Immigration News: March 17, 2023

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Start the weekend with a couple of good-news stories from Maine and Atlanta. Maine might just expand MaineCare to include immigrants, and Atlanta is home to some pretty impressive volunteer Grannies, who make life a little easier for migrants. . 

Maine is considering extending MaineCare to undocumented migrants. Currently, even migrants like Hussein Yasari, who is waiting for a decision on his asylum petition, are barred from the publicly-funded program.

[Maine Public] “On a recent morning, Hussein Yasari settled himself into a chair in a common room at his apartment building in Biddeford.

“Yasari is from Iraq, where he worked as an imam in Baghdad before moving to the U.S. nine years ago. Now in his seventies, he moves slowly and walks with a cane. Yasari said he struggles with a number of health conditions, including diabetes, joint pain, and deteriorating eyesight. ..

“Even when he is able to get care, Yasari said cost is a major burden, and he’s sometimes forced to decide between paying his medical bills and buying food.”

Eighty-year-old Joan DeWitt is one of an invisible network of volunteers across the country who try to make migrant journeys just a little easier. She works with Abuelas Responden/Grannies Respond. 

[Palabra] “It’s 6:30 on a Monday morning in November, and like clockwork, Joan DeWitt drives the 20 miles from her senior living community in suburban Atlanta to the downtown Greyhound bus station. She makes this trip three mornings a week, but never sets foot on a bus. …

“This bus station sits along one of the many threads of an invisible web of human migration. The interwoven Greyhound routes run from border towns and along major freeways.  Volunteers staff bus stations along the way, providing food, short-term housing, clothing, and other necessities to thousands of migrants. But the combined pressure of the pandemic, changes to federal law, and human rights crises around the world—particularly in Venezuela—have stretched that makeshift support system to its limits.

“By the time DeWitt arrives, the sun has risen. A whir of energy that belies her nearly 80 years, DeWitt  first heads to the outside of the station, greeting the cab drivers by name, the local regulars who are unhoused, and the morning security guard. But the people she’s really here to see are asylum seekers and other immigrants who’ve been sleeping on the bus station floor all night. DeWitt delivers snacks, sanitary napkins, bottled water, and other necessities to dozens of exhausted individuals and families waiting for their next ride, to anywhere but here.”

Meanwhile, Florida and Texas continue to compete in passing the most hard-line, anti-immigrant state legislation. Texas proposes a vigilante law, border wall, and its own deportation plan. Florida wants to criminalize any assistance to any undocumented immigrant: giving someone a ride or food or shelter would be a felony.

In Texas —

[Spectrum] “House Bill 20, filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, would task local law enforcement with arresting, detaining and deterring people from crossing the border illegally. The legislation would also establish a state-run Border Protection Unit, with a chief appointed by the governor. …

“One provision of the bill says law-abiding citizens without felony convictions could be allowed to participate in this effort, but would have no arresting authority. Because of this, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus labels the bill an “Extreme Vigilante Death Squads Policy.” 

“The caucus chair, Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, wrote in a statement: ‘This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people. …   

“The legislation would also allocate money to building the border wall. And, there’s a provision to deport migrants who cross illegally into Texas if there’s ever another COVID-19 health emergency.”

And in Florida— 

[WLM]”The measure (SB 1718) would beef up sanctions against businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, allow state law-enforcement officials to conduct random audits of businesses’ compliance with the law and increase criminal penalties for human smuggling. …

“Part of the proposal aimed at curbing human smuggling would make it a felony for people to “transport, conceal, harbor, or shield from detection” a person they know or “reasonably should know” has “entered the United States in violation of law and has not been inspected by the federal government since his or her unlawful entry.”

“Opponents of the measure said Wednesday the changes could potentially put hundreds of thousands of Floridians — including landlords, lawyers and religious leaders — at risk of becoming criminals if they are caught with people who are in the country illegally.”

And in other news

Welcome Corps, a federal proposal announced last June, will allow individuals and voluntary groups, including religious organizations, to sponsor refugees. That kind of sponsorship goes back to a long tradition that preceded official refugee programs, which were gutted under the Trump administration. 

[Washington Post] “Currently, refugees are resettled by 10 nonprofit “voluntary agencies” (VOLAGs) working with the State Department. While these VOLAGs will continue their work through the Reception & Placement Program, the new Welcome Corps model will also allow private citizens to take on direct fundraising and case management responsibilities, without the aid of the VOLAGs that have been organizing this work for decades. …

“With the rollout of the Welcome Corps, refugees will continue to be vetted by the federal government, but the program returns to a model in which local communities take on resettlement responsibility. In the second phase of the program, beginning in mid-2023, Welcome Corps participants will also be able to identify specific refugees they would like to sponsor. The program connects communities to refugees directly, which strengthens personal connections in a way that harks back to the early work of Christian and Jewish congregations that assisted people of the same faith. In a more diverse American setting, it also provides opportunities for minority religious communities, such as Muslim or Buddhist communities, to provide support in culturally and linguistically competent ways.

“The history of private refugee sponsorship also indicates that local communities could be somewhat choosy about who they help. Private groups can also experience compassion fatigue, making resettlement activities in the Welcome Corps program less predictable and reliable, especially since this specific program will not involve the VOLAGs with their experienced and professional resettlement coordinators. Some communities may view refugee resettlement as an opportunity to proselytize, which is a problem for a federal program that ostensibly helps people of any religious background without discrimination.” 

While the number of Cubans arriving at the Mexican border has dropped since December, the number arriving in Florida by boat has soared.

[WOLA] “As noted in WOLA’s February 23 Border Update, the steep drop in encounters with Cuban migrants at the border has been echoed by a steep increase in encounters with Cuban migrants in south Florida, nearly all of whom took a route requiring them to navigate a maritime path across the Florida Straits. In February, nearly six times as many Cuban migrants arrived in Florida than arrived at the border. In December, it was more than the reverse: 34 Cubans arrived at the border for every Cuban who arrived in Florida.”

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,, 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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