Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

Hungarian and American Viewpoints on Asylum

June 23, 2009

Meeting with Dr. “Steven” Ordog, the Hungarian Deputy Minister of Immigration, it was fascinating to hear him speak about his country’s reformation of their border patrol, their struggle with integration, and his hopes to make asylum issues more of an important subject in public discourse. [CAT Report]

When Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, they began the process of dissembling their elite border patrol and transitioning this role to the regular police.  In Hungary, as with many eastern European countries, the Border Patrol had been the crème de la crème, outfitted with the best technology, public acclaim, and pay.  With their new permeable border, Hungary changed its border enforcement to the regular police, much to the dismay of those who had appreciated their power in these much sought-after positions. [For more information, visit: http://europa.eu/abc/european_countries/eu_members/hungary/index_en.htm]

As Dr. Ordog spoke of the problems with the Border Patrols’ treatment of some Somalis and other minorities, it was hauntingly close to home. In his country, these “protectors of the border” were trained to use whatever force necessary and sometimes abused this power, particularly against asylum-seekers.  In Hungary, once asylum-seekers report their asylum claim to the office of immigration, they are protected until the resolution of that claim.  Some members of the Hungarian Border Patrol, however, would patrol the grounds outside this office, picking up asylum-seekers mere meters away from the front door of safety. The Border Patrol praised such action for a time, as it considerably boosted their number of apprehensions and public image.

In the United States, the reverse is true creating similarly perverse incentives.  If an asylum-seeker shows up at a border crossing or a port of entry and asks for asylum, that individual is whisked away to a detention center until their asylum petition is either granted or denied.  This creates the incentive for asylum-seekers to enter the U.S. and keep their asylum petition secret until they have done the requisite research.

Dr. Ordog also spoke about Hungary’s struggle to integrate the Somali and Iraqi refugees in his country.  Traditionally, these resettled refugees have viewed Hungary as a gateway country en route to Scandinavia or other European economies.  As a result, integration services were minimal because these migrants were expected to leave soon.

Ordog worries that insufficient integration mechanisms for the growing number who have decided to stay could spell trouble for Hungary’s future.  Hungary is still largely a native-born, white population, and minorities will undoubtedly struggle to get jobs, learn Hungarian, and find housing.  Racial discrimination is rampant and not explicitly illegal. House showings can turn into racial profiling, and job interviews might turn into status quo screenings.  Although the current number of immigrants to Hungary is scant, Ordog worries that they are ill-prepared for any increase in immigration

As Dr. Ordog spoke, the themes of integration, nativism, and fear of outsiders all rang loud and clear.  Though America certainly deals with more immigrants annually, it is similarly confronted with the quality of its welcome.

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Students Experience Flawed Immigration System

January 25, 2009

On Friday, the Minnesota Daily ran an article about America’s flawed immigration system.  While it uses words like “illegal alien,” the thrust of the article is focused on the harsh realities of an immigration system which criminalizes children and families and which detains men and women for extended periods of time.  It was truly an honor to partner with groups like Las Americas and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services and Texas Civil Rights Project; please support them in their ongoing efforts to represent our nation’s most vulnerable community.

U students experience flawed immigration system


BY Alex Robinson
PUBLISHED: 01/22/2009

As immigration issues continue to frequent court rooms, political speeches and circles of public debate, about 70 first-year law students helped illegal immigrants work their way through the legal process during their winter break.

The law students, who were all members of the Asylum Law Project spent about a week scattered across the country volunteering with nonprofit legal aid organizations that specialize in assisting illegal immigrants.

The students filed briefs, met with clients and helped lawyers fight through their heavy caseloads.

Asylum Law Project President Jordan Shepherd volunteered in border town El Paso, Texas and said it was an invaluable experience.

“I was finally able to get my hands dirty in law,” Shepherd said. “It was a lot of people’s first opportunity to get actual legal experience.”

While the students enjoyed their first taste of legal work, they also witnessed glaring problems with the current immigration system.

“There are difficult things that lie ahead for [immigrants],” Shepherd said. “Immigration courts have their hands full.”

Problems in border town

First-year law student Matthew Webster also volunteered in El Paso and said that he met with many detainees who were being held in detention for unreasonably long time periods.

Webster said he met a man from Mexico who had been held at the immigration detention center for about 14 months and the man still did not know where he was going to be sent. He also said there were children detained in El Paso; the youngest he saw was only six months old.

“Most of the rhetoric focuses on crimes or laws but too often we forget these are people,” Webster said.

There are three centers that detain children in El Paso, and combined they can hold about 160 children, said Adriana Salcedo , a lawyer who worked with the law students in El Paso. In the summer they’re completely full.

Salcedo’s organization, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, located in El Paso, turns away clients every week because case loads are too heavy.

Illegal immigrants are not appointed an attorney because they are not U.S. citizens, Salcedo said.

If they cannot afford a lawyer and they are not lucky enough to get representation from a nonprofit organization, they are forced to explore their legal options on their own.

Salcedo said some detained illegal immigrants simply choose deportation instead trying to work through the legal system.

“They do not know what their legal rights are and they don’t recognize they have some sort of immigration relief,” Salcedo said.

Border fence controversy

University student Webster marched 125 miles along the Texas border last March to protest the 670-mile border fence which is currently under construction and is projected to cost about $1.6 billion.

Only days after Webster returned from his volunteer trip with the Asylum Law Project this January, the Texas Border Coalition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case, which claims the fence violates a variety of state and local laws.

Proponents of the border fence argue that it will reduce crime and drug trafficking by illegal immigrants, and many politicians voted in favor of it in the Senate in 2006, including President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

However, Chad Foster , chairman of TBC and mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas — another border town — said the fence is a waste of resources and will only slow much needed immigration reform. The fence is currently under construction in Eagle Pass.

According to Foster, border security and illegal immigration are not a border town problem, but rather a national problem.

“If you want to clean up undocumented immigrants you have to start within the Beltway because they are serving the Department of Homeland Security coffee,” Foster said.

Increasing the amount of border patrol and implementing more new technology to guard the border would be far more effective than a border fence, Foster said.

Foster said he has good relationships with some politicians in Mexico, and working with his neighbors to the south is far more productive than trying to fence them off and lock them out.

But proponents of the fence have given Foster plenty of heat for his stance on border security.

“I’ve been called a narcotraficante ,” he said. “People ask me if I’m an American.”

Whittling Away Immigrant Rights

January 15, 2009

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ring truer than ever on the heels of Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s latest ruling on January 8, 2009. Mukasey issued a ruling concerning appeals to the deportation of three different immigrants. The immigrants appealed on the basis of attorney error, but Mukasey stated that, “neither the Constitution nor any statutory or regulatory provision entitles an alien to a do-over if his initial removal proceeding is prejudiced by the mistakes of a privately retained lawyer.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)


A case five years ago, In re Assad, established precedence which prompted the Board of Immigration Appeals to routinely allow immigrant appeals on basis of attorney error. However, the Attorney General’s ruling is now prevailing law, barring an appeal.


While some support this eleventh-hour ruling by the departing Attorney General, others argue that immigrants are often preyed upon by extortionary attorneys or have to settle for less-than-competent counsel. The 9th Circuit said in one opinion last year that often “vulnerable immigrants are preyed upon by unlicensed notarios and unscrupulous appearance attorneys who extract heavy fees in exchange for false promises and shoddy, ineffective representation.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times) I can personally attest to this, having worked on asylum cases where families in removal proceedings were charged $10,000 and then asked for another $12,000, all with nothing to show for it but lost time inside a drab detention center.

Extreme lawyerly error, as determined by the court, is now the only way immigrants can appeal cases based on the quality of their defense. Mukasey negated the most common method of appeals in immigration cases by explaining, “There is no constitutional right to counsel, and thus no constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, in civil cases.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)

By the time Obama gets established in office, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants could potentially have been deported due to Mukasey’s new ruling. Mukasey and other supporters of this ruling argue that this appeal was too often a delay tactic by immigrants attempting to stay their removal proceedings. What is certain is this – immigrants’ Constitutional rights shrunk five sizes last Thursday. And when anyone’s civil liberties are threatened, all our rights are. As another of Dr. King’s statements elucidates, we are “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” For extralegal immigrants, 12 million and growing, this latest legal decision strips Constitutional rights the rest of America takes for granted. Mukasey’s latest ruling creates a dehumanizing distinction between Americans with rights and those without. Until this ruling is appealed, as we should all hope, we must be vigilant that the most vulnerable Americans aren’t exploited under the auspices of new controlling law.

Throughout the chilling allegory of Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Constitution or Commandments by which the animals live slowly change.  Although they begin their society with the fundamental premise that “All Animals are Equal,” it is soon changed to “All Animals are Equal, but some are More Equal than Others.”  This is the essence of Mukasey’s new ruling, that immigrants, like detainees at Guantanamo Bay, have little to no rights because they are not recognized as citizens of these United States.  What held true in Animal Farm will surely hold out here; if we allow some people to be more equal than others, we are setting up a system which necessarily exploits the most vulnerable. We must take heed not to read into the Declaration of Independence the word “citizen” where it has always said, “All men are created equal.”


El Paso Times Article

January 9, 2009

Here’s a local write-up of Day 3 of our Asylum Law Project trip to El Paso.

“Help for immigrants: Minnesota law students lend hand”

By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times

Posted: 01/08/2009 12:00:00 AM MST


University of Minnesota law students Cortney Jones, left, and John Kevinge wrote appellate briefs for pending immigration cases at the Diocesan Migrant and Refrugee Services at 2400 E. Yandell Wednesday. Three groups of students will come to El Paso in a univeristy program that is in its 15th year. (Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times)

EL PASO — Immigrants escaping persecution and trying to find a better life in the United States are getting help in El Paso this week from out-of-state law students.

First-year University of Minnesota law students are spending time in El Paso to learn more about immigration law and to lend a hand to immigrant advocacy organizations such as Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services and Texas Rural Legal Aid.

It’s the program’s 15th year.

About 11 students — the first of three groups coming to El Paso — are here this week participating in the University of Minnesota’s Asylum Law Project. The project is effort to give students an opportunity to work with immigrants and people seeking asylum who look for help from local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Just as a nation, we’re somewhat distanced with what’s going on in the world, especially when it comes to human-rights abuses,” said Raymundo Elí Rojas, executive director of Las Americas.

“I think with programs like this, if the students were not already aware of the plight of people persecuted in their home country, I hope by the end of the week they become aware of what’s going on.”

Students in the Asylum Law Project at Minnesota Law said that immigrants face a slew of obstacles before they can freely set foot in the United States.

“They’re in such a tough spot,” said Matthew Webster, a vice president with the Asylum Law Project. “They’re largely a voiceless population and don’t have a lot of the protections that we take for granted.”

Law student Ashley Engels said she spoke with a woman who had to wait 12 years before she could apply for legal residency.

Engels also worked on a case in which a juvenile had to wait 18 months in detention before he could apply.

“A lot of times, the people at detention centers get hopeless and say, ‘I just want to be sent back,’ ” she said.

“It’s crazy how long it takes,” Engels said. “A lot of them have really good cases, but I don’t think they realize.”

Darren Meritz may be reached at dmeritz@elpasotimes.com; 546-6127.


How do you Communicate your Love for a Foreign Land?

January 7, 2009

This past Monday was the deadline for braceros to file for money owed them from the government of Mexico. During the Bracero Program, Mexico was given money for each bracero, but few received this money when they repatriated.  Between 1942-46, 250,000 braceros invested money into this automatic deduction program.  The Border Farmworkers Center/Centro de Trabajadores Fronterizos in El Paso participated in the Bracero Program, helping to register some 100,000 Mexican farmworkers eligible for the program. Eight years ago, six migrant farmworkers sued Wells Fargo, the US and Mexican government in a US federal district court.  While not admitting they did anything wrong, the Mexican government set up a $14.5 million fund to reimbures qualified braceros with up to $3,500. (El Paso Times)

As evidenced by El Paso’s commitment to registering braceros, they are a largely an immigrant-friendly city.  The Mexican Consulate in El Paso vaccinated over 600 Mexican immigrants in 2008.  Additionally, the Consulate has offered a free clinic to many immigrants afraid to go hospitals for fear of being reported.

Other groups in El Paso also reach out to a community too often voiceless and without rights.  Casa Anunciacion, an immigrant safe house which houses and feeds immigrants as they seek to integrate into American life, look for a job, try to relocate a spouse, or any other host of reasons that causes someone to endure hardships in order to migrate to a new land.  The house is a haven for women affected by spousal abuse, who have to wait upwards of a year before receiving relief thru VAWA (Violence Against Women Act).  It’s also a haven for teen mothers, or unacompanied children, or new arrivals, or recently jobless immigrants.  (Latin American Herald Tribune)

It is strange for me to live on the border again.  It feels like home in some ways, full of the life generated by so much diversity and interchange between such large nations.  It feels like a return to form to be working with immigrants one step over the Rio Grande and one step towards citizenship. I’m flooded with memories of  Brownsville, of the tight-knit immigrant communities all along la frontera, of the machismo but also the deep faith, of the fascination with futbol and the foreignness of the downtown markets.

It is also weird for me to return with people unacquainted with la vida en la frontera.  I vaguely remember when my ears perked up at hearing Spanish in the grocery store or when Mexican license plates were second nature. I recall when I thought border life was boring, that nothing was going on because I couldn’t read about much of it in the paper or online. Still, it frustrates me that I cannot fluently communicate my appreciation for the border to a group of Minnesota students, many of whom have traveled the world and are surely bound for great things.  I feel an ambassador of the border, and perhaps I am, but I don’t know if I have been able to make them passionate for it as I am.

Maybe it is a slow process.  Maybe my law-school friends see it in the faces of detained children anxiously awaiting the outcome of their asylum application. Maybe they recognize the grave injustice in a quota system that makes immigrants wait a decade to come legally to the United States.  Perhaps they see the dusty mesquite mountains in a new light after working with an asylum applicant who has been moved from New York to Houston, from Minnesota to El Paso, from Arizona to Harlingen.  Maybe they will read stories about immigrants differently now that they can associate names with faces instead of numbers.  Maybe…

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.

When the Many Find they are One

October 22, 2008

During the WWII era of 1942-46, between 200,000 and 300,000 manual laborers or braceros worked in the United States as farmhands and railroad workers standing in for the masses of young men sent overseas. When this Bracero Program ended and many returned to their homes in Mexico, few received the 10% of their wages deducted by the Mexican government, if they even knew about the deduction at all.

While this lawsuit faltered twice, both for whether it had exceeded the statute of limitations and whether a case against Mexico could be brought in the United States, it received preliminary approval to be heard before the Federal District Court in San Francisco this past Wednesday. The proposed settlement would grant each bracer with sufficient proof a $3500 check. Fewer than 50,000 will collect those checks, due to the anonymous, undocumented nature of much of this work, but for those few braceros nearing their ends, this money is more moral victory than subsistence. The New York Times article quotes Mr. Ibarra, a bracero currently living in Chicago, saying, this was a “victory of principles that allows me to be positive about continuing to live a little longer.” The United States has much cause to thank these willing workers who came and worked and went with little recognition and even less pay. Justice can be a long time coming. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/us/16settle.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

Reportedly, Tom Brockaw regretted not asking candidates John McCain and Barack Obama not what they would do for the middle class, but what they would provide for the poor. In this season of grandstanding and lampooning for votes, it is easy to forget about the voiceless among us. Sometime between the immigration legislation discussions of 2006, both McCain and Obama have forgotten the 12 million extralegal immigrants awaiting some legislative opportunity or the countless millions lost in the lottery of our antiquated quota system.

As we speak, needless hostilities are burning between new Somali immigrants and “old” Latino immigrants in meatpacking and factory towns. When our nation focuses on the issues of the middle and upper class, the poor are left to bicker over crumbs of opportunity. Due to the nine raids in as many places since 2006 which have detained and/or deported some 2,000 immigrant workers, legal Somali refugees are being recruited and relocated to fill those positions. When they band together to campaign for 15-minute lenience to observe their Muslim prayer time, the oft-slighted other immigrant groups take offense. Mayor Ms. Hornady intimates that the Muslim hijabs suggest terrorism to her and the community of Grand Island, Nebraska. The immigrant groups in this town, the Mexican and South American, the Laotian and Sudanese and original German immigrants, all live in the constant fear that December of 2006 will strike again, that ICE will raid their meatpacking plant and freeze their small town for good. http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=KUM7s5FPF9I&am=X_E4pcT3aCGBXoYK6A

Although the New York Times article focuses on the differences and supposed animosities between these two immigrant groups, whose arrivals are separated by but a few years, what strikes me most is how similar these workers are. If only they could join together as one, in that Poor People’s March Dr. King envisioned, and say, “We will not live in fear anymore. What is good for one of us is good for us all. We are many, we are one.” I wish we all could say the same, that we would recognize the simple truth of Martin Luther King’s words, ““Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”