The U.S. Immigration System’s Indigenous Language Problem
The surge of asylum-seekers from Central America in the mid-2010s revealed critical language gaps in the asylum system: namely, the lack of competent Mayan-language interpreters. Language shapes each stage of the immigration process, from Border Patrol interrogations and detention to credible-fear interviews and post-approval integration. Non–Spanish-speaking indigenous children are at particular risk, with five of the six children who have died in Homeland Security custody having been indigenous and others traumatized by separation from their families in an unfamiliar language environment.
With three Guatemalan Mayan languages ranking among the top 25 languages used in immigration courts last year, the demand for interpreters exceeds supply, with the U.S. government relying on an uneven landscape of third-party companies and non-profit volunteers. The New Yorker highlights how skill deficiencies, U.S. President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, and a strained asylum system have combined to produce unique vulnerabilities for indigenous asylum-seekers.
“The indigenous population was likely the least able to understand their rights, and may therefore have been more susceptible to losing their children and waiving away their own asylum rights.”
“A Translation Crisis at the Border” (The New Yorker | December 2019)
“Anyone Speak K’iche’ or Mam? Immigration Courts Overwhelmed by Indigenous Languages” (The New York Times | March 2019)
“Indigenous immigrants face unique challenges at the border” (High Country News | June 2018)
“Ancient Mayan languages are creating problems for today’s immigration courts” (Los Angeles Times | August 2016)
Asociación Mayab (English version)
The Mayan League
The Hardships of Refugees in Malaysia
Although Malaysia has long offered refuge to persecuted Muslim populations, Malaysian law does not distinguish between asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. As a consequence, refugees experience high levels of legal precarity, severely limiting access to healthcare, employment, and educational opportunities. Immigration police frequently raid businesses in search of undocumented workers, and children are frequently pushed into work because of an educational system with limited resources to accommodate them. While more than 164,000 refugees in Malaysia are officially registered with the UN Refugee Agency, many more languish in the long registration queue. Today, activists are working to pressure the recently installed government to become a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to improve protections and access to opportunity for those seeking life and livelihood in the wake of war and persecution.
“‘We have nothing’: A life in limbo for Malaysia’s Yemeni refugees” (Al Jazeera | March 2019)
“Inside Malaysia’s ‘Living Hell’ for Refugee Children” (NewsDeeply | February 2018)
UNHCR Figures at a Glance in Malaysia
Upwards of 4,000 children taken from families as immigration crackdown continues in U.S.
- The implementation of a “zero-tolerance” policy for migrants and asylum-seekers seeking haven in the U.S. has led to nearly 4,000 children being separated from their families since October 2016, including 2,000 in less than a two-month period.
- The separations have resulted from the criminal referral and subsequent pretrial detention of all adults crossing the border without authorization, a misdemeanor.
- Although the Trump administration claims families seeking asylum at ports of entry are not included, several reports (including a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union) have indicated asylum-seekers have been separated or deterred from entering as well.
“DHS: 2,000 children separated from parents at border” (CNN | June 2018)
“U.S. govt says nearly 2,000 child separations at Mexico border in under two months” (The Thomson Reuters Foundation | June 2018)
“The Trump administration’s separation of families at the border, explained” (Vox | June 2018)
U.S. government loses nearly 1,500 children as administration directs separation of families at border
- Under direction from the Trump Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have begun separating children as young as 18 months old from their parents and shipping them to detention facilities at times more than a thousand miles from where their parents are held.
- The separation of children from their families effectively produces “unaccompanied minors,” who are then referred to the Office of Refugee Settlement (ORS) for placement.
- The head of the ORS reported to Congress that the office had lost track of some 1,475 children who had been placed in its charge.
“Testimony of Steven Wagner on the Care and Placement of Unaccompanied Alien Children” (Office of Legislative Affairs and Budget | April 2018)
“Federal Agencies Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Migrant Children Placed With Sponsors” (The New York Times | April 2018)
“What Separating Migrant Families at the Border Actually Looks Like” (VICE News | May 2018)
The Administrative Precarity of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Syrians who have fled to Lebanon to escape the violence that has embroiled their home nation have begun putting down new roots while waiting for the conflict to end. However, cultural and administrative differences have left many Syrians in limbo as practices surrounding institutions like marriage remain unrecognized in their new, if temporary, home. Lebanon’s complex and financially taxing requirements of civil registration (including residency, marriage, and births) has disenfranchised many Syrians, leaving them in legally precarious situations even as the government works to lessen the burdens.
Undocumented children are denied access to IDs and passports, and parents and other couples lacking official work permits find themselves trapped in exploitative labor conditions to support their families. The financial vulnerability of Syrian families is driving intergenerational insecurity, particularly as it has led to an increase in child marriage rates in the country. Reuters examines the complex bureaucratic and cultural conditions shaping the marginalization of Syrian families in Lebanon.
“As Syrian couples say ‘I do,’ Lebanon says ‘No, not quite’” (Reuters | December 2017)
“For Syrian refugees, child marriage robs a generation of its future” (The Globe and Mail | March 2017)
Failing Students with Disabilities in Texas
An extensive multi-part series by The Houston Chronicle has revealed the devious tactics the Texas Education Agency and school administrators have deployed to reduce the number of students with disabilities their schools serve, masking an alarming decrease in support beneath the glean of “improved pedagogy” and “early intervention.” An arbitrary, unscientific 8.5% benchmark was set across the state for the percentage of students taught in special education classes, which necessitated a dramatic and at times aggressive reduction in the number of students evaluated and identified as in need of special education. From stories of families trapped in bureaucratic labyrinths to data on the disproportionate negative effect on English-language learners, the Chronicle series investigates the broken system responsible for the education of children with disabilities and the political struggle to right the listing ship.
“Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of kids out of special ed” (The Houston Chronicle)
(Image Credit: Marie D. De Jesús/The Houston Chronicle)
Outrage erupts over proposed bill in Turkey to clear adults married to minors of sexual abuse charges
- The bill, approved after an initial reading and set for a second vote, would allow for the indefinite suspension of sentencing for sex “without force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” if the perpetrator marries the victim.
- Women’s rights, children’s rights, and other advocates were swift to condemn the proposed bill, which they argue effectively condones statutory rape and child marriage.
- Child marriage is illegal in Turkey, but non-civil religious marriages proliferate, particularly in the southeast of the country.
“Turkish ruling party sparks uproar with sexual abuse bill” (Reuters)
“Turkish bill to clear men of child sex assault if they marry their victims” (AFP via The Guardian)
“Turkey: Thousands protest against proposed child sex law” (BBC)
(Image Credit: Sedat Suna/EPA, via The Guardian)