Celebrating Successes of Individuals in the Book

The individuals featured in Green Card Stories are representative of immigrants’ desire to contribute to U.S. society and to continue to improve their life. Many of the individuals have been recognized on local and national levels for the work that they have done.

Yi Kai’s work will be on exhibit at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, CA from March 29 – June 8, 2014. There will be an opening reception on March 29 from 4-6 pm. Yi Kai is an individual in the Green Card Stories book who was able to freely express his art when he came to the U.S. after marching on Tiananmen Square.

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Green Card Stories individuals have had guest roles on top television shows. Farah Bala appeared on Comedy Central’s newest hit sitcom Broad City on March 19, 2014 and Mary Apick was on Showtime’s Emmy-winning Homeland on November 3, 2013.

Farah Bala and Charles Nyaga were featured in an article in the Australian magazine, The Daily Telegraph. The article, “The Red Light Flashing for Famous Green Card” published on July 21, 2013 looks at the future of the Green Card Lottery as proposed legislative changes may eradicate the program. Read the PDF.

Yi Kai’s artwork was displayed at Main Street Gallery in Pomona, CA in February and March 2013. His artwork was also included in the Los Angeles International Art Expo in January 2013. Yi Kai is an individual in the Green Card Stories book who was able to freely express his art when he came to the U.S. after marching on Tiananmen Square.

George gallery show 2 2013

Green Card Stories - Events - Profilee - 2013 - Yi Kai Painting

Cell Phone Mind

I Am Neda, a film starring Mary Apick, was selected as a finalist at the Cannes Film Festival. I Am Neda also won the Best Picture Award at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington, DC and was nominated for 3 awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Mary Apick. The film tells the true story of Neda Agha-Soltan who was killed by a sniper in the 2009 Iranian street protests. The film is also featured on the Huffington Post.

Hugo Ortega, a finalist for the James Beard award and individual included in Green Card Stories, has published a new cookbook Street Food of Mexico that was released on September 17. He is also featured in the August 1 issue of Saveur dedicated to Mexico. Saveur deems the book as one of the “essential Mexican cookbooks” placing Hugo alongside Rick Bayless and Patricia Quintana. Hugo contributed a full-page article on the central role of salsa in the Mexican cuisine.

Farah Bala was part of a volunteer team headed to Tanzania, Africa in June 2012 to work with children and teachers through the International Theater and Literacy Project. The students created an original performance piece and stage it for their community. In addition, Farah and the other volunteers designed and gave Personal Development workshops to the teachers in these schools so that they would be able to continue working with the children at the end of the project.

Mary Apick’s mother, Apick Youssefian, was honored by Iranian and Armenian celebrities at An Evening of Stars: A Tribute to Apick Youssefian in Glendale, CA May 20, 2012. Mary would not be where she is today without the guidance and support of her mother.

Mary Apick, Apick Youssefian and Mayor of Beverly Hills Jimmy Delshad

Three Iranian films starring Mary Apick were featured at the UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema from April 13-29, 2012:
     Ferestadeh (The Mission)
     Dead End (Bon Bast)

On April 20, 2012, La Voz Hispana de Connecticut ran a full story on Randolph Sealey’s life as an undocumented immigrant and now as an orthopedic surgeon.

César Domico was featured doing his magic tricks on Univision’s Despierta America on April 20, 2012.

Mary Apick was in the Persian Parade in New York City on April 15, 2012! She was dressed as a fairy on a float passing through 12 blocks of Madison Avenue with the NYC Police band. She promoted her children’s DVDs, A Fairy Tale in the Forest and Jewel of The Night. Check her out in last year’s parade.

Kirill Gerstein returned to his alma mater and to jazz on March 30, 2012. After focusing his career on classical piano, his return to Berklee College of Music also marked his reconnection with performing jazz music. The program included the world premiere of new works by Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau that Gerstein commissioned as part of his 2010 Gilmore Artist Award, a lucrative and prestigious honor granted every four years for “extraordinary piano artistry.’’ Read more about the concert and Gerstein’s background in the Boston Globe and in interview on DownBeat. The concert was also streamed on Concert Window.

Cleto Chazares won the Hillsborough Counselor Association High School Principal of the Year 2012!! He was also featured on Univision on February 22, 2012.

Yi Kai’s artwork was displayed at the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show Feb 2-5, 2012. Yi Kai is an individual in the Green Card Stories book who was able to freely express his art when he came to the U.S. after marching on Tiananmen Square.

Green Scatter Man by Yi Kai

Mary Apick was quoted on CNN.com regarding the Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani, who posed nude for a photo and video, causing an upset in the Iranian film industry. Mary stated, “It was impossible to be an actress in Iran when I was there, and it’s not gotten easier. It’s become harder. There is no honest art, so there is no art. The regime has no interest in women, (especially not) strong women characters in movies.”

Farah Bala was nominated for a Barrymore Award for her performance in ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’ Check the Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play category here.

On April 20, 2012,

Green Card Stories in the Media 2013

Two of the four collaborators for Green Card Stories, Laura Danielson and Stephen Yale-Loehr, are prominent immigration lawyers who are often consulted on current immigration topics. The writer, Saundra Amrhein and the photographer, Ariana Lindquist are also recognized by the media.

Stephen Yale-Loehr participated in an hour-long panel discussion on July 9 on China Radio International about the Senate immigration bill. Gannett also quoted Stephen in an article about the prospects for immigration reform in the House. The story was included in the Arizona Republic. On July 4, the Mexican newspaper, El Norte, included an op-ed that Stephen wrote summarizing the Senate bill.

Stephen Yale-Loehr has been frequently featured in the press regarding the proposed immigration reform. In the NBC News article “Progressives Pressure Obama on Immigration Reform Triggers,” published on February 6, 2013, Stephen emphasized the need for objective measures regarding the negotiations for immigration reform. He was interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio show about immigration reform. On January 30, 2013 Stephen was quoted in Bloomberg News . He noted, “Immigration reform, like tax and Social Security reform, is very complex. Even if everyone wants reform, it may still take a long time to get a bill through Congress.” In the Chronicle of Higher Education on immigration reform, published on January 28, 2013 he noted that the nation’s immigration system “took 20 years to get broken; it can’t be fixed overnight.” He said he doubted immigration reform legislation would be enacted this year, “but I hope I’m wrong.” Stephen was quoted on NBCLatino.com in an article, “Growing Number of States Grant Lower Tuition Rates for Undocumented Students,” published on January 18, 2013. Mr. Yale-Loehr noted that action at the state level may not be enough to address what is a nationwide issue. “Many of these students came at an early age and had no say in coming to the United States. As a practical matter we’re never going to deport them. Congress has to address comprehensive immigration reform.”

On March 29, 2013, Laura Danielson participated on a panel on Minnesota Public Radio focused on the shifting political landscape and its effect on immigration policy.

Green Card Stories in the Media in 2012

Two of the four collaborators for Green Card Stories, Laura Danielson and Stephen Yale-Loehr, are prominent immigration lawyers who are often consulted on current immigration topics. The writer, Saundra Amrhein and the photographer, Ariana Lindquist are also recognized by the media.

Stephen Yale-Loehr was quoted in the Gannett News Service article, “Latino Votes a Call for Immigration Reform”. He noted that pro-immigration organizations, in addition to immigrants themselves, are expecting immigration reform in President Obama’s second term. He also noted that while a large reform may not be feasible, smaller immigration bills could be passed in the next year, potentially including the Dream Act.

Stephen Yale-Loehr spoke on the role of newly naturalized citizens in this year’s election on WHCU on October 23, 2012.

Maria Popova described Green Card Stories as a “poignant portrait of a system caught between hope and despair” in her blog Brain Pickings on July 16, 2012. She also stated, “The project is in some ways a beautiful celebration of the triumph of hope embedded in the promise of the American Dream, and in others a poignant glimpse of a brutal system of struggle that can, if allowed to, eat away at one’s deepest sense of dignity.”

Green Card Stories has been featured on multiple immigration blogs. Angelo Paparelli dedicated a post on Nation of Immigrators to the importance of telling immigrant stories. Referring to the book, he stated, “These stories, like all well-told immigration biographies, humanize the demonized and prove that they are worthy of welcome. These dramatically revealed tales of truth and hardship, often extreme and exceptional, unmask the lies of the nativists and the naïve, who make or believe the make-believe memes about immigration, legal and illegal.” Cyrus Mehta also published a blog entry on The Insightful Immigration Blog  highlighting the humanizing factor of telling these immigrant stories. He states, “Putting a human face to immigration is the best way to convince others about who they are and the benefits they bring to this country through their struggles, inspiration, ambition and successes.” The Immigration Direct blog gave a description of Green Card Stories on February 8, 2012. Greg Siskind also included the book in his blog post on ILW.com on June 29, 2012. The GC Immigration Working Group, a student organization housed at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York featured Green Card Stories on their blog on June 30, 2012.

In the CRI article “Straightening out the Country’s Immigration Laws” published June 29, 2012, Laura Danielson commented on the proposed changes in China’s immigration system. The changes are to crack down on visitors who enter and overstay visas or enter or exit illegally. These would be the first changes to the immigration law since 1985. Ms. Danielson noted that “[o]ne impact it might have of course is that more people are likely to apply for work permits. And multinational companies sending employees to China on temporary business trips will need to either limit their stays or apply for work permits.”

Stephen Yale-Loehr served as a primary source for the media on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law on June 25, 2012. This will impede other states from imposing restrictive immigration policies. See his interviews on Voice of America, WNYC, La Opinion, Contra Costa Times, BBC International News and NPR’s All Things Considered.

Mary Apick was interviewed in a full article in the May/June 2012 issue of Zan Magazine, a publication dedicated to modern Iranian American women. Mary spoke of her experience of being included in the book and what it’s meant to be an immigrant in the United States.

Stephen Yale-Loehr was quoted in the USA Today article, “Illegal Immigrants Find Paths to College, Careers.” Finding a grey area in the immigration law, many undocumented immigrants are working as independent contractors. Hiring a contractor does not require the proof of immigration status. Mr. Yale-Loehr stated, “while self-employed illegal immigrants still violate immigration law, they may avoid additional grounds for deportation if they don’t present counterfeit documents.”

The Hennepin Lawyer, the Hennepin County Bar Association publication in Minneapolis, MN, published a full-length article by Laura Danielson. She discussed the changing evolution of U.S. immigration law and policy. Also, Ms. Danilson outlined the various manners in which to obtain a green card and the difficulties in gaining permanent residency.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune covered the reunion of one of Laura Danielson’s pro bono clients that had to make the decision to leave their 3-year-old son, Ramzi, in Togo to come to the US six years ago. After an error with his visa lottery application, the family couldn’t admit to having another son in Togo when applying for their own visas. This was considered a fraudulent act and prevented them from applying for Ramzi’s reunion. The truth was finally revealed when his father applied for citizenship risking the possibility of deportation. Laura Danielson stated, “There really has to be some kind of intent to defraud when there’s fraud, and in this case, I think the immigration service felt he’s paid enough.” Ramzi arrived in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday, January 7, 2012.

The Dallas Morning News published an article on January 4 covering the U.S. citizen 14-year-old who was mistakenly deported to Colombia. When arrested for theft, Jakadrien Larise Turner claimed a false identity that belonged to a 21-year-old immigrant. After being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, her identification was run through the the Secure Communities program that flagged the individual as not legally residing in the U.S. Stephen Yale-Loehr commented, “This case is just one of hundreds where immigration officials have wrongly detained or deported U.S. citizens. The problem will get worse when the Secure Communities program goes nationwide.”

Stephen Yale-Loehr was quoted in the NAFSA January/February 2012 International Educator article covering the DREAM Act. Mr. Yale-Loehr compared the Dream Act to the civil rights movement and environmental movement. He stated, “The Dream Act students have been very good at mobilizing and marching and advocating and doing sit-ins. Although it’s a painful process that takes a long time, I think that is their best chance of making significant changes, rather than just sitting back and hoping that somebody’s going to do it on their behalf.”

Saundra Amrhein Honored with Community Spirit Award

On June 16, 2012, Saundra Amhrein, the writer for Green Card Stories, was honored with the Community Spirit Award for her coverage of refugee families, asylees and asylum seekers through the years by the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force. An event was held in recognition of World Refugee Day, which is officially on June 20, at Jefferson High School in Tampa for refugee families and asylees resettled throughout Tampa Bay.

Saundra Speaking to Audience of Refugees & Asylees


Saundra Accepting Award from Hiram Ruiz, director of the Department of Refugee Services with the Florida Department of Children and Families

A Lot of People are Dying to Come to the U.S.

by Laura Danielson, a collaborator on the Green Card Stories book
The Lamp Beside the Golden Door

Last fall I was at a local immigrant right’s benefit promoting Green Card Stories from a table that I had set up, with a portion of profits going to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. The movie Tony and Janina’s American Wedding, which is a powerful documentary about the long-term separation of a Polish family due to immigration complexities, was being shown and the event was open to the public.

When the movie ended a number of people wandered over and perhaps because of the sign on my table saying Green Card Stories, began telling me theirs. One woman who was with her teenaged daughter said, “I should be in your book, but I have had  temporary status for 21 years.” She explained that she is from El Salvador and fled the war at the end of the 1980’s. She has lived here ever since, annually renewing her work permit but unable to apply for her green card.

Temporary protected status (TPS) is granted to nationals of certain countries during times of emergency and political strife and is renewed annually, but only if the U.S. administration agrees that there are still dangers inherent in returning. Salvadorans were granted something very similar to TPS called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) back in 1992, followed by other legal protections but in 2001 were granted TPS as a result of earthquakes in the region.

Twenty one years is an extraordinarily long time to be in “temporary” status. It is unfathomable for most TPS holders, who have settled into permanent lives in the U.S., that at any point the U.S. government will decide that “the coast is clear” and it is time to go “home”. Living with that constant fear for decades is incredibly challenging for families. These are, after all, people lawfully in the U.S. with work permission, who still worry daily about being told that they will have to leave.

I commiserated a little with the woman and agreed that being on TPS for so long was very difficult. Her U.S. citizen daughter was browsing through the information on my book and looked up to tell me that she was doing a report on immigration for her class in school and was looking for materials to use. Her mother had already bought a CD of the movie and had signed up to buy a book, which I thought was generous. Then the mother said, “My daughter really wants to tell her friends about what is happening with immigration. Her father was deported a few years ago because he didn’t have TPS with me.”

I said, “Wow, that must be really hard.” She looked me in the eye and said without emotion, “He tried to come back four months ago but he was killed in the desert.” I was stunned at the raw truth of this. Now I understood why this mother had taken her daughter to the movie and was  buying materials for her to try to explain what had happened to her classmates. The girl said simply, “My dad wasn’t a criminal. No one understands.”

Almost twenty years ago the Clinton administration launched Operation Gatekeeper, which was an effort at deterrence, to seal off traditional border crossing routes, making illegal border crossing more dangerous and more difficult. Over the years, we have built hundreds of miles of fencing and armed Border Patrol agents not only with high-powered weapons but with sophisticated electronic sensor systems, stadium lights, infrared night scopes, and four-wheel-drive vehicles to hunt down immigrants.

Prior to Operation Gatekeeper border crossing deaths were few and far between, estimated at only one or two a month. Fifteen years after Operation Gatekeeper the ACLU released a 76 page report finding that there had been more than 5000 deaths in that time period, with the risk of dying 17 times greater in 2009 than in 1998. Because migrants have been pushed to cross the border in increasingly remote and dangerous areas, deaths have increased substantially despite fewer making the attempt and a steady drop in apprehensions by the Border Patrol. In fact, today there is a net zero increase  in the influx of undocumented workers from Mexico, but this is seen to be more a result of our economic downturn than the result of increased border enforcement.

Still, the deaths continue to increase. It is now estimated that 1000 more people have died while attempting to cross the border in the two and a half years since the ACLU report, with Arizona being the deadliest state to cross into. Recently the Pima County medical examiner referred to it as a “mass disaster” as the unidentified bodies in its cooler continue to pile up.

The number of people who have died on the Mexican border is the same as U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. People are dying from drowning, exposure, snake bites, debilitating blisters that make walking impossible, and dehydration. Humanitarian relief organizations set up water and aide stations in the desert but are thwarted by those sabotaging their efforts by slashing water containers or by local law enforcers prosecuting them as trespassers.

Some deaths are from other than natural causes, such as vans over-filled with immigrants crashing  as a result of deadly high speed chases or, according to the ACLU report, nails put onto the road to stop smugglers. Some are killed directly by border patrol agents, as was the case with a fifteen year old shot and killed on the Texas border two years ago or the tasing and beating of the 25-year U.S. resident and father of five U.S. citizen children (shown in this recently released, appalling video). Others are murdered by rifle-toting camouflaged border vigilantes, as happened to two innocent migrants in Arizona last month.

Many more are dying on the Mexico side before ever making it to the U.S., as brutal drug cartels have expanded into the human smuggling business. Or gangs have made their money by demanding ransom from migrants’ families and killing them when those ransoms aren’t paid (as happened two summers ago when 72 migrants were massacred at once for refusing to pay ransoms to one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels.)

So, one wonders, why do people even consider attempting such a dangerous crossing into the U.S. with all of these obstacles? Are they oblivious to the dangers? Not at all. The ACLU report found that most border crossers understand that there are serious risks involved but they are still willing to take them. Why? Just as with the father of the girl I mention at the beginning of this post, they are driven by the desire for a better life and most of all to be reunited with their loved ones who already live here. As a business man  from Iowa who attended an event I spoke at on immigrant investment said to me in passing, “I tell you what, if my family was living in poverty and I knew that the only way I could provide a better life for them was by illegally crossing the border into Canada, I bet you that I would.”

So that is why – love of family. I recently heard Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez give an impassioned speech about immigration in which he described the dangerous lengths to which people will go to be reunited with their families in the U.S.  He said something like this:

I know that our laws look harshly on someone who is caught trying to re-enter the U.S. after being deported, but I don’t want to know the person who would not try to come back to be re-united with family. To me, the father or mother who would not make every effort to come back is not a person I would admire. The good person, the one whom I would want to know, is the one who would risk everything to be with family again.

To illustrate this natural drive to reunite with family, the ACLU report described the death of 29 year old Jorge Garcia Medina, who died in the Japul Mountains of California in 2009. His wife waited in vain for a call that he’d made it through so that she could pay off his smugglers. A diabetic, he ran out of insulin during the arduous journey and was left behind with a blanket, a can of tuna and some water. When his body was eventually found, his cell phone indicated that he had called 911 at 3:30 AM. And in his lifeless hands he still clutched the photos of his daughters.

NOTE:  I had a couple of weeks’ hiatus from writing my blog due to the fact that I was in China and blogspot is banned there. But I’m back at it again.

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