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ISG Event Recap: Immigration

Carolina Sheinfeld, Immigration Relations Coordinator, Los Angeles County of Education and Martin Zogg, Executive Director of International Rescue Committee Los Angeles Office spoke about immigration as well as issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.
 
Their presentations highlighted the increasing challenges asylum seekers and refugees encounter as immigration policies become draconian and funding sources diminish.


Understanding the difference between refugee status and asylum status is important.  California Welcomes, a program for enhanced services for asylees states:
 
Asylum is a type of legal protection granted to people who come to the United States, but are unable to return to their home country.  A grant of asylum is made for persons who, if he or she returns home, will face persecution due to “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” the same standard refugees must meet.  Unlike refugees, who seek status from outside the United States, asylum seekers begin their process at the U.S. border or within the U.S. Asylum is not just a reflection of American value of welcoming people fleeing war, violence and persecution, it is an established human right recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Refugee resettlement policy differs from the current immigration policies being imposed on those individuals and families seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States.
 
The current immigration policies implemented at the southern border are characterized as “deterrents”. These policies include family separation and a narrowing of eligibility grounds for asylum.
 
Policies related to the number of asylum seeker applications allowed to be heard per day has resulted in large numbers of individuals establishing shelter in border cities such as Tijuana. The housing conditions are dangerous and inadequate.  These conditions present a humanitarian crisis.
 
Asylum cooperation agreements through which the United States sends asylum seekers to have their asylum claims examined by third countries have been activated. Many asylum seekers who attempt to have their cases processed at the southern border are sent to Guatemala because Guatemala has a cooperation agreement.  As a result, asylum seekers are sent to a foreign country not of their origin and they have no services, such as safe housing or food, to support them while they are waiting for the cases to be heard.
 
The family separation policy at the southern border was part of the “Zero Tolerance” policy the federal government adopted around April 2018 through June 2018.  This policy was applied to individuals and families who were apprehended while trying to enter the United States illegally.  Entering the United States illegally is considered federal crime requiring federal prosecution. The criminalization of the immigration offenses allowed the government to justify separating children from the parent or guardian. The pictures of children being held in “cages” is an indelible image of the “Zero Tolerance” policy. Legal representation was not available to those who were jailed. Nonprofit organizations and privately funded groups offer legal services to those incarcerated.

Martin explained that The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who a refugee is, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The 1967 Protocol insured refugees with legal status, including rights such as access to employment, education and social security.
 
Under U.S. law, a “refugee” is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.
 
The United States Refugee Act of 1980 was created to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission of refugees to the United States.
 
The United States has a history of welcoming refugees. Refugees from Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia and more recently Syria have been welcomed. Until recently, the United States offered refugee status to more people than all other nations combined. But the current administration has drastically reduced the maximum number of refugees that can enter the United States. In 2017, for the first time in modern history, the United States settled fewer refugees than the rest of the world.
 
The President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions each year. In 2015, 110.000 refugees were allowed.  In 2018, 18,000 refugees were allowed.  This shocking trend has affected the lives of approximately 25 million refugees waiting for refugee status. Family reunification has become increasingly impossible.

Federal funds allocated to agencies such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have been drastically cut because the funding model is related to the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States. The decrease in federal funds impacts the ability of the IRC and other agencies  to provide employment training, provide English language training and ensure cash assistance to refugees as well as the important case management that insures the needs of the refugee are being met.
 
Decrease in funding is not the only challenge.
 
The Federal Executive Order issued on September 26, 2019 generally prohibits a refugee from being settled in a state or locality if the state or locality has not consented to receiving refugees is an alarming and hostile sign of decreased federal support for refugees. 
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On December 20, 209, Governor Newsom sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo consenting to refugee resettlement in the State of California.
 
The State of California has one of the nation’s largest refugee populations, so the introduction of Assembly Bills 3133 and Assembly Bill 3134 on February 21, 2020 are extremely important.
 
Assembly Bill 3133 states:
A refugee shall not be denied resettlement in California on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic identified in Section 11135 of the Government Code.
 
Assembly Bill 3134 insures an additional eight months of refugee cash assistance payments will be paid from state funds after the payment of federally funded cash aid benefits has been exhausted. 
 
The cut in funding for agencies such as the IRC has left the agencies with limited resources to meet the needs of refugees.  Volunteer help is essential to assist with all services to refugees.
 
The evening was too short to discuss the challenges Public Charge policy presents to immigrants.  This policy was affirmed by the Supreme Court. This policy is extremely troubling and will affect the way immigrants live in the United States.  We all should take time to become familiar with this policy.

Wed, July 28 2021 19 Av 5781