Posts made in March 2017

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen



The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”

The Irish Did More Than March Down 5th Avenue In NYC On St. Patrick’s Day



This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City went like the others before it, except it came with a powerful message about immigration and the art of humanity directed at the new administration of President Donald J. Trump.

After presenting Trump with a bowl of Shamrocks, Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny delivered a powerful speech that was a clear and unwavering stance at odds with the Shamrock receiver. Noting the start of a new era between Ireland and the United States following Trump’s election, Edna reminded the president of the long standing, strong bond and mutual respect between the two countries. He then pivots to deliver the central theme of his message on this St. Patrick’s Day saying, “It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s and his legacy. He too, of course, was an immigrant. And though he’s of course the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe, he’s also a symbol of, indeed the patron of immigrants.” This statement was a clear message to the new administration that has brought about a type of divisiveness this nation hasn’t seen in modern times. The Muslim ban, the wall separating the US and Mexico, anti-immigration, and anti-refugee sentiments taking shape are just a few examples of Trump’s vision for a new American era.

Pointing to the large number of Americans that claim Irish heritage, Kenny goes on to say, “Ireland came to America because deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed… and four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teaming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans.”

Another poignant clap-back against the new administration came from the Irish Arts Center in NYC. The organization distributed free books by Mexican authors from 14 locations across all five boroughs on St. Patrick’s Day. Culture is truly a significant part of our collective humanity and the Irish took a stand on their special day to celebrate this notion. Perhaps it’s this welcoming and accepting characteristic that allows folks from all walks of life to become Irish for a day.

The powerful speech by Kenny was cloaked in culture and significance of a people who like today’s Muslim communities across America and Europe, were at one time labeled terrorists. This distressing reminder was delivered in an equally powerful rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigrant policy in an op-ed in New York Daily News by Irish Senate member, Senator Aodhán ó Riordáin who said, “The negative stereotypes now attached to other identities were once attached to us. We were the terrorists at one time as Irishmen and Irish Women embarked on murderous bombing campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, forcing every Irish immigrant in the UK to lower their voices in shame.” Although his words may not appease many who can’t overlook the recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in the U.S., France, Germany and even parts of Africa—just to name a few places indiscriminate bombs are going off, and killings are taking place—the desire to negatively stereotype and target an entire demographic of people solely based on their religion and or their place in the world is not only unwise, it is inhumane and wrong. And, history has shown us this time and time again.

Riordáin pointed to Trump’s own immigrant mother and wife as an example of the hypocrisy and heartless treatment of a people seeking refuge from war torn countries that has forced a large number of them to become displaced; many dying on their journey to maintain basic life. Their bodies, small and large, young and old, scattered across sea shores for all to see. And yet the unwavering rhetoric from anti-immigration and anti-refugee politicians in the U.S. and Europe, including the Middle East, shaped to dismiss the glaring and unforgiving truth of the matter, continues to deny them the basic human dignity all people deserve.

He goes on to say, “The Bannon worldview will undoubtedly attempt to use the St. Patrick’s Day events in the White House to promote the American success story of a white European Christian people. But they have forgotten themselves and their own history. They have forgotten the plight their own families went through as immigrants.” One can easily add to this sentiment that the current administration has also forgotten America’s unsavory past by essentially turning a blind uncaring eye to the many social woes that still permeate a rotting stench across our beautiful country—like police brutality that overwhelmingly impacts minorities, a judicial system that favors the powerful and wealthy, persistent attacks on long established basic human, civil, voting, workers and women’s rights by a new generation of alt-right republicans dead set on turning back the hands of time to an era most Americans wouldn’t want to relive, let alone revive. Riordáin is absolutely spot-on when he said, “When you make African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans feel lesser, it comes from a pit of racism.” The Make America Great Again theme of the Trump administration is a false battle cry that on this St. Patrick’s Day the Irish people weren’t afraid to challenge.

Hip-Hop Artist iFreshH Is Cultivating Creative Growth In The Music World

iFreshH performing at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ

iFreshH performing at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ


The Northeast may be digging itself out from under Winter Storm Stella but that’s not putting a freeze on artists flocking to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. That roster includes up and coming Hip-Hop artist iFreshH who is starting to make waves in the New Jersey music scene.

SXSW, a global music industry event happens every year during the month of March. It’s an opportunity for new, well-established and up and coming musicians to perform and for some, hopefully walk away with contracts from record labels and other industry folks that attend these events like scouts looking for their next big stars.

The new comer at the global music festival, iFreshH, is a solid and talented performer to look out for this year. The tall, quiet and unassuming figure spitting hip-hop rhymes hails from Trinidad and Tobago but calls Newark, NJ home. iFreshH performs locally, has released several music videos, and is steadily gaining traction, as he debuts his talents for a larger and more influential crowd at SXSW.

iFreshH’s music has a solid foundation in the Hip-Hop genre but his style also includes a hint of versatile soul rhythm, especially with No Love For Me, a song that carries a catchy tune even your mom can appreciate and swing to.

His recent performance opening up for Rich The Kid in Teaneck, NJ at Mexicali Live, as part of a collaboration with other talented and eager performers like Murdah Baby, one would be inclined to think he also represents part of the world of underground music and gangster rap. Nonetheless, iFreshH maintains a humble outlook on life outside of his beats and rhymes. And although he dropped out of a promising college career majoring in Criminal Justice with a 4.0 GPA, his views and perspectives on life comes across as solid and goal oriented. He’s definitely a rising star and promising artist to keep an eye on.