This past weekend, we remembered the thousands who perished in the attacks on September Eleventh twenty years ago as well as those who died in the toxic aftermath and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, just about ten days ago, the last U.S. military flight left Kabul concluding a twenty-year war and the month-long frantic evacuation airlifting 112,000 people out of Afghanistan. The day September 11, 2001 may have been twenty years ago, but the shock, the pain, the anger, and the bewilderment feel as fresh as the moments when the four planes flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Many have said that the day, September 11, 2001, had forever changed this country. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it only provided the justification to re-shape the post-Cold-War world order according to an American image and gave those who wanted to rein in voting rights and civil rights a political cover to do so.

In the immigration world, the crack-down on immigrant rights started years before 9/11. It began with the War on Drugs in the late 1980s. The rhetoric and actions ratcheted up in 1995 following the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and wounded 680 others in addition to destroying hundreds of city blocks on April 19, 1995. Almost exactly on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, Congress passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) on April 24, 1996, punishing defendants in criminal matters and immigrants alike. AEDPA curtailed defendants’ ability to challenge their conviction and severely restricted people on death row from appealing their sentence or seeking judicial review, making it easier for the government to execute people. Although immigrants had nothing to do with the bombing, they were punished any way. AEDPA limited judicial review on agency discretionary decisions, it broadened the spectrum of deportable crimes, it expanded the scope of mandatory detention and it limited relief from removal. AEDPA was the first draft of the emerging immigration enforcement framework.

Six months after Congress passed AEDPA, it passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in September 1996 ushering in the enforcement-centric immigration scheme as we know it today. Among the harshest provisions of IIRIRA are the following:

  • Curtailed judicial review in many agency actions, such as expedited removal discussed below.
  • Expanded the scope of deportable crimes by enlarging the definition of “aggravated felony” to include many non-violent crimes with unlimited retroactive application, making many long-term residents deportable for crimes that weren’t aggravated felonies when they committed them decades ago. IIRIRA also made immigrants convicted of “aggravated felony” ineligible for discretionary relief such as cancellation of removal, thus removing immigration judge’s discretion to grant deportation relief in cases where the immigrants have significant community ties and equity.
  • Created “expedited removal” giving immigration officers and border patrol unreviewable authority to summarily deport someone who attempts to enter with fraudulent or no document without the benefit of a hearing. Expedited removal significantly impedes access to asylum at ports of entry. Those who are summarily removed are barred from re-entry for a minimum of five years.
  • Significantly expanded the scope of mandatory detention, including asylum-seekers who are subject to expedited removal until they can establish a credible fear of persecution.
  • Created three- and ten-year bar preventing someone who left the United States from reentering if she has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days or 365 days prior to departure. (It was not until 2013 when U.S.C.I.S. created the provisional waiver allowing immigrants who accrued significant unlawful presence to leave the U.S. to process immigrant visa at consular posts overseas without being subject to the 3- or 10-year bar from re-entry, though they may still be barred from re-entry for other reasons.)
  • Stripped immigration judge’s discretion to grant deportation relief based on the immigrant’s community ties and equities by raising the hardship standard and lengthening the years of residence for long-term residents seeking cancellation of removal (previously known as suspension of deportation) making this form of relief much more difficult to obtain.
  • Imposed one-year filing deadline requiring asylum-seekers to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the U.S., which has significantly harmed those who struggle with English, are not mentally ready to relive the trauma, who can’t understand the U.S. asylum system, who lack legal counsel and who struggle to establish a foothold in the U.S.
  • Establish the 287(g) program deputizing local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws leading to racial profiling and erosion of public safety as immigrant communities lost trust in law enforcement.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was the “cap stone” of the carefully orchestrated four-part anti-immigrant legislation that Congress passed in 1996. On April 26, 1996, Congress passed two laws: the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996 and AEDPA. The appropriations bill restricted (and continues to) civil legal services that received any funding from Legal Services Corporation (LSC) from representing undocumented immigrants, challenging welfare reform and redistricting, filing class actions, engaging in legislative advocacy, or collecting attorneys’ fees, among other things. A month before Congress passed IIRIRA, it passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) that made recent immigrants who were not yet U.S. Citizens or had significant work history in the U.S. ineligible for most safety net programs funded by the federal government. Undocumented immigrants, unless grandfathered under the Act, would be ineligible for any federal benefits programs, including unemployment and housing subsidies. By defanging legal services lawyers under the appropriations bill, Congress made certain that once it moved forward with welfare and immigration reforms later in that year, there would be no legal services lawyers available to challenge these laws to protect immigrants and low-income people.

The George W. Bush Administration started 2001 attempting to create common ground with the Mexican government and Congress to fix the immigration system. The tragic events on September 11th snuffed any hopes for immigration reform. Rather, the fact that those hijacked the planes that day entered the U.S. with valid visas quickly conflated the conversation of immigration with terrorism. Instead of considering any legalization measures to regularize the status of the three million undocumented immigrants, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act a year after 9/11 on November 25, 2002. The new law yanked the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from the Department of Justice and parked it with the newly created Department of Homeland Security cementing the enforcement-centric immigration policies that started with IIRIRA. No comprehensive immigration reform bills managed to pass Congress in the past twenty years, but the immense budget funding the Department of Homeland Security allowed immigration enforcement set in motion by IIRIRA to run on steroids, leading to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, tearing apart families and disrupting our community.

I remember that morning on September 11, 2001. I was awakened at 6 a.m. Pacific Time when my staff called to alert me of the attacks on the Twin Towers and asked me if I would close the office that day. At that early hour, I could not fathom how the tragic events of that morning would forever change our country and hardened elected officials’ anti-immigrant attitudes. Just five months before 9/11, I was worrying how the collision of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane and a Chinese People’s Liberation Army naval plane over the South China Sea and the subsequent detention of the American crew members by the Chinese government had led to reverberating calls to invoke the national security law to put Chinese Americans in internment camp. Now with 9/11, it would be a different population who would bear the blunt of xenophobia. Vigilantes went out of their way to exert private justice by terrorizing and killing anyone who might look like the 9/11 hijackers. Sikh American men who wear turbans and long beards as part of their religious observance, individuals who looked Middle Eastern and South Asians became the targets of hate.

Since the first nationality law was passed in 1790 that determined who could be American citizens, our immigration laws have been casted and recasted by successive waves of politicians who may be themselves immigrants or a generation or two away from being immigrants to exclude, to vilify and to challenge the newcomers’ worthiness and fitness to enjoy equal justice and the rule of law. On this twentieth remembrance of 9/11, I grieve the lives lost to the tragic events. I am also saddened by our state of immigration that fails to recognize the humanity of the people coming here to seek sanctuary from persecution, war, corruption, political instability, poverty, starvation, who yearn for freedom, safety, stability, better opportunities, and the life we want for ourselves and our families.

Zenobia Lai,
Executive Director

As the Biden-Harris Administration approaches the 150-day mark, Vice President Harris’ visit to Guatemala has elevated the urgency to advance the immigration agenda. Immigrant rights advocates have fought hard for this moment when restoring humanity and dignity in our immigration system that honors family unity, supports a growing economy and provides safe haven for those fleeing persecution, war and calamities appears within reach. Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) has been meeting with local NGO partners, city and county representatives and the border sector to coordinate strategies and efforts to support asylum-seekers coming from the border. There is a deep sense of urgency to be prepared.

President Biden has taken 94 executive actions on immigration during the first 100 days of his administration, more than half of these actions were to reverse the anti-immigrant measures of the previous administration. The rapid and bold actions of President Biden on immigration are welcomed relief for immigrant rights advocates. The reversal of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies of the Trump Administration has opened potential avenues for many to obtain legal immigration status.

Some of the Biden Administration’s actions have immediate implications to the immigrant community and the immigrant-serving organizations. For example, the end of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP, also known as Remain in Mexico) has enabled more than 12,000 individuals to enter the U.S. since February 19, 2021, about 10% of them have resettled in Harris County. Following the MPP processing, the Administration has begun to allow vulnerable migrants encamped along the Mexico borders to enter the U.S. under narrow exemptions of the Title 42 public health expulsion policy. Many of them have also resettled in Greater Houston. Whether they are released under the MPP program or the Title 42 exemption or released by CBP for other reasons, these migrants are in removal proceeding and they need legal assistance to sort out the posture of their immigration matter, and to continue their asylum claims and other immigration relief.  Changes in enforcement and removal priorities also allow immigrants in removal proceeding to reopen cases to seek termination, continuance, new hearing on the merits, or to petition for bond or parole, etc. Non-profit immigration legal services providers need immediate and sustained infusion of funding to ramp up staffing capacity to help immigrants seek immigration relief during this small window of opportunity under the Biden Administration.

In addition, the Biden-Harris Administration also expanded humanitarian protection by designating nationals from Venezuela and Burma for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and redesignating Syrians and Haitians for TPS protection and expanded the scope of those covered. An estimated 323,000 Venezuelans and 1,600 Burmese in the U.S. are newly eligible for TPS. The redesignation of Haitians and Syrians for TPS is likely to double the current number of 64,000 TPS beneficiaries. Nationwide, nearly 420,000 foreign nationals from 10 countries are TPS beneficiaries prior to the recent designation of Venezuela and Burma, almost 13% of them live in Texas [i] among whom are more than 50,000 Salvadoran and Honduran TPS recipients. The fate of Salvadoran, Honduran, Nepalese, Nicaraguan, and Sudanese TPS-holders is up for redetermination when the current designation expires on October 4, 2021. At the same time, President Biden also increased refugee admission from 15,000 to 62,500 for fiscal year 2021 and he vowed to double this number next year. Texas is among the top refugee receiving states having resettled 10% of the refugees over the past decade. Houston area immigration legal services need to stand ready to provide legal assistance to many who would be eligible for protection under Biden Administration’s expanded humanitarian relief programs.

The expansion of humanitarian protection together with the process of allowing MPP migrants and those exempt from Title 42 public health expulsion have opened the safety valve for many seeking safe-haven in the United States, these are but band-aid to the broken and inequitable immigration system. Several bills pending before Congress offer the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform.  However, four months have elapsed since the United States Citizenship Act of 2021 was introduced in Congress and more than three months have gone by since the House passed the Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, none of these bills has advanced. Without continued advocacy, the legislative process will stall, and these bills will die of inaction and foreclose the hope for any real immigration reform for years to come.

There are 44.9 million foreign-born individuals in the U.S., they account for 13.7% of the total U.S. population. Nearly half (45%) of immigrants are naturalized citizens. Immigrants make up an outsized share of essential workers working on the frontlines risking their lives to respond to the pandemic as physicians (28.7%), nursing assistants (22%), registered nurses (15.7%), respiratory therapists (13.6%), grocery and supermarket workers (16.6%), food delivery workers (18.2%), freight laborers (15.8%), meat cutters (34.7%), farmworkers (42.1%), maids (46.7%) and janitors (25.7%) despite persistent anti-immigrant attacks. Over the past two decades, both Democratic and Republican Administrations designated billions of dollars in federal budgets to attack immigrants. In 2018 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had a combined budget of $23.8 billion, an increase of 39% since 2012 even though immigration has flattened over that period.

During the period of intense assaults on immigrant rights during the Trump Administration, a survey of 254 top local funders across the United States in 2018 showed that philanthropy gave $304 million in grants that benefited immigrants and refugees across the country, and another $116 million to support pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement groups. [ii] The philanthropic giving to immigrant and refugee community represented a many-fold increase since 2016, but at 1% (for service organizations) and 0.4% (for movement organizing) of all foundation dollars given out, it continues to be disproportionately tiny relative to the size of the immigrant population and the threats it has been under.

In Texas, one in six Texans is an immigrant, a quarter of them live in Greater Houston. Nearly half (44%) of children in Greater Houston live in immigrant household and 15% of the children have at least one parent who is undocumented. The immigration policy changes under the Biden Administration have enormous impacts on the children and families in this region. The Greater Houston philanthropy needs to adequately invest in the immigrant community to help this community thrive and succeed.

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative has organized a three-part funder briefing since May 2021 to apprise the philanthropic community of the impacts of the changing immigration landscape on Greater Houston. Through the funder briefing, we also share strategies in building equitable disaster management for immigrants and highlight examples of public-private partnership as mechanism to provide sustaining support for holistic immigration legal services.

The election of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris to be President and Vice President of the United States is only the first step toward the aspiration of building an equitable immigration system and inclusive society. By the stroke of a pen on an executive order, hundreds of thousands of individuals who lack immigration status may win the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain deportation reprieve. There is an urgency for the immigrant-serving non-profit community to be prepared to help our immigrant neighbors realize the benefits from any immigration reform. Philanthropy can help us get ready. Here are a few things that philanthropy can do to support a vibrant and inclusive future [iii]:

  • Designate proportional funding in the immigrant and refugee portfolio and give flexible, multiyear funding to support the immigrant- and refugee-serving organizations to enable them to pivot and allocate resources to swiftly adapt to emerging needs.
  • Fund a long-term vision while also support organizing and service to address short-term and immediate needs that include legal services, case management, mental health support and stabilization services to ensure immigrants’ long-term success in integration.
  • Use your network and social capital to advocate for inclusive immigration policies, make public statements against raids, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and include immigrants and refugee community members for your board, staff leadership and advisory councils.

The Covid 19 pandemic has made clear that the status quo pushing to maintain the system of exclusion has deepened inequality and disproportionately harmed communities of color. Philanthropy can respond to the sirens of the time by resolutely supporting immigrant communities that are organizing to combat hate and racism to build a better future for all.

– Zenobia Lai, Executive Director

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[1] See Pulling Back the Curtain: Analysis of New Government Data on Temporary Protected Status (TPS AWG, March 2021) https://cliniclegal.org/resources/humanitarian-relief/temporary-protected-status-and-deferred-enforced-departure/pulling.

[1] _, Won’t You be My Neighbor? Local Foundations, Immigrants & Refugee Populations (National Center for Responsive Philanthropy), https://www.ncrp.org/initiatives/movement-investment-project/our-active-movement-areas/pro-immigrant-and-refugee-movement/2020-local-foundation-funding.

[1] See e.g. Call to Action for Philanthropy to Address Urgent Regional Humanitarian needs for Asylum Seekers (Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Feb. 2021) https://www.gcir.org/funder-recommendations/2021-02/Strategic-Investments-in-Mexico-to-Support-Regional-Humanitarian-Vision-Recommendations.

Last week was National Hurricane Preparedness Week, followed by this week’s heavy storms. Are you prepared for this season? Though the National Weather Service maintains that June 1 is the start of hurricane season, they have extended the time within which they will issue weather advisories – now starting May 1. The lesson we’ve all learned after four 100-year floods in five years, the slow burn of COVID-19, and most recently our region’s winter freeze – disaster management is a permanent state.   

Disaster management includes preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. What has been made clear in this new reality is that though water, COVID, and freezes do not discriminate, the impact on individuals is far from equal. In fact, it has been documented that as damages increase from a disaster, so does wealth inequality – particularly along lines of race, education, and homeownership.   

These truths drove HILSC to develop our Immigrant Disaster Equity Program, and we’ve learned some important lessons since Hurricane Harvey that can reduce the harmful impact on those who are most vulnerable:  

  1. Immigrant and disaster management expertise must be bridged. HILSC has made great strides in developing relationships with disaster managers and connecting them with our immigrant-serving partners. These partnerships must continue to develop and grow. In the Houston Metropolitan Area, unauthorized immigrants make up 30% of the population. Including their needs in planning, response, recovery, and mitigation will only alleviate the burden on our first responders and disaster managers in times of crisis.
  2. Vulnerable populations, including immigrants, must be centered in policy and program planning. When plans are designed to reach the most vulnerable, they reach everyone. Specifically: 
    • Language justice means not just translations, but common vernacular targeting low-literacy levels. This includes webpages, call-in numbers, text and email notices, and most importantly public facing employees. All budgets must include translation and interpretation from local community members. Some community-based organizations can be employed for this! 
    • Eligibility and ID requirements must be clearly stated upfront in all materials. 
    • There must be better opportunities for people without transportation, people with disabilities, and seniors. Whether services are offered via drive through or walk up, they must be designed to serve all. 
    • Community-based organizations are effective partners in policy and program design and implementation. They are trusted partners to community members and can build bridges with government and larger service agencies.
  3. Issue-focused staff puts agencies light years ahead. Having disaster-focused staff at non-profits and immigrant/equity-focused staff at emergency management agencies puts them light years ahead. The agencies that meet this criterion have been the most successful in addressing immigrant equity through disasters. While this may seem obvious, there are very few agencies within either area of expertise that have staff focused on the other. Budgets must accommodate this.
  4. Government policies must protect all, government programs are intended to serve as a social safety net. With the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines, our government agencies were called on to hold mass events to serve as many as possible. This again left immigrants behind. While hospital systems, which received the lion’s share of vaccines, called their patients for appointments, other well-resourced folks were working the public system. Registration systems at first did not provide for people not fluent in English or technology, or unable to spend hours tracking when, where, and how to register. Again, vulnerable populations must be centered in policy and program design from the beginning.
  5. The opportunities to impact disaster management change between active response/recovery and “blue skies.” It is clear that the work changes depending on context. During ‘blue skies’ there is more room for strategic planning, but less urgency. Harvey, Imelda and other flooding events require very different responses than our current pandemic. But the pandemic has brought us incredible learnings on how to increase that can be applied to other disasters. We need to document and use these lessons well. 

HILSC, the Immigrant Disaster Equity Workgroup, and other HILSC workgroups will continue to serve as trusted partners and build and grow relationships. We will continue to disseminate timely information, target resources to immigrant-serving agencies, and advocate to remove barriers to immigrants benefiting from disaster mitigation policies and programs. Let us know how we can work together towards equitable disaster outcomes for immigrants in the Greater Houston region and beyond, that are better for all. 

 

Katy Atkiss
Immigrant Disaster Equity Program Manager 

It has been a month since the Atlanta shooting where a white man bought a gun that morning, drove across town, barged into three Asian American-owned spas, and killed eight people, including six Asian American women.

The six Asian American women were not dead because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They were where they were supposed to be – at their workplace, making a living to support their families. My grief for these women, and many others who have been victimized by anti-Asian violence over the past year, was briefly suspended when I saw the video of “kung fu” grandma who used a fragment of a two-by-four to whack the white man who punched her in the eyes in San Francisco. But my anguish deepened as another video popped up showing an Asian American woman being violently kicked down and repeatedly stomped upon on a New York city street in broad daylight. The attack that was captured on closed circuit television also showed two men going about their affairs inside the building as the beating happened just outside their doorsteps. Then a third man emerged on screen to close the door on the injured woman lying outside on the sidewalk struggling to get up.

During the year since March 2020 when Donald Trump started calling the COVID 19 “the Chinese Virus,” nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate and violent incidents have been reported, according to the non-profit Stop AAPI Hate. President Trump may not have started anti-Asian violence, he did misuse his bully pulpit to fan the hate. His hateful words led to the recent spate of violence and killings of Asian Americans.

Anti-Asian violence started almost at the same time as the arrival of the first group of Chinese laborers in California, around 1848, during the gold rush. (Asians had been in America before there was the United States of America. The first group of Filipinos arrived in Morro Bay of Northern California in 1587.) Robberies and killings of Chinese miners were commonplace. Such violence was sanctioned with impunity by the state. In the 1854 California case, People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court threw out the murder conviction of the white man who shot and killed a Chinese miner from behind by finding testimonies of Chinese witnesses inadmissible. In rendering the decision, Chief Justice Murray created the enduring caricature of Chinese as the perpetual foreigners who could not assimilate and were unfit to enjoy all the rights of citizenship.

Despite the significant contribution of Chinese laborers in completing the transcontinental railroad, the California state legislature and its Congressional representatives intensified advocacy for anti-Chinese laws. The first anti-Chinese immigrant law came in 1875 in the passage of the Page Act that ostensibly aimed to prevent entry of prostitutes, but in reality, was to bar wives of Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. The Page Act rendered the Chinese immigrant community a bachelor society where Chinese men could not build families.

The Page Act was followed by more anti-Chinese immigration laws starting with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that was extended for two ten-year periods until it became permanent in 1904. The Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese from coming to the United States and denied Chinese immigrants  American citizenship. The 1888 revision of the Chinese Exclusion Act cancelled the certificate of identity that Chinese immigrants had relied on for re-entry after a visit home, stranding tens of thousands Chinese immigrants overseas. Chinese exclusion would later expand to exclude other Asians until the door for Asian immigration was completely shut in 1924 with the passage of the first Immigration and Nationality Act that officially racialized immigration to the United States.

By the time Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent had been rounded up and put in concentration camps, living in horse stalls with only what they could carry. Their homes, their farms, their stores and all their properties either were sold for pennies or were taken outright from them. The Alien Land Acts that were in force in many western states in the 19th and 20th Centuries had meant that Japanese immigrants who were barred from becoming American citizens could not hold property under their names. Over time they ended up losing their properties to the white friends or white neighbors who agreed to lend their names for these contracts and property deeds.

Chinese immigrants were finally able to become American citizens in 1943 when Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and allowed a quota of 105 Chinese to immigrate per year. Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens until 1952 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 was overhauled. It was not until 1965 when Asians could immigrate to the United States on almost equal footing as those from the western hemisphere. Despite the first group of Asians immigrating to the United States 173 years ago, the Asian American community remains a largely immigrant one because of anti-Asian immigration laws that spanned almost a century.

During that same century, Chinese immigrants built communities known as Chinatowns around the country to provide mutual assistance, and to guard against discrimination and assault from the mainstream society. Many of these communities did not survive erasure.

  • 1868 – During the “Driving Out” or “Yellow Peril” period, 40,000 miners of Chinese ancestry were forcibly expelled from California.
  • 1871 – Race riot and massacre in Los Angeles Chinatown resulted in 20 Chinese men lynched or burned alive by mobs of white men, four men were crucified spread-eagle and then executed with knife and gun. The first Chinatown of Los Angeles was wiped out.
  • 1877 – Three days of race riots in San Francisco Chinatown claimed four lives and destroyed $100,000 worth of property of Chinese immigrants, including 20 laundries.
  • 1879 – The State of California rewrote its constitution declaring that the Chinese people were “dangerous to the well-being of the State” and delegating “all necessary power” to towns and cities “for the removal of Chinese.”
  • 1880 – Bloody riot in Denver Chinatown started as drunken brawl between some intoxicated white men and two Chinese men led to the hanging of one Chinese man, the brutal beating of numerous others and the destruction of all Chinese properties.
  • 1885 – In Tacoma, Washington, vigilantes led by the Mayor raided the Chinese-owned stores, loaded up the Chinese residents (Chinese women with bound feet who could not walk were thrown into carts) and forced them out of the city. The Chinese immigrants walked the 140 miles along the railroad track built by Chinese laborers decades earlier to reach Portland, Oregon.
  • 1885 – In Rock Springs, Wyoming, twenty-eight Chinese men were burned alive, and their bodies mutilated by local townspeople.
  • 1886 – In Seattle, Washington, labor leaders rounded up 500 Chinese residents remaining in Chinatown and expelled them from Seattle.
  • 1887 – In Snake River, Oregon, a gang of at least four hundred white men robbed, murdered, and mutilated thirty-one Chinese miners in the Hell’s Kitchen Canyon region of Snake River. Three men were tried but none was convicted. The Snake River Massacre was not revealed until 1995.
  • 1906 – The Chinatown in Santa Ana, California was burned down by order of the City Council.
  • 1907 – As South Asians began arriving in the United States in larger numbers, race riots expanded from anti-Chinese to anti-Asian. Hundreds of white men affiliated with the Asiatic Exclusion League attacked the homes of South Asians in Bellingham, Washington, driving 125, mostly Sikhs, out of town. Similar riots took place two months later in nearby Everett, Washington.

The list continues. The law that prohibited Chinese from testifying against whites was not repealed until 1955.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s sparked the enduring quest for racial and gender liberation. With it, the view toward Asian Americans also morphed from “yellow peril” to “model minority.” Being labelled “model minority” has led some Asian Americans to believe that they are protected from anti-immigrant attacks because they are the “good immigrants.” As State Representative Gene Wu pointed out at a “Stop Asian Hate” vigil last month, being called model minority does not shield Asian Americans from violence, the violence has not happened until recently “it’s just because your number was not up yet.”

The yearlong and continuing spate of Anti-Asian violence highlights the importance of allyship – to show up and speak out when others are oppressed, mistreated, discriminated against, attacked, or killed because of their skin color, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin, race, age, religious beliefs and practices. The fight for immigrant justice is a fight for racial justice. It is a struggle to correct a racialized immigration system that continues to discriminate along racial lines unabated.

Today is the 55th day of the Biden-Harris Administration, and we are already hearing acrimonious accusations from Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, charging the Administration for instigating migrant surge across the southern border. Instead of taking responsibility for his epic failure to protect and prepare Texans from the post-Valentine’s Day winter storms that put hundreds of thousands of Texans in the frigid cold with no electricity and, in many cases, no running water for days, Governor Abbott opted to divert attention by lifting the face-covering mandate and allowing business to operate at 100% capacity. His political choice could put Texas at risk of another COVID-19 surge, and he is already preparing a scapegoat: aiming at President Biden for rectifying the inhumane immigration policies of the past four years.

As he promised on the campaign trail, President Biden signed seven immigration-related executive orders and proclamations on day one of his administration to put humanity and dignity back in our immigration system. One of the Executive Orders ended the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Officially put in place in January 2019, the MPP policy pushed asylum seekers from primarily Spanish-speaking countries back to Mexico to await their court date, which could be years into the future. Migrants, including families with young children, were forced to live in squalid and unsafe encampments across the border where cartel, kidnappers, and traffickers preyed on them. Many of the migrants had moved elsewhere in Mexico or returned to their home country, only around 10,000 remained in the border encampments out of the total of 26,000 who have active immigration cases under the MPP program when President Biden ended it on January 20, 2021.

Within a month of President Biden’s inauguration, on February 19, 2021, the U.S. government processed the first group of twenty-five asylum seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego. Dozens of legal and social service volunteers spanned across the Mexico and San Diego border at the crack of dawn to explain the process to the migrants and assist those who made it across to the U.S. Processing at the Matamoros encampment across from Brownsville took place the following week. Teams of lawyers and volunteers who have built trust with the residents of the encampment over the years assisted the several hundred migrants to be processed by the Customs and Border Protection to ensure that they have proper documents needed for onward travel and that no one was accidentally skipped over. All migrants must test negative of COVID-19 prior to entering the U.S. For the migrants who have been stuck in Matamoros for more than two years, February 25, 2021 marked the triumph of humanity – they had endured unfathomable odds to make it across to the U.S. to pursue their asylum claims.

Since January 2021, there have been more unaccompanied children, individual migrants and family units coming to the U.S. from the southern border as compared to last year. Some of them might have been repelled from the U.S. last year under the emergency public health order of the Trump Administration. Detaining asylum seekers, separating children from their families, building border walls and harsh immigration policies have not stopped and will not stop desperate people from fleeing violence and persecution. Until we address the root causes of migration, the flow of humanity across the southern border will continue. President Biden is taking the crucial first step in developing a plan to shore up civil society in sending countries and establishing a refugee process system closer to home so that migrants do not have to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Our border communities have been shouldering the load of caring for the migrants in the past few years; it is time that the Houston community step up to the plate to share the burden. At HILSC, we have been reaching out to the grassroots and faith communities to organize Team Houston Welcoming to support migrants coming to or passing through Houston. Your support will help us address their immediate social needs and legal needs in the near term.