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Thankful that we provide various forms of support, various gifts, we also recognize the many gifts that we, CWF letter writers and visitors, receive through our accompaniment

During a recent visit, the gentlemen spontaneously expressed profound thanks to CWF for gifts they have received from us. It was quite overwhelming to hear: 

– “You are people with heart that listen to us.”

– “You provide clothing if needed for our [deportation] trip.”

– “You are a blessing!”

– “We thank you so much for your time and the resources that you put together to be able to help us. Such an enormous blessing and we thank you so much.”

– “God bless you guys and bless your families.”

– “Thank you Lord Jesus for your immense heart and beautiful heart and big heart. You are special peoples. You care for hungry peoples, for immigration peoples. You’re Americans and have big hearts.”

– “You gift us with this time, so valuable.”

– “We feel happy because we can converse. We have found new friends. This is a great blessing.”

– “I want to thank you all for the birthday cards you sent for my birthday. Many, many thanks to all who sent cards for my birthday!”

– “You listen to us. I feel more calm because I don’t have family here. And the first thing my family said was to judge me. You all don’t judge me. You don’t ask about the problems we had. You have other conversations with stories, very great distractions. Upon leaving here, many people will judge us.”

– “This time together cheers us up, relaxes us, is therapy for us.”

– “[During CWF visits] We don’t think about the jail. We think of other things. We enter another world, e.g. of the donkeys and monkeys (story by Ed) and a dog that rescues people (joke by Steve). We live in a different place in this moment.” 

– “I am very thankful for everyone at CWF to help me and everyone else go through this not alone.”.

– “I just want to really say that I’m very grateful for all of you loving and caring people of CWF to take the time and effort out of your busy day and time away from your families to write us, as in ICE people, every week.”

– “…thank you for all the letters that you send me with those lovely messages that fill me with encouragement to help me continue here….So how your messages fill me with dreams and hopes.” 

– “We want to write to you to thank you for your help, support, collaboration and friendship for/with us. God puts angels in our difficult moments and you all show your love. A Christmas greeting and prosperous 2022 to you all.” (from a 12/15/21 email to CWF).

Note, though, that this is not a one-sided relationship where one person is the giver and the other is the receiver. 

We CWF volunteers receive from those with whom we have the honor and distinct privilege of writing and visiting. The gifts we receive are opportunities:

– to come to realize that people jailed by ICE are not “the other” but rather unique, vulnerable human beings like us;

– to affirm others, acknowledging the injustice of our immigration system and the pain and suffering and emotional trauma of awaiting and/or being deported;

– to be that person who figuratively puts a hand on someone’s shoulder, letting them know that members of the community care about their health and safety, something that is so very important, especially for people who have no one;

– to witness the intense faith of many people who feel God has a plan for them and will accompany them on an uncertain journey;

– to practice our faith and serve others with compassion and love and, in so doing, serve our God;

– to be warmly welcomed/accepted as visitors and letter writers into their space;

– to personally learn of the injustice and indecency of our immigration system that jails people who have usually already served their criminal sentence and accepts deportation and the resulting family separation/destruction as an allowable form of punishment;

– to advocate on their behalf, e.g. by calling senators, congresspeople, family, friends and others, educating them about the struggles and realities of those detained based on our first-hand, personal knowledge;

– to get a sense of our own privilege by witnessing the pain that others are experiencing;

– to be enlightened, as we are after reading “S”’s letter, by other people’s perspectives;

– to learn about our pen pals’ birth countries, e.g. favorite foods, important holidays, current conditions, and as a result create a stronger connection;

– to express our own hearts, after receiving letters in which our friends express theirs, and have an authentic relationship.

Our relationships are often mutual relationships, both sides giving, both sides receiving. How wonderful we can celebrate these relationships, especially during the holidays of Christmas (12/25), Hanukkah (11/28 – 12/6) and Kwanzaa (12/26 – 1/1)! 

A Merry and Blessed season to all!

Most sincerely,

Steve

Steve Kraemer, CWF Exec. Director, 12/15/21

From the 12-15-21 CWF Newsletter

Why Do Some Immigrants Spend So Long in ICE Custody?

By Kathy Moccio, Binger Center for New Americans, U of MN Law School

The immigration court process to deport non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents, is complex and lengthy. It often starts with ICE arresting a person and placing the person in jail. ICE then prepares a Notice to Appear (NTA) that is filed with the Immigration Court. Once the NTA is filed with the court, immigration proceedings commence. The immigration courts are backlogged, and it can take time – several months – for a detained case to obtain a full hearing. At the conclusion of the individual hearing, the immigration judge (IJ) issues a decision that can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) by either the government or the detainee, depending on the decision. The BIA is backlogged, and it can take months, often six or more, for the BIA to prepare transcripts, issue briefing schedules, and decide the case. It is not uncommon for a noncitizen who’s been detained for a year to get a decision from the BIA that remands the case, e.g. the IJ failed to apply the correct law or failed to rule on a particular issue, back to the immigration court for the IJ to conduct another hearing. At the conclusion of that hearing, the IJ will make a decision and that decision can be appealed to the BIA. The remand and appeal can take a year or more. Once the BIA issues a final order of removal, a noncitizen may ask the BIA to reconsider the case and/or appeal the case to the Federal Court of Appeals. Sometimes the Federal Court of Appeals will issue a stay of removal – an order that prohibits ICE from deporting the person – while the appeal is pending. Again, it can take months for the Federal Court of Appeals to schedule a case and issue a decision. It is not uncommon at this point to see non-citizen detainees who have been in ICE custody for three years or more.

Even when a person stops fighting their deportation case, she can remain stuck in jail in ICE custody. Sometimes, immigration cannot get a travel document to deport the person or there is no flight scheduled. Folks who remain in ICE custody waiting to be deported often talk about the extreme anguish and stress they experience.

The extremely long periods of time non-citizens are spending in immigration custody has spurred federal habeas corpus litigation to the federal district courts challenging the constitutionality of prolonged immigration detention. While many of the cases have been successful, habeas cases take time – again months – to decide and the person remains in ICE custody until ordered released.

If you are interested in advocating to end immigration detention, the Detention Watch Network at: https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ provides a number of ways to take action.

From the 9-15-21 Conversations with Friends newsletter

Hope in Humanity, Light in the Darkness

By Steve Kraemer, Exec. Dir., CWF

After an ICE officer processes the paperwork for Andres (see bottom of page 8) and lets him know there is something in his property, we can only imagine the expression on his face upon seeing a brand new backpack, and then upon opening it and seeing it full of clothing and many other items.

After the Somali gentlemen who have been transferred to Prairie Detention Center in Texas see and read the cards from their CWF pen pals, we can only imagine how they feel, knowing that someone cared so much about them that they checked to see where they were after leaving Minnesota.

But, often, we don’t need to imagine how people feel. They tell us during a visit or share it with us in a letter.

This week, during our Zoom visit with the Spanish-speaking gentlemen at Freeborn, Miguel thanked us profusely for visiting and quoted the following bible verse from Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was ill and you took care of me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

German asked us to please tell Alex of CWF that he sends Alex his thanks and saludos (greetings). Alexis thanked us for the book he had requested, “Drawing for the Absolute Beginner,” saying it was exactly what he was looking for.

Now, imagine that WE were all non-citizens, jailed in the Freeborn County Adult Detention Center, the Kandiyohi County Jail or the Sherburne County Jail. We’re depressed, stressed and even traumatized by an impending deportation. And yet, we were on the receiving end of one or more of the above acts of kindness. I expect we would conclude that there still are good, decent, loving, compassionate people in the world who view us as fellow human beings looking for a safe place to live and work. This would give us hope in humanity and provide some light in the dark days.

From the 9-15-21 Conversations with Friends newsletter

Why Don’t Undocumented Immigrants Just Wait in Line?

By John Bruning, Staff Attorney, The Advocates for Human Rights

The idea that there is a “line” misunderstands the immigration system. There is no line, at least not one that the majority of immigrants in the United States can join. Nor is there a singular “right way” to immigrate. Instead, the Immigration and Nationality Act is a labyrinth of different types of visas, requirements, exemptions, exceptions, and bars. In a sense, some of those visas do have a line, in that Congress caps the number of certain types of visas that can be issued per year and per country. For example, some family-based visas are “oversubscribed” (meaning there are more applications pending than visas that can be issued). As an example, visa petitions for unmarried adult children of US citizens have a 7-year wait for most countries; but the government is only now processing applications from Mexicans under this category that were filed in January 1999. Siblings of US citizens have a 14-year wait time, and an even longer wait for potential immigrants from India, Mexico, and the Philippines. Family-based visas, such as the two types above, require the applicant to be the spouse, parent, child, or sibling of a US citizen, or spouse, parent, or child of a permanent resident. Even then, spouses and minor children of a US citizen and parents of an adult US citizen are ineligible if they have ever been deported or if they have entered the US without authorization (though this can sometimes be fixed by the immigrant returning to their country for a period of time); everyone else must wait outside the US and additionally cannot have overstayed a visa or worked without government permission. Employment-based visas work similarly, but with even more rules and regulations.

Without a family member already established in the US, lots of money to invest, or particular high-demand skills, the only other way to apply to come to the US from abroad is through the Diversity Visa, which is a random lottery to bring 55,000 immigrants to the US annually from countries with low admissions in prior years. Over 11 million prospective immigrants applied last year. The majority of visas for Central and South America and the Caribbean have tended to go to countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Cuba, with few going to Central American countries; the list of eligible countries changes each year, but El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are often excluded, and Mexicans are not eligible. But that also doesn’t mean that 55,000 immigrants actually come to the US under this program; the last two years, most of the selected diversity immigrants were not permitted to enter the US due to COVID-19. As a result, they lost their visas, and may have lost their only chance to ever come to the US.

There is no other application process, no other line to wait in. 

The only “legal” option left for many people—not just from Mexico and Central America, but from all corners of the Earth—is to come to the US-Mexico border and request asylum. There is no way to apply for asylum from outside the US; rather, asylum-seekers may only request asylum at a port of entry or within the US, regardless of their immigration status or manner of entry. In that vein, noncitizens can apply immediately (or even months) after entering without authorization, after overstaying a visa, or after being placed in removal proceedings, all of which often are characterized in the media as “illegal” but is explicitly allowed for under the asylum statutes, as asylees and refugees are presumed to be more focused on their survival than the immigration regulations of the country where they are seeking refuge. 

Asylum has strict requirements: 1) the applicant must show that they experienced and/or have a well-founded fear of severe harm, at the hands of government officials or private actors that the government is unable or unwilling to control; 2) the harm is due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (a distinct group of people recognized by general society); and 3) they are not able to safely relocate within their country. Numerous bars to asylum exist, and the various determinations about whether harm is severe enough, whether the persecution occurred on account of a protected characteristic, the role of the government, and the definitions of the “particular social group” are all extremely nuanced and the governing laws vary from place to place. Asylum is not available to migrants fleeing gang and cartel violence; and refugees fleeing civil war or prohibitions on practicing their religion still may not be eligible for asylum unless they can present evidence that they personally are likely to be harmed or killed. 

Much of asylum law over the past several decades has been intended to limit, rather than expand, who can receive asylum. Arbitrary limits to asylum processing, including the Migrant Protection Protocols, metering, and Title 42 (a law used to summarily deport many asylum-seekers without any process), have further eroded the ability of immigrants to “do it the right way.” 

Absent these options, undocumented immigrants have no legal route to become permanent residents or citizens. With no viable options, as they contemplate fleeing their countries for their physical and/or economic survival, the only line they have access to is the line in the desert dividing the United States and Mexico.

Certainly, given the byzantine nature of immigration laws, most Americans (and many immigrants, for that matter) don’t really know how immigration law works. But many of the pundits, reporters, and politicians promoting the “line” narrative know—or should know—better. The purpose of their narrative goes beyond just dehumanizing migrants and justifying their detention and deportation and the pain it causes their families; it carries with it the implication that immigrants who didn’t “wait in line” or “do it the right way” simply chose to willfully avoid an “easy” pathway to citizenship for some nefarious purpose, further accenting invective over the past several decades around the “illegality” of migration and the linkages between irregular migration and terrorism.

From the 11-15-21 Conversations with Friends newsletter

The Power of Personal Relationships

It’s interesting how our personal relationships impact our opinions about and responses to people and events.

A white senior citizen receiving care from a Somali care professional in a transitional care facility learns about her caregiver’s family, life, hobbies, hopes and joys, and comes to know her as a human being, realizing “she’s just like us.” A child has a grade school friend whose dad is facing deportation and the child’s parent, who previously said “they’re here illegally and should go home,” speaks out about the inhumanity of a system that separates parents from their children.

A father and daughter go to Honduras to visit members of their sister parish and meet a woman who is the manager of an auto parts store. One day, two gang members entered the store, held a knife against her neck and threatened to kill her family if she didn’t hand them an envelope with money each month. The father and daughter came to realize the many reasons people flee besides extortion: kidnapping, rape, drug-trafficking, threats if you don’t join a gang, etc.

As a result of losing family members and/or homes in fires, floods or hurricanes or having a friend who did, people who previously didn’t believe in global warming now speak out that the world must take aggressive steps to combat it.

When we see Americans moving from Louisiana, heading to safer ground, many of us understand better why so many continue to flee Haiti due to the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck on Aug. 14th, 2021, and why many continue to flee Honduras and other countries after hurricanes Eta and Iota on Nov. 3 and Nov. 17, 2020, respectively. An estimated 7 million people in a zone from Colombia to Mexico were impacted by the resulting landslides and flooding.

When will the majority of Americans realize that the 11 million human beings in the U.S. without documents are “just like us”? When will they say that people who were offered jobs here, have worked hard, established roots, and started families have a right to remain? When will we realize that most people seeking asylum truly fear for their lives and the lives of their families and have a right to seek refuge here?

We can’t wait for all Americans to have personal relationships with people who are facing deportation or denied asylum before they finally come to realize that our immigration system is inhumane, unjust, and unacceptable. We have had personal relationships; we can share the tragic stories of our deported friends who have been ripped from their families, and we can advocate for change.

Steve Kraemer, Executive Director, 10/15/21