The Importance of the Human Stories Behind Immigration

Author: on 05/15/2013


Imagine you’re a hardworking staff member for a U.S. Senator.  You’re looking at an immigration reform bill that’s nearly a thousand pages, seemingly covers a million different issues and includes provisions that will impact tens of millions of people.  Immigration isn’t necessarily your area of expertise but your boss is going to have to vote on it, so you dive in.

You’re looking at a provision, or an amendment, and trying to figure out what it means.  Not just what the legislative jargon translates to but you need to know what it will mean to real people.  Because when you’re trying to help frame potential responses to a question or issue or prep your boss to have all the information he or she needs to determine which way to vote, well, you need to really “get” the human element behind a provision.

You’re going to need to know what the consequences for real people are if this amendment or that amendment passes. The impact could be that a family is separated, that children lose a parent’s presence for years, that a brother will likely never get the chance to have his sister join him in the States, or a business will lose out on the best talent in the world.  If you could only point to an example of an immigrant or business in Senator So and So’s state that would be impacted and explain precisely how that impact would be manifested, then that real life “reality check” could make a difference.

Explaining a complicated issue by sharing an example is a far more appealing, approachable, and universal way to make the case for good immigration reform. The staff at AILA National are great, but they aren’t us.  They do not work with clients—individuals and businesses—every day and when they need an example of why immigration reform matters, they turn to us as a resource, the best resource for sympathetic stories about how our system is broken and what impact change could have.

We need to get them that information.  The problem is that we are all busy, we all want to guard our clients’ privacy and sometimes our clients are wary of sharing a story.  None of these things are necessarily insurmountable obstacles. We need to take the time to tell the story because the reality is that it takes less time to do so than we think. We need to proactively ask clients for permission to share and, if they are wary, talk to them about ways to share their story without including any identifying information to offer them a greater sense of security through anonymity. What we cannot do is rely on someone else to do this important task, because there is success in numbers. Each of us needs to share that story that kept us up at night, that made us cry with sadness or with joy or that reminded us why we do this very important work.

I was able to share a story about an anonymous business client of mine that had an L-1 denied on grounds that had nothing to do with the law or the facts, but everything to do with the paranoia surrounding investors from certain countries and the threat of offshoring. The result of the denial was that the entire department which was to be built around this worker has been eliminated in the U.S. and the company (a U.S. company with a foreign subsidiary and not the other way around) has moved all related operations offshore. This was of course the exact opposite result from the one our country needs given that it eliminated potential well-paying jobs out of ignorance. My hope is that as the Members of Congress look at this example, they will see that the very measures they are proposing to prevent offshoring and protect U.S. workers will result in the opposite. These measures are simply more stringent statutorily mandated variations of what we are already seeing as a matter of adjudicative practice and their effect has been to eliminate, not create, jobs for U.S. workers.

I have also shared several stories of DACA applicants who, under current law, are permanently barred from obtaining residence, by virtue of having claimed U.S. citizenship on the newest version of Form I-9. I know from Capitol Hill visits that many members of Congress are not fully aware of the impact and magnitude of this problem and are generally dismayed when they learn of it. My hope is that these examples will ensure that this very common and frankly relatively innocent action will not have permanent negative consequences for the very people almost everyone agrees should be helped.

Please, take a few minutes and ask your clients if you may  share a case example or encourage your clients to do so.

It may not seem like one story could make a difference, but when all of immigration law is pretty much on the table as it is right now, that’s exactly what could happen.

Submit your case examples through the tool AILA has set up online.  If you have any questions, please contact Brittany Young (byoung@aila.org).

Written by Dagmar Butte, Member, AILA Board of Governors

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