The Mandate of Optimism

Author: on 07/22/2016


shutterstock_447931165Listening to the pundits and talkers on TV and radio, we’re hammered with politically motivated, incomplete soundbites from people who lack awareness, at best, of the practical effects that our present immigration system engenders. It feels like we’re at such a low level of discourse on the issue that it leaves those of us in the trenches often feeling the weight of despair.

The increasingly restrictive and punitive views on immigration that are voiced by some are a reaction to  frustrations and fears that arise from terrorism, general violence, and the ups and downs of the economy and unemployment rate. In spreading these views, those we should be embracing are instead alienated.  Harsh immigration laws penalize individuals who are just as American as any of us who were fortunate enough to have been born here. Those laws also place unnecessary limits on innovators and entrepreneurs in the business and technology fields, preventing them from establishing roots in the United States and pushing away economic opportunities that would add to our shared prosperity.

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The Economics of Immigration

Author: on 07/21/2016


shutterstock_284052200Discussions on immigration in the United States often consist of heated outbursts based on a multitude of passionate and unreasonable positions. Whenever the topic of immigration comes up, it seems like the most extreme rhetoric, on both sides of the issue, ends up garnering the most attention.  But on July 13, Ann Saphir and Terry Wade reported for Reuters (Fed policymakers say immigration key to leaving rut of slow growth) on a point that perhaps all sides of the immigration debate can support: positive immigration growth leads to economic growth.

Though opponents of immigration reform often use stereotypes and fearmongering to try and show that any positive economic benefit resulting from immigration is offset by the consumption of public benefits, this is just not true. The economic benefits of immigration reform have been well-documented by the American Immigration Council.   And just last week, two regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, from Dallas and Minneapolis, not politicians or advocacy groups, stated clearly and unequivocally, that continued immigration growth is a key factor to economic growth in the United States.  As Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari said, “If we have a population that’s not growing, it’s much harder to have economic growth.”

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A Wall of Words

Author: on 07/20/2016


shutterstock_384199990For months, the rhetoric has been increasingly harsh towards immigrants as political candidates continue to lash out at refugees, the vulnerable families coming from Central America, and even entire religions. The result?  Well, among other things, there has been a massive increase in the number of Latinos who say they will vote in the 2016 election.

In the past 12 months, we have also witnessed an influx of lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) applying to become naturalized U.S. citizens. I have volunteered at numerous citizenship clinics where applicants receive legal assistance preparing their applications. The turnout this year has been astonishing. More and more citizenship events are being held to accommodate the swarm of future voters. People are scared. They are mad. They are hopeful. They are motivated. They are going to vote.

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Enforcement Off the Rails

Author: on 07/07/2016


shutterstock_159241919There’s been a lot of news coverage of the ICE raids, of the aggressive tactics used to arrest vulnerable families at their homes and to arrest children on the way to school. But what hasn’t received as much coverage is the damage that raids victims endure after their arrest. Some remain trapped in prolonged ICE detention and suffer psychologically and physically.

My client Johanna* was subjected to three straight days of solitary confinement at an ICE detention center in Georgia. She is just 18 years old – a victim of rape and severe domestic violence in El Salvador who fled to the US over two years ago, all alone.

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Adjusting Back to Real Life

Author: on 07/06/2016


shutterstock_194503949It’s been an adjustment getting back into the “real life” of being home after being in Dilley for a month. I love my family. When I got home from volunteering at the family detention center in Dilley, the first thing I did was hug my wife and son. It wasn’t just because I missed them, which I did. It was because I was so grateful that they were at home and safe and healthy.  And we would be together and didn’t have to worry about being forced apart.

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This Father’s Day

Author: on 06/17/2016


shutterstock_279444212On Sunday, my kids will wake me up extra early and play “Las Mañanitas” to wish me a Happy Father’s Day while handing me handmade Father’s Day cards. They’ll give me extra hugs and tell me they love me. That’s what’s done on Father’s Day in my house. It’s nothing special, though it means a lot to me personally.

But there are a lot of fathers out there who won’t get that chance. Their kids won’t give them that extra hug or make them breakfast, because the Obama Administration is refusing to treat Central American families fleeing violence as refugees. Instead, they are treating them as illegal border crossers and separating families at the border – fathers are torn away and unable to protect or comfort their families, while mothers and children are sent terrified to incarceration.

I have served as a volunteer at both the Artesia and Dilley family detention facilities. I have seen the painful toll that detention places on these mothers and children, and as a father, it’s hard to stomach.

I’m not the only father feeling these emotions though – we recently asked other CARA volunteer dads to tell us about their experiences. Here are some of their reflections:

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Ghosts in History?

Author: on 06/09/2016


shutterstock_9108796May 31st marked the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. To celebrate, the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego recruited other local bar associations for some lawyerly fun – reenacting Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1875), otherwise known as the “22 Lewd Chinese Women” case. The Asian American Bar Association of New York had fashioned a script from historical transcripts, briefs and their own research. It struck me that this particular case and these 22 women did so much for the rights of immigrants, but except for a bunch of lawyers keeping that knowledge alive, the impact seemed lost to the ghosts of history. I especially feel that we aren’t learning from history in light of recent hateful rhetoric aimed at particular religions and cultures by some in the public sphere, and the ordering of raids and deportations of vulnerable mothers and children by this administration.

I represented AILA’s San Diego Chapter in this reenactment but wholly admit that I participated because I really wanted to shout in Chinese and tell people that I was a part of the “22 Lewd Chinese Women.” Sadly, I was not cast as one of the women. But as I listened to the direct and cross-examinations, the quick condemnations of an entire population of people seemed so similar to what is going on today. Back then, society questioned the motives of Chinese women entering the country. It was enough for someone, with no expertise in the culture, to say that their clothes resembled those worn by prostitutes because they were gaudy with large sleeves. That’s all it took to affirm the notion that they were whores and for a California court to order the women be returned to China.

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In Search of Consistency

Author: on 06/08/2016


shutterstock_423046402Ralph Waldo Emerson famously opined that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” I have often opined (less famously) that, if Emerson is correct, there must be very few small-minded adjudicators at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Even in areas where USCIS has made an open effort to establish uniformity, it often seems that the only thing one can count on consistently is, well, inconsistency. For example, in 2010, USCIS began denying H-1B cap exempt petitions filed by nonprofits affiliated with institutions of higher education even though those same petitioners had repeatedly been approved as cap exempt for years. Particularly hard hit were nonprofit hospitals affiliated with medical schools that rely on cap exempt H-1B filings to sponsor international medical graduates who are completing their U.S. residency and fellowship training in accredited graduate medical education programs. These programs operate on an academic calendar that runs from July 1 – June 30, a time of year when there are no new H-1Bs available. Understandably, the hospitals and medical schools raised a stink with their Congressional representatives who in turn, and along with AILA, took the issue to USCIS.

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Family Detention Takes Another Hit

Author: on 06/03/2016


shutterstock_161123432I don’t know about you, but some days it seems like family detention is a battle being fought on multiple fronts – the lawyerly equivalent of air, land, and sea. We have hundreds of pro bono attorneys and volunteers fighting nonstop to help families in the three facilities and helping families once they are released. We have staff in DC fighting to lift up stories with the legislators and pushing back hard at the administration every time a new horrendous policy raises its ugly head. Partners and supporters in this fight hold protests and vigils and are fighting misinformation pushed out by the federal government by sharing their knowledge with their communities through faith and service organizations. Many different battles are taking place through litigation. We are fighting on every single front with every tool we can use.

I wanted to share a victory that came two days ago in a Texas courtroom. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) was denied the right to license the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX, as a childcare facility. The Travis County judge, Karin Crump, heard Grassroots Leadership’s allegations against the facility, she heard the testimony from medical professionals like Dr. Luis Zayas, and she heard the voices of detained mothers that the CARA Project partners ensured were lifted up in the case. She did not like what she heard. The licensing was halted because the exceptions that the DFPS had pushed through, including allowing children to sleep in rooms with adult strangers, would allow for “situations for children that are dangerous.” It is wrong to endanger children and thankfully Judge Crump recognized that reality.

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A City on the Hill: San Francisco Protects the Rights of Refugee Children and their Families

Author: on 05/31/2016


shutterstock_238398439On April 27, 2016, the Mayor of San Francisco approved $1.8 million for two years to fund the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (SFILDC), a unique partnership of 13 legal service providers brought together to represent children and families on the surge dockets before the San Francisco Immigration Court. This funding continues an initial grant by the City of San Francisco in 2014 to create and support the SFILDC through 2016. The SFILDC is an example of what a successful publicly-funded program to provide representation for vulnerable populations in immigration court can look like.

The SFILDC was created in response to the unprecedented thousands of children and families fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico. These refugees arrive at the U.S. border seeking protection only to be forced to navigate the maze of immigration laws and removal proceedings. Statistics have shown that the odds of being allowed to remain in this country increase more than fourteen-fold if women and children have counsel to assist them in overcoming the many procedural hurdles and in presenting their stories.

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