Author Archive

The Mandate of Optimism

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

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

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

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

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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Ghosts in History?

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

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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My American Dreams PBS Film Project

shutterstock_49320589For four years, all across the United States, they have come to law offices like ours. They have come with tidy stacks of records from their years in the United States – vaccination cards, dog-eared school grade cards, pay stubs from high school jobs, college awards. The older ones come by themselves or with their spouses. The younger ones come with anxious parents. All of them are expectant, nervous but hopeful.

These are the DREAMers, the young people eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced by President Obama in 2012. They are undocumented youth brought here by their parents, usually without a visa. They have grown up in our country without papers and without any certainty as to what the future may hold.

Since 2012, DACA has allowed qualified young immigrants to apply for and receive a temporary reprieve from deportation. Over the past four years, DACA has significantly changed almost one million lives, allowing DACA recipients to work legally, obtain a driver’s license, more easily attend university or enroll in other advanced educational programs, pursue careers, and otherwise live as integral members of their communities, just as their peers born here.

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Why AILA Liaison Work is Crucial Even in Contentious Times

shutterstock_242847928Liaison work has long been at the heart of AILA member services. Liaison, when effective, is a critical bridge for members who are facing issues in their practices, helping to raise those issues with the various agencies to work toward a solution. However, in recent years, some have begun to question the efficacy of liaison efforts and whether AILA might be better served pursuing other options, such as litigation, to push back on critical issues.

I have long held the belief that AILA’s liaison relationship with government agencies can and should be both respectful and spirited, and that it is through a liaison system built on trust, mutual respect, and solid relationships that we can achieve AILA’s mission of providing robust member service. This kind of liaison relationship does not foreclose the option of litigation, political advocacy, public relations, or other avenues for change, but it does serve as the bedrock for effective engagement with the government. This approach works and will continue to work as we move forward. Take, for example, a recent AILA liaison development that we hope will make a palpable difference in members’ practices.

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Fighting Roadblocks to Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants in Georgia

shutterstock_209519614Until September 2015, Georgia issued driver’s licenses to foreign nationals residing in the U.S. as long as they were statutorily eligible. Then, due to a “policy change,” the Department of Driver Services (DDS) began demanding that foreign nationals show they had been lawfully admitted to the United States, a requirement not found in the law or regulations. One AILA member, Justin Chaney, decided to fight that battle in a Rockdale County court on behalf of a client.  Mr. Chaney’s challenge to DDS will protect not only his client’s rights under federal law but also the public safety of all Georgians driving on state roads.

The REAL ID Act established minimum evidentiary requirements for the issuance of driver’s licenses by states. In particular the REAL ID Act requires documentation of both identity and lawful status. In this case, Mr. Chaney’s client, Thomas* had a receipt, issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for his application for cancellation of removal. He had also applied for and received an employment authorization document (EAD) under the (c)(10) category of the federal regulations as one who had applied for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence, i.e. the application for cancellation. In initially applying for a driver’s license, and subsequently renewing, Thomas had successfully presented his EAD and cancellation application receipt.

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