Tag Archives: immigration

Transparency clarifies immigration process for Syrian refugees

WASHINGTON – How to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis has a renewed new prominence in U.S. immigration reform debate because of the Paris terrorist attacks. But amid the discussion and finger-pointing, data journalists are trying to use new skills in showing how processes work to provide clear facts on what steps refugees must take to enter the U.S.

President Barack Obama, during a joint White House news conference with French President Francois, Hollande, noted that refugees entering the United States go through a rigorous screening process, a reference to claims that at least one of the terrorists involved in the recent Paris attacks entered that country hidden among Syrian refugees.

“Nobody who sets foot in America goes through more screening than refugees,” Obama said. “As Francois has said, our humanitarian duty to help desperate refugees and our duty to our security—those duties go hand in hand.”

Keeping Syrian refugees out of the U.S., on grounds that they could be ISIS terrorists, has been a big subject for 2016 presidential candidates. However a House bill that passed last Thursday to suspend a refugee program for Syrian and Iraqi refugees garnered 47 Democrat votes as well. Many are concerned about the vetting process, while others cite the need to prioritize which refugees to admit, such as persecuted Christians in the Syrian region.

“We have to be concerned about the safety of the people of the United States,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher , R-Calif.,, during a recent joint Homeland Security Committee hearing. “If it means prioritizing and making sure that we do differentiate and say the Christians that are now the most vulnerable are the ones that are going to have the most priority, let’s go for it.”

Obama has said he would veto the bill.

The New York Times recently released an easy-to-read infographic detailing the vetting process for refugees into 20 steps. It consists of multiple security checks, interviews, referrals and fingerprint screenings.

Syrian refugees undergo additional steps, including review by a Citizenship and Immigration Services refugee specialist. While France is preparing to take in 30,000 Syrian refugees, it is widely reported that the United States has taken no more than 2,000 Syrian migrants since the civil war started in 2011.

A visual explanation of the process can provide sound information and clarity to Americans who have opinions on allowing refugees into the country but who don’t know what current restrictions are.


A long road from Baghdad: Iraqi refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders in the U.S.

Muhammad Hassoon never heard the crack of the rifle.

The force of the bullet that grazed his scalp four years ago knocked him out cold as he was leaving the gift shop he worked at on Forward Operating Base Falcon in Baghdad, Iraq. His attackers left him for dead – one less collaborator with the Americans. When he came to, Hassoon knew he had to flee the country.

“I didn’t have a choice,” said Hassoon, who is the sole provider for his mother, sister and two younger brothers. “I couldn’t stay in Iraq because they’d kill me, and my family needed the money.”

In June 2011, after the attack, Hassoon was able to find asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where he lived and worked doing laundry for Americans.

He applied for a Special Immigrant Visa, a U.S. government program designed to fast-track Iraqis for repatriation to the U.S. beyond regular refugee quotas allotted to the region. These are Iraqis who had worked for Americans in the country and whose lives were endangered because of this.

The program has brought 13,000 Iraqis like Hassoon to the U.S. since it was initiated in 2008, according to the Department of State. Of these, over three thousand – or 23 percent – have gone to Texas, more than any other state.

The SIV program was slated to end in 2013, but when it became clear that thousands of qualified Iraqis remained, it was extended under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.

The NDAA made a special allotment to bring 2,500 additional Iraqis to the U.S. To date, approximately 1,500 SIVs have been issued, and less than currently 1,000 remain.

Hassoon waited for over a year, and was finally notified in July 2012 that his SIV had been approved. Within a week, the American government had put him on an airplane and flew him alone to Fort Worth, Texas.
“I arrived here with nothing, spoke really bad English, and didn’t know where to begin,” Hassoon said.

via chartsbin.com

Like Hassoon, Samah Azeez and her family arrived in the U.S. from Iraq with only their immediate luggage.

Her father died in 2006, when she was 17 years old, leaving her mother to provide for Azeez, her four sisters and two young brothers in the heart of the sectarian violence tearing Baghdad apart at the time.

When the Jaysh al-Mehdi began threatening them – her father had been a project engineer for the new Iraqi government – her mother fled with them to Syria and applied for refugee status to the U.S.

After a year and a half of living in what Azeez modestly described as “economically tough” conditions, their visas were approved and the U.S. flew them to Chicago.

Separate from the SIV program, the U.S. government maintains a region-based quota system to admit refugees such as Azeez and her family to America.

121,321 Iraqi refugees have fled Iraq to the United States since 2007, according to the State Department. Almost half of these – 45 percent – have been relocated to California, Michigan and Texas. California alone has received over 20 percent, or 25,391 refugees.

Despite her siblings’ impeccable academic and professional qualifications, they found even minimum wage employment difficult to come by. American universities would not recognize their academic credentials, and prospective employers were too wary.

“It was a shock: you expected something different, completely opposite,” Azeez said. “The U.S. is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but the only kind of jobs we could get were cleaning offices.”

For many Iraqi refugees, coming to the U.S. has meant a new struggle to survive: poverty, lack of employment and language barriers prove for many to be almost insurmountable barriers.

According to a 2010 Georgetown University Law Center study, these Iraqi refugees are “not faring well” in the U.S.

“Most are not securing sustainable employment, and many are not able to support themselves or their families on the public assistance they are receiving. Some have become homeless,” according to the report.

Furthermore, Iraqi refugees arrive in the U.S. already deeply indebted to the government.

Under the terms of the inter-agency United States Refugee Admissions Program, which administers resettling of refugees, new arrivals must repay the U.S. government for the cost of their airfare to the U.S. This interest-free loan is recouped from garnished wages once a refugee finds employment.

In the case of large families, this can run several thousand dollars.

USRAP contracts with non-profit organizations across the country to provide initial resettlement services to newly arrived refugees, including apartment rentals, English-language classes and job training.

Through USRAP, the State Department provides resettlement agencies up to $1,800 per person each month for up to 90 days for basic housing, food and essential services.

For Hassoon, this aid was critical. It allowed him a stable beginning in the U.S., and the chance to develop his basic-level English.

“The government gave me $1,700 and got me an apartment,” Hassoon said. “The first year was really, really hard; I don’t know how I would have made it without it.”

Once this public support begins to fade, however, it becomes increasingly likely that Iraqi refugees will slip through the cracks, making support to this vulnerable population difficult.

“It’s often the case that, as refugees seek to integrate in their community, they relocate to a secondary residence to be closer to fellow refugees and ease linguistic difficulties,” said Jamie Diatta, a Department of Homeland Security Special Assistant who deals with refugee issues.

“This ‘second-tier’ migration makes keeping local refugee statistics difficult within metropolitan areas,” Diatta said.

Azeez considers herself lucky to be thousands of miles away from the current strife in Iraq.

Hardly had the U.S. withdrawn combat units from Iraq, the battle against the Islamic State tore through the fabric of the country, perhaps irrevocably.

According to the UNHCR, there were 88,991 registered Iraqi refugees in the region as of February 2014. The actual number is actually much higher: there is no internationally agreed-upon number of Iraqi refugees or Internally Displaced Persons, as it is impossible to accurately count them.

The Iraqi government’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement estimates an additional 440,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since January 2014 due to the conflict with the Islamic State.

Upon her family’s arrival, the scarcity of decent jobs for her and her siblings meant they constantly struggled to make ends meet.

“The first year here was the hardest because we didn’t speak any English,” Azeez said. “We learned English in school in Iraq, but it wasn’t enough.”

Although she missed several years of schooling in Iraq and Syria, Azeez was able to enroll in a year-long English program at Truman Community College in Chicago. She worked diligently to learn her adopted language, even while laboring in minimum-wage jobs.

With her improved language skills, she was able to find a well-paying job translating Arabic for school children in Hyde Park, and was soon able to help improve her family’s finances.

“It took two to three years for things to get better,” Azeez said. “It was a completely new life.”

Now in his third year in the U.S., Hassoon is also beginning to feel like he’s finally made it.

Starting out as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, he’s worked his way up service industry jobs to become a mall security guard, a position which pays well and offers decent hours.

Hassoon is now regularly able to wire money back to his mother in Iraq, and is helping his brother negotiate the lengthy visa process to hopefully join him.

“This is the U.S.,” Hassoon said. “You have to take it day by day; it’s the only way.”

For both Hassoon and Azeez, the last several years have consisted of constant change and an on-going struggle to improve themselves and the well-being of their families.

Azeez has returned to school, and is now a senior studying biology at Roosevelt University in Chicago. She’s preparing to take the MCAT, and intends to go to medical school. Her dream: to become an orthopedic surgeon.

“This is my passion,” she said. “I really want to make this happen.”

Hassoon is talking with U.S. Army recruiters, and wants to join the Army.

Although he couldn’t understand most of what the American soldiers were saying when he was at FOB Falcon in Baghdad, he loved working with them. More than anything, he wants to join their ranks.

“America’s done so much for me,” Hasson said. “I just want to do something for them back.”

Nationwide federal agency tag-team leads to crackdown on gang activity in Utah

“Project Wildfire,” a collaborative, nationwide effort between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, resulted in the arrest of 18 Utah-based gang members, according to an April 8 article by Bob Mims of the Salt Lake Tribune and published on SLTrib.com. Read the full story of how a national security initiative resulted in a quantifiable impact on state crime here.

Colorado resident with American citizenship detained by ICE due to ID mix-up

An April 20 article by Nancy Lofholm for the Colorado Independent tells the story of Bernardo Medina, a 21-year-old from Gunnison, Colorado, who got stuck in a bureaucratic labyrinth with Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to a state ID card-related issue. But, Lofholm writes, ICE says Medina brought the detention on himself via a fraudulent citizenship-related claim.

Read the full story here.

US-VISIT uses biometric tools, identifies international visitors

WASHINGTON — The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology is a Department of Homeland Security program that uses biometric tools in a series of steps to identify those who enter the country without a U.S. passport or visa, analyzes the risk of having the international visitor cross the border, and shares the gathered data with government agencies.

“The US-VISIT program is the centerpiece of the U.S. government’s efforts to establish identity management capability that supports border management and immigration systems to meet the demands of the 21st century,” according to DHS’s website.

Created in 2004, the program helps determine whether international visitors pose a risk to the United States by matching biometric data of fingerprints and photographs to databases and watch lists. Biometric data looks at “physical characteristics that can be used for automated recognition,” according to the DHS US-VISIT web page on biometric services. “Unlike names and dates of birth, which can be changed, biometrics are unique and virtually impossible to forge.”

When visitors arrive in the United States, they must show their identification documents and entry forms. If the visitor is between the ages of 14 and 79 and lacks a U.S. passport or visa, the US-VISIT system is implemented in five steps, as stated by a guide DHS provides international visitors. The visitor has to scan all fingers for fingerprints, and then has his or her picture taken. Once the biometric data is taken, the officer at the gate will ask questions pertaining to the traveler’s trip, such as “What is the nature of your visit to the U.S.?”

This way, the system can “protect our nation by providing biometric identification services to federal, state and local government decision makers,” DHS’s US-VISIT website states.

US-VISIT is used by several government agencies, including the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, Department of Justice and State and Local Law Enforcement, and the Department of State.

Finally, the DHS US-VISIT website on biometric services states that US-VISIT “has helped stop thousands of people who were ineligible to enter the United States,” and is now the go-to source for all biometric data needs.

Arizona immigration bill sparks protests, Obama calls bill "misguided"

Update 4/23/10, 4:01pm CT: Governor Brewer has signed the immigration bill into law.

On the heels of a plan to beef up border security in Arizona (read Abby Sewell’s report), the governor of the state has signed a bill that, according to news reports on azcentral.com, has sparked protests from students and Latino advocates who say the bill legalizes racial profiling.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill Friday. The law takes effect in 90 days.

Further reading: Text of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (PDF)

Interactive Map: Canadian/Mexican/USA Border Security Incidents