The Refugee Crisis: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Categories International

In real time, the media is tapping into Americans’ anxieties about national security and terrorism threats. We have been bombarded with staunch views on immigration and national security to once again raise the apprehension that terrorists could infiltrate refugee resettlement in the US. But what do we actually know about these people who are coming to the US borders asking for help? And how are they being treated?

Before getting into the mindset that only recently has the US undergone extreme immigration reform, here’s a few facts: President Obama started a policy under which jails could hold people longer so that immigration could screen them. Through this system, over 2 million people were deported under Obama’s administration. That is more than any other administration.

There used to be large numbers of people traveling across the country chasing day labor jobs. But you won’t see many of them anymore. Most have already been rounded up and deported under the Obama Administration. It has already been a harsh climate for immigrants and refugees over that past 8 years. Now, under the new administration, the policy is just more explicit.

What about the people currently being held in detention centers? What is the system and process really like?

When people come to the Texas border and ask for asylum they get put in detention,(maximum security prison). This is not a very nice way to welcome people who are asking America for help. Sometimes people stay in these detention centers for 4 months to up to 2 years. These people are rarely represented by a lawyer and are often charged a bond to get out of detention. Sometimes they are even released with an ankle monitor, thus having their freedom even further restricted. I have witnessed this myself first hand, as I volunteer teaching English at a local refugee shelter. A couple of weeks ago, I watched a student ask to be excused from class to go “reset” his ankle monitor.

So when these people lose their cases, what happens?

When asylum seekers lose their cases, they’re given what is called an order of supervision. They can still apply for a work permit, a social security number and a driver’s license. Every six months to a year they must go to immigration and check in with a deportation officer. Theoretically, at some point they can be deported. They can’t bring their family here, they can’t get a green card and they’ll never be able to vote. Some of those people are choosing to go to Canada. On the 28th of January, Canada’s president announced via Twitter that they would take all the refugees that were denied by the United States.”

Justin Trudeau @JustinTrudeau

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada

2:20 PM – 28 Jan 2017


What is the general process going through a detention center and getting to a shelter for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees? 

Detention center (maximum security prison) cells generally hold about 100 people. Conditions vary somewhat from prison to prison, but the the detained have the right to apply for political asylum. The next step is to pass a credible fear interview with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). If the detained passes the credible fear interview, they go into the court proceedings with an immigration judge. Typically they are not represented by an attorney, and they don’t have a right to good conditions or to a speedy trial. The reality is that the detained don’t really have any of the rights that criminals have. Often their court hearings are done by video conference, so it’s very difficult for them to win their cases. The detained cannot collect evidence, they don’t have an attorney and their odds of winning are pretty small. People who are in detention centers are generally housed in very isolated areas where it is difficult for attorneys to reach and there is a very small minority that have representation.

So what will change under the new administration? 

The future looks uncertain for current and potential immigrants and refugees in the US. We still don’t really know what’s going to happen at the borders. But America would be breaking so many years of tradition by denying refugees entry and restricting immigrant applicants. After WWII, formal US resettlement programs began and provided shelter for the persecuted. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees were accepted in the 1970s as well as many Cubans in the 80s. Refugees from Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda were welcomed in the 1990s. The US certainly has a reputation for being hospitable to those fleeing their home countries for their very lives.

So how can we make a difference?

We can help by demonstrating hospitality and helping immigrants and refugees (currently residing in the US) to develop self sufficiency. Find a local shelter and volunteer your time teaching English, cooking, mentoring, etc. Or donate food or provide financial or legal support. The best thing we can do is to create a positive, hopeful and encouraging environment for those feeling displaced. Without grace, we cannot effectively provide help and support. Where there is no fear, there is freedom!

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