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Immigration Focus: June 25, 2011

June 25, 2011

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist
Reveals He is an Illegal Immigrant

The lead story for this post has got to be Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’s revelation, in the New York Times Magazine, that he has been an illegal immigrant since arriving here from the Philippines when he was twelve. Some highlights of his story are also included in the short video below, from the group Define American.

“Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you’ve become, and why.”

Vargas’s story is too revealing and too important to try to summarize — please read it — but one of the things that most struck me was the many, many people who encouraged and helped the young student, then reporter, to pursue his education and career despite his status. Many of them have authorized Vargas to use their names in his article (and their images in the video) despite the fact that they themselves might be subject to legal or professional sanctions for doing so. 

The most memorable anecdote, to me, was of the high school choir director who cancelled a planned choir trip to Japan and took the group to Hawaii instead, so that Vargas would not need a passport and could be included. It seems to me an apt parable for the kind of welcoming acceptance that Americans are capable of when they are not overcome with anti-immigrant hysteria.

“There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.”

Number of Refugees at a 15-Year High

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports that “the number of forcibly displaced people around the world has reached a 15-year high.” For 2010, UNHCR estimates an incredible 43.7 million people displaced by war and natural disasters. Even more disturbing, its report indicates that the number of refugees able to return to their homes – only about 200,000 – was the lowest in two decades, and the number in “protracted situations” was the highest in a decade. An estimated seven million people have been living in refugee camps for ten years or more – many of them for as long as thirty years.
            Contrary to the perception that wealthy, developed nations bear the main burden of hosting refugees, the UNHCR report indicates exactly the opposite. Roughly 80% of the world’s refugee population find refuge in developing nations, many of them among the world’s poorest, most politically troubled, and least able to cope with the influx. Pakistan hosts the largest number, followed byIran and Syria. Germany ranks fourth and the United States is ninth – but welcomes only 26,000 more refugees than the much smaller United Kingdom, which is in tenth place.        

Immigrants Behind Bars: How, Why, and How Much?

This new report from the National Immigration Forum looks at the costs local jurisdictions incur through the often unnecessary detention of immigrants:

“[This] backgrounder provides explanations of the ways that immigrants end up in local custody…In recent years police have increasingly been drawn into immigration enforcement operations, and as a result, local jails are holding increased numbers of immigrants, even those not facing criminal charges. Detaining immigrants in state or local custody creates additional costs and burdens on local law enforcement agencies, and the unnecessary and prolonged detention of immigrants costs local budgets millions of taxpayer dollars per year.”

Visit the Forum’s website for other publications.

Anti-Immigrant Net Snags Citizens as Well

A recent Miami Herald article by Alfonso Chardy documents the arrest of Christopher Zambrano, a U.S. citizen stopped by immigration or Homeland Security officials (in black clothes, in a black SUV) while he was riding his bicycle. Zambrano had no proof of citizenship (he doesn’t own a car, so didn’t even have a driver’s license) so was arrested, handcuffed, and jailed by Miami-Dade police using the excuse of a three-year-old warrant for driving with an expired license.
            The article goes on to discuss a number of other Miami-area cases recounted in El Nuevo Herald (the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language sister publication). Chardy notes that, while both the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials deny racial or ethnic profiling, “the fact remains that all of the citizens who spoke about their cases with El Nuevo Herald are Hispanic, either native-born or naturalized.” Several such cases are described in the article.

Special Visas Available as a
Tool to Protect Trafficking Victims

It appears that a valuable tool which can be used to protect trafficking victims in the United States is not being widely utilized. According to an Associated Press article by Russell Contreras, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services has initiated a national educational campaign regarding visas which can be offered to illegal immigrants who are victims of human trafficking. 5,000 of the special visas are available, but only 3-500 were issued last year. By contrast, there is another type of special visa available to victims of mental and physical abuse such as domestic violence victims. 10,000 of these are available, and in most years all 10,000 are issued.
            Contreras quotes the agency’s Boston director Denis Riordan as saying “It’s not that people are getting denied. They just aren’t applying.” Riordan said that victims are afraid to come forward out of fear of deportation, and that their traffickers exploit that fear to maintain control over them. “A situation…that promotes fear and hopelessness and isolation is unacceptable in this country,” he said. Some information about the special visas is available from these website locations.

T-Visas (for trafficking victims)
U-Visas (for victims of mental & physical abuse)

Note that family members of victims of these crimes
may be eligible to obtain visas as well.

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