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

Let’s Sit Down Together, Agree on the Facts and Answer a Few Questions

Monday and Friday mornings between 9 am and noon are the times when property can be left at the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling for people who will be deported. I was there on Friday morning, December 11th, to drop off winter clothing in the backpack we had previously dropped off in July for one of our CWF friends currently in Freeborn. Immediately after entering the room, a young man entered carrying a backpack. We conversed for about twenty minutes.

The young man’s brother-in-law is in the Kandiyohi County Jail and is 43 years old. He has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, is married, has six kids, the youngest of whom is 5, and has grandkids. He has been working on a hog farm in Austin, MN, has had three DUIs and will be deported to Mexico City on Wednesday. All of his family lives in the U.S. except for a sister who lives in Michoacan, Mexico.

How would we respond if we had a brother-in-law who has a serious drinking problem, committed multiple DUIs, and should be counseled and attend chemical dependency classes but rather is in jail facing imminent deportation?

All Americans need to answer the following questions:

  1. After this gentleman has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, are we truly okay with separating a father from his wife and six kids, likely forever?
  2. Can we justify a 5-year-old child going to bed every night without a goodnight kiss from their dad?
  3. How will his family who will remain in the U.S. support themselves (food, rent, etc.) after having lost at least 50% of their annual income?
  4. Is it likely that one or more of his six kids and/or his wife and other relatives may suffer from depression and/or turn to alcohol or drugs?
  5. How is it that many Americans respond to this situation by saying that we must maintain a system of law and order such that a person who has violated immigration law must suffer these dire consequences and be punished by being deported?
  6. Do they fully understand that this form of punishment not only results in the physical separation of a father or mother from their spouse, children and grandchildren but is a form of emotional and psychological torture?

We will not be able to create a fair, humane and just U.S. immigration policy until we are able to agree on the essential facts and thus find common ground that can form the basis for a humane solution.

Here are the facts:

  1. People don’t come to the U.S. to murder or rape. They arrive to escape murder, rape, gang violence, gang enlistment, extortion, and/or kidnapping, and/or to find a job to support their families in the U.S and/or in their birth countries.
  2. The majority of people in ICE detention were offered jobs that made it possible for them to rent homes, buy cars, pay taxes, have families and establish roots in their communities.
  3. If they have committed a criminal offense—the majority have not—they have already served their sentence when they are detained by ICE.
  4. In Minnesota they are detained by ICE in one of four county jails where they await their immigration hearing and are jailed with U.S. citizens, some of whom are in jail serving time for very serious crimes. 
  5. If you are one of the few who wins some form of relief from the immigration judge—e.g. Convention against Torture guidelines under which you’ve demonstrated to the judge that there’s a 50.1% chance or greater that you will be tortured if you return to your birth country—the government is likely to appeal the judge’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA will take at least six months, possibly as long as a year, to issue their decision, while you remain jailed and separated from your family.
  6. Even if the BIA agrees with the immigration judge’s decision granting relief from deportation, the government can appeal the decision again, resulting in another six to twelve months more of detention.
  7. The great majority of people detained by ICE will ultimately be ordered deported. On deportation morning, they are shackled at the wrists, the waist and ankles and put in a van that leaves the county jail at about 6 am and arrives at the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling. There, the paperwork is processed, they receive any property that has been left for them by family and/or friends, and they are then transported to the airport for a flight to a staging location, oftentimes in Louisiana, where they will be joined by others so that the charter flight is filled as much as allowed under current Covid guidelines.
  8. People being deported will return to a country that they no longer know and where their lives may be in danger.

We Americans tend to fall into one or more of these three categories: people who value family and its ability to provide the foundation for a healthy, successful life; people of faith; law-and-order people. If we value family, faith and all human life, shouldn’t we value the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters? If we believe in law and order, we demand that laws be obeyed and offenders suffer the consequences. Should the consequences include being jailed by ICE followed by deportation—after having lived in the U.S. for a median of about 15 years—and destruction of the family?

Let’s sit down together, agree to the facts, and answer the above questions. I expect the majority of us will find common ground and work toward a fair, humane, just, and acceptable immigration policy that will treat immigrants as we ourselves would wish to be treated if we were in their situation. I doubt that U.S. citizens who are in any of the three categories would be willing to support the emotional and psychological torture that results from the physical separation of spouses, of siblings, and of parents from their children.

By Steve Kraemer

Updates on our visits

On March 13, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced: “As a precautionary measure, we are temporarily suspending social visitation in all detention facilities.” An ICE official told CBS News that the measure will prohibit visits from family members and friends.

Before this announcement, CWF visit teams had been visiting people detained by ICE in classrooms in the following county jails in Minnesota:

  • Carver County Jail – Chaska
  • Freeborn County Adult Detention Center – Albert Lea
  • Kandiyohi County Jail – Willmar

At this time, our visits with people at Carver and Freeborn continue via Zoom. And, our CWF Volunteer Family of letter writers continues sending weekly letters to our friends in ICE detention in the above three jails as well as in the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, MN.

The people with whom we visit and correspond are originally from Mexico, Central America, Somalia, Kenya, Liberia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and other countries.