4 million Caribbean immigrants, including many in New York, now face an uncertain future.  The Trump administration is deporting immigrants with no criminal record, including parents whose children are American citizens.  President Trump also threatened to end DACA, and deport youngsters who were brought here as children and grew up alongside American peers.

TPS provides a humanitarian alternative when it is too dangerous for immigrants to return. Conferred by the Department of Homeland Security, TPS offers temporary but life-saving protection from deportation. The program has been administered successfully since 1990.

TPS is rare and extraordinary.  Only 10 countries presently qualify, including Haiti, an island overwhelmed by record-breaking hurricanes, a catastrophic earthquake, and outbreaks of disease. Seven years after the 2010 earthquake, 38,000 people still live in squalid displacement camps.  Recovery, you see, takes time.

TPS does not encourage immigration or provide a back-door to citizenship. Typically granted for 6-18 months, only immigrants with a “continuing presence” in the U.S. qualify, subject to background checks and other requirements. New immigrants are not eligible.

TPS can be renewed, but only after input from the State Department and other interested parties.  Moreover, undocumented immigrants retain that status after TPS expires.

Importantly, TPS promotes development and stability,  thereby reversing the need for protection. Immigrants send much of what they earn working in the U.S. back to their country of origin. Liberia received $340 million annually, a full 25% of GDP, before TPS expired earlier this year. Remittances to Sierra Leone and Guinea also helped move those countries towards stability, and off the TPS list.

In the Caribbean, remittances already range from $9 million to $3.8 billion annually. Every one of those dollars and more will be needed to rebuild.

In Tompkins County, citizens and immigrants are one. We’ve adopted “Sanctuary” protection, established a “Rapid Response” network, and recognize Catholic Charities for the service it provides to all people in need, including immigrants.  Let’s build on this progress.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and urge your elected officials to support TPS. Also encourage local lawmakers to take a stand so that our national legislators will prioritize local needs.

Our friends and neighbors from the Caribbean need us now.  Let’s be there for them.


Kathleen Bergin is a human rights lawyer who worked with disaster survivors on the Gulf Coast and in Haiti. She blogs at The Disaster Law Page.

Ithacan Immigrant: Pedro

~8958845This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Pedro, a naturalized US citizen who was born and raised in Venezuela.  He originally moved to the US to pursue an internship at TC3 where he met his future wife who was from Ithaca area.  Pedro accessed our citizenship services in 2011 and came back this year to use our family-based immigration services so he could bring his son from Venezuela to the US.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was looking for a better life.  This is a nice country to live in – I feel very comfortable living here.  I like that it’s safe.  The only issue I have is the winter.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I applied for an internship and got accepted.  When they asked if I wanted to go to Ithaca I said, “why not?”  So, I came here in 2000 to go to TC3 and I met my wife who was studying there.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I actually forgot about the first time I came to Ithaca.  One day I was in the Johnson Museum at Cornell and I could see the lake.  I realized I knew that lake, I had some memory about it so I asked my mother about it.  I had forgotten I had come to New York in 1981 for a summer camp (in Roscoe, NY).  We came to Cornell for a field trip.  My memory was erased.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I love Subway – I like their roast beef sub.  Cold.  I’d like to put ketchup on it but they don’t serve ketchup there. 

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

I like the Commons.  I really like going to Simeon’s.

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

The weather is so different.  Here everything is green – there it’s so hot.  In Venezuela we always have weather that’s over 85 or 90 and for 5-6 months there’s no rain.  It’s also dirty there.  In Ithaca when it is spring I always say everything is a happy green and then as soon as Labor Day passes, it turns to a sad green.


Burmese in Ithaca

Nat Geo Burmese Refugees

Source: National Geographic Proof story on refugees in Boise, Idaho

One major factor that plays in to where refugees are sent in the US is whether there is a pre-existing population in an area. Longtime residents of Ithaca are probably aware of the sizable Burmese population that has been resettled in Ithaca since the 1990’s. Now that refugee admissions have resumed and the Rohingya crisis is gaining attention I thought it would be helpful to provide a little more information on two critical aspects of the resettlement process and how they affect Ithaca’s chances of welcoming Rohingya to its diverse community.

Pre-existing populations:

Preexisting populations, or local capacity, is crucial to successful resettlement. Arriving in a new city in a new country is made substantially easier if you can quickly link in with individuals you identify with. The large number of ethnic groups within Burma means that the ethnicity of a Burmese refugee could play a more important factor in resettlement than it would for, say, a Cuban refugee. The Burmese population in Ithaca is made up of primarily Burman and Karen ethnic groups, 2 of the roughly 168 ethnic groups living in Burma. These two group are substantially different from the Rohingya. Karen live primarily along the eastern edge of the country, speak Karen and Burmese, and practice Theravada Buddhism and Christianity. Their so-far-unsuccessful push for self-rule began in 1949 after Burma gained its independence and has resulted in large numbers of civilians fleeing to Thailand for refuge. The Burman population began fleeing the country after protests against the military regime in the late 80’s resulted in a widespread government crackdown on dissidents and their families.

The Rohingya have always been viewed as outsiders. They generally occupy the lowest rung of Burmese society and have faced continuous persecution from the government and other Burmese since the 1962 coup d’état. They have faced difficulties obtaining citizenship since Burma’s independence and have categorically been denied citizenship since 1982. The Rohingya practice Islam, primarily use an alphabet written with Arabic lettering, and generally do not speak Burmese. They live in the western state of Rahkine and flee to Bangladesh for refuge. Many recent reports from Burma show that there is a deeply rooted distrust of Rohingya throughout Burmese society.

This historical animosity between the Rohingya and other Burmese means that Rohingya would most likely not benefit from the pre-existing Burmese population as much as one might hope.

Executive factors:

The refugee admissions process was resumed October 25th but the presidential determination set the admissions cap at 45,000. This is the lowest number since the program began and less than half of last year’s determination. This cap is segmented by region and East Asia, the region that includes Burma, has a cap of 5,000. Since 2007 Burmese resettlement has been at least 13,000 individuals per year (excluding 2017). Those numbers speak for themselves.

New refugee admission requirements will also make it more difficult for Rohingya to come to the United States. Previously, an applicant had to submit phone numbers, addresses, and other information on themselves going back five years. This has now been extended to every member of a refugee’s family tree (including those living abroad) and will go back 10 years. This would be a challenge for many US citizens to do and could be impossible for those who have lived under duress for decades. The follow to join program has also been temporarily suspended. While only 2000 such family members came through this program last year, Ithaca has already been the recipient of one such case. The suspension of that part of the admissions program makes it even less likely that Ithaca will continue to see Burmese arrivals in 2018.

Soren Klaverkamp

Case Manager, Immigrant Services Program


Ithacan Immigrant: Angie


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Angie, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic.  After emigrating to the US, Angie lived in Long Island and then eventually moved to upstate New York.  She originally came to ISP for our family based immigration services and more recently for our citizenship services.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came here for vacation but I found someone here so I stayed.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

We came to Ithaca to visit my family and we liked it so we decided to live here. 

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was quiet, relaxing, and I was pregnant so I was thinking about it being safe.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Philly cheese steak – I like the ones at Casa Blanca cause they’re not too greasy.

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

Walmart.  It’s not too expensive and you can find everything you need.  Every time I go to buy 3 things I come out with 20.

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

A lot of things are different but mainly 3 things – stability, safety, and good economics.  Ithaca and this country gives me what my own country didn’t.  

Let’s Not Forget TPS

Image Border Editor:

Earlier this year, the Trump administration began hinting at doing away with Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for immigrants from several countries around the world.  Foreign nationals from countries that are pretty much inhabitable or unsafe due to natural disasters (such as Haiti) or civil strife (such as Sudan) have been told they should no longer consider the US a safe haven and that it is time to make plans to go back home.  According to the USCIS website,

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be up for debate what “returning safely” means.  The current administration’s hardline approach to ending programs such as DACA and the Central American Minor’s (CAM) Program where a compassionate, humanitarian mindset is necessary, makes it come to no surprise that TPS is next in line.  The 13 countries listed here currently have TPS destination.  Two of them have been on the list for over a decade.  El Salvador (16 years) and Honduras (17 years) have been deemed unsafe by previous administrations resulting in foreign nationals from both countries becoming long-time residents of the US.

Because of TPS, approximately 325,000 foreign nationals are able to reside in the US and are afforded limited but valuable perks such as work authorization and freedom from deportation.  But this past summer Homeland Security began signaling it was going to focus its efforts on prompting TPS beneficiaries to begin to self-deport when over 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients were only given the opportunity to extend their status for an additional 6 months, instead of the 18 months they had hoped for.  This  created a wave of concern about the overall fate of TPS and whether it was going to follow a path similar to the CAM and DACA programs.

The overwhelming majority of TPS recipients are nationals of El Salvador (204,000) and Honduras (61,000).  From my experience, the majority of local TPS recipients are from those two countries, as well.  Foreign nationals from both countries have had to prove they have resided continuously in the US for over 15 years to renew their status and therefore often have deep roots in the communities they have resettled in.

For example, the other day I met with a Salvadoran woman who has had TPS since 2001. For almost two decades she has worked and lived in Ithaca and she is determined to stay.  She has close ties within our community which include her place of employment, her children’s school, her church, and neighborhood.  She, like many other TPS recipients, came seeking legal counsel because she keeps hearing on Spanish-language radio stations the program is doomed.

I also have Honduran clients who have been TPS recipients since the late 1990’s.  In the past, they have been hopeful to one day get a green card but now they are are living in fear of not knowing what’s next.  For over a decade, TPS has allowed them to get work permits and find jobs where they have benefits such as health insurance and sick pay.  They are nervous and feel desperate about what the future holds for them.  They fear they might lose their jobs and eventually have two choices: repatriate or risk remaining as undocumented immigrants where they are vulnerable to deportation and will have to work without authorization.

It’s time to transition some of the long-term TPS beneficiaries and provide them with a legal immigration status.  Ideally, it’s time to pass a bill like the DREAM Act of 2017  which advocates for a legislative solution for both DACA and all TPS recipients.  Immigrants and immigration advocates need to be vocal about including TPS in their advocacy.  Add your voice by contacting Congress today; Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) has already prepared this script that you can follow on their website.  While I fully support Congress finding a solution for the Dreamers, we shouldn’t forget about the immigrants in our community with TPS.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Willing to Work

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People with Various Jobs

Towards the end of President Trump’s statement on the repeal of DACA he says that the current dysfunction of our immigration system is to blame for a victimized American workforce. He then goes on to promote the RAISE Act, which aims to curtail immigration by 50% through the revision of four admission processes: refugee admissions, the Diversity Lottery, family unification, and the permanent employment visa system.

One major factor behind this renewed push is the often repeated sentiment that many immigrants and refugees who come to the United States arrive unskilled and/or lack English abilities which in turn makes them a drain on the economy. The RAISE Act would codify this sentiment in to law by creating a points-based admissions system that places an inordinate value on current English ability and demonstrated skill. Many, including Senator Jeff Flake (AZ-R) who recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, hope that Congress will figure out a way to take in to account the difficult-to-quantify factor of an individual’s work ethic. I would like to add my voice and personal experience to this chorus.

Through my work, I have met Ithacan immigrants and refugees with a variety of work histories: midwives, laborers, school teachers, and doctors. Rarely have these clients been able resume their former profession upon their arrival in the US. They have had to enter in to low skill positions and careers that require little training and are often repetitive (dishwashing, uniform folding, and cleaning are common occupations). These jobs can wear an individual down, causing them to lose faith in their mission and vision. But the clients I interact with regularly defy this possibility. They have built their resumes, not through formal training or re-certification (which can be costly in a number of ways), but by showing up, working hard, and staying positive. This dedication has proven results. Catholic Family Center, a sister organization in Rochester, boasts  75% retention rate after 90 days in their Refugee Employment Services, a figure that is reflected nationally (pg. 5).

One of my clients was an electrician in his home country. Due to lack of English and the myriad of difficulties associated with re-certifying here, he is postponing his reentry in to his former field to focus on the basics of building a life for him and his family in the US. This is centered around building a US work history and learning English. He has taken all of this in stride while simultaneously ensuring that his family’s needs are met. Employment and ESL commitments mean he will soon be spending 12-hour days away from home. He is also considering weekend work.

Another client of mine was a respected teacher in his country of origin. He taught math, coached soccer, and mentored students. When he came to the US he started out washing dishes and is now a dish room manager. He misses teaching and hopes to return to the profession one day, even if it means a temporary pay cut.

A third client of mine studied tourism administration outside of the US and hopes to bring her expertise to bear in Ithaca’s robust tourism industry but has so far been unable to do so. To remedy this, she travels from Dryden to Ithaca every weekday to practice English and will soon work a third-shift cashier job to support herself.

These stories are a small insight in to the determination and value that immigrants and refugees bring to our country. I agree that our immigration system needs fixing but it is important that when doing so we make sure not to discount someone for their perceived lack of abilities. The American dream is built around an individual’s reliability, versatility, and work ethic – not their ability to speak English or obtain an employment contract with a US company. Let’s keep that dream alive.

Soren Klaverkamp

Ithacan Immigrant: Paul


We interviewed Paul for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant who emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the US with his family when he was a teenager.  He went back to the Islands to live and study but eventually made the US his home.  Paul moved to Ithaca to obtain a degree in ag science and horticulture at Cornell.  A couple of years ago, he came to ISP to get assistance with becoming a US citizen and recently returned to inquire about our family based immigration services. 


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I first came with my parents but didn’t stay.  I went home and studied my secondary education. 

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I left Miami and came to NY and then decided to come back to school; it was something I wanted to do for the longest but in the Islands you don’t go to school after you are 25.  But I always knew I should I should go back to school.  I was at Queens Opportunity Center and when my daughter studied for her ACTs, I decided it would be a good thing for us to go back together. We both went to Morrisville and then after I finished, I transferred to Cornell. I fell in love with Ithaca and decided to stick around.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked it because in the Islands we grew up in the country – there were lots of trees and it kind of reminded me of that.  I was scared though to come to school as a non-traditional student.  But it worked out find. 

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Oh gosh, the only place I eat is Macro Mama’s at the Farmers Market and Taste of Thai.  Otherwise I cook Island foods like beans and rice. 

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

I shop at Green Star or Wegmans – I like the organic, whole foods kind of thing.

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

I find lots of similarities but I I have to think about the differences.  I guess the biggest would be the beaches and the weather.  There’s only cold weather here in the winter but in my country the temperature is always warm; it’s usually 95 – 100 degrees.  Back home we have the wet season or the dry season.

The Ending of DACA: Lawsuits and Legislative Fantasies


There has been a lot of response to the Trump administration ending DACA this past Tuesday including a lawsuit I saw on my Twitter feed last night from the National Immigration Law Center.   What caught my eye was what NILC wrote to introduce the lawsuit:

They’re ending #DACA?  Then we’re suing.

While legal advocates, the faith community, immigration advocates, and the Dreamers themselves look for ways to challenge the ending of DACA, it’s more important than ever to pressure Congress to pass a bill before approximately 785,000 Dreamers lose their benefits.  According to this NPR article, Congress already has several bills pending –  the DREAM Act, Recognizing America’s Children (ACT), the American Hope Act, and the Bridge Act.   However, it would almost take a legislative fantasy for one of them to get enacted before the 6 month deadline President Trump has imposed.

In order to make this legislative fantasy become a legislative solution, I would encourage people to carefully read NPR’s rundown on the 4 bills and then throw their support behind one or all of them.  Each bill has its pluses and minuses but I have been seeing mounting support from advocacy groups, such as the NYIC, who are backing the Bridge Act, and am also seeing growing bipartisan support for the DREAM Act 2017.  I would also encourage advocates to become better versed on what yesterday’s announcement on the rescinding of DACA means.  The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has put out this Community Advisory  and the immigration practice group at Ithaca’s local law firm, Miller Mayer, put together this article.

It’s time for action.  If you are in Tompkins County or the surrounding area, make a call to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (202) 224-4451, Senator Charles Schumer, (202) 224-6542, and Representative Tom Reed, (202) 225-3161 and throw your support behind one of the bills going through Congress.  Implore them to work across the aisle.  Also, inform them if you are a registered voter and live in their district.    If you live in a different district, you can reach your Congressional Representatives and Senators by calling the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.  Six months isn’t a long time so pressure needs to come quickly if we want Congress to act in a non-partisan way and come up with a legislative solution together.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep




Family-based Immigration


One of the most satisfying parts of providing legal immigration services is seeing immigrant clients (like the ones pictured above) reunify with their family members because of the family-based immigration services we provide at Catholic Charities. Recent arrivals to Ithaca include parents, minor children, adult children, siblings, and spouses who have successfully emigrated from various countries from all corners of the world.  In some instances, the family-based petitions took 5-10 years to process.

Family reunification has held a revered spot in our immigration policy since the Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson.  The 1965 Act ended an immigration-admissions policy based on race and ethnicity and replaced it with a system that would focus on both keeping immigrant families intact and attracting skilled labor to the US.   Since then, about two-thirds of immigrant visas have been family-based.  Unfortunately, the White House recently threw its support behind the RAISE Act which seems to give an unfair advantage to highly skilled immigrant workers and an unfair advantage to immigrants who hope to emigrate to the US to reunify with family members.

Everyone pretty much agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs to be modernized but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of reunifying immigrant families. For several years, economist/professor/author Harriet Duleep has been making compelling arguments in research and press articles, as well as in front of Congress that skilled immigrants have families too.  She contends family visas complement high-skilled visas – the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.  Duleep also reasonably questions that when someone like an emigrating scientist is considering which country to move to, wouldn’t there be a preference to relocate to where family members, including siblings, parents, and adult children can also live, over a country where only certain family members are welcome?

Research shows that there are definite advantages when an immigrant family is allowed to reunify.  The newcomers can pool their resources with family members who emigrated before them so things like childcare and elderly care become less of a burden on the wage earners.  Families who are reunified can also support each other financially by increasing access to credit or referring a relative to a current employer for a job. These are tangible benefits that can lead the family toward upward mobility and integration.

The emotional well-being of immigrant families who are reunited after years of separation is another advantage that is often overlooked.  In my own work, I have seen the emotional supports that attribute to the well-being of family members who emigrated to the US first when family members arrive.  I have clients whose siblings have finally made it to the US after 10-15 years of separation relieving the stress and guilt of those who emigrated first.  Many arrived into the country as refugees and waited years to be reunited with family members who stayed behind in countries that remained war-torn, had no health care systems, or had to deal daily with food insecurity. This definitely took a huge toll on their emotional well-being.  Under the RAISE Act, siblings would no longer be afforded the opportunity to emigrate to the US.

Immigrant parents sometimes petition for their children one by one because the family doesn’t have the resources it needs to bring more than one child at a time. Sometimes the minor children left behind turn into young adults by the time the parents save the money needed to file a relative petition with USCIS.  Under the RAISE Act, adult children are another group who wouldn’t be able to come to the US even though as young adults their kinship ties are as strong as they were when they were still minors.

Although this proposed piece of legislation isn’t expected to garner the Congressional support it will need to be enacted into law, it does seem inevitable that there will continue to be a lot of advocating for some type of reform that will result in deep cuts made to the number of immigrants who receive family-based visas.  Hopefully the debate will shift and voices like Duleep’s, that are knowledgeable about the advantages of keeping immigrant families intact, will be taken into consideration. She and others have even called for raising the quotas for employment or skill based visas. With any luck, this thinking will prevail when the current immigration system gets overhauled instead of modernizing it at the expense of immigrants looking to reunify with their family members.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep