Archive for the ‘State & Local Immigration Rules’ Category.

Arizona: A Lesson in Tolerance

shutterstock_272772044Arizona…you never learn, do you?

In 1987, I was living in Tucson. I was in 7th grade and the state of Arizona provided me with a crash course in racism, the civil rights movement and very poor decision-making. Former Governor Evan Mecham infamously rescinded an executive order by his predecessor, Governor Bruce Babbitt, which had made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid-state holiday. In 1990, the citizens of the state then voted down a proposition that would have created a paid-state holiday. After significant humiliation and economic damage to the state, including the NFL moving the 1993 Super Bowl location out of Phoenix, the voters finally approved the holiday in 1992.

Even though the citizens ultimately made the right choice, the consequences of this struggle lingered. In the ensuing decade, when I lived in New York, people would call Arizona the “racist” state or associate our state with the MLK Jr. Day controversy. To not properly honor a civil rights hero was an embarrassment to Arizona and to those who believe in progress and tolerance.

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Why Is Texas Making the Roads Less Safe?

shutterstock_265623575We all want to feel safer. There are dozens of regulations in place to increase our safety on a day-to-day basis. We require people to have health insurance, car insurance, to buckle their seatbelts, strap children into car seats, keep job sites safe, make sure food is labeled clearly, restrict  prescription medications, the list goes on. The reasoning behind nearly every law or regulation we have could, in some way, be tied to public safety. And if it’s not safety? It’s often economics. Policies that are good for the economy eventually benefit individual citizens’ well-being. And when the economy is doing well and citizens are doing well, guess what? We feel safer. It’s cyclical, you see?

So, why doesn’t the concern for public safety extend to the roads and highways of Texas, where we are all statistically far more likely to suffer bodily harm or death than in almost any other situation we face on a daily basis? Though hundreds of regulations are designed to make our roads safer, others inexplicably weaken these safety measures. For example, in 2008, the Texas Department of Public Safety began requiring applicants to show proof of their legal status in the U.S. in order to obtain a driver’s license. That’s right, our government made a decision to refuse driver’s licenses to people who couldn’t produce evidence of their legal status.

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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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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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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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Building Bridges Rather than Walls

shutterstock_104467115Congratulations to the people and elected representatives of San Diego.

As many of us know in the immigration field, it is so easy for politicians, press and the public to demonize and scapegoat immigrants of all colors, creeds, and convictions.  For years we have heard the loud cries to “build a bigger wall” or “build more walls” in order to protect American communities on the U.S.-Mexico border.  But walls aren’t always the answer, and San Diego has had enough of being told what is good for them by bureaucrats who live far from the border and carry a different agenda.

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Bad Choices

shutterstock_141609061Last week, my state’s attorney general, Adam Laxalt, did something that is wrong for my community, my state, and my country. He signed Nevada to the lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action to defer deportation for potentially millions of long-time residents.

I’ve been here in Nevada for decades – nearly 30 of which I’ve spent practicing law. My field is immigration law and I’m a true believer – helping to found and lead the Nevada Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). And now, well, I’m embarrassed for my entire state.

Why did Adam Laxalt decide that it was a good idea to join 24 other states in a meritless, politically motivated lawsuit? Despite the rhetoric, the president’s actions were completely lawful and within his authority, intended to give some freedom from fear for immigrants who are not security risks while Congress hopefully works on a permanent solution.

Mr. Laxalt should know that President Obama’s actions were lawful – they actually fit under the same executive authority that presidents from both parties have used repeatedly over the past decades. A little bit of family history for Mr. Laxalt – when the Reagan administration realized that their amnesty program only helped those who entered before 1982, it allowed family members who had come after 1982 to stay in the U.S. and gave them employment authorization. At that time, one of President Reagan’s closest political advisors was Senator Paul Laxalt from Nevada, the son of Basque immigrants from southern France and the grandfather of Adam Laxalt, the current AG.

Beyond embarrassing a family legacy, joining this lawsuit at this point is pure theater. The preliminary hearing has already been heard – on January 15, 2015 – though the decision has not yet issued from the judge. At the very least, he should have waited to see if the Texas judge would throw this lawsuit out of court the same way that another federal judge threw out Sheriff Arpaio’s lawsuit against the executive actions. Instead he drags our state into pointless and wasteful litigation that does not reflect our values as Nevadans. The arguments presented in the lawsuit, that the U.S. will be economically harmed by Obama’s Executive Action, are speculative and have been rejected in earlier lawsuits. In fact, numerous studies show the exact opposite:  that allowing people to come out of the shadows and providing some kind of work authorization for the undocumented will benefit the economy.

Now we hear that the Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval, who supported Mr. Laxalt’s election and has been discussed as a potential Republican candidate for Vice President in 2016, is very concerned about the loose cannon that is his new lawyer.  The Governor reportedly said that he was not consulted on the decision to join the lawsuit and that it came out of left field, adding that he would be meeting with the AG to discuss the future course of the lawsuit.

What does Mr. Laxalt do then? He doubles down saying he doesn’t need the governor’s permission. Not the best idea to my mind, but he is making his choices. Sadly though, he is making the wrong ones for our state and our country. I guess Mr. Laxalt doesn’t see it that way but I am proud to say that many Nevadans disagree with him and side with our country’s history, our country’s values, and our country’s future. Thank goodness.

Written by Peter Ashman, Past Chair, AILA Nevada Chapter

New Yorkers Get New ID to Get Past the Velvet Rope

imageClubs are synonymous with New York, and in order to get past the velvet rope, what do you need? Identification. It always helps to know somebody and have a lot of money, but I will curb the comparison of immigrating to the US with getting into Studio 54, lest someone think you can “bribe the doorman.”

New York has just launched the IDNYC card. In an age where you need to be able to identify yourself to access a building, get on a plane or train, make a purchase, open a bank account, get housing, or respond to a police inquiry, a person with no identification, in particular the undocumented, are often made more vulnerable from not being able to prove who they are.

This does not only related to the undocumented. During election time, producing identification was a problem for some elderly citizens.

As the city presents it:

“IDNYC is the new, free identification card for all New York City residents, which gives all of us the opportunity to show who we are—New Yorkers. As a government-issued photo identification card, IDNYC secures the peace of mind and access to City services that come from having recognized identification. IDNYC benefits every city resident, including the most vulnerable communities—the homeless, youth, the elderly, undocumented immigrants, the formerly incarcerated and others who may have difficulty obtaining other government-issued ID.

IDNYC cardholders can access services and programs offered by the City as well as by businesses. IDNYC helps enhance public safety, by serving as a recognized ID for interacting with NYPD. It also helps New Yorkers gain access to all City buildings that provide services to the public and is accepted as a form of identification for accessing numerous City programs and services. IDNYC also provides a dynamic series of benefits to cardholders, including a free one-year membership at many of the City’s leading museums, zoos, concert halls, and botanical gardens.”

It is imperative that we all, as in, all New Yorkers, obtain these IDs. Otherwise, it will be all too easy to be able to identify undocumented individuals by this new ID as the only type of identification available to them. This is one more great innovation by the city to make it more open and welcoming to the vulnerable and to help try to solve the great disconnect between Federal inaction and positive local action. While we wait for reform beyond the President’s Executive action, small steps like these help to make the city more inclusive for a population which already exists. The city is finding a way to work together rather than a hostile attitude of deportations at all costs. Most often, this culture of deportations and “no” costs Americans just as much, since these undocumented individuals provide a very real service, are part of the fabric of our society and they add to the economy.

Instead of hostility, we need to find a way to welcome these individuals. Giving them identification is certainly a great step in the right direction.

Everybody, welcome to the club!

Written by Neena Dutta, Chair, AILA NYC Chapter

National Inaction Leads to Local Legislation

image On Friday, New York City’s (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio signed local legislation, Introductions 486-A and 487-A, which will significantly restrict the city’s cooperation with inappropriately broad federal immigration enforcement practices, except in instances where there are public safety concerns, i.e., criminal activity. Another effect of these bills is to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) presence at Rikers Island prison and all City facilities.  A few of us attended the press conference, where the Mayor actually signed the legislation which will  go into effect in 30 days.

In essence, the bill drastically limits ICE’s use of the New York City Criminal Justice System as an arena in which it can enforce its removal and detention operations.  The new laws will lead to the release of many non-citizens who since the inception and implementation of the Secure Communities and Criminal Alien Programs have actually chosen to remain in criminal custody by not posting bail and refusing to resolve even the most minor of criminal cases in an effort to avoid their inevitable transfer into ICE detention.

Prior to this signing, New York Chapter members Cory Foreman and Hedwin Salmen-Navarro, testified in front of New York City Council, representing AILA’s position that the then current practice of detaining non-criminals was inhumane, cruel and financially crippling to an already vulnerable community.  As part of their testimony, they said:Neena 1

“In light of a number of recent court decisions holding that federal law does not require local law enforcement to honor detainers, a growing number of cities and municipalities across the country are refusing to cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement following a foreign national’s release from police or Department of Corrections custody.  There are a number of legal, policy and humanitarian reasons why it is critical for New York City to stop honoring immigration detainers except in the most extreme cases.”

ICE issues detainers to local law enforcement agencies, such as the NYPD or Department of Corrections, asking them to hold an individual even after his or her cases have been resolved, often without a warrant. The detainers allow the person to be picked up by federal immigration authorities, who often hold the person for months before initiating deportation proceedings.

486-A and 487-A will limit the NYPD or Corrections to only honoring a detainer if it comes with a federal warrant, and even then, only if the individual in question has been convicted of a violent or serious felony in the last five years, or is a possible match on the terrorist watch list.

Mayor de Blasio has been a keen supporter and advocate for immigrant rights, and sympathizes greatly with the plight of undocumented workers.  I recall seeing him speak at the immigration rally October 2013, where he spoke in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  As he signed these bills he said, “What these bills do is they protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, of visa holders, and legal permanent residents alike, all of whom have suffered under the previous approach, and ultimately prevent families from being torn apart.”

This is not the only immNeena 3igration stance he has taken.  The Mayor has also introduced the idea of municipal identification for undocumented individuals, and has always been a vocal advocate of the Dream Act.

The usual opponents and naysayers claim that these new laws restricting ICE’s scope of authority will compromise safety, however as we know, and as the Mayor conveyed at the press conference, undocumented immigrants will be more likely to approach police for help or with tips if they do not fear deportation.  He said: “When people understand in all cases police are here to protect, and will not be part of deporting, it will encourage people to come forward.”

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also spoke at length about federal inaction causing harm by separating families and the pain for undocumented individuals, as they are unable to apply for any relief, nor leave due to the fear of not being able to return.

As we all anticipate some form of executive action, or see if this game of chicken or immigration stalemate will come to an end and we hope to see some significant, meaningful reform, local governments recognize the need for action.  I hope that local legislators continue their important efforts, but I think we all hope that the federal government starts acting soon, because immigration is a federal concern, not just a local one.

Written by Neena Dutta, AILA NYC Chapter Chair