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DACAversary

Right Choice Banner AdOn June 15, 2012, President Obama changed many lives for the better with his historic announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. This critical and necessary action by the President went into effect on August 15, 2012 when young people were able to take the piles of paper they had compiled to prove they were eligible and apply for DACA.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of those first applications, and is cause to celebrate, but also to push for further expansion of this program. In the face of inaction by Congress, the executive branch has been able to help thousands of young immigrants and their families. Government figures show that to date, more than 728,000 individuals have applied for DACA out of an estimated 1.16 million who are eligible. It is a good start, but much more needs to be done.

Some were critical of President Obama for this initiative, but, he used his legal authority to help young people in a system where reform is long overdue. Children, brought to America, some as young as a few months old, were growing up only to find out that the only country they have ever known is a place where they have diminished rights and are at risk of deportation. Some of the clients I have worked with didn’t figure out they weren’t U.S. citizens until they were trying to get a driver’s license or applying to college. Most of these kids didn’t have a choice to come here and never chose to violate any immigration law. President Obama recognized that they should not be punished.

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The Facts on How Immigration Works for America

shutterstock_371277403This election cycle has brought about the worst immigrant bashing in decades—most of it completely unsupported by any facts.  The constant barrage of blame is having an effect on many immigrant communities, and not simply the new arrivals, refugees, and unauthorized workers who are most often targeted through fearmongering.  What is consistently lost in the rhetoric is how immigrants who are studying and working in the United States keep our economic engine operating at the highest level.

Oklahoman Craig Knutson, the president of Growing Global, hit the nail on the head with his fact-based discussion of the economic powerhouse that is U.S. immigration (Norman businessman: Growing weary of trade, immigration bashing).  “The positive impact immigrants have had on our economy,” he notes has been demonstrated in both government and private research “using data.

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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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