Refugee Voices

CAJON VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT REPORTS 24 STUDENTS STRANDED IN AFGHANISTAN

By Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association 

Photo:  District offices in El Cajon. Photo courtesy of the district

Update August 31, 2021 - At least 6 of the familes have escaped Afghanistan and three students are back in classes, district spokesman Howard Shen told the San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday. Two other families were still awaiting evacuation at the time.

August 25, 2021 (El Cajon) - The Cajon Valley Union School District said Tuesday that as many as 24 of its students are stranded in Afghanistan and haven’t been able to make it back to the Untied States.


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FOUR WAYS TO HELP OUR AFGHAN NEIGHBORS IN SAN DIEGO

Story and photo via International Rescue Committee, San Diego

August 25, 2021 (San Diego) -- The United States has begun a humanitarian evacuation and is relocating a group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to San Diego. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in San Diego is working alongside communities and partners to support Afghans living in San Diego. 


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SHANE HARRIS AND LOCAL AFGHAN LEADERS AS SUPERVISORS TO ADOPT AFGHAN REFUGEE HOUSING ACCOMMODATION PLAN

East County News Service

August 25, 2021 (San Diego) – Shane Harris, a national civil rights leader and president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, has proposed a plan for welcoming Afghan refugees to our region. Harris was joined by local Afghan leaders yesterday at a press conference urging San Diego County Supervisors to adopt the Afghan Refugee Housing Accommodation Plan for San Diego County. The proposal comes as the U.S. has evacuated some 70,000 people thus far amid the U.S. troop pullout and Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.


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LAWYERS CLUB URGES U.S. ASSISTANCE FOR AFGHAN WOMEN

Source: Lawyer’s Club

Photo: Creative Commons image-SA via Bing

August 24, 2021 (San Diego) – Lawyers Club of San Diego is calling on Congress to provide immediate support for Afghan women and others who have worked to advance democracy and human rights and who are in grave danger as the United States withdraws its military operations from Afghanistan and the Taliban takes control.


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BIDEN ASKS SUPREME COURT TO BLOCK ORDER TO REINSTATE `REMAIN IN MEXICO’ POLICY FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS

By Miriam Raftery

August 20, 2021 (San Diego) – The Biden administration today filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting the high court to block a Texas judge’s order to reinstate the controversial Migrant Protection Program (MPP). Reuters reports.  The program was ordered via an executive ordered issued by former President Donald Trump in early 2019 and required asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting the outcome of their asylum cases in U.S. courts.

The Biden administration discontinued the policy, but U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, last week found that the Biden administration violated procedural laws and acted “arbitrarily” by failing to consider some benefits of the program.  However, Kacsmaryk stayed his decision for a week to allow the Biden administration to appeal.


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AS TALIBAN SEIZES CONTROL IN AFGHANISTAN AMID U.S. PULLOUT, CONCERNS GROW FOR EVACUATING AFGHAN ALLIES AND U.S. CITIZENS

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Boeing C-17 carrying 640 passengers out of Afghanistan, via Air Mobility Command 

August 20, 2021 (San Diego) – San Diego Congressional members and residents with ties to Afghanistan are voicing concerns over the Biden administration’s actions in the wake of a rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan following pullout of most U.S. troops.  Chief among the concerns is how to provide safe evacuation of thousands of Afghans who aided American troops, as well as their families, in addition to U.S. citizens, nonprofit workers, journalists and others still in Afghanistan and at risk of losing their lives to vengeful Taliban forces.


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SURGE IN BRAZILIAN MIGRANTS AT SAN DIEGO BORDER

By Miriam Raftery

August 6, 2021 (San Diego) – The U.S. Border Patrol reports an unprecedented wave of Brazilian nationals apprehended along the San Diego-Mexico border. Since Oct. 1, 2020, agents have apprehended over 7,300 Brazilian migrants – up from 330 for the entire fiscal year 2020.  Every month since April of 2021, over 1,000 Brazilian nationals entered the U.S. across the Mexican border in the San Diego area – a staggering increase of more than 114,000%  from the same timeframe in FY20, where SDC had just six total apprehensions of Brazilian nationals. 


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SAN DIEGO IRAQIS HOLD PROTEST TO END IMPUNITY IN IRAQ: WILL IT GET BIDEN’S ATTENTION BEFORE VISIT WITH AL-KADHIMI?

By Briana Gomez

Photo:  Othman Al-Kusairy (far left) and Sally Bachori (middle left), Ahmed (to the right of Sally) and Sam (far right) stand with other Iraqi organizers and signs in memory of lives lost

July 23, 2021 (San Diego) -- A group of Iraqi organizers held a protest in Balboa Park last Sunday. The group calls itself “End Impunity in Iraq” and is calling for accountability.


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U.S. TO STOP DETAINING PREGNANT OR NURSNG IMMIGRANTS, EXCEPT IN EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES

By Miriam Raftery

July 10, 2021 (San Diego) – A Trump-era executive order that required detention of pregnant undocumented immigrants has been blamed for putting lives of women and babies at risk, with many women suffering miscarriages in detention centers. On July 1, Tae Johnson, acting director of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement reversing that policy in nearly all situations.

The rule goes farther than the Obama administration policy that limited detention of pregnant migrants.  The Biden administration directive also bans most detentions of nursing mothers and mothers with infants under one year of age, to allow bonding with newborns. Now, most women awaiting outcomes of immigration or asylum cases will be released.

An exception is provided, however, for anyone required under U.S. laws to be detained, such as foreign nationals convicted of terrorist acts or certain other serious crimes. In such cases, a pregnant or nursing woman detained would be required to receive adequate medical care.  The new directive also prohibits restrains in most cases, including banning the shackling of pregnant women while in labor, an action that has drawn international outcry.


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DEPORTED VETERANS TO GET A PATHWAY HOME: BIDEN ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES PLAN TO BRING MILITARY VETS BACK TO U.S.

East County News Service

July 2, 2021 (San Diego) -- The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs today jointly announced an interagency initiative to bring home the untold numbers of veterans who, over the past 25 years, were unjustly deported and banished from the United States despite being promised citizenship opportunities in exchange for military service as noncitizens. The Biden administration further pledged to ensure that soldiers serving our nation can obtain their promised naturalization. 

Since 2015, the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties have partnered with the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana to urge the return to the U.S. of deported veterans, an end to the deportation of veterans, and improved access to military naturalization.  


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HARRIS VISITS GUATEMALA, MEXICO IN FIRST FOREIGN TRIP AS U.S. VICE PRESIDENT

Source:  Voice of America

Photo:  Photo: Vice President Kamala Harris in Guatemala City, via her Twitter feed

June 28, 2021 (Guatemala/Mexico) - The United States is set to announce Monday new measures to fight drug smuggling and trafficking as Vice President Kamala Harris meets with leaders in Guatemala to discuss migration and security issues. 


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WORLD REFUGEE DAY JUNE 20 ASPIRES TO HONOR AND HELP REFUGEES

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Creative Commons by SA-NC via Bing

June 13, 2021 (San Diego) – June 20th is World Refugee Day, celebrating the strength and courage of refugees. The event honors refugees around the globe and commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Refugees are people who are forced to flee their homelands to escape dangerous conditions such as war, persecution or natural disasters. 


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BIDEN RAISES CAPS ON REFUGEE ADMISSIONS; SAN DIEGO REFUGEE ADVOCATES VOICE RELIEF AT DECISION

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Creative Commons image of refugee children via Bing

May 9, 2021 (San Diego) – President Joe Biden announced Monday that the U.S. will raise the cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 for this fiscal year – up from a historic low of 15,000 under the Trump administration “which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” President Biden said. 


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BIDEN ADMINISTRATION ON TRACK TO ADMIT LOWEST NUMBER OF REFUGEES IN U.S. HISTORY, DRAWS CRITICISMS OVER LAG IN REPEALING TRUMP RESTRICTIONS

By Miriam Raftery
 
April 12, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – President Joe Biden announced plans on his first day in office to expand the number of refugees eligible for resettlement in the U.S. and rebuild refugee programs decimated under the Trump administration. He announced plans to raise the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000, the lowest on record. But so far, Biden has not signed a presidential determination for that order to take effect.  

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SAN DIEGO SHELTERING NEW MIGRANTS AT CONVENTION CENTER, LOCAL HOTELS AMID BORDER SURGE

By Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association

Photo:  CC via Bing

March 23, 2021 (San Diego) - City and county officials announced Monday that the San Diego Convention Center will be used for three months to temporarily house unaccompanied immigrant minors amid a surge along the border.


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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

 

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN, by Emmanuel Acho (Flatiron Books, New York, NY, 2020, 244 pages).

Book Review by Dennis Moore

February 28, 2021 (San Diego) - Emmanuel Acho believes the only way to cure our nation’s oldest disease – racism – starts with a profound, revolutionary idea: actually talking to one another. No, seriously. Until it gets uncomfortable … and then some!

In Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, “An Oprah Book”, Acho connects his own experience with race and racism – including his majority – white prep school education juxtaposed with his time in majority – black NFL locker rooms – with the lessons of history, culture, and the wisdom of other voices. The result is an essential guide to the conversations we should all be having to increase our understanding and join the anti-racist fight.


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BIDEN ALLOWS ASYLUM SEEKERS IN MEXICO TO ENTER U.S. PENDING HEARINGS, BUT MOST WILL STILL FACE WAITS BEFORE ADMISSION

By Miriam Raftery
 
Photo: Asylum seekers encampment; CC by NC
 
February 14, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to reverse former President Donald Trump’s “wait in Mexico”  policy, an action that endangered the safety of migrants encamped in unsanitary conditions and in some cases, preyed upon by thieves, traffickers and other criminals. The policy also made it hard for asylum-seekers to find lawyers or even to learn when their asylum hearings in U.S. courts were scheduled. 

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PRIVATE IMMIGRATION PRISONS NOT INCLUDED IN BIDEN BAN

By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service

Photo by Miriam Raftery: Otay Mesa Detention Center, where immigrants and refugees are housed

January 28, 2021 (Tacoma, Wash.) -- President Joe Biden signed an executive order this week ending the federal use of private prisons, but the order does not include privately run immigration facilities, like the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma and the Otay Mesa Detention Center San Diego County.


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ART PROTEST AGAINST ICE: MOVING IMAGES OF CHILDREN AND OTHER MIGRANTS WHO DIED IN U.S. CUSTODY

Writer/Photographer Briana Gomez
 
“I think that we’ve experienced here locally deaths of children– father, daughter; we’ve had similar issues,” said Martha Sullivan, organizer.
 
November 1, 2020 (San Diego) -- An art protest against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol took place Wednesday in downtown San Diego. The protest, held on Mexico’s Day of the Day, aimed to draw attention to deaths of immigrants in U.S. custody. Tensions have risen locally after the death of a Mexican citizen at the San Ysidro Border last week.
 
At least 21 people died in ICE custody in the fiscal year ending July 30, nearly double the deaths in fiscal 2019, CNN reported last month.

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SAN DIEGO ARAB AND MUSLIM COMMUNITY COALITION HELD COMMUNITY FORUM; DISCUSSED COVID-19, BLACK LIVES, AND MISSING CENSUS CATEGORY

By Briana Gomez

October 31, 2020 (San Diego) -- The San Diego Arab and Muslim Community Coalition recently held its fourth biennial Community Forum last week. This year’s forum took place in the unprecedented zoom fashion due to COVID-19 and public health concerns.

The Coalition is comprised of 16 local organizations that deal directly with the Arab and Muslim communities (which sometimes overlap). Many of these organizations also deal with other social justice issues and are inclusive of other non-Arab, Middle Eastern minorities such as Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Kurds who have large populations in the East County suburbs.

The forum was attended by various prominent community members, including representatives of elected officials and local figures.


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SAN DIEGO NONPROFIT LEADS SUIT CHALLENGING TRUMP'S 'REMAIN IN MEXICO' REFUGEE POLICY

By Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association

Photo:  Asylum seekers gather in Tijuana in 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

October 28, 2020 (San Diego) - Jewish Family Service of San Diego is leading a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s controversial “remain in Mexico” policy to keep asylum seekers out of the United States.


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JUDGE ORDERS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO FULLY EXTEND CENSUS COUNTING TIME

By Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association

Photo:  a sign encouraging residents to participate in the 2020 census hangs from the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

September 6, 2020 (San Diego) - Los Angeles and a coalition of other local governments and civil rights organizations have secured a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over its decision to cut the timeline for the 2020 U.S. Census.


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ARAB AMERICANS ARE AN INVISIBLE ETHNIC GROUP WHEN IT COMES TO HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES

By Raed Al-Naser, MD

Dr. Al-Naser is President, San Diego Chapter, National Arab American Medical Association. He is also a pulmonary and critical care physician practicing in San Diego’s East County.

July 31, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- Race and ethnicity are becoming forefront conversations in our media, academic debates, and daily life discussions here in the United States. Each of us has an identity that defines how we see ourselves and others. Arab Americans are a historically understudied minority group in the U.S. and their health needs and risks have been poorly documented. As a physician and healthcare provider who belongs to this group, I see that Arab American identity is largely absent from national and academic conversations about race and ethnicity especially when it comes to health care disparities. The emergence of COVID-19 as a pandemic and public health crisis has exposed this reality and made it more visible and undeniable. 


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SYRIAN FAMILY STRUGGLES TO COPE WITH COVID-19

By Kendra Sitton

Photo by Henri Migala:  Asim Al-Abdullah worries about his family’s future
 
July 30, 2020 (El Cajon) - Everyone faces different struggles during the pandemic, such as health, financial or isolation. For a Syrian family of seven living in El Cajon, their primary struggle is psychological. 

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SURVIVORS OF TORTURE VULNERABLE DURING PANDEMIC

 

By Kendra Sitton

 

July 21, 2020 (San Diego) - An estimated 35,000 torture survivors reside in San Diego County. Only one torture treatment agency is accredited to serve this vulnerable population in our county: Survivors of Torture, International. East County Magazine spoke with Survivors’ Community Relations Manager, Katrina Pimental, about their clients’ experiences during the pandemic. 

 

Many are facing job loss without access to government help. Mental health issues such as PTSD are triggered by lockdown measures which remind them of house arrest.  Many don’t qualify for CARES Act benefits and are struggling financially. Some have gone without food for days. Their asylum claims are in limbo. 

 

Our interview delved into these issues, as well as how the nonprofit is responding. 


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TRUMP DROPS THREAT TO DEPORT INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS STUDYING ONLNE DURING PANDEMIC

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: International flags: Creative Commons via S.A.

July 17, 2020 (Washington D.C.) – After the state of California joined a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and others against the Trump administration, the White House has dropped its plan announced July 6 to deport international students not enrolled in in-person classes this fall. 

Instead, the government has reinstated a policy initiated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, which allows foreign students to study online and remain in the U.S. on student visas under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, the New York Times reports.


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LACK OF DATA COLLECTION BLOCKS EFFORTS TO ASSESS COVID-19 IMPACTS ON LOCAL MIDDLE EASTERN COMMUNITIES

Hear our  interview with Dr. Raed Al-Naser for KNSJ radio: click here.

By Briana Gomez

Photo, left: Doris Bittar

“Arab Americans are largely considered Caucasian, other, or unknown.  We are a disappeared minority, rendering us nearly invisible in the media and in medicine.” – Doris Bittar, President, Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, San Diego chapter

June 25, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- Minority communities across the US are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For example, nearly 67% of cases in San Diego are among Latinos and Hispanics, who comprise only 30% of the population, according to County Health Department  figures as of June 20.  But a lack of data on Arab and Middle Eastern Americans makes it impossible to accurately assess impacts of the pandemic on this population locally and nationally.

Audio: 


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PANDEMIC STEALS MOST FROM IMMIGRANT WORKING WOMEN

By Jackie Botts | CALmatters

CALmatters is an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government.

Photo:  Nearly one in three non-citizen working women in California have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to the study by UC Merced researchers. Photo via iStock.

May 23, 2020 (San Diego) - Early estimates indicate that the coronavirus pandemic has stolen jobs from non-citizen workers — including immigrants who have green cards, work visas or are undocumented — in California at higher rates than citizens. And women have suffered greater job loss than men. 


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FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF DOZENS OF MEDICALLY VULNERABLE PEOPLE AT OTAY MESA DETENTION CENTER

By Miriam Raftery
 
Photo (Google): CoreCivic's Otay Mesa Detention Center
 
May 5, 2020 (San Diego) – Judge Dana Sabraw issued an order on April 30 directing the federal government to release more than 50 medically vulnerable individuals who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. According to the ICE website, at least 105 detainees at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.
 
Judge Sabraw wrote in his decision, “The Court HEREBY DECLARES that current conditions of confinement for Otay Mesa Medically Vulnerable subclass members held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment because the conditions of their confinement place subclass members at substantial risk of serious illness or death.”

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IRAQI REFUGEE IN EL CAJON NOW SAVES LIVES MAKING MASKS FOR MEDICAL WORKERS, ASYLUM-SEEKERS AND NAVAJO NATION

By Miriam Raftery
May 4, 2020 (El Cajon) –“Helping other people was the only way that I survived through different risks and wars I went through,” says Kilian Colin, an Iraqi refugee in El Cajon who says he went through lockdowns in Iraq and Syria.  A long-time civil rights and labor activist, he has now started a mask-making campaign that is protecting thousands of the most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
His masks have been sent to protect healthcare workers in San Diego and in cities across the nation including had-hit New York City, as well as to farmers in the Midwest, farmworkers in Oregon, asylum seekers in Mexico, and tribal members of the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
 
How the effort began
 
“I was visiting Asia in January when the pandemic started,” says Colin, who began wearing masks in Vietnam and Taiwan.  Back home as a student at San Diego State University, he kept wearing a mask to avoid infecting others.  
 
But he recalls, “Both professors and students at SDSU were making fun of me…I had no option but to face some of those bullies and told them I was protecting them by wearing this mask, since I had no idea if I carried the virus with me home.” 
 
In mid-March, SDSU moved classes online. Without spending an hour daily commuting, Colin decided to make several masks instead and offer them online to whoever needed them, also replacing his own surgical masks that had been washed too many times to be protective.
 
“I looked online for patterns to make masks and I looked in my closet for clothes that I no longer use,” he tells East County Magazine in an exclusive interview. 

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