DES MOINES, Iowa — The Burma refugee community is feeling nervous after several members, including refugees who have become legal U.S. citizens received a mysterious letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department.
“The letter is very Gestapo-esque” said attorney Chris Rottler.
Rottler is working with Burma community advocacy group EMBARC to guide refugees through the process.
Thousands of refugees from Burma, many an ethnic minority who escaped a bloody civil war, settled in the United States. They are facing more uncertainty after some of them received the letter. The letter asks the refugee to return the city they originally settled in for an interview with USCIS. What the interview was about, the letter didn’t say; save that it was “part of an investigation”.
“An attorney who’s a liaison with the Des Moines USCIS office contacted them asking for a meeting which was declined. At this point they weren’t ready to meet to discuss any details about the USCIS investigation, so we’re all kind of working in the dark, we don’t really know what it’s about” said Rottler.
The letter says the refugee must come with their spouse if married and can come with a translator as well as a lawyer. However, neither would be provided for them. On Saturday EMBARC and a group of pro-bono lawyers held a community meeting for free legal counsel.
“They have come to the United States lawfully, these are not people that have broken laws, and they deserve to be treated with the respect and due process that any of us would” said Rottler.
Some would have to travel as far as Indianapolis to attend the meeting. That means travel costs, and time missed from work.
Rottler says those who got the letter include refugees who have become legal citizens, refugees who have legally become permanent residents, and refugees going through the process of becoming permanent residents. Those in the community say they’re scared.
“These letters are causing a lot of fear in our community members. We did everything, all the interviews and screenings, the process that we are legal to come to the United States, but I don’t know why they are asking again for the interviews, it’s confusing” said EMBARC Program Manager Abigail Sui.
Leaders in the Burma community like Pastor Gabriel Dar Lian says it’s another hurdle, both logistically and emotionally, that his people, who have already suffered a great deal, must through.
“They struggle a lot…we have to encourage them, they feel like they’ve done a serious crime or something criminal” said Pastor Dar Lian, at moments tearing up.
“It’s very sad really, these are some of the most vulnerable families in the United States, and in the world” said Rottler
EMBARC asks anyone who got the letter to call them at 515-286-3928 to be put in touch with a lawyer.
Advocates say refugees nationwide have gotten similar letters.