On September 24, 2017, President Trump announced new changes to the travel ban. Our volunteer lawyer Angela Torregoza was kind enough to create and share with us a guide to how these changes affect refugees.
Situation Report: Implications of Trump’s Executive Order on Asylum Seekers & Refugees
We stand by our conviction that refugees and asylum seekers deserve a chance to rebuild their lives in a safer land. Regardless of the political hostility and xenophobia hurled towards refugees by President Trump, those forced to flee their homes to survive will continue to find their way onto our shores. We denounce the President’s closed-door policy towards refugees, regardless of their country of origin, as fervently as we denounce the extremists who have taken advantage of the shameful narrative of the West against muslim refugees. Nevertheless, we must continue to take a stand against Trump’s Islamophobic and anti-refugee measures, and ensure that asylum seekers and refugees– the most frequent victims of extremism around the world– are not scapegoated and turned away.
While RIF’s mission is to support asylum seekers– who remain the vast majority of the refugees that make it to our shores– we are devastated for the refugees who were bound for our country through the resettlement process and have been stalled or turned away. Likewise, we stand in solidarity with our friends and partners in this cause: organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Charities who have successfully resettled refugees in the US for decades.
For immigrants and Americans alike, the messy implementation of the ban left airports and asylum offices in chaos. Employees of federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), were left with little to no instructions on how to actually implement this ban. In the following report, we will illustrate the implications of this ban as they apply primarily to asylum seekers. We are currently awaiting more information regarding the federal court’s decision regarding this executive order.
Important Distinction: Resettled Refugees + Asylum Seekers
In order to understand the way that the executive order will affect the people that RIF serves, we must first distinguish asylum seekers from resettled refugees. Both groups are considered “refugees” in the general sense of the word, but legally speaking, they achieve this status through different processes, and therefore will face distinct implications as a result of the executive order.
In essence, refugees who are resettled are seeking safety in the US but are not yet in the US, whereas asylum seekers are seeking safety upon arriving in the US. Likewise, the Syrians sailing to Europe for safety are also asylum seekers rather than resettled refugees.
The executive order suspended the refugee resettlement process for the next 120 days. It also prohibits the US government from granting any kind of visa to people outside of the US who wish to travel to the US and are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. This ban is in effect for 90 days.
Since asylum seekers enter the country with various visas, citizens of the aforementioned countries will no longer be able to obtain visas and seek asylum in the US as long as the ban continues. However, it is worth mentioning that citizens of these countries have already had a very difficult time obtaining visas to the US. For this reason, the ban will likely not drastically change the demographic makeup of the asylum-seeking population. Additionally, this is the reason why even prior to this executive order, Syrian refugees have not often able to seek asylum in the US the way they have been fleeing to Europe en masse.
Implications of the Executive Order on Asylum Seekers
The executive order does not suspend the asylum program. As far as we have been instructed by attorneys, asylum seekers from the seven banned countries can still apply for asylum. Their cases should continue to be processed by the asylum office in the regular way, and their interviews are still being scheduled.
However, immigration officers were told last week that they are not allowed to make final decisions in cases concerning people from the seven banned countries until they receive further guidance (expected to come out any day now). This would extend to final decisions in asylum cases, and possibly to work permit applications for asylum seekers from the seven banned countries. Further, the executive order calls for additional detention centers at the border which may divert asylum officers away from the affirmative asylum process– the process our clients undergo– to the defensive asylum process which takes place in detention centers. As we have seen with the surge of Central American minors into the defensive asylum process in 2013, this would further create a backlog and extend the waiting period for the asylum interview beyond the already lengthy current waiting time of 2-3 years.
The asylum program grants asylum to the spouses and children of people whose asylum cases are granted. These family members – called derivatives – are automatically granted asylum if they are inside the US. Family members outside the United States can apply for a visa to join the principal asylee in the United States. However, derivatives who are citizens of the seven banned countries will not be granted visas to come to the US as long as the travel ban is in place.
As asylum seekers most commonly enter the US on their own, they are often forced to leave behind their families with the hope of reuniting when they are granted asylum. If the ban is put into effect, asylum seekers from those seven countries will no longer be able to bring their spouses and children to the US: a devastating outcome for the many parents who sacrificed everything for a chance to reunite their families in safety.
As the executive order does not suspend the asylum program, it will not stem the tide of asylum seekers fleeing to the US. It will, however, make the process of seeking asylum increasingly arduous and taxing on those who flee here. The current political climate, with its rhetoric of banning refugees and muslims will continue to force thousands of asylum seekers into the shadows where they will be preyed upon by unscrupulous providers. If the process now takes even longer, asylum seekers will be stuck in a painful limbo, away from their families and in dire need of our support.
Regardless of whether or not the ban is in effect, asylum seekers will remain at a severe disadvantage in terms of support upon arriving to the US. For perspective, in 2016, 40,000 individuals applied for asylum in NYC, as compared to 283 refugees who were resettled in the city.
RIF is currently the only NGO in NYC that focuses on on welcoming and supporting asylum seekers through legal and psychosocial support. The phrase, “more important than ever” has been used a lot lately, but this singular moment calls for that level of urgency. Asylum seekers need us more than ever, and so, we are thankful to you for standing with us and supporting our work during these trying times.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
We are so grateful for the outpouring of support and involvement that we have witnessed this week in response to President Trump’s executive orders. From the rallies in Washington Square park and Battery Park, to the lawyers and protesters who quickly mobilized at airports across the country, you have showed refugees your true colors: that you are people who resist the fear and hate, and welcome refugees with open arms.
Already, your actions and voices have brought life-changing results. We are excited to continue building this movement together, and we know that the work has just begun. It is acutely palpable that our resistance is working, but also that it must persist and endure the relentless wave of human rights violations to come.
RIF is here to fight these injustices with you, side by side. We will continue to keep you regularly informed of what these unjust measures mean for asylum seekers and refugees, and how you can best take action.
We invite you to join us this Friday, February 3rd, as a volunteer immigration lawyer, Caitlin Steinke, presents on the implications of the recent executive orders at Fordham University from 1-3pm. We will be live-streaming the presentation on Facebook for those of you who cannot attend.
Moving forward, we will continue to take action in the following ways:
- Remain a beacon of support and accessible information for asylum seekers and refugees in NYC by translating how these policies will affect them, and instructing them on how they should act accordingly.
- Continue providing support in an accessible and trustworthy environment that makes our clients feel comfortable reaching out to us about personal concerns.
- Partner with local musicians and chefs to spearhead a series of advocacy events that will challenge the status quo, invite refugees into citizen-led sanctuaries, and keep our community intimately engaged with welcoming refugees.
- Keep you informed on how to take action!
As a small grassroots organization, we unfortunately will not able to incorporate all volunteer requests right away, but we will continue to find creative ways to keep you all involved. We greatly appreciate all the offers to help and do not want anyone to lose their enthusiasm to act. Currently, you can best support our work in the following ways:
- Donate food to our food drives.
- Organize a food drive in your office or neighborhood to be dropped off and distributed at one of our food drives.
- Have ties with local businesses? Reach out to them to donate food or new clothing to our drives!
- Offer asylum seekers skill-building internships at your company.
- Provide French or Arabic translation for clients.
- Are you a social-media buff? Teach us how to best use these tools to get our message out!
- Getting a few bands together for a show or organizing a get together with friends? Consider collecting funds for RIF at the door!
Lastly, we will regularly share local events, rallies, and actions via social media so please like us on Facebook to stay in the loop!
Maria & Ellie
We are overjoyed to share a new initiative by our dear friend, Rose McAdoo of Whisk Me Away Cakes, called "Using Desserts to Drive Global Change." We met Rose at Brooklyn Grange in 2015 when she farmed alongside our Urban Farm Recovery Project (UFRP) fellows. Ever since, she has collaborated with RIF on many of our events including our World Refugee Day Fundraiser and our Farm to Film and Back event. In addition to her extraordinarily generous spirit and her talent as a baker, Rose has shown a profound desire and ability to build meaningful and lasting relationships with asylum seekers. In her upcoming trip to East Africa, she will be visiting the family of one of our UFRP fellows in Rwanda.
You can contribute to her initiative at the following link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/using-desserts-to-drive-global-change-africa#/
Dearest friends and supporters,
As many of us have felt, in New York, this country, and beyond, 2016 has been quite a rough and trying year. Many of us have been left asking, what can we do? Regardless of any outcomes, we now have to get ready for 2017 and will need a lot of strength and energy moving forward. And we are so glad to have you, our community, to take up our mission and double down on all efforts.
If only from having appointed Jeff Sessions as the next Attorney General, it is clear that Donald Trump intends to keep his hardline xenophobic positions towards refugees & immigrants. On this subject he has been rather consistent, and with the vague but threatening words he has had to say, for example in his 60 Minutes interview, we have to take him at his despicable words.
RIF is committed to steadfastly be at their side, as we know you are, too. The most vulnerable contingent of immigrants at the moment are the “Dreamers” who risk having to give up the integration and acceptance that the Dream Act provided. Refugees who have been vetted abroad to come to the United States, in particular Syrians, likely will never be able to come, at least under the Trump administration.
At RIF, we will focus on how the Trump administration will impact the plight of asylum seekers, and will count on you in the coming days to support and join our actions in any way you can.
In wanting to have a quick, thorough response, we have outlined several areas of focus:
1. Asylum seekers, fearing deportation, will prefer to stay off the grid. As such, they will become even more exposed to abuse and immigration scams.
2. Asylum seekers may have to wait ten or more years for an asylum decision, as the immigration courts promise to be even more backlogged than they already are. This will prolong the state of agony they experience, not knowing if they will be safe.
To tackle these issues yourself, we recommend:
1. If you have a space (gallery, studio, garage, basement, large living room, etc.) that we can use for meeting and gathering on a occasional basis, that would be a big help. We are seeking to create refugee safe spaces and sanctuaries, operated by citizens like you, all over the city.
2. Join our next food & clothing drive that will give the message to our asylum seekers that they are welcome. We will be holding these more regularly, so tell friends and family to join in as well!
3.If you are a mental health professional, you can sign up to do psychological evaluations that help lawyers to win asylum for their clients.
Finally, we want to thank all of you who have sent words of comfort and encouragement for our work, as well as those who send contributions.
Wishing you a wonderful Holiday Season.
Maria & Ellie
For many years, our slogan at RIF Asylum Support has held the promise of “growing new roots in a safer land.” These words have bred hope for the thousands of asylum seekers that come to New York every year in search of protection and safety.
As the results of the election rolled in– that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States– many of our clients reached out to us in sheer panic.
After calling me frantically, a woman from Haiti wrote, “I'm sorry for my tears and cries on the phone, but I feel more vulnerable now more than before. I keep hoping but the shadow of his words keeps hunting me. Donald Trump's words hurt my soul.” This message came from Doloreste, who fled violence and persecution in Haiti as she wondered, would she would now face persecution in the United States?
“Such a terrible news and I am scared for my asylum application. As if I have no longer hope in my future,” said She Wei, an asylum applicant from Burma.
“I am panicking.” wrote Gab, an LGBT asylee from Columbia who is now a permanent resident.
Clearly, Donald Trump’s victory is not only reviving traumatic events from the past, but also fears of future persecution in the land where they came to seek asylum. The next emotion setting in seems to be a sense of despair in not knowing where to find safety and relief.
In light of the President-elect’s promises, as uncertain as they may be at this moment, we can no longer earnestly describe the US as a “safer land.” We feel that doing so would serve to delegitimize the very real fears of the people we serve.
That being said, RIF will not be defeated by fear, and we will not back down from our mission of welcoming refugees to the United States. In fact, our efforts to advocate for safe spaces for refugees will only grow in response to a Trump presidency and our new slogan will read, “Growing safe spaces for new roots.” We will carry out our mission in this altered political environment by:
1. Keeping our clients informed about new developments regarding immigration policy and how it applies to their cases so that they feel less helpless, and more empowered to take action.
2. Increasing our advocacy efforts in order to elevate the voices and struggles of refugees to a broader audience, and to make sure that their basic human rights are being respected.
3. Continuing to engage and call on friends and supporters to join us in these efforts, and keep you informed on how we can act collectively.
Over the years, our clients have taught us a lot about resilience in face of adversity. Each time we witness what they accomplish in spite of all that is stacked against them, we are inspired to move forward, and to keep fighting for the rights we so strongly believe in. We have witnessed first hand that the best way to heal is by cultivating community around a shared principle of boundless connectivity and cooperation.
Together, we will grow safe spaces that are needed more than ever.
Maria and Ellie
Sincerely i feel scared, concerned about what tomorrow will bring for me in this country that i cherish by the great hope it will carry all of my dream as young black woman. Today i don't know how should i have to think and in what should i believe.
Like many other asylum seekers, I am somehow not too happy with the outcome of the election having listened to all he said during the campaign about immigrants, specifically Asylum seekers. - Anonymous
Hope so things will not become worst for us because you always stand with us. - Nadia (Pakistan)
Thanks for your support do you have any idea of what's going to happen to our case - Inoussa
Thank you Maria. I thank God, I'm feeling well and free in my mind. The world couldn't make in one day. Don't worry, we'll strong like you. The best! - Pap
Honestly I am scare. - Hamid (Morocco)
Such a terrible news and I am scared for my asylum application. As if no hope for my future.Thank you for your support. - She Wei (Burma)
I'm sorry for my tears and cries on the phone, but by feeling that i'm more vulnerable, invaluable now more than before. i keep hopping but the shadow of his words keeps hunting me. Donald Trump's words hurt me to my soul. - Doloreste (Haiti)
I am panicking. - Gab (Colombia)
For those of you who couldn't make it to our event, Farm to Film and Back, we are sharing our press release and photos from that evening.
If you were to visit us on a summer afternoon, the roof door would swing open as it did this evening, revealing a lucid landscape that is both familiar and foreign. A truncated forest of kale would lead you to this tented patio where—instead of finding this sheet of paper—you would find hands, brown from the sun and the soil, breaking bread. Smiling, and ravenous, the farmers of Brooklyn Grange would invite you to sit down and dig in.
As an innovative commercial farm and green roofing business with the goal of developing a sustainable model of urban agriculture, Brooklyn Grange grows a lot more than the 50,000 pounds of organic produce that it sells to local markets. Five years ago, RIF partnered with Brooklyn Grange to establish the Urban Farm Recovery Project, a paid fellowship for asylum seekers in urban agriculture. Much like the farm, the project has gone on to feed many, both literally and spiritually. While the farm comes alive, the RIF fellows transform with the landscape, and take root in their new environment.
This year, few were sheltered from the images and stories of people fleeing their homes for a chance to survive. Our farm fellows are some of these people. As the refugee crisis reached overwhelming proportions, they were received with a wide spectrum of support and opposition at various stages of their journey. Tonight, we celebrate Brooklyn Grange as a stop on their path; one that shifts the trajectory of their journey entirely. More importantly, we would like to relish in the process of that transformation, in the moments of dignity and camaraderie that sprout amidst the moments of fear and desperate hope.
The artists on view this evening are a vital part of what allows us to share these ineffable moments. They are the lens through which many audiences, who are not able to visit Brooklyn Grange or a refugee camp in Calais, may interact with the asylum seeker’s journey. All of the artists who document our work begin their exploration with a day on the farm, followed by many days of work off the farm to create the pieces you see today. Tonight, their work is back at the site of its genesis, and we invite you to explore the complex experiences examined in their creations. We hope that you will walk away with a sense of what breeds the asylum seeker’s journey, and what this journey breeds.
The Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF)
Since 2006, RIF has remained the only organization dedicated to serving refugees seeking asylum in NYC. Our programs provide newcomers with an accessible roadmap to the asylum process, as well as a chance to integrate and contribute to their new communities. In New York City alone, over 30,000 individuals applied for asylum in 2015. To learn more about how RIF supports asylum seekers during the most difficult stage of their journey, please visit RIFNYC.org
“What this Journey Breeds” By David Quateman & Eamon Redpath (20 mins) 2016
A short documentary film exploring the asylum seeker’s journey from fleeing, to seeking RIF’s support in NYC. For the last year, these two talented filmmakers were among a group of Fordham University students who participated in a series of teach-ins about RIF’s work with asylum seekers. The film examines the ways that asylum seekers are welcomed upon arriving to NYC, and how this often differs with their expectations of the American dream.
“And I am an Asylum Seeker” & “Grange” by Anabelle Declement (3:27 & 1:56 mins) 2016
Two short films that deconstruct the asylum seeker’s experience on and off the farm, and in-front-of and behind the camera. Also a Fordham student, Declement’s work embodies her skill and creativity as an observer. She uses the medium of film in a way that seems to capture not only sight and sound, but also smell, taste and touch.
“Roots” by Anne Saint-Pierre 2014-2016
A photographer and moving image designer/director by trade, Saint-Pierre’s eye for the ephemeral imbues her photos with an element of mystique and weight that is fitting to the subject explored in “Roots.” Since 2014, she has captured the essential moments of the Urban Farm Recovery Project, as well as RIF’s asylum support services.
Untitled by James McCracken Jr. 2015 - 2016
A United States Navy veteran, and the first of the Fordham students to arrive on the farm last season, McCracken brings a profound sense of intimacy to his work and his process. At times utilizing black and white photography, McCracken’s photos resemble paintings in their artful, intentional compositions.
“Réfugiés” by Jean-Baptiste Pellerin 2015 - 2016
Pellerin’s photos from the jungle of Calais, and the refugee encampment under the La Chapelle metro station in Paris encapsulate the temporal intimacy of street photography. His images and diptychs highlight in rich color, moments of human dignity within crushing environments, set within the backdrop of a historically dignified city. Pellerin’s exquisite pictures serve as context for the asylum seeker’s journey, and they explore the refugee’s immense will to live and to be respected.
Ramzi's natural gregariousness and openness foster his long-term goals: to make the Italian state recognize its responsibility to uphold the Geneva Convention and other international agreements--"without discussion"-- while at the same time to help the Italian people at the local level integrate with newcomers. In "occupying" public space with art exhibits, music, theatre productions and migrants themselves, Ramzi told me he is trying to educate and to enable local residents and migrants to be mutually involved in community-building, connecting and integration.
by Kelly McKinney
“One minute, people are going about their day. The next minute, people are running for their lives,” remarked Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, in response to the horrific attacks in Brussels this week. Upon hearing this acknowledgement, from the same politician who called for, and helped pass the pause on the U.S refugee resettlement program, I was immediately struck by the cognitive dissonance of Ryan’s momentary (but selective) empathy. As I recently reflected on in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it’s easy to understand why Americans and Europeans relate to each other with ease in these moments, when from one minute to the next, our seemingly safe homes become war-zones.
Each time our safety-bubbles are burst by violence, we have the opportunity to briefly comprehend the fear that forces refugees from their homes.
However, a demagogue, or two, or three later, and this terrifying rupture of our presumed security can lead to fear-driven opinions and actions that demonize refugees fleeing the very phenomena we fear most.
That phenomena– extremism, terrorism, and the resulting violence – are real threats, that deserve real and extensive solutions. However, these solutions must arise from a nuanced understanding of the type of beast we’re dealing with: one with a heightened sense and use of propaganda. U.S politicians and media are directly playing into, and disseminating this propaganda when they omit the daily atrocities that ISIS and other terrorist entities unleash on Muslims and non-westerners.
When only the western casualties of this terror are heavily publicized, and related to, we end up with a very distorted picture of the threat itself, but more importantly, we lose sight of those who face the greatest threat.
As a result, those who can best relate to Ryan’s words are scapegoated and denied a chance to seek refuge.
At RIF, we’ve been working with asylum seekers very intimately for the last decade. We hear their stories of persecution and terror everyday, and we witness the lengths they go to escape the scary realities that make life in their native homes impossible. We know all too well how difficult the choice to flee may be, no matter how grave the danger, as many people are often forced to leave behind the people they love most. We know that these people are fleeing terror, not inducing it, and most importantly, we know that a helping hand goes a long way when they first arrive here on the other side.
By Ellie Alter
On the third day of 5th grade, my home became a warzone. The triangle below Canal Street that raised me became an ash-encrusted ground zero. That morning, my classmates and I sat perched on the third floor of PS 234 and watched as flutters of paper and people streamed from the tower with smoke. Minutes later, we fled.
For politicians, 9/11 became a deep-diving subsidiary to any effective fear-mongering campaign, and the ultimate trump card (until Hillary's blunder?). For those of us who grew up and raised our families in ground zero, this signaled the end of home as we knew it. But terror would come home to Iraqis, and Afghanis, and Yemenites to a far greater extent, and it already tore into the homes of so many people around the world.
As the recent tragedies unfolded in Paris, I viscerally returned to the day that war became a part of my mundane daily experience, when tanks parked on Hudson Street and our school building became an army base. I felt for Parisians all too closely. I felt the same poignant pang when my family and I watched the night-vision clips of bombs dropping on Baghdad on the evening news in 2003, and when I watched the gruesome footage of Assad’s chemical warfare on Syrian people last year.
I related to the aching feeling that their lives would never be the same.
Though some of us may experience this same empathy when faced with these realities on our newsfeeds, the way the “West” reacted to the events in Paris (as opposed to tragedies in the Middle East and beyond) made it apparent that too many of us do not. Americans struggle to relate to the way much of the world experiences war, but for all too perceivable reasons, what happened in Paris shook people, and somehow it felt closer to home.
This week, we were forced to reflect on why so many of us aren’t shaken by suffering in places that we’ve become too comfortable resigning to terror.
Through this stark contrast of empathy, we were forced to face what this illusion of separation means for the people living in, and fleeing this suffering.
When nations or religions become the “other,” #alllivesmatterdifferently. This lived disconnect is preyed upon by politicians that callously ask us to close our doors to refugees. Ironically, this disconnect is equally powerful when harnessed by the extremists responsible for the attacks in Paris, a group that flourished in the power vacuum created by the 2003 invasion.
Politicians and extremists capitalize on these moments of fear to create both divisions and unity, but only in the spaces that serve them.
It’s easier to galvanize support for policies that turn away asylum seekers when people don’t feel the same pang in their heart when muslims or Salvadorans die. It becomes easier to relinquish any sense of responsibility for creating the cycles of violence refugees are fleeing in the first place, when the pervading reaction to fear is condoning more violence, rather than empathy.
To the Americans who relate to the people of Paris and NYC: we ask you to take your empathy a step further. If you are willing to try and imagine what it feels like to have your Friday night rock show be pierced by gunfire, take the next step and imagine what it feels like to hear the sound of artillery everyday. At what point would you abandon your home and your relatives and seek refuge in a safer place? When your neighbor's home was flattened? When you received the third death threat?
Instead of feeding into the illusion of separation that serves political agendas of US senators and ISIS alike, we need to stand together and demand that #alllivesmatter. We need to allow the terror in Paris to give us insight into the terror that millions of people are fleeing, from Syria to Mali, to just south of our border. We should tune into the sudden terror we feel when our privileged way of life is momentarily jeopardized, and understand that refugees experience this the same way until it’s no longer momentary, and they must flee or face death.
In these moments of fear, we must unite in empathy and solidarity to declare that the illusion of division does not serve us.
In unity, we ought to welcome those who are struggling to regain their sense of home, so that they too may enjoy the way of life that we all seek.
By Ellie Alter