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US Town Charlottesville Embraces Refugees, Auto Shop Business Flourishes

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In 2014, a stranded motorist left a glowing review for Larry’s Auto and Truck Repair, located on the outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I am in the midst of hauling my horse cross country from Northern Virginia to Denver Colorado, and as I was heading onto I64W my truck broke down…” wrote Ariel L. from Castle Rock, Colorado, on the Yelp business review website after ending up at Larry’s Auto and Truck Repair.

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“The man was literally waiting for me like a surgeon expecting a seriously ill patient being transported to the hospital. I’m not exaggerating when I say he took the keys from me, said to make myself comfortable…”

The man was Yasha Ismailov, 35, whose family owns Larry’s. He is a passionate fixer of vehicles.

“We can fix any car,” he says, “So it happens a lot of times when nobody can fix it in town, they send it here.”

Refugee Yasha Ismailov, 35, owns two business, including an auto repair shop, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (J. Soh/VOA)
Refugee Yasha Ismailov, 35, owns two business, including an auto repair shop, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (J. Soh/VOA)

It is not just that his name is Yasha instead of Larry, Ismailov is an unlikely businessman in Charlottesville. He came a long way to get here.

Long journey

A Meskhetian Turk, Ismailov was born in Uzbekistan.

Meskthetians are an ethnic subgroup of Turks that were deported in rail cars from their homeland by the leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin during World War II. Most of them were left in Uzbekistan.

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Ismailov was not in Uzbekistan long. “My family had to flee to Russia because there was a massacre in Uzbekistan of Turks … in 1989,” he explains. Ismailov was seven.

But Russia was no more hospitable. Meskhetian Turks were barred from citizenship, property ownership and jobs.

When the U.S. began accepting Meskhetian Turks as refugees in 2004, the family came to Charlottesville. By then, Ismailov was 22. All he, his parents and his brother brought with them were suitcases of clothes.

‘We felt safe’

Charlottesville, a small city about 190 kilometers south of Washington DC, is known to welcome refugees. More than 3,000 refugees, including Ismailov, have re-started their lives here since the late 1990s with the help of the resettlement agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

“[The IRC] told me it was a nice place, good and ‘You will like it, so go there,’” says Ismailov. “We felt free. We felt better than over there. We felt safe.”

Now married to a fellow refugee, Yasha Ismailov has two children and owns his own home. (J. Soh/VOA)
Now married to a fellow refugee, Yasha Ismailov has two children and owns his own home. (J. Soh/VOA)

What followed was hard work.

“We were working so hard [the] first three years before we started [the] business. We were working four people, sometimes working double jobs,” he says.

Ismailov worked as a painter, an air conditioner installer and something he learned in Russia.

“My third job was electric,” he says. “I love electric stuff.”

And then the family bought the auto repair shop from original owner, Larry.

Harriet Kuhr, director of IRC’s Charlottesville Office says Charlottesville has jobs and opportunity to offer refugees.

“It really adds a lot of diversity, but it also adds economic impact,” says Kuhr. “So the refugees are not takers. They’re giving back by helping the community grow economically.”

Proud to contribute

Ismailov’s shop now has seven employees and repairs about 150 cars a month. He has opened another family business called Downtown Auto Sales, a used car dealership.

Ismailov is a U.S. citizen now and owns his house. He’s married to another refugee and has two children. His life in Charlottesville looks very good to him.

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“I have nice neighbors. I have a job. Nobody bothers me,” he says. “I am proud to be able to contribute to the community in Charlottesville.”

Now he is looking beyond the hard work to the future. His eight-year-old daughter is an accomplished swimmer and he hopes “one day she wins an Olympic medal for the United States.”

He also looks beyond Charlottesville to the large number of refugees around the world who have not been as fortunate as he has.

“I am lucky I am here, but they are not,” he says sadly. “I feel sorry about them. I’d like to help them with something if I can.” (VOA)

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Judge Order Government Find Separated Children at US-Mexico Border

U.S. government had started implementing its policy of separating families months before it was announced “a very significant event.

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FILE - Christian, from Honduras, recounts his separation from his child at the border during a news conference at the Annunciation House,in El Paso, Texas, June 25, 2018. VOA

A U.S. judge Thursday appeared open to ordering the government to find potentially thousands of additional children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration, which could greatly expand the scope of a lawsuit challenging the separations.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego called a January report by an internal government watchdog that found the U.S. government had started implementing its policy of separating families months before it was announced “a very significant event.”

The Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a report published earlier this year that the agency had identified many more children in addition to the 2,737 included as part of the class action lawsuit challenging family separations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last year.

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Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, July 17, 2018. Sabraw, who ordered children be reunited with their families after being separated at the US-Mexico border, may order the government to expand the scope of the reunifications. VOA

ACLU wants all families reunited

In response to the lawsuit, Sabraw ordered the families identified through a court process to be reunited with their children.

The ACLU has petitioned the judge to expand the class to force the government to do a full accounting of any additional separated children.

The premise of the class action lawsuit, Sabraw said, was the “overarching allegation of the unlawful separation” of families by the Trump administration.

“When there’s an allegation of wrong on this scale, one of the most fundamental obligations of law is to determine the scope of the wrong,” he said. “It is important to recognize we are talking about human beings.”

The administration of President Donald Trump implemented a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute and jail all illegal border crossers, even those traveling with their children, leading to a wave of separations last year. The policy sparked outrage when it became public, and the backlash led Trump to sign an executive order reversing course June 20, 2018.

In light of the Inspector General’s findings, as well as investigative reporting, Sabraw said, the current June 26, 2018, cut-off date for cases to be part of the lawsuit becomes “very arbitrary.”

‘Other galaxy of a task’

Department of Justice attorney Scott Stewart argued that the ACLU’s request to expand the class would blow the case into an “other galaxy of a task.” The government has argued in court papers that it is too labor intensive to find children who were separated and subsequently released to sponsors before the court order last year.

While most of the outrage last year focused on the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, the government has continued to separate families on a smaller scale.

ALSO READ: Trump’s Idea to Siphon Money for Border Wall Meets Resistance

In a filing Wednesday, the government said it had separated 245 children at the border between June 26, 2018, and Feb. 5, 2019. The government said 92 percent of these children were separated because of “parent criminality, prosecution, gang affiliation, or other law enforcement purpose.”

Advocates say there is little transparency about the criteria and evidence used to justify ongoing separations. (VOA)