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Please Stop Calling Humans Seeking Safety a ‘Border Crisis’

“When we buy into the sham narrative of crisis, we fail to recognize migrants as human beings and we lose sight of the real issues: how our government is treating people who are escaping unimaginable violence—and how our policies are returning individuals to torture and even death.” ~ Rachel Pak

By Rachel Pak | Common Dreams

Over the last several weeks, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has reported a rise in the number of migrant children seeking refuge in the United States.

With the increase, the federal government’s capacity to process and shelter migrant children has been stretched, leading to children being housed in overcrowded and inhumane CBP facilities for extended periods of time.

Federal officials and some media have called what’s happening at the border a “crisis” or a “surge”—harmful rhetoric that has long been used to dehumanize immigrants and people approaching the southern border.

“Moving towards a better justice system isn’t possible if we continue to scapegoat immigrants instead of reckoning with our broken system. People approaching our borders deserve better. At the very least, our language should recognize their humanity.”

This language of crisis is a distraction—and it undermines common-sense policy solutions that can secure justice and safety for everyone in our country, including immigrant survivors fleeing gender-based violence.

Not only can this language be misleading and a misrepresentation of actual migration flows, but it provokes fear and needlessly divides Americans. It turns immigration into an “us versus them” issue, falsely painting migrants as a threat.

Policy solutions then shift to emphasize criminalization and detention, rather than responding with compassion and welcoming with dignity to those seeking safety. As a result, we’ve seen egregious policies in the last few years, like detaining and separating families and sending people seeking asylum to wait indefinitely in Mexico for their day in court.

When we buy into the sham narrative of crisis, we fail to recognize migrants as human beings and we lose sight of the real issues: how our government is treating people who are escaping unimaginable violence—and how our policies are returning individuals to torture and even death.

Right now, children are being jailed in deplorable conditions where they are susceptible to heightened and enduring trauma. Meanwhile, our border remains largely shuttered to adult survivors fleeing rape and horrific gender-based persecution because the new administration has yet to repeal an illegal policy implemented under the last one.

People escaping violence have a right to seek safety. If they can’t, that’s the real crisis.

Moving towards a better justice system isn’t possible if we continue to scapegoat immigrants instead of reckoning with our broken system. People approaching our borders deserve better. At the very least, our language should recognize their humanity.

We should look at the context of border crossings and understand the many complex reasons people leave their homes—including to find refuge from atrocious acts of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence.

We should center the individual in our language—each person carries their own intricate stories and histories. Then, as a country, we must remember our moral and international obligation to uphold the legal right to seek asylum and extend refuge to those who qualify.

We have an opportunity to improve our policies and better secure access to safety for immigrant survivors. But to get there, our approach must shift to one of compassion, reflecting the humanity of people approaching the border.

Everyone deserves to live a life free from violence—and our language and policies should reflect that.

Rachel Pak is a media relations associate for the Tahirih Justice Center, which advocates for immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence.

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The Strongest People on the Planet

ICE has an annual budget of around $7.5 billion, which is spent in absolute denial of our interconnectedness. It “protects” the country by defining emigrants as aliens and denying them virtually all basic rights. (Photo: Ilias Bartolini/Flickr/cc)

“Send her back! Send her back!”

The chant: Is it merely a case study in collective stupidity or is it a signal of rising fascism? When I look at the viral video—the latest manifestation of Trumpism and the freeing of good old American racism from the constraints of political correctness—I can’t help but think of the 8-year-old girl I met the other day, who traveled two years with her mother to reach this country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The child, whose name I can’t use because her asylum case is still pending, lives with her mom, for the time being, at what is known as the House of Hospitality, a residence for refugees in Cicero, Illinois, just outside Chicago, that is run by the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants. This not-for-profit organization was founded a dozen years ago by two Sisters of Mercy to bring hope and crucial aid—legal, financial, spiritual—to emigrant detainees warehoused in various detention centers around Chicago.

The little girl is the face of struggle and courage, the embodiment of hope and interconnectedness. She is the refutation not merely of the chanting Trump supporters but of the nation’s bureaucratic cruelty and indifference to the plight and humanity of the global refugee flow, to the people who are seeking not simply “a better life” in the United States of America, but, as ICDI development director Ed Pratt put it, a life . . . a life!

I met recently with Ed, along with the organization’s executive director, Melanie Schikore, to learn about the work of ICDI and get a sense of the compassionate counterforce that exists in this country — a force in opposition to the concentration camps and ICE raids and “send her back” chants that dominate the news. A huge segment of the American population cares deeply about the refugees’ fate and welcomes them in every way possible.

The two nuns who founded ICDI in 2007 did so after being denied admittance to a detention center in Broadview, west of Chicago, where they had hoped to connect with detained refugees, many of whom were separated from their families, and see how they could help. Undeterred, they worked with other religious organizations—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—and eventually got a law passed in Illinois that gave detainees access to pastoral visitation.

At present, ICDI has over 350 volunteers who last year made over 8,000 visits to detention centers to provide solidarity and support to detainees. They have also been a court presence at immigration hearings. And the organization runs the House of Hospitality, which is currently providing housing for 15 refugees from 14 different countries.

Alas, ICDI recently lost its lease at the Cicero location—the building is a former convent owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago—and is now looking for a new site. They hope to find a building that will allow them to accommodate more families, which is currently the major need out there. Often families cannot be reunited unless they have housing and such housing is in pitifully short supply nationwide.

All of which brings me back to the 8-year-old girl I met last week. Perhaps I can call her “S.” Her story transcends anything I can imagine, even though only a small piece of it is known.

“S” and her mother fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo because her mother had been tortured there. They crossed the Atlantic (somehow: this part of their story is unknown) and arrived in Brazil. They then proceeded to walk from Brazil to the United States. In all, the journey took two years.

When they got here, rather than being welcomed with open arms, mother and child were yanked apart. The separation lasted four and a half months. They were only allowed to reunite because they had been able to attain housing.

“They reunited in our stairwell,” Ed said. The cries as they embraced tore people’s hearts. “They were like animal groans.”

Here’s what else I learned about “S”: She speaks five languages! Two of them, Lingala and French, are native to her home country. On the journey with her mother, she also picked up Portuguese, Spanish and, eventually, English.

The child I met was sheer 8-year-old—shy and charming and utterly huggable. Her English was flawless. So, apparently, is her Spanish. As Ed noted, she once served as a translator for him with the Cuban cooks who work at the Hospitality House. His own Spanish wasn’t adequate to convey something to them, but “S” stepped in as translator and did the job. As I listened to this, my sense of awe kept expanding. This child, who has spent a huge piece of her life journey with her mother, has gotten a global education. Her classroom has been the planet itself.

Being an immigrant, said Melanie “is an incredible journey. They’re pioneers! We hear so many stories. I frequently have the thought, I couldn’t survive that.

“Every story is different. All are heart-wrenching. Everyone has a story that, if you knew it, would break your heart. They are the strongest people on the planet. Who wouldn’t want them? They chose to come and made it.”

She added: “We’re all interconnected. If we don’t understand that we’re global citizens and need to take care of one another, then we’re doomed.”

What if this were government policy? ICE has an annual budget of around $7.5 billion, which is spent in absolute denial of our interconnectedness. It “protects” the country by defining emigrants as aliens and denying them virtually all basic rights.

In counterpoint to this sort of policy were the words that accompanied an elderly woman’s $25 donation to ICDI. She wrote on her check: “Your work is more important than my food.”

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About the Author

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Immigration Law in the United States 2019

More than 30 million legal immigrants live in the United States of America. Many people live and work in the country subsequent to the receiving of lawful permanent residence often regarded as a green card, and other categories receive temporary visas available to students and workers. Obviously, an estimate of 1 million unauthorized immigrants have temporary license to live and work in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status Program.

Legally, a U.S. citizen as the case maybe can sponsor for immigration a spouse, parent, minor or a sibling. Lawful permanent residents mostly green card holders can sponsor a spouse, minor child or adult child. On the other hand, Employers can sponsor individual employees for immigration, often after undergoing labor certification. In some cases, many employer usually sponsored immigrants who are already working in the country in H-1B temporary status.

Immigration law contains the fundamental rules established by the federal government for the consideration and permission of who is permitted to enter the country for a stipulated time. It regulates the naturalization process for those who intend to become U.S. citizens. It further standardize and controls how the detention and removal proceedings are executed. The Sacrosanct Constitution of U.S empowers the Congress the exclusive power to legislate and make laws in the aspect of immigration. Virtually all the relevant laws with respect to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), are well encapsulated in Title 8 of the United States Code. State governments are prohibited from enacting immigration laws. In addition, it is important to note that Immigration to the United States is premised upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admission of immigrants with requisite skills that are beneficial to the U.S. economy, protecting and safeness of refugees, and enhancing diversity.

Flowing from the above, many federal agencies are saddled with administering and enforcing immigration laws. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) thoroughly investigates law flouters, and prosecutes while the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the applications and request for legal immigration. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ensure that the borders is well secured for immigrants. All these agencies are part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Moreover, a foreigner intending to immigrate specifically must be sponsored by a bonafide citizen and perhaps lawful permanent resident immediate relatives, or prospective U.S. employer, with an approved petition prior to the application for an immigrant visa. He or she whether a lawful permanent resident, or prospective U.S. employer must file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services prior to your immigration.

Notwithstanding, a foreigner who seeks to enter the United States must obtain or possess a U.S. visa, which is directly placed in the traveler’s passport being a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship. It is not mandatory for U.S citizens to possess U.S. visa for travel except when planning travel to abroad he or she needs a visa issued by the embassy of the country they wish to visit. The Department of State issues and authorize visas to foreigners traveling to the United States either through its embassies or consulates . However, visa is not mandatory for your business meeting or for vacation if you are a bonafide citizen of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, and your rationale to travel will be based on the type of visa you need to enter the U.S which includes the following :

  1. Visitor visas for tourism or business as the case maybe
  2. Visas for students
  3. Immigrant visa for permanent residency
  4. Transit visa for traveling through the U.S. on your way to visit another country.

Upon your arrival to the United States, you must present your valid travel documents as part of the required condition for entry process. The documents needed is based on the country you are arriving from with your citizenship or status. In addition, legally permanent residents of the U.S are required to show a Permanent Resident Card (Green card) excluding passport, which is not compulsory. The bonafide American citizens entering the country are required to show the following: Passport, U.S. passport card, Trusted Traveler Program card, and driver’s license

Upon obtaining your immigrant visa coupled with the payment of USCIS immigrant fee, thereafter you’ll receive your Green Card. The advisable time to make your payment for the fee is subsequent to picking up of your immigrant visa from the Department of State embassy or consulate prior to your departure for the United States. After getting your immigrant visa, you’ll definitely get a sealed immigrant visa packet of documents to be given to officials at the U.S. port of entry. After fulfilling all the condition attached to the inspection, your admission will be granted as a permanent resident, together with your Green Card.

Electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) is available under the US visa waiver program for those traveling via visa waiver countries to the country. ESTA decides the eligibility of visitors to travel particularly under the visa waiver application. It is however, under the control of the American program for homeland security and it must be gotten online before the departure at least 72hrs. The US customs and border protection officer approves whether or not a traveller is admitted to the country and the immigration officer takes the final decision at the port of entry. If you have previously submitted an ESTA application through an online form, subsequently you can check ESTA status online by providing in details: your full name, passport and issuance date, expiration date, date of birth and email address.

It is indisputable that not all travellers are from VWP countries are qualified to use the program except with the application for the authorization through (ESTA).  Visa waiver countries include Belgium, Chile, Greece, Germany, Portugal and Spain among others. Citizens of these member nations can travel without a visa for a period of 90 days or less subject to the requirements of possessing a passport and the re-examination of VWP quick reference handout.