How Refugees Are Vetted Before Allowed Into the United States

Excerpted from a column in the Denver Post on February 1, 2017 titled “Refugees and Immigrants Need Support, Not Fear,” by Megan Schrader.

“Colorado took in 1,960 refugees in 2016, mostly from war-torn countries like Burma, with 524 individuals, and Iraq, with 299. Many come from other nations with deep-seated political problems and indiscriminate violence.

“The vetting process, from the outside, certainly seems rigorous.

“For refugees, the first step is obtaining refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Then, in order to apply, someone must be referred by a U.S. Embassy, the U.N or a qualified relief organization. Homeland Security vets the person based on documentation (which can be limited in many cases), in-person interviews, biometric screenings including facial recognition, and several database checks for fingerprints. The process can take years.

“The fear of some coming here intending to do us harm is real. But in a war of cultures, we should be embracing those who have fled from our common enemies with opportunity and compassion.”

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New Administration Should Maintain Refugee Admissions Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 24, 2017

PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Marta Welch, Communications & Outreach Coordinator
(303) 863-0188 x317 | mwelch@springinstitute.org

NEW ADMINISTRATION SHOULD MAINTAIN REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGRAM
A Statement by Paula Schriefer, President and CEO of Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning

DENVER, CO – As the new President of the United States embarks on his first week in office, Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning urges the incoming administration to maintain longstanding bipartisan support for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Since 1975, the United States has welcomed over three million refugees, individuals forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict, and helped them rebuild their lives. From Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Nashville to Greeley, CO, refugees have not only brought their skills and passion to start new lives, they have helped revitalize the economies of communities and neighborhoods facing declining populations.

“Refugees coming to Colorado from Burma, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Russia and more recently, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, have infused our thriving economy with new workers and small business owners, as well as new art, food and culture,” said Paula Schriefer, President of Spring Institute. “They have made our state a better place to live.”

Refugees are the most vetted individuals to enter the United States and multiple intelligence agencies conduct background checks to ensure that all individuals accepted as refugees have no ties to terrorist organizations.

“Turning our backs on refugees not only betrays our values as a nation, it contributes to instability around the globe and diminishes rather than increases our national security,” Ms. Schriefer continued.

The world is facing a global refugee crisis as nearly 20 million human beings, over half of whom are children, have been forced to flee their home countries due to conflict, violence or legitimate fear of persecution.

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Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning is a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower people and organizations to succeed across languages and cultures. To find out more, visit our website at www.springinstitute.org.

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Why Terminating DACA is Short-sighted

WHY TERMINATING DACA IS SHORT-SIGHTED AND WILL HURT THE US ECONOMY
An excerpt from an article by Christine Swenson,
Former Immigrant Pathways Colorado Board Member and Principal at Swensen Law Office

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is the program for immigrants who were brought to the US as minors, commonly referred to as DREAMers. DACA was created by executive order when Congress failed to vote on the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided these young people a path to lawful residency and citizenship.

Since its implementation in June, 2012, approximately 800,000 young people have filed for and received temporary relief from deportation and renewable employment authorization, valid for a period of two years. They must demonstrate a variety of requirements but also, they go through a background check to ensure they have nothing significant in their past. And by significant, I mean something more than just a traffic ticket. DACA recipients must reapply for work authorization every two years, which includes passing yet another background check. This program does not grant legal status; only Congress can do that.

Unfortunately, this wildly successful program is on the president-elect’s hit list. Given his intention on re-building the economy, we hope he’ll look at the numbers that demonstrate that this program is a success:

  • $400+ billion: the estimated loss to GDP over a decade, if the president-elect terminates this program. DACA recipients are buying homes, cars and more, and contribute to state economies by paying property taxes sales taxes. and registration and title fees. (The gross domestic product (GDP) is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country’s economy. It represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period; you can think of it as the size of the economy.)
  • 95%: the percent of DACA recipients who are working, paying their taxes and paying into social security and Medicare.
  • 90%: The percent of DACA recipients who are completing high school and going to college, which means they are working in better, higher paying jobs.

To cancel such a program can mean many things and, at this point, we don’t know what his intentions are. The program can be terminated, all recipients forced to turn in their work authorization cards, and immediately put into deportation proceedings. As discussed below, that is the least likely outcome, in my opinion.

It could be phased out by preventing new applicants from being reviewed, and allowing those who currently have work authorization to lapse rather than renewing them. Alternatively, those with current work authorization may be “grandfathered” in. It is too soon to tell.

Now, let’s briefly address the realities behind trying to suddenly deport close to 800,000 people. There are approximately 60 immigration courts throughout the US. Assuming all DACA recipients are spread out equally across the US (which they aren’t but it makes for easy math), that means each courthouse would face an immediate influx of 13,400 cases per courthouse. Looking at this another way, there are currently approximately 250 immigration judges. Distributing all DACA recipients equally would cause an increase of 3,200 cases per judge.

Courts are already overwhelmed with cases because of the significant deportation actions pursued by the Obama administration. Moving to deport DACA recipients would destroy the immigration court system that is already broken as it attempts to handle current deportation actions. In short, if DACA is terminated completely upon the president-elect’s first days, the influx of cases into the system will not be resolved quickly.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that no matter what happens, no one will be deported overnight and those who are put in deportation can and should fight deportation. We would be honored to help you in that fight.

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A Busy Year for LIRC

Immigrant Pathways Colorado’s partner in reaching out to immigrants and refugees is the Littleton Immigrant Resource Center (LIRC) at Bemis Public Library.  We’re happy to share some information about their accomplishments in 2016:

LIRC had a busy year and continues to grow services to serve more clients. In 2016, LIRC served immigrants from 47 countries, screened 370 clients to determine their eligibility for citizenship, and taught ESL or Citizenship classes to 318 immigrants.

LIRC successfully renewed a grant with USCIS to continue its Citizenship Program for the next two years.

LIRC staff members say they feel so fortunate to work with clients who inspire them every day. Some of the LIRC’s favorite clients have been small business owners, food truck owners and caterers, a live organ donor, caregivers, and now even LIRC volunteers. Former students-turned-volunteers have helped more than a dozen other students study to become Americans. Many students work multiple jobs and, though exhausted, still make time to attend LIRC classes because learning English is important to them!

One remarkable student is a refugee from Burma who joined LIRC’s Citizenship program. After she was naturalized, she joined LIRC’s Language Partners program because she wanted to continue improving her English. Another student from Colombia attends LIRC’s English classes and has improved so much that she recently secured a job in an accountant’s office.

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Grant to Fund English and Naturalization Services

Immigrant Pathways Colorado is pleased to announce that our friends at  the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center (LIRC) have  received a two-year Citizenship and Integration grant of $250,000 from the USCIS.  This is the third year the LIRC has received federal grant funds for Citizenship education and Naturalization legal services.

The grant will be used to fund two positions (the same two positions funded during the last grant cycle) and will allow LIRC to provide Citizenship education classes for various levels as well as naturalization legal services.

The City of Littleton, through the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center (LIRC), has been providing citizenship instruction for the past nine  years. LIRC serves permanent residents in the Denver metropolitan area, including immigrants from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, China, Sudan, Iran, and Iraq. LIRC was first awarded a USCIS grant in FY 2012, and also received a USCIS grant in FY 2014. With USCIS FY 2016 funding, LIRC will provide citizenship instruction to 240 permanent residents and naturalization application services to 300 permanent residents.

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Marvelous Time at the August 23 Taco Bar Fundraiser

Rain was threatening – but Immigrant Pathways Colorado had our very own weatherman present, and he promised us no more than a sprinkle.

Sure enough, IPC’s taco bar and silent auction fundraiser the evening of August 24, 2016, went off with nary a hitch at Platte River Bar & Grill on South Santa Fe Boulevard.

Dave Aguilera, Channel 4 weatherman, who graciously volunteered to be our emcee for the evening, provided delightful entertainment along with the beautifully upbeat band, Brighten Star.

Board members all pitched in to make the evening a success, but special thanks is due to Amy Conklin and Michele Wolf for their extraordinary work in gathering amazing silent auction items. (One special item, a patio fireplace, was finally purchased in a very funny last-minute bidding frenzy between two guests, who laughingly bid each other up time after time for a great charitable cause.)

The food was great, as one would expect at Platte River Bar & Grill. Both the food and band were provided by Pancho (Frank Redman), manager of the long-time favorite Littleton hangout.  His terrific support was central to making the evening a success.  Next time you’re there, ask for Pancho and thank him for supporting Immigrant Pathways Colorado!

A shout-out also to the businesses, organizations and individuals who donated items to the auction.

They include:

  • African Eyes Travel
  • Arapahoe Community College
  • Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
  • Autawash Carwash and Detail Center
  • Café Terracotta
  • Canvas and Cocktails
  • Chocolate Therapist
  • C.J. Culllinan
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Colorado Railroad Museum
  • Colorado Symphony
  • Comedy Works
  • Denver Aquarium
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Denver Film Society
  • Denver Zoo
  • Dinosaur Ridge
  • FirstBank
  • Hacienda Colorado
  • Jazz Car Wash and Detailing
  • Kroenke Sports Enterprises
  • Kwik Car Wash
  • Lehrer’s Fireplace and Patio
  • LiDo Wines
  • Karen Martin
  • Mellow Mushroom
  • Nancy Rupert
  • Romano’s Italian Restaurant
  • Saj Mediterranean Grill
  • The Sebastian, Vail
  • Smokin Fins
  • South Suburban Park & Recreation District
  • Town Hall Arts Center
  • Village Roaster
  • Whole Foods Market – Southglenn
  • Wild Ginger
  • Marylin Withers – World of Dance
  • Rebecca Yarbrough

Thanks to each of these merchants, individuals and organizations for their support!

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Africa-born US Residents Embrace Politics to Bring about Change

By Voice of America, Citizen Digital

Published on  2 July 2016

Here are excerpts from an interesting news story published by Voice of America radio about African immigrants:
Africans are one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in America, representing a small share of the U.S. population, but their numbers have been doubling every decade since 1970.

In 2013, there were 1.8 million African immigrants living in the U.S., a huge increase from 80,000 in 1970, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. The foreign-born Africans living in the U.S. in 2013 accounted for 4.4 percent of America’s immigrant population that year.

But the immigrants, coming from countries all across the African continent, have varied backgrounds and hold extremely diverse political views, said Nii Akuetteh, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus.

The most common countries of origin for foreign-born Africans are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana and Kenya. Some, particularly those from Ethiopia, resettled in the U.S. because of conflicts in their native countries.

Political priorities

Although his group’s interests are varied, Akuetteh said the African Immigrant Caucus’ primary political priority is to encourage the next U.S. administration to provide greater support to the democratic process in Africa.

Akuetteh told VOA that African immigrants must “put the heat on the presidential candidates to stop supporting African dictators,” particularly those in Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethopia.

There are other dictatorships in Africa, Akuetteh said, but ending U.S. support in those four dictatorial regimes would pressure others in Africa to pursue a democratic form of government.

Sylvester Okere, president of the United People for African Congress, an umbrella organization that works to get Africa-born residents involved in U.S. politics, said economic issues are most important to them.

“Everybody came here for what I call ‘power opportunity’ and connections,” Okere told VOA.

Many African immigrants in the U.S. make their living as entrepreneurs, so Okere wants the next president to create opportunities for minority businesses by “removing roadblocks in a bureaucratic system that hinders people” from being able to pursue their objectives.

Immigration issue

Immigration is another “huge issue” for African immigrants, Akuetteh said.

Most members of the African diaspora came to the U.S. legally through various immigration programs. While most are permanent residents or citizens, others have work or educational visas.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show Africa-born residents are more educated than the overall U.S. immigration population, with 41 percent having at least one college degree, compared with 28 percent for the immigration population as a whole.

The most popular destinations for Africa-born residents are New York City, metropolitan Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Two New Board Members

Immigrant Pathways Colorado is pleased to announce the addition of two new members to its governing Board: Shirlaine Castellino and Michele Wolf.

Castellino is an immigrant from the Phillipines.  She earned a master’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language prior to becoming the director of the Spring International Language Center, which is located in Littleton.

Wolf was born in Anchorage, Alaska, the daughter of German immigrants.  She has a master’s degree in biology from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree in statistics from Montana State University. She currently works for Cavendish Scott, a consulting company specializing in helping companies become ISO 9001:2015-certified.

Castellino and Wolf were appointed unanimously by the Board at its June, 2016, meeting.

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Immigrants “Want to Have a Voice”

The June 16, 2016, issue of the Littleton Independent had a very nice article about one of Immigrant Pathways Colorado’s major partners – the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center at Bemis Public Library.

The story highlights the program, which helps people studying to become United States citizens.

Deb Schaffer, the citizenship program coordinator at the center, said that the desire to vote is commonly cited in election years, but other reasons for applying for citizenship include the ability to petition for a green card for family members as well as a sense of security. “They all want to say, ‘Yes, I am an American,’” she said.

The full story is available at http://littletonindependent.net/stories/I-want-to-have-a-voice,218302?

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Madeline Albright promotes education: An excerpt from the Denver Post’s coverage of Albright’s DU graduation speech June 4, 2016

Former secretary of state stresses need to be defender of liberty at home and abroad

The former, and first female, secretary of state was on stage from the beginning, sitting among DU’s distinguished faculty and administration, draped in the same brightly striped black robes. Albright, who graduated from Kent High School in Denver, gave the commencement address.

“I can picture my father, pipe in hand, reading the newspaper, and shaking his head at how foolish people can be,” Albright said. “And he thought he knew the answer.

“Because of him, the answer is education,” Albright said, highlighting her father Josef Korbel’s founding of DU’s Graduate School of International Studies in 1964. The graduate and undergraduate schools were renamed the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in 2008.

Albright, 79, gave a vivacious speech on why this graduating class’ degrees are so important in today’s world.

“Getting a degree is hard — so you can imagine how grateful I am to receive one just for showing up,” Albright said to laughter.

Before her address, DU awarded her an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree for her leadership. The university cited her advocacy and her leadership as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-97 and secretary of state from 1997-2001 for the honor.

“When pride in ‘us’ descends into hatred of ‘them,’ the American tapestry unravels … and spirals into hatred of racial groups and the LGBTQ community, and demonization of refugees and immigrants,” said Albright, whose family came to the U.S. as refugees from Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia in 1948.

“We cannot will away or wall away the world,” Albright said, referencing Trump’s proposed immigration policy. She said the U.S. should take in more refugees.

“While America cannot be the world’s sole policeman, it must be its best partner,” Albright said, urging the students that “engagement abroad matters,” and it is education that enables it.

“You can produce enough food, build enough shelter and share enough knowledge to allow people to live better,” she said. “The future is not decided by the stars or some course of history, but by the choices that you, and I, and all of us make.”

“You must not only be a consumer of liberty,” she said, “But a defender and enricher of it.”

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