Posts Tagged ‘asylum seeker’

The Challenge of Integration

December 5, 2008

Walking from the U of M West Bank to the Cedar-Riverside Lightrail station, one is awed by the looming towers affectionately dubbed the “Crack Shacks” (I am told the name dates back to their former use as college dorms).  Awe may  not be the right word to describe what one feels looking up at these misshapen Eastern European towers distinguished only by their refusal to blend and their randomly-positioned multicolor panels.  These Riverside Plaza towers, once highlighted as the residence of Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, are now home to almost 3500 people, predominantly immigrant families, and they give this portion of Minneapolis a distinct multicultural feel.  Somali cafes, Thai restaurants, the Cedar Cultural Center, Halal groceries, Ethiopian eateries – all of these are a welcome change to the gentrified Seven Corners just down the street.

As I continue walking the 15 minutes to the LightRail stop, I pass the Brian Coyle Community Center (BCCC).  Often crowds of teenagers are outside playing basketball or catching up on gossip.  Some stand, heads together, listening to the latest tunes.  Somali elders walk the sidewalk with canes, and an old woman in a hijab flosses her teeth with a twig.  This Community Center is always alive, always full of laughter and shouting and life.  It is sobering to think that just a few months ago a 22-year-old Somali man was shot to death right where I am standing.

By all accounts, this Augsburg College student had big dreams of achieving great things and contributing to his Somali community.  He chose to work at BCCC because he hoped to have an impact on Somali youth.  It is unfathomable to think that he was shot at 5 p.m., in broad daylight, after finishing his routine volunteer shift; it is similarly shocking to think that five young Somalis have been murdered in the past 12 months.

Prior to the Somali Civil War beginning in 1991, about 20-30 Somalis called Minnesota home.  Local Somali historian Saeed Osman Fahia, executive director of the Somali Community in Minnesota, now estimates that number at nearly 60,000. While this past month saw the United States refuse to accept any more Somali refugees due to suspected fraudulent papers, the Somali community here in Minnesota is a well-established and vibrant ethnic community. (Carlyle, Erin CityPages)

Fahia says it all began as young Africans tried to fit in to American schools.  Feeling ostractized, they formed ganges called the Rough Tough Somalis and the Hot Boyz to defend themselves and carve out a community niche for themselves.  The No Child Left Behind Act, which placed significantly stricter laws on foreign language instruction, shook the very core of the Somali academic community.  In reaction to what Somali youth saw as a disrespect and ignorance of their culture, some youth formed gangs called the Murda Squad, the Riverside Riders, the Somali Mafia, and Madhibaan With Attitude.  These informal “gangs” never really achieved widespread popularity (Minneapolis police estimate 150 out of the 60,000 Somalis belong to a gang), but their sheer existence denotes a growing discontent in the Somali youth community following the turn of the millenium. ((Carlyle, Erin CityPages)

Police are still investigating Ahmednur Ali‘s murder.  It is frustrating for everyone to see an ethnic group like the Somalis struggle with this inter-cultural conflict.  Sadly, this is the expression of far too many disadvantaged or discriminated immigrant communities.  Lacking a viable way to address the root of their problems, often the worst violence is directed within the community.  The rise in gang violence and tribalism in the Somali community coincided with the downsizing of foreign language and international appreciation programs in American schools.  As the economy tightens and Latino immigrants struggle over the same jobs as Somali refugees, both groups have tended to blame each other rather than the industries and employers who deliberately hire unauthorized workers and then keep then undocumented as long as possible. (Relerford, Patrice The Star Tribune)

People acculturate.  People change.  The only reason immigrant communities fail to integrate is because the community they join refuses to be responsible for their integration.  While some Minnesota schools have risen to this challenge, other ESL departments and core curriculum courses have not given a good-faith effort to ensure these first-generation Somali youths have a decent chance in America. It is all too easy to write off these gang murders as echoes of the lawlessness and piracy of current Somalia.  However, a true look at these tragic killings reveals our own failure to advocate for integration of ALL.  America has always been a land of immigrants, and as international conflicts and nation-state boundaries create a growing number of refugees, America must live up to its responsibility to integrate these refugees and asylum-seekers into our nation.  The Beloved Community Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about so often at the end of his life has yet to be fully realized.  Integration is the last civil rights issue – economic crisis or not, this must be one of the most pressing issues for us all.

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People of Faith United For Immigrants- Lutheran Church

February 9, 2008

While the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) claims to have no “…special wisdom from the Word of God to determine which laws should be changed, if any, or how to change them,” it still has come out strongly in favor of increased refugee admittance and family reunification. Unlike LCMS, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) focuses some humanitarian efforts on “newcomers without legal status” as “a permanent sub-group of people who live without recourse to effective legal protection opens the door for their massive abuse and exploitation and harms the common good.” <http://www.elca.org/socialstatements/immigration/> Both of these churches, despite their divergent views on extralegal residents, have historically striven for justice for the refugee and the asylum seeker.

The stance of the ELCA echoes the LCMS, however, in its call for increasing the number of admitted refugees and asylum seekers into the United States. According to the ELCA website, after WWI, when 1/6 of Lutherans were a refugee or asylum seeker, their church became very active in advocating for displaced peoples, resettling some 57,000 people. Although refugee numbers have been decreasing in the past couple years, Lutherans continue to help about 10,000 refugees resettle a year, 1/8 of the annual total for the entire country. I can personally attest to this church’s effective refugee advocacy, having taught refugee children from Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Laos, and Vietnam in Minnesota ESL summer school. For its efforts in reforming refugee and asylum-seeker policy, the Lutheran Church should truly be lauded.

 

In its 2006 Resolution to Support Refugee/Immigrant/Asylee Resettlment, the LCMS states the following:

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture directs Christians to show love, care, hospitality, and assistance toward the strangers and foreigners in our lands; and

WHEREAS, Millions of refugees are in desperate need of our Christian charity and support; and

WHEREAS, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is the second largest agency currently providing for the orderly admission of refugees to the United States (as regulated by Congress); and

WHEREAS, The ministries of LIRS offer congregations opportunities to provide Christian charity and support; therefore be it

Resolved, That we encourage our congregations, Districts, synodical church officials, boards, and agencies to petition our federal and state governments and their agencies to continue funding existing refugee or immigrant or

asylee resettlement programs and agencies; and be it further

Resolved, That we encourage our congregations, individually or jointly, to contact LIRS, LCMS World Relief, and/or local Lutheran social agencies or services for information and assistance to resettle at least one refugee or immigrant or asylee family as soon as possible and that this action be taken to carry out the Great Commission.

http://www.lcms.org/

The most challenging, and progressive, portion of this resolution is its call to parishioners to get involved. If every single American sponsored an undocumented resident or refugee, then millions of people currently living without rights and in constant fear could have the chance to live open lives, work for a fair wage, and enjoy the rights of the country in which they reside. If our definition of refugee and asylum seeker was broadened to also include immigrants from countries with any large “push” factor (economics, drought, lack of meaningful work, education), then surely the majority of extralegal residents here in the United States would be covered by American, and Lutheran, refugee policy.

 

Although the ELCA and LCMS has not officially supported the 2008 No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16, the ideals and objectives of the sponsoring Border Ambassadors would most certainly align with most of their church doctrine. Real immigration reform, immigration reform which stresses family reunification and the humane immigration of many more refugees in need, is the ultimate goal of this nonviolent community act. A border wall is, at best, a poor substitute or farce for real, lasting reform in immigration and bi-national policies. At its worst, such a wall will only make for more restrictive immigration legislation, will serve as an affront to our Southern neighbors, and further criminalize the newcomers in our country without documents. Undoubtedly, the Lutheran Church has welcomed countless angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2), and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will only serve to tighten immigration laws and make it harder for churches like the Lutherans to continue to minister to refugees and asylum-seekers.

The Power of Nomenclature

January 20, 2008

Willacy County Processing Center

Driving north on Highway 77 from the Rio Grande Valley, one passes through the town of Ramondville. Its motto is “City with a Smile,” but just to the east of the highway is visible the nation’s largest immigrant detention center. For this town of 10,000 people, the 2,000 detained immigrants would constitute 1/5 of their population and currently provides many jobs for their economy. This Willacy County Processing Center extends for miles – miles of barbed wire twisted against the horizon, miles of fences, miles of spotlights and long prison warehouses.

Currently, the United States has eight Service Processing Centers, offering no other service but that of detaining people who prayed the American dream was real. The U.S. also uses seven other contract detention facilities. These centers are a large part of the $1 billion budget of ICE, a large portion of the detention of some 27,500 immigrants each year. (http://www.bordc.org/threats/detention.php)

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These 27,500 extralegal residents are seen as not having any inherent rights. There can be no justice when one party has no rights; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Because of nomenclature, though, these Americalmosts are detained anywhere from a month to several years with little hope of political or judicial recourse.

The game of nomenclature has been around for centuries. During the long fight for civil rights, African-Americans had to overcome names such as “slave” and “stock” in order to demand equal rights; the same fight continues today with the “N” word. In terms of immigration, nomenclature has always been used by nativists as a means of keeping new immigrants voiceless and without rights. When the first Chinese immigrants came to these United States, they were met by the Naturalization Act of 1870 which naturalized only “white persons and persons of African descent” and left them as Asians and their brother Latinos without rights or hope of change for almost eight decades (Coming to America p.271). Throughout the years, people have used the rhetoric of sojourner to mean someone uninterested in assimilating but rather intent on sending all their money to their home country (a fact that is born more out of restrictive immigration policies than a desire to “milk” this country’s resources). The concept of guest worker has officially been around in the U.S. since the Bracero Programs of the 1950s, and since that time guest workers have been granted scant rights because they are seen as diametrically different than permanent citizens. Refugees and asylum seekers now account for a large portion of the annual immigration outside of the quota system; these immigrant hopefuls are taken on a case-by-case basis because our immigration laws have not been substantively overhauled since Kennedy. Even now, Somalis wait for years in Kenyan refugee camps, patiently waiting until their refugee card is called.

The idea of nomenclature granting or denying rights has a long, sad history in these United States. Now, the rhetoric has shifted to aliens, undesirables, and illegals. None of these names connote the human they seek to identify. With well over 12 million extralegal residents, we are terrifyingly complacent with the idea of so many living within our borders without basic human rights. Admittedly, a system which creates 12 million lawbreakers (and millions more who aid them) is a broken system. The United States must re-imagine its immigration laws so as not to ignore this pocket of people greater than the population of New York City. We must honestly confront our failed quota system and draft new immigration laws which behoove both our nation and those seeking to become citizens.

Until that day, every citizen of these United States is living with inflated rights. This past year our housing market plummeted because the sub-prime mortgage market was drastically inflated. What will happen when we and the rest of the world realize that our democratic rights are inflated as well, that they only apply to some of us, that some Americans are “more equal than others?”

Ellis Island is the symbol of immigration in the United States. Up until 1932, it was truly an “island of hope,” ushering in 12 million new citizens to America. After 1932, though, this island’s open hand of welcome became a closed fist as it morphed into a detention center and an “island of tears.” During WWII, it was even briefly used as an internment center for enemy aliens (Coming to America p.273). It is high time the United States sought to change the image of Ellis Island once more. By allowing every resident within our borders an honest chance at receiving rights through the all-powerful and elusive nomenclature of citizen (call it earned amnesty or gradual naturalization), Ellis Island can once again welcome the globalizing world to our shores.

Raymondville Detention Center