Posts Tagged ‘iraq’

Rochester Day of Prayer

May 7, 2009

This evening, the Rochester Assembly of God Church held a local observance of the National Day of Prayer.  While meditative groups around the nation are gathered today to lift up peace, our nation’s economy, worldwide health, and the needy wherever they are, the celebration here in Rochester, MN, had a slightly different feel.  Among the normal reverends, pastors, and churchgoes, the Ghareeb family prayed alongside Scott Zaskey.  Zaskey is a Mayo One pilot who’s led medical flights and just completed a tour of duty in Iraq. (Christina Killion Valdez) The Ghareebs are a family from Baghdad whom my father-in-law Pat has been helping adjust to America.  They came last summer, after the father was kidnapped by al-Qaeda and freed.  Since arriving, they’ve been learning about American indoor shopping malls, driving big automobiles, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, and how to find a job in an awful recession. More Iraqi refugees are expected this year, and some have already arrived to this small Minnesota city.

I would like to add my voice to their prayer.  Knowing several refugee families from Somalia, Sudan, and Iraq, I would pray that we would come to realize that war can never create peace.  Recognizing conflict throughout the world, I pray that refugees from Haiti might be recognized in the United States, at least with Temporary Protected Status, until their country comes out of 70% unemployment and hurricane wreckage.  I pray that Liberians might not have to wait with bated breath every year to see if their TPS will be renewed or if they will be forced to return to a country in shambles (and as Charles Taylor still awaits his day in court).  I pray that we would all recognize in the words of Dr. King that we are all “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied up in a single garment of destiny.”

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Citizenship Day 2009

April 19, 2009

Yesterday, April 18, was National Citizenship Day.  This yearly event is sponsored by the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of AILA (American Immigration Lawyer’s Association). Though there are few immigration attorneys in my home of Rochester, MN, three years ago Rochester was the first city to host Citizenship Day. The veterans of this event recounted to me the lines on that day in 2007, how they snaked out the door of the Hawthorne Education Center and down the street.  Over a hundred people went through the naturalization process that day, with a steady line of people from 9:30 to 4:00.

That year was special, because in 2007 the rates for N-400 forms (the forms for Legal Permanent Residents to naturalize into Citizens) jumped from under $300 to their current price of $675.  While the Citizenship Day charges a meager $20 processing fee for the immigrants to complete their forms and snap a passport photo, this hike in fees was and still is prohibitive for many individuals, so in 2007 whole families rushed to naturalize en masse.

This year about 50 immigrants came through Hawthorne Education Center.  Many of them were shocked at the $675 government processing fee, but they still wanted to pursue citizenship so they could vote, or bring a loved on to the United States faster (6-8 months, rather than 8-10 years), or get a government job, or travel frequently out of the United States. (Odrcic, Davorin. “When a Lawful Permanent Resident Should Consider Naturalizing: The Benefits to U.S. Citizenship“)  It was delightful to work in the Form Preparation room, where I had the unique opportunity to speak with so many immigrants from countries as diverse as Laos, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia.  They came by themselves, clutching all their forms in one hand, or they came as a family, proud to be taking this final step to full participation in American civics.  Little children, themselves citizens, proudly watched their parents filling out the forms to finally be able to vote (so many were frustrated they couldn’t participate in 2008’s electoral process).  Some high-school children came in to fill out the forms for their parents who were at work this Saturday.  Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong were all spoken in this tiny room. It hit me that this is America, this is citizenship.

Throughout the day, I had the privilege to work alongside many volunteers, including several local attorneys such as Chris Wendt and JoMarie Morris, paralegal students from Winona State University, and nuns from Assisi Heights.  It was refreshing to see such a diverse group interacting with immigrants and the complicated American immigration system.  Whatever their first preconceptions, by the end of the day everyone was impressed by just how complicated the naturalization process was and how prohibitively expensive it was going to be for these families.  The Assisi Sisters were amazing and uniquely equipped for legal work, simply because of their profound gift for listening.  I saw several tears throughout the day as immigrants told their stories and as families realized it might be a few more years before they could become citizens.  It meant so much to the immigrants and volunteers when Mayor Brede visited and made a public proclamation in support of Citizenship Day.  Whereas so many immigrants are made to live in the shadows of society, how freeing and empowering it must for these individuals to finally be filling out that final form and here, with the blessing of the local mayor.

Throughout Minnesota this same process was underway all day.  AILA Citizenship Day has now spread to St. Paul, Bloomington, Fargo, and St. Cloud.   Though I cannot speak for the rest of the sites, in Rochester the food was amazing.  Local businesses like Daube’s Bakery and Great Harvest Bread Co. baked breads and doughnuts for breakfast, while local Somali and Iraqi refugee families cooked up some delicious ethnic foods.  It was an honor to have the chance to work with Mary Alessio, the head of Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement here in the Winona diocese, and I look forward to Citizenship Day next year.

A highlight of the day was speaking with Graciela, who had gained citizenship through this process last year and was now back as a volunteer translator.  She was overjoyed to be a citizen, and she felt it was her duty to help others do the same.  Similarly, the Sisters of Assisi were amazed by all the bureaucracy immigrants needed to undergo just to gain something we had all been granted simply through happenstance of where we were born.  At the end of this Citizenship Day, everyone emerged with a greater appreciation of what it means to be a citizen.

Integration- The Ongoing Immigration Reform

March 16, 2009

As school budgets dry up and the immigration debate remains tabled for the moment, immigrants are often left without the resources needed to integrate into American society. A long article in the New York Times this past week highlighted some schools in the Northeast that are struggling to overcome the isolationism of immigrant students, but this is an issue in every state in the U.S. Without an effective English-as-a-Second-Language program and a school that actively works to engage immigrant students with the entire student body, these new Americans often feel isolated, discriminated, separate. Currently more than 5.1 million students are ESL or ELL learners – 1 in 10 of all students enrolled in public schools- a number which has increased by 60% from 1995 to 2005. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

Some of the immigration influx is from Mexico’s downturned economy in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the Mexican baby boom that followed on the heels of the American one. But this only explains a portion of the immigration phenomenon in the United States in 2009. Our immigrant population is growing more and more diverse, with refugees coming from Somalia, Sudan, eastern Europe, Central America, south Asia. Our workforce is now made up of new Americans from India and China, Liberia and Guinea, Iraq and Laos.

ESL teacher Ms. Cain explained the current situation succinctly. “I used to tell my students that they had to stay in school, because eventually the laws would change, they would become citizens of this country, and they needed their diplomas so they could make something of themselves as Americans. I don’t tell them that anymore. Now I tell them they need to get their diplomas because an education will help them no matter what side of the border they’re on.” As the Obama administration nears its two-month mark, immigrant advocates and international families are growing worried that some of his campaign promises might get overshadowed by the economic times, that comprehensive immigration reform might get side-staged by stimulus checks, although immigration reform arguably promises a more sustainable and enduring change for our economy. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

One of the groups who could use some comprehensive immigration reform is Liberian-Americans. If their temporary protected status [TPS] is not renewed by President Obama, they could be deported beginning March 31. President Bush extended TPS in 2007 to this group of 3600 refugees who fled Liberia two decades ago during a grisly civil war. Here in Minnesota, nearly 1,000 of the 3600 Liberians who call Minneapolis “home” could be deported in March, sent back to a country that held elections in 2006 but is far from stable. Many of these families have lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years and are active members in the community and local economy. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., previously introduced legislation that would provide Liberians with an opportunity to apply for permanent residency, but it has not been passed yet. Therefore, it’s up to President Obama to ensure that these refugees are not only permitted to stay in the U.S. until their country is repaired but also extend to them the hand of permanent residency, an act that would greatly aid in this community’s integration into American life. (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/41056182.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:UthPacyPE7iUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr)

Similarly, some 30,000 Haitian immigrants face deportation in the coming months, despite the fact that their country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, is ill-equipped to handle such an influx. Already short on water, food, housing and natural resources since the tropical storms last summer, some say such deportations could tax the tiny country beyond what it can handle. Despite appeals from the Haitian government to stay such deportations, the Department of Homeland Security has stated it intends to continue deporting undocumented Haitian immigrants. (Thompson, Ginger. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04brfs-HAITIANDEPOR_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

Recent news highlights our failure to adequately integrate certain immigrant groups into our nation. This past week, several Somali leaders from Minneapolis testified at a Senate Homeland Security Meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting’s purpose was to probe the mysterious disappearance of several Somali youths over the past few months, including one Shirwa Ahmed who was a suicide bomber in Somalia. Osman Ahmed, president of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, and Abdirahman Mukhtar, youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Community Center both testified at the DHS meeting. The concern arises from the alleged recruiting of Al-Shabaab — meaning “the youth” or “young guys” in Arabic – which has been able to attract some disaffected, un-integrated, jobless youth in the Somali community. With more than 200,000 Somalis living in the United States, Al-Shabaab poses a problem; however, it is paled in comparison to a failed integration and immigration system which creates such easy prey for extremist groups. While homeland security demands we investigate such terrorist recruiting claims, it is vital we do not forget that empty hands are very easily formed into closed fists. (Star Tribune)

Our government has not totally forgotten this root tenet of community integration. Congress recently passed Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2009 (Public Law 110-329), creating the Fiscal Year 2009 Citizenship Grant Program.  Awarding approximately $1.2 million of federal funding in the form of $100,000 individual awards, this grant program is aimed to support citizenship programs for legal permanent residents (LPRs). When LPRs make the shift from residents to citizens, everyone wins. The naturalized citizens gain the right to vote and receive benefits; our communities gain involved members and a greater constituency; and our nation integrates one more immigrant family. This grant for community-based organizations will do more than facilitate ESL classes, civics review sessions, and N-400 applications – it will serve to more fully involve and integrate denizens into American life. We can all hope to see more initiatives like this through the Obama administration. (USCIS)

Iraqis seeking refuge in Detroit Rock City

December 8, 2008


Nancy and Sharon are two of the newest kids in Rochester Public School District. Sharon’s the top of her class right now, and she’s preparing to take her 5th grade finals. Nancy learned English well enough from movies and American television to be on the verge of exiting her ESL program. She divides her time between doing her homework and acting as interpreter for both her parents who know only Arabic.

Her parents, Gary and Darlene, are Chaldeans, a strict Catholic sect which speaks Aramaic (believed to be the language of Jesus), are struggling as they seek to feel at home here in southeast Minnesota. They recently got a GMC Safari, and as so excited that they can drive their Iraqi friends around in it. Gary’s fighting to find a job that uses his skills as an expert mosaic artist, and both of them are still trying to get adjusted to a Catholic mass where they can speak to the Father.

Gary and Darlene and the kids are some of the 13,823 Iraqi refugees to be admitted in the fiscal year 2008. In 2006, only 189 of the 41,053 refugees admitted to the United States were Iraqis. Despite the fact that it’s been going on since 2003, the United States only recently began responding to the more than 2 million people who have been displaced within Iraq and the more than 2.7 million who have fled the country (numbers according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Next year some 17,000 are expected, still just a small portion of the number of people displaced by the United States’ prolonged occupation of Iraq. (Svboda, Sandra. Metro Times)

The past three decades have not been good for anyone in Iraq. After the Iran conflicts, the Gulf War in the 1990s, the UN sanctions limiting food and medicine, the awful end of Hussein’s regime, and the ongoing nightmare of the United States’ occupation hasn’t been good for Sunnis, Shiites, or Christians. Until now, though, it has fallen on all equally. The Christians have been targeted since 2003, with many like Darlene and Gary being kidnapped, held for ransom, picking up and fleeing with only the clothes on their backs because they are being blamed for the invasion and duration. (Svboda, Sandra. Metro Times)

Rochester is not alone. Detroit is the city with the second largest Iraqi population in the United States, and despite the fact that the downturned economy has caused them to begin closing their doors to refugees, more than 120,000 Iraqi-Americans live and work and contribute to their economy. As more and more refugees come to the United States hoping for peace and longing to provide for their families, we can be proud of Nancy and Gary, Sharon and Darlene. We may pray that all the displaced Iraqis, many as a result of our own doing, may find a place they might once again call home. (Neuffer, Elizabeth. Boston.com)

An All-American Thanksgiving

November 30, 2008

Akmed and Dea were both at the Apache Mall for its 4 o’clock opening on Black Friday. Despite their fears of American malls from the numerous cinematic chase scenes set there, they both braved the cold and the crowds to witness this uniquely American phenomenon. Both were glad to find out that Iraqis were not the only ones to clamor for goods at market; both were equally contented to know that, unlike the movies, there are not “naked people running around everywhere.”

Though both left behind practically everything when they came to the United States as refugees through Catholic Charities and its Refugee Resettlement Program, they and their families are quickly acculturating and making Rochester, Minnesota, their home. Their children had seen snow in Iraq only once before and were amazed when I told them that in our cold winters your spit freezes before it hits the ground. These men and women are scrambling to get the necessary paperwork together for their driver’s licenses, scouring the classifieds for jobs and cheap furnishings they can afford, and studying late into the night to master English or to comprehend the material for the MCAT.

Last night, we celebrated a belated Thanksgiving with 3 of the 5 Iraqi families here in Rochester. My father-in-law has worked hard to help them get jobs and settle in to their new community, and as such they view him as a paternal figure. They are hard workers, evidenced by Pat’s newly tiled bathroom or Gassuon’s remodeled junker. All of them are trying to rebuild lives which had grown increasingly chaotic since the late 1980s conflict with Iran. The latest United States occupation has unsettled what little order there was, making it increasingly dangerous for businessmen and their families.

A few days before at our family Thanksgiving, a dear relative asked why the Iraqi refugees should have jobs ahead of all the laid-off “American” employees. When we responded that they were extremely talented and had earned the positions, this relative’s only answer was a huff and harrumph. In these times of economic uncertainty, some are calling for our borders to be closed indefinitely. Some might say that our problems are being caused by unauthorized working immigrants or these refugees.

In fact, we can look no further than our own devotion to devastation as we seek to uncover the root of the housing crisis or banking downturn. In the faces of these refugees and the 4 million displaced Iraqis they represent, one is instantly aware of the $720 million the United States spends on the Iraq War every day rather than healing its own or bringing true peace to international communities through positive relationship-building.

Eating turkey and sweet potatoes with these wonderful new Americans, I am reminded of that familiar line from the Christmas classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” When these refugees came into my life, my heart grew three sizes that day; when they came to be working residents of the U.S., our nation of immigrants grew by the size of five families that day. And they are already making plans to be at the mall for what they hear are the amazing closeouts on New Year’s Day…

Dia de los Muertos, Dia de los Vivos

November 12, 2008

On the Dia de los Muertos, just days before the Day of the Living (November 4th), students from the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, and Minneapolis Community & Technology College marched to remember the 1,954 border-crossing deaths the Border Patrol estimates occurred between 1998-2004. Those numbers continue to rise every year, with increased militarization and border barriers redirecting immigrants to more dangerous regions. (http://www.mndaily.com/2008/11/01/d%C3%AD-de-los-muertos-procession-honors-immigrant-deaths)

500 students marched in South Minneapolis as part of this event by Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition. Beginning at the Holy Rosary/Santo Rosario Catholic Church and finishing at El Milagro: The Miracle Lutheran Church, these protestors tried to publicize the fact that annual border crossing deaths have doubled in the ten years since 2005. As the participants read these names aloud, the air grew chill with the realization that our country’s policies are directly causing deaths.

Our new President-elect is inheriting an office faced with a teeming host of problems. American policies are causing deaths, both American and global, in far-reaching places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia, but our legislation is also leading to deaths as close as Arizona, California, and Texas. Immigrants lured by employers and kept in a dependent work-relationship die every year, failing to get the health benefits and insurance they need. Hospitals like Saint Joseph’s in Phoenix repatriate about eight uninsured patients a month. While Vice-President Sister Margaret McBride said this is just a part of them trying to “be good stewards of the resources we have,” hospital El Centro Regional Medical Center in California refuses to forcefully deport immigrant patients. CEO David Green of that hospital said, “We don’t export patients. I can understand the frustrations of other hospitals, but the flip side is the human being element.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/09deport.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=immigrant%20hospital&st=cse&oref=slogin)

Although healthcare is distant fourth on the upcoming President’s agenda and immigration a distant fifth or sixth, our lack of universal healthcare and lack of immigration reform creates a “perfect storm” which establishes bizarre incentives for hospitals to rid themselves of uninsured patients. Illegal immigrants are only partially covered by emergency Medicaid or, for the last few years at least, through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (expired in October). Infants, even legal citizens like Elliott Bustamente who was born at University Medical Center in Tucson, are often ordered to be transferred to a Mexican hospital regardless of his heart defect or Down Syndrome. Dr. Stephen Larson, migrant health expert at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, states that, “You’re given an out by there not being formal regulations. The question is whether or not litigation, or prosecution, catches up and hospitals start to be held liable.” Dr. Robert Margolin of the California Medical Association, confessed that, ““While we empathize with hospitals that must provide uncompensated care to undocumented immigrants, we overwhelmingly oppose the practice of repatriating patients without their consent.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/09deport.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=immigrant%20hospital&st=cse&oref=slogin ). For hospitals that refuse to repatriate patients without their consent, though, this incurs prohibitive costs which are only partially covered by the State.

Hospitals are put between a rock and a hard place, when 12 million extralegal immigrants are not allowed to acquire employer-based or private insurance and our current healthcare system doesn’t pick up the costs. Being married to a hospital administrator and being the son of a healthcare executive, I uniquely understand the plight of hospitals as it gets harder and harder for them to survive financially. However, the forced repatriation of people based on racial profiling and lack of insurance certainly does not solve immigration issues nor does it adequately address the needs of hospitals. As President-elect Obama prepares to take the Oval Office, it is our duty as citizens to keep these issues in the forefront of his mind.

Barriers to Integration

October 26, 2008

Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, California, has long stood as a symbol of Amistad and brotherhood between the United States and Mexico. 160 years after the border was established at this point, people now speak and kiss and sing through the wire fence. At times it is eerily reminiscent of prison visitations, with legal immigrants like Manuel Meza sharing coffee through the fence with his wife who was deported several years ago (Archibold, Randal). If they concentrate on each other’s faces, the fence almost seems to disappear as it moves out of focus…

The Department of Homeland Security, however, is repartitioning this monument to international goodwill. New fencing will create a no-man’s land barrier, ending Meza’s routine coffee hour with his wife, interrupting the yoga sessions that occur on both sides of the border concurrently, solidifying a distance which doesn’t exist between the Mexicans and Americans of San Diego. Another part of this new DHS plan is to fill in Smuggler’s Gulch with tons of dirt, yet one more sacrifice of beauty in exchange for control. Years ago, Pat Nixon came to this place and said, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.” Representative Bob Filner is opposing DHS’s plans to destroy this park & the cooperation it represents, while chief patrol officer Michael Fisher says, “It’s a real shame…[b]ut unfortunately, any time you have an area that is open, the criminal organizations are going to exploit that.” One might say it is akin to permanently shutting down the airports to prevent another 9/11, opting for maximum security at the sake of freedom.

But for now, San Diego and Tijuana are still united, if only here at Friendship Park. Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, still conducts communion through the fence to people like Juventino Martin Gonzalez who was deported last month after 20 years working and raising a family on the other side of that fence. It is easy to understand the real reason why a wire fence will no longer do – one look across that fence, north or south, can only remind the viewer that we are all united, all the same, all one. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/us/22border.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y&oref=slogin)

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Another barrier to immigration is the employers who would just as soon see extralegal immigrants remain illegal and undocumented. As long as our laws allow economy to trump dignity, this abuse of power will continue. This past week, though, Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn saw a victory for immigrant workers. After years of hard work, Andrew Friedman and the Make the Road New York organization have successfully brought civil suits against employers who extorted and took advantage of immigrant workers. The courts ruled that a local fruit stand owed $28,000 in back pay, a dollar store owed $70,000, a sneaker chain $400,000. Yet for every one of these employers, hundreds more continue to profit from the inability of their workers to achieve full citizenship status. (Clines, Francis)

If citizenship is the first step, education is the next on the path to integration. A Migration Policy Institute survey just found that 1/5 immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or working in unskilled labor fields. (Aizenman, N.C.) These 1.3 million legal and extralegal immigrants could be vital contributors to our economy, yet their lack of English fluency and nativist feelings keep them from using their valuable skills. More than half of Latin-American college graduates are working unskilled jobs, and that number only falls to 1/3 for those living here 10 years or more. African immigrants have the highest unemployed rates of all immigrant groups in the U.S.

Iraqi refugees are given three-month stipends when they come here. Pressed to find a job and integrate rapidly, many highly-skilled professionals are scrambling for a minimum-wage job. My friend and ESL conversation partner starts his job at a furniture factory tomorrow, despite the fact that he ran two such factories in Iraq. His friend, a nationally renowned sculptor, hopes to get a job laying bathroom tile.

Because few foreign credentials transfer to the United States and few immigrants are given the language education they need, we miss out on the contributions of so many. Surely we can do better.

(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/10/23/ST2008102300319.html)

The Remaking of America, Saturday by Saturday

October 4, 2008

The glaring sun almost makes a Minnesota October afternoon seem warm.  It is one of the last Saturdays when the swings will be alive with children, one of the last weekends when the community barbeque pits never entirely cool, one of the last weekends men can drink beer straddling a cooler and talking college football.  We are a bunch of strangers picnicking.

It is the first annual Iraqi refugee picnic here in Rochester.  There are 4 million Iraqis displaced, half within their ravaged nation and the other half wandering about the world.  The United States has agreed to receive 6,000.

Twenty are gathered here at Soldier’s Field Veteran Memorial Park.  One came after Desert Storm and is proud of her long-standing status in America. The others came two months ago, two weeks ago.  They are trying to understand why everyone here is in their house by 9:00, so unlike Amman, so unlike home.  They are trying to get used to hamburgers and tikka, kosher pickles and their pickled artichokes, ketchup and kebabs, chocolate cake and hummus.  They are also getting used to each other.

In Rochester, Minnesota, the women wearing designer hijabs are laughing as they help make a chicken dinner with Iraqi Christians and American Catholics. Back in Iraq, the women wearing the trendy hijabs wouldn’t associate with the girls wearing all black garb, and would certainly not associate with anyone who followed the Jew named Jesus.  Here, as they struggle to learn English and acquire their first American jobs, they are all banded together as so many immigrants before.

One is a professional upholsterer hoping to get a job as a concierge.  Another was the first-place winner of the national Lebanon competition for mosaic washbowls who can’t speak English and is eager to do anything to make that first American dollar.  Some have lived for the past few years in Jordan, waiting for their opportunity to come to the U.S., others just left a country changed beyond recognition.  All are amazed at the rural America so unlike the movies. Each of them is intrigued by the fact that American high-school teachers seem to care, that classes are easier but more fun here, that the buses are new and the lawns are bigger.  This is America, immigrants coming to it thinking they’ve discovered something new and little realizing that they are making it new every day.

The State of Immigration

June 23, 2008

            Around the world, the state of immigration is in a period of flux.  As most countries today have set boundaries and centralized governments, and as technology has facilitated easy communications and travel between once-distant societies, immigration is on the rise and with it, a rise in both pro-migrant and in anti-immigrant sentiments.  The state of immigrants globally ranges from the welcoming economy of Spain and the closed-fist stance of neighboring Italy to the construction of a border wall on America’s southern border and the 11.4 million refugees currently awaiting any country to allow them entry. (New York Times)

            More than 2 million Iraqi refugees have already fled to neighboring countries since the United States led the invasion of their nation in the spring of 2003, while another 2 million have been displaced within their war-torn country (New York Times).  Currently, the State Department is struggling to keep its promise of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees by this September 30, allow that would mean more than 6,000 refugees finding homes in the next 3.5 months.  Towns like Rochester, MN, with a population of only 100,000, have been waiting and preparing for months to receive the 60-70 Iraqi refugees which they have been gratefully assigned.  In speaking with a representative of Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement, it struck me just how enthusiastic she was to be able to extend a warm welcome to these Iraqi refugees, whose homeland is being destroyed by her own home country. 

            Beyond these self-produced immigration patterns caused by our nation’s myriad “conflicts” (read invasions) over the past 40 years including Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Somalia, our nation is simultaneously attempting to address the ongoing issue of illegal migration by erecting a $30-billion border wall.  This Secure Fence was the focus of Time’s most recent cover story, and while the Department of Homeland Security is still attempting to overturn public opposition in Texas in order to complete construction by the end of the year, Time highlighted the fact that the wall is not stopping immigration – it simply changes its form and direction.  While the Border Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley is suing DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff for seizing land unjustly, Stanford historian David Kennedy notes “the difference in per capita income between the U.S. and Mexico is among the greatest cross-border contrasts in the world,” and therefore the push factor of immigration will only be bottled up by a wall rather than stopped.  As residents of on the Texas border currently try to oppose the construction of this last portion of the fence, we as taxpayers and voting citizens must clamor for real immigration reform that addresses the deeper issues of skewed quota systems, the lack of legal paths to earned citizenship, and lopsided international relations.

            In other parts of the world, this same closing of borders is taking place as well, albeit not in the monstrosity of a physical wall.  In Italy, for example, a law was proposed recently by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to make it a felony to enter Italy illegally.  This would jeopardize the thousands of extralegal immigrants currently employed in burgeoning markets such as home health-care for Italy’s aging population.  Berlusconi has not yet heeded the advice of Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi who campaigned to legalize some of the 405,000 extralegal residents who filed for adjustment of status last December (New York Times)

            Far from being a lone actor on the global stage, Berlusconi is taking his cues from the E.U.’s shocking new legislation passed last week which would allow extralegals to be detained for as long as 18 months pending deportation.  This shift in philosophy for the European Union is one step closer to dehumanizing immigrants, and paves the way for even more uncompassionate and unjust legislation such as Berlusconi’s recipe for mass arrests.  In the United States, whose extralegal domestic population equals the number of worldwide refugees under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (New York Times), the Supreme Court just ruled that it was illegal for the United States to continue holding detainees as “enemy combatants,” without rights or appeals, as it has done since 9/11 (New York Times).  Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Guantanamo Bay detainee Huzaifa Parhat, hopefully bringing an end to the more than six years he has spent in this prison camp without hope of appeal or habeus corpus.  While it has taken more than six years for the U.S. government to finally amend its unjust policy of detaining individuals without appeals in places like Guantanamo Bay, this has not yet been extended to the dozens of immigrant detention centers cropping up in places like Hutto, Raymondville, Port Isabel, or the Ramsey County Center.  Though Europe’s move to detain immigrants is surely a sad shift, this shift happened years ago in the United States and more centers are being built every year to capitalize on the multi-million dollar industry. 

            Immigration has been occurring ever since Adam and Eve emigrated from that Garden so long ago.  How we choose to integrate our fellow man into our own home bespeaks much about ourselves and the future of our society.  Let us pray the future is not one of walls and prisons, detentions and displaced persons.