The Morning Panel on Issues, was moderated by Rima Salah, of the UN High Level Panel on Peace Operations, a native of Jordan and herself a refugee.
Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director, Human Rights Watch, began by saying he had revised his talk because of President Trump’s first-week actions, and the impact they will have on the United States’ long-time role as a leader for refugees. Forty percent of the budget for the High Commission for Refugees comes from the United States, and, perhaps more important, in the past the United States has shown moral leadership – leading the acceptance of the New York Declaration last September and President Obama’s calling a summit of world leaders immediately after to get concrete commitments toward ensuring the safety and rights of migrants and refugees and stabilizing the nations they come from and settle in.
The New York Declaration condemned racism, xenophobia, etc., and recognized the responsibility of all nations for refugees, with richer nations supporting the mostly poorer host countries. The United States had led the way by pledging $1 billion more to supporting solutions and accepting 100,000 more refugees This is in question now, under Mr. Trump. Walls are not a solution, he declared, to much applause.
Refugees in Texas
The final panelist of the morning was Isabella Saavedra, an immigration lawyer working with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where she defends refugees’ rights. Herself a refugee, she came to the United States without documents from Colombia as a ten year old. She is currently working at the U.S. detention centers in Dilley, Texas, which she describes as “like internment camps.”
In 2014, there was no legal representation for refugees at the border, and many refugees were forced into mandatory detention and given “expedited removal,” which means they were deported with no legal processing. This led four Catholic refugee organizations to form CARA Pro Bono. They are all volunteers, many are attorneys and social workers who prepare the refugees for meeting with asylum officers.
Ms.Saavedra described the conditions at Dilley as inhumane: people are held in “ice boxes,” with no protection from Texas heat which often soars to 107 degrees. There is no medicine for sick children and high arsenic levels in the water. She spoke of losing hope in humanity, seeing the way the United States is treating these women and children. Ms. Saavedra urged us to call on Congress to eliminate family detention.
The Question and Answer period raised questions about the detention centers: They are run by for-profit corporations, which make huge profits and lobby Congress for more detainees. The detention centers under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s jurisdiction. Mr. Trump’s Executive Orders would greatly increase expedited removals and remove judges from the asylum process.
The morning session ended with Awards for Excellence in Education and for Posters displaying students’ research on refugees.
The Awards for Excellence in Education [scroll down for details about the awards and winners] went to two programs for immigrants in Georgia, which has large immigrant community, and a school in Pennsylvania for funding wells in South Sudan:
- Dr. James Badger, Beth White and Hattie Burchardt, of the International Community School, Atlanta, GA
- Haime Haile – Georgia State University with the Clarkston Community Project
- Sarah Beltz and Heather Elvidge and 7th Grade Educators at Keith Valley Middle School, Horsham, Pennsylvania
The Poster Awards were given to 20 college students from around the world, including a group from India who all attended the session and displayed their work. Others were from Africa and the Middle East, and the United States. Some of the posters were very informative. Others appealed directly to the heart, depicting refugee situations.