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A Shameful Chapter in Our History

A picture of the current structure on the Dilley site taken last week.

A picture of the current structures on the Dilley site taken last week.

 

The family detention center known as the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center” opened in May 2006. Most of the families previously housed at this residential center, like those currently housed at the Artesia and Karnes Detention Centers, were families awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims. For the most part, the facility was a staging area for families waiting to be put through the deportation machinery the government has so efficiently developed to almost “guarantee” the expedited removal to their home countries. What is most appalling is that none of the families held at the former prison were charged with offenses other than illegal entry.

In 2007, the Women’s Refugee Commission released a report, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families, drawing heavily on research conducted at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in March 2007 on behalf of 10 juvenile plaintiffs housed in the facility at the time, claiming that the standards by which they were housed was not in compliance with the government’s detention standards for this population. In August 2007, the ACLU settled the lawsuit, and on August 6, 2009, federal officials announced that T. Don Hutto would no longer house immigrant families. In September 2009, the last families left the facility and were moved to the much smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.

The town of Dilley, Texas, population 3,989.

The town of Dilley, Texas, population 3,989.

One would hope we learn from our mistakes and from our history; nothing is farther from the truth.

Fact sheets and press releases from ICE tout the benefits of these facilities, including the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

Recent reports from volunteer attorneys providing free legal representation to the women and children imprisoned at Artesia and Karnes prove otherwise. A prison for women and children cannot be made right. These  facilities are nothing but well-oiled deportation machinery run under the semblance of due process and rule of law. Women and children are considered prisoners and treated as such. They are intimidated with detention for extended periods of time: mothers are coerced to sign forms they do not understand or warned they will be taken to a higher security prison and their children removed to foster care. The misinformation or outright lies told to these women by facility and government staff mean that  the volunteer attorneys tirelessly working to free these women and children are the ones who respect the rule of law and make the broken and dysfunctional immigration system work within the confines of these prisons.

To add insult to injury, ICE has just announced it will open an additional facility in South Texas to house adults with children. The facility will be located in Dilley, Texas, a small unassuming oil town in the middle of nowhere. The center, ICE reports, is in response to the influx of adults traveling with children apprehended along the Southwest border. Expected to open in early November, the South Texas Family Residential Center will be the fourth facility the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children.

Another picture of the land where the new facility will be built.

Another picture of the land where the new facility will be built.

It is sickening to read that this concerted, well-thought-out, and purposeful imprisonment of innocent mothers and children seeking refuge from violence, bloodshed and murder is touted by ICE as a method that ensures “timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States.”

Volunteer attorneys are successfully slowing down the deportation mill at Artesia; they are effectively preventing this monster from grinding out vulnerable mothers and children. So what does the government do? Find other remote locations where access to counsel is limited if not impossible, and build another deportation machine. How can we as a country say that women and children seeking refuge deserve imprisonment? Imprisonment will not deter mothers from saving the lives of their children by sending them North. Imprisonment will not prevent teenage girls raped by gangs from making that perilous journey before they are raped again. Imprisonment will not prevent women fleeing from the brutal and socially perpetuated domestic violence at the hands of their husbands. We should be ashamed of building more prisons for women and children. But, hey, prisons are profitable so there is no question that some will profit from this shameful chapter in our history.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at Artesia or elsewhere, please see our Pro Bono page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we have volunteers scheduled through mid-October but are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page.

Shifting Pressure, Shifting Strategies – Whose Move Will Be Checkmate?

shutterstock_55028839Chess is a two-player strategy game. Each player begins with 16 pieces: A king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. Pieces are used to attack and capture, with the objective to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s king by inescapably trapping him. Strategy, however, is the key to each move.

Just like politics.

In June of 2012 President Obama sent shockwaves from Pennsylvania Avenue, to Capitol Hill, and across the nation by announcing he would defer the deportation of young undocumented immigrants through a process later termed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A few months later the President was re-elected with the overwhelming support of the Latino community and the conversation about immigration began to shift. Republicans and Democrats were both talking about when, not whether, immigration reform would become a reality.

One year later, the Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation. Suddenly immigration reform had real momentum. DREAMers, immigration advocates, and pundits called upon the House of Representatives to finish the job the Senate had started and send an immigration reform bill to the President for signature.

But then it all seemed to hit a brick wall.

While both parties have taken a few steps forward, whether it’s the House Republican Standards for Immigration Reform, or the Democrats presenting H.R. 15, no real fixes to our broken immigration system have been implemented. It has been over 200 days since the Senate passed a thorough immigration reform bill and more than 45 days since those House GOP standards were released, yet the prospect of any positive bills making it out of the 113th Congress are looking increasingly bleak.

Politics have taken over the rhetoric with all sides throwing accusations and shifting blame for inaction.  Conservatives argue they cannot trust the current administration to enforce the laws.  Yet they ignore the fact that the current administration has deported more immigrants than the two previous administrations combined.

Advocates feel frustrated that the House is unwilling to reach across the table to work in a bipartisan manner to finish the job the Senate started.  Yet they also fear that if they make a radical move reform will die a slow, painful, disheartening death on the steps of the Capitol.

As if engaged in a game of chess, many, who started mobilizing their pieces with pressure on the House to take action, are now shifting their rooks to pressure President Obama to stop deportations.  We’ve seen field activists at work, fasting for reform and holding protests which has upped the media coverage and drawn attention to blatant violations of human rights and defiance of the dysfunctional immigration laws that continue to separate families.

How far do the American people have to go for their leaders to listen?  Poll after poll highlights that the American people want reform of our immigration laws, that the majority favor a fair and just avenue for the 11 million to fully integrate into our economic and social fabric.  Study after study demonstrates the economic and prosperity benefits of immigration reform and report after report shows that we need smarter enforcement, not necessarily more money thrown at the border.

Yet despite the strong public support for reform, no floor votes on immigration have yet been scheduled. Advocates are shifting pressure and tactics to see who will make the next move – will Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have the courage to listen to the American public and not the extremists in the House? Will President Obama take further administrative measures to protect American families from being torn apart while the House delays acting on immigration reform?

Meanwhile, American families are feeling the pain and anguish and businesses are losing millions in revenue. But unlike the game of chess, there is no “King” to checkmate. The only inescapable threat of capture lies with the American people being held hostage by the politics of the game. So the question is: what bold move must be taken to get reform back on track?

The President’s directive to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the summer of 2012 to establish DACA was reasonable, humane, and smart enforcement. Every agency holds discretion in enforcement to ensure the security of our communities and to maximize their limited resources.

This month’s call by the President on Jeh Johnson, the newly appointed head of DHS, to look for ways to “more humanely” enforce immigration laws seems promising. A move welcomed by advocates and an opportunity for the agency to embrace our American values of due process, liberty and humanity. The agency’s use of prosecutorial discretion and the administration’s encouragement to find ways to ease the disheartening effects of the current system while our leaders continue to move three pawns, shift two knights and glide one bishop across the board toward a bipartisan reform bill is not only the right move, but one that acknowledges our family values and can ease the economic losses of our businesses while maintaining the security of our communities.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

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

A Matter of Perspective

shutterstock_159340754Is it a half loaf?  Is it a permanent underclass? Or is there a way forward buried under all the rhetoric?

Last year the Senate accomplished what most thought an insurmountable task – drafting and passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that tackles restructuring our dysfunctional system.  The bill was not perfect, but it was a heroic effort of bipartisan leadership and motivated by a strong desire to see our nation move forward.  The Senate bill traveled to the House with great hopes, but as the year came to an end it failed to garner support, much like the indie movie producers put on the back-burner.

Immigration advocates however, did not wither.  Marches, blogs, calls, videos and other advocacy efforts persisted for leaders in the House to pick up where the Senate left off and finish the job.  Meanwhile, families continued to be separated, mothers and fathers were deported, businesses were unable to hire the talent they need, and our economy remained stagnant at best.

However, the New Year saw House leadership making a commitment to take up the issue of immigration again.  Speaker Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, a former and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain on immigration issues who was involved in Congress’ last major attempt to reform immigration law in 2007.  And the Speaker has promised release of a set of “standards” to underpin House efforts at reform.

Those standards for immigration reform are speculated to call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. It also is rumored to call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally. The talk surrounding the standards seems to back away from an “earned path to citizenship” for those who are legalized.

A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy, estimates that between 4.4 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under the expected House proposals.  The key issue is the manner in which the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for Legal Permanent Status – a crucial first step towards citizenship.  Under prospective House proposals set forth by Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, undocumented immigrants could qualify for provisional legal status, if they can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer.

What this means is that, without fixing the inadequate existing system, attempts at reform are likely to fall flat.  Harsh bars to obtaining lawful permanent residence must be eliminated or at least ameliorated.  The current anemic quota system must be made more robust and relate to the real needs of our economy, rather than to the paranoia of those who seek to block the ability of immigrants to migrate legally.

And so depending on perspective and on the full picture, the proposals may put a “Band-Aid” on a current problem or create a new one – a half loaf and a permanent subclass.  This perplexing view would keep us within the confines of our current system.  The challenge is to step outside the box and realize the enormous opportunity the complete revamping of our broken immigration system can garner.

The gigantic step forward is to harvest the talent we already have within our boundaries and weave those people and their families fully into the fabric of our society in a way that will not only improve our economy but invest in the future of our nation.  The efficient and logical, yet arduous, roadmap for integration of talented, dedicated, and invested aspiring Americans already in the United States is the key to being a leading nation.  A fully repaired immigration system is critical to the future of our leadership and competitiveness.  Let us help our leaders see this perspective.

Shining a Light

shutterstock_144548405Chanukah began last week.  A friend of mine shared his Chanukah wish with me: “Wishing the entire House of Israel Chag Hanukah Samach! May the lights of Chanukah shine thru the darkness of the world and make the world a better place.”

Indeed!

Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

I am not Jewish.  I am Catholic.  Yet the story of Chanukah rings true no matter your faith or spirituality.  The story tells of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy when the Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Chanukah was instituted to celebrate this event. The Temple had to be cleansed, a new altar built and new holy vessels to be made.   According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the “kohen gadol” (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night.  The story goes that only one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah.  An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

The reason for the Chanukah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.

When my friend shared his Chanukah wish that “the lights of Chanukah shine thru the darkness of the world and make the world a better place” I could not think of a better wish for our leaders in the House of Representatives.  As the debate over how to best reform our immigration laws continues to drive a political divide in our country, I wish that the lights of Chanukah shine through this darkness to give our leadership the courage to act and make immigration reform the miracle that is so badly needed.

Congress took a break for the Thanksgiving holiday and reconvenes today for the last official eight days of the first session of our 113th Congress.  During these remaining days the House has the opportunity to fix our badly broken and highly dysfunctional immigration system; to light a candle for wisdom, compassion, and understanding – to bring out of darkness the light of reform.

Congress understands it is a task that must be done.  The Senate has sent the House a comprehensive bill that sets forth the framework upon which the House can act.  The reluctance to tackle a whole bill can be broken down into three key components: (1) how to address the 11 million currently in our country, (2) how to safely and humanely secure our borders, and (3) how to modernize our current legal immigration process.

As the possibility of immigration reform remains viable this year, let the miracle of Chanukah shine a light on our Congress for last eight days of its first session.  Let the miracle of “illumination of the house without” – Be the nightlight for the leadership in our House of Representatives to find the courage to act on immigration reform.

Where There Is a Will…There Is a Way

shutterstock_148370636The question is whether Republicans in the House have the will to find a way to move towards immigration reform.  As the current term nears the break for the holidays, the leaders in the House have about 20 or so days to dig deep into their conscience and do what is right for the American people.

Immigration reform is good for our businesses, our families, our communities and our economy.   Study after study reiterates the economic benefits of reforming our broken system that prevents employers from hiring the best talent.  Day after day we hear stories of families separated longing to be reunited.  We need only take a walk in our own neighborhood to see the contributions of immigrants; those who have long lived in the shadows and yearn to be fully integrated into our societies and those who work hard to live the American Dream.

Politics recently forced our Government to shut down on an impasse of ideologies and principles.  Although the impasse is not over, we are moving forward.  It is time our Nation’s Leaders channel our forefathers and act as elected by the people for the people.

How?

By taking the lead and working together to pass the badly needed, most comprehensive overhaul of our broken and unworkable immigration process.  The House sits on a bipartisan Senate bill that would give 11 million individuals an opportunity to show the American people that they are in fact contributing members of our communities and set them on a roadmap to full integration.  Furthermore, it would kick-start our economy by allowing business to bring the talent they need in a timely fashion, and set forth parameters to protect our borders.  But even with resistance to adopt the Senate bill, the House has been incubating a series of bills that, together, would move immigration reform forward.

Just yesterday, reports note that at least two separate measures are currently being drafted by House Republicans to address the thorniest part of an immigration rewrite: how to handle the immigrants who either came to the U.S illegally or overstayed their visas.  If this is true, it is a welcome development.

The clock is ticking and the status quo cannot continue.   As Sen.  John McCain (AZ-R) recently noted, “doing nothing on immigration is a grave disservice to the American people.”  Our Nation and the American people deserve reform.  Our Leaders must rise to the challenge, put politics aside and get to work.  They must uncover the will within their hearts and find the way to reach a compromise on the reform of our immigration laws.

What Will You Be Doing this Saturday?

shutterstock_44517163For many, Saturday is just another ordinary day in October and just another weekend to have a barbeque with friends, go to the movies or maybe just watch college football, but for immigration advocates and stakeholders, the answer is raising their voices for the National Day of Dignity and Respect, to show solidarity and emphasize to lawmakers the importance of real immigration reform.

There will be rallies, vigils, pilgrimages, and direct actions across the nation as immigrants, their families, and concerned community members make their voices heard. Some are happening on the 4th, most on the 5th and some on the 6th before the culminating event scheduled for October 8th in our nation’s capital.

Imagine for a moment your ability to participate in changing the world you live in.  Your ability to lend your voice to those of thousands calling for Dignity and Respect for all who live among us; yet live in fear and in the shadows.  Dignity and Respect for the young boy from Somalia who is your daughter’s schoolmate, for the young Ukrainian woman who prepared your latte at your favorite coffee shop, for the Guatemalan gentlewoman who cleans your house or for the energetic Mexican young man who was your waiter at the local restaurant last night.  There will be events in at least 160 cities in more than 30 states on October 5th.

So the question is not “are you interested?”, but “why would you not be?” TiVo the football game, wait for the movie to come on DVD, invite your family, co-workers, and friends and raise your voice.  Afterwards you can stop by the local grocery and ask the Argentinian butcher for a good cut of meat for your barbeque, swing by the middle-eastern shop at the corner to pick up some couscous and tabbouleh and then come by the recently opened French pastry shop for dessert. Information about how and where to get involved can be found at this website:  October 5th Events.

Are you able to be in Washington, D.C. on October 8thJoin the rally at the U.S. Capitol Building. Call out for Dignity and Respect in our immigration process and tell our Congress that the time is now for commonsense immigration reform. 

Supporters are gathering to educate the public and policymakers about the cruel reality of deportations, the inefficient and wasteful spending on ineffective border security initiatives, and the need for a roadmap to legalization and citizenship.

Your voice, my voice and all of our voices are important to remind our Nation’s leaders of the many contributions of immigrants and of the cultural, economic and social benefits of their presence in our communities.  You will be raising your voice to call for Dignity and Respect in the way our immigration laws treat immigrants who are already here, who wish to come here or who are pleading to stay here.  You will remind leaders that Dignity and Respect are based on the principles upon which our great Nation was founded on: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Solidarity with those who live in the shadows lends courage and kindness to every immigrant who aspires to become an American citizen.  Come out and raise your voice with individuals from all backgrounds to remind our leaders in Congress that they have a job to do and delay will only hurt our nation.

Even if you can’t participate in person, consider using social media as a way to join in the day by:

Get inspired and take action! And remember… “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~ Anne Frank

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.

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.