HEADLINES: Refugees

Thousands of people trying to return to South Sudan from Sudan have been stranded for months at the Kosti way station and are running out of “means of support,” a United Nations official said Tuesday. The concern for their plight comes amid reports of military attacks along Sudan’s hotly contested border with South Sudan. Between 12,000 and 15,000 South Sudanese are at the Kosti way station, “many of whom have been waiting with their entire house holdings for months for transport to South Sudan,” a U.N. statement said. South Sudan split from Sudan last year as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of war in Africa’s largest nation. The war left 2 million people dead and ended with the peace agreement that included an independence referendum for the south. [CNN]

The number of Congolese nationals fleeing to Rwanda escaping violence, following resumption of clashes between DR Congo army and militia groups has surged to an estimated 1100, officials said yesterday. According to the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR), Marcel Gatsinzi, the number has in one day increased from about 300 on Sunday to over 1050. Presently, there are thousands of Congolese refugees in Rwanda in three camps of Gihembe in Gicumbi District, Kiziba Camp in Karongi District, and Nyabiheke camp in Gatsibo. They total over 55, 000 and have been living in these camps for over 15 years. Reports indicate that Congolese citizens are fleeing possible reprisal attacks by terrorist groups; the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel outfit. [AllAfrica]

A conference on Afghan refugees opened with a call by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres for the international community to throw its full weight behind a new “solutions strategy” drawn up between Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR. The strategy, which is being presented at the two-day conference for endorsement, aims both at preserving asylum space for Afghan refugees in neighboring countries over the coming three years and beyond, and at supporting sustainable reintegration for those Afghans who return home. Afghan refugees constitute the largest and longest-standing refugee situation in UNHCR’s history. Despite the return of some 5.7 million Afghans to their homeland since 2002, there are still around 2 million Afghans in Pakistan and close to 1 million in Iran. And in recent years, return rates have slowed. In 2011, about 70,000 Afghan refugees returned home. [UNHCR]

 

The Rev. John Barton “Bart” Day Speaks on the KFUO Morning Show

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/43340792″ iframe=”true” /]

We’re grateful to the Rev. John Barton “Bart” Day, Director for Life Together, LCMS, and the KFUO Morning Show for their recent nod to the work of LIRS. Please have a listen to this interview, which places LIRS within the context of the important mercy work being done by Lutherans across the country.

HEADLINES: Refugees

Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro raised some $395 million at an international donors conference to help house 74,000 people who have been living as refugees for over two decades. The countries sought to raise $660 million to help those who have fled their homes during the 1990’s wars in the former Yugoslavia resettle in their new communities or return to their original homes. Some three million people were displaced during those wars, making it the biggest displacement in Europe after World War II. Most of those returned home or found alternative arrangements. The deal envisages that within five years all refugee camps in these four countries would closed and those living in them would get new homes. Antonio Guterres, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, praised the political will of the countries for trying to solve one of the remaining legacies of their bitter conflicts. [Associated Press]

Tens of thousands of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso are getting too little aid, too slowly as needs outstrip resources, medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said. More than 46,000 Malians have crossed into neighboring Burkina Faso since fighting erupted in mid-January between Malian forces and separatists from the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who have declared an independent state in northern Mali. The refugees have been living in dire conditions for weeks in makeshift shelters with little water and food due to an inadequate response by aid agencies. The influx of refugees into the largely arid, drought-stricken Oudalan province is increasing pressure on communities that were already experiencing food and water shortages. UNCHR launched an appeal for $35.6 million in February to assist Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. But the response from donors has been slow, with just $12.6 million pledged so far. [Reuters]

Thousands of people are streaming into refugee camps in Pakistan after fighting sparked an exodus of refugees near the country’s border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s army recently stepped up its long-running fight against the Lashkar-e-Islam militia group in the North West Frontier just outside the city of Peshawar. Around 200,000 people left their homes because of the violence. John Ging, operations director of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the unexpected numbers were testing sanitation and food distribution. [BBC]

Nearly three dozen Kurdish families have fled their homes to Sadiyah, a small town in northeastern Iraq claimed by the government in Baghdad but patrolled by Kurdish forces. Other Kurds from the area have arrived after being pushed out over property disputes that can be traced to Saddam Hussein’s policy in the 1970s of expelling Kurds and resettling Arabs. Whether by terrorism or judicial order, the continuing displacement of Iraq’s Kurdish minority lays bare the unfinished business of reconciliation in the wake of the American military’s withdrawal, and it is a symptom of the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the semi-autonomous Kurdish government based in Erbil and the central government in Baghdad. The schism, which is most immediately over sharing oil wealth but is more deeply about historical grievances and Kurdish aspirations for independence, raises serious questions about the future of a unified Iraq. [NYTimes]

HEADLINES: Immigration

A locally authored plan to allow undocumented agricultural and service-sector workers to legally stay in California cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday. The Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment endorsed the Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act with a 4-1 vote. The committee’s vote fell along party lines, with Republican Assemblyman Mike Morrell opposing it. Two lawmakers abstained. Wednesday’s hearing was the first in a lengthy process to get Assembly Bill 1544 to the governor’s desk. But it indicates that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature may be willing to buck critics who say the federal government should regulate immigration. “The state of California is not going to tolerate modern-day racism or segregation,” said Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, a Coachella Democrat who is championing the bill. “We can create history. We can be the model. We can set high expectations for other states.” [The Desert Sun]

In partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, a recent report by the PBS program Need to Know investigates whether U.S. border agents have been using excessive force in an effort to curb undocumented immigration where eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance. The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. [PBS.org]

Three years ago last month, a handful of immigrants in their teens and twenties stood up in front of a large crowd in Chicago’s Daley Plaza and admitted to the world that they were in the undocumented. Their message: Deport us if you dare. The young people weren’t deported. And though their cause—they were advocating passage of the DREAM Act, a long-stalled law that would grant legal status to those who came to the U.S. as children—hasn’t progressed politically, it has caught on elsewhere. Since that first protest, about 100 so-called “Coming Out Of The Shadows” events have been staged in cities across the country, from such immigrant-friendly places as San Francisco to Phoenix, set in a state whose strict immigration law heads for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing at the end of the month. So far, no one in this nascent youth movement has been deported. (Four young people were sent to immigration detention centers but were released shortly thereafter.) On Saturday, Coming Out Of The Shadows went to a place where it is especially difficult to be an illegal immigrant: Alabama. The state currently has one of the harshest immigration laws in the country. Known as HB 56, it requires police to stop and question anyone they suspect of being undocumented, and also ups the penalties for businesses that hire them. Since the law went into effect in September, thousands of immigrants have fled the state. [Bloomberg Businessweek]

 

SB 1070 and HB 56: How Do They Differ?

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

As it is with Leo Tolstoy’s observation about families, so it is with laws. At first glance, there’s so much that’s unhappy about the anti-immigrant laws of both Arizona (SB 1070) and Alabama (HB 56) that it would be easy to miss what makes each law unique.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has done us a great service by contrasting the two. Their fact sheet, “Differences Between the Alabama and Arizona Racial Profiling Laws,” is an important read for anyone who takes a stand for welcoming immigrants and refugees.

Next Wednesday,  April 25, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in “United States v. Arizona.” The NILC fact sheet is a good way to get your thoughts in order for that event, which will (we hope) spotlight SB 1070’s unhappy details in the media, and for all Americans.

As you check out the NILC fact sheet, please keep in mind all the things you can do to make a difference in the days leading up to next Wednesday—and beyond:

Learn about SB 1070, which is the front line of this battle. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has done a spectacular job of arraying the arguments against SB 1070 in a single document that’s truly worth a look. You can read the brief itself here. The LIRS “mythbusters” guide to U.S . immigration also dispels common misconceptions.

Pray. You and your congregation can keep Arizona’s suffering communities in your prayers.  Host a prayer vigil in your community and visit the online “Vigil for Justice and the American Dream.”

Contact your representatives in Congress through the LIRS Action Center. Our senators and representatives don’t have power over the Supreme Court decision on SB 1070. But it’s critical to ask Congress to pass comprehensive federal-level immigration reform, and it never hurts for them to hear more public dissatisfaction with SB 1070.

Write a letter to your newspaper. Letters to the editor are read carefully by everyone from your neighbors to the staff of your representatives in Congress. Your letter criticizing SB 1070 and calling for comprehensive immigration reform can have a tremendous impact! Click here to learn how to make your letter the most well-informed, powerful, and likely to be published.

Join other people of faith at the Supreme Court for a 48-hour prayer vigil from 10am Monday April 23 – 10am Wednesday April 25. A Jericho Walk will take place the morning of Wednesday, April 25, when the justices will be hearing oral arguments about SB 1070. Click here to learn more about events that day.

Spread the word about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and SB 1070. Your neighbors and members of your church may be unfamiliar with the facts. Join the LIRS Stand for Welcome campaign. Tweet your opposition to SB 1070 using the hashtag #vigil4justice Join the LIRS Stand for Welcome campaign to hear of ways you can get involved in advocacy with refugees and migrants. This blog is a good place to updates on the struggle against SB 1070-style laws — please sign up to have posts delivered to your mailbox!

Thanks for standing for welcome!

Image credit: Julo

22 ‘Friends-of-the-Court’ Briefs Boost Campaign Against SB 1070

By now you’ve probably heard that over 350 individuals and organizations have  joined 22 amicus briefs supporting the U.S. government in its legal challenge to Arizona’s extreme immigration law, SB 1070.

But it’s something else altogether to see these “friends-of-the-court” briefs summed up in one place.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has done a spectacular job of arraying the arguments in a single document that’s truly worth a look. The scope of the arguments against SB 1070 is jaw-dropping, as is the huge swathe of American society involved. Bishops, police officers, former military officials… reading it, one starts to wonder, “Who’s left supporting this law?”

Here’s a quick look at just a few of the briefs the NILC summarizes, starting with the one filed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Reverend Gradye Parsons as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The NILC sums up the brief, which you can read  here, as follows:

Argues that SB 1070 impedes the considered and balanced judgment of federal immigration law. Specifically it undermines the federal goals of promoting family unity and human rights and dignity. The brief also argues that SB 1070 and laws like it threaten religious liberty by criminalizing so-called “harboring” and “transporting” of undocumented immigrants in such a way as to punish acts within the mission of religious organizations such as the provision of food, shelter, and care for all.

The NILC summary document goes on to capture the rest of the briefs. A small selection will give you an idea of the vast number of people raising objections to SB 1070:

Law Enforcement Officials & Organizations

Argues that SB 1070 will produce erroneous applications of immigration law; undermine law enforcement activities and federal enforcement priorities; and undermine local community policing efforts.

Over 30 Towns, Cities, and Counties

Argues that the enjoined provisions of SB 1070 impermissibly usurp scarce local resources that should be devoted to public safety. The brief also argues that SB 1070’s immigration verification provisions impose vague and unworkable requirements that effectively compel local law enforcement officials to violate the Constitution, creating liabilities for localities. Last, the brief argues that if the enjoined provisions were allowed to take effect the necessary trust between local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve would be irreparably harmed.

Over 40 State Attorneys General

Argues that SB 1070 impermissibly interferes with local law enforcement by damaging police and prosecutors’ ability to effectively fight crime and undercutting their ability to establish enforcement priorities for their own jurisdictions. Business Organizations Discusses SB 1070’s impact on interstate commerce and argues that it violates the Dormant Commerce Clause by burdening commerce and providing little to no benefits to the state.

Former State Dept. & Military Officials

Argues that SB 1070, and laws like it, impermissibly interfere with foreign relations by undermining the exclusivity and uniformity of federal immigration law. Lays out legal and historical arguments relating to the federal government’s exclusive role in foreign relations, and how immigration policy is inextricably intertwined with foreign relations.

If you find any of these arguments compelling, we invite you to join us in making your voice heard. Contacting your representatives in Congress through the LIRS Action Center  is an excellent place to start, as is writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Thanks to NILC for their excellent summary, and thank you  for reading about SB 1070. We’ll be posting more ways to take a stand against this law, so stay tuned!

Image credit: dbking

UPDATE: Mississippi H.B.488

On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, the Mississippi House passed HB 488. In order to execute its passage, the final bill was heavily edited from the originally introduced version. This was likely due to how Mississippi lawmakers have observed the way other punitive state immigration laws have fared since implementation. LIRS joins faith leaders and organizations like the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association, building contractors and agricultural groups, which have spoken out against the bill for its shortsightedness and the financial burden it will impose.

The final legislation eliminated some problematic provisions such as requiring public schools to count undocumented immigrants, allowing law enforcement to inquire about a person’s immigration status at a traffic stop and providing municipal utilities with the freedom to refuse power, water, sewer and other services to undocumented immigrants.

However, the Mississippi Senate should oppose HB 488 because many harmful provisions remain in the bill. The bill still requires police to check the immigration status of individuals that are arrested when law enforcement has reasonable suspicion the person is undocumented. Additionally, the bill prohibits undocumented individuals from entering into business transactions with the state, including applying for a driver’s license or identification card.

We have already seen other states become places where immigrants live in fear of law enforcement, children no longer show up at school and businesses struggle. For example, in Georgia  where a large part of the economy is based on agriculture, farmers cannot find workers to pick their crops. Georgia’s migrant workers used to fill that need before their anti-immigrant bill went into effect last year.

The bill faces an April 3 deadline for consideration by a Senate committee. Join us in opposing harmful state legislation in your state and instead urge lawmakers to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Founding Fathers vs. SB 1070 and HB 56

You might be surprised to hear that the United States’ first immigration law, passed by the Founding Fathers themselves, supported open immigration. In fact, this Monday, March 26, was the anniversary of the passage of the Naturalization Act of 1790.

While times have changed and such a policy is no longer feasible or desirable, it’s interesting to reflect on just how much the Founding Fathers’ thinking and values contradict some of today’s restrictive and punitive immigration laws. What might the Founding Fathers, who took a stance of zero restrictions on legislation, have to say  about Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which requires local police to determine the immigration status of people they arrest and suspect are undocumented immigrants? Or Alabama’s HB 56, which requires schools to check the immigration status of children? It’s hard to imagine them not condemning these states’ leading roles in anti-immigrant rhetoric and punitive legislation.

Alex Nowrasteh, the inspiration for this post and a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has an interesting take on the Naturalization Act. Check out his Huffington Post piece, “The Founders’ Immigration Policy,” where he writes: “To truly reform immigration, we should look back to the nation’s first immigration and naturalization laws, which are a far cry from restrictive laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56.”

RESOURCES: “When States Put Out the Unwelcome Mat”

An excerpt from an editorial in the New York Times:  “When States Put Out the Unwelcome Mat”

Arizona and Immigration Copycats, The New York Times

The New York Times, Source: National Conference of State Legislatures; National Immigration Law Center

There is one area, besides copper mining and home foreclosures, where Arizona is a national leader. It’s at the front of a movement by states and local governments to seize control of immigration from the federal government. In 2010 it passed a law, S.B. 1070, that made the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants its official policy with a grab bag of enforcement schemes that turned federal immigration infractions into state crimes. Among other things, the law required immigration checks by local police, required immigrants to carry papers with them, and made it illegal for the undocumented to live or look for work in the state, or for people to knowingly hire, harbor or transport them.

A state with its own immigration law — that is, its own foreign policy — raises obvious constitutional issues. The Supreme Court is taking up S.B. 1070 next month, addressing the question of whether federal authority pre-empts state and local immigration crackdowns. A decision is expected this summer. The court could help bottle up a dangerous trend, or unleash more mischief across the country.

Last year was a banner year for immigration laws in the states. Arizona’s law set a low standard that other states have tried to match or outdo. Thirty-one states introducedlegislation in 2011 imitating all or part of S.B. 1070, and five — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — went whole hog, passing Arizona-style omnibus laws.

How Voters Would Solve the Problem, The New York Times

The New York Times, Source: Pew Research Center (immigration trend); Gallup

Despite evidence that such laws are terrible for business and constitutionally unsound — courts have blocked key parts of the laws in Arizona and the copycat states, while employers and residents have complained bitterly about their burdens and expense — lawmakers have not been deterred. Missouri, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia are considering similar crackdowns. (Mississippi’s bill also includes a provision that shields “international business executives” from being hassled by the police, perhaps inspired by an incident in Alabama where a manager from Mercedes-Benz was arrested under the new immigration law.)

Read more [New York Times]

 

RESOURCES: “100 Reasons Why Alabama’s Immigration Law is a Disaster”

The Center for American Progress published a comprehensive list of the ill effects of Alabama’s H.B. 56, covering issues across the board: public health, families, government, economy, rule of law, faith communities, safety, and much more.  Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

100 Reasons Why  Alabama’s Immigration Law is a disaster

By Center for American Progress Immigration Team

Alabama’s H.B. 56, signed into law on June 9, 2011, is the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law. The bill makes it a crime to be without status, requires law enforcement to check the papers of anyone they suspect of being undocumented, mandates that public schools check the legal status of their students, abrogates any contract made with an undocumented immigrant, and makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to contract with a government entity (even for a service as fundamental as water connection).

From endangering all Alabamans’ health and safety to undermining the rule of law and economic growth, here are the 100 reasons why this law is becoming a train wreck for the state in every way imaginable:

10 numbers you need to know about the law

1. 2.5 percent—The percentage of Alabama’s population that is undocumented.

2. $40 million—A conservative estimate of how much Alabama’s economy would contract if only 10,000 undocumented immigrants stopped working in the state as a result of H.B. 56.

3. $130 million—The amount Alabama’s undocumented immigrants paid in taxes in 2010.

4. $300,000—The amount one farmer, Chad Smith of Smith Farms, estimates he has lost because of labor shortages in the wake of H.B. 56.

5. 2,285—The number of Hispanic students who did not attend class on the first Monday following the judge’s ruling upholding key parts of H.B. 56., including the provision mandating schools to check the immigration status of students.

6. 15 percent—The percentage of absent Hispanic students (at peak) too afraid to attend school, comprising 5,143 children, since the law went into effect.

7. 1.3 percent—The percentage of Alabama schoolchildren who are not citizens of the United States.

8. 2,000—The number of calls made in the first week to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hotline.

9. $1.9 million—The amount of money that was spent by Arizona to defend S.B. 1070, a similar anti-immigrant law.

10. $2.8 billion—What it would cost the government if they were to deport all 120,000 undocumented migrants in Alabama.

Read more: [Center for American Progress]

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