Posts tagged with "immigration"

USCIS Issues New Green Card Alert for Form I-693

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a new alert regarding Form I-693, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. The alert provides important information for applicants who are filing or have filed Form I-693.

What is Form I-693?

Form I-693 is used to request a waiver of certain grounds of inadmissibility to the United States. These grounds include health-related issues, criminal convictions, and other factors that may make an applicant ineligible for admission to the United States.

What is the new alert about?

The new alert clarifies the process for filing Form I-693 and provides updated information on the evidence that is required to support the waiver request. The alert also addresses the issue of expedited processing for Form I-693. USCIS shared the update on social media highlighting that some applicants, including those who may have filed Green Cards based on Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, had been sent a ‘Request for Evidence’ for Form I-693. The message prompted them to respond as soon as possible so their adjustment application status could be finalized.

If you applied for an employment-based (including Special Immigrant Juvenile) Green Card & we sent you a Request for Evidence for your Form I-693, please respond as soon as possible so we can finalize a decision on your adjustment application.” Lear more HERE

Who is affected by the new alert?

The new alert affects all applicants who are filing or have filed Form I-693. It is important for applicants to review the alert carefully and ensure that they are filing the form correctly and submitting the required evidence.

What should applicants do?

Applicants who are filing or have filed Form I-693 should review the new alert and ensure that they are following the updated instructions. Applicants should also gather the required evidence to support their waiver request.

Where can applicants find more information?

Applicants can find more information about the new alert and Form I-693 on the USCIS website. Applicants can also contact the USCIS Contact Center for assistance.

A Florida Immigration Law Is Turning Farm Towns Into ‘Ghost Towns’

Florida is one of a growing number of states threatening to use E-Verify as a way to intimidate and control farmworkers. As farmers face worker shortages and farm communities lose residents, are GOP lawmakers shooting themselves in the foot?

 

By 

Moncho had just started building a life in Florida when SB 1718’, a broad law targeting both undocumented immigrants and the people in their lives, passed through the state legislature last May. In the weeks that followed, his home stopped feeling like home. He began seeing more cops and state troopers in his town, a predominantly immigrant community. He feared it would only get worse and figured it was safest to leave before the law went into effect in July. “It was a quick decision. Once I learned about the law, I talked it over with my wife and we said, ‘OK, let’s get out of here,’” said Moncho, who is using a nickname. He has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, moving between states as a farmworker and construction worker, without getting the chance to fully make any of them his home.

In June 2023, just weeks after the bill’s passage, Moncho and his wife packed up what they could fit into their car and drove—through the wildfire smoke that was blanketing the East Coast at the time—to Vermont to seek work in the dairy industry and build a new life for themselves, again.

They are just two of the many undocumented immigrants who have left Florida in the aftermath of the bill’s passage. In the last nine months, as workers have fled, “help wanted” signs have reportedly popped up across the state. Crops have been left to rot in fields. Entire communities emptied out and turned into “ghost towns.”

“Once the law passed, there were empty houses,” said Moncho. “You went down the street, and it was, ‘For Rent. For Rent. For Rent,’ everywhere.”

The law targets supporters of undocumented immigrants by making it a felony, under the charge of human smuggling, to knowingly transport undocumented people across state lines. Beyond that, it requires medical providers to inquire about a patient’s immigration status (although patients need not respond).

And the most potentially sweeping provision aims to crack down on the hiring of undocumented workers by mandating the use of E-Verify, a web-based federal system that allows employers to confirm or deny workers’ legal status. This applies to workplaces with 25 or more employees and extends the use of E-Verify to many Florida farms that were previously exempt.

Proposed by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis as an answer to “Biden’s border crisis,” the law reflects a larger Republican strategy for the upcoming election: “The GOP’s goal is to turn the 2024 election into a referendum on the Biden administration’s handling of immigration, framed by the notion of a crisis that has spilled beyond the southern border and into cities across the country,” wrote immigration reporter Gaby Del Valle in a recent op-ed.

It’s a strategy currently on display in Congress as House Republicans appear poised to sabotage an immigration deal—even though it would crack down on the southern border—that is backed by President Biden.

But some farmers and advocates speculate that Florida’s law may be largely intended as a political spectacle that will stir chaos but ultimately lack enforcement—and began as an effort to boost DeSantis’s short-lived bid for president—while still allowing Florida industries to rely on undocumented laborers in the end.

“It’s not clear whether it’s a way for DeSantis to boost his image as somebody ‘tough on immigration’ versus a law that will have real penalties and consequences,” Deirdre Nero, a Florida-based immigrant rights advocate and lawyer, told Civil Eats. “We’ll see when they start imposing penalties if the proof is in the pudding.”

Regardless, Florida farmers, farmworkers, and lawmakers will continue to deal with the consequences of the law in the coming months and the potential for another exodus if E-Verify is enforced. As Florida looks to fill worker shortages, the law poses big questions about the future of farm labor in the U.S. as similar policies could expand elsewhere.

As the presidential election season kicks into gear, Donald Trump and other GOP candidates are promising sweeping crackdowns on undocumented workers and expanded federal mandates of the use of E-Verify. But Florida, often a bellwether of the GOP’s future, shows that even a political tool can have real consequences.

 

Chilling Effect

SB 1718 has already disrupted the lives and livelihood of undocumented immigrants and their communities. “It’s a political stunt gone too far,” read a letter sent in October by a group of Democratic members of Congress, led by U.S. Representative Darren Soto from Florida. The letter calls upon Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the law, which they say is “causing immense harm to families and could jeopardize Florida’s economy.”

Agriculture is one of Florida’s major industries, and along with construction and tourism, it plays a significant role in employing the state’s estimated 772,000 undocumented immigrants. Nearly half of Florida’s farmworkers are undocumented, according to the Florida Policy Institute.

After many farmworkers began to flee, some Republican lawmakers briefly realized they may have bit the hand that, quite literally, feeds them. Last June, Representative Rick Roth, a vegetable farmer and Republican who voted for the law, pleaded with constituents to convince workers to stay. “This is more of a political bill than it is policy,” he told an audience of South Florida pastors at the time, implying that it wouldn’t be enforced with any real consequences.

So far, there have been a few arrests under the law’s human smuggling provision, which is being challenged as unconstitutional in a lawsuit. But the E-Verify mandate isn’t set to begin enforcing penalties until July.

Now, nine months after the law’s passage, some farmers are struggling to find workers to harvest crops, while farmworkers live and work with heightened uncertainty that ultimately impacts their health and safety.

Jeannie Economos coordinates a pesticide safety and environmental health program for the Farmworker Association of Florida, a group that represents more than 10,000 workers. She told Civil Eats that she typically fields complaints from them about “wages, pesticides, harassment, and other conditions in the workplace.”

But since SB 1718 passed, those complaints have slowed to a trickle, despite last summer’s record-breaking heat. A similar silence fell over the community under the Trump administration, she said, when farm workers feared speaking out.

The E-Verify Mandate

Still largely voluntary on a federal level, the E-Verify system emerged from the Immigration Act of 1990, a major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. This established a commission that recommended a national registry for checking immigration status and employment eligibility. After a series of pilots, the program became available in 2003 to employers in all states as a voluntary database. Since then, a growing number of states have mandated its use, but industry pushback often narrows the scope of these mandates.

 

Previous attempts to strictly enforce E-Verify have unraveled in Florida. In 2020, when DeSantis pushed for a law mandating use of the database in the hiring process, it was strongly opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, for instance, until it was amended to exclude farmworkers.

The version of the bill that passed also created loopholes for private employers, prompting some to call it “E-Verify Light” and “Fake E-Verify.” Prior to that, two other efforts to require use of the database failed to pass. The reason is clear: The current E-Verify mandate could hurt Florida’s economy to a tune of $12 billion in just one year.

“[Florida’s E-Verify mandate] has always been defeated, and it’s not defeated by the immigrants that would be impacted,” said Paul Chavez, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, representing a legal challenge to the law. “It has been defeated by the business community, including from lobbyists for farmers, tourism, and construction.”

“I can’t say for sure, but my understanding is that there will definitely be advocacy from the business community to try to poke holes in the E-Verify law, or even get it repealed,” added Chavez, who expects to see efforts to do so in the current legislative session.

Greg Schell, a lawyer who represents migrant farmworkers in Florida, thinks there is good reason to believe the E-Verify mandate will lack enforcement. “There are no regulations to guide employers,” he said. “It certainly would be plausible for an employer to claim that the returning worker is ‘grandfathered in’ and does not need to be the subject of an E-Verify inquiry.”

In other states, E-Verify mandates have often spared the agriculture industry and other industries dependent on undocumented workers, either by the law’s design or its lax enforcement. For instance, North Carolina passed a law mandating E-Verify in 2011, but carved out an exemption for “temporary seasonal workers for fewer than 90 days,” which would allow farms to continue employing, with less risk, undocumented people for seasonal work.

In 2013, this exemption was expanded to employees of less than nine months. Since then, North Carolina lawmakers have introduced several bills to carve out an even larger exemption for all farmworkers.

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who served as South Carolina’s governor between 2011 and 2017, has called for a national E-Verify mandate in her campaign. She often cites the law that she helped pass in 2011 as an example. “What we did in South Carolina with E-Verify was you had to verify that that person was in this country legally or else you could not hire them,” Haley said, in an interview with Breitbart. “That’s what we put in place in South Carolina and, more importantly, we enforced it.”

However, like in other states, South Carolina’s law doesn’t require E-Verify for every employee, exempting a number of essential jobs, including farmworkers and domestic laborers. “The S.C. Farm Bureau convinced lawmakers that the E-Verify requirement could scare off migrant workers needed to harvest crops,” The State reported in 2017. A representative from South Carolina’s Department of Labor confirmed that this exemption remains in effect today.

In fact, no state has been able to enforce E-Verify across every industry, without it backfiring. Take Georgia. In 2011, when the state attempted to enforce E-Verify for nearly all employers, it triggered a mass exodus of farmworkers and an estimated $140 million loss in agricultural revenue.

The expansion of E-Verify mandates is often framed, including by former Governor Haley, as a way to protect the jobs of U.S. citizens. Yet when this policy has prompted an exodus of undocumented farmworkers, U.S. citizens haven’t exactly jumped at the opportunity to work on farms. In fact, when E-Verify mandates are strictly enforced in agriculture, they have been found to lead to worker shortages, loss in farm revenue, and shrinking farm production.

“E-Verify is a way of sharing immigration status with the government that has no positive value for either the undocumented worker or the employer,” said Mary Jo Dudley, the director of the Cornell Farmworker Program. The consequences are most dire, of course, for the farmworkers who would face criminal penalties and a heightened threat of deportation.

“[For] farmworkers, E-Verify is a pathway to share information with the government that you’re deportable,” said Dudley. “Because once you register that you don’t have a social security number with the government, you become immediately deportable.”

Questions About the Future of Farm Labor

Despite the rippling economic consequences, the promised expansion of E-Verify mandates has become increasingly central to the GOP platform. Currently, Republican lawmakers in Iowa and West Virginia are pushing for state mandates, while DeSantis, Haley, and Chris Christie campaigned for a federal mandate. E-Verify is also part of the conservative playbook, Project 2025, which plans to “permanently authorize and make mandatory E-Verify” on a federal level if a Republican wins the 2024 presidential election.

As Congress tensely debated the latest border security bill, which was released by the Senate in early February, Republicans have repeatedly insisted on even more stringent proposals. In a recent letter, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, pointed to the Secure the Border Act (H.R. 2), a Republican-sponsored bill that passed in the House last year—which would federally mandate E-Verify, among other sweeping measures—as reflecting his core legislative demands.

But in recent years, even major bipartisan efforts to reform immigration for farmworkers, namely the multiple versions of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, have also included E-Verify mandates. First introduced in 2019, the legislation creates a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers, while streamlining the hiring of foreign agricultural workers with a temporary H-2A visa. Re-introduced and abandoned last year, the bill is a political compromise that has deeply divided farmworkers and their advocates, and one of the major sticking points is E-Verify.

“There are basic things that we cannot negotiate away, and E-Verify is one of them,” said Edgar Franks, the political director at Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent farmworker union in Washington state representing Indigenous farmworkers. “[The Farm Workforce Modernization Act] is sold as immigration reform . . . but it would implement the E-Verify system for the first time across a whole industry in the United States.”

Even in Washington, where E-Verify is voluntary, Franks has observed farmers threaten to use it when engaging with the union. “We’ve seen E-Verify weaponized, especially when immigrant workers are trying to organize themselves into unions, or to get some kind of justice in their workplace,” said Franks. As he sees it, “the main intention [behind E-Verify] is always having this hanging over people’s heads—or raids or deportations—to make sure that the workforce is controllable.”

This perspective was echoed in a letter to the House Agriculture Committee’s newly formed Labor Workforce Working Group last September by a group of farmworker advocates, including the Farmworker Association of Florida and the Agricultural Justice Project, which raised concerns about the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and its E-Verify mandate.

“Do not implement mandatory E-Verify for farms, since it serves as a control and scare tactic in an immigration and trade policy system that strategically created a large population of undocumented immigrant workers to ensure an exploitable labor pool,” reads the letter. “Agriculture risks losing some of its most highly skilled workers.”

Mandatory E-Verify could also create a more exploited workforce by helping funnel more farmworkers into the H-2A guestworker program. The federal program, which recruits farmworkers from other countries, has ballooned by more than 7 times between 2005 and 2022. It represents one of the only pathways to legally enter the U.S. with a high acceptance rate. Yet the program is rife with exploitation and abuse, often perpetuated by its structure: Farmworkers live in employer-supplied congregate housing, often in unfamiliar rural areas, and are not allowed to switch employers.

“The vulnerability of H-2A workers makes them an attractive workforce for growers,” reads the letter from the group of farmworker advocates. “They are tied to the grower or contractor who recruits them and can be legally fired for not meeting exhausting production quotas, or for raising issues about workplace conditions.”

In fact, the American Farm Bureau, the largest lobbyist group representing growers, has stated that they would support E-Verify mandates under one condition: a “workable guest worker program” so that farmers could more readily hire H-2A workers and curb the anticipated labor shortage. So, by making a pathway to citizenship conditional upon both an E-Verify mandate and streamlining the H-2A program, The Farm Workforce Modernization Act strikes a compromise that appeals to farmers. As Edgar Franks put it, “It’s basically a gift to the agricultural industry.”

As the state with the most H-2A workers, Florida has played a major role in driving the rapid expansion of this program, and it’s likely that it could rely on this program even more to address labor shortages. As of September, Florida’s farms recruited over 86,000 H-2A farmworkers in 2023, already surpassing the amount recruited in 2022. For comparison, California, the second biggest H-2A state, recruited nearly 46,000 workers during that time.

In recent years, Florida’s labor-intensive citrus industry has moved to nearly exclusively hiring H-2A workers, representing 95 percent of the workforce in 2022, according to the Florida Citrus Manual. If E-Verify is enforced, it’s possible other agricultural industries in Florida may follow suit.

Meanwhile, undocumented farmworkers in other parts of the country have felt the chilling effect of Florida’s law. In New York, a farmworker who asked to remain anonymous and a leader with Alianza Agricola, a group of undocumented dairy workers organizing for their rights, observed an influx of farmworkers coming from Florida to New York late last spring. He welcomed a couple families from Florida to their meetings, helping them feel at home. But witnessing this also made him worry about what could happen if a E-Verify mandate ever came to New York.

“Those of us who are farmworkers in the dairy industry are concerned about this too,” he said. “It puts the status of many workers in the food chain at risk and [people] who have been working here for 10, 15, or even 20 years—like me.”

U.S. Border Crisis: A Political Strategy or Failure of Leadership?

Depending on which talking head you listen to, the illegal immigration issue in America is either a good political and humane strategy, or a complete disaster and failure of leadership. Nonetheless, the crisis at America’s southern borders and across the country is in plain sight.

Editor’s note: Here is a look at VOA immigration-related news around the U.S. 

Justice Department Sues Texas, Says Immigration Law Unconstitutional

The Justice Department on Wednesday sued Texas over a new law that would allow police to arrest migrants who enter the U.S. illegally, taking Republican Governor Greg Abbott to court again over his escalating response to border crossers arriving from Mexico. The Associated Press reports.

Chinese Migration Up at Border as US Marks Anniversary of Repeal of Exclusion Act

As the U.S marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, thousands of Chinese immigrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly for the same reasons as their countrymen did more than a century ago. VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros has more.

Huge Number of Migrants Highlights Border Crisis

U.S. officials processed an estimated 300,000 people at the U.S. border with Mexico in December, which would be the highest number ever recorded, according to multiple news organizations. VOA’s Rob Garver reports.

US, Mexico Discuss Options to Slow Surge of Migrants at Border

U.S. and Mexican officials met December 27 in Mexico City to discuss how to slow the surge of migrants at their shared border, where there have been as many as 10,000 illegal crossings into the United States daily in December. The two sides, led by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, met for about two hours. VOANews reports.

US Reopens Border Crossings as Illegal Immigration Drops

The U.S. is resuming operations at an international bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas, two crossings in Arizona and another near San Diego, California. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release that it will continue to prioritize border security “as necessary.” Reuters reports.

Democratic Mayors Renew Pleas for Federal Help Over Migrant Crisis

The mayors of Chicago, New York City and Denver last week renewed pleas for more federal help and coordination with Texas over the growing number of asylum-seekers arriving in their cities by bus and plane. The Associated Press reports.

Remittances from Nicaraguan Migrants Mark New Record, Passing $4 Billion

Nicaraguan migrants sent relatives back home record remittances this year through November, data from the country’s central bank showed, fueled by massive waves of migration leaving the Central American nation in recent years. In a statement, the bank noted a record of about $4.24 billion in remittances for the 11-month period, 47% more than the amount sent home during the same period last year. Reuters reports.

California Expands Health Care for Low-Income Immigrants in 2024

More than 700,000 immigrants living illegally in California gained access to free health care on January 1 under one of the state’s most ambitious coverage expansions in a decade. It’s an effort that will eventually cost the state about $3.1 billion per year and inches California closer to Democrats’ goal of providing universal health care to its roughly 39 million residents. The Associated Press reports.

House Speaker Wants US ‘Border Closed’ Before Passing Ukraine, Israel Aid

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson led about 60 fellow Republicans in Congress on a visit Wednesday to the Mexican border to demand hard-line immigration policies in exchange for backing President Joe Biden’s emergency wartime funding request for Ukraine. The Associated Press reports.

Immigrants Add Twist to Traditional US Christmas Dinner

The United States broke free from Britain more than two centuries ago — except, maybe, when it comes to the traditional Christmas dinner.

 

Changing The World Through Research

On June 21, 2023, a group of academics from the University of California held a symposium in Washington, DC to call attention to some of the pressing issues facing society and the world. The professors, committed to enacting the change they strongly believe in and have backed-up with research, are calling for policy changes and taking a stand for humanity and the environment.  The event was help at UCDC and organized by the University of California Washington Program.

“Why We Need Police Abolition”

Nikki Jones, H. Michael and Jeanne Williams Professor and Department Chair.

Nikki Jones is a Professor of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. Her work focuses on the experiences of Black women, men, and youth with the criminal legal system, policing, and violence. Professor Jones is the author of two books: Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence (2010) and The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption (2018), which received the Michael J. Hindelang Outstanding Book Award from the American Society of Criminology in 2020.  

ePa Q & A with Professor Nikki Jones:

“Open Our Borders: America’s New Conversation about Immigration”
Grace Peña Delgado, Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

Professor Delgado is a historian of borderlands and migration in nineteenth and twentieth-century North American. She is the author of Making the Chinese American: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the US-Mexico Borderlands (Stanford: 2012), distinguished as a CHOICE Academic Title. Delgado is also co-author of Latino Immigrants in the United States (Polity: 2011).

 

Digital Chains: Unveiling the Inhumanity of ICE Electronic Monitoring on Immigrants”
Mirian Martinez-Aranda, Chancellor’s postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of California Davis.

She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from UCLA in 2021. Her research examines the social, material, and health consequences of immigration detention on immigrants, families, and communities. She is also a former National Science Foundation and Marvin Hoffenberg fellow with the Center for American Politics and Public Policy, and a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. Her work has been published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies and Law and Society Review. 

Q & A with Professor Mirian Martinez-Aranda:

 

“African Kingdoms as Resourceful Corporations: The Story of South Africa’s Bafokeng”
Shingirai Taodzera, Assistant professor of African American and American Studies at the University of California Davis.

Professor Taodzera’s scholarship focuses on the political economy of development in east and southern Africa, particularly the governance of high value extractive natural resources such as oil and minerals. He is currently working on turning his dissertation, entitled, “Nations within a state and the emerging hydrocarbons industry in Uganda” into his first monograph. 

Q & A with Professor Shingirai Taodzera:

 

“Engineering our Way out of Environmental Harm”
Sabbie Miller, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Davis.

Dr. Miller is interested in improving the sustainability of the built environment. The Miller group focuses on designing sustainable materials with an emphasis on assessing and improving the performance of infrastructure materials while minimizing their associated environmental impacts. The laboratory is working to develop means to robustly assess local, regional, and global burdens from materials consumption, to make advancements in alternative material resources, and to pioneer methods to tailor desired material behavior. The team works primarily with cementitious materials, bio-derived materials, and polymeric materials.  

 

“The Healing Power of Community: My Unexpected Journey as BTS ARMY”
Kate Ringland, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Kathryn (Kate) Ringland, PhD in Informatics from the University of California, Irvine, was previously a NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz. Her research interests include studying and designing playful and community-oriented technology for people with disabilities.

Kate is currently affiliated with the Computational Media Department at University of California, Santa Cruz where she leads the Misfit Lab. Her past affiliations include: ASSIST Lab at UC Santa Cruz, the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies (CBITs) and the People, Information, and Technology Changing Health (PITCH) Lab at Northwestern University, as well as the Star Group in LUCI in the ICS School

 

Affording New York City
Rowena Gray, Associate Professor & Graduate Program Chair at the University of California Merced.

Rowena Gray is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Merced, and a Research Affiliate at Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Economic History. Dr. Gray received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Davis, in 2011. She is an American economic historian of the past two hundred years. Her research explores questions about the inequality effects of technological change and the impact of immigration on crime and housing markets.  

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

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

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.”