Immigrant and Refugee Issues


ON IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION: Immigration backlash is coming from places least touched by immigration

by Ronald Brownstein, January 30, 2017, for CNN

The escalating struggle between the parties over immigration rests on a paradox.

In the battle for control of both Congress and the White House, Republicans rely overwhelmingly on the places in the US that remain the least touched by immigration. Democrats depend primarily on the places with the most immigrants.
That contrast frames the inverse dynamic driving this volatile debate: generally it is the places with the least exposure to immigrants that are seeking to limit future migration, over the objections of the places with the most.
Even that paradox doesn’t capture the full complexity of the conflict. At the federal level, Republicans led by President Donald Trump are now urging not only a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, but also the biggest reduction in legal immigration since the 1920s. But simultaneously, more local officials from both parties across the heartland are trying to attract immigrants they consider indispensable to their strategies for maintaining economic vitality and a critical mass of population.
“My sense is if you talk to local elected officials, policy makers, business owners, faith leaders, they get it — they completely understand that immigration is what is going to keep them going,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, and author of the book “There Goes The Neighborhood,” which explores how communities across America are adapting to new arrivals. “But, especially in this day and age, for them to make that case publicly, when the other bullhorn is held by the President, is really, really hard.”

Trump would trade protection for “Dreamers” for drastic cuts in legal immigration


Trump has disappointed some conservatives by indicating that he’s willing to accept a pathway to citizenship — albeit an elongated one — for a substantial portion of the so-called “Dreamers,” young people brought to the country illegally by their parents and previously protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But he has infuriated Democrats and immigrant advocacy groups by tying any potential protection for the Dreamers not only to funding for a border wall and enhanced enforcement measures but also substantial reductions in legal immigration.
In the proposal that Trump is expected to highlight in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the administration has insisted that any deal for “Dreamers” include severe limits on immigration aimed at family reunification — what conservatives call “chain migration.” Trump wants to limit future legal immigration only to the spouses and minor children of American citizens and permanent legal residents. That shift could reduce legal immigration by as much as 40% over time, according to projections by the Migration Policy Institute. Hard-line legislation introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia in the House would impose similar reductions on legal immigration, while Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, in legislation Trump has endorsed, have proposed an even deeper cut of 50%. Any of these would represent the biggest reduction in legal immigration since the 1920s.
Both in the 2016 primaries and general election, Trump relied preponderantly on support from the voters most resistant to immigration. A majority of Republican voters supported building Trump’s proposed border wall in just two of the 20 states where exit polls measured sentiment on the question in GOP primaries. Yet that minority of Republicans supported Trump in such overwhelming numbers that they provided a majority of the votes he received in 18 of the 20 states.
In the general election, the exit poll likewise found that just 41% of voters supported building the wall while a 54% majority opposed it. Yet once again Trump won such an overwhelming percentage among the minority that supported the wall (85% of whom voted for him) that they provided about three-fourths of all the votes he received, according to the exit poll.
The share of voters who believed that all undocumented immigrants in the US should be deported, as opposed to receiving legal status, was even smaller: just 25%, according to the exit poll. Yet once again they voted for Trump in such overwhelming numbers (more than four-in-five) that this relatively small group provided about 45% of his total votes.

A reliance on the places with the least exposure to immigration

Geographically the contrasts were equally pointed. In both Congress and the Electoral College, the GOP now relies predominantly on the places with the least exposure to immigration.
According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 2016 immigrants exceeded or equaled their 13.5% share of the national population in fourteen states. Trump won just three of them: Florida, Texas and Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the other 11, including eight of the top 10: California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut.
Overall, Clinton carried 16 of the 20 states where people born abroad constitute the largest share of the population. (Georgia was the only other state in the top 20 that Trump carried.)
Trump, in turn, dominated the places with fewer immigrants. He won 26 of the 30 states where immigrants constituted the smallest share of the population. (Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine were the only exceptions.) In 19 states, immigrants comprise only one-in-every-20 residents or less. Trump won all of them except for Vermont and Maine. The states on the very bottom of the list for immigrant presence represented some of Trump’s strongest: West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota.
The same patterns persist in Congress. In the Senate, Democrats now hold 31 of the 40 seats from the 20 states with the highest share of immigrants. That number could increase after November’s election: the Democrats’ top two Senate targets are Republican-held seats in Nevada and Arizona, which are both among the nine the GOP controls in the high-immigration states. (Democrats have an outside chance at a third Republican senator on that list, Ted Cruz of Texas.)
By contrast, Republicans hold 42 of the 60 Senate seats in the 30 states with the smallest share of immigrants. And that number could rise as well after November. The GOP’s top Senate targets this year are almost all Democrats from the low-immigration states, including Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. (The one exception is high-immigrant Florida, where Republicans are optimistic that Gov. Rick Scott can oust Democrat Bill Nelson.)
In the House, the contrast is equally stark. Nearly 85% of House Republicans represent seats where the foreign-born share of the population lags below the national average. (In Goodlatte’s seat, immigrants comprise only 5% of the population.) Over 60% of House Democrats represent seats where the foreign-born share of the population exceeds the national average. This divergence could widen as well in November. Many of the Democrats’ top targets this year include suburban seats in major metropolitan areas with large immigrant populations, such as Orange County CA; Northern Virginia; Miami; and New Jersey.
Democrats do better, and Republicans less well, in states with more immigrants partly because the GOP has struggled so much in recent years with all minority voters, whether native-born or immigrant. But many pollsters also say that unease about demographic change in general, and immigration in particular, often is also greater among whites in the places that are the least directly affected by it.
As the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute reported in a nationwide study in 2016, “Notably, areas of the country that have been historical centers of immigration hold the most positive views of immigrants.” The most negative attitudes were expressed in the Deep South, Appalachia and parts of the Plains and Mountain States — areas with generally fewer immigrants.

A new focus on legal immigration

The demands from Trump and some GOP legislators in each chamber for cutbacks represent the GOP’s first serious attempt to retrench legal immigration since 1996, after the 1994 landslide that swept the party to control of both congressional chambers for the first time in 40 years. That earlier push never generated much momentum: though the House Judiciary Committee approved cutbacks, one-third of House Republicans joined most Democrats to block them on the floor. Just 20 senators supported legal immigration reductions, with three-fourths of Republicans (including John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell) voting no.
This time, with Trump’s vocal support, the effort may accumulate greater support. Yet with the exception of Perdue, few of the Republican senators from the high-immigration states have shown much enthusiasm for a crusade to reduce legal flows. (Late last week, Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, without directly criticizing the call for legal immigration reductions, pointedly suggested that any legislative package on DACA should be focused narrowly on closely related issues.)
And the push at the national level to reduce legal immigration collides with the increasing interest among local officials, even in many Republican-leaning heartland communities, in recruiting immigrants to stem population loss, particularly among people in the prime working years of 25-64.
The list of cities participating in the non-partisan Welcoming America network, which works with local governments and non-profits to promote the integration of immigrants, testifies to the breadth of interest in attracting new arrivals. The coalition includes not only Seattle and Los Angeles, Austin and Boston, New York and Chicago-big places with a long-standing immigrant heritage. It also encompasses heartland communities where Republicans typically run better than in the big metros: Akron, Toledo and Dayton, Indianapolis, Lincoln and St. Louis, Kalamazoo and Fargo, Nashville and tiny Clarkston, Georgia.
Noorani notes there is a “dissonance” between the push to attract immigrants in so many local communities, many of them Republican-leaning, and the escalating demands from national GOP leaders to roll back legal immigration. “It doesn’t mean that what’s happening locally is easy, but at the local level, if you’ve got a good mayor, a good city council, the police chief, the fire department, who are speaking to the values of immigrants to a particular community, that eases the tension,” he says. “Right now, it’s clearly not the President delivering that message.”

ON IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION: US refugee resettlement program has been nearly dismantled, advocates say

By , February 7, 2018, The Boston Globe

Sura has spent much of her life fleeing wars and waiting to find a place to permanently call home. Her family fled Baghdad in 2007, resettling in Syria. Then they sought refuge in Turkey, where they started the arduous screening process to be resettled in the United States as refugees.

Nearly three years later, Sura and her younger brother received the OK. Then President Trump issued a ban preventing people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, and she was again in limbo, forced to wait two months while her situation was sorted out.

“It was so frustrating. You’re waiting almost three years to get to the United States — or anywhere — to start your life and then something happens and ‘Oh, you have to stay,’ ” said the 27-year-old, who studied dentistry in Syria and has now been in the United States nine months. “But I was lucky.”

The country’s refugee resettlement program has been all but dismantled in the year since Trump first issued his travel ban and temporarily barred all refugees from entering the United States, immigration advocates and attorneys said Monday.

The “We Are All America Roundtable,” held Monday, was a review of the effects of the bans, hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition. It included refugee resettlement agencies, legal experts, advocacy groups, and city, state, and congressional staff members.

Sura, who declined to give her last name out of concern for her safety, hopes that she and her younger brother will be reunited with the rest of their family. Her parents, her older brother and his family did not qualify for the United Nations’ migration program.

Trump’s first executive orders pertaining to immigration and border security suspended refugee admissions for 120 days and introduced new security screening measures.

In October, he capped the number of refugees allowed into the country this fiscal year at 45,000 — the lowest number since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. The orders have faced legal challenges, and the Supreme Court has taken up the third version of the ban.

“Like every nation, the United States has the right to control who enters our country and to keep out those who would do us harm,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in March about the revised executive order. “We also know that people seeking to support or commit terrorist attacks here will try to enter through our refugee program.”

But a local group that advocates for stricter controls on legal immigration disagrees.

“The US is not doing their fair share around refugees,” said Steve Kropper, cochairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, which calls for reducing legal immigration and increasing enforcement. “Diplomatic efforts and sometimes military efforts to allow people to stay in their countries is our first obligation, but the current administration cares little about diplomacy.”

Immigration advocates and attorneys said Monday that only about 21,000 refugees will be resettled this fiscal year, which runs from October to September — less than half the number allowed — because of changes to the program.

Only 5,323 refugees were allowed into the country during the first three months of this fiscal year, according to federal officials. Massachusetts was allocated 955 refugee placements this fiscal year but expects to resettle just 650 people, down from 1,777 in 2016, according to advocates.

“By this time last year, the program had actually started to be decimated,” said Marjean Perhot, director of refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities of Boston. “Now, it really is quite decimated.”

Perhot said she started 2017 with a staff of six and now has a staff of two, a caseworker and program manager. They have worked on only seven refugee cases — three Ethiopian Christians and four children from El Salvador.

“Each time one arrives it’s a miracle, especially now,” Perhot said. “I used to say, oh, it’s always a miracle when a refugee gets through this system that is very cumbersome and very lengthy. Now it truly, truly is because very few are getting in.”

Lisa Ann Brennan, program director for Ascentria Services for New Americans in Worcester, told the group that her organization faces a situation similar to that of Catholic Charities, saying there is “a severe reduction in the number of arrivals.”

For example, she said, in 2016 the Worcester office resettled 276 people, the next year 133 people, and as of October, four people.

“As much as we are devastated by the impact on our programing and our staffing, we’re devastated for the families for whom their dreams shattered, essentially,” she said.

The two programs are having differing experiences with the community response to refugees. Perhot said that interest in hosting refugee families is at an all-time high, but Brennan cited an increase in uncertainty.

“The rhetoric that we hear at the national level has severely impacted people’s openness and ability to feel comfortable and welcoming,” Brennan said.

Democratic US Senator Ed Markey of listened to those in the room and told the group the president’s decision to limit the number of refugees to 45,000 is “unconscionable.”

“It’s lower than even [in] the Reagan administration, where it never dipped below 67,000,” he said, adding that the limit set by the nation’s 40th president had been the lowest until now.

That is why Markey said he joined an effort by Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, to raise the limit to 75,000 for next year.

The congressional resolution, which was introduced last week, said that “refugees are the most vetted travelers to enter the United States” and that “it would be an abdication of United States leadership” to resettle fewer than 75,000 people.


ON MIGRATION: ‘This is the moment’: Dreamers face make-or-break push on immigration fight with Trump

 December 4, 2017, for The Washington Post

Hundreds of students in the D.C. and Maryland area led a school walkout, protest, march and rally on Capitol Hill on Nov. 9 to demand Congress pass a clean Dream Act. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Through three presidents over a decade, young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” have emerged as a potent political force and the sympathetic public face of the immigration debate.

Since 2012, roughly 800,000 have secured permits from the government allowing them to work without fear of deportation under an Obama-era program. Eighty-six percent of the public favors allowing them to permanently remain in the country. Cultural icons from former president Barack Obama to Kim Kardashian West have sent messages of support.

“I stand with the Dreamers,” Kardashian West wrote on Twitter in September.

Even as the dreamers, brought to the country illegally as children, have become more closely integrated into the fabric of American society, their very political success has exposed them to the whims of Washington’s legislative impotency. Since the George W. Bush administration they have been buffeted by a severe whiplash of extraordinary policy victories — and crushing defeats.

This month, the dreamers face the biggest test yet of their political clout — a make-or-break moment in their long path to the precipice of becoming fully legalized residents. A loss would mean a devastating return to living in the shadows and the perpetual fear of being deported.

President Trump, who ended the Obama-era deferred action program in September, has set a March 5 deadline for lawmakers to act before the bulk of the permits begin to expire at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day. Most on Capitol Hill said a deal must realistically be done before the end of December because a bipartisan agreement would become more difficult in a midterm election year.

For the dreamers, the moment has reactivated a nationwide political network honed over the past decade. Motivated anew, they are planning to ramp up the emotional, in-your-face demonstrations that have brought them to this precipice.

“This is the moment,” said Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the nation’s largest dreamer organization. The group is planning a major mobilization Wednesday in which thousands of members are expected to flock to Washington to lobby Congress.

“It’s higher stakes for us in comparison to other fights,” Jiménez said. “The reason why is we’re facing the most aggressive immigration enforcement environment in our lifetime.”

The fight over dreamers could have even greater consequences: Some Democrats have suggested they will not support a must-pass spending bill without a deal that offers the dreamers a path to citizenship. Last week, Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida, added their names to that list.

On Tuesday, 35 members of the House Republican caucus co-signed a letter calling on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to allow a vote on a permanent solution for dreamers by the end of the year. But the group, which included a cross-section of new and long-serving members as well as representatives from urban and rural districts, did not endorse a specific piece of legislation or threaten to withhold their votes on other matters if the issue isn’t resolved.

“This is not a threat to leadership,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said, adding: “We don’t want to just pass legislation that would be popular, we want to pass legislation that would be successful.”

“We should not be using these young people’s lives as political footballs,” he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday urged Congress to protect the dreamers as the business community prepares to push Congress on the issue as well.

“The longer Congress waits, the more Dreamers will lose their ability to work here legally and become subject to immediate deportation,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and chief executive. “This will cause serious disruptions in the business operations of the companies that employ them, which is why many business leaders have spoken out and demanded action on this issue.”

Trump — who had previously suggested he would take care of the dreamers — has sent recent signals that he would support a spending bill without a dreamer provision. In tweets, the president has blasted Democrats for obstructing a deal and favoring policies to allow more illegal immigration. “I was troubled that he’s talked about the illegal immigrants pouring into the United States unaccounted for — that isn’t even close to the definition of a dreamer,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

Durbin said he doubts whether Trump truly wants to help dreamers after being stung by political blowback from his base over the issue.

In some regards, though, the dreamers already have won the battle of public opinion: 86 percent support allowing them to stay in the country, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll in September.

The broad support reflects the dreamers’ political success in telling their own narrative, a process that began in the final years of the Bush administration amid ramped-up immigration enforcement raids. As dreamers were caught up in the dragnet, they began to go public with their stories, daring authorities to make them a target.

The dreamers modeled their nascent political strategy after gay and lesbian activists who made themselves the faces of their movement. The hope was that the country would see the younger immigrants as responsible students and members of their communities.

“Up until then, the narrative was of immigrants as victims, as living in the shadows,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which acted as an incubator for the group that became United We Dream in 2008.

Although Democrats had introduced the Dream Act, seeking to provide a pathway to citizenship, in 2001, the idea of pushing for legal status for a fraction of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants was initially controversial even among immigration advocates. The dreamers, a group estimated at up to 1.5 million, are considered the most publicly sympathetic of the undocumented population, given that they had no choice in their arrivals in the country.

If they were to achieve legal status, some advocates cautioned, that would make it more politically difficult for others, including their parents.

“This notion that pits dreamers against their own parents — it’s flawed,” Jiménez said. “The framework here as a community is to protect the entire community, and there are strategic decision points made in the last decade or so to be able to bring some good news and to be able to protect some members of our community.”

Frustrated by the failure of a comprehensive immigration overhaul under Bush in 2007 and by Obama’s inaction on immigration during his first two years in office, the immigrant rights movement pushed forward on a version of the Dream Act in 2010.

The bill passed in the House but failed by five votes in the Senate.

After the loss, dreamers turned their political activism on the Obama White House, holding marches and other demonstrations to protest a record level of deportations in his first term. In early 2012, under growing pressure to streamline a huge backlog of immigration cases, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano proposed a deferred action program to allow dreamers to apply for renewable, two-year work permits.

In June 2012, Obama announced the creation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) during remarks in the Rose Gardenpunctuated when a reporter for a conservative news site interrupted the president to ask why the policy favors “foreigners over American workers.”

“I didn’t ask for an argument,” Obama responded, but then answered: “Here’s the reason: because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making contributions to our society.”

“That was one of the most important moments in the immigrant rights movement,” Hincapié said. “This was a victory fought for and won by the people who were directly impacted.”

That’s why, advocates said, it would be so painful if the dreamers lose DACA protections. Having worked openly for five years, they are now facing the prospect of returning to a life on the margins.

“Any debate on immigration once someone has legal status, the carnage and human suffering in moving from legal status to illegal status is incredibly compelling,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and former aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) who worked on a 2013 immigration bill.

In 2015, a federal judge in Texas blocked Obama’s bid to create a larger deferred-action program for up to 4 million immigrant parents of U.S. citizens. The injunction remained in place after the Supreme Court deadlocked, 4 to 4, on the case last year.

This summer, Texas and several other states threatened to sue the Trump administration over DACA, prompting Trump to rescind it in September, saying the program was unconstitutional.

Ironically, it is Trump whose actions could finally push the dreamers over the top in their long campaign to win legal status.

“He will absolutely get credit for that,” Hincapié said. “If I were advising him, it would be something to get behind, and he could say whatever he wants to say to his base. At the end of the day, he’s the leader of the Republican Party, and it’s something his party needs, something the country needs, and it’s good for the dreamers.”


ON MIGRATION: In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

By Alex Leary, November 17, 2017, for Tampa Bay Times

A mosque in downtown Utica was once a Methodist church that had been abandoned and was going to cost the city about $1 million to raze. The Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica took it over and revitalized the property, which now serves a diverse Muslim population. (ALEX LEARY | Times)


Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath.

“You need a little bit more oil,” the mechanic said.

“Five quarts wasn’t enough? Oh, okay.”

An ordinary scene on an unremarkable afternoon. But as the men got talking, they revealed the story of this city’s rise, fall and scrappy climb back — one the descendant of immigrants, the other an immigrant himself.

“My grandparents came over from Italy in the 1920s,” said Marino, 63. “We had a bar and restaurant a block up from here on Kossuth.”

The restaurant is boarded up, the casualty of a decades-long economic collapse that saw Utica’s population of 100,000 cut nearly in half as mills, factories and powerhouse employers like GE vanished. A nearby Air Force base closed in 1995.

“My friends I grew up with,” Marino said, “they’re gone.”

Though still struggling, Utica today has signs of hope, built largely on refugees who have stabilized the population, rehabbed homes and started businesses. An abandoned Methodist church downtown that faced a wrecking ball was transformed into a lively mosque. Another mosque sits across the street from the old Marino restaurant.

The garage is owned by a Bosnian and the mechanic, 24-year-old Irfet “Fetty” Covic, arrived in Utica with his refugee parents at age 2. “At first there were a lot of insults, they called me ‘onion’ because Bosnians eat a lot of them,” said Covic, whose grandfather was killed in the Balkan war. “Now I don’t even classify myself as Bosnian as much. I feel American.”

President Donald Trump took a hard line on immigration during the 2016 campaign and has issued controversial travel bans. He is slashing the number of refugee admissions to a record low, while raising fears of terrorism that have been echoed by politicians across the country, including Florida.

But a different story is playing out in Utica and other large cities in upstate New York.

Tens of thousands of refugees — Vietnamese, Burmese, Bhutanese, Bosnians, Somali Bantu, Iraqis, Syrians, Ukranians — have been resettled in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, one-time industrial hubs animated by Italian, Irish, German and Polish immigrants.

New York took in 40,000 refugees in the past decade alone, almost all of them upstate, and has the third-largest refugee population in the nation.

Some tension exists, but the communities have largely embraced the influx. Crowds have shown up for rallies opposing Trump’s policies. Lawsuits have been joined.

In Utica, where Mayor Robert Palmieri calls refugees the “next evolution,” some light manufacturing has returned and the downtown shows signs of life. Behind the counter of a busy cafe on a recent morning stood a rare breed: A Utica native who moved to New York City but has returned to start the business.

“Many people in Utica remember their grandparents not speaking English or speaking with an accent. They recognize what’s happening isn’t so different than their own story a few generations ago,” said Shelly Callahan, executive director of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

“The place just lends itself to growth and rebirth. We’re intrepid here.”

• • •

Today, nearly a quarter of the 62,000 Utica residents are immigrants, providing a stabilizing force. Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S.-born population in Utica dropped by 3,100 but the foreign-born population grew by 3,500.

“It’s very cheap, not like Boston,” said Jafar Mohamed, 30, who as a boy fled the civil war in Somalia and grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. He saved up money as a cab driver in Boston and this year bought a small market in Utica called Golden Halal. He is working on a GED.

The transition has not been easy. The school district struggles to keep up with an influx of students, many of whom arrive with little or no English and varying degrees of education. Last year the district settled a lawsuit that accused it of diverting refugees from the city’s lone public high school to alternative programs.

Refugees are eligible for public assistance and stores across Utica prominently advertise that they accept “EBT,” debit-like cards that can be used for food, and longtime residents grumble about their neediness.

The presidential election brought animosities to the surface, with a handful of reports of people yelling at women in hijabs or online commenters inveighing about a city overtaken by Muslims. Even among those who welcome the newcomers, security concerns persist.

“Look at what just happened in New York City,” said Marino, the man at the garage, referring to the immigrant who on Halloween used a truck to mow down eight pedestrians. “Today, I don’t know, everything is so different from when I was growing up.”

The night before at one of Utica’s Italian restaurants, Fox News played coverage of the attack, carried out by a Uzbekistan man who arrived on a diversity visa. “Imagine if Italians started coming here killing everyone,” one man said. The owner complained about newer refugees “from the jungle” being on welfare and how they can’t drive well and wear flip-flops during winter. But he also credited Bosnians for “saving” the city.

Bosnians arrived in Utica after the Balkan conflict in the early 1990s, and have most successfully integrated into the community, buying and rehabbing hundreds of homes. Their stucco work has brightened up parts of the city. The old Methodist church downtown was going to cost the city $1 million to raze but the Bosnian Islamic community took it over and converted it into a mosque, where on a recent Friday, dozens of men — white, African, Asian — showed up, removing their shoes before stepping onto the red-and-gold patterned carpet.

“They are definitely making Utica a better place. They make me feel like Americans are lazy compared to them,” said Tricia Curran, 47, who grew up in an Italian family. Twelve years ago she and her husband bought a dilapidated home for $16,000 and made repairs, boosting the value to $33,000. Then Bosnians began buying up property and Curran’s assessment jumped to $78,000.

She is not fearful of the new arrivals, which include some Syrians. “The killing at the concert in Las Vegas,” Curran said, “that was an American. You can’t call all Americans terrorists because of one person.”

At the same time, her sister blames refugees for why she can’t find a job as a bank teller.

• • •

The question of jobs is steeped in the immigration debate, one side accusing refugees of taking paychecks from Americans, the other saying Americans don’t want tough, low-paying jobs.

More than a decade ago when Callahan started working at the refugee center, jobs were harder to come by. “Now we’re finding lots of jobs and employers are often asking for more workforce than we have,” she said, noting that the American-born labor pool has not only shrunk but aged, and opioid addiction and the heroin epidemic have taken a toll.

A job board at the center carried postings for blackjack dealers at nearby Turning Stone casino, lift operators at a ski hill and school bus drivers. DHL, the shipping company, recently called seeking up to 60 people.

Dozens of refugees travel to the Chobani yogurt factory in New Berlin, about 40 miles south. The company was started by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya, who has faced threats and calls for boycotts over his hiring practices.

“That’s been the American way the whole time — immigrants fill the jobs,” said Beth Broadway, CEO of Interfaith Works of Central New York, a nonprofit that settles refugees in Syracuse. A Kraft Heinz plant that makes Philadelphia Cream Cheese called this summer looking for 25 workers to fill a new shift and offered to provide bus transportation for the 90-mile trip north to Lowville, she said. One idea is to provide ESL classes during the commute.

In Manlius, just outside Syracuse, nearly 350 refugees work at Stickley, an upscale furniture maker. “All we do is open a door. We don’t do this as a charity,” said CEO Aminy Audi. “I think it’s the right thing to do, to be welcoming, but it’s up to them to earn their positions — and they do.” One of the top HR managers is a Bosnian refugee.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates for reducing immigration, argued that refugees allow cities such as Utica and Syracuse to avoid addressing problems such as high taxes and regulations that could attract businesses and keep up the population.

“The yogurt factory is getting these workers who for the most part aren’t ex-cons or drug users,” he said. “But the taxpayer is having to help these people feed their own children.”

The toll on public assistance and other support systems is significant. However, a study released this summer by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees who came as adults pay $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their first 20 years in the United States.

• • •

Syracuse has been one of the most eager cities, taking in about 1,200 refugees a year, among the highest per capita rate in the country. Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, stepped into a heated national debate in 2015 by calling for more Syrian refugees. “Immigrants and refugees are the victims of crime, not the perpetrators,” she said in an interview.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott objected to taking in Syrians, citing concerns over vetting after the 2015 Paris terrorist attack. Florida, which does not face the same economic or population challenges as upstate New York, took in about 2,500 refugees that year. New York welcomed more than 4,000.

“Maybe we need to take a step back as a country and say, ‘Hey, the president is onto something here. There are folks in the world who want to do the U.S. harm and we need a stronger vetting program,’ ” said Tom Dadey, the GOP chairman in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse.

Advocates and national security experts say the vetting process is already rigorous, lasting up to two years and featuring extensive interviews, background checks and biometric data collection.

The growing Muslim population in Syracuse has created friction. Some people were angry when a Roman Catholic church on the North Side, closed due to declining attendance, was converted into a mosque in 2015. Other mosques have sprung up.

“If they don’t speak English, guess what, they don’t need to be here because we don’t have the money to support them,” said Danny Vansice, 50, an out-of-work truck driver who was walking by a small mosque on North Salina Street. “I don’t trust them. They’re all terrorists to me.”

Across the street, Rosanne Anthony, 62, worked in the backroom of the A-1 Trophy shop started by her parents 40 years ago. “Some people feel their way of life is being threatened, that we’re too generous,” she said, adding that she views refugees as hard working and family focused.

Trump has set the refugee cap next year at 45,000, the lowest since 1980 and far below the 75,000 sought by refugee advocates. Trump’s travel bans have already slowed populations and placement centers in Utica and Syracuse say their numbers could be down by as much as half. They have laid off staff.

Maha Aldujaili, who arrived in Syracuse from Iraq in 2014, is losing hope that she’ll be reunited with her husband, who she said was kidnapped and held for ransom. The people who took him threatened to cut off his head and kill her children, she said through an interpreter. Her husband was freed and she has applied for him to come to the United States. But the process is not moving.

“I’m getting depressed. I’m unable to continue my life without him,” said Aldujaili, 48. Meanwhile, her three children, one attending community college, are trying to adapt. “I am starting from zero and again feel persecuted and have no rights because the president is making decisions against us.”

The situation for Mudey Omar, 35, is more hopeful after a long struggle. It took him six years to gain admittance into the U.S. from a refugee camp in Kenya, where he sought harbor from the extremist group Al-Shabaab in his native Somalia, which tried to recruit him as a solider.

“The vetting they do is already extreme. Only people who come through that vetting know,” Omar said, seated at a table with refugees from Iraq and Bhutan, both of whom said they were tortured by enemies in their countries.

Omar started as a janitor at Rite-Aid and now works as a case worker for other refugees while driving for Uber and Lyft on the weekends. Married to a fellow refugee with three U.S.-born children, he wants to pool money with a friend and buy a home.

Last Monday, he passed the test to become an American citizen.

“I have voice now. I can vote,” he said. “I can travel back to Somalia and see my brothers and sisters. But this is my home now. It’s good for my children — they will have a better future.”


ON MIGRATION: More immigrants have temporary status than previously known

November 10, 2017, for The Boston Herald

Thousands more immigrants are living in Massachusetts under Temporary Protected Status than previously thought.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition says 12,326 people from 10 countries have the temporary authorization. Previous estimates pegged the population at around 8,000 residents.

The largest share hail from El Salvador (6,058) and Haiti (4,735). Massachusetts TPS holders also come from Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

President Donald Trump’s administration is reviewing the authorizations, which are generally granted to residents of nations struck by natural disasters and civil wars.

The administration has until Nov. 23 to decide whether to extend TPS for Haitians beyond the current Jan. 22 expiration.

MIRA says the updated figures were provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s office.


ON MIGRATION: White nationalists stage anti-refugee protests in Tennessee

By Bryan Woolston, October 28, 2017, for Rueters

People gesture while participating in a “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, TN, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

About 300 white nationalists and neo-Nazis held back-to-back rallies in two small Tennessee cities on Saturday to protest refugee resettlement in the state, which sued the federal government over the issue earlier this year.

The “White Lives Matter” rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, organized by some of the same groups involved in a Virginia march that turned violent in August, drew an equal number of counter-demonstrators and a heavy police presence.

The protesters started in Shelbyville, then traveled about 35 miles north to Murfreesboro for a second rally. Both towns are near Nashville, center of a metropolitan area has become home to refugees from Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere.

“We don’t want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee,” said Brad Griffin, a member of a group known as the League of the South who has written about his desire to create a white “ethnostate.”

Saturday’s rallies were organized by the Nationalist Front coalition, which embraces groups considered neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

To help keep the peace, Shelbyville police used temporary fencing to separate the white nationalists from counter-demonstrators. Anyone seeking to enter the area was searched. Guns, backpacks, sticks and other items that might double as weapons were banned.

The white nationalist demonstrators gathered behind a half dozen white shields emblazoned with red crosses. Counter-protesters carried signs with slogans including “Don’t Hate” and “Veterans for Peace.” Two lines of police, some in riot gear, stood between the two sides, who shouted at each other.

One man was arrested for disorderly conduct, but there were no injuries, local media said. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Later in Murfreesboro, where protesters were prohibited from carrying shields, or wearing masks or helmets, the rally remained peaceful, the city said on Twitter.

Local officials and faith leaders had denounced the gatherings, fearing they could inflame racial, ethnic and religious animosities in the state.

Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than 1 percent of the state’s population, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The state filed a lawsuit the federal government in March saying it had been unduly forced to pay for refugee resettlements. It was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits U.S. government powers to those provided by the Constitution. Other states have filed similar suits on different legal grounds.

“When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to Saturday’s protesters.

He noted that a Murfreesboro mosque has been a source of controversy and vandalism for years.

“Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election,” Hooper said.

President Donald Trump has sought to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries since he took office and called during his 2016 election campaign for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

(Additional reporting by Chris Kenning; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)


ON MIGRATION: A New Era in Cuban Migration

Pulitzer Center Projects


Launched: September 26, 2017

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America and a new era in Cuban migration.

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017 created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America. Over 2,000 Cubans found themselves “in-transit” to the United States. They were left in a quagmire. The migrants had no resources to return to Cuba–they sold all of their belonging to set out on their trip to the United States. With the change in U.S. policy, these migrants had no clear way of legally entering the country.

Aid organizations across the region have been strained for resources to support these migrants, governments of these countries have limited resources to process thousands of the deportations, human rights and religious organizations are calling for a resolution to the crisis, and Cuban-Americans in Miami are pressuring U.S. government leaders to help these migrants.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital news outlet, the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, Miami’s most recognized newspaper, and Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast that tells stories of Latin America and of Latino communities in the United States and is distributed on NPR, have teamed up to produce a multimedia series to highlight the effect of the new U.S. policy on Cuban migration into the United States.

The team reports on stories directly from Cuba, South and Central America, and the United States. Unlike other stories published about the Cuban migrants in Central America, this series introduces two important differences: first it explains the effect of the new U.S. policy on the lives of the migrants and second it showcases how the change in policy impacts not only the life of the migrants, but also the lives of their families on both side of the Florida Straits.

Read “A new era in Cuban migration: Panama” online at the Miami Herald and at el Nuevo Herald.


HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status

By: Nick Miroff, October 20, 2017, for The Washington Post

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle)

A form of legal immigration status will expire soon for 300,000 Haitians and Central Americans residing legally in the United States, some for nearly two decades, but the Trump administration has given little indication it plans to renew the benefit.

The immigrants have been allowed to live and work in the United States under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that shields some migrants from deportation if their nations are stricken by natural disasters, civil wars or other calamities.

Permission to stay must be periodically renewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and in the coming weeks, the agency will decide the fate of about 195,000 Salvadorans, 57,000 Hondurans, 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans. Once the protections lapse, those immigrantswould be subject to deportation.

Their predicament is not as well known as the “Dreamers” who have been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that Trump is canceling. But an end to TPS protections could have wide-ranging consequences, especially in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Washington, where many of the beneficiaries and their U.S.-born children reside.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are urging the administration to extend the TPS protections, warning that the humanitarian and economic costs of expelling so many long-term U.S. residents would be steep.

Moreover, they say, the countries remain crippled by violence, disease and poverty, and the abrupt loss of the cash remittance payments the immigrants send from the United States would deal a heavy blow to those nations’ feeble economies.

DHS officials say the agency’s acting secretary, Elaine Duke, has yet to make a decision and continues to consult with the Department of State, which must provide DHS with specific country-by-country information about whether conditions in those nations have ameliorated.

But administration officials say the TPS program was never intended to be a way for migrants to remain indefinitely in the United States, and they view it as part of a broader culture of lax immigration enforcement they want to remedy.

“We are looking at the fact that temporary protected status means temporary, and it has not been temporary for many years, and we, the U.S. government, have created a situation where people have lived in this country a long time,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters this week.

“Every time, we give an extension, and then give an extension, and soon we have people living here 20-plus years under what was supposed to be a temporary program,” Lapan said. “When do you stop that?”

DHS has until Nov. 6 to announce its plans for the roughly 60,000 Hondurans and Nicaraguans whose benefits will expire Jan. 5. They were allowed to stay after Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 across Central America in 1998, so many have been in the United States for at least two decades.

Haitians received a similar reprieve after the 2010 earthquake that left at least 200,000 dead. But the roughly 50,000 Haitians who have TPS protections could be forced to return if DHS does not grant an extension in the coming weeks. The deadline for that announcement is Nov. 23, Thanksgiving Day.

In May then-DHS Secretary John Kelly renewed TPS protections for those Haitians for six months, far less than the 18-month waivers granted by the Obama administration. In a statement at the time, Kelly called it a “limited” extension whose purpose was to “allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States,” and “to provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Immigration policy analysts say DHS could make a similar six-month, start-packing-your-bags extension for Central Americans, including the nearly 200,000 Salvadorans whose protections expire in March.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce immigration to the United States, said the Trump administration’s big test will be what DHS decides to do with the Haitians, given Kelly’s characterization of the previous extension as a “limited” one.

“That will determine whether it’s more than rhetoric,” Krikorian said. “That’s when we’ll get a sense of how committed the White House is to making sure the ‘temporary’ in Temporary Protected Status is really temporary.”

DHS officials would not say what instruction, if any, they have received from the White House, where officials referred questions to DHS.

Honduras and El Salvador have some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and tens of thousands of their citizens continue to attempt to come to the United States illegally each year.

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, still suffers from cholera introduced by United Nations troops who were sent after the earthquake, in addition to food shortages and other damage from recent hurricanes.

This week 20 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) sent a letter to Duke and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging an extension of the TPS deadlines. There are about 30,000 TPS beneficiaries living in the Washington area with their families, according to immigrant advocates.

“These individuals are the most thoroughly vetted people in the country,” said Tom Jawetz, an immigration policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

He said TPS beneficiaries are the parents of 190,000 U.S.-citizen children, and the anxiety of not knowing what will happen to their parents is inflicting “devastating emotional, social and educational harm.”

But like the DACA debate, the TPS decision has become a proxy for a broader argument about immigration and the enforcement of U.S. laws. The Trump administration has been signaling it wants to break with its predecessors and appears to want to make a statement, said Doris Meissner, the top immigration official under the Clinton administration,

“The deeper point is they don’t want people here from other countries for humanitarian reasons,” said Meissner, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “They don’t see these various elements of immigration policy as particularly positive for the U.S., or as a broader expression of our values and image in the world.”


HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue

By: Anthony Man, September 18, 2017, for the Sun Sentinel

The South Florida congressional delegation and both of the state’s U.S. senators issued a bipartisan plea to the Trump administration on Monday to extend temporary protected status for Haitian nationals in the U.S., partly because of the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Irma hit northern Haiti on Sept. 7. It caused flooding, destroyed crops and homes and further damaged infrastructure, cutting off rural villages from nearby cities, the lawmakers said in a letter to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Not mentioned in their letter is a looming potential threat: Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is in the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria in coming days.

Last year, Haiti suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated its main food-growing region. Earlier this year, the Trump administration said TPS, which was granted and has been renewed repeatedly since the devastating 2010 earthquake, would end early next year.

With population growth, Haitian community in South Florida sees more political clout

It prevents deportation but does not grant a path to permanent residence or citizenship. TPS has been repeatedly extended as the country recovered slowly, often with setbacks. Haiti has experienced an epidemic of cholera introduced to the country by United Nations forces brought in to help after the earthquake.

On May 24, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a six-month extension of TPS, until Jan 22, 2018, and advised Haitians in the U.S. to use the time to get their affairs in order. Kelly is now Trump’s chief of staff in the White House.

Kelly said Haiti has “made progress across several fronts.” He cited multiple signs of progress including the closing of the vast majority of camps for displaced residents, the plan to rebuild the Haitian president’s residence in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the U.N. stabilization mission.

South Floridians with ties to Haiti and elected officials with lots of Haitian-American constituents said there hasn’t been much progress on recovery. And, they said, there is no way the country can absorb the return of 58,000 people who have protected status. An April report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said the largest concentration of Haitians with temporary protected status were in South Florida. The New York metropolitan area was second.

Haitians in US get slight reprieve but worry about future

The only representative from southeast Florida not on the list is U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The lawmakers asked Duke to grant an additional 18 months starting Jan. 22.

Haitian community leaders press to continue protected status as deadline looms

They said TPS “is central to our country’s commitment in providing safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing violence, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions. Haiti continues to face such conditions.”

In their letter, the lawmakers also said that “some statistics may look encouraging at first glance, a closer look shows a country still struggling significantly to recover from the extraordinary conditions” caused by the earthquake and Hurricane Matthew.


ON MIGRATION: Disposable Africans – Migration and its Consequences

By: Nanjala Nyabola, June 21, 2017, for IRIN

Much ink has been spilt trying to make sense of the migration flow across the Mediterranean, a stretch of sea that has become the frontline of capitalism’s most urgent question: What’s more valuable – a human life, or the fraying concept of the sanctity of state borders?

Journalists and commentators have largely framed the boat crossings as a European crisis, and yet the vast majority of the migrants using the major route from Libya to Italy are Africans. They are also the majority of the nearly 2,000 people recorded to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Why do young Africans choose to risk all for the attainment of a precarious existence in Europe? Why is Africa home to me, but uninhabitable to my peers?

I went to Palermo, the largest city on the Italian island of Sicily, to try to get some answers.


The day I visit Palermo’s docks, volunteers anxiously await the arrival of a commercial vessel – the Tuna I – that has just rescued 470 people from the sea and is heading to port.

The energy is a little unnerving. It’s heartening to see so many people give up their time to welcome the people who have been rescued, but when the boat arrives many volunteers take selfies in front of the hungry and disoriented people hanging listlessly over the railing of the ship.

While the volunteers scream and wave their welcome to the Tuna I, the response from the ship is far less enthusiastic. There’s something perverse about this, consistent with the voyeurism that has characterised the global response to the drownings at sea.

Most of the people who disembark the Tuna I are clearly broken in ways I may never truly understand. Many weep or struggle to walk. Some have to be carried off.

Their clothes are ripped and worn, and almost none are wearing shoes. Almost none. A few stand out: An Arab man in shoes and socks is quickly cornered by the police.

There is damage here beyond the physical. Many look but don’t seem to see, moving among the volunteers as if in a trance.

Where did they break? Who hurt them?

At a halfway house in the suburbs of Palermo, I ask a group of young people who survived the same journey months earlier. They all give the same answer: Libya.

The devil and the deep blue sea

Mediterranean rescue by Jason Florlo for IRIN

“Libya is not good. A person can’t live there. Africans are nothing to them [in Libya],” says Amir from Senegal. “[But] you can’t turn back once you’re in Libya, even if it’s not easy to come here.”

Everyone is scarred by Libya. Mention the name and eyes well up. In many ways, the reaction gets to the heart of what I went to Italy to engage with – what drives the momentum towards Europe, even when the journey becomes grotesque.

It turns out that once people are in Libya, going back is not an option. Libya is the devil to the Mediterranean’s deep blue sea.

Yet under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was a prized destination in itself for Africans from throughout the region, a place of well-paid employment. Gaddafi’s removal in 2011, helped by a European-led coalition, changed that.

For black Africans, Libya has gone from haven to hellhole in the shadow of the bloody conflict and political vacuum that followed Gaddafi’s death. Africans have been crossing through Libya for decades, but there is a tinge of vengeful anti-blackness in the horrors they survive today.

Slave markets where black bodies are displayed and bartered are popping up in Libyan towns. Many people testify to being held in dark, windowless rooms, sometimes for months on end, while waiting for relatives to pay ransoms to facilitate their crossing.

Young women will almost certainly be raped, and it is not uncommon for people to be shot for complaining about any aspect of their detention.

When I ask Amir why he didn’t just turn back once he got to Libya, he says: “Whatever I saw in Libya was worse than anything I have ever seen in my life. And the thought of going back to Libya – back to the desert – was enough to keep me going.”

No home from home

But Italy offers only a meagre respite from racism.

“I have faced many difficulties,” I hear from Boubacar, a young Gambian. “I don’t have my independence like I want to.

“To me it’s not worth leaving my home and coming to a place like this to be discriminated [against], to be insulted, to be isolated.”

Italy does more than most for Africans who survive the crossing, but it is less than a full life with few prospects of becoming home.

The people who disembark the Tuna I get a pair of shoes, a bag with food, and a medical check-up. But they will almost immediately be shipped to reception centres around the country for interviews, and many will be deported. Only minors qualify for a substantive, automatic protection of two years.

Any services provided at the dock are primarily provided by non-profit organisations like the Red Cross. European governments deliberately punish survivors by withholding key services to make a point to anyone else considering the journey.

But national policies don’t always capture what’s happening on the ground. Local politicians like popular Palermo mayor Leonluca Orlando, who insists that diversity fuels the vibrancy and success of his city, resist Brussels.

“In 50 years, I am convinced that current European leaders will be facing charges of crimes against humanity,” Orlando tells me, as he personally greets some of the people disembarking from the Tuna I.

Palermo’s lessons

A popular narrative in European capitals is that if there was less migration there would be more opportunities for Europeans. But people in places like Sicily see things with more nuance.

Orlando’s welcome of rescue boats – he welcomes each one – has not dented his popularity in Palermo, even though Sicily is one of Italy’s poorest regions.

That’s partly because of a demographic crisis – Sicilians are producing fewer children. So, the subsidised labour of migrants has become invaluable.

At the Centro Astalli, a one-stop service centre for migrants and refugees in a disused church, I meet Veronica who provides a personal insight into the situation in Sicily.

The conversation begins as an introduction to the centre. But as soon as we realise we are the same age, it becomes a familiar millennial exchange on how much harder it is to attain conventional markers of success today than it was for our parents.

“I started here as a volunteer,” she tells me, “but when we got funding to expand the project they took me on full time. But my sister is 28, and she graduated almost three years ago and still hasn’t found work.”

Astalli offers one year of free Italian lessons, access to a laundry and showers, a free breakfast and afterschool activities for children. The centre also runs an arts programme with local volunteers that brings together Italians and migrants in projects designed to foster assimilation and understanding.

The programmes are funded by the Jesuit Refugee Services and the European Union. But some Palermitanos resent that so much is available to migrants for free.

“For me, I understand because I work here,” Veronica says. “Many of the asylum seekers are my friends. But for people like my sister, it’s very difficult to understand.”

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?”

This leaves structural racism as an enormous challenge for Astalli’s clients. Asylum seekers find it impossible to rent houses or find meaningful work. Only one of Astalli’s clients to date has completed university.

A young Gambian man, like Seydou, who I met, would rarely experience the kindness that I experienced as a tourist with an American twang.

“Maybe no one is going to fight you on the streets, but when it comes to real integration we have many problems,” Veronika says. “The Sicilians will stay with the Sicilians, and the refugees together in another place, but they don’t mix.’’

It’s a dynamic that leaves many people like Seydou vulnerable to exploitation. He was forced to move when he threatened to report one of his first halfway houses for siphoning money from the municipality intended for supporting migrants.

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?” Veronica wonders. It’s a question I put to the people I interview.

Gambian migrants celebrate arriving in Italy, unaware of what is likely to follow. Photo by Jason Florlo for ISIN/MOAS

Seydou and the others tell me it’s about a chance at life – to escape a violent family or conflict, to being able to have optimism for the future.

None of the young people I encounter would encourage other Africans to attempt the crossing to Europe. But what European bureaucrats call pull factors, they call hope.

Cold war nostalgia

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity,” wrote Edward Said in 1984.

The world then was paradoxically more and less open than it is today. On the one hand, in the shadow of empire, African and Asian citizens of various nationalities could travel to Europe and beyond without the burden of invasive, derogatory visa procedures.

For much of Africa, the Cold War opened Europe up in ways that may never be experienced again. The ideological blocs competed for influence by showering African students and technocrats with fully funded opportunities to work and travel.

In cities like Berlin, African students like my father could drink beer with their West German counterparts while East Germans like 20-year-old Michael Schmidt were shot dead for attempting to scale the wall.

African students had not yet felt the sting of authoritarianism or economic austerity at home. Struggling with racism in Europe, many treated their stay as a necessary, temporary step to professional achievement rather than a shot at staying.

Only after structural adjustment hollowed out African economies and the establishment of the new, hyper-connected European Union, did visa restrictions for non-Europeans become common. At first, they were simply administrative hurdles, but today they are laborious and dehumanising processes designed to deter all but the most tenacious.

New realities

Yet Europe still needs migrants, especially in the south where dwindling populations have aggravated labour shortages in agricultural sectors that resist mechanisation.

Italian grapes, Greek olives, and Spanish oranges all need bodies to plant, process and harvest them. By 1992, the architects of a single Europe realised that wealth disparities between various European countries – not just along the East-West axis but also North-South, the struggling economies of Greece, Italy, and Spain – required creative interventions for successful management.

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity”

And so for much of the last 25 years, the Eurozone has both aggressively courted and turned away migrants: punishing people legally seeking asylum at airports and embassies, and more or less ignoring clandestine migration across the Mediterranean, until the European economy was pummelled by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Migration, or fear of migration, is today the bogeyman of European politics that might yet break up the European Union. Not because of the lie that a flood of refugees and migrants is on its way, but because of what Said observed: that the irrational and unnecessary over-policing of Europe’s borders is throwing up contradictions and triggering an existential crisis.

The impulse to keep people out at all costs leaves Europe with a paradox: While preaching humanitarianism abroad, politicians threaten to prosecute NGOs for saving migrant lives at sea because leaving people to die is considered a deterrence.

Europe is now trying to reconcile that gap with security-focused development aid. In late 2015, EU governments at the Valetta Summit promised African governments, including autocratic regimes in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, up to two billion euros in funding to help stem African migrations.

People move

After watching the Tuna I dock, I wander into some of Palermo’s museums and encounter three fascinating exhibitions.

The first is a tour that takes you past centuries-old churches with dome-shaped towers – mosques converted into Catholic churches and a testament to Palermo’s Muslim past.

The second is an installation at the museum of contemporary art featuring family photographs intertwined with yards of jute and rope. The artist set it up to evoke drowning, and perhaps the idea that – given a different set of circumstances – any one of our family members could have drowned trying to cross the sea.

The third is an exhibition at the Royal Palace featuring art from countries banned from the United States under President Donald Trump’s executive order.

These three exhibitions challenge Palermitanos to rethink simplistic narratives about migration. To me, they evoke the timelessness of human mobility, echoing Mayor Orlando’s vision that in 50 years the world may have a different set of moral values. Perhaps freedom of movement will be claimed as a universal value. Or perhaps it will be lost forever.


ON MIGRATION: The Stories Behind DACA, the Now-Ended Program for Young Undocumented Immigrants in the US

By: Amanda Lichtenstein, September 11, 2017, for Global Voices

Activists protest the end of DACA in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017. “Deport Hate, Not Dreamers” and “United We Dream/#DefendDACA.” Photo by Molly Adams on Flickr, permission under CC BY 2.0.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Trump administration would terminate a program that grants two-year renewable work and study permits to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without papers.

In the days following the policy shift surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACAprotestswalkoutspetitions, “resistbot campaigns” and calls for impeachment have flooded the internet and the streets of the US. Critics accuse the White House of being cruel, as many DACA recipients self-identify as Americans.

DACA was put in place through executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. A legislative version of the policy, known as the DREAM Act, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.

Nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who are often called “dreamers” in reference to the DREAM Act, now face the possibility of deportation when their permits expire in six months if Congress does not act.

The decision triggered a renewed debate on the very definition of what it means to be an “American,” in this case referring to a citizen of the United States, with organizations like Define American at the forefront, using stories to put a face to the numbers.

Founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, Define American’s mission is to use the power of story to “transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American also invites undocumented people and their allies to create and upload text and video testimonials about the immigrant experience in the US.

Giovanni Amado, 23, arrived in the US in 1998 from Mexico City when he was just 3 years old. In his video testimonial, published a few days before the Trump administration’s announcement, Amado talks about his work as a fraud specialist in a bank and says he does not understand how terminating DACA helps anyone:

“The term American should not be defined by a document or the lack of one. It is more so the willingness to contribute to the country and help others out whenever possible.”

And Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old woman from Belize who came to the US at the age of 7, says DACA allowed her to finish her university studies. She defines American as:

“ individual — immigrant or otherwise — who has lent their skills, knowledge, education, business acumen as well as labor that lends to this nation’s positionality as a hegemonic power.”

In addition to crowd-sourced testimonials, Define American recently launched#UndocuJoy, a social media campaign designed to combat victimizing representations of undocumented people by “flooding the media with authentic images of happiness.”

The campaign features a video in collaboration with poet Yosimar Reyes who narrates his poem “I Love Us” throughout a series of images of everyday undocumented people getting up, going to work, dancing, making breakfast, and being human:

“I love us / because we have constantly had to prove our humanity / and constantly done it beautifully / Because to stay human / Under these conditions / you have to have an understanding of / Beauty.”

The struggle for permanent sanctuary

In Attorney General Sessions’ speech announcing DACA’s termination, he referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

His choice of wording recalled Define American’s campaign #WordsMatter, launched in 2015, which urges journalists to stop using the word “illegal” to refer to people:

“Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions.”

“Being in the US without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one,” the campaign continues.

Given Trump’s past disparaging comments about people of Mexican origin, as well as a series of controversial executive orders, pardons, and proclamations that involve minority communities, the move to end DACA and the language used to justify the decision have reinforced accusations that Trump is purposefully stirring mistrust and hatred in society.

Even before Trump’s rise to the presidency, the federal government’s deportation priorities led certain areas of the country to limit their cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico), as well as 37 cities and counties, have declared themselves as so-called sanctuary cities.

Following the DACA decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel doubled down on his city’s commitment to offering sanctuary, going so far as to declare Chicago a “Trump-Free Zone.”

But sanctuary cities aren’t a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Their fate now rests with Congress. Perhaps hearing the personal stories published by initiatives like Define American will remind lawmakers that there are real people behind the statistics and that being American is more than just a piece of paper.


ON HAITI: Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice

By: Martin Lukacs, August 29, 2017, for The Guardian

Canada has a hand in the misery Haitians are fleeing. Asylum should serve as reparations.

A family from Haiti walk to the US-Canada border to cross into Canada from Champlain, New York, U.S. August 11, 2017. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The minders of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s brand are surely displeased. He’s spent two years cultivating an image of Canada’s refugee system as the political equivalent of airport hugs and teddy-bears. And now the pressure is on him to act like that were remotely the truth.

The image of the country as a welcome haven was pitched to win the support of millions of people in Canada who rightly feel two things: compassion for the plight of refugees and disgust for the antics of Donald Trump. But refugee rights advocates had warned what would come to pass: desperate people would take Trudeau at his word.

Hence an influx of thousands of Haitian refugees from the United States—afraid of being deported back to Haiti by Trump—now await an uncertain fate in Canada. The Liberal government may have been happy to reap the political benefits of Trudeau’s PR posture. But apart from accepting a small number of Syrian refugees, they have dumped hundreds back in Haiti since they lifted a ban on deportations to the country in 2016. And they have studiously avoided removing other barriers that would make Canada a truly welcoming country.

The current debate has so far focussed on one such barrier: a 2004 agreement with the US that bars almost all refugees from making an asylum claim at a Canada-US border post. That’s why they are increasingly turning to precarious crossings—at which point they can at least get a hearing. This agreement—whose basis is the indefensible notion that the United States is safe for refugees—should long ago have been scrapped.

Instead Trudeau has turned to admonishing Haitians, dispatching a minister to the United States to warn Haitians against seeking asylum in Canada. “For someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration,” Trudeau warned. “It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death, or being stateless people.”

“Economic refugees,” of course, are not entitled to asylum. And this is where the base ranting of right-wing tabloids and anti-immigrant racists, who have stoked hate and fear of “selfish queue-jumpers,” dovetails with the high-minded reasoning of elite pundits and Liberal policy-makers preaching pragmatic limits and strict refugee criteria.

Both adhere to a brand that is much more enduring than this latest Prime Minister’s: the brand of an innocent Canada, whose benevolence is indisputable, whose humanitarian impulse is never in doubt. What they disagree about is whether Canada should bestow it on refugees.

Astonishingly, what has merited not a single mention in mainstream discussion is that Canada doesn’t stand at a remove from the misery that Haitians are fleeing: we had a direct hand in it. Ignoring this history—and absolving Canada of responsibility for Haiti’s situation—has created the greatest barrier of all to refugees receiving the welcome they deserve.

Haiti’s long-suffering people, who have endured a line of dictatorships, had a brief respite in the last quarter century: a popular democratic wave that swept priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. He raised the minimum wage from mere pennies, disbanded an army that bullied the population, and started providing education and medical care to the poor majority.

Defying the agenda of the Haitian elite and multinational companies who used the country for cheap labour made Aristide enemies—the US, France, and sadly, Canada. in 2003, the Liberal government of the time hosted US and French officials to plot Aristide’s ouster. They cut aid to his government. And when US marines invaded the country, Canadian soldiers guarded the airport while they flew out Aristide and dumped him in Africa. A United Nations military force, commanded for a period by Canadians, occupied the country, providing cover for the regime installed after this coup d’état. Thousands of Haitians were killed.

The Canadian government’s role was hardly based on humanitarianism: having refused a full role in the US war on Iraq, they needed to get back in the good graces of George Bush. In a moment of candour out of sync with our humanitarian brand, ex Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington…eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

The cost to Haitians of this cynical calculus was incalculable. Since the coup, Haiti has lurched from disaster to disaster, compounded by governments more accountable to the US than its own people. The devastating earthquake of 2010 was shaped by inequality and deliberate under-development that Haiti was plunged back into after Aristide’s ousting. The impact of similar storms on neighbouring Cuba—whose measures to lift people out of the most impoverished infrastructure have not been blocked by western governments—was a fraction of what it was in Haiti.

Western governments have tried to wash their hands of their victims. In the wake of the earthquake, Obama’s administration built a fortress around Haiti: coast guards cruised the waters to prevent any from fleeing; air force bombers dropped messages in the country, warning that “if you leave, you will be arrested and returned”; and a US private prison company started setting up a detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, while Haitians had not yet dug themselves out of the rubble.

And the reconstruction effort that millions of people around the world compassionately contributed to? Botched by the U.S. and Canada, it left Haiti with plenty of industrial parks for sweatshop employers and luxury hotels for tourists and NGO officers, but virtually no new housing for the million Haitians who had been made homeless. To make matters even worse, the occupying UN force introduced the world’s largest cholera epidemic into the country — it has killed 30,000, infected 2 million people, and rages on.

Canada has “slapped some make-up” on the situation to justify deporting people to the country, says Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus, who fled to Montreal from Haiti in 2013 after facing death threats. “Canada claims things have returned to normal. They have not. There is criminalization of homosexuality and dissent, assassinations, a corrupt justice system. So much suffering has flowed from the coup onward, and the state now has no capacity to protects its citizens. Canada should assume responsibility for the chaos and injustice it helped create.”

Haiti is today sliding back toward dictatorship: disastrously bad elections, sanctioned by the US and Canada, have produced a parliament packed with thugs and drug dealers, the old army is being revived, and leading figures in the current government have links to the dictatorships of old.

All of this could hardly be a better example of the slogan repeated by migrant justice movements around the world: “We are here because you were there.” Western government’s wars, their ransacking of resources, the manipulation and impoverishment of poor countries, has led to an inevitable flow of displaced and persecuted to our shores.

“If Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees, here is an opportunity prove it,” says Florvilus, who believes Canada should grant special refugee status to the arriving Haitians.

He’s right. After all of our crimes toward that country, asylum should serve as the barest of reparations. The refugees arriving are hardly a “flood,” or “unsustainable” — they are drop in the bucket alongside the immigrants that arrive every year. As climate change wreaks devastation around the world, these numbers are sure to grow.

In past decades, mobilizations led by the Haitian community in Montreal have forced the Canadian government to act more in line with its rhetoric. That can happen again. Now is the time to fight for the values that will govern how we address the graver refugee migrations to come.

In the final account, welcoming refugees isn’t a matter of generosity, or burnishing Brand Justin — it’s a matter of justice.





ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: Olympic Stadium In Montreal Turned Into Welcome Center For Refugees From U.S.

The Trump administration extended that status for just six months — and urged Haitian refugees to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.” The administration cited “Haiti’s success in recovering from the earthquake,” although Haiti continues to struggle with a number of crises, including an ongoing cholera epidemic, a nightmarish sewage problem and a catastrophic hurricane.

That helps explain why a sudden surge of refugees are leaving the U.S. As to why they’re entering Quebec, the CBC cites the large Haitian community in Montreal.

“Obviously, there is a stronger attraction to coming to Quebec for Haitians than in other provinces,” PRAIDA spokeswoman Francine Dupuis told the CBC. “They have the help of their community to get settled.”

But it’s not clear if the Haitian refugees arriving in Canada will be permitted to stay, the CBC reports. The challenge is fundamentally the same as in America: A government evaluation of just how bad life is in Haiti.

“Asylum seekers originally from Haiti who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border could be deported back to Haiti if their application is refused because Canadian authorities deem Haiti as a sufficiently safe country,” the CBC writes.


ON DEVELOPMENT: Aid Credibility at Stake as Donors Haggle Over Reporting Rules

By Ben Parker for IRIN from GENEVA, 21 July 2017

Photo by Ylenia Gostoli/IRIN

The world’s rich countries spend billions at home but report it as “aid”, exploiting a loophole that enables donors to mislead the public and cut vital development budgets. IRIN has dug into the data to reveal the worst offenders and the extent of a practice that topped $15 billion last year, seriously undermining the credibility of aid statistics. Given the wide differences in how they apply the ambiguous rules, donors have been trying to set new boundaries on in-donor refugee aid since February 2016.

However, progress has been slow, and the process again stalled at a meeting in Paris on 10 July. A working group on the issue will now need further rounds of negotiation if proposals are to be ready for adoption at a high-level meeting in late October.

Under current accounting rules, the costs of receiving refugees can count towards a donor country’s total overseas development assistance. In-country ODA has ballooned: In 2016, leading donor countries reported $15.4 billion of domestic spending on refugees as ODA, a huge rise from $3.9 billion in 2012 and several times more than they spend on refugees abroad. That’s also more than they spent on emergency aid in foreign countries, and more than three times the income of the UN refugee agency.

In Denmark, where a quarter of ODA was reportedly spent in-country, national auditors say the government misreported some figures. But Isabelle De Lichtervelde, policy manager for development finance at the ONE campaign, told IRIN that Denmark is among some “very concerning countries” and is showing “poor behaviour” in aggressively chasing the in-donor category of ODA.

Six countries met the UN target of 0.7 percent of gross national income spending on aid. However three – Germany, Denmark, and the UK – only reached the threshold by including in-country ODA. The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark all report over $20,000 per new refugee as ODA.

While Denmark and some others apparently lobby for a broad definition, a swathe of civil society groups is against reporting in-donor refugee costs as ODA at all, let alone widening the loophole. Julie Seghers, OECD policy and advocacy advisor of Oxfam, told IRIN “it is legitimising the spending of ODA money within donors’ own borders, and for an objective that doesn’t serve aid’s core purpose, which is to fight poverty in developing countries.”

The Danish audit

Denmark has released its own view of the accounting rules showing how it intends to extend its interpretation this year and add more to the category. According to preliminary OECD and national data, Denmark allotted $420 million in 2016 but granted asylum to only 7,444 new refugees. Its response to the OECD suggests it would aim even higher in 2017. For example, it plans to include more costs such as police time and asylum appeals processing as well as other administrative expenses that go far beyond core spending on food, accommodation, and language training.

Denmark’s national auditors however have warned Danish MPs that the accounting for some aspects of refugee ODA is “neither rigorous nor transparent”. In addition, some was double-counted or wrongly allocated, according to a June report. The fluctuations and changing methodologies on in-country ODA may lead to “less predictable” foreign aid spending, the auditors found. In response, Denmark has enacted a new regulation to smooth out the impact of fluctuations in refugee spending on overseas development planning.

An analysis by Oxfam of Denmark’s policies in December found its ODA refugee spending “staggering”. The report claims “it is not unlikely that Danish development aid is co-financing empty housing facilities in Denmark”, due to an excess of capacity funded by the government despite falling refugee numbers. The government chose not to respond.

A spokesperson for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that Denmark was “actively” involved in the talks on in-donor refugee costs but declined to go into details. The official said Denmark supports work to make the rules “more precise”, and to increase “transparency and comparability”.

Betwixt and between

Stuck in the middle are the staff of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), a membership organisation of major economies, often called a rich countries’ club. The Paris-based OECD is the venue where the ODA rules are made. Its secretariat back in 2001 was already uncomfortable with what they call the in-donor element: “donors’ expenditures on refugees who arrive in their countries – while commendable from a humanitarian point of view – do not make a sufficiently direct contribution to the economic development and welfare of developing countries to qualify as official development assistance. Including such data undermines the credibility of the ODA concept.” OECD officials today rarely criticise their member states openly, but try to hold the line on the principle of development aid in private.

OECD official Brenda Killen, writing in a personal capacity from Uganda’s recent refugee fundraising conference, did remark pointedly that the OECD should aim for “fidelity” to the original purpose of ODA, which she phrased as “the economic development and welfare of developing countries”, and said: “we need more and better data on aid from donor countries, including what is being spent inside their own countries.”

Few details have emerged about the ongoing negotiations, and donors are tight-lipped. “No decisions regarding ODA guidelines were taken”, at the last meeting on 10 July,  according to an email response to IRIN from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nevertheless, IRIN understands the biggest remaining sticking point is about the costs of handling asylum seekers whose claims are rejected. One observer told IRIN the “dangerous precedent” of in-donor ODA means it’s critical to get it right. The new rules are unlikely to apply until 2019. Donor countries want recognition for taking on refugees, but, the observer said, ODA was the wrong yardstick for measuring their fulfillment of their refugee convention obligations. In donor countries, a range of ministries now have their eye on the development budget and the rules must prevent donors “gaming the system”, the observer added.

Seghers told IRIN that NGO advocates, including Oxfam, argue that any changes should be careful not to encourage donors to pad out their figures. She said the new rules should clearly define what’s not allowed, and give more detail and transparency on how the figures are arrived at.

294 pages of rules

The OECD’s statistical directives, including tables and annexes, already come to 294 pages, many about reporting ODA.

Closed-door committee meetings at the OECD regularly update the definitions of what’s allowable as ODA and how it should be calculated. Last year, for example, the members agreed new guidelines allowing certain types of military and security assistance to count. The debates tend to roll on: discussions continue on what support to the private sector should be included and how to measure it, while peacekeeping and security spending are attracting another round of attention.

However, given the migration “crisis” in Europe, and pressures on development spending in general, the eligibility of refugee spending is now a top issue for the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. In February 2016, OECD DAC members agreed it was a priority to sort it out: “It is necessary to improve the consistency, comparability, and transparency of our reporting of ODA-eligible, in-donor refugee costs… We therefore agree to set up a clear, transparent, and inclusive process to this aim.”

Sixteen months later, the definitions remain ambiguous and donors continue to draw up figures based on their own interpretations — and consciences. The current rules, laid down in 1988, allow “official sector expenditures for the sustenance of refugees in donor countries during the first twelve months of their stay”. They exclude measures for “integration”, without saying what that means. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, observers point out.

Do donors include the costs of processing asylum seekers whose claims are rejected? Should the clock therefore start after the determination of refugee status? Should they charge the costs of all healthcare and education? Can they factor in police time or the expense of hearing legal appeals?

The answers to a lengthy questionnaire compiled by OECD confirm an inconsistent range of reporting practices. Donors report between zero and $31,000 per refugee as ODA (in 2014 figures). Australia, Luxembourg, Poland, and South Korea decided to report no in-country refugee costs at all. But the Netherlands reported $31,933 per head, the UK $3,261, and Japan $337. Denmark reported $21,791, according to the survey.

Why does it all matter?

Development advocates say the labelling is misleading and provides cover to cut foreign aid. For example, in-country spending has allowed Germany to meet the target of aid spending being 0.7% of national income, but $6 billion never left its borders. A cut in Norway’s foreign aid spending has been camouflaged by its in-country spending.

“How credible is aid data when aid money is being used to fill in domestic budget gaps?”, said Oxfam’s Seghers. Massaging the figures means a loss of confidence in the data: “this puts the credibility of ODA as the yardstick of development aid at risk”, she added.

The debate over definitions may be “extremely technical”, but “they’re also very political”, said De Lichtervelde. Aid is a “crucial resource… you need to protect it.”


ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: What Happens When Mom and Dad Face Deportation from the US

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids,” says 19-year-old Luis Duarte, second from right, who is now caring for his three younger siblings after his parents, originally from Mexico, were detained by US immigration agents in late May. Credit: Deepa Ferndandes

This story by Deepa Fernandes originally appeared on on June 11, 2017. It is republished here as part of a partnership between PRI and Global Voices.

As 19-year-old Francisco Duarte watched his parents handcuffed and driven away by immigration officials in late May outside their San Diego, California, home, all he could do was console his hysterical 12-year-old twin sisters.

Then he took off to find help for his parents. They would need an immigration attorney, and Francisco would need to gather their paperwork.

His younger brother Luis, 17, stepped up to look after the younger sisters — he cooked them eggs and ham when they came home from school that day.

The brothers were busy figuring out all the household chores, making sure they had their little sisters taken care of.

And then it hit the brothers. Rent was due in less than a week. They were now going to have to pay all the family’s bills. Duarte said he and his brother gathered all the money his parents had. It came to $2,500.

They would need to supplement their father’s income somehow. He was the breadwinner, running the family ice-cream business. “My mom and my dad met selling ice cream from pushcarts 20 years ago when they came to this country,” Duarte said.

While Francisco and Luis push their own ice cream carts to help out, neither could bring in the money that their farther did, Duarte said.

Francisco Duarte Sr. and his wife, Rosenda Perez, were arrested by immigration agents on May 23. Duarte had left his National City, California, home to buy a newspaper across the street. His wife came out to see what was going on and she was arrested too. Officials say they have been charged with “immigration violations” in the US. There are no criminal charges against them, and neither has a criminal record.

The San Diego couple are among a growing number of non-citizens arrested on civil immigration charges during the first months of the Donald Trump administration. From January 22 to April 29, more than 41,000 people suspected of living in the US without proper authorization have been arrested by federal agents — nearly a 40 percent increase from the same period in 2016, according to US officials.

A quarter of those arrested are charged with being in the US without legal status, but have no prior criminal records. It’s a group that was not targeted as heavily by the Barack Obama administration. The latest numbers show Trump is making good on his campaign promise to change that, as detailed recently by reporter Maria Sacchetti at The Washington Post.

Before his arrest, Duarte was able to pass custody of his three younger children to Luis, his oldest son.

For the kids, it’s been a whirlwind. On a recent Tuesday, Francisco sought commmunity members to write letters of support for his parents.

He arrived back home hungry. “I’ve been out all morning,” said Luis. “We’ve just been hectic, doing as much as we can for our parents, so yeah, [I’m eating] breakfast at 2:37 p.m.”

Mark Lane, a legal assistant at an LA-based immigration law firm, sat with Francisco, and they discussed what else needed to be collected for his parent’s case. Lane was one of the people Francisco called for help the day his parents were arrested.

“Pre-Trump administration, maybe I got two to three calls a week, now I get 10 to 15 calls a day,” Lane said. “People are very scared, families are being split up.”

Lane, whose firm has taken the case of Francisco’s parents, talked to the kids about the expenses they would need to pay. All four children are in school, leaving little time to work and bring in income. So they decided to turn to a terrain they know well: social media.

They created a short video about their situation, posted it to YouTube, and linked it to a GoFundMe fundraising page. They set their fundraising goal at $70,000 and, just days later, they had surpassed it. More than $72,000 in donations have come in so far.

They’re stunned and grateful.

But it wasn’t just money rolling in — people were also reaching out to say we support you.

“It’s just very uplifting that every day I get messages from people and they’re just letting me know that they’re there for me and if there’s anything that I need they’re just a phone call, a text away,” Francisco said.

The older Francisco found it hard to comprehend the social media campaign his kids are pursuing on his behalf, his son said. During a recent phone call, the younger Francisco explained to his father how money and support was coming in.

His dad asked who was donating. “Many people,” his son told him. “Teachers, neighbors, friends, people from around the city,” he told his father during their telephone conversation.

As word spread on social media, friends began coming by the house to help. A group of Luis’s friends from school are helping out. Luz Maria Castañon said they don’t want Luis to suffer at school.

“He’s going to be valedictorian, honestly. [There’s] nothing compared to his GPA.”

In the kitchen, another friend, Maria de Jesus, cooks up some tacos. She said should would cook for the children until their parents come back home.

The twin sisters, Aracely and Yarely, watched their parents get handcuffed and be taken away by immigration officials. It was confusing, Aracely said, and they miss them a lot. Especially when they come home from school.

“Usually my mom would be here and she would sometimes have a little snack prepared,” Yarely said.

The girls are not identical twins, but they both have the same sweet, kind of sad smile. They busy themselves putting things away in their room.

“Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming but, um, …” Yarely trails off.

Luis checks in on his sisters, makes sure they are OK, and then has to leave. “I’m going to go and do laundry right now because our sheets are really nasty,” he said.

Is this his job normally?

“Nah, not really.”

After the laundry, he has to be home for his sisters. His brother will continue gathering letters of support for their parents.

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids now,” Luis said.


ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: East Bay Airbnb Hosts Offer Free Lodging to Refugees

When Sandy Yen learned earlier this year that home-sharing site Airbnb was looking for people to host refugees for free, she jumped at the chance, offering her Oakland guest house.

“My parents were Taiwanese immigrants in the 1970s, and when they came to the U.S., they struggled,” Yen said. “They were unfamiliar with the culture and the language. I’d like to give a family the kind of help I wish my parents had received.”

Yen is waiting to be matched with a family. She learned about Open Homes from an email Airbnb sent her about the program.

The 37-year-old is among 160 Bay Area residents to welcome refugees and other displaced people through Airbnb’s Open Homes program, which launched in June.

Residents of the East Bay, as well as elsewhere, are opening their homes to refugees through Airbnb’s recently launched Open Homes program. Photo: Creative Commons

There are 41 such volunteers from the East Bay, 75 in San Francisco and 48 in the South Bay. Around 450 Californians are participating, according to Airbnb.

Hosts can volunteer their homes and spare bedrooms to refugees via the Airbnb website. The International Rescue Committee, the startup’s U.S. partner, then books the listings for their refugee clients.

“They (the committee) have around 30-40 areas where they are actively working to settle refugee families, so we have been communicating with hosts in those areas to see if they would be open to signing up,” said Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s head of social impact and philanthropy.

Open Homes uses an enhanced version of a tool that was developed a few years ago to help folks displaced by disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“One of our hosts was living in Brooklyn and contacted us to say she had a big place and she wanted to list it for free,” Rubey said.

“At the time, we only allowed people to create listings when you charged. We realized what a great opportunity it was to help people out and a team of architects and designers worked through the night to redesign our payment system. That was the beginning of our disaster relief tool,” Rubey said.

The company has activated the tool more than 60 times to house people affected by disasters, she said.

Rubey said Airbnb, a $30 billion startup operating in 50,000 cities in 191 countries, got so much positive feedback about the disaster relief tool, the company decided to expand it.

“Since we are a global platform, we started exploring other global issues as well” and realized there was an overwhelming need for housing for refugees, Rubey said. This led to the development of Open Homes.

With the enhanced tool, “a host anywhere around the globe at any time can alert us to let us know their ability to help on the refugee front,” she said. This can be accomplished by visiting and following the prompts.

“What has been really overwhelming to us is how many people are signing up who are not currently hosts,” Rubey said.

While the Brooklyn host was the inspiration for the disaster relief tool, another, unlikely person helped with the development of Open Homes: President Donald Trump.

In January, Trump issued his infamous executive order banning citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. Travelers from those countries were detained or otherwise found themselves in limbo in airports around the world, including San Francisco International Airport. Many had fled wars in Yemen or Syria or repression in Sudan or Iran.

Protesters swarmed SFO in support of the detainees, and San Francisco-based Airbnb also stepped up.

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, tweeted Jan. 28, “Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Stay tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing.”

At that point, “we were not quite ready to launch (Open Homes),” but Airbnb activated the disaster relief tool and helped many detainees. “It helped us learn a lot in a short time,” contributing to the development of Open Homes, Rubey said.

“Our whole mission is to create a world where people feel like they belong wherever they go. Travel bans fly in the face of that, so we want to help in any way we can,” she said.

Yen said, “Knowing that there are millions of people displaced, I hope we can offer our home and help a family or an individual, welcome them in every way possible and make their path a little smoother.”


Janis Mara covers East Bay real estate for Berkeleyside. She has worked at the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, the Contra Costa Times, Adweek and Inman News, an Emeryville-based national real estate trade publication, winning California Newspaper Publishers Association and Digital First Media awards for investigative work, business coverage and education writing. Reach her at janismara (at) or follow her on Twitter, @jmara.


ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: Essay Contest – Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices

Have you immigrated recently to Boston from another country?

If so, we want to hear your story!
Enter The Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices Essay Contest
Theme: “A Boston Journey– The Immigrant Experience in This Historical Moment.”
All immigrants and refugees are invited to submit a 500-word essay about their experiences since arriving in greater Boston. Share your challenges, successes and hopes for the future.
We understand that some members of the immigrant community may feel uncomfortable identifying themselves and for this reason, essays may be submitted under a pseudonym.
All contact information (email addresses, addresses and phone numbers) will remain private for every submission.
First Prize: a new laptop computer
Second Prize: a $100 gift certificate to Porter Square Books
(located in Cambridge near the Porter Square T stop on the Red Line)
Send your essay in the body of an email to:



ON DEVELOPMENT, ON MIGRATION: Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardy | Inter Press Service

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report. Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report

Source: Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardy | Inter Press Service


ON MIGRATION: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service

This article speaks to how, with continued extreme economic disparity, migrants will migrate:

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20. Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have

Source: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service


Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either


This is about the deep listening that needs to be done and that Community Supported Film wants to nurture and champion…

“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that it is up to our political leaders to unify us. They can set the tone, but it is primarily in the hands of the American people to rebuild a basic level of mutual respect and dignity …
Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear.
Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles.
Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. …
1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.
2. Decide you care what happens to them.
3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation. …”

The 2016 election highlighted divisions that run deep in American society. Here’s what you can do to help bridge them.

Source: Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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