News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-Up: September 2021

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

Your generosity to the Afghan refugees over the past month has allowed us to immediately welcome multiple families on very short notice, and helped us to prepare as this enormous resettlement undertaking begins. We simply could not have prepared for this crisis without your concern and compassionate support.

At the same time as the Afghan crisis started, Haitian refugees were experiencing appalling treatment at our southern border.

The immigrants at our border are people, not a “crisis”, and as such should have been treated with dignity and compassion, as well as recognition that they were giving us an opportunity to help our nation recover from the pandemic. Instead of showing leadership, however, we acted shamefully, squandering an opportunity and wreaking more destruction and havoc in our wake, deporting thousands of persons who desperately want nothing other than to live in a safe environment, work, and raise their families. Physical harm, mass deportations, the failure to provide appropriate legal paths for Haitians both here and abroad, is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is yet another in a series of immigration policies and practices that fail to take responsibility for our own government’s role in creating the conditions for displacement.

For instance, our government decided to continue Title 42, an executive privilege to protect public health. Here, the opposite happened – instead of taking the opportunity to stop the spread of COVID by vaccinating thousands of migrants, we unjustly deported them without notice, sending many unvaccinated persons on airplanes to continue the spread of this worldwide pandemic.

While the crisis in Afghanistan is clearly and directly connected to our abrupt withdrawal of military support, the truth is the crises in Haiti are also connected to the US’ policies and practices to install governments that we perceive will be friendlier to our interests, without regard to whether such installations lead to failed governments, corruption, and in Haiti’s case, the assassination of President Moise.

In this time of political and climatic turmoil, when Haiti is being ravaged by earthquakes and floods and suffering from the destabilization caused by the recent assassination of President Moise, we have the chance to right our country’s wrongs as well as the opportunity to help ourselves. Haitians need your support right now. They need your support at the border, they need your support in Congress, and we all need your support to welcome the displaced.

Thank you for continuing to stand alongside all who seek refuge. Please read this month’s Weekly Wins round-up featuring inspiring stories of welcome from our staff!

Hospice patient passes citizenship test and gains a new outlook on life
I met Mr. and Mrs. Antokhin, citizenship clients at HIAS PA, last year in an empty parking lot to gather signatures and money orders. I saw their faces only on Zoom when we were filling out their citizenship applications.

Three months later, my clients’ daughter told me that her father was admitted to a nursing home. He became severely depressed, did not walk, and stopped eating. He used to be a famous artist, but after he developed severe arthritis he could not paint anymore. After the situation became extreme they took him to the hospital, where the doctors recommended sending him to hospice since they did not believe he would get well. They thought his days were numbered. So he was taken to hospice, and the family prepared for the worst.

While he was in the hospital, his wife passed her citizenship test. A week later, Mr. Antokhin received a notice for fingerprints. I called his daughter to ask if she wanted me to close the case, but after she brought the news to her dad, he said he wanted to go. He managed to pull himself together and walk. Before his interview he was in a good mood, and was able to answer all the questions on his application. He passed the test, and is now very happy, and inspired; he tries to walk, eat, and live a normal life. Just one happy story.
-Raisa Davidovich, Legal Specialist

“Thanks to you I am able to believe and dream again.”
I just wanted to share a thank you note from my naturalization client, Clara*. She has been a HIAS PA client since 2011, so her thank you note is for everyone at HIAS PA who has helped her along the way, including the Domestic Violence team. Here is her thank you note in English and Spanish:

“Solo quiero dar las infinitas gracias por todo su apoyo, en este viaje que empezó con ustedes, cuando trabajaron en nuestros caso, estoy profundamente agradecida, por todo su apoyo, sin ustedes huviese sido imposible lograrlo, gracias al trabajo que hacen con todas las personas, que como yo nunca imaginé, ser ciudadana de este país, que me ha dado tanto, no tengo palabras para agradecer todo su tiempo, gracias a ustedes volví a creer y a soñar.”

“I just want to give my infinite thanks for all your support on this journey that began with you guys, when you worked on our cases. I am deeply grateful for all your support — without you, it would have been impossible to achieve. Thanks to the work you do with all the people, as I never imagined being a citizen of this country, which has given me so much. I have no words to thank you for all your time. Thanks to you I am able to believe and dream again.”
-Mary Clark, Philadelphia Citizenship Action Network (P-CAN) Coordinator

*name has been changed

HIAS PA advocacy helps a client with severe medical condition naturalize
TS, a 50-year-old refugee from Bhutan, had applied for naturalization on his own and had been denied. At his first interview, his N-648 (medical waiver form) was deemed insufficient and he had it redone and brought it to his second interview. The contents of the form were approved but because the client’s name and his doctor’s name had not been printed on one page (they were on other pages), his case was denied.

When I saw on the copy of the medical waiver form that the client shared with me how seriously ill he is (malignant brain tumor and numerous serious complications as a result of his chemotherapy treatment, including seizures, memory deficit and permanent cognitive dysfunction), I was outraged that he was denied due to the information missing from his form, which could have easily been filled in at the interview. Although it was well past the appeal period, I decided to contact the Naturalization Section Chief to see if there was anything at all that could be done and after reviewing the file, he agreed to reopen the case and re-interview Mr. S as a very limited exception because of the severity of the client’s impairments and the unique factors of his case!!

He just had his re-interview, represented by Philadelphia Citizenship Action Network (P-CAN) Coordinator, Mary Clark, in my absence, and everything was fine. He should have his oath ceremony soon. His brother, our contact for the case, was overjoyed, as he was tremendously worried about his brother’s status. Becoming a citizen will also make Mr. S eligible for SSI Disability benefits.

I want to share part of the very touching email that the brother sent to me in thanks:
“…I want to thank you from bottom of my heart. The help that you gave is like a water giving to a almost dead tree that came to life again. This is a turning point of my life even though it’s for my brother I feel I gave a good brotherhoods to my brother… Thank you so much. Would like and pray for your long life and prosperity…”
-Lori Alexander, Director of Citizenship and Family Unification Program

Afghan alum of Young Adult Mentoring Program’s poem pulls at heartstrings
With all that’s happening I wanted to share a poem written by one of our Afghan students who is now an alum of our Young Adult Mentoring Program. She wrote this back in 2017 as part of “Writers Matter – HIAS PA Edition“. I think it offers some hope in the midst of all of this darkness.
-Valeri Harteg, Education Program Manager

I am
By Madina
I am an honest and trustworthy person
I believe without chocolate life is impossible
I want everyone to respect each other
I am special and my mom is starlight
I feel proud of myself
I wonder if my family can come here
I worry about my future
I am intelligent and gentle
I understand that if I want to do something I can do it
I try to be a good daughter, sister, and friend
I hope to be a doctor in the future
I am helpful

Thank you for your continued support of HIAS Pennsylvania. I hope that these Weekly Wins from HIAS PA staff give you a lift, as they do me. Look out for more wins at the beginning of next month!

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson, Esq.