USA: Why The Census Bureau Is Turning To Children To Reach Asian Immigrants

Despite Trump, officials are doing their job to increase participation:

In the last week, the United States Census Bureau has rolled out six ads in different Asian languages with pretty much the same storyline: cute little girl tells her dad all she knows about the census.

The ads’ backdrops vary — a Chinese bakery, a Korean grocery, a Filipino family’s home office — but in each one the daughter sweetly nudges dad into filling out census forms.

“We definitely wanted to hone in on that family connection and filial piety,” said Tim Wang, whose agency TDW+Co made the ads in and around Los Angeles.

The Census Bureau says that language barriers make Asian immigrants some of the hardest people to count, and it’s spending millions more on culturally-relevant advertising to reach them than it did 10 years ago.

Still, community advocates in Los Angeles, home to some of the world’s largest Asian diasporas, worry that large swaths of people could be missed in a national headcount that decides political representation and how government resources are distributed.

One concern: Census officials have dropped eight of 14 languages spoken by Asians that it used for advertising in its 2010 campaign, including those for Cambodians, Thai, Pakistanis and Laotians.

“(Asians’) numbers might increase, but we’re not going to know because they’re not responding,” said An Le of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, who is coordinating census outreach to Asian Californians with other non-profit groups.

A Census Bureau official cited cost as the reason it cut back on the number of languages the bureau is using in TV, radio and digital ads.

But program manager Kendall Johnson said the Census Bureau values reaching people in their native languages and has more than doubled the number of outreach workers it’s hired in 2020 to 1,500-plus, many of them bilingual. More than 100 languages are spoken among these “partnership specialists,” who go to community events and exhibit at conferences, Johnson said.

Johnson added that the Census Bureau sees community-based groups as important partners and has placed all of its English language materials online for them to translate should they want.

“We’re just one of many voices out there,” Johnson said. “We may have the largest campaign. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other campaigns out there.”

Le said that Asian American organizations in California and beyond have indeed been busy compiling translated resources in as many languages as possible.

Still, Le fears that many Asians with limited English will fall through the cracks — and not just because the public awareness campaign is in fewer languages.

The Census Bureau is making a push for respondents to fill out the questionnaire online which Le said will be a problem for Asian immigrants who lack internet literacy or access.

Those who can navigate the web will be able to answer questions in a limited number of Asian languages: Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Korean and Vietnamese.

Paper forms which will only be offered in English and Spanish.

The language barriers posed by the census is just one of the challenges of getting Asian immigrants counted. The White House also had planned to ask 2020 Census respondents whether they were U.S. citizens until the Supreme Court blocked the question.

“We were just terrified that the citizenship question was going to be on, right?” Le said. “There were like many fights that we were trying to be prepared for.”

Asians are the fastest growing racial demographic in the country, but the Census Bureau is still devoting roughly the same proportion of its budget to that audience: 9% or $20.4 million.

But Johnson predicted the bureau’s media campaign to do better than in 2010, in large part due to increased use of digital ads on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

“The ability to much more precisely target the media is what is allowing us to get the most bang for our buck,” Johnson said.

The Census Bureau projects that its media outreach will reach 99% of the 18-plus population of all races and ethnicities.

TDW+Co principal Wang saw from focus groups and survey findings that reaching Asians in particular would be challenging.

“Asian American audiences had the lowest level of familiarity on what the census is, and why it’s important,” Wang said.

That’s why, Wang said, the messaging they developed is “very educational, motivational, and very uplifting in tone and nature.”

TDW+Co will keep introducing ads through June, including those that remind people to respond to the census, and also to “humanize” the census takers who may come knocking on their doors if they don’t, Wang said.

Source: Why The Census Bureau Is Turning To Children To Reach Asian Immigrants

UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

As it should. Cost recovery is justifiable (administrative cost), making of government service a money-making enterprise is not:

The Home Office is set to face a High Court challenge over the £1,012 fee it charges to register a child as a British citizen, after a judicial review of the charge was brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens.

Amnesty International UK has been supporting the litigation to challenge the profit-making element of the fee, calling for an immediate end to the Government’s “shameless profiteering” off children’s rights. Mishcon de Reya are providing pro bono support to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens on the case.

With the current administrative processing cost at only £372 per application, a profit of £640 is made by the Home Office for the registration of each child.

The landmark case is being brought by two children, known as A and O, and will be heard in the High Court at a three-day hearing on 26-28 November. If successful, the final ruling could have implications for an estimated 120,000 people in the UK.

In a statement submitted as part of the proceedings, O, aged 12, says:

“I was born in England in 2007. I have never travelled to another country. I don’t want to tell my friends that I am not British like them because I’m scared. I worry that if my friends find out, they won’t understand that I really am British like them.

“I enjoy playing netball for my school team. My team have been abroad twice for netball tournaments, but I could not travel because I do not have my British passport.

“I was born here and feel all of me is British. This is my home. I’ve got nowhere else but here.”

Solange Valdez-Symonds, Director at the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, said:

“Tens of thousands of children who were born in this country are being charged exorbitant fees to register their citizenship rights. The futures of these children are slowly and silently being chipped away. Such barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly shameful.

“Children’s rights are not for sale. We hope the High Court challenge will rightly bring an end to this injustice.”

Campaigners call on UK Government to stop blocking children’s rights

Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, campaigners from Amnesty UK’s Children Human Rights Network will hand in 30,000-strong petition to Home Office calling for immediate end to the fee.

The campaigners will be building a wall outside the Home Office with messages of support from activists across the UK [pictures available].

They will be joined by some of the children affected by the profiteering fee, including 16-year-old Daniel, who came to this country with his mother when he was three years-old and was granted his British citizenship last year, he said:

“My mother saved what she could but sometimes she didn’t eat properly so she could do this. At the time we had some support from the council but my mother was not then permitted to work except unpaid as a volunteer with a charity. It has been really difficult for my mother.”

Judicial review

The judicial review claim asks the Home Office to:

i) Set the registration fee at no more than the administrative cost;

ii) introduce a fee waiver for children who cannot afford the fee; and

iii) provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.

Source: UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

The Trump Administration’s Sustained Attack on the Rights of Immigrant Children

Good critique:

In 1985, two Salvadoran children, ages twelve and fifteen, were held in a squalid, overcrowded room in a rundown motel in Pasadena, California. For weeks, the government denied them food and kept them from seeing doctors or family members. The circumstances, one of the girls later told the Times, were “too painful to remember, to discuss.” A team of lawyers who went on to represent them and two other girls sued the government, in a case that dragged on for more than a decade, well after the initial plaintiffs were released. By 1997, two Presidential Administrations later, the government decided to settle. Doris Meissner, who was then the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said, “If there are real issues surrounding the detention of minors, and the government is being held responsible for poor conditions, why are we litigating in favor of what we are doing wrong?”

For the past twenty-two years, the terms of this legal settlement, known as the Flores Agreement, have been a central tenet of U.S. immigration policy. When dealing with children, the most vulnerable immigrants to enter federal custody, the government must provide certain, baseline protections, including access to food and medical care; it must also promise to detain them for the shortest possible amount of time, in the “least restrictive” settings.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration announced a sweeping new set of regulations to gut the Flores Agreement. “It is a wholesale attack on kids in custody,” Jennifer Podkul, the policy director of Kids in Need of Defense (kind), told me. The Administration’s immediate target is an outgrowth of the agreement, shored up by a judge a few years ago, which prevents children from being held in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security for more than twenty days. The agreement applies not just to children who came to the U.S. alone but also to those who crossed the border with their parents. This has meant, in effect, that thousands of asylum-seeking families have been released from detention while their cases have moved through the immigration courts. Now, according to Kevin McAleenan, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, the government will detain families together for as long as it takes to resolve their immigration claims. For tens of thousands of families, that could easily amount to months in custody—an especially alarming prospect considering that another critical component of Flores, a requirement that the government keep children in licensed facilities overseen by independent monitors, would also fall away under the Administration’s plan.

In his announcement on Wednesday, McAleenan claimed that “all children in U.S. government custody” would be “treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability.” But his reassurances sound especially hollow at the present moment. In the past year and a half, seven children have died in immigration custody, and there have been widespread complaints about the conditions in which children are being held. Earlier this summer, at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, two hundred and fifty infants, children, and teen-agers spent weeks without adequate food and water, and were denied soap and toothbrushes; despite lice and flu outbreaks, authorities skimped on providing medical care. “The Flores monitors are the reason we knew about what was happening at Clint,” Podkul said.

On Monday, a lawyer known as a “special master,” who was appointed last year to investigate potential violations of Flores in facilities run by D.H.S. and the Department of Health and Human Services, filed a report with further details. In Customs and Border Protection facilities, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, “allegations of severe overcrowding and excessive length of custody, lack of appropriate food for minors, inability of detainees to sleep, ambient temperatures outside a reasonably comfortable range, and lack of access to medical treatment remain unresolved,” the special master wrote. At H.H.S. shelters across the country, the average time that children spent in government custody, between January of 2018 and May of 2019, was sixty-seven days. Nearly three thousand children who turned eighteen while in detention were transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement because they “aged out” and were no longer treated as minors.

The Trump Administration has, from the start, attacked Flores as a “loophole” that immigrant families have continually sought to exploit; closing it was part of a broader mission to deter other families from coming to the U.S. to seek asylum in the first place. In August, 2017, a group of Administration officials met at D.H.S. headquarters, in Washington, to devise a series of policies to restrict the number of asylum seekers entering the country. Among the proposals was separating families at the border and a move to end the Flores agreement. Attendees were also tasked with writing ten separate memos with blueprints for how the Administration could implement each policy goal. “I recall being stumped about what we could do by decree or executive action to get around Flores,” one former official, who was present at the meeting, told me. “It was one of the memos that floundered,” the former official added, because of its “questionable legality.”

The White House decided to work around Flores instead. When the Trump Administration began separating families at the border, in the summer of 2017, part of its rationalization was that, by criminally charging parents for entering the country illegally, the government could detain the adults, and their children would be treated as unaccompanied minors and transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services. The government could thus hold the parents indefinitely and penalize the entire family, as the children were kept in conditions that were notionally consistent with the terms of Flores. By late June, 2018, amid a national outcry, Trump promised to stop separating families at the border. But, in the same breath, he announced that the Administration would hold families together instead. Almost immediately, a federal judge in California named Dolly Gee, who is in charge of supervising the government’s compliance with Flores, blocked the Administration. There was a clear precedent for her decision, which the Trump Administration willfully ignored: in 2015, when President Obama responded to a sudden spike in Central American families seeking asylum by trying to detain families in ice facilities, Gee blocked him, too.

In September, 2018, the Trump Administration released a two-hundred-page document outlining proposed regulations that would end Flores altogether. Immigration advocates immediately appealed to Gee, in California, who took the challenge under advisement but withheld final judgment until after the Administration’s regulations were entered in the federal register, which is slated for Friday. “The President is telling [D.H.S.] they must terminate the settlement,” Peter Schey, one of the lead attorneys in the initial Flores class-action suit, told the Washington Post at the time. “They tried it in court, and now they’re trying it through regulations. But they’re in a bind, because the only way the regulations will be valid is if they’re consistent with the settlement, and if they’re consistent with the settlement then they won’t achieve the changes the President has demanded.” Now the Flores plaintiffs will have a week to amend their suit. Jennifer Nagda, an attorney at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, told me, “We’ll have to do a line-by-line comparison between the new regulations and the proposed version from last September to decide how to direct our energy in the next seven days.”

The broader consequences of the Administration’s rollback could extend well beyond detention conditions. When minors travel to the U.S. alone, for instance, they’re categorized as unaccompanied, a designation that affords them additional rights such as the ability to apply for asylum through an asylum officer, as opposed to a judge in the more adversarial setting of an immigration court. “This isn’t just about being detained,” Podkul said. “It’s about the next two to three years an immigrant child spends going through the judicial system.” Earlier this summer, an official at H.H.S.—who at the time suspected that the President’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller, was behind an unprecedented push to reclassify unaccompanied children—told me, “The expectation is that the Administration will change the policy regarding the definition of an unaccompanied child. . . . A child arriving at the border alone will not be declared unaccompanied if they have a parent ‘available’ in the U.S. to care for them. That means the child will be subject to expedited removal.” The idea, the official added, was to skirt Congress by instituting the change in the form of a regulation, while creating yet another pretext for assailing lawmakers for their failure to take some radical action of their own. And that is exactly what has happened: the regulations announced this week will further whittle away the legal rights of immigrant children. “The change will end up in court immediately,” the official had told me. But the Administration wanted to send a message anyway.

Source: The Trump Administration’s Sustained Attack on the Rights of Immigrant Children

Immigration authorities will not vaccinate migrants against flu

Hard to understand the logic, let alone the lack of common human decency:

US Customs and Border Protection will not vaccinate migrants, even though three children who had been in US custody died after contracting the flu.

The cases all occurred since December.

“In general, due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and the complexities of operating vaccination programs, neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccinations to those in our custody,” according to a statement Tuesday from CBP.

Migrants are supposed to held in CBP custody for 72 hours or less, but often remain there for longer.

After leaving CBP custody, children without parents are sent into the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services, where flu vaccines are distributed, according to Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of HHS.

Public health experts had strong reactions to CBP’s statement, saying the department should be able to vaccinate migrants, even if they’re in CBP custody for only a few days.

“I think their answer is completely inappropriate,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University and an adviser the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection. “They ought to be able to do this. They create facilities that encourage the spread of infectious agents, with flu at the top of the list.”

Flu activity in the United States typically begins to increase around October and many US pharmacies already have flu vaccines available.

Children younger than 5, and especially those younger than 2, are at high risk of serious flu-related complications, according to the CDC. Flu seasons vary in severity, but thousands of children are hospitalized each year related to the flu, and some children die. A flu vaccine offers the best defense against getting flu and spreading it to others, the CDC said.

Concern about contagious diseases

On August 5, two members of Congress wrote a letter to the heads of the US Department of Homeland Security and HHS expressing concern about contagious diseases.

“When we visited the Homestead detention facility on July 15, 2019, we left with serious questions about the screening, treatment, isolation, and prevention protocols of infectious diseases, particularly influenza,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat from California, wrote to Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

DeLauro and Roybal-Allard also sent McAleenan and Azar a letter from physicians at Harvard and Johns Hopkins urging vaccinations.

“During the influenza season, vaccination should be offered to all detainees promptly upon arrival in order to maximize protection for the youngest and most vulnerable detainees,” the physicians wrote.

Source: Immigration authorities will not vaccinate migrants against flu

White House Sought Ways to Block Undocumented Immigrant Children From Attending Public Schools

Sigh…:

Some top aides to President Donald Trump sought for months for a way to give states the power to block undocumented immigrant children from enrolling in public schools — all part of the administration’s efforts to stem illegal crossings at the southern U.S. border.

Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller had been a driving force behind the effort as early as 2017, pressing cabinet officials and members of the White House Domestic Policy Council repeatedly to devise a way to limit enrollment, according to several people familiar with the matter. The push was part of a menu of ideas on immigration that could be carried out without congressional approval.

Ultimately, they abandoned the idea after being told repeatedly that any such effort ran afoul of a 1982 Supreme Court case guaranteeing access to public schools. But the consideration of denying hundreds of thousands of children access to education illustrates the breadth of the White House’s push to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

The strategy echoed the aim of a new rule the administration announced earlier this week that could block immigrants from becoming legal permanent residents if they’ve used government benefits. Any immigrant who had used Medicaid, public housing assistance or food stamps for more than 12 months over a 36-month period can be denied permanent resident status under the new rule.

The so-called public charge rule has sparked outrage among Democrats, who say it’s cruel. They have criticized Trump on a range of immigration policies, including a plan he announced last month to force Central American migrants to file for asylum in Guatemala instead of the U.S., a measure advocacy groups said would put their lives at risk. The debate over immigration is all but certain to play a central role in the 2020 elections.

A senior administration official, who requested anonymity when asked to comment on the story, dismissed accounts of Miller’s initiative as gossip from disgruntled bureaucrats but declined to identify any specific inaccuracy. The official also said undocumented immigrants placed an enormous strain on social services, including school districts.

Public Services

Starting in late 2017, Miller pressed hard to find a way to limit undocumented immigrants’ access to public services, including education, according to the people.

That effort included consideration last year of a guidance memo issued by the Education Department that would tell states they had the option to refuse students with an undocumented status to attend public schools from kindergarten through high school. A memo was never issued.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said: “The memo wasn’t issued because the secretary would never consider it.”

The White House’s push was dropped because members of the administration determined the plan could violate Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court case that prohibited states from denying free public education based on their immigration status.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling, said that denying migrant children an education would “foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation” and that punishing them for their parents’ actions “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

‘Punish Little Kids’

Immigration activists said they were alarmed the White House would consider a policy change targeting migrant children.

“Such a radical policy change would be unlawful, unacceptable and un-American,” said Frank Sharry, who runs the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. “The notion that we should punish little kids who go to school and pledge allegiance to our flag because Trump and Miller want to make America white again is incredibly cruel, dark and sinister.”

The president in May said he was concerned that abuse of the asylum system “strains our public school systems” and used funds that should go to American citizens.

“We’re using the funds that should be going to them,” Trump said. “And that shouldn’t happen. And it’s not going to happen in a very short period of time.”

During the presidency of Barack Obama, immigration rights groups raised concern about that schools systems were making it too hard for children to enroll by imposing rigid documentation requirements. In response, the administration issued guidance to school administrators to be more flexible in the documents they accept.

Residency Documents

The 2014 guidance said schools should accept utility bills or leases as substitute proof of residency after reports that some districts were demanding driver’s licenses or Social Security cards that could be unattainable for those in the country illegally.

“Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin,” then-Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement at the time.

Congress also attempted to pass legislation in 1996 that would have allowed states to block public education benefits to undocumented children or charge tuition, but the effort failed when former President Bill Clinton threatened to veto the bill.

Around 725,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students in U.S. public and private schools in 2014 were unauthorized to be in the country, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. That amounts to about 1.3% of total school enrollment.

The U.S. Census bureau said earlier this year that the cost spent by per pupil on elementary and secondary education was $12,201 annually, meaning spending on undocumented migrant students could exceed $8 billion annually.

Source: White House Sought Ways to Block Undocumented Immigrant Children From Attending Public Schools

UK accused of profiteering on Syrians’ child citizenship fees

Not quite a weekly event, yet another example of hard to justify UK citizenship and immigration policies and practices (when Canada raised its adult fees in 2014-15, it maintained the low fee for children):

The UK government could profit by more than £5m by charging children who have fled war-torn Syria to apply for British citizenship, according to research.

The revelation, based on the Home Office’s own data, has sparked accusations that the government is profiteering from vulnerable children and making a windfall profit by driving vulnerable families into debt.

Campaigners point out that the government will profit whether the Syrian children’s applications are successful or not: if they are refused, applicants are not refunded. If children reapply for citizenship, the fee must be paid again.

Valerie Peay, the director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, has called on the next prime minister to end the “practice of profiteering from vulnerable children”.

The UK charges 10 times more than any other European country for child citizenship fees, at £1,012 per child, plus £19.20 to provide biometric information. They are charged an extra £80 if they turn 18 during the application process. The cost of processing the application is £372.

The charges have increased 51% in the last five years, during the period when Theresa May’s Home Office instigated a “hostile environment” policy to reduce immigration numbers.

Source: UK accused of profiteering on Syrians’ child citizenship fees

Child marriage ‘legal and ongoing’ in Canada, researcher finds

Not clear whether the definition used is the UN one (under 18) or the Canadian federal Civil Marriage Act of 16, although likely the latter. An average of 188 per year:

Ontario, Alberta and Quebec have licensed the most child marriages in the last 18 years, said professor Alissa Koski, who researches the practice in Canada

Since 2017, Canada’s government under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals has conducted foreign policy with an explicitly “feminist” approach, especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive health rights.

Part of that has involved trying to eradicate child marriage overseas. Canada is a leader and key funder of United Nations efforts to end child marriage, which is regarded as a revealing measure of a country’s development.

But there is a curious blind spot.

“There’s been absolutely no reflection on the fact that it remains legal in Canada,” said Alissa Koski, who researches child marriage in Canada as an assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health.

The bizarre result is that Canada legally permits the very practices it condemns and combats in the developing world.

Child marriage in Canada “is legal and ongoing,” Koski concludes, and not as a rare legal quirk in niche communities of religious extremists, as media coverage often suggests.

Provinces have, in fact, issued marriage licences for 3,382 children over the last 18 years, according to Koski’s presentation to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver.

In absolute numbers, Ontario sanctioned the most child marriages with 1,353 since 2000, then Alberta with 791, Quebec with 590 and British Columbia with 429. She adds that her results likely “underestimate the true extent of the practice.”

It has happened in every region, Koski said. The vast majority are girls; and compared to boys, girls marry at younger ages and to substantially older spouses.

The rate is highest in Alberta, at five girls per 10,000, and one boy as measured by data from the year 2016, or three children total per 10,000.

Her discovery that Canada has approved at least 3,382 child marriages since 2000 is based on data from vital statistics offices, which indicates the marriage happened in Canada, but otherwise offers limited information. Further work with census data might offer a clearer picture of demographics, although with the added caveat that it will include marriages that happened in other countries before the person came to Canada.

In the United States, the rate of child marriage is about 6.2 children per 1000, higher in girls than boys (6.8 vs 5.7), lower among white people, higher among Indigenous and Chinese, and ranging from less than four children per 1,000 in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming, to as much as 10 per 1,000 in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, according to Koski’s previous studies of child marriage in America.

Her doctoral research was on child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa and India, which fits with the common imagination of the phenomenon as “something that happens elsewhere,” as Koski put it.

For example, her separate research on Canadian media coverage of the issue shows it is almost entirely about Canada’s efforts to eradicate child marriage abroad. The few exceptions are focused on specific religious minorities, primarily the fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., and the fundamentalist Jewish sect Lev Tahor, first in Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts, Que., later in Chatham, Ont.

Canada’s federal Civil Marriage Act sets the minimum age for marriage at 16. Provinces, which administer the licensing, require parental consent for people younger than 18.

But the United Nations, and Canada through its participation in its various programs and documents, regards child marriage as marriage of a child, which is to say someone younger than 18.

The reasons are well known. The proportion of girls who marry before 18 is used as a quantifiable measure of a country’s development progress, Koski said, and it is widely considered a violation of human rights. Research in the US has shown higher mental illness and substance abuse in women who married as girls.

“Child marriage is associated with poor health and economic outcomes, particularly for girls,” she said.

Koski said there seems to be a general political reluctance to raise the age to 18, part of which involves concerns over infringing on religious freedom.

Source: Child marriage ‘legal and ongoing’ in Canada, researcher finds

Yazidi survivors of Isis sex slavery told to give up their children

A reminder that the victims of atrocities sometimes can in turn victimize others, and that a persecuted religion can also discriminate:

Yazidi women who survived Islamic State sex slavery have to choose between giving up the children born to them during captivity or expulsion from their ethnic and religious community.

The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council has ruled children of these abused and traumatised women cannot join the community, countermanding an order issued last week by council head Hazem Tahsin.

He had called for “accepting all survivors [of Islamic State rapes] and considering what they went through to have been against their will”. His position was in line with a 2015 edict issued by Yazidi spiritual leader, Baba Sheikh, who welcomed the women back but did not take a decision on their children.

Bana Sheikh’s omission enabled the council to reverse its chairman’s ruling by issuing a clarification stating that the decree “does not include children born of rape, but refers to children born of two Yazidi parents”.

The children of Islamic State fighters are to be excluded because Yazidis who marry or procreate outside their community are excommunicated. The mainly Kurdish-speaking Yazidis belong to a distinct ethnic grouping and practice a monotheistic faith with roots in ancient Mesopotamian religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Popular misconceptions about their beliefs have caused them to be branded “devil worshippers” and subjected to discrimination and abuse.

Source: Yazidi survivors of Isis sex slavery told to give up their children

UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

High fees are bad enough but good to see the Home Office called out over profiteering. At least in Canada, the fees were only increased for adults (quintupled), not for children:

The Home Office should consider scrapping controversial immigration fees charged to children from families who can’t afford it and refund profits made from failed citizenship applications, according to an official watchdog.

The call came as it emerged on Thursday that the Home Office is making a profit of £2m a month from charging children for citizenship, with about 40,000 estimated to be affected in the past year.

A report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the government should publish information on the negative social and equality impact of the Home Office’s fees policy, which is blamed for driving thousands of parents into overwork, debt and even skipping meals to save for the costs.

While welcoming David Bolt’s call for a full review of the process governing the waivers applied to some applications and for greater transparency around the decision-making process, charities pressed for an end to Home Office profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.

The child citizenship charges were described as the Home Office’s new Windrush scandal in a letter to the Guardian signed by a range of charities including Coram, the Runnymede Trust, a number of headteachers and the community organising group Citizens UK.

The Home Office made £22m in 10 months by charging children who meet the strict eligibility citizenship criteria for processing documents, it was revealed by freedom of information requests from Citizens UK.

The cost of a citizenship application for a child is £1,012, while the cost of processing is just £372, meaning the Home Office makes an estimated £640 profit from each child application it receives.

Most of Bolt’s recommendations concerned the need to explain the calculations behind dramatic increases in Home Office fees, while other proposals focused on the effects on vulnerable individuals, including children.

The Home Office rejected two of Bolt’s recommendations. In response Bolt said he couldn’t understand why it was unable to launch a public consultation on charging for borders, immigration and citizenship system services in time to inform this year’s government spending review.

But Bolt said he was more concerned about the Home Office’s rejection of his call for a breakdown of how it calculated the part of the fee relating to how a successful applicant would benefit economically from British citizenship.

He added: “I am disappointed that the Home Office does not recognise this is a question of basic fairness, which should not have to wait on discussions with the Treasury about the department’s future funding.”

Fees for immigration and nationality applications have steadily risen since 2010 under the “hostile environment” policy, including in a round of changes last April. Cases have included a family who had to choose between paying for accommodation or saving money for Home Office fees. Another family, who have a disabled daughter, were last year still paying back the £7,000 they borrowed to pay the charges and said they feared losing their home.

Bolt’s call for a full review of how the process applies fee waivers for some poorer children, was “partially accepted” by the Home Office, which said it was in discussions about the issue.

A spokesperson said: “To reduce the burden on UK taxpayers, fee levels take into account the wider costs involved in running our border, immigration and citizenship system, so that those who directly benefit from it contribute to its funding. The home secretary has committed to keeping fees under review.

“However, we recognise that we have a duty to support the vulnerable. That is why we have fee waivers in place for those who need it most, including children and young people who have spent a significant amount of their life in the UK.”

The Home Office said it expected the 2019 spending review to influence its approach on fees, but added that it would “prioritise a system which is fair and reduces the burden on UK taxpayers”.

Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said urgent action was needed to ensure people were not denied basic rights just because they can’t afford exorbitant fees.

“We see clients every day who are pushed into destitution while the Home Office makes up to 2000% profits on some applications,” she added.

“The impact on children who are unable to apply for citizenship because of the fees is particularly disturbing. The Home Office should not be profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.”

Source: UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

Not unique to Europe.

Hard to feel any sympathy for the mothers who went to fight for the ISIS. The children are another matter but the integration challenges, with or without their mothers, will be significant:

The children’s voices crackled through the phone and into Fatiha’s gray-walled living room.

“When are we going to grandma’s?” one implored in the background, and then into the phone: “Are you coming to get us?”

In the hallway, six coat hooks were fixed in a row at child’s height. A backpack hung on each one. Up a steep stairway, sheets with characters from Pixar’s “Cars” were carefully tucked into bunk beds, awaiting the children’s return.

But Fatiha, a Belgian whose grandparents emigrated from Morocco, didn’t know when her six grandchildren — who range in age from 10 months to 7 years – would be back. They are among the hundreds of children born to European citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, and the planned U.S. withdrawal has compounded regional instability, grandparents across Europe are pushing to save children whom in some cases they’ve seen only in photos, looking up at them from the dusty desert floor.

“We’re waiting for them, everything is ready for them,” Fatiha, 46, said in an interview at her home outside Antwerp, in a bucolic village where backyards give way to hayfields. The children’s fathers are dead, and their mothers – Fatiha’s daughter and daughter-in-law – would face prison sentences if they return to Belgium. So Fatiha has prepared to care for the children herself. To protect her grandchildren, she spoke on the condition that her last name not be published.

For Belgium, France and other countries that saw some of their nationals gravitate toward Islamic State territory as it expanded across Syria and Iraq, the plight of children who have claims to citizenship has ignited questions that would test the most Solomonic of judges.

Governments are grappling with how much responsibility they bear for the safety of these small citizens, most of them younger than 6, in a region where fresh conflict could erupt. Courts are weighing whether the rights of the children extend to returning with their Islamic State parents. And a bitter public debate is underway about whether grandparents whose own children ran away to the Islamic State can be trusted to raise a new generation differently.

The Kurdish authorities who control the territory in northeastern Syria where many of these families ended up estimate they have more than 1,300 children in their refugee and prison camps. Russia repatriated 27 children last week. France is considering bringing back more than 100 fighters – who would face trial – and their families. But until now, most governments have calculated that the political downside of retrieving parents who may pose security risks outweighs any need to bring back the children.

In Fatiha’s case, a judge ruled that Belgium must repatriate her six grandchildren, along with her daughter and her daughter-in-law – Belgian citizens who joined the Islamic State and now want to come back. The two women were convicted in absentia of joining a terrorist organization and would each face a five-year prison sentence upon their arrival on Belgian soil. But the judge ruled that bringing the children home and leaving their mothers in Syria would violate the children’s human rights.

The Dec. 26 ruling has spurred a furious response from Belgian leaders, and the government plans to appeal in court on Wednesday. Authorities expect whatever precedent is set to affect decisions about other Islamic State families. At least 22 Belgian children are in Syrian camps, and more than 160 are believed to be in the conflict zone.

The most vociferous objections relate to the return of the parents.

“We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds,” Belgium’s migration secretary, Maggie De Block, said in a statement last month. “They have not chosen the Islamic State. That is why we want to make efforts to bring them back to our country. For the parents, the situation is different. They themselves have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on our country and even to fight against it. Repeatedly.

“Solidarity has its limits,” she said. “The freedom you enjoy in our country to make your own decisions also means you bear responsibility for the consequences.”

Spokesmen for De Block, the justice ministry and Belgium’s prime minister all declined to comment for this report. They would not confirm whether the government was paying the judge’s prescribed penalty of 5,000 euros per child per day if they weren’t returned by Feb. 4.

Even for the children, Belgian sympathy goes only so far. Many people are anxious. Belgium contributed the largest number of Islamic State fighters to Syria per capita of any European Union nation, and the country remains scarred by the attacks of 2016, when Belgian citizens with Islamic State connections targeted Brussels with deadly bombings. Discussions on talk shows and in editorial pages have stoked fear about what the children may have learned from their parents or from Islamic State training camps, which targeted children as young as 6 for indoctrination – although little evidence exists that any of the Belgians were exposed.

Belgium needs to protect “these children as well as our children, and to protect the parents of our children,” said Nadia Sminate, a lawmaker in the regional parliament for the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium who has been a vocal critic of plans to bring back the children. “These children have been raised with different values and norms than our children. We don’t have to be silly about that. They’ve seen the cruelest things in the world.”

When Fatiha needs to cheer herself up, she plays a video her daughter sent last summer of her grandchildren raucously singing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Dutch – their first and only language.

Her days are a blur of frustration. A visit from the police, interviewing her yet again to determine whether she would raise the grandchildren in a radicalized home. A phone call with her lawyer, who is battling the Belgian government to carry out the judge’s order. A rattling train trip to Brussels alongside other grandmothers who are pushing policymakers to repatriate their toddlers. An anxious internet search of prison conditions in Deir Ezzour, Syria, where she was worried her daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had been taken after they dropped out of contact for more than two weeks last month.

When they resurfaced, they reported that Kurdish authorities had blindfolded them and transferred them not to Deir Ezzour, but to a more brutal camp than they’d been in previously. One of Fatiha’s grandsons has chronic diarrhea, and now he has only a single pair of pants, his mother said. Another has asthma, but no medicine.

“Everything keeps getting worse,” Fatiha’s daughter, Bouchra Abouallal, 25, said in an interview with The Washington Post via a messaging service. “I keep telling the children, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing is going to happen.’ But they’re not stupid anymore.”

After the December court order, “we told our children, ‘We’re almost home. We’ll be there in a month,’ ” Abouallal said, her voice cracking.

A boy’s voice interrupted. “Why are you crying?”

“It’s now they who are calming me down, not the other way around,” Abouallal told The Post.

By Fatiha’s account, her family’s problems started with her 2009 divorce from her children’s father, which sent them searching elsewhere for support.

The family had worn its faith lightly. Fatiha said they practiced “modern Islam.” But her eldest son, Noureddine Abouallal, fell in with an Antwerp group called Sharia4Belgium — which would later be connected to 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Noureddine Abouallal shaved his head and grew a beard. He and his wife — Tatiana Wielandt, who converted to Islam to marry him in 2010 — marked their son’s birth with an announcement that included images of a fighter and a gun.

Bouchra Abouallal and her husband also joined Sharia4Belgium.

In 2013, when eager adherents of jihadism were streaming toward the fighting, the two couples went with their babies to Syria. The men were killed within a year. Abouallal and Wielandt – each pregnant with her dead husband’s child, and each with an older son in tow – returned to Belgium in 2014. The state didn’t seek to prosecute them then.

Fatiha said she was furious that they had run away, but she let them back in her life. Abouallal and Wielandt crammed into a bunk bed. Two baby boys were born. Their toddler sons settled in at a school two doors down.

Once, at a backyard barbecue, one grandson dived under a table as a plane flew overhead – perhaps a reaction ingrained from bombings. But otherwise the boys showed little evidence of what they had been through, Fatiha said.

Then, one day in 2015, they all disappeared, leaving Fatiha with a house full of toys and a child-size Nutella handprint on the door to the backyard.

“I felt like I was stabbed in my back. I felt like I didn’t want to have anything to do with them,” she said. She left the handprint.

In the end, she said, she decided it was better to keep in touch. The young women made it with their children to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. They remarried, but their second husbands were killed around the time Wielandt gave birth to her third child. After Western forces bombarded the city into submission in late 2017, they fled into Kurdish-controlled territory and eventually to the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Her daughter and daughter-in-law ask Fatiha for reminders about what Belgian primary schools teach, so they can try to replicate the lessons. In video clips, the kids show off their somersaults and tumbling. Recently, Abouallal sent a video of Fatiha’s newest granddaughter, born last April, wearing her first headband and plucking at the unfamiliar white elastic as it slipped over her eyes.

“I told them I want to see everything as they grow up,” Fatiha said. “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

But as the Belgian government stalls, and as the security situation in Syria becomes increasingly uncertain, Fatiha and the other grandmothers are growing embittered.

Nabila Mazouz — whose son was caught at the airport as he tried to make his way to Syria – started a support group called Mothers’ Jihad to help fight for the return of Belgians who spent time in the caliphate.

“I understand the government. I understand the security issues,” Mazouz said. “But I guarantee they’re going to come back, and if they come back in 15 to 20 years, what kind of mood are they going to come back in?”

She said that after being repeatedly spurned by Belgian authorities, she now better understands her son’s disaffection.

“I never asked myself, ‘Am I Moroccan or Belgian?’ I said I was Belgian,” she said. “I was born here. I work here. I pay my taxes here. But now I ask myself. Now the parents understand the perspective of the young adults.”

Advocates for the children in Syria have been targeted with bile.

“Normally, everybody likes what we do,” said Heidi De Pauw, the director of Child Focus, a Belgian organization that is modeled on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. But for pressing Belgian authorities on this case, she has received death threats and been told that the children should be “drowned like kittens.”

De Pauw and others say the children should not be condemned because their parents made bad decisions.

One psychologist who traveled to Syria in October to assess Belgian children in the camps, including Fatiha’s grandchildren, said despite everything they have been through, their play and development were relatively normal.

“We were really surprised about how these children were doing,” said Gerrit Loots, a child psychologist at the Free University of Brussels. “Once these children have adapted, they can go to school, they can be with others.”

Loots said his greatest concern was how attached the children were to their mothers. “They’ve never spent a day apart,” he noted.

He said taking the children back to Belgium without their mothers would be “psychologically disastrous.” Bringing them all back together, even assuming the mothers go straight to prison, would be easier to manage, Loots concluded.

The mothers say they want to return, but they are ready to stay behind in Syria if that’s the cost of getting their children back to Belgium and safety.

“I have no problem with that,” Abouallal said. “I just want my children to have a secure life, and have a normal life, and that they don’t punish them for the mistakes we’ve made.”

Fatiha sucked in her breath, then dabbed a tear, as her daughter described conditions in their new camp.

“Try to keep them busy,” Fatiha urged her daughter. “Tell them a story.”

“I love you,” the grandmother told them all, before she hung up the phone and slumped into her couch.

Source: Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State