Posts Tagged ‘Somali’

The Assets of Immigrants

July 2, 2009

6 people sat around a dinner table in Oronoco township last night discussing the assets of immigrants.  The dialogue was part of the Table Talk series funded by VOICES [Valuing Our Immigrants’ Contributions to Economic Success] and the Rochester Diversity Council.  Rather than delving into the political or the emotionally charged aspects of immigration debate, this discussion centered on the assets immigrants bring to our community.  “Community” was widely defined, as we had participants from Winona, Austin, and Rochester.

Table Talk in Oronoco

Table Talk in Oronoco

Throughout the two-and-a-half hours, we discussed the many seen and unseen ways in which immigrants add value to our community.  We discussed how immigrants’ work ethic has enabled many American businesses to stay here in the U.S. rather than outsource.  We discussed how immigrants bring a world perspective to any community, how international events and comity are much more real when one knows people from that region.  We discussed how immigrants are forcing the United States to adapt and succeed in a globalized economy.  Immigrants also bring globalization to the U.S. in the many different foods, languages, and customs they carry with them.

During the discussion, there were some probing questions about whether these assets actually had negative counterparts to them.  One participant inquired whether immigrants are a drain on our economy, in that they use welfare, social services, and healthcare.  The group addressed this idea, coming to the conclusion that immigrants, and particularly the undocumented immigrants at whom this question was directed, live in the shadows and are the last people to try to use public benefits.  Additionally, since immigration doesn’t occur in a vacuum, it is overly simplistic and intellectually dishonest to conclude that immigrants strain or drain the economy without looking at the money they put back into the community through sales, purchases, work product, taxes, and tithes to the church.

Even in a small group of this size, the personal experiences of each individual with immigrants were extensive.  From social service work with a Sudanese family to a clothing shelf geared to Latinos, from migrant farmworker legal issues to Vietnamese co-workers in a commercial cleaning agency, from ESL students and international college students to the previous VOICES for a where Somali and Hmong communities voiced their ideas about their contribution and integration in Rochester’s community – it was easy to see the multitudinous ways in which we had all been influenced and impacted by immigrants. And while it is a sweeping generalization to even use the word “immigrant,” most of us who had interacted with immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, and migrants all knew what amazing people they were and how much we had to learn from them. [For more information, read article by Christina Killion-Valdez in the Rochester Post-Bulletin]

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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.

Fear: The Bane of the Beloved Community

April 4, 2009

“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” (Martin Luther King, 4/15/1960, Raleigh, NC)

41 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King’s dream of a fully integrated and reconciled society, his Beloved Community, still remains largely unfulfilled for the marginalized in America. Specifically, fear seems to reign in the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable group – immigrants are afraid to go to school, go to work, report crimes, visit anything but an Emergency Room. Immigrants, to a large extent, have been the object of laws designed to keep them segregated and silent and invisible.

Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearings brought national attention to the injustices inherent in the United State’s 287(g) program which deputizes local cops to become federal immigration enforcers. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, is a prime example of how certain jurisdictions are using this federal program to strike fear into the hearts of all immigrants. With his inhumane treatment of prisoners, his nativist focus on immigration enforcement over his other law enforcement duties, and his sensationalism and victimization of the immigrant community, both legal and not, Arpaio has succeeded in creating in Maricopa County (the fourth largest county in the U.S., with 4 million inhabitants) a community of distrust and fear. Maryland community advocate Antonio Ramirez, seconded by Rep. Conyers and others, testified at the subcommittee hearings on April 2, 2009, that the policies born of 287(g) lead to a drastic loss of trust and cooperation with authorities.  (Staff, Greg and Jackie Mahendra. America’s Voice)

Furthermore, Police Foundation President Hubert Williams stated that funding for this program takes away from money for smart community policing initiatives which are far more successful in preventing crime. In Sheriff Joe’s Maricopa County, for instance, Arpaio’ tactics seem to have backfired, with violent crime skyrocketing over 69% from 204-2007 (a statistic not echoed in nearby Phoenix or Mesa). When a large population of immigrants live in fear and are excluded from the Beloved Community, crime goes unreported and unchecked. (Bolick, Clint. “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office”)

The subcommittee hearings also brought to light the rampant racial profiling that has accompanied 287(g) programs across the country. UNC Chapel Hill Law School Professor Deborah Weissman highlighted the lack of sufficient training and the resulting civil rights abuses. Her recent report, “The Politics and Policies of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws,” illustrates that most “unwelcome” immigrants are stopped under the pretense of traffic violations; in Gaston County, NC, 83% of immigrants arrested by ICE had been cited first under a petty traffic violation.

Sadly, certain members of the subcommittee were insistent that 287(g) was marginally successful in the less than 5% of counties in which it is currently employed. It is hard to ascribe any motivation more flattering than unfettered xenophobia to such committee members. Rep. Steve King, a ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, questioned 19-year-old Julio Mora repeatedly about whether his father had taught him about rule of law (a.k.a. reporting undocumented immigrants). Mora, who had been detained and harassed because he’s Latino, responded eloquently, “My father taught me to respect everyone.” Rep. King and others seemed to intimate that racial profiling of American citizens was little more than an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment.

These joint subcommittee hearings’ decision on 287(g) is vitally important for creating a Beloved Community in the United States. Programs like 287(g) encourage fear, silence, and marginalization. The effects of this are chilling. Yesterday, a shooter opened fire on immigrants taking citizenship and language classes at an immigrant center in Binghamton, NY. 14 were found dead in the American Civic Association (an immigrant organization founded in 1939 and with support from United Way). The shooter, Jiverly Wong, is believed to have been a naturalized citizen who attended classes at ACA years before. While there are no clear answers and no explanations for such a tragedy, the fear 287(g) generates discourages crime reporting; we are left to speculate if this would have happened had Wong’s immigrant community felt empowered, rather than marginalized, by our nation’s laws.(CNN)

Similarly, Father Paul Ouderkirk gave a presentation at Pax Christi Church in Rochester, MN, on April 2. Much of his presentation focused on the fears in his community of Postville (where an ICE raid in May arrested 289 immigrants, closed the town’s largest employer, and crippled the town of 2400). Ouderkirk spoke of the psychological trauma felt by families after fathers were deported to Guatemala. He disparaged the fact that many women are still required to wear ankle bracelets. He discussed the fear of the citizen children, many of whom were terrified to return to school for fear that they would be arrested or they’d come home to find the rest of their family gone. (Valdez, Christina Killion. “Priests say Immigration Laws Need Reform.”)

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The ICE raid at Postville and 287(g) both serve to strike fear into our nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Far from creating a Beloved Community, fear breeds distrust, un-cooperation, division, and hate. Additionally, this terror is not limited to extralegals in America; rather, it extends to most minorities. When Latinos are followed by police officers simply for looking Latino, fear reigns. When Somalis are interrogated at bus stops simply for being Muslim, fear reigns. When jaywalking Hmong citizens are detained because of their ethnicity, fear reigns. Our nation, our Beloved Community, demands comprehensive immigration reform to end the fear and begin an era of trust.

Please consider adding your name and voice to the letter going out to Chairman Conyers of the joint subcommittee. You can do so here.

Medicine and Migration in Minnesota

April 3, 2009

In this snowy city where once Norwegians and Swedes had their own hospitals, the 446-bed Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) currently spends $3 million on interpreters fluent in 50 languages to translate over 130,000 times a year. Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, some 35-40,000. The Twin Cities also have large Hmong and Latino communities, in addition to Liberian, Sudanese, Russian, and most recently Bhutanese immigrants. HCMC has adjusted its practice to better meet the needs of the diverse immigrant population it serves, a community that comprises 20% of its patient base. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

Catering to its patient mix, HCMC’s obstetrics unit is now predominantly female, since Muslim women cannot have their children delivered by male doctors. Imams are often consulted prior to medical procedures, such as drawing blood during the month of Ramadan. No questions are asked about immigration status, and indigent patients are offered a sliding-scale fee, though not all can afford even this. Many of these immigrants are refugees from war-torn countries, and their medical care often includes the surgical removal of shrapnel and more difficult treatment of buried pain. Some 47% of women and 25% of men in the Somali community experienced torture (a number extremely high even for refugees), and their care necessarily includes counseling and holistic treatment. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

HCMC’s dedication to its immigrant patient population is surely to be lauded. In an economic climate that has hospitals seriously worried about budgets, this Minneapolis hospital is noteworthy in its continued efforts to better serve its community. It is refreshing to see such a positive community response to the new challenges immigration brings; the impact of these efforts at integration and outreach can be seen in the faces of fellow passengers every time one steps on a bus or the Light Rail in this Silver City.



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.”

9/11: A Step Forward, a Step Backward

September 14, 2008

Seven years after the events in New York City, our nation is taking successful baby steps toward integrating a growing number of Muslim immigrants. On this September 11, Gold’n Plump announced a federally mediated settlement for its Cold Spring meat plant here in Minnesota. Gold’n Plump agreed to allow Muslim laborers an extra ten-minute break to accommodate their daily prayer rituals. Additionally, the chicken-processing plant has also agreed not to require workers to sign a statement agreeing to handle pork, a task that is considered immoral in the Islam faith. (Serres, Chris)

Mediated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this case sets a precedent for future rulings on a host of similar workplace environment complaints. Here in Minnesota, the large Somali population has been filling much of the manual labor openings in meat-packing plants and other factories. While a ten-minute break might not seem ground-breaking for most Mid-Westerners, for the thousands of Somalis and for the recent surge of Iraqi refugees this is a welcome long overdue. Earlier in the year several workers were dismissed from a Mission tortilla factory in New Brighton for refusing to adopt the dress code of pants and short-sleeve shirts for religious reasons. (Serres, Chris)

In a nation hyper-sensitive to national defense and homeland security, the Gold’n Plump settlement is significant progress towards integrating an entire people group that has so far existed only on the periphery of American culture. As has always been the case, immigrant groups contribute most to a culture and are most satisfied when they have a sense of belonging within their new land. Integration is the best Department of Homeland Security the United States has ever had. Hopefully this Gold’n Plump settlement signals an era when the United States will spend more on English-as-a-Second-Language classes than it does on military translators, a time when America invests more in its immigrant groups than in creating refugees in distant lands, a new beginning when integration trumps deportation or criminalization as our policy towards newcomers to the American dream.

Sadly, that day is not yet here. In another breaking news item this past week, a prostitution ring was broken up in Austin, MN. Keila Villanueva and Miguel Isep-Roman, both American citizens, ran a brothel and a prostitution ring in Austin and the Twin Cities (Ruzek, Tim).  As is so often the case, the prostitutes were illegal immigrants coerced into selling themselves for money and continued secrecy. While Somalis moved toward a fuller integration in American life this past week, extralegal workers are still living lives of secrecy, still susceptible to being manipulated by corporations trying to save a few dollars or people who see them as a means to an end. As long as public policy continues to hold out no hope for extralegal immigrants to work towards citizenship, we will still have millions of people living without basic human rights. They will work in our factories and our fields, in our brothels and night clubs, not because of lack of experience or potential but merely because they lack some papers. This should not be.