Immigration Project News

Monmouth Citizenship Workshop. Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

On Saturday, Feb. 15th, the Immigration Project will be hosting a citizenship workshop in Monmouth, IL for those who are ready to become US citizens.

Download Flyer and Instructions Below

Illinois Marijuana Legalization and Immigration Law

Following the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, it is important for foreign nationals living in the State of Illinois to know that marijuana use remains illegal at the federal level. The purchase, use, and sale of marijuana remains a crime that carries immigration consequences. It is also important to know that a conviction is not necessary to trigger removal proceedings and other consequences: any admission of use or evidence of use is enough for serious immigration consequences. Complete avoidance is the best way to protect your immigration status.

1). DO NOT WORK IN THE MARIJUANA INDUSTRY

In other states that have legalized adult, recreational marijuana use there have been cases of non-citizens facing complications with their immigration-related application because of marijuana related work. In these instances, even low-level involvement in the marijuana industry has challenged the establishment of good moral character, and in some cases has been considered as drug trafficking. Similarly, foreign nationals that co-habit with regular marijuana users or those that work in the marijuana industry may face penalties.

2). EXPUNGEMENTS TO NOT COUNT FOR IMMIGRATION

Please note that the expungements that are part of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act do not benefit immigrants and non-citizens. Even if the state expunges the record, the crime would still exist under federal laws; the individual in question has still committed a crime that has immigration consequences.

3). DO NOT USE MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Medical marijuana use, while not an aspect of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, should not be used by non-citizens. Just as prior to January 1st, non-citizens that are considering the use of medical marijuana should first seek a legal consultation. Similarly, CBD (cannabidiol) oils are best avoided.

4). BE MINDFUL OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA

It is important to understand the implications of online activity and social media use regarding drugs and drug use. Any posts, photographs, tagged photos, or tweets that could link a person to involvement with marijuana use could be considered as an admission of use as well as call their moral character into question.

Background:
As of January 1, 2020 recreational marijuana use is legal in the State of Illinois for adults over the age of 21. Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, HB 1438, Illinois is one of eleven US states that have legalized the purchase and use of certain amounts of recreational marijuana for adults. Despite this state-level legalization, marijuana use remains a federal crime. This means that even though the regulated purchase, sale, and consumption of recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, federally an individual participating in these activities is breaking the law. This stipulation is of importance to immigrants, visa-holders, and all non-citizen foreign nationals living and working in the state of Illinois.

Immigration laws stem from the federal level, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal entity dealing with federal laws. Violation of any federal law means that an individual’s immigration status could be at risk. As such, involvement with marijuana can mean that a person is inadmissible or deportable because even if the involvement is legal in the state of Illinois, it remains a violation of federal law. The implementation of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act means that there are now two main areas of concern for non-citizens in Illinois: a) deportability and b) establishment of good moral character.

Deportability:
Violation of some federal laws can leave a person at risk for deportation or visa revocation; cannabis use violates the Controlled Substances Act, as marijuana is considered as a “Schedule I” controlled substance federally. For visa-holders, use of marijuana may result in the revocation of an individual’s visa. For lawful permanent residents, any criminal conviction other one single conviction for possession of less than 30 grams will make an individual deportable. Any “drug abusers or addicts” are also potentially deportable.

Establishment of Good Moral Character:
A key part of the naturalization process is the establishment of “good moral character,” and the citizenship application form poses a list of questions related to illicit and questionable activity including involvement with prostitution, alcoholism, and drug use. Naturalization applications can be denied citizenship if an individual is found to lack “good moral character.”

Last Updated: 1/6/2020

Download and share our marijuana use infographics here

Run for the Immigration Project!

Run for the Immigration Project at the Illinois Marathon!

We have some big news… we are one of the official charity partners of the 2020 Illinois Marathon!

For those who don’t know, this annual event is held by Christie Clinic around the Champaign-Urbana community. Loads of volunteers, community members, university students, and more come out to support the runners and help make this event possible. This upcoming year’s marathon will be April 23-25, 2020. 

The marathon has races for all skill levels, so sign up today and start raising for the Immigration Project! See below for further instructions on how to register to run for us:

Not a runner? That’s okay! Supporters can donate to a runner or team raising money for the Immigration Project, or follow this link to donate directly. Anything is greatly appreciated, and we thank you for your support.

Public Charge Policy Update

Have you heard about the change in policy on Public Charge? Have you been confused as to how the change will apply to you or the immigrant community? Check out our informative video explaining everything about it!

¿Ha escuchado sobre el cambio de la política de carga pública? ¿Está confundido sobre cómo este cambio aplicará a su caso y/o a la comunidad de inmigrantes? ¡Le invitamos a ver nuestro video informativa que explica todo!

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Money Order Update

NOTICE OF HIGH IMPORTANCE:
Government fee policy change: Immigration agencies like USCIS and other federal agencies are NO LONGER accepting cashier’s checks or money orders. They are now only accepting checks from personal bank accounts and credit/debit/pre-paid cards.

ANUNCIO DE SUMA IMPORTANCIA:
Cambio de políticas en pagos y tarifas: Las agencias gubernamentales de inmigración, como el USCIS y otros agencias federales, YA NO ACEPTAN cheques de cajero o giros postales: “money orders”. Solamente aceptaran cheques bancarios de cuentas personales y tarjetas de créditos/débitos/prepagadas.

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.