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12/2: Texas sues feds, aid agency over plans to resettle Syrian refugees in state
Tom Benning and Dianne Solis – Dallas Morning Post
Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit in U.S. District Court in Dallas, saying the New York-based aid agency violated federal law by working to resettle refugees “without consulting with Texas or working in close cooperation” with the state.
The state Health and Human Services Commission, citing “reasonable concerns about the safety and security of the citizenry of the state of Texas,” is seeking a temporary restraining order to block the resettlement.
“We have been working diligently with the International Rescue Committee to find a solution that ensures the safety and security for all Texans, but we have reached an impasse and will now let the courts decide,” said Bryan Black, the commission’s spokesman.
The lawsuit — the first by a state to block Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks — came after the International Rescue Committee refused to blink in the face of threatened legal action. The aid group had explained its decision to move forward by citing its contract with the U.S. State Department.
The IRC, one of nine federal resettlement contractors with the State Department, said in response to the lawsuit that it “acts within the spirit and letter of the law, and we are hopeful that this matter is resolved soon.”
“Refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists, and the families we help have always been welcomed by the people of Texas,” it said, noting its four decades working in Texas.
The state of Texas had asked the IRC to halt Syrian resettlement plans until the state received more information from the federal government about them. And Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he’s “relying on national security leaders, as opposed to refugee leaders.”
“It is irresponsible for the refugee resettlement operations to put aside any type of security interest and continue to press on about this,” the Republican governor said on a conference call with reporters.
The first of two Syrian families to be resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Dallas is slated to arrive from Jordan on Friday, said Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, head of the DFW International Community Alliance, a nonprofit that assists immigrants but isn’t one of the federal contractors that officially handle the resettlements.
The family is related to a Syrian refugee who moved to the Dallas area in February, Weiss-Armush said. The group consists of a husband and wife, their 4-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, and the husband’s parents, she said.
The families’ arrivals would come in the midst of intense wrangling between state officials, the federal government and the refugee resettlement agencies.
“I’m sensing that IRC and the State Department have decided to test the governor’s resolve,” Weiss-Armush said. “Is he going to send the Rangers to the airport to throw them out in front of TV cameras?”
The number of Syrian refugees has increased as war has displaced about half of Syria’s population of 23 million. Texas has become one of the top three states, along with California and Michigan, in Syrian refugee resettlement.
Some have been taken aback by the fierceness of the battle over the refugees, particularly in Texas.
“This is the first time I have seen something like this evolve so quickly,” said Elizabeth Drew, a former State Department official who is now a consultant on humanitarian and human rights issues. “Refugee resettlement has generally been bipartisan, and even nonpartisan.”
But security concerns about refugees spiked with Abbott and many other governors, mostly Republicans, after the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13. The Islamic State — which is one faction involved in Syria’s civil war — took credit for the attacks. A Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers, but its authenticity has been questioned.
Abbott said Wednesday that national security leaders have described a “very real concern” that terrorists could infiltrate Syrian refugee groups. That was echoed by Paxton.
“The point of this lawsuit is not about specific refugees, it is about protecting Texans by ensuring that the federal government fulfills its obligation to properly vet the refugees and cooperate and consult with the state,” the attorney general said in a written statement.
State Health and Human Services Commission officials had written on Tuesday to the State Department and the International Rescue Committee in Dallas that Abbott wants his security concerns “appropriately addressed,” including all case information about Syrians slated to resettle in Texas in the next 90 days.
“Obtaining information about the screening process and specific information about Syrians proposed for resettlement in Texas is critical to that effort and to enable Texas to ensure the safety of its residents,” wrote Chris Traylor, who heads the commission.
The state had previously told the IRC in Dallas that failure to cooperate with the state “may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action.” But immigration experts — and the Obama administration — have said the state is fairly limited in its ability to block refugee resettlements.
And the IRC — and other refugee resettlement agencies — had pledged to nonetheless accept Syrians.
An IRC spokeswoman said earlier Wednesday that the group is “hoping to meet with Governor Abbott to do our piece to persuade him” about the integrity of the refugee screening process. The group also said it was pleased the state is seeking more information from the State Department.
“We hope that through this process the state of Texas will be persuaded that the refugee security vetting process is a secure one,” the group said.
With that back-and-forth going on, work continues in the Dallas area to help refugee families, Syrian or otherwise. One church that has aided newcomers is Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff.
The Rev. Wes Magruder, the pastor there, is the board chairman of Refugee Services of Texas. He said his church hosted a “First Thanksgiving” last month for about 80 refugees — including two Syrian families — who arrived in the last year. His church is also working to find more affordable housing in the Oak Cliff area for a Syrian family.
Magruder predicted that when new Syrian refugees arrive in Dallas, they will receive a warm embrace from North Texas’ religious community.“I get a lot of calls from my colleagues at other churches saying, ‘We want to help Syrian refugees. What can we do?’” he said. “I say, ‘Well, we all want to, but that’s kind of the issue right now, whether or not we are going to be allowed to.’”
11/18: It Took a Tucson Church and 10,000 Arizonans to Stop the Deportation of Rosa Robles Loreto
Elizabeth Stuart – Phoenix New Times
Rosa Robles Loreto packed one pair of pajamas, one pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, and four blouses into a small, black suitcase. She could do without her hair dryer and the bulky pot of face cream she usually slathered on before bed, she decided as she eyed the already overstuffed bag. No need for a sweater. It was August, and the temperature in Tucson was hovering around 100 degrees.
Bidding farewell to her two sons, 8-year-old Jose Emiliano and 11-year-old Gerardo Jr., wasn't particularly emotional. Rosa just kissed their cheeks and rattled off a motherly list of reminders: Obey your father, take regular baths, brush your teeth, wear clean clothes, don't be late to school, do your homework.
She'd be gone only a week, she told them — a month at the most.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had ordered Rosa deported to her native Mexico. She refused to go quietly. Instead, in an effort to pressure the agency to reconsider, she rolled her suitcase through the rickety wooden gates of Southside Presbyterian Church in 2014 and claimed sanctuary.
Rosa's lawyer, Margo Cowan, already had achieved a number of victories using the tactic. Although no law bars ICE from sending squads of masked M-16-wielding agents into chapels to drag off immigrants, as Cowan pointed out, "Doing that would be a public relations nightmare." ICE halted one man's deportation after he'd spent 28 days living at Southside, giving periodic press conferences. Several immigrants didn't even make it to the church before the government backed down.
"All it took was a whisper of the word 'sanctuary,'" Cowan said.
But for Rosa, things didn't work out so simply. More than a year later, her husband still was raising the kids on his own, and she had decorated the tiny back room where she lived at Southside with knickknacks and framed photos.
Her story highlights troubling inconsistencies in the application of immigration policies instituted under President Obama.
While the administration deported undocumented immigrants at record rates, Obama ordered law enforcement officials to focus resources on deporting those with felony rap sheets. Through new protocols and programs, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants temporary work permits to immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, he attempted to give a break to immigrants with strong family and community ties, like Rosa.
But because the policies rely on the discretion of prosecutors and judges who don't all agree with Obama's approach, there is no rhyme or reason to who gets relief and who doesn't. Immigrants with no strikes against them frequently are deported, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association. At the same time, some immigrants with criminal backgrounds are allowed to stay.
"It's chaos," Cowan said. "We've got a very harsh statutory scheme that's not working. We've got a president who's trying to give immigrants some options. But then we've still got traffic cops turning them in to Border Patrol and lawyers telling them, 'We can't help you.'"
Rosa was born in a small mountain village in the Mexican state of Sonora, where few, including her mother and father, attended school past fourth grade and where many got married by age 16.
When she was 2 months old, her parents, struggling to feed her and her two older siblings, moved to Hermosillo, Sonora's humming capital, to find work. Her father secured a small patch of land through a government anti-poverty program and built a shack out of cardboard. Working 12-hour construction shifts, he slowly saved money and, bit by bit, converted the makeshift abode into a cozy three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. By the time it was finished, Rosa had three more siblings.
Beginning at age 9, the children worked in the morning and went to school in the evening. Rosa's brothers joined her father in the construction business, and she and her sisters were hired at a spice factory across the street from their home. With tiny, nimble fingers, they measured ground cinnamon and chili powder into plastic bags, sealed the packages, and stapled on brightly colored labels.
Rosa met her husband, Gerardo, when the bus that took her to and from high school broke down. He offered her a ride home in his pickup truck. They talked every day until graduation, every day through college (where Rosa majored in accounting), and every day for six years post-study, until they realized they didn't ever want to stop.
Rosa always had dreamed of a fancy wedding, with a fluffy tulle dress, a tiara in her hair, a hired band, and beans and barbacoa for 600 guests — but money was tight.
To save up, they would spend their vacations with Gerardo's aunt in Tucson, just a five-hour drive over the border. In just one week tending children and cleaning houses in the United States, Rosa could earn the same wages she made in a month working at a bank in Mexico.
Each time the couple visited, using visas to make the cross, Gerardo's aunt would ask, "Why don't you just stay?" In 1999, they did.
They trawled yard sales to furnish a studio apartment. After a while, they welcomed Gerardo Jr. and Jose Emiliano to the family. They worked long hours but found time in the evenings to shuttle their boys to Little League practices. Gerardo coached. Rosa made snacks for the young athletes and cheered exuberantly from the stands.
At first, while scrubbing toilets, Rosa daydreamed about the banking career she'd left in Mexico, where she'd donned lipstick and a suit and felt intellectually stimulated. Eventually, though, she stopped thinking of her decision to immigrate as a sacrifice.
"This is a gift I am giving my children," she said. "They will have a better life here."
As Rosa's family settled in, Arizona's intolerance for undocumented immigrants intensified. In 2004, voters passed a ballot initiative requiring state and local officials to verify immigration status before administering public benefits. Those who failed the test were reported to the federal government.
In 2007, the Arizona Legislature imposed heavy sanctions on employers who hired people like Rosa and Gerardo. Then, in 2010, former Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the contentious Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, better known as Senate Bill 1070. The act made it a crime to be in Arizona without proper paperwork and charged police with checking immigration status during all lawful stops, detentions, and arrests.
In Tucson, which then had one of the country's highest detention rates, it already was common for police to turn over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to local lawyers. But the legislative debate fueled law enforcement's enthusiasm. So, even though the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union immediately raised questions about SB 1070's constitutionality in court, Rosa and Gerardo started limiting trips outside the house and drove only when absolutely necessary.
At 6 a.m. on September 2, 2010, Rosa paused in a construction zone on her way to a housecleaning appointment. As she tried to discern which way the orange cones were directing her, she spotted red and blue police lights in her rearview mirror. Her thoughts lurched immediately to her children. What if she was deported? What would they do without her?
Rosa hadn't done anything wrong, but the officer asked for her identification anyway. She supplied her Mexican driver's license.
"Are you in the country illegally?" he asked.
She couldn't deny it. "Please!" she begged. "Please, give me a ticket! Please, don't call Border Patrol!"
Rosa spent 60 days in detention before a judge released her on a $3,000 bond. Gerardo, a sturdy man with an easy demeanor, was so worried that he often forgot to eat or brush his hair.
"Promise me they are treating you well," he pleaded during their nightly short phone calls. "Promise me you aren't being beaten."
She promised, determined to be strong for her family. But when she hung up the phone, she broke down sobbing.
Rosa met Margo Cowan at a December 2011 protest organized through the lawyer's nonprofit legal clinic, Keep Tucson Together. Rosa, whose case still was working its way through the courts, joined her and hundreds of others to march three miles from Santa Monica Church to ICE's Tucson field office waving homemade poster-board signs and chanting boisterously to halt deportations.
Cowan, a slight woman with a mop of gray curls, a friendly, crooked smile, and an affinity for tie-dye, was thrust into the immigration debate in the 1970s when, as a 23-year-old, she took over the operation of an anti-poverty clinic in Tucson's Barrio Hollywood.
"We helped people with whatever they needed," she said, which sometimes meant organizing recreation programs for children and sometimes meant helping undocumented immigrants get access healthcare or navigate the legal system.
She hadn't been at it long before Border Patrol raided the center and indicted her and several colleagues on 52 felony counts of transporting, aiding, and abetting illegal aliens. Cowan, who previously had coordinated strikes for the Farm Workers Union in California, quickly rallied the masses and persuaded President Carter's attorney general to drop the charges.
Inspired in part by the ordeal, she earned a law degree and now works full time as a Pima County public defender representing undocumented immigrants accused of serious crimes, such as murder and armed robbery.
In the months leading up to the march on ICE's offices, President Obama, cuffed by Congress in his attempts to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, quietly began working through back channels to "reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization," according to a leaked Department of Homeland Security memo.
As a first step, in the summer of 2011, ICE Director John Morton issued a historic memorandum instructing agency employees to use discretion to determine when to prosecute immigrants and when to close their cases, or, in effect, look the other way. Morton specifically called on ICE attorneys and employees to refrain from pursuing those, like Rosa, with strong community ties and no criminal histories.
Nearly as soon as the memos were released, Cowan launched Keep Tucson Together to help immigrants prove to officials that they contributed positively to society and deserved to stay.
Many defense lawyers, however, ignored the administrative policy changes and continued to advise clients according to the letter of the law, she said. Some acted on principle, decrying the move as de facto amnesty achieved only because Obama bypassed the country's democratically elected leaders. But, for many, it was a matter of simple economics, Cowan said. Lawyers make more money taking their clients to court than requesting their cases be closed administratively.
"You fulfill your ethical obligations under the law, then you pick up more clients," she said. "It's a sound business model — but it doesn't keep families together."
If defense attorneys didn't push to close a case under Morton's guidelines, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, prosecutors were highly unlikely to make the suggestion on their own. In fact, many officials actively resisted the policy change, saying their jobs were "to arrest and deport."
Link to the Full Article:
12/1: CANADA Prison over deportation: Man in jail five years for refusing to sign paperwork that would mean removal to Somalia
Adrian Humphreys –National Post
If Abdirahmaan Warssama signs a piece of paper, he can get out of the high-security prison where he has spent the last five years. But he won’t sign it.
Signing a note assuring an airline he will not cause a ruckus on board means the 51-year-old will be deported to his homeland, Somalia, a place deemed too dangerous for Canadian pilots to fly him and too risky for Canadian border agents to escort him. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent keeping him behind bars, even though he is not deemed a danger to the public.
How does Canada solve a problem like Warssama?
That’s the dilemma Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) face in the unusual case.
Warsamma’s lawyer, however, challenges the notion his client is in an Ontario prison for any legitimate reason and last week the Federal Court of Canada added a stern reprimand of its own.
“They were basically trying to get him to perjure himself — to say he wishes to go back when he really doesn’t,” said Warssama’s Toronto lawyer, Subodh Bharati.
“He’s been kept in detention for over five years because he wouldn’t sign.”
In his homeland, Warssama faced a nightmare of violence and torture, said Bharati. After Warssama’s father was killed, he and his brother were kidnapped and tortured. The boys were placed in bags and dunked in the ocean in a form of waterboarding.
His mother pulled together enough money to pay a bribe and free him and move him to India and from there to Canada in 1989, he said.
His refugee claim was dealt with soon after his arrival — within two weeks — and was denied. It was only after his claim was tossed that he sought medical attention and treatment from the Centre for Victims of Torture.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It was compelling enough for the government to intervene, allowing him to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds; but Warssama moved around and didn’t obtain permanent residency status or citizenship.
He also got into trouble: he received at least two criminal convictions of a seemingly minor nature around 2005, although the specific charges are not outlined in a recent judgment.
As a non-citizen convicted of crimes, he was found inadmissible to Canada and ordered deported in 2009. He was arrested over his immigration status a year later and has been in a Lindsay, Ont., prison since.
While Canada has placed a “temporary” administrative hold on removing people to Somalia, it does not apply to someone found inadmissible on the grounds of criminality. But while regulations allow for Warssama’s deportation, logistical problems make it difficult.
Somalia has been described as a “failed state,” torn apart by civil war.
CBSA seems reluctant to force anyone back to such a place against their will, perhaps for public relations reasons, said Bharati.
Somalis who are returned are typically flown from Toronto to Turkey, then to Kenya and, from there, on to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. CBSA guards accompany deportees on the first two legs of the trip but not the last, court heard.
African Express Airways, a short-haul airline based in Nairobi, is the only airline willing to fly a failed refugee claimant back to Somalia unescorted, but it requires a signed consent form from the person agreeing to co-operate in the removal, court heard.
That’s the paperwork Warssama refuses to sign, putting the brakes on his deportation but leaving him in prison.
“Given that we already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in detaining Mr. Warssama, why not charter a plane?” asked Federal Court Judge Sean Harrington, who heard Warssama’s appeal for the court’s intervention. “Apparently, because it is too dangerous to send Canadian pilots to Mogadishu!” he answered himself.
And why must a person be unescorted on the last leg of the long trip? “Because Immigration Canada considers it too dangerous to send its own people there!” he wrote.
(Harrington apparently found the situation so alarming it prompted the rare, injudicious use of exclamation points in his written decision.)
The final question is whether Warssama needed to remain in prison while the stalemate held.
“As matters presently stand, Somalia is a failed state and Mr. Warssama may remain incarcerated in Canada for the rest of his life,” Harrington wrote.
Bharati agreed if his client was released he would likely not voluntarily show up for removal, and the government agreed Warssama didn’t pose a danger to the public if released.
“There comes a point in time in which time itself becomes overwhelming, requiring the parties, and the (IRB) to think outside the box,” wrote Harrington.
“The whole process became completely unreasonable.”
Typically, a successful appeal to the Federal Court simply puts the person back before the IRB for another hearing. This case needed more.
Harrington ordered the government to not only convene a new review but detailed steps to look for solutions.
CBSA has to prove it is “too dangerous to send Canadians to Somalia” and show it has “explored the possibility of hiring foreign nationals who would be less at risk than Canadians” to escort him home.
“Given that Mr. Warssama has already cost the Canadian taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, the minister shall explain why a plane cannot be chartered to fly him directly to Somalia under escort.”
And, if nothing else, the government must explore alternatives to prison.Warssama’s new review is scheduled for next week.
Link to the Article:
11/3: Saying U.S. is ‘corrupt,’ black American man applies for refugee status in Canada
11/24: Indiana Opposition to Refugees Sparks Suit
11/26: 50 Nigerians deported from UK arrive in Lagos
12/2: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Confirms Transgender Immigrants Will Not Be Housed at Adelanto Detention Facility
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