Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate

Author: on 10/02/2015

shutterstock_229516540U.S. immigration law is a myriad of statutes, regulations, policies, memos, practices and procedures which span a wide variety of practice areas. The immigration debate playing out in the media is largely focused on the refugee, humanitarian, and family-based areas of immigration law. But this is only part of the picture. Immigration law also includes employment- and investment-based immigrants, seasonal/agricultural workers, the transfer and employment of high-skilled and professional workers, and short- and long-term visas for executives of global organizations, actors, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

This dichotomy of the perception of immigration law is not unique to the U.S. The Guardian recently examined this issue in the U.K., suggesting the main divide is whether someone is an expat or an immigrant; and concluded that the distinction is based on race. Looking at the issue in Hong Kong, a Wall Street Journal blog attributes the divide to differences in social class, country of origin, and economic status. In the U.S., the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, a comprehensive look at US immigration, which, probably most accurately, points to status in understanding this divide. Legal status, or more acutely, the lack of legal status limits opportunities of integration, access to social services, housing, education, and employment. The key difference in the perception of immigration may therefore be an effect of the cause –the lack of viable, realistic legal immigration options for U.S. families and employers.

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Another Tool in the Fight to End Family Detention

Author: on 09/30/2015

shutterstock_263204690This wasn’t the blog post that I planned on writing. I had intended to simply share some information about the release of the ABA Commission on Immigration’s report on family detention, and will. But I was interrupted in my writing by the immediacy of what’s happening on the ground (OTG) at the family detention centers in Texas.

“I was with Ana when we told her and she cried and cried” read the e-mail from David Kolko.  David, Immediate Past AILA Colorado Chapter Chair was writing about Ana, who had been at Artesia the week I arrived, over one year ago. She was finally, finally, being released from the permanent facility she’d been shipped to when Artesia was closed. She and her child joined eight other detainees who were being released from custody after spending between seven and fourteen months imprisoned. Their cases remain pending with the BIA.

It has been more than one year since a planeload of 179 women and children, who had no chance to secure legal counsel, were deported in the middle of the night from Artesia, and only one week less than that since the first pro bono lawyers arrived in Artesia. The first night of my arrival, Shelley Wittevrongel and I were handed a pink-post-it note by two young female lawyers who had toured the facility as part of an ICE-NGO group earlier that day, with the names and A#s of several women who furtively pleaded with them for help.  We arrived at the facility early the next morning, as Shelley assured was necessary, familiar with the additional delay we would face before getting to the trailer where we would be delayed again before being able to meet with any of the women.

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One of Millions

Author: on 09/29/2015

shutterstock_244966882As an immigration attorney, I hear the life stories of immigrants from all over the world. I hear about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children left behind; I hear about the choices people have made and the relationships that have flourished and failed. It’s a never-ending stream of sadness, hope, anger, and excitement. It’s the reason I became and remain an immigration lawyer.

One story, though, has become emblematic to me of the desperate need for reform.

My client is from Jamaica and was born deaf. She arrived in the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager and made her life here. She was married for many years to a United States citizen husband and had three children with him, but he never filed a petition for her to adjust her status. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic and my client eventually separated from him. Now, she is living on her own with her children as best she can, sometimes depending on the generosity of relatives to take her and her children in. But her relatives don’t know sign language and she does not read lips well, so she is often left alone in the world.

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When Our Government Operates in Its Own Flawed Reality, the Most Vulnerable Suffer

Author: on 09/28/2015

shutterstock_244072684On July 24, a federal court in California ruled that the Obama Administration’s policy of detaining mothers and children violated the 1997 Flores Agreement. In a 25-page ruling, Judge Dolly Gee noted she found it “astonishing” that immigration authorities had adopted a policy requiring such an expensive infrastructure without more evidence that it would be compliant with the agreement.

What is more astonishing is the government’s argument that detention was necessary as a deterrent for migrants – a policy reflecting complete disregard and understanding of the despair felt by those who flee for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  Judge Gee disagreed and ordered the government to comply with the Flores Agreement.

The government now has filed an appeal to the July ruling, and while it is still unclear what legal arguments the government will set forth in their appeal, Secretary Johnson made it clear that the government disagrees “with portions of the legal reasoning in the decision.”  Let’s look at some of the government’s past arguments.

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More Than a Label

Author: on 09/25/2015

MoreThanALabel LogoThis blog post was written in response to the questions raised by the SocialWork@Simmons #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort to highlight how immigrants are currently combating labels and stigmas and what can be done to promote immigrant pride.

My name is Victor Nieblas Pradis, and in June I became the first Mexican-American President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in AILA’s 69 years of existence.

Decades ago, proudly claiming to be Mexican-American might have led to slurs or denigration in this country, but times have thankfully changed.

As I shared in my first speech as AILA President, I was two years old when we settled across the “linea,” or border, of Mexico in Calexico, California. For me and my four siblings, immigration issues were a part of our experience and reality. The international border was only eight blocks from my home and the local border patrol station was only two. My next-door neighbor was a border patrol agent and across the street lived a ranking member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Continue reading ‘More Than a Label’ »

The Time to Permanently Authorize the Religious Worker Program is Now

Author: on 09/18/2015

shutterstock_126785846Once again, September 30 is quickly approaching, and the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker (Religious Worker) program originally created in 1990 is set to expire unless reauthorized by that date. The program has been reauthorized numerous times, most recently 3 years ago.

The Religious Worker program provides temporary visas for non-minister religious workers who are not ordained to perform religious worship services, but fill other roles critical to a faith’s ability to carry out its religious and charitable mandates. Non-ministers serve a wide variety of congregations and religious communities, and include religious teachers, translators, cantors, nuns, monks, clerics, mullahs, and so on.

Fortunately, Senator Orrin Hatch has introduced S.1339, a bill that would permanently authorize the Religious Worker program. Strong faith communities are essential to American civil life, especially as immigrants learn about and transition into American culture.  And faith communities cannot function without leaders and those willing to offer religious service, regardless of whether they are ordained priests. Making the Religious Worker program permanent will help to reduce the uncertainty religious organizations face each time the program is set to expire, and will enable religious organizations to plan ahead and better serve their members and the greater community.

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The Alternate World of Family Detention

Author: on 09/15/2015

shutterstock_159048077I returned to the alternate world of family detention at the end of June. It was both the most heartbreaking and most empowering thing I have ever done during my career as an immigration attorney. Trying my best to help these mothers and their children is wrenching.

The family detention facility is one of three here in the U.S. – the one I went to is located in Dilley, Texas, a remote area difficult for volunteers or visitors to get to. My first day, I met with eight women. At that moment, there were about 1,900 more mothers and children in the facility.  Although each woman had her own reason for fleeing her country, all of them had come to the same conclusion:  only in the United States could they find safety and security.  Instead, they were placed into a detention facility with their children, denied access to medical care, and told they would only be able to leave the facility if they paid a bond.

One of the women was from El Salvador and had been in custody for over a month with her young son.  I told her that her bond hearing had been scheduled and would take place in two days.  She broke down crying with relief.  She had spent the last month looking forward to that moment, the chance of freedom on her horizon. I told her she had to get her bond documents to us quickly so she would have a chance to get a lower bond. She said she would talk to her aunt immediately and get those last documents in. She was so relieved and happy. After she left, I began to cry too – her sheer relief and happiness was contagious.

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A Special Place in Hell

Author: on 09/08/2015

shutterstock_210118552“Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself.” Leviticus 19.33-34

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Madeleine Albright

I met Carmen, a 36-year-old indigenous Guatemalan woman, at the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, in September 2014, months after she fled her native country out of fear for her life and safety. She was held in detention with her 4-year-old daughter, Lupe, who was unable to walk or wear a shoe because of a congenital clubfoot.

Carmen made the agonizing decision to separate Lupe from her twin sister and to leave her two other young daughters behind after her fear and desolation led her to contemplate suicide. She fled Guatemala because she was targeted for beatings, kidnapping and rape owing to her outspoken belief in her right to study, work and be free from violence. Carmen’s father beat her throughout her childhood and well into adulthood, with one of those beatings resulting in a permanent injury to her eye. Her eldest daughter was conceived of rape, and the father of Carmen’s younger children also threatened her life on numerous occasions.

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GOP Candidates are Wrong When Talking About Immigration

Author: on 09/01/2015

GOPBrazen incendiary rhetoric, ignorance of the facts, and bias fueled anti-immigrant sentiment are polluting the immigration conversation.

There is no question Donald Trump is out to make a name for himself in the political arena. Having declared his candidacy for the presidency, Trump has embarked on a full-blown attack on immigrants – especially undocumented immigrants – perhaps forgetting at some point that his own ancestors were immigrants seeking a better life in the United States.

You see, although Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, NY, his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was a Scottish immigrant. Trump’s paternal grandparents were German immigrants. Trump speaks little of his immigrant ancestry, yet engages in aggressive posturing against today’s immigrants.

Trump wants to build a wall on the southern border of the United States to keep “illegals” from invading our country. Trump implies that “illegal” immigrants to the United States enter only through the southern border and as such we need increased enforcement at such border.  Facts, however, show the contrary. Studies indicate there has been a significant decline in immigrants crossing the southern border and overall the undocumented immigrant population has fallen from an estimated high of 12.2 million undocumented immigrants in 2007 to roughly 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the United States as of January 2012.

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Mistreatment of LGBT Detainees Continues with Planned Mass Transfer to Remote California Facility

Author: on 08/27/2015

GeoOn June 19, 2015, ICE/ERO announced a new policy that could significantly change the way transgender women are treated in immigration custody. On the positive side, the policy acknowledges the possibility that transgender women can be housed in women’s facilities, and it promises to provide training on the work that must be done to respect an individual’s gender identity. AILA and other non-profit organizations greeted this new policy with cautious optimism, but expressed concern that it would result in members of this vulnerable community being isolated from counsel and community.  For example, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) commented that the policy was likely to “result in hubbing transgender women in remote areas where they cannot have meaningful access to counsel.” In the two months since ICE announced this policy, the concern over hubbing—and in particular in Adelanto, California—has only increased.

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