Archive for the ‘DREAM Act’ Category.

What Happened Yesterday

DSC_0673 (Medium)It was early Monday morning in Los Angeles and all along the West Coast of the United States, people were just waking up. Cars were jamming the freeways, lines were forming at coffee shops and TVs were tuned to the morning news. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the five men and three women who currently sit on the U.S. Supreme Court were hearing oral arguments in what is likely to be a seminal case involving immigration policy and more broadly, the president’s executive authority. The case seeks to resolve the controversy around the immigration initiatives President Obama announced in November 2014. For many who anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision, a resolution as to whether the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives may proceed is a life-changing matter.

United States v. Texas traveled to the Supreme Court on a politically charged highway along which advocates and opponents threw many punches. The road was lengthy, and as the case made its way to the Supreme Court, many speculated as to its fate. Significantly, this past February, the Court lost Justice Antonin Scalia. As one of the most conservative justices on the court, his passing could have an impact on the result of the case.

I had the privilege of sitting in the courtroom and listened first-hand as Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the Obama Administration, and Scott A. Keller, Solicitor General of Texas, delivered their arguments. Certain intervenors were permitted to make statements, including Tom Saenz at MALDEF, who forcefully represented the voices of three undocumented mothers, but the crux of the case was presented and argued by the parties’ respective attorneys.

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New Opportunities to Move Forward in 2016

shutterstock_332894387The American people are frustrated by the inability of Congress to take action and tackle the challenging, yet not insurmountable, task of reforming our immigration system and bringing it into the new century. That shouldn’t be too much to ask now that we are already well over a decade into the 21st century.

The Administration attempted to alleviate this frustration in November of 2014 by announcing plans to keep families together, ensure our communities are secure, and enable employers to keep the talent they need to remain competitive.  Though many of these actions are still pending implementation by DHS, the litigation brought by Texas and other states has delayed implementation of President Obama’s signature initiative which would grant a reprieve from deportation to many undocumented individuals who have extensive, long-term ties to the United States.

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Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Sophie Cruz became an instant celebrity when she approached Pope Francis’s motorcade to hand him a letter begging him to help her keep her parents in the United States.  Her message was simple, coming from a five-year-old, yet it carried more power and conviction than any of the hateful rhetoric that has been dominating the airwaves. Sophie Cruz wants to stop living with the fear that her undocumented parents may, at any time, be taken from her and deported.  You see, Sophie is a full-fledged U.S. citizen, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to all who are born in the United States.   Her parents, however, are undocumented immigrants living in the confines of the underground world that our current immigration system has created.  They are unable to legalize their status, yet work hard and contribute to their communities.  Sophie’s father, Raul, came to the United States ten years ago and works long hours at a factory to provide for Sophie and the rest of his family.  Like many aspiring Americans, they are struggling to make ends meet, stuck in the purgatory of our unworkable immigration laws. Sophie’s parents represent our country, they represent the opportunity for a better America, and the future that Sophie herself dreams of.

But what is Sophie asking for?

Continue reading ‘Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?’ »

Another Kind of Obstacle Course

Interesting pshutterstock_136036019iece by Kristina Wong in The Hill last week (Army already enlisting ‘Dreamers’ as Congress debates immigration) about 50 DACA recipients (“illegal immigrants” as the author calls them) joining the United States military. The US military has long tapped skilled people to join its ranks, whether they be citizens or not.  Our country’s military has a long history of non-citizens fighting shoulder to shoulder with American citizens from the War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was created, as Wong states, to “recruit people with medical training or who speak a critical language.”  In short, the MAVNI program’s purpose is to increase military readiness which is vital to the national security of the United States.  Skilled people increase this readiness and security and we should thank and applaud these young Dreamers who desire to serve our country and protect our freedom.

Instead Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) used this opportunity to denigrate these young skilled recruits while also risking our readiness and security for his political benefit by stating about the enlistment of Dreamers: “the Rules Committee has the power, and indeed the duty, to prevent such a threat to our national security.”  I believe we should be glad that Rep. Brooks was not in Congress during WW II, as political games seem more important to him than obtaining the essential skills to win a conflict and protect our country by using all of the assets this great country has to offer.

In February of 1942, as the U.S. war effort in the Pacific faced a determined enemy, one exceptionally skilled at breaking US military code and learning US military strategy, it seemed as if no code was safe.  Along came Philip Johnston and he approached the Marine Corps with an idea to recruit Navajo American Indians from a California reservation and use the Navajo language on the battlefield as code.  He was confident the enemy would never be able to break the code.  After some internal discussion, the 382nd Platoon of the US Marine Corps was born several months later.  The code was never broken and we know the result. The military tapped the skills of the Navajo, a historically underutilized and overlooked but available asset until that point in the war, and it made a significant difference.

The purpose of MAVNI, Congressman, is to protect the United States by using all assets available to our great country regardless of politics, race, religion, creed, nationality and immigration status. For someone who trumpets national security’s importance so often, why are you standing in the way?

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

The Good, the Not-so-Bad and the Ugly: USCIS Announces DACA Renewal Procedures

shutterstock_174737858Today, USCIS published long-awaited guidance for renewals under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, including a new Form I-821D for both initial and renewal applications.  The guidelines should mean a streamlined process for most renewals, but the agency missed a real opportunity in how government processing times impact those who don’t—or can’t—apply months in advance.

The Good:  For most young immigrants who already have DACA, the renewal process should be fairly straightforward.  In order to be considered, a renewal applicant cannot have left the United States (without permission from the government) since August 15, 2012 and must have continuously resided in the country since they were granted DACA.  They must also not have any disqualifying criminal history.

Consistent with prior policy, USCIS took a real-world approach to the educational requirement.  An initial grant of DACA requires that the applicant be in school, have graduated High School, obtained a GED, or show proof of continuing educational efforts.  For renewals, the agency is not asking for further proof that the individual graduated or even continued in their studies.  For those who were forced to drop out or stop schooling due to financial or other difficulties, this practical solution will be a real boon to a lot of families and young people just starting out.

The Not-So-Bad:  USCIS wants DACA renewals in early.  So much so, apparently, that they are hinting that for early filers (more than 120 days before expiration) whose applications are not granted due to unexpected delays, USCIS “may provide deferred action and employment authorization for a short period of time.”  That being said, USCIS doesn’t want the renewal applications too early:  filings received more than 150 days before expiration may be rejected. So, trying to hit that sweet spot between 120-150 days before expiration might be your best bet.

Unfortunately, at $465, the filing fees associated with DACA renewals are still steep for many families with multiple applications or for young adults struggling to make it through school or in their first jobs. I’ve heard lots of talk about potential microloans or possible funding sources but so far I haven’t heard of an existing and simple option for the tens of thousands who may run into this issue.  Ideas welcome!

The Ugly:  Applicants who don’t file in that sweet spot of 150 to 120 days prior to expiration have some significant risks.  Timing on consideration of initial DACA filings has been creeping up, with a small, but nonetheless significant percentage of cases languishing for months past “normal” processing times.  A DACA renewal, after all, should just be a matter of a background check to make sure no red flags pop up from the last two years of a person’s life, scheduling biometrics and running a report.

To my mind, there’s absolutely no reason DACA renewals shouldn’t be held to the same 90-day standard as other work permit renewals that require the same background check.  If USCIS thinks they won’t be able to hit the 90 day benchmark, there’s plenty of precedent to allow for continued eligibility to work for those who file prior to expiration.  The same goes for how a lapsed or delayed renewal might impact “unlawful presence.” While eligibility to work (and in many states, qualify for a driver’s license or in-state or reduced tuition) may be the more immediate concern, DACA grantees should also pay attention to how accruing unlawful presence may trigger severe immigration consequences in the future.

All DACA renewal applications will have to go through a background check, and anyone who has had trouble with the law should be cautious. A conviction for a felony, a “significant misdemeanor” or three or more misdemeanors probably means that a renewal won’t be granted.  At best, someone with this kind of a history may just be throwing away their $465 in filing fees; at worst, that’s a lot to pay for a one way trip to a country that’s no longer home. In short, if there’s criminal history, better see an immigration lawyer to evaluate risk and any other options.

And of course, USCIS may use a renewal application as an opportunity to check for fraud.  If the information on an old application doesn’t match up with the information on the new form, that may be cause for concern.  A lot of initial DACA applications were filed without qualified legal help, without fully understanding exactly what was being asked for or knowing what was actually included.  In some cases, those inconsistencies may be innocent errors, in others, the DACA applicant may him- or herself be the victim of fraudulent preparers.  Best bet is to make sure you know what was filed and get appropriate help if there are any discrepancies.

Finally, while it sure looks like the renewal process should be relatively straightforward, the devil is in the details.  An increasing number of DACA applicants—and even more so, DACA renewers—may be eligible for something better than deferred action, like permanent residence or another path to legal status.  Use the free PocketDACA App to review eligibility or find help, or use www.ailalawyer.com to find an immigration lawyer to evaluate your best options.

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Immediate Past President

What the Tony Awards Can Teach Us About Immigration

This year’s Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday, June 8 in New York City.  I’ve always been a fan of the ceremony and, having seen a fair number of the nominees, I was struck by the strong intersection between Broadway theatre and immigration this year.

Take for example, A Raisin in the Sun, nominated for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actress and Best Director.  The play opens with Langston Hughes poem, Dream Deferred: 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The title of the poem including the words “dream deferred” immediately struck me as relevant to the current immigration debate with the DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the news.

Similarly, the struggle and eventual success to bring our great nation from segregation to equal rights, both incredibly difficult and long overdue, closely parallels the struggles of many immigrants today.  Political debate and the conversation around immigration reform are reflected in another one of one of this year’s Tony nominees, All the Way.  This Best Play nominee follows President Johnson’s herculean efforts to convince Congress to enact the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. The political landscape may have changed, but perhaps President Obama could take a lesson in manipulation, or at least negotiation, from Tony nominee, Bryan Cranston, the actor portraying LBJ in motivating Congress to act.

In addition to the political parallels, this year’s ceremony, hosted by Hugh Jackman, originally from Australia, includes the nominees who  mirror academia and the business world; the list of the best of the best on Broadway includes not only Americans but natives of Switzerland, Cuba, Ireland, former Yugoslavia, Canada and the U.K.  In the technical categories, a non-U.S. citizen is included in the short list of every category barring one.

Broadway theatre is widely acknowledged as the best in the world.  It is a mixture of cultures, perspectives and stories which reflect our country, the American people and their dreams.  Broadway itself is the child of immigrants.  The names most closely associated with the Broadway tradition are largely those belonging to some of New York’s earliest immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  If you’ve ever watched a Broadway musical, and marveled at the production, then you owe some thanks to Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr., the child of a German father and French mother, he grew up in Chicago and is considered an “American icon” and father of the modern musical show.

Fred Astaire’s father was from Austria—you may not recognize his given name of Fred Austerlitz. Julia Elizabeth Wells – also known as Broadway legend, Julie Andrews – hails from the U.K.  Audrey Hepburn, Ann-Margret, Alan Cumming, Rita Moreno, Sophie Okonedo and so many other immigrants have brought their talents to The Great White Way.  Countless producers, managers, choreographers, technicians, and playwrights also helped establish and continue the proud Broadway tradition of world-class entertainment.

Last year, part of Broadway itself was named “Juan Rodriguez Way” in honor of a freed slave from the former island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, who became the first non-native immigrant to ever settle in present day Manhattan in 1613. Broadway continues to inspire immigrants who make this country their own.

So on Sunday evening, when the Tony Awards are presented, I will not only be enjoying the spectacle of theatre, but also a proud tradition and industry which has welcomed and celebrated immigrants since its earliest days.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

What’s Happening to Florida?

shutterstock_33919990Last week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that are heading to Governor Rick Scott, who has stated that he will sign them. One grants in-state tuition to undocumented “Dreamers.” Another will allow Jose Godinez-Samperio, a DACA recipient and law school graduate, the ability to be a licensed attorney in the State. Jose was in Tallahassee in the gallery on the day the Florida House passed the bill. He was given a standing ovation.

I am still shaking my head. What happened to Florida? Gov. Scott ran on a platform in 2010 that called for Arizona-type laws to be enacted. Four years later, he is supporting significant pro-immigration legislation. I thought we could easily count on current Florida leadership to remain oppositional to any pro-immigration issue that was not forced upon them.

It would be easy to be cynical and chalk it up to politics. It is an election year, after all, and perhaps some politicians are finally realizing it is not a bad idea to try to garner favor in the  immigrant community.

Certainly I believe that is a big part of it. But, I also think that we may be witnessing a change in attitude across the board.

After the vote last Friday, I was contacted by a local newspaper columnist who had written earlier in the week in support of the Jose Godinez-Samperio bill. He had received responses from readers asking questions such as “Why didn’t he apply for citizenship?” “Why does he need a special law, couldn’t he have started the citizenship process during law school?” “Didn’t he want to become a citizen?”

He contacted me to make sure he was not missing anything – that there had been no change to federal immigration law recently of which he was not aware. I assured him that no, there had been no recent change.

The columnist, Tom Lyons, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, then wrote a follow-up column clarifying that Jose did not have the option of obtaining citizenship and said of the questioners:

the more I thought about those people who wanted to know why that would-be lawyer hadn’t applied for citizenship, the more I thought kindly of them. Though they apparently missed a key point in the nation’s immigration debate, I think their question was based on a nice assumption. They assumed that U.S. law couldn’t be as rigid and mean as it actually is.

This illustrates what I believe is also happening in Florida; people are becoming more educated about the issues. And as they get more educated, they may be becoming more compassionate…and passionate to do the right thing.

I only hope that the individuals in office at the national level take a look at what is happening in Florida since I hear Florida might just be a tad bit important when it comes to presidential elections.  I hope they realize that the House really needs to follow Florida’s lead and move forward on immigration reform.

By Victoria Jaensch Karins, Chair, AILA Central Florida Chapter

No, It’s Not Over

shutterstock_147492446Last week I came to Washington and met with House leaders about immigration reform.  I heard a lot of pessimism and I certainly understand where it’s coming from.  After the high of the Senate bill passage, during AILA’s Annual Conference of course, we’ve descended into the lows of inaction.

There was a glimmer when the House Republican leadership released their standards for immigration reform but then the appearance of backtracking immediately thereafter resulted in a fizzle, rather than an explosion of forward momentum.

But let’s be honest, it was never going to be easy.  But we’ve kept up the fight.

And what’s impressive to me, and keeps me optimistic about our chances, is the fact that immigration reform is turning into an issue that is uniting more and more Americans rather than pulling them apart.

What do I mean?  Well, we’ve got poll after poll that points to an acceptance of the need for reform that helps the undocumented get on the road to citizenship.  We’ve got poll after poll that emphasizes the acceptance of DREAMers as the incredibly deserving group of kids that they are.  We’ve seen a shift in public perception from an emphasis on security and enforcement at all costs towards welcoming and understanding and wanting to DO something about our broken immigration system.

So while Washington, DC may be at a standstill, while Capitol Hill may not be moving, the rest of the country is.

And what that means is that we need to keep up the advocacy, keep up the push, and keep up the hard work in our communities, in our states, and in DC.

Which is why I’m asking you for your time.  Make a visit in February or March to your senator or representative.  Talk to them or their staff about why immigration reform is important.  Offer yourself as a resource, a person they can turn to for solid information about what bills have been brought up in committee, what they would mean for your community, and why this issue is so important.

Tell them about what you’ve witnessed.  Bring along a client and their family if they’re willing.  Share the impact that reform would have on a family facing deportation, local businesses, agriculture, high-tech, what have you.

And then commit to doing the visits again, in DC, as part of AILA’s National Day of Action on April 10.

I’m not giving up.  I’m going to keep meeting, educating, and sharing.  I’m going to keep my voice loud but respectful.  I’m going to make sure that both sides of the aisle know where I stand, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

You can sign up for the National Day of Action online.  It’s free, it’s important, and I hope to see you there.

Written by Doug Stump, AILA President

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

Inaction is not an Option!

Last week, two House Republicans who had been trying to draft a comprehensive immigration package dropped out of bipartisan negotiations.  In a joint statement, Texas Republican Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson said that they had “reached a tipping point” in the talks and “can no longer continue” working on a “broad approach” to a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.

Their leaving basically dismantled the so-called Gang of Seven bipartisan group in the House that has long struggled to draft legislation. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) dropped out in June and the only Republican member that remains is Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. The group worked on and off for four years to write a comprehensive reform bill, yet in the end, it produced no results.

Currently sitting in the House however, is the comprehensive bipartisan bill S. 744 which the Senate passed with overwhelming support in June of this year. Even as the House bipartisan group working on immigration could not reach a compromise, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary committee pledged action on immigration reform legislation. Goodlatte said members of his committee were working on four separate bills in addition to four that the committee had already approved as well as a bill to give DREAMers “an earned path to citizenship”. The House Judiciary committee has already approved a bill on agricultural workers, another on high-skilled visas, a harsh interior enforcement bill, and a fourth to require employers to verify their workers’ legal status.

Although the House has yet to take concrete steps forward on immigration reform, a piecemeal approach could result in House approval of a series of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromise immigration reform bill.  At the same time, Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Filemon Vela (D-TX) introduced their own comprehensive reform bill last Friday. “The House discussion on immigration reform hasn’t been an honest debate about good policy, it’s been a one-sided refusal to take the issue seriously,” Grijalva said in a news release.  As the month of September comes to an end, GOP members are still struggling with a full agenda, from Obamacare, to the budget to debt .

Inaction however, is not an option.

Thousands of immigrants and their families marched this past weekend in Los Angeles demanding the House take action on immigration reform. The realities of the effect of inaction, the contributions of immigrants, the creativity of individuals and the heartfelt stories of families were on full display as they walked through the streets of Los Angeles uniting their faces, voices and hearts for immigration reform.

 IMG_00000654 IMG_00000652 IMG_00000651

Since the last major overhaul of our immigration system in 1986, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement. This astronomical figure however, did not keep unauthorized immigrants out of the United States, nor did it persuade any immigrant already here to leave. We now have 11 million aspiring Americans living in our communities and contributing to our economy. Increased enforcement spending is a waste of our dollars.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, from 1998 to 2012, 5,570 migrants died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The loss of lives will continue if Congress fails to act.  Furthermore, several studies confirm the economic benefits of immigration reform. As our country continues to grapple with a slow economy and high unemployment, the opportunities of bringing the smartest and the brightest, the entrepreneur sprit of immigrants and the tangible creation of more jobs are lost to a waiting game.  The time is right and the time is now.  It is time to put politics aside and pass a commonsense immigration process that keeps families together, reinforces the American entrepreneurial spirit and allows aspiring citizens to become fully integrated members of our communities.

As Rep Mario Diaz-Balart said: “This great nation doesn’t just need a solution to its broken immigration system. It deserves one.”

So let’s get moving.