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Aug 5, 2019 7:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Four Visas Rejected For International Music Program Students In East Hampton

A children's summer camp that welcomes international students from all over the world has been directly impacted by U.S. immigration policy. KYRIL BROMLEY
Aug 9, 2019 12:07 PM

A summer music camp that welcomes children from all over the world is being directly impacted by a tougher new U.S. immigration policy, according to Theresa Kim, the founder of International Music Sessions.

A three-week music program that serves international and local students from ages 10 to 18, IMS has called St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton its home for eight summers. The nonprofit organization sponsors children who are exceptional musicians but come from challenged economic backgrounds and nations. They receive instruction from world-class musicians, many of whom attended the Juilliard School and play professionally with artists such as Lady Gaga and perform in venues such as Carnegie Hall.

IMS has hosted students from Afghanistan, Tunisia, Israel, Kenya, Congo, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, India and Vietnam. Dr. Kim said some of the children’s villages don’t have music programs or even schools because their governments are so broken and lack funding.

“Music is a saving grace for these kids. It’s one of the only things that gives them hope,” Dr. Kim said.

Since the program’s inception in 2012, the international participants have been able to come to the United States by applying for tourist visas underwritten by the program. This year, four tourist visas were rejected — for two students from Mexico, and two from Kenya.

Dr. Kim said on Friday that IMS wasn’t provided with a reason for why the four visas were denied.

“We only found out a week and a half before,” said Jason Sugata, the program’s director, as he listened to two boys from Vietnam and a group of others sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at St. Luke’s on Monday. He added that the students who were denied visas were already prepared and excited to take part in the program, for which the selection process began eight months earlier.

In the six years he’s been with IMS, Mr. Sugata said, only one student — a child from Mexico last year — has ever been denied a visa.

Non-governmental organizations visit the children’s communities and introduce them to music. “Usually, we find the students through an incorporation with other organizations. We ask them for recommendations. Oftentimes, they just need a little more professional direction,” Mr. Sugata said. “Some of the kids don’t have access to lessons.”

He added that the students from America — there are typically about 20 children each year, all told — gain the opportunity to learn about other cultures and make lifelong friends from all over the globe through participation in the program.

After the students are chosen, they are sent invitation letters providing details to take to their local embassy, where they apply for a tourist visa — not a student visa, because the visit is so short. At least two students from each country are chosen, so they do not have to travel alone, as most have never flown on an airplane, or perhaps even left their hometown.

IMS staff meet the students at the airport, and from then on they’re taken care of by IMS teachers and staff, staying in what the Vietnamese boys described as a “dorm” in Sag Harbor.

Dr. Kim said the two visas being denied for students from Mexico didn’t surprise her, because of the current immigration tension involving the southern border, but that the rejection of the student from Kenya was a surprise, because the program has had Kenyan students in previous years. Last year, IMS was connected with kids from Kenya through a nonprofit, and that program nominated the Kenyan students for the music program.

“It’s a life-changing opportunity for these kids,” said Dr. Kim, who has a background in performing, having attended Juilliard and received a master’s degree in education from Columbia University. She recalled three Afghani students whom she drove to East Hampton three years ago seeing the ocean for the first time and crying, saying they had never seen something so beautiful.

“They jumped into the ocean with their clothes and sneakers on,” she said, laughing.

IMS students in the past have received scholarships to colleges such as the Mannes School of Music in New York City.

A 12-year-old boy from Chennai, India, named Lydian Nadhaswaram, attended IMS last year. He went on to win the CBS talent show “The World’s Best” on March 13, 2018, defeating other contestants from more than 150 countries. His grand prize for his performance on piano was $1 million.

“Lydian was great. He and his sister came,” Mr. Sugata said, adding that his sister was a flutist and singer.

On Monday, “Alex” Nguyen and Bach Pham, the 12- and 10-year-old boys from Vietnam, finished up their singing lesson for the day and went outside to have a quick snack. “We play the violin,” the boys said simultaneously as they stood next to each other on the steps outside St. Luke’s, eating chips.

“It was a long trip,” Alex said of his 18-hour-plus flight, adding that he slept nearly the entire time. Bach nodded in agreement.

“We play every day except weekends,” Bach said. “It’s fun.”

The boys are new to the program, and said they’d like to come back next year.

“East Hampton is a lot different. The cars can go fast. The air is fresh,” Alex said as Bach pointed out that they had been preparing for a 5 p.m. recital. Bach and Alex said they’re both having fun walking around the local shops, going to the beach, and trying American food.

Mr. Sugata laughed as he said the boys had brought noodles from Vietnam, because they weren’t sure if they’d like American food.

Luke Baron of Philadelphia has been a student in IMS for five years. He said that, in the past, he’d write letters to international friends he met through the program. Although Bach doesn’t have a cellphone, Luke hopes to stay in contact with his new friend, and he noted that he’s also made friends with other kids from India, Kenya, Mexico, Vietnam and Afghanistan through the program.

As the students finished their chips and rushed off to practice their instruments, Irene Guggenheim-Triana, the program manager, expressed concern about the visas that were denied, blaming that on legislative changes. Ms. Guggenhein-Triana said the fear is that more students will be denied visas next year.

“It’s such an important opportunity for these kids. We hope we don’t have problems like this next year,” she said.

“The impact is direct and clear,” Dr. Kim said. “Those students are heartbroken that the opportunity has been taken away from them.”

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People do get rejected for visa's every day.
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Aug 6, 19 1:46 PM
Any excuse to bash the president and the country will not be passed up.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Aug 6, 19 2:14 PM
So, what is the exact reason they were denied?

My guess, it had something to do with the family/parental situation where consent from a parent for the travel couldn't/wouldn't be obtained, and not "tougher new U.S. immigration policy." It's no different when a child of a US citizen travels and a letter is needed by the adult they are traveling with. Pretty standard.
By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 6, 19 2:49 PM
Lol, for someone who doesn't like when people connect dots that actually exist you seem pretty comfortable throwing a dart blindfolded in this case.
Aug 7, 19 7:34 PM appended by Fore1gnBornHBgrown
"Obama was much tougher on the enforcement of current immigration laws" you're a riot Even Flow.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 6, 19 7:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
In most cases such as this it’s their home country’s DC immigration office that takes forever. To be accurate we currently have a significantly less tough immigration policy. Trump hasn’t come close to the numbers put up by The Deporter In Chief who put those kids in cages. Obama was much tougher on the enforcement of current immigration laws
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Aug 7, 19 6:50 AM
Like most politically charged discussion these days from a certain side of the aisle - your dots included Fore, when the dots aren't provided there is usually a very good reason. 1/2 the story makes for a better narrative and serves only to push an agenda.
By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 7, 19 7:00 AM
The reason the dots aren't provided here is that U.S. consulates don't give reasons for denials.

As to my dots, anyone can connect them when they're requested. Your inability to access the New York Times is not my problem.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 7, 19 7:37 AM
Oh, more dots. Great! Well, how could it be that the U.S. conulate doesn't give reasons then that the article clearly says "being directly impacted by a tougher new U.S. immigration policy." Seems that's even more reason for an educated guess vs. vague attribution that impacts some kids, and not others.
By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 7, 19 8:53 AM
oh, btw...."If denied a visa, in most cases the applicant is notified of the section of law which applies. ...."

Source State Department
By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 7, 19 8:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
In MY experience applicants aren't told why they were denied, just that they were denied.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 7, 19 9:26 AM
no, they get a 221 g letter from the officer stating the exact reason under immigration law for their denial
By bmr80 (35), east quogue on Aug 9, 19 1:30 PM
That's not my experience.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 9, 19 1:34 PM
Please don't guess. This is why the news is messed up, wait for a official release. Politicians and others guess and it is published...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Aug 6, 19 4:00 PM
The whole story is based on guessing. Don't hold your breath for that official release. I don't subscribe to the notion that kids were targeted from some countries (Mexico and Kenya) while other were not. Somewhere buried in the tugs at the heart strings article is a valid reason for the denial and the "guess" above is often the culprit in issues with kids.

By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 7, 19 7:07 AM
The article doesn't allege that they were targeted from some countries but not others.

Can you cite a source supporting your allegation that "the 'guess' above is often the culprit in issues with kids"?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 7, 19 7:34 AM
No, the article alleges they were "being directly impacted by a tougher new U.S. immigration policy."

That's NOT a reason for denial.

"My guess" is based on personal experience (GASP) and simply reviewing likely reasons visa are denied combined with how documentation is treated when USC children travel. I think we can rule out fraud, criminal history and (maybe) past immigration violations given their age, can we not? IF you'd like to remains vague, how about "providing incorrect ...more
By Po Boy (5299), Water Mill on Aug 7, 19 9:10 AM
That's pretty clearly attributed as the opinion of Theresa Kim, the founder of International Music Sessions.

Our individual experiences are valid sources? Good to know!
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 7, 19 9:24 AM
"Why do we want all these people from sh-thole countries coming here?"
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Aug 6, 19 6:19 PM
I’m sure there are kids in Baltimore that have talent but no opportunities to play in a group like this. Find them.
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Aug 7, 19 6:44 AM
2 members liked this comment