Denver’s Ethiopian community mourns countrymen killed by Islamic State

The beheading and shooting of 30 Ethiopian migrants by Islamic State fighters last week in Libya is tormenting metro Denver’s 30,000-strong Ethiopian-American community.

Some say they couldn’t eat or sleep after watching horrific videos.

On Saturday night, more than 500 gathered at St. Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church to mourn. They held candles, sang, wept and prayed before photos of the victims.

“It is incomprehensible for our minds to understand how any human being could do such a thing to another. We stand together to mourn our brethren and pray for peace,” community spokesman Neb Asfaw said. “The terrorists will not break our spirit. We stand together with our faith strengthened by the courage our brothers showed.”

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Colorado lawmakers urge Obama to help Libyan students stay in U.S.

Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday called on the Obama administration to relax a freeze on Libyan assets — or extend visas — so that Libyan students aren’t deported back to war-torn Libya.

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Libyan students in Colorado anxious about their plights

Libyan students stuck as upheaval back home threatens civilians and cuts off their finances are dreading possible deportation and considering asking for asylum.

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Satellites aim to protect Sudanese

LONGMONT — Human-rights activists, Hollywood stars and private Colorado satellite controllers have teamed up to try to prevent atrocities in Sudan.

Their scheme starts with three fridge-size satellites tilting in space — like giant digital cameras that can zoom in anywhere — capturing details down to gun barrels on tanks.

That imagery from volatile Sudan, which just held elections after a war that killed 2 million, then moves from DigitalGlobe’s control room here to activists coordinated by the Washington D.C.-based Enough Project. They post the images, with analysis, on the Internet (

The idea is that, if people everywhere can see atrocities in the making, they’ll blizzard leaders with messages demanding swift preventive intervention.

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Denver center for torture survivors shut

A Denver center that offered counseling and legal help to asylum-seeking immigrants who said they had been tortured in their home countries has closed after losing its federal grant. Now hundreds in Colorado — among the 50,000 who seek asylum in the U.S. each year — must look elsewhere for help. Torture-survivor programs in Atlanta, Jersey City, Chicago, San Diego and Detroit also have had federal funding cut and are struggling to stay open.

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Mexicans grasp for asylum

Rights groups are challenging the U.S. position that violence by Mexican drug cartels does not entitle a refugee to haven.

The drug-related violence plaguing Mexico has led to a surge in asylum requests from Mexicans seeking safe haven in the United States. The number of asylum petitions from Mexican citizens increased from 1,331 in 2005 to 2,231 last year. While most are denied because the U.S. does not recognize fear of violence as grounds for automatic admission, the approval rate has grown during that time from 5 percent to 13 percent. At least 68 Mexican asylum cases have been received since October 2007 in Denver’s Immigration Court — more than from any other country — with more than 3,749 cases in courts nationwide, federal records show. Lawyers who represent asylum-seekers point to the approximately 6,000 people killed over the past year in Mexican drug wars and worry that a failure to gran t more requests will lead to more deaths. Among the asylum-seekers: a former Mexican police officer named Jesus, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of repercussions against his family and friends still in Mexico. Three days after drug-cartel gunmen killed his police partner, Jesus resigned from the force. He fled northern Mexico to Denver with his family. They entered the United States legally as tourists. Now Jesus is seeking political asylum. “If I go back,” he said, “I’d be waiting for death.”

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Guy Lumumba looks to U.S. for aid in Congo

The son of Congo prime minister Patrice Lumumba, slain in 1961, speaks at DU. He’s on tour “to renew relations.”

The son of slain African hero Patrice Lumumba — the Congo prime minister assassinated after a U. S.-backed 1960 coup — has been touring U.S. universities in an effort to get Americans focused on his ravaged homeland.

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Iraqi interpreters at loss for words

Local-hire Iraqi interpreters maimed during U.S. combat missions can’t fathom why the nation won’t pay for the high-tech prosthetics.

Maimed Iraqi interpreters showing up in U.S. cities such as Denver wonder why nobody — neither the government nor its contractors — is assuming long-term responsibility for them and hundreds of other seriously wounded interpreters who served U.S. forces in Iraq.

Consider the case of Diyar al-Bayati, who risked his life as the eyes and ears for soldiers on more than 200 combat missions, coaxing suspicious Iraqis, forging alliances and — beyond his interpreter duties — regularly taking up arms to fight alongside U.S. troops. When a roadside bomb in a 2006 ambush blew off his legs, al-Bayati kept firing at his unit’s attackers until he lost consciousness.

Today fellow refugees ferry al-Bayati around Salt Lake City, hoisting him in and out of a van. The military won’t pay for maimed interpreters to get the same high-tech prosthetics provided to U.S. soldiers. Al-Bayati, 22, has learned America may give only limited citizenship, housing and medical treatment.

“They say ‘limited,’ ” he said. “Why was our service in Iraq not ‘limited’? When they asked us to do missions, we didn’t say: ‘Our job is limited.’ ”

Yet al-Bayati acknowledges he’s lucky, one of a dozen or so wounded interpreters who’ve found shelter in U.S. cities including Denver. Hundreds more are hiding or running for their lives in Iraq and neighboring Jordan.

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S.F. protests force Olympic torch to dodge controversy

Tibetans from around the United States converge on San Francisco to try to stop China’s Olympic torch. Street action. For Tibetan-Americans, the day became a strategic battle of controlling tempers. They find they must draw on every bit of Buddhist teaching they had and the warning of their leader, the Dalai Lama, who has threatened to resign if pre-Olympic protests turn violent.

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Tough rules delay cases Anti-terrorism efforts require stricter proof of persecution, including documents that can “reasonably” be obtained.

Jailed and tortured in Ethiopia, Samuel Tafesa made it to Mexico,
then waded across the Rio Grande into the United States.

Now in Denver, he’s begging for asylum protection, claiming that
Ethiopian police beat him with sticks on the bottoms of his feet
and held his head under water, trying to coerce information about
fellow members of an opposition political party.

“I’m afraid to go back to Ethiopia,” he said. “If I go back,
I’ll be killed.”

For Tafesa and tens of thousands of other asylum-seekers, sanctuary
in America has become harder to attain. U.S. officials are
subjecting them to increasingly rigorous scrutiny, government
officials and legal experts say.

New anti-terrorism measures require stricter proof of persecution,
including documents that can “reasonably” be obtained.

Tafesa, 22, called back to Ethiopia repeatedly, asking his mother
to get what she can for his lawyer, Michael Litman.

Today’s higher standard of proof makes cases more complex and
prolongs them, with government attorneys sending documents to a
Homeland Security forensics lab for testing.

“We have a tradition, but we want to make sure people seeking
(asylum) have a rightful entitlement,” said Mike Everitt, a unit
chief in the lab near Washington, D.C.

The new measures are contributing to a record immigration-court
backlog – 3,370 cases pending in Denver, a third involving asylum,
federal statistics show. That’s double Denver’s pending caseload
six years ago.

Department of Justice officials said 166,200 cases are pending in
immigration courts nationwide, including 33,194 in Los Angeles,
8,546 in Chicago and 9,455 in Orlando, Fla. In 2000, 125,764 cases
were pending.

“Overburdened” system

Dana Marks, a sitting judge in California and president of the
National Association of Immigration Judges, said dozens more judges
are needed.

The system is “unbelievably overburdened,” squeezing judges’
ability to make life-or-death decisions, Marks said.

“Why are we treating the asylum system this way? If we pride
ourselves in America for treating refugees right, why aren’t we
providing resources to ensure they get prompt and fair treatment?”
Marks said.

Now, fewer people are applying for asylum, though the reasons for
the drop aren’t clear.

Some 54,452 applications were received last year in immigration
courts, down from 74,627 in 2002 and 84,904 in 1997, records show.
Adjudicators for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
Services, who often see asylum-seekers first, received 36,502
applications last year, down from 65,201 in 2002 and 149,000 in
1995, according to a senior USCIS official who spoke on condition
of anonymity, in accordance with agency policy.

In Denver, about one in three cases handled is approved. Asylum
experts say it’s too early to gauge whether the new standards for
proof will change that percentage.

USCIS adjudicators approved 27 percent of cases they handled this
year, down from 43 percent in 2001, according to the senior
official. In immigration courts, stats show 23 percent of
applications processed last year were approved, up from 20 percent
in 2002.

Previously, asylum-seekers often were accepted solely on the basis
of government “country condition” reports and testimony that
judges found to be credible and persuasive.

Today’s higher standards requiring documentation that could
“reasonably” be obtained “change the burden of proof,” the
official said. But “there’s still the allowance” that an
applicant who can’t obtain documents can win asylum if deemed
credible, he said.

“Out of reach for many”

One problem caused by the more frequent demand for documents is
that hiring document and medical experts raises legal costs, said
Regina Germain, legal director at the Rocky Mountain Survivors
Center and author of a legal text on asylum law.

“I fear recent changes … could put asylum out of reach for many
people who flee with little more than the clothes on their backs,”
Germain said.

In Tafesa’s case, an Addis Ababa police document his mother sent
says he was imprisoned for 17 days in 2005 for being a member of
the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party. The document accuses
him of involvement in “illegal demonstrations” and “promoting
unhealthy propaganda and causing conflict of people against

It says he was released from prison on the condition he cease all
political activity and check in weekly, which he failed to do. It
warns: “The police department will track you and your family

The government is vetting those documents. His case is scheduled
for a hearing in May.

Meantime, he works under a temporary permit, washing rental cars at
Denver International Airport for $8.85 an hour that he uses mostly
for legal fees.

His father and brother in Ethiopia have gone missing, and his
6-year-old son, Mathais, is bewildered, Tafesa said before work

“He asks me: ‘Where are you?’ I tell him I’ll be there one day,”
Tafesa said. “What can I do?”

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