Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Gazette Column
One of the biggest hurdles facing immigrants and refugees is integration into existing communities. And while there are innovative ideas about how to ease the transition, existing funding streams are rarely flexible enough to put them into practice. Dr. Ann Valentine, executive dean of Kirkwood Community College’s Iowa City campus, says identifying needs isn’t difficult and, since several organizations and institutions are combating similar issues, collaborative programming can be a natural fit. The issue, she told residents gathered in Iowa City on Wednesday for a Johnson County discussion on assistance for refugees, is that funding for educational services exists in traditional, narrow silos. That is a growing problem, especially in Johnson County. For instance, in 2009, Kirkwood’s Iowa City campus had 37 English-as-a-Second-Language credit students. Now there are 270. Although…
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On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

Gazette Column
Political Revolution exists beyond candidate, convention Gillian Frances Popenuck didn’t know she was being prophetic when she told Bernie Sanders, “See you in Philly.” The two met after a rally where Popenuck was chosen to introduce the candidate. “We had some time together backstage,” Popenuck said. “This was before the caucus in Iowa, so he had no idea how well he was going to do. He told me, ‘Whatever happens to me, you got to keep continuing to fight.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll see you in Philly.’ It was just one of those one-off things that you say. But he looked at me very sincerely and said, ‘Yes. You will.’” Three months later, the 30-year-old Burlington mom of two was elected during the 2nd District Convention as a delegate…
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Grassley’s gamble isn’t paying off

Grassley’s gamble isn’t paying off

Gazette Column
Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator is holding firm on his promise to not vet any Supreme Court nominee offered by the White House, but the gambit isn’t producing political returns. News on Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court split on a critical immigration case wasn’t welcomed by the Obama administration. The tie effectively continues a lower court’s decision to halt President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), which, in the interest of preserving families, prohibited deportation of the undocumented parents of legal resident children. It was a legal defeat, although a much lesser one than was expected before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. And, it is quite possible that it wouldn’t have been a defeat at all if Obama’s replacement choice, Merrick…
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Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Gazette Column
Caring for dead, injured depleting community's resources They had only been in the United States for a few weeks when an encounter with a patch of ice in the early morning hours of Feb. 4 changed everything. Nancy Lusemo, Serge Baketela and Mirielle Mbambi were three of nine people carpooling in a minivan and on their way to work in Tama when the vehicle lost control on the ice. They survived, which should make them the “lucky” ones, but the moniker smacks of indecency. Three were transported to area hospitals and released relatively quickly. Three others — Michka Kebeya, Platini Namputu and Dickson Mandiki — died in the four-vehicle crash. Kebeya was Lusemo’s husband. The couple and their five-year-old son had only been in Iowa about two months. All of…
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Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Gazette Column
Federal lawmakers will be reminded on Monday about the plight of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor who was deported a year ago, and the family he was forced to leave behind in Iowa. The Mennonite Central Committee and Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious organizations Pastor Max was affiliated with — has planned two Congressional briefings, one for senators and the other for representatives. Both are slated to discuss how U.S. immigration officials are violating their own policies. Pastor Max was removed from his Iowa City home while his wife showered, the contact part of a federal government sweep intended to target the “worst of the worst” immigrant criminal elements in the country. After entering the country in 1995, he had a 1999 DUI conviction in Johnson County, as…
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Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Gazette Column
First anniversary of deportation is only days away Many things have been taken away from a deported Iowa City pastor during the past year, but he still has his friends. Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor, was forced onto a plane March 20, 2015, and flown to Honduras. It was the first time in more than 20 years that he had set foot in the country where he was born. Left behind were his wife and their four children, the Iowa City religious congregation the couple had established and a host of loyal friends. “Max was a friend to many people and a minister of the gospel. His absence weakens his community, his family and his church,” said Roger Farmer of Washington, a member of the group aptly named Friends of…
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Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Gazette Column
This can’t be what Iowa lawmakers had in mind when they agreed last year to make some criminal records private. The legislature created a new section of the Iowa Code, 901C, to keep certain criminal records private if the defendant was acquitted or found not guilty. There are, of course, caveats. All court costs and fines must be paid in full. The case must be at least 180 days old, and the not guilty verdict cannot be due to a finding of insanity or incompetency. But, if the criteria is met, beginning on Jan. 1, interested case parties could petition to have a criminal case hidden from public records. The law change was necessary, advocates said, because the Internet makes court information more readily available. Every day, they argued, Iowans…
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Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Gazette Column
Sadness, fear and confusion. Those are the three emotions woven throughout conversations I had in the wake of a 2008 immigration raid in Postville. For nearly the same reasons, these emotions also surrounded the Muslim residents taking part in a community demonstration last weekend. The alignment is understandable, if regrettable. [caption id="attachment_913" align="aligncenter" width="640"] People of many faiths gathered on May's Island on Saturday, Dec. 19, in a show of support for Muslims and other immigrants, who have recently been targeted in political rhetoric. The solidarity demonstration was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)[/caption] Some Postville Hispanics were spared the felonious identity theft convictions faced by 389 male workers — a prosecution strategy that the U.S. Supreme Court later found lacking. Instead of being bustled…
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Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Gazette Column
From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press. Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget. Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption…
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Six months? Make your voice louder

Six months? Make your voice louder

Gazette Column
Six months have passed since federal authorities labeled an Iowa City pastor as one of the “worst of the worst,” devastated his family and deported him to Honduras. Friends and family of Pastor Max Villatoro marked the anniversary with a week of focused prayer, religious ceremony and advocacy activities. The Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious group with whom the Villatoro family identifies — continue to lead outreach efforts on behalf of the family. Church members have, for instance, launched numerous physical and online petitions calling for the return of Pastor Max. This past week, they’ve also encouraged supporters to phone the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last month, private donations allowed the four Villatoro children to travel to Honduras and be with their father for the first time…
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