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.
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.
Once a week I go to TST BOCES Adult ESL classes that are held at the First Presbyterian Church and offer computer and technology support to the students as part of the ONA grant. At the beginning of the spring semester, I was introduced to a trio of women formerly from Burma who wanted a better understanding of computers and the Internet and from that point forward, I began to meet with them on a weekly basis. Each of the women had different reasons why they wanted to become computer literate. For example, Ae Say was looking for a way to help her kids with their homework and keep in contact with her kids’ teachers, Mee Ngae needed a way to keep in contact with family that was spread out over the United States and back home in Burma, and Merry Paw was interested in email so she could keep in contact with her Sunday school teachers and friends in Ithaca.
Even though each student had different reasons for wanting to become computer literate, the beginning skills I needed to teach them were the same. To start, I introduced them to very basic things like introducing them to the computer and its different parts, teaching them how to power it on and off, what the keyboard was, and how to get onto the Internet. After this very basic introduction I showed them typingweb.com. This website offers a typing program that ranges from basic to advanced. After they became more familiar with typing and the keyboard they all created and registered accounts for Gmail. Once the three students had Gmail accounts, they began emailing each other back and forth throughout the class.
Next, I assigned all of them the task of attaining one of the ESL teacher’s email address so they could begin to correspond through Gmail. By the following class all three students had already emailed their teachers and received responses. This became very useful for Merry during the month of January when she missed a week of classes due to an illness. While out of school she kept in contact with her teacher by email to keep up to date on what work she was missing and also to inform the teacher when she was well enough to return.
Ae Say was able to use her Gmail account to sign up for the Ithaca City School Districts’ Schooltools program which allows parents to monitor their children’s progress throughout the school year. This also grants her access to the email addresses of the teachers in the school district; so far she has been in contact with her daughter’s math class’ teacher’s aide to help her keep on top of her homework. Mee Ngae has used her email to keep in contact with her family throughout the US. Next she plans on using the Google hangout feature to hopefully video chat with one of her relatives.
Week after week I return to BOCES and every week I meet with 3 students who are beginning to understand the basic concepts of computers and the Internet. Before these sessions started I took for granted the basic computer knowledge I have learned growing up in the US, but through these women I have gained a whole new appreciation for the time and difficulty it takes in learning something new and foreign.