Immigration Project News

Fast for Families Campaign

 

 

Immigrants in our community are living in fear. Some are workers who endure exploitation from bosses, who use their immigration status as a threat. Others are children, who from a very young age, know the risk and fear that their parents might be torn from them at any moment. Others are dreamers, brought to the U.S. as children, living in D.A.C.A. limbo, watching their dreams fade away as the program expires. Some are women, who suffer in abusive relationships but are too afraid to call out for help.

On  Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 7pm, community members across McLean County came together outside of Bloomington City Hall to begin a fast in solidarity with undocumented families, and in support of the “Welcoming City” ordinance. The fast continued into the following day. On Monday, March 26, 2018 at 6pm, we invited our Bloomington City Council members to “come back to the table” with their commitment to work with the community to pass a “Welcoming City Ordinance” and break the fast.

To read more about this amazing event, click on the following link:  http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/government-and-politics/welcoming-city-supporters-send-message-to-council/article_8ce5d271-9ae2-5496-9f33-08db0f1697cc.html

 

Guatemala

Guatemala is a small Central American country that is part of the “Northern Triangle,” which includes El Salvador and Honduras. In 1954, after 10 years of democratic governance, a CIA-backed coup installed Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. His dictatorship was notorious for acts of mass repression, human rights violations, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), and the use of death squads. While the world focuses on Syria and Iraq as source countries for people fleeing violence, large numbers of Guatemalans and other Central Americans, especially young people are forced to flee their homes.

Immigration Project Staff Attorney Rebekah Niblock noted that Guatemalans in downstate Illinois come to the United States to escape numerous forms of violence. She stated that in addition to gang and domestic violence, land-disputes and extreme poverty forced Guatemalans to flee to the United States. Niblock observed that these issues greatly impact indigenous populations, especially Mayans who often do not speak Spanish or English.

guatemala

Map obtained from BBC World News

Guatemala has not fully recovered from civil war, which began in 1960 and raged for 36 years. Coups, assassinations, SGBV, and enforced disappearances were common throughout the civil war. Indigenous populations were subjected to extreme brutality during the 1980s in ‘scorched earth’ tactics conducted by the military. “There’s always war,” a former Immigration Project client and immigration advocate said when describing why he came to the United States. “If they know what I am doing they might kill me if I go back,” said our former client, who wished to remain anonymous, as he shared his experience of violence in the 1980s and offered insight into the current situation in Guatemala.

“Basically the military took over, they said there were four groups (anti-government guerillas), but we never saw them. They (the military) burned the village down that was close to my village. We worked in the fields and saw smoke. An old man staring out toward the smoke, he said, ‘they just burned our brothers and sisters,’ and it was true. The army got there the night before and spent the night in the bushes. They said there were enemies. They were waiting for them to come home. In the morning they gathered them (the villagers) and told them they were having a meeting. They put them in the church and opened fire. They burned the building down with them in it. There were rumors that before they burned the church down the soldiers raped all the women. But who knows,” he said. During the civil war at least 50,000 women were victims of violence and rape was used as a weapon of war, especially against indigenous communities.

“I don’t remember the year they came to my village. I was working the land when all of a sudden I was told to drop my weapon.” His ‘weapon’ was a small hand-made garden hoe. “They took us and tied our hands. There were more guys with us. They were actually the ones they (the military) wanted not me. I had been picked up accidentally. They lined the guys up and started to torture them. I didn’t see it but I heard everything. I can hear the screaming. ‘Oh God why is this happening?’ A soldier said, ‘Your God ain’t gonna be here to rescue you.’”

The torture went on for several hours as the soldiers searched the village for weapons and ammunition, but found none. None of the villagers were anti-military fighters. “They were all innocent,” our client recalled. The soldiers killed the men they had tortured. They stabbed them with their hands still tied behind their backs. In 1999 a UN truth commission found that 93% of all massacres, tortures, disappearances, and assassinations during the war were the fault of the Guatemalan military. In 2004 the UN found that though the war was over crime, social injustice, and human rights violations remained high, in large part due to rampant gang violence.

During the civil war Guatemalan asylee seekers faced many obstacles when applying for asylum, consequently immigration advocates and religious groups initiated a lawsuit known as the “ABC Lawsuit,” which claimed Guatemalan and Salvadoran asylee seekers were being discriminated against in 1985. The lawsuit was settled in 1990 and  resulted in the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), which allowed many Guatemalans and Salvadorans that fell within specified dates to apply for and receive asylum. Staff Attorney Charlotte Alvarez noted some older Guatemalan migration flows into downstate Illinois during the 1980s were able to receive permanent residency through NACARA. However, due to the time sensitive nature of NACARA, it does not apply to the thousands of Guatemalans currently fleeing to the United States.

Since 1990 the United States government has been able to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to foreign nationals who cannot safely return to their country due to situations such as natural disasters, armed conflict, and other extraordinary temporary conditions. TPS provides deportation relief and the ability to obtain work authorization. While El Salvador and Honduras, the two other corners of the Northern Triangle, have TPS status Guatemala does not despite multiple application attempts. Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, located in Chicago, wrote to the New York Times that Guatemala needs TPS status and all that truly prevents Guatemala from gaining it is “the will to act.”

When asked about Guatemala now our former client said, “I think our life is never free. The government is always up to something. The people do not want (hydroelectric) mines because it will make them sick. The government does not care, they want the mine and the money. No one cares about the about the people. So the towns try to stand up for themselves. They have their own leader and the whole town will be behind him. But because of this they will kill him.” Not all local leaders who resist the government are killed. Our client recalled the fate of another community leader. “They came and got him. I’m sure it was the government because they took him with a helicopter. They tied him to the frame underneath. He was accused of stupid stuff and he’s still locked up now. If people know the government is coming for a (hydroelectric) mine they go block the road, they’ll chop down trees to block the road. When they come they have machines and soldiers that just push them aside and they go through anyway.”

Conflicts between villagers, mainly indigenous subsistence farmers, and the government seeking to claim land for projects, such as hydroelectric mines, is not a new issue in Guatemala. 400 people were killed in 1982 and even more were displaced, tortured and raped for resisting government efforts to build the Chixoy mine. Despite widespread protests, internal displacement, and illnesses caused by pollution, the government still pursues its construction projects.

“Along with all this (government corruption) there are bad guys who’re organized. They go around and steal and kidnap kids. They’ll steal the young people to make them be with them. They steal girls to be with them or end up raping them. They’re very afraid,” our client explained about the current situation facing Guatemalan youth.

According to the UN, Guatemala and other Central American countries have come under the control of “sophisticated’ domestic and international organized crime groups. Since 2008 the UNHCR documented a massive increase in people from Central America fleeing gang violence. Young males often flee because local gangs threaten to kill them if they do not become gang members. A surge in violence against women is why many Guatemalan women and girls come to the United States. The UNODC found that Guatemala has the third highest rate of female homicide, whereas it ranked sixth in the world for overall homicide rate. According to Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana in a statement to BBC News, “The difference in Guatemala between the murder of a woman and of a man is that the woman is made to suffer before death, she is raped, mutilated, and beaten.” While courts were set up to address femicide in Guatemala their capacity to address the problem is very limited.

The UNHCR found women who flee Guatemala were taking contraceptives before the journey because the risk of rape from the men, or ‘coyotes,’ paid to transport them from Guatemala to the United States is so high. However, many women felt they had no other option as those who tried to relocate within Guatemala were followed and harassed by gang members. These conditions directly contributed to the flood of unaccompanied minors into the United States in 2014. With ongoing corruption, limited capacity, poverty, and persistent gang violence Guatemalans will continue coming to the United States.

“Some kids have family up here,” our client says about the children coming to downstate Illinois. “Their mothers and fathers are here (in the United States) so they don’t get the same love (in Guatemala) as they would from their mother and father. These kids are 16, 17, girls and boys, they realize there is no life for them in Guatemala or the United States. They are not sure if they can stay, because they might get sent back to Guatemala. I’m not sure if they would die, but some will.”

“I tell them to pray to God. That maybe one day when we die maybe we’ll have a place in heaven,” is what our former client turned advocate tells the children and their parents who come to the United States and face risk of deportation. The Immigration Project will continue to assist unaccompanied Guatemalan youth and undocumented immigrants in downstate Illinois, but without action comparable to NACARA or TPS it remains an immense legal challenge.

 

By Hanna Tarbert

Togo

Komi and Family

Komi and his family

The number of people from Togo assisted by the Immigration Project is increasing and staff members expect this trend to continue. “In Africa we always talk about coming to the United States,” says former Immigration Project client Komi. “This is the country where we have a lot of opportunities to have a better life. That’s why I came here.” Komi graduated with a degree in Political Science and International Studies from Western Illinois University. He currently works for the Illinois Department of Human Services. “My dreams became a reality.” Komi said when asked about how his life had changed since coming to the United States from Togo. Like Komi, many Togolese clients come to the Immigration Project seeking assistance applying for citizenship and bring family members over to Togo, according to Executive Director and Senior Staff Attorney Jasmine McGee.

Shortly after Togo gained independence from France in 1960 Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in 1967 through a coup and held power until his death in 2005. His son became president after his passing and remains in power. Though Eyadema’s son allowed more multi-party participation political stability remains elusive, due to the questionable legitimacy of elections and rampant corruption. According to the World Bank in 2014, corruption was especially high among prison officials, police officers, and judicial officials.

Despite growth in recent years, Togo is an impoverished nation with a life expectancy of only 59 for men and 61 for women. Since 1982, the United Nations has classified Togo as one of forty-eight “Least Developed Countries.” Poverty is especially prevalent among female-heads of household and in rural areas. According to UNICEF the Togolese population is nearly 7 million, but over 3 million Togolese are children under the age of 18, 1 million of whom are under the age of 5.

togo

Map obtained from BBC World News

In 2015 the World Bank found that Togo had an infant mortality rate of 52 per 1,000 live births, whereas the United States’ rate was 6. UNICEF found the mortality rate for children under 5 to be 85 per 1,000 live births. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria remain major causes of death in Togo. The CDC also found higher levels of typhoid, yellow fever, and meningitis in Togo. Poor health conditions are exacerbated due to inadequate sanitation. In 2015 the WHO found Togolese had the third worst access to toilets in the world, with only 10% access in many rural areas of Togo.

 

Togo is a very diverse nation in terms of ethnicity, with an estimated twenty to forty different ethnic groups. There is not a majority religion practiced in Togo. Scholars from the University of Lome estimate that 33% practice traditional indigenous religions, 28% are Roman Catholics, 14% Sunni Muslims, 20% Protestant and 5% are unaffiliated. It is also not uncommon for Togolese Muslims and Christians to also participate in indigenous religious practices. The official language of Togo is French, but according to Pew Research Center there are approximately thirty-nine different languages spoken in Togo.

Like many nations Togo has issues combating human trafficking, with most Togolese victims of trafficking being children. Child laborers are fairly common in agriculture, stone quarries, construction, mines, salvage yards, domestic servitude and prostitution.   “Most of our Togolese clients seek educational opportunities. The greatest obstacle many face are related to English language.” McGee explains. Togo is a French speaking country. “A lot of Togolese work in factories, especially in Galesburg and Beardstown while they learn English.”

The International Organization for Migration reported that in 2015 5.77% of Togo’s citizens lived outside their country of origin.Togolese immigration to the United States increased during the 1980s as the political situation grew increasingly unstable and extreme poverty persisted. “Many of our Togolese clients come over on the Diversity Visa,” explains McGee. There are a limited number of Diversity Visas available to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. No country may receive more than 7% of available Diversity Visas. With decades of continuous poverty, government corruption, and inadequate resources to remedy either, Togolese immigration will continue, especially through opportunities such as the Diversity Visa, during the twenty-first century.

 

Written by AmeriCorps VISTA Hanna Tarbert

Maya Flores AmeriCorps VISTA End of Service

mayThe Immigration Project extends its deepest thanks and appreciation to AmeriCorps VISTA Maya Flores for her year of service. Friday, July 15 is Maya’s last day of the AmeriCorps VISTA project at the Immigration Project. Maya is returning to Chicago to work for the Illinois Bar Foundation.

Executive Director and Staff Attorney Jasmine McGee recalls Maya’s year of service: “Maya was an exemplary AmeriCorps VISTA! She came to the Immigration Project committed to our cause and ready to give a year of service. Everyone who met her noted how professional and capable she was, and she quickly built relationships with new and past supporters. She found innovative ways to share the work of the Project. I have no doubt that she will continue to find new and innovative ways to further the legal access for low income individuals at the Illinois Bar Foundation.”

Capacity and Volunteer Development Director Christine Howe, reflecting on Maya’s service

maya

Maya listening to Client Stories at Nuns on the Bus event

said “I’m so glad Maya has given a year of her life to us!  She is a friendly
co-worker and has proven her adaptability and skill over and over again in
her year with us.  From her first days when we were moving office locations,
throughout as she helped me with better outreach, and these last as she
continues with organizing fundraisers through skillful collaboration among
the different interests.  She will be as asset wherever she goes both for
helping accomplish the goals and projects of the agency and as a valuable
and friendly team member.  I’m so glad she’s given a year to us!”

 

The staff, volunteers, Board members, and committee members extended their deepest gratitude to Maya for the work she has done over the past year. She has created a strong foundation that will help the Immigration Project grow and expand for years to come.

BREAKING: SPLIT SCOTUS DECISION ON IMMIGRATION

For Immediate Release

 

SCOTUS Ruling Defers the Dream for Millions of Immigrants

The Immigration Project expresses its regret over today’s Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Texas. The court has, in a 4-4 ruling, deferred the implementation of President Obama’s initiatives of expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans).

“These programs had the ability to positively impact the lives of roughly 4.3 million U.S. citizen children,” explains the Executive Director of the Immigration Project, Jasmine McGee.  “Now immigrant families remain in limbo – unauthorized to work legally but unable to leave their children alone in the U.S.  Studies show that a U.S. citizen child growing up in a household with an undocumented parent faces increased stress from the fear of having a parent deported.  In addition these children live in families with lower incomes, inferior housing, and are less likely to take advantage of community services.”

In November 2014, President Obama proposed programs that would provide the legal right to work and protection from deportation for the parents of U.S. Citizen and lawful permanent resident children. These executive actions expanded the existing DACA from 2012 and created DAPA. Shortly after its introduction, 26 state governors came forward with a lawsuit and delayed the implementation of these programs. Since then, an estimated 5 million immigrants have been hoping for the start of these programs, but today their dreams for financial and emotion security for their families have been deferred.

President Obama’s deferred action had the potential to drastically impact the well being of thousands of families in central and southern Illinois. Reports have show that families with an undocumented parent could see a 10% increase in annual income.  Furthermore, according to the Center of American Progress, these two immigration programs could have lead to the creation of 1,850 new jobs in Illinois and an almost $8 billion increase in cumulative income of all state residents over the next decade. Additionally, the American Immigration Council has estimated that with these programs, Illinois stood to receive an additional $347 million in tax revenue over the next five years.

In Illinois, there are an estimated 519,000 residents who are undocumented, with 53,000 living in the service area of the Immigration Project.  The majority of the undocumented population eligible for DAPA in Central and Southern Illinois have strong roots, strong family ties, and have been residing for more than ten years in the U.S.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Immigration Project still encourages all immigrants looking for an immigration remedy to schedule a legal consultation with the agency. The Immigration Project’s four licensed immigration attorneys screen immigrants for other forms of immigration relief. This legal consultation costs only $25.

Additionally, the agency wants to remind the public that the original DACA program from 2012 is still in effect. It provides the legal right to work to residents who were brought to the U.S. while under the age of 16, have resided in the U.S. since 2007, were not over the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, and have pursued a form of higher education.

The Immigration Project is hosting an informational meeting tonight at the Normal Public Library from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Immigrants that are interested in learning about the next steps after the Supreme Court’s decision are encouraged to attend. Free additional parking is available in the parking structure next to the library. For more information about the meeting contact Christine Howe at (309) 829-8703 ext. 105.

Upcoming SCOTUS Ruling Will Affect Millions of Families

For Immediate Release

The Immigration Project along with the 5 million immigrants across the nation await the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Texas expected to be announced on June 23, June 27, or June 30.

President Obama’s immigration executive actions, introduced in November 2014, would expand upon the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program from 2012 and create DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents). Both initiatives were delayed after 26 state governors came forward with a lawsuit stating President Obama overstepped his executive power by implementing such programs.

Expanded DACA and DAPA would potentially impact the welfare of thousands of families in central and southern Illinois. These proposed actions offer deferred deportation for immigrants that have strong familial ties to the U.S. and have been living here for years. DACA and DAPA eligible immigrants also receive a work permit that must be renewed every 3 years.

On the day the Supreme Court announces its decision, the Immigration Project will be hosting an informational meeting at 5:00 p.m. The location is to be determined. Immigrants interested in learning more about the next steps after the Supreme Court’s decision are welcome to join. For more information about the meeting, contact Christine Howe at (309) 829-8703 ext. 105.

Mid-Year Campaign

MID YEAR APPEAL (1)

Dear Friends:

 

Thanks to you 722 immigrants had financial security and familial stability this year.  On behalf of them, thank you for protecting their lives and their dignity.

I recently helped Jamila, an undocumented mother of five U.S. citizen children, protect her family from her abusive husband, Noah.  Her marriage-something that was supposed to bring happiness and support- brought 12 years of physical and emotional abuse.  When Jamila was pregnant with their first child Noah would punch her in the face, kick her in the stomach, lock her out of the house, and threaten to deport her.  Disowned by her family and with no money, she was left with no choice but to live with her tormentor.  Because of her immigration status, Jamila was scared to report her abuser to the police until one day he threatened to kill her in front of her co-workers.  Since then she has obtained an order of protection, was granted protected status under VAWA, and will no longer live in fear of being deported.  Without your help, Jamila and her children would still have nowhere else to turn.  Today, they are safe, secure, and self-sufficient.

 

Every day, your support makes stories like Jamila’s possible. 

Today, we’re launching our 2016 Mid-Year Campaign.  Our goal is to help more mothers, fathers, sons and daughters stabilize their families through citizenship, reunification, and asylum.  You see, even though we helped over 700 immigrants last year, there are still thousands of immigrants in downstate Illinois that are separated from their families and trapped in abusive relationships that we couldn’t help because we didn’t have the financial resources.  That’s why our goal for this campaign is to raise $2,000 by June 30th.  If we raise that amount, we’ll be able to provide quality legal services for more immigrants in the downstate area.  We need your help to make it happen.

 

Would you be willing to make a special mid-year donation of $50, $100 or whatever you can afford to help us meet our goal and help more immigrants secure their futures? 

We simply can’t do it without you.  Your support will make a lasting impact to immigrants in the over 80 counties we serve.

 

Please, make your donation now.  The lives of thousands of others like Jamila are at stake.  Donations can be made through PayPal by visiting our website at www.immigrationproject.org or by sending a check to: The Immigration Project, P.O. Box 1503, Bloomington, IL 61702.  Thank you for your continued support.

 

With thanks,

Jasmine McGee
Executive Director

 

P.S.  Today, we began our Mid-Year Campaign to assist more immigrants secure their futures.  Our goal is to raise $2,000. We can’t do it without your help.  Will you make a gift of $50, $100 or whatever you can afford to help us meet this goal?

Donate

Volunteer Highlight: Melissa Sanders

Meet Melissa Sanders! She has been working 40 hours a week for the past couple months as part of her internship with us in order to complete her paralegal certificate. We asked her some questions about herself to learn more about her. Thanks Melissa!

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Where are you from:
Originally from the Peoria Area, but have lived up and down the East Coast following my husband’s military career. I currently reside in East Peoria IL, but will be moving to Boston at the end of summer!
Where do you currently work?
Prior to my volunteer work at IP, I was an IT Analyst at Caterpillar Inc.

Why do you volunteer with the IP?

I am completing the final internship requirement for a post grad certification. I will be attending the University of Mass Boston this coming spring, pursuing my Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in HR Management. I feel that a background in immigration compliance will compliment my masters degree, due to the global nature of the current business climate.

 

What work or activities are you involved in when you are not volunteering for the Immigration Project?

I am enjoying my summer by focusing solely on my internship and preparing to move. The days I am not at IP, you can find me reading, biking, or relaxing by the pool!

 

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

The best advice I have been given is:
In order to truly grow and learn, you have to be willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be in a position to be challenged and occasionally fail.

C-U Wine Tasting and Silent Auction Fundraiser

On Thursday April 21st, the Immigration Project hosted its first fundraiser in the Champaign-Urbana area since opening a satellite office in Champaign. Guests enjoyed a wine tasting, silent auction, and raffle at the Urbana Civic Center. More than 50 people were in attendance including local Judge Blockman, attorneys, social service agencies such as ECIRMAC, University of Illinois professors and students, community leaders, and previous clients.

Most of the auction items were donated by local businesses and artists such as Pekara Bakery, DESTIHL, Columbia Street Roastery, Uniquely Eclectic, Joel Bergner, and Laurie Bergner. A majority of the food was also donated by Dos Reales, Red Herring, and Rick’s Bakery. The wine was graciously donated by Martin Perry and poured by Hendrick House.

With live Latin guitar in the background, courtesy of Derik Cordoba, guests mingled with IP staff and Board. Rebekah Niblock told a heartfelt story about one of her clients finally being reunited with their family after years of waiting. By the end of the evening, guests had learned more about the agency’s great work and why they had gathered there that night. The event brought in close to $4,500!

Thank you to everyone that helped make this fundraiser a reality! Since opening an office in Champaign, the IP has been warmly welcomed by the C-U community. So thank you- we appreciate your support!

IP attorney on Immigration TV

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