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The “H” in the House of Representatives

Just before the July 4th holiday, we witnessed the Senate approving a largely sensible, sound, secure and smart immigration reform bill.  As this bill heads to the House of Representatives, the buzz is on what the House will or will not do.  Statements from House leaders range from flat out opposition to the Senate bill, to luke-warm consideration of some of the aspects of the bill.

Thus far, many of the House members’ views have been Hostile, Hindering, and Hampering toward immigration reform.  From Rep.  Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, arguing in favor of a step-by-step approach that so far has featured mostly harsh, overreaching and unrealistic enforcement measures, to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reiterating that the House does not intend to take up the Senate bill, but it is going to do its own job in developing an immigration bill.

Common sense immigration reform must balance two competing interests.  First, it must provide undocumented immigrants with a clear, albeit arduous, roadmap to legal status and eventual citizenship. Second, it must maintain border security and overhaul our legal immigration process so that legalization today does not invite further illegal immigration tomorrow.

The Senate bill makes a good attempt to balance both. It would put millions on a long road to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship.  It would require applicants to pass security checks, pay fines and back taxes.  It would also put new requirements on employers, double the number of Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border, and build hundreds of miles of border fence. Importantly, it would provide the country with an immigration process designed to meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st Century.

Inexplicably, in light of the Senate passing a tough immigration reform package—one that even Senate Republicans described as “almost overkill”, the House Republicans claim  it lacks a strong “trigger” provision that would make legalization dependent on measurable progress on the enforcement front.

So what the Senate sees as Sensible, Sound, Secure and Smart, the House finds Hollow, Haphazard, and Hyped.

For immigration reform to become a reality and an historic accomplishment of the 113th Congress, the House must step up to the plate and demonstrate true leadership for America.  First, Speaker Boehner must commit to bringing an immigration reform package to the floor for a vote.  That means moving away from the gridlock-inducing mentality that says there must be a majority of Republican caucus votes to move legislation to a vote by the full House.

Second, members of the House must realize they have a tangible, real and crucial opportunity to show the American people that “H” stands for Humane, Humble, Heartfelt, and Historic.  The House leadership must see the Humanity in immigration, they must be Humbled by the struggles of everyday immigrants who contribute to our communities, our schools, our lives, and our Country; they must show they are Heartfelt by the stories of young and old leaving families behind in search of a better future, that they understand the Historic importance of these times and their impending ability to make it real.

Immigration is about the Human aspect, about the Humility of many and the History of our Country.  Leaders of the House have no small feat before them, but let them not forget it is Human and not just Hubris.

Let’s Celebrate What Makes America Great and Keep Immigration Reform Moving Forward!

This past week was truly a historic week for our nation.  The Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as its “demonstrated purpose is to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”

DOMA’s principal effect was to identify a subset of state-permitted marriages and make them unequal. The result of DOMA was to impose inequality and to deny the dignity and integrity of the person in a committed, loving relationship.

Edie Windsor, the woman who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court said in an interview with Diane Sawyer about the Supreme Court decision: “It is the beginning of the end of stigma, the end of lying about who we are.”

To their credit, the Department of Homeland Security has embraced this change wholeheartedly and is working to incorporate this change into every area of immigration law that it touches.  I know so many families for whom this will make all the difference.

Another historic event this past week was the Senate’s approval of their immigration reform bill S. 744.  In a vote of 68-32, the Senate demonstrated remarkable bipartisan commitment to remedy our dysfunctional immigration system in a spirit of compromise and cooperation.

The passing of the Senate bill was what I most fervently hope is the beginning of the end of “stigma” for the millions of aspiring Americans who live in the shadows, who fear separation of families, who struggle to be accepted by the communities of which they are already an integral part.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said that for “any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.”   His statement however, ignores the fact that the majority of Americans support the principles of the Senate bill including a roadmap to citizenship.

I understand the desire of the House to follow “regular order” which would mean that the House Judiciary Committee would first take up any immigration legislation.  So if that’s the sticking point, we need to call on the members of the House Judiciary Committee get in gear and show how our political system can embrace what makes America great.  They can move forward to end more than 20 years of a dysfunctional immigration system that stifles our ability to bring talent, separates families and does not protect our borders.

Immigrants have been part of the American social fabric since the founding of our nation.  Immigrants are our communities.  They are the colleague in the office down the hall, the mother sitting in the church pew next to you, the pastor celebrating Sunday service, the doctor who has taken care of your family, the teacher who shares her knowledge with our children.

When I think about what the birthdate of our nation means, I think about all the then aspiring Americans who celebrated that fateful day of July 4, 1776 and the many more who have since had a profound impact on our country and its success.   So many of them are immigrants.  Their story is our story.  So many of us, the American people, are immigrants, and that is our strength.

As we gather this week to celebrate the fourth of July, let’s remember the principles upon which America was founded in the values of family, liberty, respect and dignity and let’s hope our leaders in the House of Representatives will stand up for those values and pass immigration reform.

Why the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) is an integral part of immigration reform

As the Senate gets ready to unveil the details for what is to be the biggest reform of our immigration laws this week, families across our nation hope their fears and struggles will be ended or at least eased with the new laws.  A major concern revolves around the definition of marriage for the purposes of our immigration laws.

The U.S Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The effect of its decision will be felt on families across the country.  At the center of the Supreme Court decision is Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.  This federal provision defining marriage effectively prevents legally married same-sex couples from receiving any federal benefits.  Because immigration law is federal law, legally married binational couples are prevented from applying for immigration benefits.  But even if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 3 of DOMA, the inequality for binational couples will likely not end.

DOMA consists of three sections. Section 3, currently before the Supreme Court challenging the definition of marriage, and Section 2, which expressly reserves the power for each State to establish its own rules for marriage equality.

Specifically Section 2 of DOMA notes that States are not required to give effect to any other State’s recognition of a same-sex marriage.  This provision was specifically included to address the concern that States who do not allow for marriage equality would not have to recognize the same from other states.  This provision, which has not been challenged, allows any State in the Union to enact their own DOMA-like statutes to prevent recognition of legally valid same-sex marriages entered into in other states or even internationally.  Consequently, a legally married same-sex couple in a state where marriage equality is recognized may be denied the recognition of their union in other states.  There are currently 38 U.S. states that have banned same-sex marriage, either through legislation or constitutional amendments.

Although, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) does not define marriage, the Department of Homeland Security has traditionally looked to the state laws to determine if a marriage is valid for immigration purposes or not.  Without a clear federal definition of marriage and family, the application of immigration laws for the LGBT community will vary from state to state.  As a result, binational families will face continued discrimination in certain parts of the country.   Some legally married same-sex couples who can afford it, may have to establish dual residences in different states in order to prevent deportation from the U.S.

This will result in the creation of an underclass of Americans who aren’t able to enjoy equal protection under the law.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) will ensure what its title promises; namely uniting all American families regardless of their sexual orientation, abode, or socioeconomic status. Specifically, UAFA would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples — including the right to petition for green cards for partners or spouses. UAFA must be an integral part of reforming our dysfunctional immigration laws to ensure fairness and equality by allowing U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex, foreign-born partners for immigration purposes . It’s the right thing to do and it is the best way to preserve the American values of family, unity, and equality.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Secretary, and Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Ronald Reagan once said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table”.

He was right.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. The film considered the then controversial subject of interracial marriage, which had been illegal in most states, and was still illegal in 17 states, until June 12, 1967, when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.

The plot centers on a daughter’s return to her affluent American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé to dinner to meet her parents. She finds it difficult to comprehend her liberal parents’ reaction to her plan to marry an African American. While they taught her to treat others as equals, the parents strike a different tone when it comes to their daughter’s choice of a life mate. The fiancé’s parents fly up from Los Angeles to the dinner but, like the parents of the bride to be, they are shocked when they learn their son intends to enter into an interracial marriage. The dinner evolves from an awkward dinner party to a meeting of tolerance and understanding as family and friends try to accept the couple’s choice.

Today the subject of Immigration Reform can also make for an uncomfortable dinner party. Like the gradual but important acceptance of interracial marriage in the 1960s, immigration concerns the evolution of America’s dearly held founding principles.

By recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Congress rightly reiterated that we are a Nation which will continue to protect our most vulnerable members of society – women and children. Congress proved it can put politics aside and work together to do the right thing for women and for America. As our leaders come together to continue the dialogue on the reform of our immigration system – the parameters have been set.

To start, on January 29, 2013 President Obama outlined his principles for immigration reform: maintaining border security, building a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, stopping employers who game the system by illegally employing unauthorized immigrants, and streamlining our legal immigration procedures to ensure family unity for all Americans, including same-sex couples.

The Senate bipartisan framework for immigration reform presented on January 28, 2013 sets forth similar principles for reform but it does not mention binational same sex couples.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) lead the effort in the Senate last year by introducing the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). UAFA would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples — including the right to petition for green cards for partners or spouses. She has made clear that she is committed to getting the legislation passed, either on its own or as part of comprehensive immigration reform package. UAFA was reintroduced in the House as a bipartisan bill for the first time this past February. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) reintroduced the bill with the backing of Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY). They signed on in support of the bill last year, but the legislation has never before been introduced with Republican co-sponsors.

The inclusion of same-sex bi-national couples as part of an immigration reform package has received support from many advocates, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) even legally-married same-sex couples are unable to petition for legal status for a foreign-born member. This translates into partners being separated by deportation or the inability to obtain visas, with couples at times living apart for long periods of time or leaving the United States entirely.

The Williams Institute at UCLA estimated in 2011 that there were about 40,000 couples who were ineligible to receive the same treatment on immigration as heterosexual couples. Nearly 25,000 children had parents who fit into that category, according to the institute.

As members of Congress come together at the “dinner” table to discuss the reform of our dysfunctional immigration system there is no question that immigration benefits for same sex binational couples should be part of the conversation and proposed reforms.

You heard right, guess who’s coming to dinner? Our nation’s history, founding principles and evolution are all indicators that the dinner table can no longer be missing an important member of our society. LGBT families are truly part of the American family, and not just a partisan political issue. There are many who may be “shocked and offended and appalled”, but the time is here and the time is now to end all the prejudices, bigotry, blind hatred and irrational fears surrounding two individuals falling in love and building a family.

The reform of our immigration system must demonstrate that America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are created equal and that all people have rights, no matter what they look like, where they came from, or what their sexual orientation is.

America must seize this historic opportunity. As Spencer Tracy’s character taught us, it does not matter what others think of another’s relationship. What is important is how much they feel for each other and if it is half of what we feel for our loved ones, that’s everything!

Our Lady Liberty Still Stands As A Beacon Of Freedom

To every immigrant, nothing rings more true than the words of the Emma Lazarus Poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And nothing exemplifies the meaning of such words more than the actions taken by the Senate this week in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate did the right thing in continuing to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – abused women and children. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders still haven’t signaled what they plan to do.

The bill passed the Senate 78 to 22. Among the Senators voted against VAWA reauthorization were Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FLA). Senators Graham and Rubio are members of the “Gang of Eight” who have offered a bipartisan framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.. Sen. Grassley tried to push amendments to VAWA that would have undermined the protections for victims of domestic violence. Thankfully, his harmful amendments did not get into the final bill, but there is a risk they will reappear when the House takes up the measure.

VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation first enacted in 1994 to improve responses to violence against women—including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It was later reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. VAWA made it clear that that our society would no longer tolerate crimes of violence against women, children and the elderly. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, yet it took Congress two more years to act.

The 1994 VAWA included provisions to allow immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse or parent through a process called “self-petitioning.” The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) created new forms of immigration relief for immigrant victims of violent crime – the U visas and victims of sexual assault or trafficking – the T visas. Finally, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 expanded these protections and included some victims of elder abuse. It is important to note that the 2013 Senate bill does not create any new immigration benefits yet it makes important improvements to the VAWA immigration protections. Some of the noteworthy ones are, for example, preventing children listed in their parent’s U visas applications from “aging-out” – that means protecting them, even if they turn 21 years of age before the application is adjudicated. It also adds “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by the U visa which is a critical law enforcement tool.

The 2013 VAWA Senate bill also provides for vital disclosures regarding any violent criminal histories of sponsoring U.S. fiancé(e)s /spouses and other safeguards to give foreign fiancé(e)s/ spouses of U.S. citizens information they need to protect themselves from entering abusive marriages. Significantly, the 2013 VAWA Senate reauthorization bill strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence ensuring that all programs receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It explicitly includes the LGBT community in its grant program, which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. The bill also establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Republican House of Representatives has an opportunity to protect America’s women and children by passing the Senate’s reauthorized VAWA bill. Protection of victims of domestic violence deserves bipartisan support that will ring true to the principles and legacy of our founding fathers – and as President Obama declared in his State of the Union address: “Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.” This includes the freedom from abuse and fear.

Now is the time to seek bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) can make history by reauthorizing VAWA so that Lady Liberty may continue to stand tall…

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”

Immigrant Women: Forgotten and Discounted

While there was plenty of talk during the presidential debates about the equality of women, one group remained unmentioned and invisible: immigrant women who suffer in silence at the hands of their abusers.

During the second presidential debate, candidates were asked about how each of them intended to rectify gender inequality in the workplace. President Obama explained that he signed the Lily Ledbetter bill furthering the rights of women to demand equal pay for equal work. He analogized that women’s issues are family issues and that is why we must fight for them. Governor Romney talked about his experience trying to ensure he had women’s voices in his Cabinet as Massachusetts governor, with his now-famous reference to “binders full of women.”

Both candidates again mentioned women in the third presidential debate. Governor Romney talked about how with “the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women [in] public life and in economic life in the Middle East”, and President Obama talked about the responsibility of the United States to “make sure that we’re protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population — not just half of it — is developing.”

What the debates and ensuing social media traffic has missed however, is the reality that thousands of immigrant women right here in the United States continue to be forgotten and discounted no matter how much equality there is on the books or how much flexibility employers give their women workers. The reality is especially dire for undocumented immigrant women, who are at the mercy of their abusers and face what seem insurmountable barriers to escaping the physical, psychological and emotional bonds of their relationship.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation that was enacted to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. Congress passed VAWA in 1994. It was subsequently reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals finally understood that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010.

It is now 2012 and VAWA has not been reauthorized.

In a statement made on the 18th Anniversary of the VAWA, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has historically done to pass a VAWA reauthorization that “expands rather than limits victim access to justice and strengthens law enforcement and prosecutorial tools to seek justice and hold violators accountable.” He noted that VAWA has been strengthened each time it has been reauthorized, and that after 18 years of progress, it should be no different.

The clock however is ticking.

Approximately…

  • 658 days have passed since VAWA expired
  • 160 days have passed since Congress’ last action on VAWA, and there are only
  • 48 days until this Congressional session ends and VAWA 2012 dies!

During the past 10 years, with VAWA as an example, states have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and changed laws that treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape. Businesses have also joined the national fight against violence. Hundreds of companies have created Employee Assistance Programs that help victims of domestic violence.

We cannot afford to lose these protections for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Women are often the primary caretakers, the bread-winners as single mothers, the ones who keep the family together, and the nucleus of our society. When mothers are imprisoned at home, abused, broken, and discarded, so are our children – the future of our society. For immigrant women, the terror of an abusive relationship is compounded. Subjected to threats because of her immigration status, an immigrant woman is likely to be unaware of resources available and terrified of leaving her only source of shelter and sustenance, not knowing who to turn to without identification or legal status.

Research shows that nearly 75% of abused immigrant women reported their spouses had never filed immigration papers to give them legal status. Abusers who eventually filed papers for their immigrant spouses waited almost four years to file. In addition, immigrant women report that their abusers threaten them with deportation if they try to leave. Worse even, studies show that less than 20% of battered immigrant women without legal immigration status are likely to contact the police. Yet since VAWA was first enacted, studies show that reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51%.

The presidential candidates mentioned women at least 30 times in the second presidential debate and fewer times in the third debate. It was a push to court the votes of American women while immigrant women remain forgotten and discounted by Congress.  Our great Nation cannot move forward unless all the population — not just half of it — can participate in Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Why saying “I do” still receives unequal treatment under Federal Immigration Laws

Last month, as I read Justice Scalia’s scathing dissent in Arizona v United States, I wondered what he’ll be thinking when he hears oral argument in the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The premise of Scalia’s dissent was that states have the right to control their borders. It seems logical then that Scalia, and those who claim to cherish state sovereignty, would likewise conclude that the regulation of marriage is also a matter appropriately left to the states. Why then is it that when it comes to immigration benefits for same-sex couples, state laws which recognize same-sex marriage are resoundingly trumped by the federal law which does not?

The answer is DOMA and its infamous limitation of marriage to unions between “one man and one woman” which puts family-based immigration benefits – such as green card sponsorship – beyond the reach of same-sex couples.

To be sure, the Obama Administration has made clear its support of same-sex marriage. This past May the President gave his public endorsement, explaining that he “had hesitated on gay marriage in part because [he] thought that civil unions would be sufficient.” His views continued to evolve, he said, because marriage “invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

Yet despite the Administration’s evolution toward support for same-sex marriage, including Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to defend DOMA in litigation, American families in same-sex marriages continue to receive unequal treatment under our archaic immigration laws causing needless suffering and fear of separation.

Last week Jane DeLeon, an immigrant from the Philippines, challenged the constitutionality of DOMA as applied to deny immigration family benefits. In 2008 DeLeon married her long time US citizen partner. She is eligible for an employment-based immigrant visa, but requires a waiver due to a previous immigration violation. The waiver is available to immigrants such as DeLeon where the denial of her lawful permanent residency would cause extreme hardship to her US citizen spouse. In DeLeon’s case the waiver was denied solely because she is married to a woman even though, under state law, the woman is her wife.

Due to our broken immigration system a same-sex marriage recognized under state law means nothing. Same-sex couples remain at the mercy of an antiquated and functionally mean spirited statute and they will so remain at least until the Supreme Court addresses the constitutionality of DOMA.

On the Spanish program “Aqui y Ahora” recently, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “There is nothing more critical than keeping families together.” Yet how many more American families will be torn apart before the sanctity of same-sex marriage is no longer sullied by DOMA and its impact on our immigration laws?

Presidential Election focus: Immigration or the Economy – Is there a difference?

The Administration’s announcement last week that it would not deport DREAM Act eligible youth once again catapulted immigration to the forefront of the presidential race as both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney seek to win the Latino vote.  Both candidates recently addressed Latino elected officials at their meeting in Florida showcasing their sharply contrasting political ideologies at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history.  Both men seek the highest office in a land where a badly broken immigration policy has led to the proliferation of ugly, racially charged state immigration laws in places like Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.  Suddenly, in the wake of the Administration’s Deferred Action announcement and the U.S. Supreme Court’s imminent decision on Arizona’s SB1070, the immigration debate couldn’t be more electric.  With Election Day less than five months away, Americans are becoming increasingly energized and paying closer attention to what the candidates are saying.

And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Under the President Obama’s initiative, undocumented immigrants can get a temporary reprieve from deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before the age of 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military.  This policy could help an estimated 800,000 to 1,200,000 promising young immigrants come out of the shadows, sustain themselves economically until Congress fixes the immigration system, and help re-build our economy.

Romney has struggled to offer a consistent, even coherent, response to the president’s directive.  While he attacked the DREAM Act during the GOP primary, Romney now criticizes Obama’s new policy because it is a temporary, not permanent solution.

At the Republican convention later this summer, Romney will likely focus on the economy.  He argues that as a successful businessman he can address what the Latino community needs most: jobs and opportunity for their children. The GOP has so far bet that Latinos’ see the economy, not immigration, as their number one priority.  Maybe so, but one cannot focus on one to the exclusion of the other because the two are inextricably intertwined.  What’s more, if Romney ignores immigration he will miss a golden opportunity.  All credible studies show that a sound immigration policy will help revitalize America’s economy.  Our current immigration policies are wholly inadequate to support much needed economic development and recovery.  Immigration reform that takes into account the needs of American families and business, and restores due process, will provide fertile ground for economic growth.  Comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants, will lead to greater tax revenue, new businesses and jobs for US workers, and aid in in our economic recovery.

Romney’s own immigration policy is anything but clear.  During the primaries he embraced the anti-immigrant restrictionist fringe.  Now that he has effectively secured the Republican nomination he finds himself in a politically awkward position.  He must tack toward the center to pick up the independent voters in swing states like Ohio.  But, at the same time, he must be careful not to offend the right wing GOP base whom he will need to win in November.  In his speech before Latino elected officials, Romney said he would “put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.”  He also said that he would make it easier for legal immigrants to bring their spouses and children to America, as well as beef up temporary work visas for low-skilled workers.  Finally he hinted at a plan for more visas for high skilled workers, but he did not address the question whether, if elected, he would overturn President Obama’s initiative.

DREAMers who will qualify under the President’s initiative have made the connection between immigration reform and economics. These promising youth, whose only impediment to becoming fully integrated members of our society is their immigration status, are eager to give back to their communities and add to America’s economic and social fabric.  If Romney bases his campaign on the economy, but fails to develop effective common sense solutions to America’s immigration dysfunction, he will do so at his peril.

Follow Annaluisa Padilla on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APesq

Obama’s DREAMER Initiative Is Smart Immigration Enforcement

On Friday June 15, 2012, the Obama administration announced that it will halt the deportation of young immigrants who were brought to the country as minors and meet other specific requirements. The action is an affirmative and bold response to the broken immigration system and temporarily eliminates the threat of deportation for promising youths who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act.  This action gives Congress the space needed to reach a consensus and craft a bipartisan solution that fixes America’s broken immigration system once and for all.

The Department of Homeland Security set forth the eligibility criteria, including the ability to obtain employment authorization pursuant to a grant of deferred action.  Restrictionists and critics of the President in and out of Congress now attempt to spin this initiative as a cheap political move that exceeds the President’s lawful authority.

But they are flat out wrong.

Deferred action has long been used by U.S. presidents to prevent the removal of immigrants for humanitarian reasons.  A grant of deferred action is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; the Department of Homeland Security, focusing on violent criminals and national security risks, essentially postpones the removal of an immigrant whose case is not a priority—hard working mothers and fathers for example.  Statutory authority for deferred action is founded in the overall authority of the Secretary to administer and enforce the law and can be found at INA §103(a).

Deferred action is also recognized in the regulations as an act of “administrative convenience to the government” to give lower priority to prosecution in certain cases. 8 CFR §274a.12(c)(14).  The regulations also authorize the Department of Homeland Security to grant employment authorization for recipients of Deferred Action and authorization to travel. 8 CFR §274a.12(c)(14).   Deferred action is intended for individuals already present in the United States.

Deferred Action does not provide an individual with permanent immigration status in the United States. Young immigrants who qualify for deferred action will be permitted to sustain themselves economically, but will not receive green cards or any other lawful immigration status, nor will they be permitted to sponsor family members.

Congress’ failure to act on immigration reform has forced the Administration to take affirmative legal steps to fashion a sensible temporary solution to our broken system.  This most recent action by the Administration reaffirms that our country values the contributions of all individuals.  Young immigrants who have grown up in the United States have intertwined their culture with American culture, have adopted values and contributed to the fabric of our society.  They will play a big role in the future of America’s economic growth, and our ability to remain competitive in a global economy.

Follow Annaluisa Padilla on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APesq