As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day | Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day

Oscar Romero, a UNC Charlotte graduate, says it can cost $500 to submit and renew the application that allows him to remain a “dreamer.”

He is among 24,000 undocumented immigrants across North Carolina called “dreamers,” people who arrived in the United States as children and participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA program keeps young undocumented immigrants from being deported and allows them to attend school and apply for work permits.

As the program faces continued legal scrutiny, “dreamers” are hopeful the latest bipartisan congressional effort to revise immigration policy, which includes DACA, has a long-shot chance in changing their lives.

“Who here has heard the question: where do you want to be in five years? Imagine not being able to answer that — with your life in this country revolving on a two-year cycle,” Romero said last week during an online news conference hosted by local DACA advocates.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina and Sen. Krysten Sinema — a former Democrat turned Independent representing Arizona — are working on a last-minute deal before Congress breaks for the holidays that creates a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

In exchange, the bipartisan deal calls for creating legislation that would add $25 billion in increased funding for the Border Patrol and border security, the Washington Post first reported.

Federal lawmakers are still hashing out the bipartisan framework. Part of it calls for extending the Title 42 expulsions until new processing centers are built for migrants. Title 42 is an arcane provision of U.S. health law, which the Trump administration used during the pandemic that allowed asylum seekers to be rejected at the border as their claims were being processed.

Rebekah Niblock, an immigration attorney with the Charlotte Center of Legal Advocacy, said it was tough to see that the bill could extend Title 42. But allowing ”dreamers” who have been here for so many years to finally get their citizenship is important, she said.

“In looking at this possible bill, I do see the huge compromise,” Niblock said. “It is very difficult, but I’m hopeful this bill will pass.”

The legislation could provide some stability for DACA recipients whose lives have been in flux over the past decade, she said.

Judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against DACA in October. That decision sent it back to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who ruled the program can remain temporarily, with limitations, while he reviews Biden administration revisions made in August.

Niblock said the court decision has frozen applications for newer recipients. Two clients she helped apply for DACA in 2020 remain in limbo as the courts weigh its legality, she said.

“They haven’t even received a denial,” Niblock said. “Their cases are just sitting there with no decision whatsoever.”

There are many who were hesitant to apply for DACA. These people should be taken into account in any proposed bill, she added.

As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day

It’s hard to apply for asylum. This clinic makes it easier for many seeking protection | Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: Charlotte legal advocates host asylum application clinic | Charlotte Observer

When Erika Salamanca journeyed to the United States, she brought her daughter on her hip with hope for more opportunities for her child. Desperate to escape gang violence, Salamanca fled El Salvador to the United States seeking asylum. She traveled through Guatemala and Mexico last winter to find safety for her family.

“I just wanted my daughter to have a better future here,” Salamanca, 26, said.

But with a one-year deadline to file for asylum after arriving, navigating complicated forms — especially in a language different from one’s native tongue — is difficult. The process can be discouraging. Some immigrants, likely so focused on surviving, are unaware they need to apply.

Recognizing that, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy offers a one-day asylum clinic for immigrants and pairs them with lawyers to file their applications, which would increase their chance of success in gaining asylum.

Salamanca was one of 30 participants Friday who came to the center’s East Charlotte office for assistance.

CCLA is the only nonprofit offering this type of pro-se clinic in North Carolina and South Carolina. This was the third clinic held this year by CCLA.

Charlotte legal advocates host asylum application clinic | Charlotte Observer

Courts jostle over DACA, casting a cloudy future for Charlotte ‘Dreamers’| Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: DACA rulings leave the program and Charlotte Dreamers’ in limbo | Charlotte Observer

With federal courts jostling over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, its future hangs in limbo — affecting thousands of recipients in Charlotte and across North Carolina.

Recent activity pulled the Obama administration policy back in the headlines — judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who ruled against DACA earlier in October, said it needed more review. That decision sent it back to a lower court judge, who now ruled the program can remain temporarily, with limitations, as he reviews Biden administration revisions made in August.

For Marisela Ceniceros, a Charlotte mother of two DACA recipients, a new worry is now front and center — how a potential reversal could affect families like hers.

“Right now because it’s on hold there’s no way to determine if or when DACA will end,” Ruth Santana, an immigration attorney with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, said. “That uncertainty for immigrants is very unsettling to say the least.”

DACA rulings leave the program and Charlotte Dreamers’ in limbo | Charlotte Observer

Hospitals said they lost money on Medicare patients. Some made millions, a state report has found | Kaiser Health News

By Fred Clasen-Kelly

Read more at: Kaiser Health News

Using 2019 data from the IRS, researchers found that out of 275 hospital systems across the country, 227 spent less on community investments or charity care than they got in tax breaks. The deficit totaled more than $18 billion, the report said.

Leah Kane is a senior attorney for consumer protection at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, a nonprofit that provides civil legal assistance to people who cannot afford an attorney. She said her agency receives calls from people who were not offered charity care from hospitals.

She said her group is worried that hospitals are offering charity care to uninsured patients but not to other people, like the underinsured, who don’t have the income to pay thousands of dollars for treatment not covered by their insurance plans.

“People are angry and stressed out,” Kane said. “They don’t know what this [debt] will mean for their lives.”

Hospitals Said They Lost Money on Medicare Patients. Some Made Millions, a State Report Finds. | Kaiser Health News (khn.org)

Mecklenburg’s food stamp delays catch eye of legal advocates as immigrants still wait | The Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: Legal advocates hone in on Mecklenburg’s food stamp delay | Charlotte Observer

Most Mecklenburg County households receiving food stamp benefits can expect an increase this month, but an ongoing delay with applications has spread to Charlotte’s immigrant community — and catching the attention of legal advocates.

Charlotte Center of Legal Advocacy generally fields a few calls daily from clients seeking help with food stamp applications or recertifications. But after public records revealed Mecklenburg County had continued delays, the advocacy center in August sent out a tweet asking anyone facing problems with their applications to contact them, Dee Grano, a spokeswoman with the center said.

“We’re paying very close attention to the situation and are always looking for ways to effectively advocate for our clients, but larger legal action remains to be seen at this point,” Grano said in an email.

In the past few months, the center has seen the number of requests for help spike. “Where I used to get maybe two or three calls a day, we’re now getting three times that — if not more,” says Elizabeth Setaro, a paralegal advocate who works with the immigrant community. Her client, Elida Valdez as of Friday is still waiting for benefits she applied for early in July.

She decided to apply for medicaid and food stamps after giving birth to her third child in May. Valdez, who is from Guatemala, was leery of applying for food stamps and concerned it may affect her immigration status, including her reapplication for her U Visa. The documentation is granted to victims of certain crimes. But since her children are U.S. citizens, they could receive the benefit, her attorney told her. Valdez told the Charlotte Observer she received a letter from Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services asking for additional documents in August, roughly a month after she applied. After turning those in, a week later Valdez received a call stating the documents were never received.

After several more calls, social services said it did have all of her documents, but by then it was too late, she said. “At that point, they had already terminated the case,” Valdez, 25, said.

Legal advocates home in on Mecklenburg’s food stamp delay | Charlotte Observer

Launch delayed for Medicaid tailored plans – NC Health News | NC Health News

BY Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven

Read more: https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2022/09/30/rollout-of-special-medicaid-plans-for-complicated-patients-will-be-delayed-until-april/

Back in August, Lucy Plyler was mailed a 19-page letter from the state health department. 

The letter said that the way Victoria, her 24-year-old daughter with multiple disabilities, received Medicaid was about to change. Instead of being in NC Medicaid Direct, Victoria would be put on a “tailored plan.” That meant all her care would no longer be coordinated through the state Department of Health and Human Services, but through the regional behavioral health organization, called an LME-MCO.

Where Plyler and her daughter live in Rutherford County, their LME-MCO would be Partners Health Management

This switch is happening for nearly 200,000 people out of a total of more than 2.8 million North Carolina Medicaid beneficiaries. These tailored plans are targeted primarily for those with complicated health problems, severe mental health needs, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries. It’s the next phase in the state’s transition to managed care, which started back in July 2021 when about 1.6 million people saw their Medicaid change from being state-run to being coordinated by one of five private insurance companies called managed care organizations. 

These tailored plans will be quite different from the other managed care plans. Unlike the rest of the Medicaid population, those on tailored plans will not have four to five managed care plans to choose from. In fact, they will have no options to choose from. They will be automatically enrolled in the tailored plan that is run by the LME-MCO that covers their county already. 

“The big fear is will a very, very vulnerable population — people with profound disabilities — lose access to care that they really need?” said Doug Sea, an attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. “The fact is that the General Assembly set this up in a way that directly discriminates against people on the basis of these profound disabilities. 

Launch delayed for Medicaid tailored plans – NC Health News (northcarolinahealthnews.org)

One year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghans in Charlotte are in legal limbo | Axios Charlotte

By Danielle Chemtob

Read more: Axios Charlotte

Tahira Askari and her family arrived at the chaotic scene at the Kabul airport last August, with a crowd of people surrounding the walls, and Taliban surrounding them.

The teenager heard gunshots and people calling out for help. She saw people being beaten and lying on the ground, injured.

They slept on the street outside the airport for two nights. Finally, after moving to another location, they managed to board a plane to Qatar, then Germany, then Washington, D.C., then Wisconsin, before they became among the over 1,700 Afghan refugees to arrive in North Carolina since last August.

Now 17, Askari lives in Concord now and dreams of studying journalism in the U.S. But like tens of thousands of Afghans now in the United States, she faces a ticking clock with her legal status. And she is bogged down in a years-long legal process to obtain citizenship.

What’s happening: The U.S. completed the withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago today, Aug. 30, and has resettled more than 76,000 Afghans in the country.

Initially, North Carolina was set to resettle 1,200 refugees but that swelled to 1,730, according to the latest figures provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Charlotte agencies resettled 298.

Why it matters: In that year, Afghans in Charlotte and elsewhere have tried to build new lives for themselves, but their legal status is in limbo.

Context: Most Afghans have temporary status in the U.S. through humanitarian parole, which does not have a clear path to citizenship, and only lasts for two years typically.

Afghans can apply for asylum, and their cases will be expedited, receiving an interview within 45 days.

But it’s still a lengthy process that attorneys often assist with, which is a financial barrier for families that had to start over when they moved here. Plus, the nearest office handling the asylum interviews is in Virginia.

Once they receive asylum, they can apply for their green card after a year, and in four years they are eligible to apply for citizenship, says Rebekah Niblock, a staff attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy working for its Immigrant Justice Program.

While the asylum process is being sped up for Afghans compared to other refugees, it still means years of waiting and legal fees before they can become citizens.

Read more: One year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghans in Charlotte are in legal limbo – Axios Charlotte

Afghan refugees find ‘different world’ in Charlotte — and a new set of challenges | Charlotte Observer

BY DJ SIMMONS AND WILL WRIGHT

Read more: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article264677989.html#storylink=cpy

Americans watched the Afghan government fall from afar. But for Bahroz Mohmand, the moment marked the high-stakes culmination of a plan two years in the making to relocate his family.

“Because of me my whole family — my brothers, my sisters, my parents, my in-laws — most of them were at risk,” said Mohmand, who worked as a translator for U.S. Special Forces. “Working for the army in Afghanistan was not easy. You’re basically putting your family and their life in jeopardy by working for them.”

Now, safely in Charlotte, Mohmand fears for his family’s future. Their work permits are set to expire in 2023, and the uncertainty of that leaves him wondering what will happen.

“If their work permits expire, they’re, of course, not going to let them work anymore, and then they’ll have no income and (will) be put on the street,” he said.

Tahira Askira, Mohmand’s niece, recalled the tense days in Afghanistan before she was evacuated last year.

Askira said she was out grabbing groceries with her mother and sister when they heard the Taliban took over the country. Soon, the day descended into chaos. “People were shouting,” she said. “Everybody was looking for a way to get back home.”

Askira was fearful. She heard from adults what life was like under Taliban rule. For two days, they were stuck at home as Taliban fighters surveyed the streets, looking for people.

Mohmand feared the worst. Through his job as a translator, he was given a pathway to citizenship and emigrated to America in 2012 through the Special Immigration Visa program for Afghans.

The program, however, didn’t guarantee their families similar avenues. And interpreters’ jobs often placed targets on their backs, as well as their families, Mohmand said.

Mohmand also garnered a higher profile after being invited to the White House in 2018 for a Medal of Honor ceremony for a soldier he worked with. During the ceremony, he was individually recognized by then-President Donald Trump.

While the moment was one of his proudest, it also placed his family directly in danger.

As Askira fled the airport with her family, all she was able to grab was a backpack full of a few belongings. Meanwhile, Mohmand stayed on the phone with the family and used Google Maps from his home in Charlotte to help them navigate to and through the Kabul airport. Askira spent almost two nights sleeping outside the airport before they were able to get inside.

“I was running the operation basically,” Mohmand recalled. “I was telling them where to go.”

Now in America, they face hurdles applying for asylum.

GETTING SETTLED

Rebekah Niblock, a staff attorney at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, said applying for asylum is one of the more complex areas of immigration law.

Refugee resettlement centers such as the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency contacted the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to assist the influx of Afghan families. The center soon undertook the task of creating a program to link Afghan families to pro-bono attorneys who could help them with their asylum cases.

For Niblock, the case with Mohmand’s family is even more personal. Her father, a builder in Concord, has helped to house members of Mohmand’s family and is Askira’s neighbor.

”I feel the family is meant to be here,” Niblock said.

Niblock said a bill in Congress called the Afghan Adjustment Act could be key in helping these families have a direct path to citizenship. The bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress in August and would allow Afghans with temporary status to apply for lawful permanent residence.

“There’s precedent for the bill,” Niblock said. “If you think about the Vietnamese coming to our shores, we passed similar legislation to allow them to have more of a direct path to residency and citizenship status.”

Asylum cases could take years, Niblock said. Currently a special provision allows Afghan refugees to have their cases heard within 45 days of filing.

“But that means you need to have everything ready,” Niblock said. “That entails a detailed statement, corroborating evidence, sitting down the client and asking very difficult and traumatizing questions.”

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article264677989.html#storylink=cpy

Afghans in U.S. await stability and immigration answers | WFAE

By: Kayla Young

Read more: Afghans in U.S. await stability and immigration answers | WFAE 90.7 – Charlotte’s NPR News Source

A year after the fall of Kabul, Afghans who fled to the United States still face an uncertain future. Organizations such as the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy are now pushing for passage of the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act and a pathway to citizenship.

When Taliban insurgents took control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, in August of last year, Bahroz Mohmand watched the news in disbelief from the United States.

The 33-year-old interpreter never expected to see his home country revert to Taliban control.

“I was surprised. I was pissed off. I was sad,” Mohmand said. “It was a very difficult situation for me to basically calm myself down because I was worried about the family.”

Mohmand moved to the United States in 2012 under a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), made possible by his work as a Dari and Pashto interpreter for the U.S. Army.

“I was born in war. I was raised in war. I never saw the good side of my country,” he said. “The only time that it was good was basically when from 2001, when the U.S. Army came until, you know, August 15 that everything collapsed under the Taliban regime.”

He is now a U.S. citizen. But for many of the 76,000 Afghans who fled to the U.S. in the past year, their immigration options are more limited. Many fear eventual deportation, including Mohmand’s niece, 17-year-old Tahira Askari.

Askari described the chaos of her evacuation in her native language, Dari. Mohmand interpreted.

“Everything was falling apart. People were running around stores. You could see families getting desperate, separated from each other. Everybody was heading towards the airport,” she said.

Askari and her family boarded an evacuation flight to Qatar, then Germany and eventually reunited with Mohmand in Charlotte.

Mohmand says for Askari, life under Taliban rule is a foreign concept.

Read more: Afghans in U.S. await stability and immigration answers | WFAE 90.7 – Charlotte’s NPR News Source

Tahira, a 17-year-old Afghan evacuee and Advocacy Center client, shares her journey to the US and what it is like to live in legal limbo | Spectrum News

When 17-year old Tahira Askari fled Taliban controlled Kabul last August, she did not know what life would be like for her in America. Tahira and her uncle, Bahroz Mohmand, a decorated Afghan interpreter who supported US military operations in Afghanistan for 10 years, joined Spectrum News on August 17, 2022. The two shared their harrowing journeys and the legal limbo Tahira and other Afghan evacuees now face as the Advocacy Center helps them apply for asylum. The two stressed the importance of the passage of bipartisan legislation known as the Afghan Adjustment Act. The legislation would provide a clear path to citizenship for Afghan evacuees, fulfilling a promise the United States pledged to keep them safe.