Racists, Refugees, and Following the Money


June 20 was World Refugee Day, so the New York Times showed Minnesota’s worst side, with a long article spotlighting the most racist, anti-refugee voices in the state. Minnesota looks much better in stories of two Minnesota refugee stories, and in a story of immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in Austin, Winona, and Owatonna. Meanwhile, Trump administration plans to bar asylum seekers and to deport families continue, and Senate Democrats may be caving in and voting more money for enforcement and detention.

‘These People Aren’t Coming From Norway’

The New York Times article headlines part of the comment from Kim Crockett, vice president and general counsel Minnesota’s own Center of the American Experiment think tank:

“I think of America, the great assimilator, as a rubber band, but with this — we’re at the breaking point,” Ms. Crockett said. “These aren’t people coming from Norway, let’s put it that way. These people are very visible.”

Crockett’s isn’t  the only racist comment in the article, which gives inordinate space to the racist group  that St. Cloud has rejected at every turn. The article acknowledges that this is “a small group of only about a dozen members,” but goes on to quote them extensively, while giving far less attention to UniteCloud, Mayor Dave Kleis, Jaylani Hussein, and a single Somali resident. While St. Cloud has serious problems with racism and anti-immigrant prejudice, its city council has decisively rejected  anti-immigrant resolutions and instead passed a welcoming city resolution.

The racist group’s “reasoning” came through clearly at the end of  the article:

“One woman, who declined to give her name after the group discussion, bemoaned the city’s so-called no-go zones, or the areas where white residents said they felt so uncomfortable with the Somali-American presence that they would not return — a shopping mall, a community housing center and Beaver Island Trail, a hiking area that borders the Mississippi River.

“They were just —” she said, searching for the words to describe the offending behavior of the Somali-Americans. “They were just walking around.”

Walking around in a hiking area—now that’s scary.

Two Refugee Stories

Celeste’s refugee story begins in Rwanda, the country her parents fled when she was  five years old. From there, they went to Uganda, where her parents, both medical professionals, opened a clinic. Then came more death threats and several attempts on her father’s life. The family was resettled in Canada, and then moved to Texas. “Had I not been resettled, I would have died like a lot of my relatives did,” Celeste says. Instead, she became a lawyer  and a U.S. citizen.

“After law school, Celeste worked on refugee resettlement for the United Nations and other agencies. That work kept her abroad and moving: Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, Zimbabwe….

“Eventually, with her clients’ stories evoking her own childhood trauma, she needed a change. Returning to the United States, she settled in Minnesota and found work that did not immerse her in trauma every day. Though she is one step removed from the most searing contact with that trauma, she has  found ways to continue working for refugees and immigrants. A passion for justice, formed and informed by her life experience, continues to inspire her work.”

MIrella Ceja-Orozco  was among the lawyers and legal team honored last night for their work on behalf of the Somali 92. Her client has now been released on bond, after 14 months i n detention.

“Mirella Ceja-Orozco was on the phone with her client about 11 p.m. on December 5, 2017. By 2 or 3 a.m., he was shackled to a seat in a plane heading for Somalia, a country he had not seen since fleeing sixteen years earlier, as a teenager….

“The deportation flight, with 92 Somali immigrants on board, landed in Senegal, not in Somalia, sat on the ground for a while, and then headed back to Florida, for reasons that are still not clear.

“When the plane landed in Florida, R had a broken finger, bruising, and a possible sub-orbital fracture. He had been beaten on the airplane, he told her, though not as badly as some of the others….

“When R called Ceja-Orozco and told her what happened to him and what he witnessed on the plane, she called Ben Caspar at the University of Minnesota Law School, where she taught as an adjunct professor. Her call and others sparked a class action lawsuit that would eventually involve multiple attorneys and legal organizations in multiple states, in a case that became known as the Somali 92. …

“It’s one of the cases that has defined my career,” Ceja-Orozco says. “The convolutedness, the overwhelmngness of it all epitomized what the Trump administration has done to the profession.”

And in other news …

The latest twist in the twisted Twitter deportation story:

“Among the 2,000 undocumented immigrants being targeted now are those whose court cases were expedited, having typically missed a court date and been ordered deported from the country in absentia. They were sent letters in February demanding they report to an immigrations and customs office to leave the country, Mr. Morgan said….

“Among the reasons immigrants could cite to justify reopening their case would be their failure to receive proper notice of the removal hearing; extraordinary circumstances like serious illness that prevented them from appearing; or conditions that have further deteriorated in their home country, giving them new grounds for applying for asylum.

“The result, immigration lawyers predicted, is likely to be a flood of challenges clogging the already overburdened court system.”

The Star Tribune editorialized:

The last time Lenore Millibergity was dealing with the prospect of mass raids and deportations of immigrants, she was a young lawyer back in the mid-1980s. Then came amnesty, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, which gave millions of otherwise law-abiding immigrants the chance at a dream — becoming legal residents and U.S. citizens.

Decades later, Millibergity is the leading the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota as interim director. And she’s again bracing for the terror that’s racing through immigrant communities in the face of a new threat from President Donald Trump — coinciding with this re-election launch — to begin mass arrests and deportations of undocumented families….

“Little is served by terrorizing such a population, by disrupting neighborhoods and workplaces. Let’s hope wiser, calmer heads prevail.”

The  administration’s deport-everyone, jail-everyone policies have led to massive overcrowding and budget overruns, with more than 52,000 immigrants in detention. The Women’s Refugee Commission points out  that “alternatives to detention, including release, affordable bond, or other tools of support” are far less costly and very effective in “preserv[ing] family unity and human dignity while ensuring compliance with court-imposed obligations.”

Syracuse University confirms that detention is unnecessary in most cases:   

“The latest case-by-case records from the Immigration Courts indicate that as of the end of May 2019 one or more removal hearings had already been held for nearly 47,000 newly arriving families seeking refuge in this country. Of these, almost six out of every seven families released from custody had shown up for their initial court hearing. Usually multiple hearings are required before a case is decided. For those who are represented, more than 99 percent had appeared at every hearing held. See Figure 1. Thus, court records directly contradict the widely quoted claim that “90 Percent of Recent Asylum Seekers Skipped Their Hearings.”

“Under our current system, there is no legal requirement that immigrants actually receive notice, let alone timely notice, of their hearing. Given many problems in court records on attendance and in the system for notifying families of the place and time of their hearings, these appearance rates were remarkably high.”

Instead of insisting on saner, less costly, more humane policies, Senate Democrats appear  ready to vote for the $4.5 billion “supplemental  emergency” appropriation sought by the administration:  

“Democrats had sought various restrictions and reporting requirements on how the money could be used, which Republicans and the administration largely opposed. It was not immediately clear how those disputes were resolved. …

“House Democrats are also navigating their own internal divisions on how to advance the administration’s funding request, with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus demanding additional safeguards to ensure the money is spent on legitimate humanitarian purposes. “

The Washington Office on Latin America offers a close look at  what the appropriation would fund: :  

“There is a humanitarian crisis at the border whose dimensions go beyond what was anticipated when relevant U.S. agencies got their 2019 funding. Since October, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have apprehended or admitted over 400,000 children and parents seeking protection in the United States, a number that dwarfs previous years. These kids and families are being crammed into short-term processing facilities designed for what until recently was the typical migrant: single adults. The conditions are medieval and inhumane. There is an urgent need to appropriate funds to deal with this new challenge, in a way that helps ease the humanitarian situation.

“Of the $4.5 billion in the “emergency supplemental” request, about $3.4 billion seems to be addressed to the real humanitarian situation on the ground. It’s far from perfect, but it is needed. Unlike most things we’ve seen coming out of the White House, this part of the request doesn’t look like it came from Stephen Miller’s desk. It doesn’t have border-wall money in it. Unlike what we’ve become accustomed to, those $3.4 billion don’t seek to make life miserable for migrants, and could be used to support policies and pay the cost of treating them more humanely.

“The other $1.1 billion has more to do with the Trump administration’s hardline measures. It is not necessary and more contentiously political, and Congress should slice it out.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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