Immigration News from September 8, 2021

As people across the United States come together to welcome and support Afghan refugees, today’s news includes reminders of just how badly we are failing migrant children and asylum seekers from other countries.

The good news first—every morning the National Immigration Forum newsletter has been posting new listings of efforts to welcome Afghan refugees:

Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization in Wisconsin’s Coulee Region, is partnering with Catholic Charities to gather donations for Afghan refugees. (Alex Loroff, WEAU)

Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston is partnering with a range of organizations, including Rice University student organizations, to prepare for the arrival of Afghan refugees. (Prayag Gordy, The Rice Thresher

Todd Blakesley and Lee Lawless of San Diego welcomed an Afghan family of six into their home on Saturday. (Megan Healy,  Fox 5 News

At Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Afghan refugee donations have reached capacity. (Nicole Maxwell, Alamogordo Daily News)

Northwood Church in Texas trained some 150 volunteers to assist Afghan refugees with resettlement and employment. (Elizabeth Campbell, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Lutheran Community Services Northwest is supporting Afghan refugees resettled in Seattle. (Matthew Hipolito, The Daily)

British Afghanistan veteran Matt Simmons was “brought to tears” after receiving donations for his campaign, Ems4Afghans, a community-based organization that provides a taskforce to support other agencies and Afghan refugees. (Danielle Desouza, Independent)

The United Arab Emirates welcomed 41 Afghan evacuees, including members of the Afghan girls’ cycling and robotic teams, along with human rights activists and family members. (Tawfiq Nasrallah, Gulf News)

That welcome does not extend to children and adults from other countries. A third federal whistleblower comes forward with appalling charges of cruelty and incompetence at Fort Bliss and other centers for unaccompanied minors (Buzzfeed)

“Immigrant children housed at one of the Biden administration’s emergency shelters were burned after bathing in scalding water, had their blood drawn without explanation, and were repeatedly threatened with deportation, according to a new whistleblower complaint.

“It’s the third and latest complaint to come out of Fort Bliss, an army base near El Paso, Texas, which houses thousands of immigrant children who crossed the border without their parents. In July, the Government Accountability Project filed two complaints about Fort Bliss that included COVID-19 outbreaks due to overcrowding and contractors with no experience in working with children….

“While at the Pennsylvania International Academy facility, the whistleblower learned that many children suffered from dehydration, developed gastrointestinal issues, and refused to eat the food provided because it was inedible or unfamiliar. The federal employee also said a floor set aside for children who had tested positive for the coronavirus was understaffed, crowded, and had a gas leak.”

Will the United States do any better caring for Afghan unaccompanied minors than it has done for Latin American unaccompanied minors? (CBS)

“The federal government is currently caring for more than 100 Afghan children who arrived in the U.S. without their parents, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Wednesday.

“While the vast majority of Afghan evacuees arriving in the U.S. this summer have been families and adults, some evacuated children have been entering the country without their parents, prompting U.S. immigration authorities to designate them as unaccompanied minors.

“The “majority” of those children have been quickly reunited with non-parental relatives who were also evacuated and relocated to the U.S., HHS said. Others who don’t have family in the U.S. will remain in the custody of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement until they turn 18 or a suitable sponsor can be located.” 

Resettlement agencies that were gutted under the Trump administration now face a huge emergency assignment. Normally, they would have weeks of notice before refugees arrive, and a steady stream rather than a flood of people arriving all at once. Now–not so much. (The Hill)

“Their arrival poses challenges for resettlement, including uncertainty surrounding the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process, a short supply of affordable permanent housing, and high demand for social services.

“There are nine nonprofit organizations contracted by the State Department that place refugees with local affiliates, who in turn help with food, medical care, housing, and other basic needs….

“Given the rushed emergency evacuation in Afghanistan, Kekic said CWS has experienced some instances where they weren’t notified about certain evacuees until they had already arrived at a U.S. airport….

“A complicating factor is that refugees are coming into the country with varying legal statuses….

“’That complicates things quite a bit,’ [Erol Kekic, senior vice president of the Immigration and Refugee Program at CWS,]  said. ‘You have no support outside of the one-time per capita payments that the State Department provides the resettlement agencies to care for people. That is about $400 per person. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go very far.’”

If Congress does not act, Biden should use the Refugee Act to fund Afghan resettlement and to open a path to permanent residence. (The Hill)

“Support for refugee admission “slots” are funded by Congress but cannot be rolled over from one fiscal year to the next, so with less than one month left in the 2021 fiscal year, over 50,000 refugee admissions places are likely be lost at the very same time those very same fully funded places could be used to receive and integrate Afghan refugees now on U.S. military bases in the United States or at locations overseas.

“In the absence of new legislation from Congress to quickly adjust status and provide refugee benefits to the Afghans, the administration should make quick use of these 50,000 funded admission slots. The president should also be prepared to use the authority he is given by the Refugee Act both to raise this year’s refugee ceiling and to announce a ceiling of 200,000, for next year to accommodate Afghan arrivals as well as other refugees.”

An emergency funding request includes $6.5 billion for evacuation and resettlement of Afghans.  (CNN)

“In a Tuesday afternoon call with reporters, administration officials detailed the billions of dollars the White House is requesting from Congress in addition to the general appropriations necessary to keep the government running. Among the asks: Funding for Covid testing for migrants at the border, billions for Afghan refugees and the evacuation process and authorities to allow the Department of Homeland Security to tap into disaster recovery funds to help respond to catastrophes.”

And in other news

St. Paul’s Hmong Cultural Center was vandalized, its plywood panels honoring Black pride and solidarity painted over with white paint and supremacist slogans. (Pioneer Press)

“Days after hosting their first visitors, organizers of the newly-opened Hmong Cultural Center Museum on St. Paul’s University Avenue arrived Wednesday to discover someone had covered its storefront plywood panels — which still carried messages about Black pride — in coats of white paint.

“The words ‘Life, Liberty, Victory’ were stenciled on the eastern storefront window, obscuring the poetic verses that once decorated the plywood. The slogan is associated with the white supremacist movement Patriot Front.”

On Friday, Democratic leadership in Congress will make the case for including immigration provisions in the reconciliation package. (Politico)

“Democrats will need to prove to the parliamentarian, a former immigration lawyer, that the proposal satisfies Senate budget requirements, such as demonstrating an impact on federal spending, revenues or the debt. Democrats are discussing including a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders, farmworkers and other immigrants deemed essential workers in the pandemic.

“The parliamentarian has ruled against Democratic priorities before. Earlier this year, she rejected the party’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in their $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.”

Shaped by the experiences of their immigrant parents, the second generation reaches out to help people who are poor and marginalized in their U.S. communities, as well as in their parents’ home countries. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“[Nicole Guidotti, an English and Latinx studies professor at Emory University] said it’s typical for people who’ve lived in places with economic, gender, racial and religious disparities to rely on strong communal ties for survival — and those bonds and those traditions ‘don’t stop when somebody leaves their home country.’

“’I think it’s twofold. One, it’s the dose of privilege like, I have benefited from my parents or my parents’ immigration and therefore I am not just giving back but I am giving back to my parents in a way that honors their legacy,’ Guidotti said. ‘And I also think when we’re talking about Asian and Latinx second generation immigrants, who are the majority, we’re talking about communities that have a strong sense of benevolence and sharing.’”

The Women’s Refugee Commission fact sheet describes the continuing blockade against asylum seekers by the Biden administration. (Women’s Refugee Commission)

“Currently, U.S. ports of entry remain inaccessible to most individuals seeking protection, including unaccompanied children, who, despite being exempt from expulsions under Title 42, are blocked from requesting protection at ports of entry and forced to cross through dangerous terrain at the U.S.-Mexico border to request asylum. The lack of access to U.S. ports of entry for people seeking asylum combined with continued expulsions unnecessarily forces individuals seeking protection to cross the border between ports with tragic and preventable consequences.

“From late March to August 2021, two exemption processes supported the processing of 16,000 families and adults seeking protection into the U.S. through ports of entry on a case-by-case basis. One process was operated by a consortium of non-governmental organizations and another process was managed by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the Huisha-Huisha litigation regarding the expulsion of families under Title 42. In a rare rebuke of the United States, the UNHCR called for an end to U.S. pandemic-related asylum restrictions and noted that a system that only admits small numbers of asylum seekers daily is insufficient and comes with great risks.

“These non-public processes forced NGOs to act as virtual gatekeepers of access to asylum at the border, were inaccessible to the vast majority of individuals seeking protection, and endangered both asylum seekers and the legal and humanitarian groups assisting them. There is currently no exemption process available for people impacted by Title 42.”

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on the United States to end Trump-era bars to immigration. According to UNHCR, more than a million Central Americans have been displaced from their homes by “factors, including chronic violence and insecurity, climate change and natural disasters.” (VOA)

“UNHCR spokeswoman Aikaterini Kitidi told VOA the effects of COVID-19 and Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which struck the region with devastating force last year, have triggered further large-scale displacement.   

“In particular, she said these disasters have created great economic hardship for women and children who have lost their source of income and have difficulty obtaining basic services.   

“’As a result, such people are forcibly displaced, and they are compelled many times to embark to even further dangerous onward journeys.  What they are exposed to are smugglers, traffickers, and to other risks like, for example, sexual exploitation, abuse, or even murder,’ she said.”

Anonymous sources say the Biden administration is considering implementing a new Remain-in-Mexico (MPP) program of its own, even as it appeals the U.S. Supreme Court reinstatement of Trump’s program. That would be wrong. (Politico)

“‘One of his campaign promises was to end MPP. He did that. He should stand by that,’ said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of National Immigration Law Center. ‘The answer is not to simply find a gentler, kinder MPP 2.0. That completely flies in the face of his promise.’…

“Erin Thorn Vela, an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed suit over the policy on behalf of asylum seekers with disabilities living in Mexico, said the Biden administration is misguided if it believes it can make the program ‘humane’ or ‘just.’

“’The incredible damage that waiting in northern Mexico does to people, the insecurity, the access to lawyers, the abysmal inhumane conditions that people live in,’ she said. ‘There’s no way that that can be delivered on. And I think they know that.’”

In 2020, women at the Irwin County Detention Center accused a doctor there of performing unwanted medical procedures, including unnecessary hysterectomies. In April, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the facility’s contract would be ended. Four months later, all migrants are finally gone from Irwin. (WABE)

“While [Atlanta-based human rights attorney Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director with Project South,] says she is “thrilled” that immigrants are now gone from Irwin, she’s troubled that some have been transferred to Stewart Detention Center, which has had its own share of troubles. Shashahani says all immigration detention centers in the country should be closed.

“’The only ones who are profiting from this vast immigration detention center system are private prison corporations,’ she said.”

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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