Interactive exhibit offers perspective on refugee experience
“You can choose five things to take with you,” Melanie tells us. “You have 30 seconds. One…,” she begins, “two…three…”
Some of us start grabbing items in a panic. (See item board pictured.) Others take the more pragmatic approach. Money and passport, of course. Food, water, medicine. But what about shoes? Is there no room for our precious family photos? That dog is like a child to us—how can you ask us to leave him behind?
Melanie is tasked with guiding us today. We are a group of high school students, members of a local church, and two office workers on their lunch break. The closest people to refugees are a couple of tourists from Oregon. Nevertheless, the exhibit is designed to replicate the experience of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons—in a convenient one-hour tour.
We perch precariously on the side of a rib—a rigid inflatable boat—and try to imagine it packed with two, three, four times as many people. How does a boat like this not capsize in dangerous seas?
We pass through to the tent that houses the health clinic.
“Ewww,” says one young girl when she realizes why the “cholera bed” has a hole in the middle. The bucket shower and squatting toilet elicit similar shudders. We move into our new home—a cramped tent we share with another family. There isn’t a lot of protection from the elements. There is a near-constant danger of fire from the primitive cook stove. We are told we could be here for months, years, even decades.
At every stop of our tour, we are forced to give up one of our precious items. It’s all pretend, of course, and yet we seem to agonize over each choice. One woman cheats, holding on to her last two possessions until she is caught and forced to give up her cell phone. At the end, another woman shows off the money she held onto—proud of making the wise and practical choice.
Melanie shakes her head. “You should have chosen jewelry," she tells her bluntly. “What good is money from South Sudan?”
The world now has more refugees and displaced persons than at any time since World War II. Refugees resettled in the U.S. urgently need our support.
Congress is proposing funding bills for Fiscal Year 2017 that would flatline refugee resettlement funding at 2016 levels, just as our country begins welcoming 110,000 refugees this month—35,000 more refugees than planned for in last year's budget.
Fighting back: A Chicago Dreamer takes on the injunction against Expanded DACA
Should an injunction issued in Texas apply to Illinois and other states?
In February 2015, José Lopez (pictured below), a DACA recipient and longtime resident of Chicago, received histhree-year work permit under the newly issued rules for DACA, part of President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration. That work permit—along with thousands of others—was revoked after a federal district judge in South Texas issued a nationwide injunction based solely on claims of alleged costs to Texas.
Although 25 states had joined Texas as plaintiffs in the original lawsuit that resulted in the injunction, Illinois, along with 15 other states and the District of Columbia, is on record for supporting both Expanded DACA and DAPA. So why, José wondered, did one judge in Texas have the power to decide his fate in Illinois?
The possibility that these lawsuits “might put a tiny crack in the original injunction,” says Sara, smiling, “is super-exciting.”
The timing for the lawsuit—so close to the presidential election—may seem strange to some. Why now? Why not wait?
“Here’s the thing,” Sara replies. “The wheels of justice move slowly. These cases aren’t resolved in a few months. The bottom line is that we have millions of people suffering from an unprecedented injunction."
"And now," she adds, an edge of steely resolve in her voice,"we have an opportunity to alleviate a lot of that suffering."
To read more on this groundbreaking impact litigation, please gohere.
What can we do to help Haiti?
Deporting Haitian migrants back to a newly-devastated country is not the answer
After the catastrophic (magnitude 7.0) earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians then living in the United States. They were granted authorization to work while remaining safe from the threat of deportation. Our government also withheld most deportations to Haiti during this recovery period, citing the social, economic, and political troubles that continued to plague the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere long after the tremors from the earthquake had subsided.
On September 22, 2016 DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced a reversal in this policy. Thousands of Haitian migrants were massing on the Mexican border, attempting to enter into the United States. Most had made the journey from Brazil, where they had been working until the Brazilian economy collapsed. U.S. agents began detaining these Haitian migrants and preparing them for deportation.
Two weeks later, Hurricane Matthew pummeled into Haiti, killing hundreds, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, with no access to medical care, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, or food. Doctors without Bordersreports outbreaks of cholera and other infectious disease. Humanitarian groups express fears of an epidemic and widespread famine in the months ahead.
So what do we do now?
“A good starting place would be to grant parole to every person in Haiti who already has an approved visa because of a U.S. citizen family member,” advises Janet Horman, Executive Director and lead attorney for South Florida Justice for Our Neighbors. Many of her clients, she says, have been waiting longer than a decade for their families to be able to join them.
‘"There are children and grandchildren of U.S. citizens whose lives are in danger right now,” she states. “Let’s get them over here while they are still alive.”
Janet also advocates redesignating Haiti for TPS to include those Haitians living here when Hurricane Matthew struck their homeland. Allowing Haitians to remain and work here, she reminds us, also helps feed people back in Haiti.
“Although my clients don’t earn a lot of money,” Janet says, “I’m amazed how much they manage to save to send back to their mothers, wives, and children. They live in cramped apartments, live extremely frugally and send everything they can back home.”
“The larger our Haitian community here,” she adds, “the more humanitarian aid reaches the pockets of the people most desperate for help.”
The JFON network has served 43 new Haitian immigrant families in 2016 at sites around the country, most particularly at South Florida JFON.