Author Archive

Little By Little, We Tear Down the Walls of Family Detention

shutterstock_31206451In June of 2014, the first and most remote Family Detention Center opened in Artesia.  The move was a concerted effort by the Administration to deter the influx of mothers and children and unaccompanied minors from Central America fleeing violence, persecution and despair.  The Administration’s premise: “deterrence of future economic migration.”

The response from advocates was speedy, forceful and determined.  Hundreds of immigration lawyers, professors, interpreters, social workers, experts, and willing volunteers traveled to the isolated detention center and began the fight to end family detention.  Their efforts were successful and Artesia closed in December of 2014 just six months after it opened.

The Administration however was not about to end this practice.  It set up two more detention centers in Texas – Dilley and Karnes.  Some of the women and children previously interned at Artesia were transferred to one or the other facility.  Hundreds more were placed there. Advocates mobilized and efforts increased.  The battle had just begun.  The irrational and unreasonable obstacles the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) invented to prevent these women and children from having access to counsel demonstrated the absurd efforts the agency was willing to go through to keep this profitable machinery going.  Yes – there is profit in detention.  At the cost of approximately $350 per day, per person, being paid to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the enterprise of family detention is very profitable.  So, from refusing entrance to women wearing underwire bras or limiting the ability of attorneys to bring in needed electronic devices, to refusing entrance to volunteers for no good reason, ICE tried to play every trick in the book – but advocates fought back and fought hard.

Meanwhile these women and children languished in prison, slowly breaking down when the hopes of freedom seemed bleak.  Bonds were initially set unreasonably high, ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 – until again advocates pushed the agency back, successfully quashing the agency’s argument that these mothers and children were a result of “organized influx” and that “reports and rumors of successful entries could encourage further mass migration attempts.”   The children were malnourished and the women depressed, living in this horrific place called a “Family Residential Center.”  One woman attempted suicide; others went on a hunger strike.

Study after study demonstrates the long term psychological harm these young children will suffer from continued detention.  In response to the loud, clear and powerful outcries from advocates, a statement from ICE appeared in the media earlier this week noting that:  “Family residential centers are an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries.”  AILA’s President Victor Nieblas replied quickly, “In all my 19 years of experience as an immigration attorney, I have never heard a federal agency rewrite history to this extent.”  And that is precisely what the Administration and the Agency are doing: rewriting history to justify unconscionable action against asylum seekers, against victims of persecution, defenseless children and distressed mothers.

In the words of Winston Churchill: “never, never, never give up.”  Volunteers, advocates, lawyers, experts have not given up and the walls of detention centers are coming down.  The Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Jeh C. Johnson released a statement on June 24, 2015 in which the agency finally acknowledges that “…long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued” and that the agency will discontinue invoking general deterrence as a factor in custody determinations in all cases involving families.  That is a far cry from the agency’s initial position last year! The tide is turning, but the work is far from done.  We must continue to articulate our message to #EndFamilyDetention.  Secretary Johnson also announced the agency will  conduct interviews to determine if the families have a credible or reasonable fear of persecution, and offer “reasonable and realistic” bonds or other terms of release for those who demonstrate such fear.   These are concrete changes ICE must make in good faith.

We must remain vigilant; we must watch and make sure the changes Secretary Johnson has announced are actually implemented and followed through by ICE officers.  But these changes are not enough. We will not stop until we have put an end to family detention.  There is no justification, excuse, or reasonable argument to rationalize why children—accompanied or not accompanied by a parent—should be detained.

The war is ongoing, the battles are being won, the walls are coming down, and our mission is still clear: end family detention, once and for all.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President

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If you are an AILA member, paralegal, or translator, who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

From Leave It to Beaver to Modern Family

shutterstock_152193854The days when one spouse remained at home and the other went to work aren’t the norm any longer in our society.  Although there may still be some households where only one spouse works outside the home, in many cases having two working spouses is one of the requirements of the economic and societal reality within which we now live.

While the Cleavers exemplified the idealized middle-class suburban family of the mid-20th century, times have changed, and now Modern Family brings us the experiences of diverse family units.

Decades of changes within our own culture and values have led to the recognition of both spouses’ talents outside the home.  The traditional roles of domestic spouses and working spouses are no longer rigid models in a family and with two incomes the overall financial stability and security of many family units has improved.

Our country’s H-1B visa program however, lagged behind these realities until last week when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) finally announced a visa rule revision that will allow spouses of some highly skilled immigrants to apply to work in the United States.  This rule recognizes the contributions spouses of foreign workers can also bring to our society and economy.

USCIS director Leon Rodriguez noted that “[spouses] are, in many cases, in their own right highly skilled workers,” and that “many families struggled financially when a spouse couldn’t work, and in some cases returned to their country.”

More importantly this rule revision will have a tremendous effect on immigrant women because a large number of the H-1B spouses are, in fact, women.  Women who may have completed advanced degrees in their home country and are well qualified to hold jobs in their own professions, but who until now have been barred from doing so. They have had to make a choice, either to pursue their own career or focus entirely on their spouse’s while he was employed on an H-1B visa.  The Administration’s willingness to recognize these inequities for immigrant women living in our society and the agency’s action in revising this arcane rule is another step forward in remedying the complex and outdated rules in our current immigration system.

The announcement and the impact the revision of the rule will have on many foreign workers and their families are welcomed, but this is only a limited remedy.  It is important to note that the new authorization doesn’t apply to the spouses of all H-1B visa holders. The regulations only cover those whose H-1B partners are seeking permanent legal residency and for whom the agency has already approved an employer petition to start the process.

Our immigration system remains a product of the past century and hinders our country’s ability to remain competitive in this global economy.  The efforts by this Administration to bring relief to companies seeking to keep or hire talent should be a catalyst for Congress to get to work on further reform of our immigration laws.

Competitiveness increases profits and strengthens our economy.  Research shows that immigrants complement American workers.   It is time to leave the Cleavers to our history and modernize our immigration laws to chart the economic future of our nation and the financial stability of our families.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President

Politicizing Established Principles of Prosecutorial Discretion Without Offering Real Solutions

shutterstock_220237405Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling this week issuing a temporary injunction to the expanded DACA and new DAPA programs announced as part of the President’s concrete steps to alleviate our current dysfunctional immigration system is nothing more than a political kneejerk reaction to the Administration’s efforts.

Congress has been unable to pass any legislative reform of our immigration laws despite laudable efforts by the Senate in 2013 when they presented the House with a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill to address the three major components of immigration reform:  (1) strengthening enforcement, (2) addressing undocumented immigrants already in the US, and (3) improvement of our legal immigration process.

Obstructionists to real reform of our immigration laws have called Judge Hanen’s decision a “victory on the rule of law”; but nothing could be further from the truth.  The only ones victorious in this are restrictionists for whom sensible, reasonable measures are anathema.  The ruling sadly diverts attention from the true state of affairs – the inability of our Congress to provide real solutions for our broken immigration system.

In the past weeks, Congress appears to have set aside working on legislation that would tangibly address our immigration challenges in a balanced and commonsense manner.  We can’t take that inaction lying down. We must continue to pressure our lawmakers to take concrete steps to address the unworkable myriad of contradictory and outdated immigration laws on our books, laws that stifle entrepreneurship, hurt our economy, and separate families.  The DACA and DAPA programs did nothing more than properly direct the agency to maximize and intelligently implement prosecutorial actions to better align our nation’s security by prioritizing the removal of those who truly are a danger.

The lawsuit against DAPA and DACA is a waste of taxpayer funds, intended to obstruct programs that would provide real tangible benefits to individuals, communities and our economy at large. It is short-sighted and ineffective.  A plethora of economic studies have substantiated data that the DACA program initiated in June of 2012 has brought economic prosperity and security to both individuals and communities.  DACA and DAPA are supported by law enforcement officials around the country because they will help ensure enforcement is smarter, more efficient, and economical.

Politics must be left at the door, lawmakers must roll up their sleeves and work on providing real solutions to our immigration laws that will ensure our nation’s competitiveness, recognize the contribution of immigrants, and protect our borders. Sadly the ruling does none of those things. Congress must act.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President

Latinos: History Proves Your Votes Can Make a Difference

shutterstock_37571284Elections are just around the corner and given the likelihood that Republicans will take control of the Senate the Latino vote is more crucial than ever.

But why would Latinos pass on voting this year?  The answer: most are dissatisfied with President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform.

In 2012, Latinos played a major role in awarding President Obama a second term. They gave him 71% of their vote, relying on Mr. Obama’s promise to enact immigration reform.  A few months after the election, and with the support of the White House, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package.  But the House GOP leadership refused to act—finally admitting in June of this year that they had no intention of considering immigration reform legislation.

President Obama responded by promising to use his executive authority to make the immigration system work as best it could—and he said he would act by Labor Day.  Yet once the summer heat subsided, and the green leaves faded to beautiful fall colors, Mr. Obama’s promise gave way to a delay in the use of his executive authority until after the midterm elections.  Once again, it seemed, party politics trumped unjustified deportations.

Is it any surprise then that Latinos feel used and abused by the politicians in Washington?

For them, immigration isn’t simply a political issue.  It’s personal.  It’s about loved ones who have been detained and deported without reprieve since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.  His decision to delay using his authority to provide temporary relief to millions of undocumented immigrants has, understandably, angered Latinos and led them to seriously question the President’s commitment to issues that affect their community.

Some immigration reform advocates, arguing that Democrats should be held accountable for inaction on immigration, have gone so far as to call for a boycott of the November midterm elections.

But I disagree.  The enormous power of the Latino vote should not be wasted on a boycott. To the contrary, Latinos should stand proud at the polls next Tuesday as part of an historic movement of change and progress for our nation.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans can take the Latino vote for granted.  Historically they have been a swing constituency and it is only in recent years that Latinos have voted in far greater numbers for Democrats.  Ours is a vote to be fought for–and big elections will be won or lost depending on which way we vote.

History has proved the power of the Latino vote in state elections too. One clear example of such power is the 2010 California gubernatorial race.  Back then, California Governor Jerry Brown was struggling with Latinos. His campaign seemed indifferent to the concerns of Latino voters until his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, started making gains. In 2010, anti-immigrant legislation was trending across conservative-led states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.  Latino advocates showed the negative economic effects of the states’ racial profiling policies and Governor Brown then understood the power of the Latino community.  Now, Governor Brown has a record of signing laws that have truly set the national standard for pragmatic, well-reasoned policies regarding immigrants.  These include pushing back against detainers, allowing undocumented immigrants the right to practice law and qualify for driver’s licenses and, more recently, codifies the jurisdiction of state courts to issue orders regarding protecting unaccompanied immigrant minors.

Two decades after California voters backed Proposition 187—which was later declared unconstitutional—Governor Brown gets it.

Like they did in California, Latino voters nationwide have an opportunity—indeed a responsibility—to show America that real change happens when citizens vote.  What matters more than who they vote for is the fact that they vote and show their power. The Republicans, Democrats and Independents may continue with their political gamesmanship, but Latino voters need to get to the polls and show the politicians that immigration reform is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart politics.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, immigration attorney and Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

A Shameful Chapter in Our History

A picture of the current structure on the Dilley site taken last week.

A picture of the current structures on the Dilley site taken last week.

 

The family detention center known as the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center” opened in May 2006. Most of the families previously housed at this residential center, like those currently housed at the Artesia and Karnes Detention Centers, were families awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims. For the most part, the facility was a staging area for families waiting to be put through the deportation machinery the government has so efficiently developed to almost “guarantee” the expedited removal to their home countries. What is most appalling is that none of the families held at the former prison were charged with offenses other than illegal entry.

In 2007, the Women’s Refugee Commission released a report, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families, drawing heavily on research conducted at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in March 2007 on behalf of 10 juvenile plaintiffs housed in the facility at the time, claiming that the standards by which they were housed was not in compliance with the government’s detention standards for this population. In August 2007, the ACLU settled the lawsuit, and on August 6, 2009, federal officials announced that T. Don Hutto would no longer house immigrant families. In September 2009, the last families left the facility and were moved to the much smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.

The town of Dilley, Texas, population 3,989.

The town of Dilley, Texas, population 3,989.

One would hope we learn from our mistakes and from our history; nothing is farther from the truth.

Fact sheets and press releases from ICE tout the benefits of these facilities, including the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

Recent reports from volunteer attorneys providing free legal representation to the women and children imprisoned at Artesia and Karnes prove otherwise. A prison for women and children cannot be made right. These  facilities are nothing but well-oiled deportation machinery run under the semblance of due process and rule of law. Women and children are considered prisoners and treated as such. They are intimidated with detention for extended periods of time: mothers are coerced to sign forms they do not understand or warned they will be taken to a higher security prison and their children removed to foster care. The misinformation or outright lies told to these women by facility and government staff mean that  the volunteer attorneys tirelessly working to free these women and children are the ones who respect the rule of law and make the broken and dysfunctional immigration system work within the confines of these prisons.

To add insult to injury, ICE has just announced it will open an additional facility in South Texas to house adults with children. The facility will be located in Dilley, Texas, a small unassuming oil town in the middle of nowhere. The center, ICE reports, is in response to the influx of adults traveling with children apprehended along the Southwest border. Expected to open in early November, the South Texas Family Residential Center will be the fourth facility the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children.

Another picture of the land where the new facility will be built.

Another picture of the land where the new facility will be built.

It is sickening to read that this concerted, well-thought-out, and purposeful imprisonment of innocent mothers and children seeking refuge from violence, bloodshed and murder is touted by ICE as a method that ensures “timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States.”

Volunteer attorneys are successfully slowing down the deportation mill at Artesia; they are effectively preventing this monster from grinding out vulnerable mothers and children. So what does the government do? Find other remote locations where access to counsel is limited if not impossible, and build another deportation machine. How can we as a country say that women and children seeking refuge deserve imprisonment? Imprisonment will not deter mothers from saving the lives of their children by sending them North. Imprisonment will not prevent teenage girls raped by gangs from making that perilous journey before they are raped again. Imprisonment will not prevent women fleeing from the brutal and socially perpetuated domestic violence at the hands of their husbands. We should be ashamed of building more prisons for women and children. But, hey, prisons are profitable so there is no question that some will profit from this shameful chapter in our history.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at Artesia or elsewhere, please see our Pro Bono page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we have volunteers scheduled through mid-October but are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page.

Shifting Pressure, Shifting Strategies – Whose Move Will Be Checkmate?

shutterstock_55028839Chess is a two-player strategy game. Each player begins with 16 pieces: A king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. Pieces are used to attack and capture, with the objective to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s king by inescapably trapping him. Strategy, however, is the key to each move.

Just like politics.

In June of 2012 President Obama sent shockwaves from Pennsylvania Avenue, to Capitol Hill, and across the nation by announcing he would defer the deportation of young undocumented immigrants through a process later termed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A few months later the President was re-elected with the overwhelming support of the Latino community and the conversation about immigration began to shift. Republicans and Democrats were both talking about when, not whether, immigration reform would become a reality.

One year later, the Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation. Suddenly immigration reform had real momentum. DREAMers, immigration advocates, and pundits called upon the House of Representatives to finish the job the Senate had started and send an immigration reform bill to the President for signature.

But then it all seemed to hit a brick wall.

While both parties have taken a few steps forward, whether it’s the House Republican Standards for Immigration Reform, or the Democrats presenting H.R. 15, no real fixes to our broken immigration system have been implemented. It has been over 200 days since the Senate passed a thorough immigration reform bill and more than 45 days since those House GOP standards were released, yet the prospect of any positive bills making it out of the 113th Congress are looking increasingly bleak.

Politics have taken over the rhetoric with all sides throwing accusations and shifting blame for inaction.  Conservatives argue they cannot trust the current administration to enforce the laws.  Yet they ignore the fact that the current administration has deported more immigrants than the two previous administrations combined.

Advocates feel frustrated that the House is unwilling to reach across the table to work in a bipartisan manner to finish the job the Senate started.  Yet they also fear that if they make a radical move reform will die a slow, painful, disheartening death on the steps of the Capitol.

As if engaged in a game of chess, many, who started mobilizing their pieces with pressure on the House to take action, are now shifting their rooks to pressure President Obama to stop deportations.  We’ve seen field activists at work, fasting for reform and holding protests which has upped the media coverage and drawn attention to blatant violations of human rights and defiance of the dysfunctional immigration laws that continue to separate families.

How far do the American people have to go for their leaders to listen?  Poll after poll highlights that the American people want reform of our immigration laws, that the majority favor a fair and just avenue for the 11 million to fully integrate into our economic and social fabric.  Study after study demonstrates the economic and prosperity benefits of immigration reform and report after report shows that we need smarter enforcement, not necessarily more money thrown at the border.

Yet despite the strong public support for reform, no floor votes on immigration have yet been scheduled. Advocates are shifting pressure and tactics to see who will make the next move – will Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have the courage to listen to the American public and not the extremists in the House? Will President Obama take further administrative measures to protect American families from being torn apart while the House delays acting on immigration reform?

Meanwhile, American families are feeling the pain and anguish and businesses are losing millions in revenue. But unlike the game of chess, there is no “King” to checkmate. The only inescapable threat of capture lies with the American people being held hostage by the politics of the game. So the question is: what bold move must be taken to get reform back on track?

The President’s directive to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the summer of 2012 to establish DACA was reasonable, humane, and smart enforcement. Every agency holds discretion in enforcement to ensure the security of our communities and to maximize their limited resources.

This month’s call by the President on Jeh Johnson, the newly appointed head of DHS, to look for ways to “more humanely” enforce immigration laws seems promising. A move welcomed by advocates and an opportunity for the agency to embrace our American values of due process, liberty and humanity. The agency’s use of prosecutorial discretion and the administration’s encouragement to find ways to ease the disheartening effects of the current system while our leaders continue to move three pawns, shift two knights and glide one bishop across the board toward a bipartisan reform bill is not only the right move, but one that acknowledges our family values and can ease the economic losses of our businesses while maintaining the security of our communities.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

GOP’s Principles on Immigration Reform: A Welcome Sign, So Let’s Steer Forward

shutterstock_153955259House GOP leaders on Thursday released their standards for immigration reform.  With these principles, they renewed their position that reform of our broken system can only be attained “through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.”  They made clear that they will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) noted that “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) tweeted that “Today’s House #GOP #immigration proposal falls short of the bipartisan #CIR we passed last year in the Senate…but I welcome any movement that leads to Congress finally fixing our broken immigration system.”

The first priority towards reform according to the GOP principles is the “fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders”, and so these principles prioritize securing and verifying the security of our Borders before tackling other aspects of our system.  Although this concept of “securing borders” is not new to the GOP rhetoric, one wonders if members of the House GOP have read the statistics that show deportations were at a record high in 2012 with 409,849 total deportations – the highest they’ve ever been.

Furthermore, at its peak, U.S. Border Patrol data show that apprehensions of undocumented immigrants nationwide and along the Southwest border routinely topped 1 million.  In 2004, the Border Patrol counted nearly 1.2 million apprehensions along the Southwestern border.  In 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended 364,768 individuals nationwide, 98 percent of whom were caught on the Southwestern border.  If these figures are not enough to signal a secure border, since FY 2001, the U.S. Border Patrol has steadily increased its number of agents from 9,821 agents nationwide to more than double today at 21,395 agents.

House Republicans make it clear that reform will include a “zero tolerance” for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future, irrespective of the driving forces to do so, yet hopefully with a more robust legal immigration system and reduction in backlogs, the need for many to cross without documentation or overstay a visa will be minimal at best.  The principles also call for a robust visa tracking system and further require the full implementation a workable electronic employment verification system.

For a party that has long cherished and respected family values, it seems the principles frown at immigration through family members and “pure luck” – presumably referring to our current Diversity Visa Program.  It is true that at the crux of any developed Country is its ability to remain competitive in this global economy and attracting the brightest talent is a key component of this competitiveness.

A robust legal immigration system that includes visas and green cards for individuals seeking to contribute to not only the economic but social fabric of our nation is important, yet let’s not forget that these talented individuals have also left family behind.  Extended family such as parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and grandparents are part of what fosters the entrepreneurial spirit, the researching drive, and the thrill at discovery that leads to excellence in many fields.  To say that family is not part of the success of a developed country is to fall short on the American dream.

It is promising to find the House principles recognize the committed spirit of the DREAMers, the young and talented aspiring Americans who are ingrained not only in our social fabric, but are a key part of our economic growth and development.

At the end of the line, we find those who have endured years of agony in taking steps to reunite with family and loved ones, who have lived in fear of deportation, abuse, and indifference; the 11 million individuals who have contributed to our economy and our neighborhoods.  Individuals, who despite living outside the “rule of law” have also risked it all in search of a better life, and along the way have contributed and improved our great Country.

To them, these principles offer a way to live legally and without fear in the U.S. if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families.   The principles recognize what these individuals are already doing and remove the yoke of fear and insecurity.  Without a defined roadmap to full integration however, we will have to wait for further details to see the prospects of these individual becoming full-fledged Americans.

What this all means is yet to be seen.  These principles will serve as the House’s foundation for the immigration bills to be introduced, and as we all know, “the devil is in the details”.  The announcement from House leadership is encouraging following President Obama’s call to make this a “year of action” and pass immigration reform.

The balancing act will come when the parties sit down and hammer out the details of a series of bills addressing each aspect in these principles.  Critical to this balance is the understanding that our system must be completely revamped if not in one full sweep then with concise bills that address all areas of our system.  The American people are ready for it, the DREAMers are ready for it, the 11 million are ready for it, so let’s steer these principles forward for the future of our Country.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

A Matter of Perspective

shutterstock_159340754Is it a half loaf?  Is it a permanent underclass? Or is there a way forward buried under all the rhetoric?

Last year the Senate accomplished what most thought an insurmountable task – drafting and passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that tackles restructuring our dysfunctional system.  The bill was not perfect, but it was a heroic effort of bipartisan leadership and motivated by a strong desire to see our nation move forward.  The Senate bill traveled to the House with great hopes, but as the year came to an end it failed to garner support, much like the indie movie producers put on the back-burner.

Immigration advocates however, did not wither.  Marches, blogs, calls, videos and other advocacy efforts persisted for leaders in the House to pick up where the Senate left off and finish the job.  Meanwhile, families continued to be separated, mothers and fathers were deported, businesses were unable to hire the talent they need, and our economy remained stagnant at best.

However, the New Year saw House leadership making a commitment to take up the issue of immigration again.  Speaker Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, a former and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain on immigration issues who was involved in Congress’ last major attempt to reform immigration law in 2007.  And the Speaker has promised release of a set of “standards” to underpin House efforts at reform.

Those standards for immigration reform are speculated to call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. It also is rumored to call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally. The talk surrounding the standards seems to back away from an “earned path to citizenship” for those who are legalized.

A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy, estimates that between 4.4 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under the expected House proposals.  The key issue is the manner in which the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for Legal Permanent Status – a crucial first step towards citizenship.  Under prospective House proposals set forth by Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, undocumented immigrants could qualify for provisional legal status, if they can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer.

What this means is that, without fixing the inadequate existing system, attempts at reform are likely to fall flat.  Harsh bars to obtaining lawful permanent residence must be eliminated or at least ameliorated.  The current anemic quota system must be made more robust and relate to the real needs of our economy, rather than to the paranoia of those who seek to block the ability of immigrants to migrate legally.

And so depending on perspective and on the full picture, the proposals may put a “Band-Aid” on a current problem or create a new one – a half loaf and a permanent subclass.  This perplexing view would keep us within the confines of our current system.  The challenge is to step outside the box and realize the enormous opportunity the complete revamping of our broken immigration system can garner.

The gigantic step forward is to harvest the talent we already have within our boundaries and weave those people and their families fully into the fabric of our society in a way that will not only improve our economy but invest in the future of our nation.  The efficient and logical, yet arduous, roadmap for integration of talented, dedicated, and invested aspiring Americans already in the United States is the key to being a leading nation.  A fully repaired immigration system is critical to the future of our leadership and competitiveness.  Let us help our leaders see this perspective.

Shining a Light

shutterstock_144548405Chanukah began last week.  A friend of mine shared his Chanukah wish with me: “Wishing the entire House of Israel Chag Hanukah Samach! May the lights of Chanukah shine thru the darkness of the world and make the world a better place.”

Indeed!

Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

I am not Jewish.  I am Catholic.  Yet the story of Chanukah rings true no matter your faith or spirituality.  The story tells of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy when the Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Chanukah was instituted to celebrate this event. The Temple had to be cleansed, a new altar built and new holy vessels to be made.   According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the “kohen gadol” (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night.  The story goes that only one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah.  An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

The reason for the Chanukah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.

When my friend shared his Chanukah wish that “the lights of Chanukah shine thru the darkness of the world and make the world a better place” I could not think of a better wish for our leaders in the House of Representatives.  As the debate over how to best reform our immigration laws continues to drive a political divide in our country, I wish that the lights of Chanukah shine through this darkness to give our leadership the courage to act and make immigration reform the miracle that is so badly needed.

Congress took a break for the Thanksgiving holiday and reconvenes today for the last official eight days of the first session of our 113th Congress.  During these remaining days the House has the opportunity to fix our badly broken and highly dysfunctional immigration system; to light a candle for wisdom, compassion, and understanding – to bring out of darkness the light of reform.

Congress understands it is a task that must be done.  The Senate has sent the House a comprehensive bill that sets forth the framework upon which the House can act.  The reluctance to tackle a whole bill can be broken down into three key components: (1) how to address the 11 million currently in our country, (2) how to safely and humanely secure our borders, and (3) how to modernize our current legal immigration process.

As the possibility of immigration reform remains viable this year, let the miracle of Chanukah shine a light on our Congress for last eight days of its first session.  Let the miracle of “illumination of the house without” – Be the nightlight for the leadership in our House of Representatives to find the courage to act on immigration reform.

Where There Is a Will…There Is a Way

shutterstock_148370636The question is whether Republicans in the House have the will to find a way to move towards immigration reform.  As the current term nears the break for the holidays, the leaders in the House have about 20 or so days to dig deep into their conscience and do what is right for the American people.

Immigration reform is good for our businesses, our families, our communities and our economy.   Study after study reiterates the economic benefits of reforming our broken system that prevents employers from hiring the best talent.  Day after day we hear stories of families separated longing to be reunited.  We need only take a walk in our own neighborhood to see the contributions of immigrants; those who have long lived in the shadows and yearn to be fully integrated into our societies and those who work hard to live the American Dream.

Politics recently forced our Government to shut down on an impasse of ideologies and principles.  Although the impasse is not over, we are moving forward.  It is time our Nation’s Leaders channel our forefathers and act as elected by the people for the people.

How?

By taking the lead and working together to pass the badly needed, most comprehensive overhaul of our broken and unworkable immigration process.  The House sits on a bipartisan Senate bill that would give 11 million individuals an opportunity to show the American people that they are in fact contributing members of our communities and set them on a roadmap to full integration.  Furthermore, it would kick-start our economy by allowing business to bring the talent they need in a timely fashion, and set forth parameters to protect our borders.  But even with resistance to adopt the Senate bill, the House has been incubating a series of bills that, together, would move immigration reform forward.

Just yesterday, reports note that at least two separate measures are currently being drafted by House Republicans to address the thorniest part of an immigration rewrite: how to handle the immigrants who either came to the U.S illegally or overstayed their visas.  If this is true, it is a welcome development.

The clock is ticking and the status quo cannot continue.   As Sen.  John McCain (AZ-R) recently noted, “doing nothing on immigration is a grave disservice to the American people.”  Our Nation and the American people deserve reform.  Our Leaders must rise to the challenge, put politics aside and get to work.  They must uncover the will within their hearts and find the way to reach a compromise on the reform of our immigration laws.