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    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    Older refugees face challenges as they try to maintain Supplemental Security Income b

    Older refugees face challenges as they try to maintain Supplemental Security Income benefits
    Somali refugees Sugow Said, right, and his wife, Salimo, of Fort Wayne are living with their three teenage children on $324 a month through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, plus food stamps, while Said, who has kidney failure, waits word from the Social Security Administration on his request to restore disability benefits. (By Jennifer L. Boen for The News-Sentinel)




    Fort Wayne businessman Rick Maples, left, and Mohamed Haji look over letters Haji's father-in-law, Sugow Said, a Somalian refugee, has received from the Social Security Administration. Maples voluntarily mentors both Haji and Said and helps explain to Said, who has never read or written in any language, the many government papers he receives. “I don't know where we'd be without Rick,” Haji said. (By Jennifer L. Boen for The News-Sentinel)



    By Jennifer L. Boen of The News-Sentinel
    Monday, May 11, 2015 - 10:45 am


    Editor's note: This is the first in a two-day report on some of the challenges facing older refugees. Fort Wayne health writer Jennifer L. Boen wrote the stories in this project through a Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a collaboration of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, with support from AARP.

    Sugow Said sat in his sparsely but colorfully furnished Fort Wayne apartment, worry lines forming around his dark brown eyes.

    The Somalian refugee has endured and overcome plenty of challenges in his 60-some years of life. As a Somali Bantu, considered the most persecuted minority in a nation of warring tribes, Said's childhood was spent laboring under the hot sun in the grain fields of southern Somalia on East Africa's coast.

    He's experienced firsthand the oppression of former Somali president Siad Barre's dictatorship and witnessed horrors inflicted on neighbors and friends by rebel militia groups. He briefly described that time through his interpreter and son-in-law Mohamed Haji: “There was killing and looting. I was cooking food, and rebels came and even stole the small amount of food I had.”

    Said these days again faces many obstacles in providing for and protecting his family. This time his battle is not against militia with guns and knives but with a web of U.S. government red tape coupled with language barriers and serious health problems.

    Many elderly refugees in the United States must cope with similar challenges.

    In 1994, Said, his wife, Salimo, and their three children at the time fled to Kenya. He watched one of those children die from an illness in a refugee camp. Three more children were born in the camp. In 2004, the U.S. State Department resettled the family in Fort Wayne.

    Said would never choose to go back. Still, life remains hard, very hard, even in this land of opportunity and plenty. He feels much older than his age, which he thinks is about 64. He is uncertain because he never had a birth certificate.

    In the refugee camp, he and Salimo were assigned birth dates. He was given Jan. 1, 1957; Salimo was given Jan. 1, 1966, but Haji, who married their daughter in a refugee camp, said, “They are definitely older than that.”

    After arriving in Fort Wayne, Said first worked at a cemetery, then later for an office cleaning company.

    Said's life now revolves around dialysis treatments. He has end-stage renal disease, likely due to living for years with untreated high blood pressure before coming to the United States. Since starting dialysis in 2010, he has been physically unable to work at the cleaning job or another one that accommodates his stringent three-days-a-week dialysis schedule and his limited labor and very limited English language skills.

    Because of his disability, in early 2011, Said applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In an April 11, 2011, letter, Social Security informed Said: “We have carefully reviewed the facts of your case and have approved the claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that you filed on Jan. 18, 2011.”

    SSI initially provided a lifeline of $535 a months for the family, which includes the Saids' three youngest children, all now teenagers. By 2014, annual adjustments by the Social Security Administration (SSA) had increased Said's SSI monthly check to $721.

    Lifeline cut

    Last June, everything changed.

    Said received a letter summoning him to the Fort Wayne Social Security office “because we need correct information about your name, address or bank account.” As he always did with government-related mail, he took it to his American friend, Rick Maples, to read.

    Through a program at Maples' church, which helps newly-arrived refugees, Maples met Said and his family when they first arrived at Fort Wayne International Airport.

    Maples helped Said schedule an appointment as soon as possible, and the two assumed the issue would be resolved quickly. After all, the matter was just about name, address or the bank.

    “The man behind the desk looked very uncomfortable, like he dreaded what he had to say,” Maples recalled. Said was told he would no longer receive SSI benefits because he had been in the United States seven years and had not yet gained U.S. citizenship. The family's income immediately dropped to zero.

    The seven-year rule

    The SSA operations manual states qualified aliens with disabilities are told when first receiving SSI about the seven-year time limit in which they must gain U.S. citizenship or lose their SSI. An annual reminder about the seven-year rule is also to be mailed to each recipient.

    Only in Said's initial 15-page approval letter, which he was never able to read on his own, was the rule mentioned and explained. He received no annual reminders.

    For younger refugees, especially those who had some schooling in refugee camps and who are literate in their native language, learning English well enough to prepare for and pass the U.S. citizenship test is attainable. Haji is literate in his Somalian dialect and learned some English in a refugee camp. He became a U.S. citizen in 2011 at age 36.

    “For many of these refugees who are already 50 or older when they arrive and who are illiterate, it is very, very difficult to learn English,” said Nyein Chan, refugee resettlement coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. It is currently the only refugee resettlement agency in the community.

    “The older they are, the more difficult it is,” Chan said. “Most are not going to learn it well enough to pass the test, or it can take years and years,”

    Last June, Said applied for a request for reconsideration of the SSI revocation. As of May 1, no decision had been made. Even if reinstatement of benefits is temporary, it would give him time to schedule the citizenship interview and test, which is given in Indianapolis and, if he fails — which is likely — to apply for a waiver that would exempt him from taking all or part of the test in English.

    Until Said's situation was described to her, Allen County Commissioner of Health Dr. Deborah McMahan said she had never heard of the seven-year rule. She oversees health screenings for newly arrived refugees, and the department provides ongoing health services, such as immunizations and infectious disease testing and monitoring for refugees.

    “This is absurd,” McMahan said of the rule that applies to virtually all refugees who came to this country after Aug. 22, 1996, despite age, disability and illiteracy in their own language. Very limited groups are exempt, such as refugees serving in the U.S. armed forces.

    Health department clinics see a growing number of older refugees with physical and mental disabilities, McMahan said.

    “I recently had an 80-year-old who was seeing and hearing things,” she noted. “How am I going to teach him English?”

    Congress in the past has addressed the seven-year rule, with National Senior Citizens Law Center, now called Justice in Aging, helping lead those efforts for nearly two decades, said Gerald McIntyre(cq), directing attorney for the agency whose mission is to fight senior poverty through law.

    The organization helped push for federal legislation that led in 2008 to the passage of the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act. This temporarily extended the seven years to nine; it reverted to seven years on Sept. 30, 2011. Another extension was approved by the Senate in October 2011 but failed to pass the House.
    No additional legislation on the issue has been brought before Congress. With the current anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, McIntyre sees little chance of Congress again extending the time limit.

    “No one is spending time on this now,” he said. “It is really hopeless. There is such hostility,” he said, even for humanitarian immigrants.

    McIntyre said the process for waivers and reconsideration requests for cases such as Said's is “totally broken.” When McIntyre was told about Said's case and that his request for reconsideration was still pending since June, he said, “I'll tell you where he's on the list. He's in the trash can.”

    Tomorrow: A bad situation gets worse




    Last edited by Newmexican; 05-17-2015 at 10:49 AM.

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    Gaining U.S. citizenship

    To become a U.S. citizen, an applicant must:

    • Be a U.S. legal permanent resident for at least five years.
    Pass both the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) test on the English language and the USCIS civics test on the history and government of the United States.
    • Read one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate his or her ability to read in English.
    • Write one out of three sentences correctly, which are orally given by a USCIS officer during the naturalization interview.
    • Know and understand all 100 U.S. history and government questions and answers, though only up to 10 questions are given, all orally, during the interview. Applicants have no idea which questions will be asked; at least six questions must be answered correctly.
    • Age or disability do not automatically exempt an applicant from completing the interview in English or taking the civics test in English. Applicants must file for and be approved for a disability wavier.
    • The interview can be given in the applicant's native language if the applicant is age 50 or older and has been a legal U.S. resident for at least 20 years or is 55 or older and been a resident for 15 years. Such applicants must still take the civics test, though it can be given in their native language if there is evidence they do not understand spoken English to the extent a valid examination in English can be conducted. Special consideration may be given regarding the civics test for applicants 65 and older who have been permanent legal residents for 20 or more years.

    The N-648 waiver

    Refugees with a disability that causes them to be unable to prepare for and pass the U.S. citizenship exam can apply for a waiver which exempts them from demonstrating they can speak, read and write answers in English and pass a test on U.S. history and government.
    Under provisions of the N-648 waiver:

    • The disability must be of at least 12 months duration and not be due to illegal drug use.
    • The applicant must be evaluated by a physician or licensed psychologist with expertise to diagnose the stated disability.
    • A physician and/or psychologist must state the medically-determinable physical or developmental disability or mental impairment impacts learning, cognition and retention of new material, causing the applicant to be unable to learn English and/or U.S. history and civics.
    • The N-648 qualified applicant will not be required to pass the history and civics test.

    Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,www.uscis.gov


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