02-19-2017  8:55 am      •     

With a foreign-born population numbering in the tens of thousands, Portland has become home for immigrants and refugees; in some neighborhoods, one in three residents hail from another country.
On Dec. 6, the City Council will hear a report from Portland State University Capstone students on immigrant demographics and the issues affecting those communities. The information is intended to help a soon-to-be formed task force determine the issues affecting Portland's immigrant and refugee population. The task force will ultimately present recommendations to the council about how that community could be better served.
The City Council, with the help of several immigrant-rights and multicultural organizations, passed a resolution on Oct. 18 aimed at creating stronger ties between city government and the sometimes-disconnected immigrant communities and reaffirming their civil rights.
The resolution calls for the creation of the task force to identify barriers between immigrants and refugees in civic and public life. It also acknowledges the mistrust created by federal anti-terrorism and immigration policies; affirms that they are protected from undue scrutiny from law enforcement; and it "urges (the) federal government to create a fair and humane immigration reform" policy.
Several groups worked with Mayor Tom Potter's office in the construction of the resolution, including the Center for Intercultural Organizing, the Latino Network and the American Friends Service Committee, according to Carmen Rubio, community affairs director for the mayor.
In the wake of similar actions taken in Seattle and other cities, Kayse Jama, founder of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, decided to formally address immigration rights in Portland with the creation of the resolution. Jama, who teaches a Capstone Program class at Portland State University on the politics of immigration, organized a forum last December at City Hall that brought 200 refugees to their government offices. The Capstone Program focuses on the immigrant/refugee experience. Out of that 2005 forum was born Bridgetown Voices, a collaboration for immigrant and refugee communities.
"We've always been asked what we think – but no follow-up," Jama said, adding that the formation of the task force should guarantee that follow-up. Jama and many others in the immigrant community say there is a disconnect between city government and their population. The task force aims to bridge that divide.
Rubio said the makeup of the task force should be determined by end of the year. The exact size and composition of the group is yet to be decided, but it is working on hiring a project facilitator. Compared to other government commissions and think tanks, this task force's mission will be relatively short-lived. The city plans to hear the group's findings and recommendations within a year.
According to Rubio and others, various community groups already have surveyed and questioned immigrant populations about the barriers they face in Portland.
One surveyor, Phyllis Laners, said she found many similar problems faced by today's immigrants and refugees. Laners, project coordinator for the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, surveyed mostly refugees from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean and found most reported two basic problems: the surveys themselves and culture shock.
Many refugees had trouble with text questionnaires because they feared government retribution, similar to experiences in their country of origin. Community-based surveyors found face-to-face meetings much more beneficial, but also more time-consuming. Many refugees also said they planned to return to their home countries, seeing no direct benefit for answering the surveys.
For new immigrants, adjusting to a culture is one of the biggest hurdles, said Laners; employment, housing, literacy, health care — even something as simple as at-home child care — can be a big change for many of these "involuntary immigrants." Surprisingly, Laners said language was less of a barrier than they expected.
A member of Bridgetown Voices and an immigrant herself, Evelyne Ello-Hart said newcomers face a variety of challenges when adjusting to life in Portland. Ello-Hart, who has several degrees from Cote d'Ivoire, said she was forced to take several minimum-wage jobs to support herself. In Portland for nearly five years now, Ello-Hart is program supervisor for the Africa Women's Coalition.
The Cote d'Ivoire native said she hopes the resolution and its resulting recommendations can build cross-cultural alliances and nurture social change.
"We are part of Portland," she said. "We don't feel like we are begging. … These are our struggles."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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