Blumenthal: He would compromise on a border wall if protections promised for DACA recipients

At left, Omar Moussa,17, a refugee from Syria talks with U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal at Cross High School.

At left, Omar Moussa,17, a refugee from Syria talks with U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal at Cross High School.

NEW HAVEN — Omar Moussa, a refugee from Syria, has learned English in the last two years, is progressing through his classes at Wilbur Cross High School and will apply to schools to eventually become a physician’s assistant.

He started working in a restaurant in Jordan when he was 11 to help his family survive in that country after they fled the fighting in Syria and waited for entrance to the United States. As a refugee in Jordan, he was denied an opportunity to go to school there.

The 17-year-old junior at Cross, who is making up for lost time, said his one regret is leaving several siblings behind.

“We are hoping the rest of his family can come and join him,” Chris George, the executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, said in a visit to an English as a Second Language class for refugee teens enrolled in the city’s largest high school.

“Delays have held up tens of thousands of refugees, slowed down in the process,” George said to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who visited the school on the first anniversary of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees, immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries.

That ban has gone through three iterations and been blocked several times by the courts. It is now back in effect after the Supreme Court lifted the injunctions that were in place and is fast-tracking the case. Applications for refugee status from at least two of Omar’s siblings are caught in the court fight.

Moussa said there are 12 children in his family; four and his parents are here, five are in Jordan, two in Syria and one in Lebanon.

The school and Blumenthal also promoted IRIS’s Run for Refugees, a 5-K race on Sunday that starts at 10 a.m. at Cross High School. A high participation is expected by the Cross students to call attention to refugees.

Blumenthal went from table to table in the classroom at Cross meeting students and encourging them to do well in school.

Dennis Wilson, the education and advocacy coordinator for IRIS, was also there, talking to two siblings from Eritrea and their friend from Congo.

Wilson does some tutoring himself and manages the 16 volunteer tutors from IRIS that go into seven schools to help refugee students.

Wilson said he showed up unannounced for a visit to the family of Yohannes Kisanet, 17, and Awet Kisanet, 14, before Christmas to drop off some things. “The whole family was in the living room together learning English ... doing quizzes together. It was amazing to see,” Wilson said of the Eritreans.

Awet said his favorite subject is math.

Wilson has known them since they arrived a year ago. “They work so hard,” he said. “They have come so far,” after only speaking Tigrinya, he said.

Blumenthal, in addressing the press, said refugees “not only bring diversity, they bring skills and talents. New Haven is showing the world how much we can gain by giving refugees what they need to be productive and contributing members of our society.”

The senator said, like Moussa, his father came to this country at an early age when he emigrated in 1935 from Frankfurt, Germany to Elis Island in New York City.

While Moussa had some family members with him when he arrived in the U.S., the senator’s father came alone, but was able to sponsor his parents and three siblings within the next five years to join him here.

Trump wants to limit the number of family members refugees can sponsor.

“This is an American story. We are a nation of immigrants. I am moved particularly because he (Moussa) faces political opposition that my dad was spared, at least personally, even though some of the refugees at that time were in fact turned away — there was no question,” Blumenthal said.

“Donald Trump has basically set in place huge barriers to refugees coming here. The administrative hurdles he has raised have presented real obstacles to families reuniting. If you look at his State of the Unon speech he seems to be doubling down,” the senator said.

Blumenthal also criticized the policy of sending unaccompanied minors out of the country without a fair hearing as to why they are seeking asylum.

Blumenthal said these policies are “even more objectionable than the wall. Border security is something we need ... We should implement more secure borders. A wall is probably a lot less effective and more costly than other methods, like surveillance and sensors and additional training, but if a compromise requires a wall, I am certainly willing to consider it. But cracking down on children who are seeking to escape murder or violence and sending them back to those countries I think is contemptable. His immigration proposals seem to be founded on the nativist, far-right ideological view of immigration.”

“If the president wants to boast about a wall, and it means saving 800,000 lives, I would compromise even though I think $28 billion is an enormous waste of money ..., ” Blumenthal said of the cost of the wall along the Mexican border.

The 800,000 he referred to are young adults covered by DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, who were brought here as children. They can work here legally, but the protections are expiring and the program will end completely March 5.

George said from 2010 to 2015, IRIS had an average of 500 refugees a year, a number that jumped to over 1,000 in 2016 because of the 50 groups in the state that volunteered to help sponsor refugees. It was under 500 in 2017 and will likely be under 400 this year.

He said he is supporting the bill sponsored by Blumenthal that asks that at least 45,000 refugees, which he called “shamefully low,” be allowed into the U.S. this year and 75,000 next year.

“The interest and resources are here,” in Connecticut, George said of religious institutions that formed partnerships, and separately students from the University of Connecticut, Quinnipiac and Yale that work in coalitions to settle people.

He said that model of private sponsorship is getting national attention.

George said they are not taking jobs from Americans. For a total of 1,000 refugees, he estimated that would probably mean 200 minimum wage jobs total.

George said New Haven is receiving an unusually high number of families from Afghanistan because they are telling their relatives and friends back home to come here near them.

Cross has 1,541 students split among four themed academies - law and public service, business and fine arts, the international academy and health and culinary arts.