I March

img_9663I march
Not because I’ve lost faith.

I march
Because I believe
No matter our gender
No matter our skin color
No matter our faith
No matter where we’re born
No matter who we love
We are all equal
Each deserving a happy
and meaningful life.

I march
Because I believe
We are responsible for one another
Accountable to each other
Not just to ourselves,
families, tribes
Not to our narrow self-interests
Not to our resentments
Not to our anxieties
and fears.

I march
Because I have faith
Together we can
Change our neighborhood,
city, town, and country
Change our world
Lift each other up
Equals in grace
and abundance.

New York City
January 21, 2017

USCIS to Implement Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program

News release from USCIS, May 9, 2016.

WASHINGTON—Beginning June 8, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow certain Filipino World War II veteran family members who are beneficiaries of approved family-based immigrant visa petitions an opportunity to receive a discretionary grant of parole on a case-by-case basis, so that they may come to the United States as they wait for their immigrant visa to become available.    

This parole policy was announced in the White House report, Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,issued in July 2015. An estimated 2,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American World War II veterans are living in the United States today. Among other things, this policy will enable many eligible individuals to provide support and care to their aging veteran family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

“The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program honors the thousands of Filipinos who bravely enlisted to fight for the United States during World War II,” USCIS Director León Rodríguez said. “This policy will allow certain Filipino-American family members awaiting immigrant-visa issuance to come to the United States and be with their loved ones. For many, it will also allow them to provide support and care for elderly veterans or their surviving spouses.”

With the exception of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, the number of family-sponsored immigrant visas available by country of origin in any given year is limited by statute. These limits result in long waiting periods before family members may join petitioning U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the United States and become permanent residents themselves. For some Filipino-American families, this wait can exceed 20 years.

Under the policy, certain family members of Filipino World War II veterans may be eligible to receive a discretionary grant of parole to come to the United States before their visa becomes available. In limited cases, certain eligible relatives will be able to seek parole on their own behalf when their Filipino World War II veteran and his or her spouse are both deceased.

Under the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, USCIS will review each case individually to determine whether authorizing parole is appropriate.  When each individual arrives at a U.S. port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will also review each case to determine whether to parole the individual.  

Legal authority for this parole policy comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole into the United States certain individuals, on a case-by-case basis, for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

Additional information about the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program—including guidance on eligibility, the application process and where to file—is available in the revised Form I-131 instructions and the Federal Register notice published today. We will not accept applications under this policy until June 8, 2016.  USCIS strongly encourages eligible individuals interested in requesting parole under the FWVP Program do so within 5 years from June 8, 2016.

For more information about USCIS and its programs, please visit www.uscis.gov.

Looking Up and Missing Out

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A good number of photos I’ve taken in Italy and in particular, Rome, had me looking up, straining my neck or contorting my torso to capture an impression of the ornate, over-the-top, and gilded ceilings and domes of the city’s churches. There are so many of them that it has all become a blur of rich hues and gold. It’s understandable to be awestruck. Rome and the Catholic Church were built to project power, wealth and empire. But all this looking up has made me look down for grounding, for reality.

The Italy tourists like me see or choose to see is historic, monumental, romantic. We come with our guidebooks and lists of places from friends who have preceded us. We come to consume something different from our day-to-day lives, so we flock to the sites and stare at art which we have been told are essential to a grand tour. But we tend not to look around us, to see the reality about us.

The South Asian men providing selfie sticks and appearing with umbrellas as soon as rain falls. The African men demonstrating how a flat piece of wood opens up to form a basket. The Eastern European women serving pasta and pizza in several languages. The Chinese merchants making sure tchotchkes are in abundance. The Filipino nannies tending plump fair-skinned babies and picking up the shit of pedigreed pets.

Over four million immigrants from Romania, Morocco, Albania, China, Ukraine, the Philippines, India and other countries live in Italy. The Instituto Nazionale di Statistica reports that in 2013, 7.4 percent (4,387,721) of the country’s population was foreign born or native born children of immigrants (15 percent of all births). This statistic does not include the clandestini or undocumented immigrants.

And there are the native Italians going about their business, living as we do back home: commuting, eking out a living, caring for families, albeit precariously. The European Parliament Directorate General for Internal Policies reports that in 2012, 29.9 percent of people living in Italy were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In January 2014, the youth unemployment rate was a staggering 42.4 percent.

Italy today has very little resemblance to the Roman Empire. Its people go about quotidian lives amid all the ruins, museums and churches. They’re really no different from us. I suppose that’s why we look up.

Check out erwindeleon on Instagram for pictures looking up.

Immigrant organizations key to carrying out Obama’s executive action

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Last Thursday, the president laid out his long-anticipated executive action on immigration, which grants reprieve from deportation to an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, individuals who have lived here for at least five years and have no criminal record. Now, many people will be able to work legally without fearing deportation and separation from their families and communities.

The executive action also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include young immigrants—DREAMers—who have aged out; provide visas for foreign nationals who invest in the US economy and those who pursue science, technology, engineering, and math degrees in US universities; and add security personnel and resources at the border. The executive action, however, does not include farm workers or the undocumented parents of DREAMers. Moreover, none of the beneficiaries will receive public subsidies under the Affordable Care Act or will be eligible for public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Undocumented immigrants who want to request this reprieve will have to submit an application for deferred action, a process that can be demanding and does not guarantee automatic approval. An individual will have to provide documents proving she meets eligibility requirements, complete multiple government forms, pay taxes and fees, pass a criminal background check, submit her biometrics, and then wait to hear whether her application has been approved. The process can be daunting.

A majority of undocumented individuals are low income and will encounter challenges with the requisite paperwork, application forms, and fees. They will have few resources, if any, to secure the services of immigration attorneys. Some will fall prey to notarios, others will hire expensive lawyers they cannot afford, and many will turn to immigrant-serving nonprofits that provide free legal assistance and other social services. These community-based organizations are best suited to help immigrants with the legalization process and, in the long run, with integration into the economic, political, and social mainstream.

An Urban Institute brief on immigrant legal-aid organizations reveals, however, that these nonprofits are few and far between and that capacity is a major issue. Analysis of National Center for Charitable Statistics data indicates that at least 684 nonprofits provide some form of legal aid to immigrants and are dispersed throughout the United States in traditional, emerging, and new immigrant gateways. But the ratio of legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented immigrants is alarming.

In the 10 states with the most undocumented immigrants, nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants would have more people to serve than other nonprofits. For instance, in Texas, the ratio of immigrant legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented clients is 1 to 41,250. In contrast, the ratio of other nonprofits to the general population is 1 to 2,916.

Immigrants

As undocumented immigrants start applying for deportation reprieve, legal-aid and other immigrant-serving organizations will bear the brunt of helping these individuals. Aside from assisting in the deferred action application process, these groups will continue providing basic social services, as beneficiaries of the president’s executive action will not have access to free health care and other safety net programs available to US citizens and permanent residents. It is crucial to identify, map, and survey immigrant-serving organizations to determine their capacities and challenges in serving immigrant communities. This information will be invaluable in discovering where the gaps in resources and services are so that they may be filled and that more immigrants can join the mainstream.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends blog. Reposted on the Huffington Post.

Photo: President Barack Obama announces immigration executive action on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at the White House. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) 

Majority of Deported AAPI Are Not Criminals

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Immigrant advocates have been very vocal about their displeasure at President Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration. “Where is the leadership and courage from President Obama?” asked Gregory Cendana, Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), “Asian Americans are losing hope.”

Indeed, it is personal for many in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as undocumented family members remain at risk for deportation. About 11 percent of the country’s undocumented are AAPI, mainly from China, the Philippines, India, Korea and Vietnam.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data group at Syracuse University which gathers nonpartisan information about U.S. federal immigration enforcement, reports that immigration court judges have ordered 82,878 individuals deported so far this fiscal year. TRAC points out that only 20 percent of these people are being “removed” because of criminal or any other activity that posed a threat to national security or the public safety. This statistic only rubs salt in the collective wound of immigrants.

Nearly six percent of individuals ordered to leave their families and communities are AAPI (4,778). Immigrants from China (1,840), India (793), the Philippines (344), Vietnam (251), Nepal (198), and South Korea (189) make up 75 percent of AAPIs being deported. The entire AAPI community is represented, including  the island country of Niue (2), Bhutan (1), Brunei (1), and East Timor (1).

Until immigration reform passes and the deportation of non-criminal immigrants stops, AAPI advocates will continue their protest.

“If our elected leaders are serious about fixing our broken immigration system, they must back up their words with actions,” said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “We will  continue to mobilize our base and make our concerns and needs heard from all across the country to Washington, DC.”

What About LGBT Refugees in the United States?

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A line in a recent Christian Science Monitor article asks, “Are children fleeing Central American violence refugees who need asylum or illegal gold-diggers who need to go home?”

Politicians, talking heads, policymakers, and those of us interested in immigration have been transfixed by the surge of unaccompanied minors at our southern border. Whether these children are refugees worthy of asylum will eventually be determined by immigration courts, if and when their cases finally get there.

Another group fleeing violence but not getting as much press — if any at all — are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) refugees. In a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the Heartland Alliance estimates that around 3,500 LGBT refugees arrive in the country annually. Another 1,250 are granted asylum every year.

Arriving in small numbers, they tend to fly under the public’s radar. Some also choose to remain in the shadows, due in part to the conservatism of their own ethnic communities. LGBT refugees might enjoy more freedoms here, but they often live among fellow immigrants, who tend to be more socially and religiously conservative than native-born Americans.

Queer women and men flee their homelands because of the oppression they suffer based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are routinely subject to human rights abuses, including sexual assault and corrective rape, physical violence, torture, imprisonment, and murder. In Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia, people can be put to death for same-sex conduct. In an additional 76 countries, LGBTs can be imprisoned for living openly. While gay and transgender people are still subject to discrimination in some parts of the United States, their rights are generally and increasingly protected.

In a post for Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, I discussed the crucial role immigrant organizations play in the lives of immigrants. These community-based nonprofits are community centers, social service providers, advocates, and network builders. They prop up the immigrant safety net. However, there are not enough to serve the needs of immigrant communities.

There are far fewer organizations for refugees. In 2012, over 58,179 refugees were admitted into the country and 29,484 individuals were granted asylum. A quick search on the National Center for Charitable Statistics database reveals a mere 128 community-based organizations dedicated to refugee relief.

Aside from limited capacities, these organizations are rarely equipped to deal with the housing, employment, medical, mental health, safety, and legal needs of LGBT refugees. While gay and transgender refugees avail of the same services as other refugees, they benefit from a sensitivity resulting from an awareness of queer concerns and realities. In 2011, ORR Director Eskinder Negash expressed concern for the lack of resource materials tailored for LGBT refugees, which are critical to their successful resettlement and integration: “The current resettlement network has limited understanding of the LGBT community.”

A lot of work is left to be done, from advancing international and domestic policies protecting queer refugees to increasing the number and capacities of refugee relief and resettlement organizations. But it all begins with education and storytelling. A trickle of LGBT refugees, however, simply isn’t as compelling as a tsunami of undocumented child migrants.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog and the Huffington Post.

How immigrant organizations can help with integration

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Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog.

Last week, a National Academies panel met to explore how institutions impact the integration of foreign-born individuals and their children. “The Integration of Immigrants into US Society” convening, hosted by the Academies’ Committee on Population, was part of a two-year project that will culminate in the release of a report summarizing knowledge about how immigrants are integrating into American society, laying out the policy implications of the panel’s findings, and highlighting crucial knowledge and data gaps.

Among the institutions vital to immigrant communities are nonprofits founded and tailored to address the needs and issues of the many racial and ethnic groups that make up our society. At the panel’s second meeting, I discussed immigrant organizations and integration, based on Urban Institute reports on community-based organizations and immigrant integration and immigrant legal-aid organizations and my own exploration of Filipino-American organizations.

Immigrant organizations are crucial to the lives of immigrants, their families, and communities. They act as community centers where newcomers can be among others who speak their language and where they can learn to navigate life in their adopted country. They are safe places where second- and third-generation immigrants can learn about their ethnic culture.

These centers also double as social service providers, especially in places that are not so welcoming, where immigrants don’t have access to health and other social services. Immigrant nonprofits also act as advocates and representatives and promote the civic and political engagement of newcomers.

They also partner with other organizations and build networks, broadening the net that supports immigrants and the community in general. They serve as channels through which funders, government agencies, and elected officials can reach immigrants.

Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, who studies immigrant organizations in New York, argues that these nonprofits “play a central role during all parts of the immigration process and in the social, cultural, political, and economic” integration of immigrants. Immigrant organizations help individuals and families find a community, achieve economic stability and self-sufficiency, learn and participate in a new social and political system, and become legal residents or citizens.

These indispensable organizations, however, tend to cluster around urban centers, away from suburbs and exurbs where immigrants have been settling down. It will take time before immigrant organizations are established and scale up; in the meantime, immigrants trek into cities or are left to their own devices.

Moreover, immigrant organizations tend to be underresourced and stretched to capacity due to the great demand for their services. Immigrant legal aid nonprofits, in particular, will have a challenging time serving undocumented immigrants eligible for legalization, should immigration reform pass.

Immigrant nonprofits are important to immigrants, but they can only do so much. Other nonprofits, public agencies, philanthropic groups, and community entities can partner with immigrant organizations in facilitating immigrant integration, and in the process, strengthen and enrich the entire community.

Hector Estrada, top center, who teaches social justice in a theater setting at the Refugee Youth Academy, addresses a group of immigrant students at the academy in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The Refugee Youth Academy is a six-week program run by the International Rescue Committee that tries to help refugee parents and children get familiar with what American school is all about. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Moving Beyond Marriage Equality

A couple of days ago, my husband and I were interviewed by an immigration adjudicator. The gentleman deemed our relationship legit, approved us on the spot, and told us to expect a green card in the mail. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling upending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), he treated our marriage just like any other. My spouse and I are very fortunate.

Not all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants are as fortunate, however. The Williams Institute estimates that about 7,000 gay couples are both non-citizens, and that approximately 267,000 undocumented immigrants identify as LGBT. These individuals do not benefit from the Supreme Court’s ruling, but they will benefit from comprehensive immigration reform. A path to legalization will free them from the shadows to become more productive, engaged, and committed members of our society.

On Thursday, the president once again called for passage of immigration reform. He rightfully argues that fixing our immigration system is good for our economy and our national security, and, ultimately, for all of us.

“It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead,” President Obama said. “It’s not smart. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense.”

As we celebrate breathtaking progress on the marriage equality front, we need to be mindful that other pressing issues beset our community. We can be fired in 29 states for being ourselves. Our transgender sisters and brothers are not welcome in the military. We suffer poverty more than straight people, especially those of us who are of color. And too many in our community are further marginalized by their immigration status. Just as we rallied behind the freedom to marry, let us rally behind the freedom to live, love, and work in this country of immigrants.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

The unexamined element of immigration reform

Now that the government shutdown has ended and the debt limit lifted, President Obama has shifted his attention to immigration reform. He argues that it is imperative that the broken immigration system be fixed once and for all. Considering the bruising everyone just went through, it is hard to imagine lawmakers duking it out over another contentious issue.

Imagine that comprehensive immigration legislation does manage to clear Congress and the White House. Will systems be in place to handle the surge of immigrants who will be eligible for legalization? I cannot speak to the capacities of federal and state governments, but I can begin the conversation on the nonprofit infrastructure that helps immigrants integrate.

The U.S. Senate immigration reform bill that passed last June includes a path to citizenship for a vast majority of undocumented immigrants. The Congressional Budget Office estimates about 8 million will be eligible and apply for regularization of their status. The process will be long, arduous, and costly. But before they embark on this path, individuals will need, first and foremost, legal assistance in understanding the process and submitting applications.

Unauthorized immigrants, who are mostly low-income, will have few resources, if any at all, to secure the services of immigration attorneys. Many will turn to immigrant-serving nonprofits providing free legal information and advice. A new Urban Institute brief provides an outline of these organizations.

An analysis of data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics indicates at least 684 nonprofits provide some form of legal aid to immigrants. These providers are dispersed throughout the United States and can be found where immigrant communities have settled.

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 It appears, however, that there aren’t enough of them. In the 10 states with the largest populations of undocumented immigrants, nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants would have more people to serve than other nonprofits. For instance, in Texas, there is one nonprofit providing legal aid to immigrants for every 41,250 undocumented clients. In contrast, the ratio of other nonprofits to the general population is 1 to 2,916.

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In the top 10 states with the largest percentage change in undocumented immigrants, nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants potentially have a larger population to serve compared to other nonprofits. For instance, in Maryland, the ratio of nonprofits that provide legal aid to immigrants to potential undocumented clients in 1 to 27,500. In contrast, the ratio of other nonprofits to the general population is 1 to 2,182. Alabama is a stark case, where the two nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants could face an estimated 120,000 undocumented individuals.

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This very high ratio of undocumented immigrants to potential sources of nonprofit legal aid should be a cause for concern. Adding thousands of new cases to existing caseloads without substantial infusion of resources—funding and staffing and volunteers—is not a realistic scenario.

The infrastructure for assisting undocumented immigrants with legal issues is very thin, compared to the projected needs. A concerted effort to assess capacity and plan for expansion is required. Further analysis will help identify where and how infrastructure and capacity can be built to prepare for comprehensive immigration reform. In the meantime funders and other stakeholders can step up and support this research.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends.

Are Immigrant Aid Organizations Ready for Reform?

(Photo: Flickr/SEIU International)

(Photo: Flickr/SEIU International)

On Oct. 8, thousands rallied at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. then marched to the Capitol demanding that Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform immediately. A reported 200 people got themselves arrested to underscore the urgency of the matter, among them union and community leaders and eight Democratic lawmakers including civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis.

When lawmakers finally do attend to immigration reform, a path to some form of legalization will be part of the equation. The Weekly Standard reports, “84 House Republicans have publicly voiced support for granting some type of legal status to the 11 million immigrants here in the country illegally, and 20 others have said they would be willing to consider it.” Legislation that regularizes the status of over 11 million undocumented individuals will be a long-awaited boon to immigrants and their families. But will they have the support they need to go through what will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process?

Immigrants without papers will be required to meet stringent requirements such as passing background checks, paying penalties and fines, and learning English, U.S. history, and civics. They will also have to deal with a complex application process that will require legal expertise and guidance.

Some people will have the wherewithal to hire private attorneys. Michelle Sardone, field support coordinator of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), said however that those without the means will either turn to community-based organizations (CBOs) for help or attempt to file applications themselves. But, are immigrant-serving nonprofits ready to help millions of undocumented individuals and their families through the legalization process?

Constantino Diaz-Duran, a New York-based journalist, wonders himself. He worked as a legal assistant for Hogar Immigrant Services in the mid-2000s, helping Central Americans extend their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Over 300,000 Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans were eligible for TPS — a status offered by the U.S. to immigrants affected by natural disasters in the region — and many turned to CBOs for assistance. As part of a team of three full-time attorneys, a few legal assistants, and an army of volunteers, Diaz-Duran sat with immigrants, going through checklists and forms.

“I would be surprised if they are ready, there are so many people,” said Diaz-Duran. “I do think immigrant-aid organizations need to start thinking of organizing and training volunteers. There will be a huge influx of people. I’ve thought of volunteering myself.”

Diaz-Duran’s concerns are well-founded. An Urban Institute study I co-authored identifies less than 700 nonprofits nationwide that provide some form of legal aid to immigrants. Their limited capacity could not possibly meet the demand for services when immigration reform finally passes. In Maryland, for instance, the ratio of nonprofits providing legal aid to immigrants to potential undocumented clients is 1 to 27,500. Alabama is a particularly stark case: two nonprofits provide legal services to the estimated 120,000 undocumented individuals in the state.

Sardone said CLINIC is preparing its 218 affiliates in 47 states for comprehensive immigration reform. The DC-based organization recently released a manual that offers recommendations from nonprofit immigration experts and “veterans” of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which facilitated the legalization of close to 3 million individuals. It also includes lessons learned from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Sardone and some practitioners view as a test run of immigration reform.

“We are preparing our network,” Sardone said. “We’re telling them to start putting together plans, consider what it would look like in their areas to implement [comprehensive immigration reform].” For some, this means getting recognized and accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals to legally represent clients. For others, it means finalizing fundraising strategies or incorporating volunteers.

Other networks are also laying the groundwork. Marita Etcubanez, director of programs at the Asian American Justice Center, points to a convening earlier this year by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and the Center for Community Change, which brought together immigration advocates from around the country to share experiences from past reform legislation, as well as to discuss ramping up organizational capacity to meet an anticipated surge in demand for assistance and legal representation.

“There is a great deal to do to prepare, and we will have to work with immigration legal service providers, legal aid groups, other advocacy groups and community-based organizations because we know people will be seeking assistance wherever they can,” said Etcubanez. “We will also have to do widespread outreach and education so that our communities are aware of the changes to the law, have good information about what is available and who is eligible, and know where they can find help.”

Jeanne M. Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC, recalled her experience as a law intern working with immigrant communities after the passage of immigration reform in 1986. “Back then, there was a minimal number of agencies and limited technology,” she said. “We jumped in a minivan, drove to local community and health centers, wherever immigrants were, put up our sign, and provided information to people.”

It’s a different world now. There are a whole lot more CBOs working together to prepare for immigration reform. But in 1986, the number of undocumented immigrants was estimated at 3.2 million. Today there are more than 11 million.

Atkinson says nonprofits will face many hurdles. “The biggest issue is funding, they need the money to hire volunteer coordinators and other staff and to upgrade their technology.” She is nonetheless pleased with the preparation nonprofits, their networks and their community partners are taking. “We’re getting ready.”

Immigrant-serving groups better get ready. Comprehensive immigration reform will happen at some point and there will be millions who will turn to community-based nonprofits for help.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.