Friday, February 28, 2020

Event highlights issues facing immigrant families

Sachin Pavithran, CPD policy director and UATP director,
spoke to participants about immigrants, disability and
how communities should approach them.

People with disabilities face additional barriers to citizenship

 By Diego Mendiola

 On Thursday at Mount Logan Middle School, community members and refugees gathered to learn about the challenges that are faced for those that are attempting to naturalize in the US, and the difficulties faced while reaching out to immigrant families with members with disabilities.

Immigrant families face increasing hurdles to become naturalized, refugees are denied access to the United States, and insensitivity of cultural differences prevent access to opportunities for those with disabilities.

 “If you feel like, ‘Wow the system is totally broken and I don’t understand anything,’ It’s probably a good thing,” said U.S. immigrantion lawyer Chad Pemberton in his opening remarks about the immigration process. “You’re probably right.”

 The event was held in partnership between the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection and the Center for persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Although Pemberton said he would try to be as neutral as possible about his presentation, he was open about his bias toward immigrant families. “By nature, the subject of immigration is political.” 

Pemberton said the way immigration issues are portrayed in the media is not helpful for American’s perception of outsiders. He said the media makes it seem that “if you are not a citizen, that means you didn’t try or you don’t care, that you recklessly want to break the law.”

According to Pemberton, the wait time for a person petitioning for a relative to become a permanent resident can take 20 to 25 years to process an application. The government is currently processing applications from 1998.

 “As you can see, the wait times are insane, and they’re only getting worse” he said. “So when people say, ‘why don’t they do it the right way,’ they don’t realize what’s really happening, how backlogged everything is.”

Unless prospective immigrants have relatives who are citizens or they are considered refugees by the United Nations, many people around the world simply have no options to move into the United States in a legal manner. Taking these issues, Sachin Pavithran invited the audience to experience immigration through the perspective of a person with disabilities.

Pavithran is the Utah Assistive Technology Program director and the policy director at the CPD. 

He emphasized the value of interdependence in immigrant families and communities. Sometimes they might perceive independence from the family as a threat to the family unit. “A lot of folks will really push individuals to become independent from their family.” He advised against this tactic. “If you try to push the family away, the person with disabilities will also be gone. Value the importance of interdependence. It’s how many family units work.”

 Furthermore, there is a lack of trust, he said. “Working with government agencies is not the easiest” for immigrant families. Although programs like the Utah Assistive Technology Program do not share personally identifying information, many immigrant-status families do not trust these services. 

Pemberton said policies have made a lot of immigrants fearful of receiving government services. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, “Since the 1800s, Congress has put into statute that aliens are inadmissible to the United States if they are unable to care for themselves without becoming public charges.”

 On Aug. 14, 2019, the latest rule change was added. It extended the definitions for who can be considered a public charge, and what services qualify a person to be considered a public charge. Those who use those services may be disqualified from renewing their status within the United States.

That rule, according to Pemberton, does not apply to those who are already permanent residents.

 Find out more on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

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