U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments

The now enjoined Trump executive order requiring state and local governments to consent to refugee resettlement has had what the President probably did not expect: many of the 42 states so consenting, Alexander all by their governors (both Republican and Democrat) also celebrated the many accomplishments of the previous refugees who have resettled in their states. These positive comments about refugees need to be remembered and continuously publicized, and so here they are. [1]

Alaska. Although the state has not officially submitted a consent letter to the federal government, its Governor in a press conference said, “the resettlement program has a longstanding history and is in line with U.S. and Alaska values.  I think America and Alaska get behind because, once again, it’s folks that are in situations where there’s war or some type of persecution and of course, when they apply to come here, the hope is that that’s put behind them and they can get on with their lives and be part of the state, if they choose to stay, and part of the country.”

Arizona. “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here. Refugees arriving in the United States have been vetted and approved by the appropriate national security agencies and Department of State and have been granted legal entry to make a new home in the land of the free.”

Arkansas.  “Arkansans have a history of welcoming refugees. While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land. Immigrants bring energy, a thirst for freedom, and a desire to pursue the American dream. This is America’s strength and part of our future.”

California “The State of California is proud to be a welcoming state, and is committed to the continued resettlement of refugees in partnership with local jurisdictions and community partners. California recognizes its resettlement programs and services are an indispensable lifeline to refugees who have been forcibly dispatched from their home countries and cannot rebuild their lives where they first fled.”

“The refugee resettlement program has a long history in California, spanning over 40 years and successfully resettling over 700,000 men, women and children. During these four decades, refugees continuously have contributed to the enrichment of our economy, culture, and society. California’s communities have flourished because of their diversity and ongoing ability to embrace refugees and immigrant families. . . . Refugees deserve our support and we will keep our doors open to these families and people to sustain  an inclusive California for all.”

 Colorado. “Colorado will continue to assist and resettle more refugees in our communities as long as people around the world are displaced from their home countries.”

“Since 1980, Colorado has welcomed individuals and families fleeing persecution, war, and violence from all over the world through the United States Refugee Admissions Program. Having a robust refugee program ensures that we are upholding our American values of humanitarianism, freedom, and opportunity. Not only is investing in refugees the compassionate and humane thing to do, refugees contribute to our economy in ways that benefit all Coloradans. For every dollar Colorado invests in refugees, we receive a $1.23 return on investment in tax revenue, and four new Colorado jobs are created for every refugee who is resettled in our State.”

Connecticut. “It is a bedrock principle of the United States of America that we welcome to our shores those fleeing tyranny, persecution and violence. As you well know, prior to being admitted to the United States, a refugee must undergo a rigorous vetting process. And we know from our own experience here in Connecticut that refugees enrich the communities that offer them shelter- socially, culturally, and economically. In addition, many people are resettled in our country as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, because they have put their lives and safety, and that of their families, at risk to help ensure the success and safety of our military service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. Connecticut is proud to do its part to honor our country’s commitment to them. The policy of the Trump Administration over several years to cut dramatically the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States is antithetical to our heritage and our values.”

Delaware. “Our country has historically been a refuge of safe harbor for those fleeing war-torn countries, violence, and political persecution. We should continue to stand as a beacon of hope and freedom for people around the world. In that spirit, as Delawareans, we are proud to do our part, and continue to accept the resettlement of refugees.”

Illinois. “Since 1975, the State of Illinois has welcomed and resettled more than 130,000 refugees from more than 86 countries. In recent years, 1,000 to 3,000 refugees, those seeking asylum, and victims of human trafficking arrived in Illinois annually. Refugees have successfully rebuilt their lives and made positive social and economic contributions to Illinois. They have helped revitalize neighborhoods and added to the cultural vitality of our state and communities. As survivors of persecution, refugees embody the importance of human rights, democracy, and freedom. Refugees’ resilience in the face of hardship inspires courage, hope, and perseverance. And refugees’ countless contributions undoubtedly make our states and nation stronger.”

Indiana. “Indiana is a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity. As a state, we are on course to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community. Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana.”

“In just the last five years, state based non-profit agencies have resettled thousands of deserving, qualified individuals in the Hoosier state, who have been fully and carefully vetted by relevant federal government agencies. These are . . . individuals who have gone through all the proper channels, were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs in their homeland and have sought and been granted refugee status in our nation of immigrants.”

Kansas. “Kansas has a long and proud history of welcoming the world’s refugees to our state. Refugees are not simply looking for a better home, they are fleeing some of the most horrific violence, war, famine, religious and cultural persecution of our time. Our country and our state can provide the security they need for a safer place to call home. The citizens of Kansas have shown time and again a strong commitment to welcoming refugees into communities statewide.”  She also said, “Refugees come to our country and state looking for a better place to live. Our country and our state benefit as they also make positive contributions in significant ways. They contribute to our economy, workforce and the cultural fabric of our state and nation.”

Maine. “For more than forty years, and under the leadership of seven Democratic, Republican and Independent governors, Maine has participated in the federal refugee resettlement program. Over the course of those decades we have welcomed nearly 10,000 people from more than 30 countries – people who have resettled in Maine with the hope of finding peace, safety and work for themselves and their families.”

“Maine has a workforce shortage, projected to grow worse over the next decade, creating serious challenges for businesses seeking to hire qualified workers in every industry and in every sector of our economy. Our state welcomes refugees who have skills, education and ability, a proven work ethic and tremendous drive. It is the right thing to do, and it is critical to the strength of our economy and our future success as a state.”

Massachusetts. “Massachusetts is committed to continuing to serve as a source of hope and opportunity, welcoming those seeking refuge with open arms and ensuring that newcomers feel safe, valued and supported as they settle into a new country and integrate into new communities.”

“The United States has a proud and noble tradition of serving as a country of refuge for those most vulnerable in the world. The Commonwealth welcomed 516 refugees last year, from 30 countries, and has welcomed 14,282 refugees over the past decade, from 59 countries. Throughout history, many of the refugees our Country admitted became distinguished scientists, government leaders, entrepreneurs, cultural icons, and public servants. We have much to gain in providing refuge to those in need. Foreign born employees provide significant support to our economy and make up a critical part of the health and human services sector workforce.”

Michigan. “Michigan has a rich history of welcoming refugees and other immigrants to our state. I am committed to ensuring that we remain a leader in responding to the needs of globally displaced families and individuals. We recognize the value of being a welcoming state, and the contribution of refugees to the fabric of our communities. Refugees enhance our state socially, culturally, and economically.”

Minnesota. “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

“We will continue to work hard to ensure refugees become a thriving part of our communities, and I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming  patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

Missouri. “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities. Since 2002, nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri.”

“In Missouri, state organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement. Currently, there are five agencies that integrate refugees in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield, where they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship. These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained, and prepared to assimilate into their new community. In fact, St. Louis boasts one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself. Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts.”

Nevada. “Nevada is proud of our long-standing tradition of resettling refugees. Since the 1970s, Republican and Democratic Governors from Nevada have welcomed these individuals into our state with open arms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of refugee children in the State Capitol. . . . While their unimaginable experiences of suffering and hardship may have originated in different areas around the globe, the personal stories they shared were defined by courage, hope and resilience. These stories embody the dignity and values of this country. Such is the story of Nevada Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. Mr. Assefa came to the U.S. as a refugee with similar hopes and dreams. After a lot of hard work, he became a pilot, a small business owner, and he now proudly serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Above all, he is a proud American.”

“We need not forget that refugees fled for their lives after enduring persecution, war and dire humanitarian conditions. Many waited several years in remote places, while undergoing extensive background checks and security clearances, for the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. Once here, refugees become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society and account for an important part of our workforce and that drives our economic engine.”

New Jersey. “New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response. We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 ceiling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response.”

“We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 cei ling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“Over two million of our residents are immigrants, including refugees, representing nearly 23 percent of New Jersey’s population. There is no doubt that refugees have contributed to the strength of our state and have enriched our communities economically, culturally and socially. Refugees who have made New Jersey their home have helped our state thrive by growing our workforce, starting businesses, contributing to local economies, and becoming valued friends and neighbors.”

“We took these actions because we recognize that new Americans are integral to our State’s culture and our economy. Immigrants and refugees in New Jersey include over 120,000 entrepreneurs, employ more than 389,000 people and contribute over $24.2 billion in federal, State, and local taxes. In fact, 43 percent of the State’s science, technology, engineering, and math-focused workforce are new Americans who play a significant part in maintaining the State’s role as a leading innovator in the STEM field. Supporting immigrant and refugee integration is a smart strategy for our State and our country.”

“We know that a strong and vibrant democracy like ours requires that we live out our values through our deeds. To do so, we must continue to hold true to who we are as Americans by helping those who come seeking refuge from violence and persecution around the world. My Administration looks forward to continuing to work together with cities and towns across our great State to welcome immigrants and refugees.”

New Mexico. “New Mexico has always welcomed immigrants of all types, including more than 2,500 refugees from 28 countries who have resettled in New Mexico since 2002, adding to the rich multicultural mix of which New Mexicans are so rightly proud.”[2] She also said, “Unlike other immigrants, refugees have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether by war, famine, religious and cultural persecution or violence. They leave their home countries fearing for their lives, and they come to our shores and our borders often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, desperate — not for a handout but for a chance to start over.”

“While refugees arrive needing our help, they are often quick to pay back the country and communities that welcome them. They get jobs and pay taxes. They open businesses. They contribute their cuisines and cultures, bringing us new forms of entertainment and understanding.”

North Carolina. “North Carolina was one of the first states to welcome refugees to the United States after the United States Refugee Act was signed into law in 1980. Our state has a strong network of community and faith-based groups which aid in resettlement of refugees who seek safety from persecution.”

North Dakota. “North Dakota has had success at integrating refugees who have become responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce.”

Oregon. “Oregon opposed the President’s recent Executive Order on “refugee resettlement, and ask that you return this year’s refugee admission number to previous annual levels. The values reflected in this Executive Order are not the values on which our country was built.”

“It is a sad day for a nation founded on the principle of welcoming ‘poor, tired, and huddled masses.’ Nobody chooses to be a refugee. Refugees are just like us. They have jobs and families. They are parents and friends, teachers and doctors, farmers and fishermen. Since 1975, Oregon has resettled 67,743 refugees. Refugees contribute every day to the strength of our economy, our communities, and our culture. About 70 percent of refugees find employment within the first few months of resettlement. They pay taxes, buy homes, and open businesses. Their search for freedom and a better future for themselves and their children embodies what it means to be an American.”

Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania has a rich history of opening its doors to those facing persecution and danger. William Penn founded our commonwealth on the principle of religious freedom, seeking to allow those in Europe to escape persecution.”

“It is vital that America retain its moral authority throughout the world. And that means that when vulnerable and displaced individuals seek refuge from violence and oppression elsewhere, we welcome them to find that refuge in America. This maintains our image as a beacon of hope and freedom, and shows the world that America is the antithesis of the places these individuals are fleeing.”

“For decades, refugees have made our communities better, and I am committed to continuing that tradition to the fullest extent of my ability. In communities from Allentown to Lancaster to Erie, and elsewhere, refugees are resettling, making a home, finding employment, starting businesses, paying taxes, and enriching their communities. Church World Service, based in Lancaster, has gained national attention for how it has brought refugees and communities together to find mutual understanding and build strong relationships despite differences. That, to me, is the best of America.”

“During past conflicts, America has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees who were fleeing violence and persecution. [For example,] Jewish refugees came to Pennsylvania from Germany and other European countries to escape the Nazi occupation and religious persecution. . . . As millions of people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa face violence, persecution, and death, we should continue to help those we can while taking care to protect our commonwealth and our country, just as we have done for hundreds of years. To reject refugees outright emboldens the message of those who seek to inspire hatred by saying that we, as Americans, do not have compassion or care for specific groups of people in the world facing persecution or worse.”

Tennessee. “Resettlement will be facilitated by the Trump Administration and non-profit organizations with extensive experience in this area. The refugee population in Tennessee is small, and . . .our consent to cooperate and consult with the Trump Administration to provide a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision. The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution.”

Utah. “Utah has “historically accepted and resettled more than 1,000 refugees each year from a variety of troubled regions of the world. . . . Utah’s unique history informs our approach to refugees. Our state was founded by religious refugees fleeing persecution in the Eastern United States. Those experiences and hardships of our pioneer ancestors 170 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Utahans. As a result we empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life. And it turns out we do it quite well. Those refugees who resettle in Utah become integrated and accepted into our communities. They become productive employees and responsible citizens. They become contributors in our schools, churches and other civic institutions, even helping serve more recent refugees and thus generating a beautiful cycle of charity. This marvelous compassion is simply embedded into our state’ s culture.”

Vermont. “Since 1989, Vermont has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees, primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam. Prior to 2017, Vermont was resettling an average of approximately 325 refugees per year. Through this consent process, I hope to increase current resettlement to the level of 325-350 individuals annually. Vermont has never conditioned and will never condition refugee resettlement on a refugee’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

“Vermont’s refugee communities have made countless contributions to our state. Refugees help ensure a healthy sized and diverse student population. They help employers fill open positions, contributing to the community and local economy, and pay federal, state and local taxes. In recent years, refugees have entered employment in critical economic sectors including construction, health care, hospitality and hotels, manufacturing, customer service, education, environmental services, food service, maintenance, meat processing, office/accounting, packing, retail, transportation, and warehouse. Vermont has more open jobs than people to fill them; refugee communities are vital to Vermont’s economic health.”

“I am also heartened by the fact that an average of 90-94% of these new Americans are economically self-sufficient within eight months of arrival in Vermont. In fact, the rate for fiscal year 2029 is 100%.”

Virginia. “Virginia has welcomed refugees who are fleeing war, persecution, or other dire circumstances. We know that no one chooses to abandon their home until conditions become so difficult that the unknown is preferable.”

“The United States has long presented itself as a haven, a place of stability and economic prosperity. We promote the ideals upon which this country was founded, of liberty and freedom. But lo uphold those ideals abroad, we must allow access to them here at home. We must practice what we preach.”

“Virginia helps refugees settle into new homes only in those localities that participate in the Virginia Community Capacity Initiative, which ensures that a community’ s elected officials, faith leaders, schools, and other stakeholders are committed to helping refugees build new homes and lives. We work with resettlement agencies that have deep ties to these communities. We have always been clear that successful resettlement only happens with community involvement.”

“Because of our proximity to Washington, D.C., we are a preferred location for many Special Immigrant Visa holders: Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees who provided services to the U.S. military in those countries, and whose lives and families are in danger because of that service.”

“In recent years, as the federal government has lowered the number of refugees accepted into the United States, Virginia’s refugee number has dropped. We have the capacity to accept and help more refugees than we currently have.”

“These are people who no longer have a home. History shows us that this could happen to any of us. We must all imagine ourselves in their shoes, and treat them as we would wish to be treated. If I were ever in such a position, I hope a friendly country would take me in and let me rebuild my life in peace and safety. I believe people of decency would share that hope. Virginia’s lights are on and our doors are open, and we welcome new Virginians to make their homes here.”

Washington. “[The] State of Washington wholeheartedly consents to welcoming and resettling refugees into our communities—a long and proud tradition that we intend to continue.”

“As the state that resettled the second highest number of refugees last year, we are honored to remain a place of safety and security for those fleeing persecution and violence. Since 1975, Washington has bought in nearly 150,000 refugees from 70 different countries, including Vietnam, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugees contribute to all sectors of our economy—as teachers, service members, doctors, and more—while adding to our rich cultural landscape. They are an integral part of Washington’s past, present, and future.”

“Just last week, we celebrated the success of Dr. Anisa Ibrahim, a Washingtonian who resettled in our state after fleeing war-torn Somalia more than two decades ago. Only six years old when her family first arrived in the United States, Dr. Ibrahim later graduated from the University of Washington Medical School and now leads a pediatric clinic in Seattle—the same clinic that treated her when she and her siblings were children.”

“Her story is not unique. Throughout our state, children and families speak of similar circumstances, of having sacrificed everything to seek refuge in America from violence, starvation, and other horrors most of us will thankfully never experience. Many of these children are now leaders in our communities, bringing with them their unique perspectives on tragedy, perseverance, and triumph. Washington State is stronger and our communities are richer because of their important contributions.”

“Given all of the benefits of a robust resettlement program, we should not cast aside our founding principles as a nation. Enshrined in the Statue of Liberty, the ‘Mother of Exiles,’ is our country’s commitment as a safe place for humanity’s most vulnerable. Lest we forget that, of the 26,000,000 refugees worldwide, more than half are children.”

West Virginia.  “West Virginia has had great success with our refugee resettlement agency, which has been in operation since 1978. Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.”

Wisconsin. “Our state has a rich history of opening its doors to people of all backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life. Through the years, while the people seeking resettlement opportunity in Wisconsin have changed, their circumstances have not: they are people seeking a new life, they embrace American ideals, and they bring with them valuable skills and experience which benefit all of us.” He also said, “Following the end of World War II, Wisconsin welcomed its first refugees as defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Our state has since continued to offer opportunities for safety and a new life to those from around the world who are granted resettlement. Over the past two decades, Wisconsin has welcomed more than 16,000 refugees from countries around the world, including Laos, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Iraq. Most recently, our state has welcomed people from Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“Refugees and immigrants are essential to Wisconsin’s economy, from manufacturing to education, and public service to agriculture and healthcare. At a time when we are seeing labor shortages across our state, it is irresponsible for the administration to place obstacles in the path of talented and hard-working folks seeking refuge and a better life.” Moreover, “our refugees are a critically important part of our families, our communities, and our culture—they are part of the fabric of our state. Wisconsin’s refugee population is resilient and determined—they want to help themselves and their family, they want to continue working toward their dreams of living safely and freely, and they are eager to give back to the communities who welcome them. These contributions and our diversity and our differences make us and our state stronger, not weaker.”

Conclusion

It also is noteworthy that at last 19 of the 42 consents came from Republican governors and at least 22 from Democratic governors. Seven other states have not been heard from on the consent issue and thereby impliedly did not consent before a federal court enjoined this program: six with Republican governors (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming) and one with a Democratic governor (Hawaii). The only state that explicitly did not consent was Texas with a Republican governor.

More importantly these statements and the lives they depict are incarnations of Pope Francis’ advice to us all: Welcome. Protect. Promote. Integrate refugees and immigrants![2]

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[1] Almost all of these celebratory comments were quoted in previous posts to this blog: Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Update on U.S.’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019); U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (Dec. 31, 2019) Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020); Alaska Says “Yes” to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 8, 2020). See also Letter, Utah Gov. Herbert to Pres. Trump (Oct. 14, 2018); Letter, New Mexico Governor Grisham to Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain (Oct. 7, 2019); Letter, Vermont Governor Phil Scott to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo (Jan. 6, 2020). These opinions about the importance of refugees are consistent with the opinion of a Wall Street Journal columnist. (Immigrants Come to America to work, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2020).

[2]  Pope Francis Reminds Us To Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).

 

Cuba Religious Freedom in the Eyes of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom   

On April 25, 2018, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report on the subject for 28 countries in the world. Of these the Commission concluded that Cuba and 11 other countries had engaged in or tolerated religious freedom violations during 2017 that were serious and “systematic,  or ongoing, or egregious.”[1]

Commission’s Key Findings About Cuba[2]

According to this report, “religious freedom conditions in Cuba remained poor” with the following Key Findings:

  • “The Cuban government engaged in harassment campaigns that included detentions and repeated interrogations targeting religious leaders and activists who advocate for religious freedom.”
  • “Officials threatened to confiscate numerous churches and interrogated religious leaders countrywide about the legal status of their religious properties.”
  • “The government continues to interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs and actively limits, controls, and monitors their religious practice, access to information, and communications through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment.”
  • “While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other constitutional and legal provisions. At the end of the reporting period, 55 religious communities were registered; only registered religious communities are legally permitted to receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroad for religious purposes.”
  • “The Cuban Communist Party Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) answers only to the Party and so it has broad, largely unchecked power to control religious activity, including approving some religious ceremonies other than worship services, repair or construction of houses of worship, and importation of religious materials.”
  • “Authorities prevent human rights and pro-democracy activists from participating in religious activities, sometimes using force. Almost every Sunday in 2017, the government prevented members of Ladies in White from attending Mass.”
  • “In a positive development, officials verbally promised the Assemblies of God that the government would not confiscate 1,400 of their churches as it threatened to do in 2015 and 2016.”

Commission’s Recommendations About Cuba to U.S. Government[3]

The Commission also made the following recommendations about Cuba to the U.S. Government:

  1. “Publicly denounce violations of religious freedom and related human rights in Cuba.”
  2. “Press the Cuban government to:
  • “Stop harassment of religious leaders;
  • End the practice of violently preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services;
  • End destruction of, threats to destroy, and threats to expropriate houses of worship;
  • Lift restrictions on religious communities buying property, building or repairing houses of worship, holding religious processions, importing religious materials, and admitting religious leaders;
  • Allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally, and repeal government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property;
  • Allow registered and unregistered religious groups to conduct religious education;
  • Cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; and
  • Hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners, including the religious freedom of political prisoners.”
  1. “Increase opportunities for Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to, exchange aid and materials with, and interact with coreligionists in the United States.”
  2. “Apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, Executive Order 13818, or other relevant targeted tools, to deny U.S. visas to and block the U.S. assets of specific officials and agencies identified as responsible for violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including considering responsible officials from the ORA for such measures.”
  3. “Use appropriated funds to advance internet freedom and widespread access to mass media, and protect Cuban activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Cuba, as informed by the findings and recommendations of the Cuba Internet Task Force created pursuant to the National Security Presidential Memorandum, ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.’”
  4. “Encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocs, to ensure violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba.”

Conclusion

On May 29, the State Department will release its annual report on religious freedom in every other. country in the world.[4] Thereafter we will examine its comments on Cuba and then analyze and evaluate the two reports’ discussion of Cuba.

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[1] U.S. Comm’n Intl Religious Freedom, USCIRF Releases 2018 Annual Report, Recommends 16 Countries be Designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” (April 25, 2018). The other 11 countries in this category (Tier 2) were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain,  Egypt India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey. The Commission also recommended that the State Department designate the following 16 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (countries whose government engage in or tolerates particularly severe (or systematic, ongoing, and egregious) religious freedom violations: Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Commission is an unusual quasi-governmental body. See U.S. Commission on International Freedom: Structure and Composition, dwkcommentaries.com (May 29, 2013).

[2]  2018 Annual Report at 148-53.

[3]  Id.

[4]  U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo To Release the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report (May 25, 2018).

 

President Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens with Inspiring Challenge

As noted in prior posts, the final step for someone to become a naturalized U.S. citizen is to attend a ceremony in which the individual takes an oath of allegiance to the United States of America and officially is declared to be a U.S. citizen. This is after such an individual meets the requirements of U.S. law through submission of an application with various aspects of personal information and an interview for vetting that information.[1]

Such a ceremony took place on December 15, 2015, at Washington, D.C.’s Rotunda of the National Archives Museum, where the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are permanently displayed. December 15 also was the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

Obama

new citizens

 

 

 

 

On this occasion President Barack Obama provided inspiring words to welcome 31 new U.S. citizens. Above are photographs of the President giving his speech and of some of the new citizens. Here is what Obama said.[2]

“To my fellow Americans, our newest citizens. You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”

“What a remarkable journey all of you have made.  And as of today, your story is forever woven into the larger story of this nation. . . . [Y]ou still have a demanding and rewarding task ahead of you — and that is the hard work of active citizenship.  You have rights and you have responsibilities.”

“Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”

“[U]nless your family is Native American, one of the first Americans, all of our families come from someplace else.  The first refugees were the Pilgrims themselves — fleeing religious persecution, crossing the stormy Atlantic to reach a new world where they might live and pray freely.  Eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants.  And in those first decades after independence, English, German, and Scottish immigrants came over, huddled on creaky ships, seeking what Thomas Paine called ‘asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.’”

“Down through the decades, Irish Catholics fleeing hunger, Italians fleeing poverty filled up our cities, rolled up their sleeves, built America.  Chinese laborers jammed in steerage under the decks of steamships, making their way to California to build the Central Pacific Railroad that would transform the West — and our nation.  Wave after wave of men, women, and children — from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, from Asia and Africa — poured into Ellis Island, or Angel Island, their trunks bursting with their most cherished possessions — maybe a photograph of the family they left behind, a family Bible, or a Torah, or a Koran.  A bag in one hand, maybe a child in the other, standing for hours in long lines.  New York and cities across America were transformed into a sort of global fashion show.  You had Dutch lace caps and the North African fezzes, stodgy tweed suits and colorful Caribbean dresses.”

“And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”

“Just as so many have come here in search of a dream, others sought shelter from nightmares.  Survivors of the Holocaust.  Soviet Refuseniks.  Refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.  Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war.  Mexicans, Cubans, Iranians leaving behind deadly revolutions.  Central American teenagers running from gang violence.  The Lost Boys of Sudan escaping civil war.  They’re people like Fulbert Florent Akoula from the Republic of Congo, who was granted asylum when his family was threatened by political violence.  And today, Fulbert is here, a proud American.”

“We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.”

“Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children, and they’re the doctors who keep us healthy.  They’re the engineers who design our skylines, and the artists and the entertainers who touch our hearts.  Immigrants are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who protect us, often risking their lives for an America that isn’t even their own yet.  As an Iraqi, Mohammed Ibrahim Al Naib was the target of death threats for working with American forces.  He stood by his American comrades, and came to the U.S. as a refugee.  And today, we stand by him.  And we are proud to welcome Mohammed as a citizen of the country that he already helped to defend.”

“We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.”

From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip.  They also built America.  A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs, “No Irish Need Apply.”  Catholics were targeted, their loyalty questioned — so much so that as recently as the 1950s and ‘60s, when JFK . . . [ran for office], he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the Pope.”

“Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes, and were, for a time, even banned from entering America.  During World War II, German and Italian residents were detained, and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants and even Japanese-American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps.  We succumbed to fear.  We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values.  We betrayed these documents.  It’s happened before.”

“And the biggest irony of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’”

“On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again.  We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms — whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farm worker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper.  We are Americans.  Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do -– especially when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s not convenient.  That’s when it counts.  That’s when it matters — not when things are easy, but when things are hard.”

“The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.”

“Scripture tells us, ‘For we are strangers before you, and sojourners, as were all our fathers.’ In the Mexican immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago.  In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.  In these new Americans, we see our own American stories — our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins who packed up what they could and scraped together what they had.  And their paperwork wasn’t always in order.  And they set out for a place that was more than just a piece of land, but an idea.”

“America:  A place where we can be a part of something bigger.  A place where we can contribute our talents and fulfill our ambitions and secure new opportunity for ourselves and for others.  A place where we can retain pride in our heritage, but where we recognize that we have a common creed, a loyalty to these documents, a loyalty to our democracy; where we can criticize our government, but understand that we love it; where we agree to live together even when we don’t agree with each other; where we work through the democratic process, and not through violence or sectarianism to resolve disputes; where we live side by side as neighbors; and where our children know themselves to be a part of this nation, no longer strangers, but the bedrock of this nation, the essence of this nation.”

“More than 60 years ago, at a ceremony like this one, Senator John F. Kennedy said, ‘No form of government requires more of its citizens than does the American democracy.’  Our system of self-government depends on ordinary citizens doing the hard, frustrating but always essential work of citizenship — of being informed.  Of understanding that the government isn’t some distant thing, but is you.  Of speaking out when something is not right.  Of helping fellow citizens when they need a hand.  Of coming together to shape our country’s course.”

And that work gives purpose to every generation.  It belongs to me.  It belongs to the judge.  It belongs to you.  It belongs to you, all of us, as citizens.  To follow our laws, yes, but also to engage with your communities and to speak up for what you believe in.  And to vote — to not only exercise the rights that are now yours, but to stand up for the rights of others.

“Birtukan Gudeya is here [today] from Ethiopia.  She said, ‘The joy of being an American is the joy of freedom and opportunity.  We have been handed a work in progress, one that can evolve for the good of all Americans.’”

“That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”

“That’s our great inheritance — what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey — to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.”

“You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”

“Thank you.  May God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.”

And I say, thank you, Mr. President, for a necessary and inspiring message to us all. It echoes some of the points recently made by Minneapolis clergy that were discussed in a recent post.

=========================================================

[1] Minnesota Welcomes New Citizens (June 8, 2015); Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy (June 7, 2015).

[2] White House, Remarks by the President at Naturalization Ceremony (Dec. 15, 2015); National Archives, Press Release: President Obama to Deliver Keynote Address at National Archives Naturalization Ceremony on December 15 (Dec.11, 2015); Harris & Goodstein, Obama Counters Anti-Muslim Talk by Welcoming New Citizens, N.Y. Times (Dec. 15, 2015).

 

 

 

Update on Congressional Actions Regarding Cuba 

A June 12th post reviewed the status of appropriations bills relating to Cuba in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now we look at what happened last week in Congress on these and other measures.

National Defense Authorization Act FY 2016[1]

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of the spending authorization for the Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2016.

The White House threatened to veto the bill. The main bone of contention is the bill’s continuation of sequestration of funds and use of so-called budget gimmicks. The White House opposes also opposes the bill because it contains language that it claims would make it hard to shutter the U.S. prison facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It calls the process for winning congressional approval of closing Guantánamo “unnecessary and overly restrictive.”

The same day, however, Senator John McCain (Rep., AZ) said that Defense Secretary Aston Carter had pledged to come forward to Congress with a plan to close the Guantanamo prison facility. Even if the administration hands over a plan to close the facility, however, it’s unclear if it could get passed through Congress. McCain’s proposal divided Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he faces opposition from House lawmakers.

Now the Senate and House have to confer and negotiate a bill that can pass both chambers. One of the major challenges are the different provisions regarding the Guantanamo detention facility and detainees:

  • The Senate’s version of the bill provides the President with a path to close the prison in Guantanamo if Congress signs off on the plan.
  • The House version does not include an option for closing the prison, but instead would maintain restrictions on transferring prisoners. The House bill also adds additional certification requirements, bans detainees from being transferred to “combat zones” and blocks any transfers of prisoners to the United States including for medical purposes.

Intelligence Authorization Act, FY 2016 (H.R.2596)[2]

On June 16 the House passed, 247-178, the Intelligence Authorization Act FY 2016 (H.R.2596). It outlines policy for 16 federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA and .the National Reconnaissance Agency. After the vote, John Boehner (Rep., OH), the Speaker of the House, said, “This bill sustains and strengthens our capabilities to combat terrorism, cyberattacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while making every taxpayer dollar count.”

The bill’s sections 321 would ban the transfer of certain Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.; section 322 would ban the construction or modification of U.S. facilities to house certain Guantanamo detainees; and section 323 would ban transfer of Guantanamo detainees to combat zones. Sections 331 and 333 would require certain reports to Congress regarding such detainees.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Dem., CA), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, criticized the bill’s banning the government from transferring such detainees to the U.S. or a recognized “combat zone.” Schiff said, “We are not safer because of Guantanamo’s existence. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable by drawing more recruits to the jihad.” Moreover, the definition of “combat zone,” Schiff added, is “so broad as to include allies and partners such as Jordan.” An amendment from Schiff to eliminate the new restrictions failed 176-246.

Before the vote, the White House said, “While there are areas of agreement with the committee, the administration strongly objects to several provisions of the bill,” and “If this bill were presented to the president, the President’s senior advisors would recommend to the president that he veto it.”

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016[3]

On June 17 the House Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016 on a straight party-line vote, 30 to 20.The Committee’s press release states the bill provides $20.2 billion in funding for “critical national programs to enforce U.S. laws , maintain a fair and efficient judicial system, and help small businesses grow” while reducing or eliminating lower-priority programs and cutting “poor-performing agencies—including an $838 million reduction to the Internal Revenue Service.”

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill was the temporary blocking of the newly implemented net neutrality rules, which was criticized by the White House without a threat of a veto.

As noted in a prior post, according to the Committee’s press release, the bill contains prohibitions on (a) “travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program;” (b) “importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government;” and (c) “financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.” I, however, am still unable to find these provisions in the bill. I solicit comments identifying these provisions.

In the Committee Rep. Nita Lowey (Dem., NY), the top Democrat of the full committee, offered an amendment that would have removed what she called “20 veto-bait riders” or policy provisions, including these Cuba-related measures. The proposal was blocked on a party-line vote.

Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (S.299)[4]

A prior post discussed the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 that was introduced by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ). In addition, it now has 44 cosponsors: 36 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 2 Independents.

A recent New York Times editorial endorsed the lifting the ban on travel to Cuba. It said, “The ban — the only travel prohibition American citizens are currently subjected to — never made sense, and it’s particularly misguided in an era of broadening engagement between the United States and Cuba.” Now, “the trajectory is unmistakable. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Cubans on the island and Americans favor engagement. Congress should wait no longer to do its part.”

Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489)[5]

On June 3 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) introduced the Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489) with seven cosponsors (Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Orrin Hatch (Rep., UT), Tom Cotton (Rep., AR), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX), Cory Gardner (Rep., CO), David Vitter (Rep., LA), Mark Kirk (Rep., IL). It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

The bill would prohibit a U.S. person from engaging in any financial transaction with or transfer of funds to: the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba or the Ministry of the Interior of Cuba (or any of their subdivisions); a senior member of such Ministries; any agency, instrumentality, or other entity that is more than 25% owned, or that is operated or controlled by, such a Ministry; or any individual or entity for the purpose of avoiding a prohibited financial transaction or transfer of funds that is for the benefit of that individual or entity. Excluded from these bans are the sale to Cuba of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices; remittances to an immediate family member; or assistance in furtherance of democracy-building efforts for Cuba.

The bill would also require (a) the U.S. Attorney General to coordinate with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in order to pursue the location and arrest of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, including current and former members of the Cuban military and (b) the U.S. President to provide reports on the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba and the return of property that has been confiscated by the Government of Cuba.

In his press release about the bill, Senator Rubio said, ““It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Castro regime’s brutality. The Cuban Military Transparency Act would prevent U.S. dollars from getting into the hands of the Cuban military and would demand accountability from the Obama Administration regarding fugitives of American justice in Cuba, the return of stolen and uncompensated property and the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas opposes this bill. It admits “that in Cuba, a socialist state with a largely state-owned economy, the military is invested in state-owned businesses, and several of those . . . are dominant players in Cuba’s tourist industry. Given the military’s broad role in Cuba’s economy, any expenditure by U.S. travelers and businesses – including the cost of hotel rooms, telephone calls, airport taxes, the hotel occupancy tax, sales taxes on tourist purchases, resort fees – could be prohibited presumptively unless the traveler or company could persuade [the U.S. Treasury agency] they spent their money in Cuba some other way.” But “how could they prove the negative? Who in Cuba will hand out the forms that say “that hotel room” or “that painting” or “that serving of ropa vieja” didn’t come from an enterprise owned or controlled by Cuba’s military?”

Therefore, according to the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the true purpose of this bill is “to shame, harass, and try to stop every American from visiting Cuba or seeking to do business in Cuba, and to return U.S. policy to its pre-December 17, 2014 goal of starving the Cuban economy and the Cuban people along with it.”

Conclusion

These latest congressional developments reinforce the need for continued vigilance by supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation to pay attention to what is happening in Congress and to continue to express their opinions on these issues to their representatives in that body and to the larger community.

I take pride in the strong support for such reconciliation in the State of Minnesota, so far away from Cuba. A recent article in MINNPOST explored this apparently strange phenomenon. Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and a non-native Minnesotan, believes there are three main reasons for this fact. First, two of Minnesota’s biggest industries — agriculture and medical devices — have massive potential exports to Cuba. Second, Minnesota’s lack of a large Cuban-American community and its distance from the island mean our lawmakers are not subject to the same pressures as representatives from states like Florida and New Jersey. Third, many of Minnesota’s federal legislators are reasonable people.

I concur in that opinion, but believe Schwartz has missed the fundamental reason for strong Minnesota support for this reconciliation. Many people in this State are interested in what goes on in the world and are actively engaged with the rest of the world through their churches like Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Center for Victims of Torture, Advocates for Human Rights, the Minnesota Cuba Committee and various programs at the University of Minnesota and through Minnesotans’ welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world, especially from Somalia, Viet Nam and Laos, and through major multinational corporations headquartered here like Cargill, which is leading the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba,3M, Medtronic and General Mills.

I was pleased to read about the change of heart of a prominent Cuban-American Republican who was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush Administration, Carlos Gutierrez. In an op-ed essay in the New York Times, he said,” it is now time for Republicans and the wider American business community to stop fixating on the past and embrace a new approach to Cuba.” He added, “Some of my fellow Cuban-Americans insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to democracy. I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”

Gutierrez concluded, “America must look to the future instead — and pursue this opportunity to assist Cubans in building a new economy. There is a lot of work to do, and progress will be slow. However, the business community and my fellow Cuban-Americans and Republicans should not ignore the possibilities ahead. The Cuban people need and deserve our help.”

======================================================

[1] Matishak, White House threatens to veto Senate’s defense spending bill, The Hill (June 18, 2015); Carney, McCain expects Pentagon plan on closing Guantanamo, The Hill (June 18, 2015);Carney, Five challenges for the defense bill (June 21, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon Hattem, House passes intel bill over White House objections, The Hill (June 16, 2015).

[3] This section of the post is based upon the following: House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Services Bill (Jun 17, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Financial Services Appropriations Act FY 2016 (June 9?, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Report: Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2016, No. 114- —( 2015);Trujillo, House panel advances rider to block Internet rules, The Hill (June 7, 2015); Trujillo, Obama administration knocks net neutrality riders in funding bill, The Hill (June 17, 2015)  Shabad, Bill with $838M IRS cut advances in House, The Hill (June 17, 2015).

[4] Library of Congress THOMAS, S.299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (Cosponsors)

[5] This portion of the post is based upon the following: Library of Congress THOMAS, Cuban Military Transparency Act; Rubio, Press Release: Senators Introduce Bill To Deny Resources To Castro’s Military and Security Services (June 3, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, The Cuban Military Not So Transparent Act (June 19, 2015).

Minnesota Welcomes New U.S. Citizens  

The ultimate step in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen that was discussed in a prior post is taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This is usually done in a collective ceremony.

Such a ceremony was held on May 26, 2015, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota when it welcomed 453 new U.S. citizens from the following regions of the world: Africa, 167; Asia, 160; Latin America, 56; Europe 43; Middle East, 20; and Other, 7. Of the 76 foreign countries represented, the largest numbers came from Somalia, 42; Ethiopia, 34; Liberia, 26; Burma (Myanmar), 24; Thailand, 23; Nigeria, 23; and Mexico, 22.

After everyone sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” an officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services collectively presented the new citizens to the court, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes administered the following Oath of Allegiance to the new citizens:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Judge Keyes then congratulated them. He said he saw the U.S. as a fabric or quilt of diverse elements that combined to create a beautiful whole that continuously is regenerated with new citizens. He urged the new citizens never to forget the poetry, the culture, the land and the ancestors of their homelands.

On a personal note, Keyes said his ancestors came from Ireland 150 years ago, and he was confident that they never imagined that someday an Irishman could become President of the United States. Yet in 1960 John F. Kennedy of Irish heritage was elected to that office. So too many people in this country could not have imagined that a black man could also be so elected, and yet Barack Obama was the victor in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

With citizenship came many rights and responsibilities under our Bill of Rights, Keyes continued. There was freedom of speech and the responsibility to listen and understand the opinions of others. There was no established religion and the freedom to have or not have your own religious beliefs and the responsibility to understand and accept others’ religious beliefs. Another right was the freedom of assembly and the responsibility to engage in the political arena and to vote.

Other words of welcome were made in a videotape presentation by President Obama. One of his messages was in American no dream is impossible.

The ceremony concluded with everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

One of the largest single naturalization ceremonies in Minnesota was on September 6, 2012, when 1,509 individuals from 100 countries became U.S. citizens; the largest numbers of these came from Somalia (344), Ethiopia (141), Laos (101), Liberia (95) and Mexico (84).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report 2014   

Comm'n Intl Religious Free                                                

On April 30, 2014, the quasi-independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its Annual Report 2014, pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1988 (“the Act”).[1]

Introduction

The Commission relies upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties.[2] (P. 9.)

The Report stressed the importance of this freedom. It says this right “protects the freedom of religious communities, as groups, to engage in worship and other collective activities. It also protects every individual’s right to hold, or not to hold, any religion or belief, as well as the freedom to manifest such a religion or belief, subject only to the narrow limitations specified under international law.” (P. 9.)

This right is important, says the Commission, “because it enables people to follow what their conscience dictates. . . . People are entitled to religious freedom by virtue of their humanity.” Therefore, there can be no “coercion or compulsion in these matters.” (P. 2.)

Moreover, whenever this freedom is abused, “societal well-being would suffer” as well as democracy and other human rights and economic productivity. So too “peace and security may become more elusive.” In short, according to the commission, “the defense of religious freedom is both a humanitarian imperative and a practical necessity.” (P. 3.)

General Recommendations

The Commission recommended that the U.S. do the following with respect to this freedom:

  • develop and implement a religious freedom strategy;
  • demonstrate the importance of religious freedom , including the designation of “countries of particular concern ” identified by the Commission;
  • reinvigorate and create new tools under the Act;
  • expand training, programming and public diplomacy about the subject;
  • expand multilateral efforts on the subject; and
  • protect asylum-seekers from being returned to countries where they face persecution for religious reasons. (Pp. 7-8.)

“Countries of Particular Concern” (Tier 1 Countries)

Under its authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. (P. 5.)

The latest report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight countries as Tier 1 countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In addition, the Report recommends that the following additional eight countries also be so designated by the State Department: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. (P. 5.)

Tier 2 Countries

The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met. (P. 5.)

The latest Report designated the following nine countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Russia and Turkey.[3] (P. 5.)

Other Countries

The latest Report also discussed seven other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka) and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. (P. 5.)

Conclusion

Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will critique the Report regarding that country.

=========================================

[1] The Act § § 202, 205. The Report contains an account of the development of the Act and the 15-year history of its implementation. (Pp. 11-23.) A prior post examined the fascinating structure and composition of the Commission, and another post its report issued in 2013.

[2] See Post: International Law Regarding Freedom of Religion (Jan. 1, 2012).

[3] Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest U.S. Reports on International Religious Freedom

Annually the U.S. Department of State, pursuant to statutory authorization, releases a report on the status of religious freedom in every country in the world.[1] In addition, the quasi-independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom releases annual reports on the same subject for selected countries.[2]

It should be noted at the outset that these two agencies are not seeking to impose on the rest of the world the U.S. constitutional prohibition of the “establishment of religion” or of “abridging the free exercise [of religion].” [3] Instead the agencies reports rely upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties.[4]

The post will review the latest State Department report on this subject for all 194 other countries in the world and the Commission’s latest report on 29 countries plus one large region (Western Europe).[5]

Latest State Department Report

USDeptStateseal

After emphasizing the importance of religious freedom, the State Department’s May 20, 2013, report “tells stories of courage and conviction, but also recounts violence, restriction, and abuse. While many nations uphold, respect, and protect religious freedom, regrettably, in many other nations, governments do not protect this basic right; subject members of religious minorities to violence; actively restrict citizens’ religious freedom through oppressive laws and regulations; stand by while members of societal groups attack their fellow citizens out of religious hatred, and fail to hold those responsible for such violence accountable for their actions.”

The report continues.”The immediate challenge is to protect members of religious minorities. The ongoing challenge is to address the root causes that lead to limits on religious freedom. These causes include impunity for violations of religious freedom and an absence of the rule of law, or uneven enforcement of existing laws; introduction of laws restricting religious freedom; societal intolerance, including anti-Semitism and lack of respect for religious diversity; and perceptions that national security and stability are best maintained by placing restrictions on and abusing religious freedom.”

Highlighted for concern by the report were “[l]aws and policies that impede the freedom of individuals to choose a faith, practice a faith, change their religion, tell others about their religious beliefs and practices, or reject religion altogether remain pervasive. Numerous governments imposed such undue and inappropriate restrictions on religious groups and abused their members, in some cases as part of formal government law and practice.” Another concern was the “use of blasphemy and apostasy laws.” They “continued to be a significant problem, as was the continued proliferation of such laws around the world. Such laws often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a discriminatory manner.”

The report documented “a continued global increase in anti-Semitism. Holocaust denial and glorification remained troubling themes, and opposition to Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism. When political leaders condoned anti-Semitism, it set the tone for its persistence and growth in countries around the world. Of great concern were expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, by religious leaders, and by the media.”

According to the report, “Governments that repress freedom of religion and freedom of expression typically create a climate of intolerance and impunity that emboldens those who foment hatred and violence within society. Government policy that denies citizens the freedom to discuss, debate, practice, and pass on their faith as they see fit also undercuts society’s ability to counter and combat the biased and warped interpretations of religion that violent extremists propagate. Societal intolerance increased in many regions during 2012.”

Finally the report said, “Governments exacerbated religious tensions within society through discriminatory laws and rhetoric, fomenting violence, fostering a climate of impunity, and failing to ensure the rule of law. In several instances of communal attacks on members of religious minorities and their property, police reportedly arrested the victims of such attacks, and NGOs alleged that there were instances in which police protected the attackers rather than the victims. As a result, government officials were not the only ones to commit abuses with impunity. Impunity for actions committed by individuals and groups within society was often a corollary of government impunity.”

The report also acknowledged the Department’s statutory obligation to designate “Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), i.e., those countries that are considered to commit “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” and whose records call for the U.S. government to take certain actions under the terms of the Act. The term ‘‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’’ means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as: (a) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) prolonged detention without charges; (c) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or (d) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”

Accordingly the report re-designated the following eight countries as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.[6]

Latest Commission Report

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Under the authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom.

In its latest report, issued on April 30, 2013, the following 15 countries were so designated: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ubekistan (all of which had been designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the State Department the prior year) plus Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met.

The latest report designated the following eight countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.[7]

The latest report also discussed six other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey and Venezuela and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. At first glance the monitoring of Western Europe seems anomalous, but here are the topics of concern to the Commission:

  • Restrictions on religious dress (full-face veils) in France and Belgium.
  • Failure in Sweden, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Poland, Norway and Iceland to exempt religious slaughter of animals from laws requiring prior stunning of the animals.
  • Suggestions in Germany and Norway that religious circumcisions of male children were illegal.
  • Restrictions on construction of Islamic minarets in Switzerland, and the lack of an official mosque in Athens, Greece.
  • “Incitement to hatred” and other laws in almost all European states that can be used to restrict expression of religious beliefs.
  • Reluctance in many European states to provide accommodation of religious objections to generally applicable laws.
  • Measures in France, Austria, Belgium and Germany against religious groups perjoratively characterized as “cults” or “sects.”
  • Societal intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief such as towards Muslim women with full-face veils, Jewish people and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It should also be noted that the Commission sometimes takes an adversarial position vis-à-vis the U.S. State Department. For example, on April 30, 2013, when the Commission released its latest report, its simultaneous press release recommended that the Department designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” the seven additional countries the Commission had placed in Tier 1 as noted above.

When the Department failed to do so in its May 20th report, the next day the Commission issued a press release criticizing the Department for failure to make additional CPC designations since August 2011 and to do so for the same seven additional countries.

Conclusion

Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will compare and contrast the two reports regarding that country.

Such a comparison, in my opinion, will show that the State Department’s reports are more balanced and fair at least with respect to Cuba.


[2]  Id. § § 202, 205. The fascinating structure and composition of the Commission will be the subject of a future post.

[3]  U.S. Const., First Amend.

[5] A prior post examined the prior State Department report.

[6] The State Department report noted that it considers the recommendations of the Commission on CPCs, but that the Secretary of State makes the final decision on that issue. The Department’s report thereby implicitly rejected the Commission’s recommendation for an additional seven countries to be so designated.

[7] Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”