Jeopardy for children due to Trump’s immigration policies has only begun

Nilson Canenguez, a Salvadoran in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status program, hugged his adult daughter Maybelin at their home in Morningside, Md., in May. Wife/mother, Judit, is at right. Nilson Canenguez has been in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and is the owner of a construction business. His temporary legal residency will be coming to an end with the revocation of TPS as it applies to El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti. /Associated Press

The president is set to separate more than 200,000 U.S.-born children — citizens — from their parents.

If you think the last few weeks of separating 2,300 children from their migrant parents along the southern border were heart-wrenching, imagine if 273,000 American-born children are separated from parents whose temporary protected status (TPS) is terminated. That is what could happen if the Trump administration’s decision to revoke TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans is allowed to take effect.

Despite President Donald Trump’s executive order reversing his policy of separating migrant families, most of those 2,300 children have not been returned to their parents. That is truly unconscionable.

More than 100 times that number of children — all U.S. citizens — will be placed in similar jeopardy if the Department of Homeland Security begins programs to deport more than 58,000 Haitians on July 22, 2019, more than 262,000 Salvadorans on Sept. 9, 2019, and 86,000 Hondurans on Jan. 5, 2020. Parents will be faced with the decision of whether to take their children — most of whom speak mainly English and know only life in this country — back to countries deemed by the State Department as not safe for travel, some with the highest homicide rates in the hemisphere.

Otherwise, parents will have to leave their children alone in the U.S. or, if they’re lucky, with relatives, or foster parents whom they may or may not know, or some with “adult sponsors” chosen by federal agencies. The only other choice available to those parents would be to hide in the shadows as undocumented aliens. That is what the ambassadors to the U.S. from El Salvador and Honduras, during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), predicted most families would attempt. And DHS would undoubtedly begin a massive hunt for them.

Protesters in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Miami on May 13, 2017. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The TPS provision in the Immigration Act of 1990 states that after each 18-month review, if conditions have changed — and governments can adequately handle the return of their citizens, and the returnees can return in safety — then it can be terminated. It does not say it is okay to deport them even as governments say they would still be overwhelmed or that it is still unsafe.

The Trump administration’s TPS termination decision reversed the findings of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, their secretaries of state and secretaries of homeland security, and their legal advisers. They found that conditions justified legally extending the temporary protected status after each of 14 reviews for Honduras since it was granted following Hurricane Mitch in 1999, each of 13 reviews for El Salvador following two earthquakes in 2001, and each of four reviews for Haiti following the worst earthquake in the region’s history in 2010.

The decision to terminate the temporary protected status appears blatantly political, since it contradicted the evaluation of U.S. diplomats in each of the countries who sent cables urging extension of TPS. They wrote that deportation of TPS holders and their children would endanger the fragile economies in those countries, overwhelm the countries’ abilities to provide services, lead to more violence and prompt new flows of migrants to our borders, thus undermining U.S. national security interests. The U.S. Southern Command, which covers Central and South America, came to the same conclusion.

The Department of Homeland Security also ignored these State Department travel advisories in January warning U.S. travelers to “Reconsider Travel” to those countries:

• El Salvador: Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape and armed robbery, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.

• Honduras: Violent crime, such as homicide and armed robbery, is common. Violent gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, rape, and narcotics and human trafficking, is widespread. Local police and emergency services lack the resources to respond effectively to serious crime.

• Haiti: Reconsider travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents or emergencies. Protests, tire burning and road blockages are frequent and often spontaneous.

Various studies show that more than 80 percent of TPS beneficiaries work, pay taxes and contribute an estimated $690 million each year into Social Security. It would cost an estimated $3 billion to deport them, and the U.S. economy would lose about $4.5 billion each year in gross domestic product.

Finally, U.S. policy, begun under Obama and a Republican Congress, and continued, according to Vice President Mike Pence, in the Trump administration, sees that the best way to reduce the “push” factors on illegal migration is to assist Central American nations to strengthen their economies, democratic institutions and law enforcement.

Sending back hundreds of thousands of people to those countries, when the governments themselves have said they cannot handle it, undermines that policy. And placing at risk 273,000 U.S. citizen children — some still being nursed — undermines our values.

The immediate answer is for the president to reverse the DHS termination decisions. The best answer for those U.S. citizen children is for Congress to authorize permanent residency for their parents now and a pathway to citizenship — they have been here for as long as two decades and have demonstrated they can contribute to our future — as immigrant parents in this country have done for almost 250 years.

By Mark L. Schneider | July 6, 2018



Mark L. Schneider is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, former director of the U.S. Peace Corps and former head of Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID. He wrote this article for the Washington Post.

For Minnesota immigrants with dreams of playing pro soccer, club fees are a major hurdle

On a recent Friday evening, over a dozen young immigrant players from Ethiopia, Mexico and Somalia showed up in various European soccer jerseys at the East Phillips Park in Minneapolis.

All of them wanted to play, but the soccer field could only hold 12 people at once. So they divided themselves into three teams — with two groups playing against each other, and the third one waiting outside to replace whichever team lost first.

They had no coach to supervise them and no referee to enforce the rules of the game. Instead, the players assigned their own positions and called their own fouls. The system seemed to work well until a goalie, who asked to play forward, was left with two options: leave the field or remain a goalkeeper. (He chose the latter.)

Though each player wore a random jersey, which made it difficult to differentiate between the teams, it was easy to spot Yimer Woldeyes, an Ethiopian-born teenager who dominated the midfield with his speed, near-perfect ball control and masterful passes.

Even with such skills, though, Woldeyes — like many of his immigrant and refugee friends — has never really imagined playing in professional leagues in Minnesota. That isn’t because he doesn’t want to play competitively; it’s because he knows that getting there requires a lot more money than he has available.

“To play for a big team, you have to go through a lot of training,” said Woldeyes, a junior at Minneapolis South High School. “You have to have a good coach. You have to be in a good club. But these things are too expensive. It’s like $2,000 a year. We can’t afford that.”

Expensive training costs

Woldeyes is among thousands of young immigrant and refugee players who came to the U.S. with some soccer skills that could put them on a path to a professional soccer career.

Sometimes, these youngsters develop an interest in making a living as soccer players after their arrival in the U.S. For example, when Aweis Hassan, a Somali immigrant who was also at the East Phillips soccer field on Friday, came here in 2013, he learned for the first time that some people make a career as soccer players in America.

“I heard that you get money for playing soccer,” said Hassan, a senior at South High. “I didn’t even know you could do that.”

During most of his time here, Hassan has been involved in soccer activities. Like Woldeyes, he plays for the school’s soccer team and he shows up to the East Phillips field every day for practice.

But none of these activities provides him and his friends with the formal training they need to be physically and mentally prepared for competitive youth leagues — which is the reason Hassan and Woldeyes think they will never make it in professional soccer.

Indeed, former head coach of the Minnesota Thunder, Buzz Lagos, knows too well the experience Hassan and Woldeyes describe. Between 2005 and 2015, Lagos served as the soccer coach of St. Paul’s Higher Ground Academy, where he trained hundreds of East African immigrant and refugee students. “They had good soccer experience in Africa,” he said. “So it was a nice way to work with them and get them better and better through some coaching. We developed some very good teams.”

But Lagos also encountered a number of challenges while training the students. First, the students were from low-income families who couldn’t afford the fees to maintain a strong soccer club. Second, he had to provide the transportation to get students to and from games because their parents weren’t able to do so.

Buzz Lagos

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Between 2005 and 2015, Buzz Lagos served as the soccer coach of St. Paul’s Higher Ground Academy, where he trained hundreds of East African immigrant and refugee students.

For affluent American families whose children participate in formal soccer clubs, he said, the experience is much different. The parents usually pay an annual fee of $4,000-$6,000 a year for each child and provide transportation and other needed services to the teams.

In return, their children receive advanced training and a chance to play in major tournaments across the nation. This advantage could help them gain the attention of professional soccer club managers who are recruiting players for their teams — a chance that Woldeyes can never find at the East Phillips soccer field.

Alternative clubs

In response to that practice, former U.S. women’s national team goalie Hope Solo criticized in June the U.S. Soccer Federation for imposing high fees to play in soccer clubs and thus excluding people of color and poor people from playing soccer competitively.

“We have alienated the Hispanic communities,” she said on a podcast. “We have alienated our Black communities. We have alienated the underrepresented communities, even rural communities.”

While expensive coaching costs cut short many immigrants’ dreams of playing in professional soccer leagues, it hasn’t taken away their passion for the sport. In fact, each day during the summer, hundreds of immigrants and refugees pack soccer fields throughout the Twin Cities metro area.

In the last two decades — when Minnesota started to see an increase in the number of African, Asian and Latino immigrants and refugees — private companies, public agencies and nonprofit organizations have set up dozens of new soccer fields in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, for example, owns eight synthetic turf fields, seven of which were constructed in the last 10 years. They include half-sized fields for young players and full-sized ones for adults.

These soccer fields, as well as those at Augsburg University and the University of St. Thomas, have become hubs for Ethiopian, Somali, Hmong and Latino immigrants, who hold tournaments for their communities.

On Sunday, female players from Mexico, Ecuador and Somalia competed in the tournament of the Fútbol Mundial league, which is among dozens of similar leagues organized for ethnic communities across the state.

“A lot of people really need this,” said Moises Hernandez, owner of the league. “They can’t participate in major clubs because they’re expensive. But this gives them the space to do what they like to do.”

Fútbol Mundial league

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
On Sunday, female players from Mexico, Ecuador and Somalia competed in the tournament of the Fútbol Mundial league.

This same reason also brought Woldeyes and others to the East Phillips Park field that Friday evening. Since a competitive game in the Fútbol Mundial tournament was approaching, they wanted to be prepared.

On the field, Woldeyes is well respected, mainly because of his soccer skills, which have been the culmination of years-long persistence practice and endless passion for the sport. At age 7, he started learning to play soccer from his older brother in Ethiopia.

Since he arrived in the U.S. three years ago, Woldeyes has been trying to make a career as a professional soccer player in Minnesota. Though Woldeyes doubts he will ever see his dreams become a reality, he continues to show up to the field on a daily basis and sharpen his skills.

“We have the talent,” he said speaking of his fate in the soccer profession, “but we just don’t have the chance to make it big because we don’t have money.”

By Ibrahim Hirsi


With help from farmer-training programs, more Minnesota Somalis are putting down roots — literally

On a recent afternoon, as Naima Dhore wandered around her organic farm in Marine on St. Croix, she recalled how far she came to find her niche three years ago as one of a handful of Somali farmers in Minnesota.

Long before the breakthrough, Dhore had yearned for a space where she could grow produce with her husband and their two young sons, a space she could use to encourage a healthy lifestyle among her friends and members of the East African community.

Back then, Dhore was thinking of participating in one of the community garden initiatives that provide immigrants and other underrepresented groups with opportunities to grow food in the Twin Cities with the help of nonprofit organizations.

So to familiarize herself with the urban farming system, Dhore turned to YouTube to see how people — especially immigrants from Somalia — grow their gardens and what they have to say about the experience.

On YouTube, Dhore came across more than she had expected. She didn’t just find someone to explain their experience at a nonprofit-funded community garden in Minneapolis or St. Paul — she found the inspiring story of Mohamed Gaabane, a Somali and proud owner of a 40-acre farm in Silver Lake, Minnesota.

From there, Dhore discovered the Big River Farms, an initiative of the Minnesota Food Association (MFA), which has exposed Gaabane and other immigrants, refugees and underserved Americans in the state to doing actual farming, not gardening.

So three years ago, Dhore decided to participate in MFA’s farmer training program. Today, she operates a small piece of land in Marine on St. Croix, located a 45-minute drive northeast of Minneapolis, growing organic vegetables, including kale, cabbage, carrots, Swiss chard and tomatoes.

Among the Somali-American community in Minnesota, Dhore is more than just a farmer; she’s the face of Somali farmers in the U.S. and inspiration for those who see a future in agriculture.

For that reason, she’s been receiving invitations to speak to East African immigrants at high schools, career fairs and community centers across the state.

“There are a lot of people that reached out to me and they’re interested in farming,” she said. “A lot of times, we’re stuck in high-rise buildings in the cities. So it’s really good to see so many people wanting to come here to learn where our food comes from.”

How MFA helps new farmers

Dhore isn’t the only one responding to a surge of interest in farming. Laura Hedeen, a manager with MFA, said that the association has been getting more questions about its training initiative, which is tailored to help participants develop farming skills.

Among the people calling — and visiting — the association are Somali immigrants who are interested in becoming farmers. Some of them came to the U.S. with decades-long farming experience; others, like Dhore, want to try it out here for the first time.

MFA, which has been around since in the early 1980s and owns farmland in Marine on St. Croix, connects immigrants, refugees and other historically underrepresented communities to affordable land and technical assistance as well as mentorship to start and maintain a farm.

Aside from that, those who are considered eligible for the program must also be willing to learn how to operate an organic vegetable farm and have enough money to maintain the farm.

Swiss chard

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Dhore grows organic vegetables, including kale, cabbage, carrots, Swiss chard and tomatoes.

For those people, MFA does several things. First, the association offers free classes before the participants start growing. Second, it provides subsidized farmland rental and ongoing assistance with plot maintenance in the growing season.

Further, MFA also purchases some produce from the participating farmers to ease the pressure of finding a market for their products right away. “It’s a full-time farming,” Hedeen said. “But also it’s another full-time job to be able to find a market for what you’re growing. So we’re doing some aggregation of the produce that farmers are selling.”

If the participants have no prior farming experience, they share a plot, cost and work with others, while receiving ongoing support from MFA. If they come with some existing knowledge in farming, however, they could start an independent project with limited assistance from the association.

That means that in a given year, MFA serves between five and 20 teams. This year, it’s working with 17 groups, including immigrant farmers from Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia, Laos and India.

Though MFA offers needed assistance, participating farmers still need to invest — in addition to the hours they have to work at the farm — between $500 and $1,500 to rent land, purchase supplies and maintain the farm.

“Our goal,” Hedeen said, “is to ultimately help people move on and independently lease or buy land on their own.”

Connecting more Somalis to farming

Gaabane, the Silver Lake farmer whom Dhore first discovered on YouTube, is one of the immigrant participants who bought 40 acres of farmland after training with MFA for three years.

In the video, he talks about raising hundreds of chickens and goats, while also growing sweet corn and vegetables and fruits like watermelon, tomatoes, cabbages, garlic and onions.

Farming is nothing new to Minnesota’s Somalis. In the East African country they came from, agriculture has long remained crucial to economic development and poverty reduction.

In fact, according to a recent report by the World Bank Group and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly half the Somali population still lives in rural areas. More than 45 percent of those employed in Somalia are in agriculture, a field that represents 93 percent of the total exports.

In Minnesota, where Somali refugees started arriving three decades ago, there haven’t been a lot of people in the community talking about going into farming. That isn’t because people don’t want to farm; it’s just that the prospect of securing land, growing crops and finding a profitable market to sell the products remains out of reach for many.

For example, when Dhore — who grew up eating from her family’s house garden in Somalia — first started to think about the idea of establishing a farm in Minnesota, she thought it would be impossible to get there. “I never thought that maintaining a farm would be possible for an immigrant person,” she said.

But three years ago, when Dhore reached out to MFA, she realized that it was possible to be both a Somali and a farmer in Minnesota. So she applied for the association’s Big River Farms training program to gain the skills needed to maintain an organic farm.

After weeks-long classroom training, the association offered her subsidized farmland where Dhore has been growing vegetables with her husband and their 9- and 7-year-old sons.

After harvest, the family sells the produce to MFA, at farmers markets in the Twin Cities and through small-scale contracts and companies that carry organic foods.

Beyond that, Dhore said, the experience has given her not just the opportunity to help her family, but also to inspire members of the East African community in Minnesota that they, too, can become farmers. To spread that message, she has been speaking in classrooms, at career events and community centers about her experience as a farmer.

“The most important piece in the process for me has been letting them know where their food is coming from and what their responsibilities are in terms of taking care of this planet that we all share,” she said. “That’s the biggest takeaway.”

By Ibrahim Hirsi


New Somali + Minnesota exhibit teaches — and inspires

On the 3rd floor of the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, a 9 year-old boy stands in front of an aqal, a nomadic Somali home. He taps a camel bell and smiles at his father, who leans in to explain. “They’ve never been to Somalia,” says their father, Rople Hussein, who is originally from the country. “I wanted them to see this.”

He wasn’t alone. Over 2,000 people came to the opening of the Somalis + Minnesota exhibit last weekend. The new exhibit spans three rooms that focus on “Traditional Life,” “History,” and “Life in Minnesota.” The rooms are well-stocked with photos and artifacts, some of which were recently brought from Somalia specifically for this exhibit. “This scale, in terms of Somali history exhibits, is new for the Minnesota History Center and for the state,” says exhibit developer Kate Roberts.

Visitors are encouraged to walk through to the “Traditional Life” room and work their way forward to “Life in Minnesota.” Most eye-catching in the “Traditional Life” section are two houses: one is a model of a Modul, or wood-and-mud hut in a style often seen on farms and in small towns; the other is an aqal, which is favored by nomads. The woven mats that make up the aqal were shipped in pieces from Somalia, where 25 percent of people are nomads today. And the massive mural by Twin Cities visual artist Abdiaziz Osman depicting a brilliant blue sky and land dotted with trees and livestock makes the space feel open and warm.

There’s plenty to learn as visitors move through the short history section, all presented in easily digestible segments. Headings in both English and Somali guide visitors succinctly from ancient times through colonization and civil war, to today. Those who have only seen images of Somalia in the news, if at all, might appreciate the plentiful photographs. Indeed, a highlight in this section is a display of contemporary photographer Abdulkadir Mohamed’s work, which aims to show “the positive side of the country and the resiliency of the people.”

Each room has something interesting to offer, but the jewel of the exhibit might well be the Minnesota room, which highlights individuals who have made contributions to their community and the state. They are entrepreneurs and politicians, artists and athletes, educators and social workers and more. Each panel has photos, quotes, and people’s stories, some printed front-and-back.

Dennis Mickelson of Maple Grove reads about nomadic life.

MinnPost photo by Emily K. Bright
Dennis Mickelson of Maple Grove reads about nomadic life.

“It’s beautiful” says Imam Hassan Jama about the colorful display of faces in the exhibit. “I believe Minnesota has acknowledged the existence of Somalis. I feel inclusiveness.” Jama advised on the religion section of the exhibit, and he says he knows most of the faces on display.

What Jama finds most moving, he says, is the timing of the exhibit. Four days after it opened, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the so-called travel ban, which — among other things — suspends entry to the U.S. for immigrants from Somalia, a decision that Jama calls “offensive to the Somali Community.”

Coming to this exhibit, he says, “it’s good timing. I feel relieved seeing this. It a little bit minimizes the load of Islamophobia that I live with. I’m grateful and thankful.”

The Somalis + Minnesota Exhibit began as a conversation four years ago, and the exhibit itself has been a year in the making, said Osman Ali, Founder and Executive Director of the Somali Museum of Minnesota, which contributed many of the artifacts on display.

Ali, who says the response to the exhibit has been “amazing” so far, hopes that by highlighting the positive contributions Somalis have made to Minnesota, the exhibit will inspire the next generation of Somali-Americans to do the same.

Photographs by Abdulkadir Mohamed

MinnPost photo by Emily K. Bright
Photographs by Abdulkadir Mohamed offer a window into modern day Mogadishu.

For non-Somalis, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the community. The exhibit is staffed with Somali speakers most of the time in order in order to answer the questions of both English and Somali speakers.

“What are your hopes and dreams for the Minnesota Somali community?” asks the final panel before visitors leave the exhibit. A drop box awaits their answers, and some early responses are tacked to a bulletin board. Says one: “That they find peace and prosperity here in Minnesota and feel as much at home here as all the other immigrant groups who’ve become part of the fabric of our state.”

The Somalis + Minnesota exhibit remains open through June 9, 2019.

By Emily K. Bright | 06/29/18