Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ 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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The H-1B Visa Program: The Dial-up Connection to the High-speed Wireless World

shutterstock_94209850There are far too many moments when the dysfunction of our outdated immigration system becomes crystal clear. One of those moments occurred this week when U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received a record number of H-1B visa petitions during the five-day filing window for the coming fiscal year. Because our immigration laws are now more than a generation old, our system is simply not equipped for today’s reality – the H-1B program is like a dial-up connection in a high-speed wireless world.

A recent report shows that the presence of high-skilled immigrants improves a wide spectrum of the American economy and benefits U.S. workers. There is a direct correlation between the hiring of high-skilled immigrants and the creation of new jobs and new opportunities for economic growth in communities across the nation. The H-1B visa program is a way for U.S. businesses to hire those high-skilled immigrants.  But, with an artificial limit of 85,000 on the number who can come here, Congress has not made it easy for these essential workers to get here, even with a job offer in hand.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward

shutterstock_336606005In 2013, there was great momentum for immigration reform. The Senate had already passed its immigration bill, and pressure was being put to bear on the House to do the same. There was a sense of hope and great support for immigration reform nationwide. Pro-immigration reform blog posts and opinion pieces linked a viable immigration system to the U.S. remaining on top in innovation and pleas for immigration reform from major sectors of our economy, like the agriculture, travel and hospitality, and tech industries, were heard loud and clear. Economic giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Coca-Cola, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and so many more, came out in vocal support of immigration reform. Even many conservative religious organizations stood behind immigration reform as the right thing to do. Poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans favored comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. And yet, the House failed to deliver.

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H.R. 4731 Does Anything but Restore Integrity

shutterstock_120251062On Wednesday, at a time when we are facing a global refugee crisis, H.R. 4731, “The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act” passed out of committee in the House of Representatives with a vote of 18-9. Unfortunately, this bill does anything but restore integrity. I suppose it depends on how one defines “integrity,” but according to the dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Can anyone defend what is honest or morally upright about a bill that would:

• Reduce U.S. resettlement to 60,000 refugees per year at a time when there are 60 million people displaced from their homes, 20 million of whom are refugees (more than any time since World War II);
• Negatively impact the treatment of refugees worldwide, as the world looks to the United States for leadership in this area;
• Openly discriminate against Muslim refugees (when more than 750 religious leaders and faith-based organizations have urged Congress to oppose such discriminatory legislation);
• Construct additional barriers to integration and family reunification, continuing and compounding the trauma that refugees have suffered already from losing their homes, communities, and loved ones; and
• Allow state and local governments to actively violate anti-discrimination laws and create forbidden zones for refugees.

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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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The Impact of Inaction on American Children

shutterstock_157595678America is a nation of immigrants, and Congress has the critical job of making sure U.S. immigration laws are up to par. Yet, decade after decade, we are left with legislative scraps and executive orders on how to deal with the immigration system. That lack of concrete, comprehensive action directly and negatively affects our competitiveness in a global economy. But it also hinders our ability to maintain a clear moral authority on a whole host of issues, including how we treat our children.

Lost in all the bravado about building walls, having a religious litmus test, creating a two tier citizenship structure, and having permanent and semi-permanent bars, is the most important issue of all – the welfare of American kids.

In 2007, an estimated 9% of all U.S. babies were born to undocumented parents. In 2012, there were 4.5 million U.S.-born children younger than 18 living with undocumented immigrant parents. According to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, these children experience multiple developmental side effects because of their parents’ status. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor of education at New York University and an author of the study says the effects are in “cognitive development, engagement in school and their ability to be emerging citizens.”

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DHS Rule For Highly Skilled Immigrants: Helpful, But Timid

shutterstock_204239854Yesterday morning began with a panicked message from a software engineer employed by one of my corporate clients.  The engineer had “ported” his green card application, joining my client after having been sponsored by a prior employer for permanent residence.  The company was happy he had joined, since he brought needed skills to help upgrade the company’s infrastructure.  The engineer’s message related to his green card application: nine years after his immigrant visa petition had been approved, while he was waiting in the interminable backlog for high-skilled workers from India, USCIS decided to question its approval of the immigrant visa petition filed by the prior employer.  The engineer was now second-guessing his decision to have taken the position with my client, wondering if his immigration future might be more secure if he went back to the work he had been doing previously.

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Ineffective and Discriminatory is not a Winning Combination

shutterstock_310538138At the time of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, I was a teenager, completely unfazed by the events unfolding. My brother and I were both going to school in the U.K. and my older sister had already immigrated to the U.S. When the revolution peaked in late 1978, my parents were visiting my sister in Los Angeles. Tragically, within two months, our 2500-year monarchy was replaced with a repressive and regressive Islamic system of governance in February 1979. I was the last one of my family who was able to arrive in the U.S., later in 1979 to complete high school.

As with many Iranians, our extended family was scattered by the new regime. My mom’s cousin was executed for being a senator in the Shah’s government. To retrieve his body, we had to pay for the bullets used by the firing squad. My uncle was accused of crimes against humanity for being the Chief of Police in Tehran at the time of the revolution. He went into hiding and stayed there until his death many years later. My younger sister, her husband, and their baby were jailed for attempting to escape from the country on foot.

Stateside, we were dealing with the fallout from the horrendous hostage crisis where American diplomats were detained for 444 days in Iran. Agents from the FBI visited our home and interviewed all of us. Life was volatile, but at least we felt relatively safe in America.

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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?

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate

shutterstock_229516540U.S. immigration law is a myriad of statutes, regulations, policies, memos, practices and procedures which span a wide variety of practice areas. The immigration debate playing out in the media is largely focused on the refugee, humanitarian, and family-based areas of immigration law. But this is only part of the picture. Immigration law also includes employment- and investment-based immigrants, seasonal/agricultural workers, the transfer and employment of high-skilled and professional workers, and short- and long-term visas for executives of global organizations, actors, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

This dichotomy of the perception of immigration law is not unique to the U.S. The Guardian recently examined this issue in the U.K., suggesting the main divide is whether someone is an expat or an immigrant; and concluded that the distinction is based on race. Looking at the issue in Hong Kong, a Wall Street Journal blog attributes the divide to differences in social class, country of origin, and economic status. In the U.S., the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, a comprehensive look at US immigration, which, probably most accurately, points to status in understanding this divide. Legal status, or more acutely, the lack of legal status limits opportunities of integration, access to social services, housing, education, and employment. The key difference in the perception of immigration may therefore be an effect of the cause –the lack of viable, realistic legal immigration options for U.S. families and employers.

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