Analysis Human Rights

Advocates Wary of President Obama’s New Refugee Resettlement Program

Tina Vasquez

Organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission seem to have conflicting feelings about President Obama’s new program, saying they’re pleased to see the administration recognize that Central Americans seeking safety in the United States is a refugee situation, but that the program does not negate the United States' other responsibilities.

In response to another recent surge of Central American migrants at the U.S. border, the Obama administration announced a refugee resettlement program last week in collaboration with the United Nations, which will screen migrants fleeing violence in Central America and assist in setting up processing centers in Latin American countries.

The program is intended to, as the New York Times reported, “head off” migrants fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which represent the “Northern Triangle” countries experiencing extreme poverty and dramatic increases in gang-related violence. Advocates believe the government is acting in anticipation of more asylum seekers, in part because of figures released by authorities in El Salvador that revealed a 70 percent spike in violent deaths in 2015. Historically, when violence has escalated in the Northern Triangle countries, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of asylum seekers appearing at the border, as was the case during the 2014 “migrant crisis.” Most of the migrants are women and their young children who have “run for their lives.”

A state department official told Rewire in an email that the administration’s initiative is an expansion of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program intended to help “vulnerable families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras,” offering them “a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey many migrants are taking, making them easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profits.”

An underlying goal of the program, it seems, is to divert migrants to nearby countries before they make it to the United States. It is unclear what countries the temporary processing centers will be located in and if they will be camps or “less restrictive shelters.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The Obama administration said the refugee program has been in the works for weeks and is not a response to the public outcries from both politicians and advocates regarding the ongoing raids targeting Central American asylum seekers.

It will be up to the United Nations to determine if migrants are eligible for refugee status. Obama administration officials told the New York Times that as many as 9,000 migrants each year could eventually settle in the United States, though some refugees would also be sent to other countries.

Advocates have already expressed concern the program is an attempt to justify the raids. When speaking during a press call, Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, said it is targeting the same population of peopleCentral American asylum seekers—who are treated as “refugees on the one hand and as wanted fugitives on the other,” ThinkProgress reported.

The state department official said the United States will partner with governments in Central America “to address the underlying conditions that drive migration,” with the U.S. Congress agreeing to invest up to $750 million in Central America and committing “to support the efforts of the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to reverse endemic violence and poverty, promote economic prosperity, crack down on criminal networks, and strengthen good governance and the rule of law.”

In the United States’ strategy for engagement in Central America, which is vague at best, there is no mention of how the country contributed to the conditions in the Northern Triangle. This is a concern for advocates, who are wondering just how effective another program purporting to help Central American migrants will actually be, given that others have put them in more danger.

Between October 2013 and June 2014, 50,000 unaccompanied Central American children arrived at the U.S. border. The White House declared the influx an “urgent humanitarian situation.” In response, President Obama met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto “to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America,” according to the White House statement. Just three weeks later, Peña Nieto announced a new initiative, Programa Frontera Sur (or the South Border Program).

As In These Times reported, Mexico’s Programa Frontera Sur did not stop Central Americans from taking the already unsafe journey to reach the United States. Rather, it forced them to find increasingly dangerous methods. Essentially, the program just cleared trains of migrants and, advocates say, it is just one of a number of recent policies out of Mexico “funded or tacitly endorsed by the United States” that has failed to address the growing humanitarian crisis.

In their quest to escape violence, Central American asylum seekers are routinely raped, assaulted, extorted, and abducted as they cross Mexico for the United States, and programs like Programa Frontera Sur have only exacerbated these conditions, advocates say.

There’s also the issue of how many people could benefit from President Obama’s new refugee resettlement program. His administration claims upwards of 9,000, but if previous, similar programs are any indication, it could be only dozens.

During the summer of 2014, during the height of the border crisis, the federal government set up the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program to allow some children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to apply for refugee status through an in-country application process. As of October 2015, 4,600 children had applied to the program and according to Mother Jones, just 90 applicants had been interviewed so far by the Department of Homeland Security. Eleven of those interviewed have been conditionally approved for refugee resettlement in the United States and another 76 have received humanitarian parole. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, this category is “used sparingly to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency.” All the while, 35,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015 and thousands more were picked up in Mexico.

Organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission seem to have conflicting feelings about Obama’s new program, saying they’re pleased to see the administration recognize that Central Americans seeking safety in the United States is a refugee situation, but that the program does not negate the United States’ other responsibilities.

“The truth remains that those fleeing violence and persecution often lack the luxury of registering with authorities. Many will have no choice but to run and ask for protection when they reach the border,” the Women’s Refugee Commission said in a statement. “It is not illegal to cross international borders and request asylum. The presence of a formal refugee resettlement program does not negate our obligation to accept asylum-seekers at our borders.”

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”