Author Archive

The Dream Today

On this fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington to demand justice and equality, the United States has once again had the chance to rise to the “better angels of its nature” by enacting just immigration reform.   A broad-based movement consisting of the religious community, organized labor, almost every major US business interest, and immigrant activists has worked tirelessly to usher through Senate Bill 744.  At the eleventh hour, the Senate adopted the Corker/Hoeven Amendment which calls for a massive increase in military spending on the border through drones, a doubling of the already substantial number of border patrol agents, and 700 miles of additional border fencing.  This “border security surge” is estimated to cost $48.3 billion.  This massive militarization of the border is exactly what Dr. King cautioned against when he spoke of the evil triplets of “materialism, militarism, and racism.”  Most recently, Texas Congressmen Beto O’Rourke aptly described the amendment as “a bonanza for defense contractors [which will] definitely cause more death and suffering.”

The Civil Rights Movement pushed the U.S. Congress to not only pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act and 1965 Civil Rights Act, but also helped to end the overt racism of the pre-1965 immigration regime  governed by a quota system created by the 1924 Immigration Act that essentially restricted immigration from Africa and Asia.   While the 1965 immigration law did not account for native country population size, it ended the race-based system designed in 1924.

The movement for racial equality, while supported by many in power in the US, was blocked in Congress by an intransigent minority hailing from states that continued to deprive citizens of the right to vote and move freely within their borders. What eventually forced the nation to change were the daily images of peaceful demonstrators who were physically attacked by police and fellow citizens throughout the South.  The nation witnessed water hoses and attack dogs unleashed on men, women, and children.  Names like Bull Conner, Joe Clarke, George Wallace, and Orville Faubus were synonymous with hatred and viewed as killing any chance for America to live up to its promise of justice and equality.

Today, we live under the weight of twenty years of some of the most vicious anti-immigrant laws and policies, starting with the U.S. reaction to the 1995 attack on Oklahoma City’s Murrow Federal Building.  Those attacks, along with the mass burnings of black churches and the Atlanta Olympics bombing, spelled a wave of terrorism and signaled to Congress a need to act.  Although the perpetrators of these acts were ideologically connected to anti-government white supremacist groups, Congress laid the punishment on immigrant communities by passing AEDPA and IIRIIRA which have created a permanent undocumented class of immigrants in the U.S. who are unable to become documented no matter how hard they work, how diligently they raise their families, how much they contribute to their communities, or how much they contribute to the economy.

Along with important Congressional advocacy, direct action in the form of civil disobedience, marches, and rallies have been integral in keeping immigration reform on the front burner. During this Congressional recess, several high level immigrant rights activists have been arrested as a result of direct action including Immigration Equality’s Exeuctive Director Rachel Tivens, union leaders, and others.  Earlier this month three Latino-American youth joined six of their fellow DREAMers in Mexico and then re-entered the U.S.  All nine were immediately detained and their bravery refocused the conversation from where the Senate left off—million dollar drones patrolling the border—to what the House must do:  assess the human toll of the past twenty years of draconian immigration laws and set the framework for an inclusive America.  This act of empowerment, along with the August 22 arrest of DREAMers trying to block an ICE removal vehicle, continues to apply pressure to the necessary points in the system and put representatives opposed to reform on the defensive.   It is commendable and exciting that those most affected by the failure of meaningful immigration reform, young undocumented youth, have placed the issue squarely in the limelight.  Let us use their bravery as a catalyst to keep fighting for meaningful and just immigration reform and take our country one step closer to the America we all believe is possible.

Written by Mark Shmueli, Member, Media-Advo Committee

The New Provisional Waiver – A Promising Program Foundering

For a year we waited for USCIS to put into effect changes it had discussed in processing the needed waiver for the 10 year bar found in INA § 212(a)(9)(B) for those people married to U.S. Citizens who had entered the United States without inspection.  The announcement of the change to a “provisional” waiver program brought with it much anticipation and joy to those who would most benefit from this change.  Nothing was worse than leaving your spouse behind in the United States, many times with young children, for an uncertain number of months, with a strong possibility you would not come back home for 10 years.  And, as a result, many people chose not to take advantage of the waiver because of the fear of the unknown.

The Provisional Waiver regulation announced on January 2, 2013, and effective on March 1, 2013, now made it possible for foreign spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for the permanent residence without the risk associated with departing the U.S. without having the forgiveness offered by the waiver in their hand.  Being assured that you would know of the timing of your return after a brief trip to a consulate was nothing short of gift from heaven for many people.   Predictably, many couples and their lawyers prepared their waiver packages and submitted them to the USCIS as soon as they could after March 1, and many have been waiting patiently for what were promised to be approval notices.  Those approval notices, coupled with their trip abroad, would finally yield what many have desired for so long – normalcy in their lives and permanent residence.

Sadly, the hoped for promise of these provisional waivers has become nothing short of a major disappointment and some say outright fraud on the participating immigrants and their attorneys.  The USCIS has been denying many provisional waivers, not on the merits, but on technical grounds that have nothing to do with the waiver process.  A typical provisional waiver “denial” letter from the USCIS states that the waiver will not be adjudicated because the applicant “may” have another ground of inadmissibility.  For example, one waiver was not adjudicated because the applicant had given a different birth date 15 years ago when he was caught coming into the U.S. (saying he was older than he was to avoid not being sent back) and was returned to Mexico.  As any immigration lawyer will tell you, while the giving of a false date of birth “may” be a ground of denial for misrepresentation, it is not a definite denial, and one that can be dealt with at the consulate and likely without another waiver being needed.   Another example is the “denial” of the adjudication of a waiver based upon a misdemeanor offense that clearly falls within the petty offense exception, something any immigration lawyer (and consular officer) knows will not bar an applicant from being admitted to the United States.

Perhaps more disturbing is the USCIS’s new approach to adjudicating provisional waivers that ignores evidence in the filings.  A recent denial stated that the affidavit from a mental health professional of the psychological issues of the U.S. Citizen spouse were not supported by other “documentary” evidence, and thus could not serve as a basis for the establishing hardship.  Obviously, such a position ignores long-standing case law and policy on the submission of evidence.  This is compounded by the greater problem of the inability to challenge provisional waiver “denials” on appeal. Applicants are left with only refiling and re-paying for the waiver again to try to correct the erroneous decision.

Finally, the grant rate of I-601 waivers from the USCIS office in Mexico (which adjudicated the vast majority of the waivers under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)), was well over 80%.  USCIS will not release the grant rate under the provisional waiver program, but knowledgeable and experienced attorneys are seeing approval rates at or below 50%.  Let’s be fair, perhaps some people are filing cases now that were not as strong as those filed under the original consulate-based program.  But there are widespread reports of cases that are clearly approvable under any standard now being denied for vague and obtuse reasons.

Given the announcement from Secretary Napolitano and the cheery presentation of the new provisional waiver program by various DHS officials, it is alarming and ultimately disheartening to see a program that once worked well being turned into yet another poorly functioning USCIS-run nightmare.  Unless USCIS gets its act together, properly trains the adjudicatory staff, gets out of the consulate’s job of determining inadmissibility, and reinstitutes a culture of yes, the provisional waiver program will cause fewer people to attempt to secure the permanent residence for which they are eligible, and further delay any current-law based fix to their immigration status.  It will become another in a long line of Bait and Switch immigration proposals that fall victim to over-zealous and under-educated enforcement – and it will fail.

Perhaps someone at USCIS will realize how important this program could be to more than a million American citizens and their foreign national spouses. Perhaps someone at USCIS will “buck” the system and demand real adjudicatory action from its employees.  And, perhaps, someone at USCIS will ensure proper training and push for the success of a program that could change the nature of the debate on immigration reform.  I fear the problem is that that “someone” does not really work for USCIS.

Written by Charles Kuck, Member, AILA Past-President

U.S. Grads Deserve Better Than the Boot

Institute an OPT Extension for Grads Who Lost H-1B Lottery

During the first week of April, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received approximately 124,000 petitions for H-1B work visas, more than the yearly limit of 85,000.  That not only means that all the H-1B slots for the entire fiscal year 2014 running from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014 are used up already, but that 39,000 applicants were rejected.  The rejection notices came via returned petitions during the middle of May.

For foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities who have job offers from U.S. employers following graduation, this has meant being forced to give up, pack up, and leave the country.  Take Joanita Bora, for example.  She graduated from Willamette University in Oregon with a Master’s of Business Administration, and was offered a job in her field following graduation.  She was able to work under a one-year work permit under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) category, post graduation.  Her employer filed an H-1B petition on her behalf, but Joanita was one of the unlucky thousands whose petitions were not selected in the random lottery for the slots.  Her OPT ended in May, and without an H-1B petition in place, she was given just 60 days to leave.  Now she has returned to India, but has started a facebook page to express her frustration.

A bi-partisan group of Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed that the H-1B cap should be increased to a number somewhere between 115,000 and 180,000, depending on various labor statistics, visa usage, and other market factors.  They included such a provision in the current immigration bill being debated in the Senate, S. 744.  The group included Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who said he would be for the immigration bill only if it offered the increased numbers.  In fact, the 65,000 base cap was set back in 1990 without using actual labor demand analysis. As far as I can tell Congress just dreamed up that number, and the 20,000 additional numbers for U.S. Master’s degree holders has been the only modest increase in the law’s limit since then.  Because the bi-partisan Senate Judiciary Committee members have determined that the 85,000 H-1B numbers are insufficient, the Obama Administration should immediately implement an OPT extension for those who can show that 1) they graduated with a degree from a U.S. institution; 2) had OPT on April 1, 2013; and 3) they have a job offer that would qualify them for an H-1B if there were visas actually available.

Everyone knows the immigration system is broken, and we all want a new law that addresses the problems in the current law.  The Senate is moving to implement a new law, but until then there are thousands among the 39,000 rejected H-1B petitions who have U.S. degrees and an employer offering them a position.  These U.S. grads deserve more than the boot.  Let’s allow them an OPT extension while Congress debates.

Written by Brent Renison, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

House Vote to Defund DACA Requires Action Now

On June 6th, the House voted 224 to 201 to defund the infant Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program, announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012.  On a mostly party-line vote, 220 House Republicans supported the amendment introduced by Representative Steve King (R‑IA) that would deport DREAMers, young people who grew up in America, for the actions of their parents.

It is important to know that the vote does not currently affect anyone who has applied or will apply for the Deferred Action program, or who has been approved and is therefore “DACAmented.”  Almost 500,000 young people have applied to the program as of May 8th, and 290,000 have received authorization to work legally in the United States.

The Senate should not approve of this blatant attack on the program that has helped so many, and thankfully President Obama has already threatened to veto any bill that contains the offensive amendment.  In his weekly address, President Obama said that the House-passed measure would affect “DREAMers” who are “productive members of society who were brought here as young children, grew up in our communities, and became American in every way but on paper.”  This bill is not now law, and likely won’t become law.

As immigration lawyers, we know numerous clients whose lives have been changed for the better by DACA.  It is up to us to ensure that the backlash against House members for this vote will have many who voted “yea” reconsidering when immigration reform comes up for a vote this summer.

The DREAMers were a powerful force before DACA, but now they have everything to lose: their work cards, their driver’s licenses, and their future.  They no longer have to fear deportation for speaking out.  These brave DREAMers have already come out of the shadows, advocated for their cause in schools and social media, and changed society’s views of the face of “illegal aliens.”  United We Dream and other DREAM activists are organizing call campaigns, social media blasts, and media events to shame those who voted for this amendment.  AILA attorneys need to join these efforts, and put pressure on both the House and Senate to pass good immigration reform now.

Another powerful effort to raise awareness of the DREAMers’ plight is a documentary called The Dream is Now.  This film is part of a campaign launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, and directed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for Superman”).  The movie provides a compelling and heartbreaking insight into the lives of several DREAMers who want to join the Marines, become a doctor or an engineer, and change the world.  The interactive portion of the documentary invites DREAMers to take action by writing their own story, uploading photos, and signing a petition on the organization’s website.  Share this link on Facebook, twitter, and in emails to your DACA clients and their families.  And tell your clients, their family, and friends to do the same.

Latinos are the fastest growing group of registered voters, representing 10% of the electorate in 2012.   After Latinos voted 71% for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012, Republican strategists sought to find ways to attract this group to the Grand Old Party.  The House, however, has already abandoned this strategy to appeal to “a dwindling base of anti-immigrant Republican primary voters,” according to Ana Avendano of the AFL-CIO.  She also called the amendment “not only abhorrent policy but suicidal politics.”

I encourage every AILA member to call or write your Congressional member (especially those who voted for this amendment), and tell them a story of a DACA applicant and DREAMer.  Have your DACAmented clients call or write to Congress.  Have the friends and family of your DACA clients call Congress.  Then organize a watching party for The Dream is Now documentary (but bring plenty of tissues – it is a tear jerker).

Together, we CAN make a difference in the lives of over 1.4 million DREAMers, as well as their parents and family members, by urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  The time is now.  Si se puede!

Written by Karol Brown, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

The Many Benefits of Immigration Reform

It is faith-restoring to see that, despite Congress’ historic partisan divide, bipartisan leaders can put fear aside and do what is in the nation’s best interest.  The sweeping Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”) bill, S.744, the brainchild of the politically courageous bipartisan “Gang of Eight”, in which Senator Marco Rubio is a key player, was recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now heading to the Senate floor.

Godspeed, I say, as CIR is GOOD for America and particularly GOOD for Florida.  This not just a liberal talking point, but rather the reasoned conclusion of a significant number of conservative, liberal and nonpartisan research organizations.

So, why is an overhaul of our hopelessly antiquated, broken and fundamentally flawed immigration system good for us?  Here is why:

Research shows that the overall effect of CIR, including legalizing undocumented immigrants, would provide a substantial economic boost to the U.S. economy.  According to Credit Suisse, the economic gains of immigration reform far outweigh the potential costs, by providing a $1.5 trillion benefit to the GDP over ten years, along with a $66 billion boost in federal tax collection.  This conclusion was just echoed in a letter to Congress from the American Action Forum, signed by 111 economists, which states: “Immigration reform’s positive impact on population growth, labor force growth, housing, and other markets will lead to more rapid economic growth.  This, in turn, translates into a positive impact on the Federal budget”.

According to a Center for American Progress study, the benefits of legalizing Florida’s undocumented population over a ten year period would be a cumulative increase in Gross State Product of $55,300,300,000 and the creation of some 8,000 new jobs.

The wages of native born U.S. workers will also increase as a result of legalizing undocumented immigrants because the “wage floor” will rise for all workers, particularly in industries where large numbers of easily exploited, low-wage, unauthorized immigrants currently work.  According to a report by the American Immigration Council, U.S. workers would experience total income gains of over $30 billion per year.

The U.S. economy will benefit from S.744′s provisions which will assist more entrepreneurs, business investors and foreign nationals who earn advanced degrees in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) to immigrate here.  In the last decade, high tech professional immigrants have made extraordinary contributions to our country, including establishing almost one quarter of Silicon Valley firms.  These highly educated individuals are those who may have the “next great idea”.  Such reform would give a boost to Orlando, one of the fastest-growing high tech centers in the nation.

The reform provisions in S.744 relating to agricultural workers and lesser-skilled workers in short supply in the United States will greatly assist in creating a work force that contributes to our economic security by providing U.S. employers with access to workers with the specific skills necessary to strengthen the economy.  Our current ability to bring in foreign workers representing a range of skill levels is extremely limited and outdated.  In Florida, where agriculture, tourism and construction drive our economy, having a reliable and legal workforce is essential.

Immigration reform is good for families.  Our current system has caused families to be kept or sometimes ripped apart.  Family members wait abroad for sometimes decades waiting for their turn in the queue.  Undocumented parents are being deported and thereby separated from American-born children and spouses.  Young undocumented people are being sent back to the countries they were born in after being raised in the United States.  CIR will put an end to much of this needless suffering.  This is especially important in our State, where approximately 20% of our population is foreign-born.

Lastly, but most importantly, immigration reform is good for America as it is consistent with who we are as a people.  We are a country founded upon principles of hope, inclusion and opportunity for anyone willing to work hard for it.  We must not allow fear mongering, a distortion of the facts and xenophobia to defeat this exceptional opportunity for immigration reform.  Such reform is not only good for those foreign-born persons who directly benefit from it, but good for us all.

Written by Deborah J. Townsend, Advocacy Chair/Co-Chair, Central Florida Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Immigration Reform and Making a Workable H-1B Program

It has been stated frequently over the past few years that the global competiveness of the United States depends in substantial measure on our ability to attract and retain the best talent internationally. This includes keeping the foreign students who have been educated in U.S. universities.

According to a report by Deloitte University Press published this month, we may be losing this talent to other countries. The report provides a survey which indicates that in 2010 we were eighth in the world in the percentage of highly educated individuals among foreign born populations.  Among the countries with higher percentages are Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.  We are competing for badly needed innovative talent which is important to our economy if we are to maintain our position as the world’s leading nation.

Many of these foreign nationals work here under H-1B visas.  The truth is that for the most part, the skills these workers bring to our economy augment rather than compete with the skills of U.S. professionals.

While the promise of increased H-1B numbers in the Senate’s immigration reform bill, S. 744, is positive, some of the restrictive provisions would render the increased numbers ultimately ineffective in obtaining the talent that we need.  For example, an amended required wage structure would require unrealistic salary levels for talented, entry level graduates of U.S. schools.  A distorted wage system, which will create an inflated rather than prevailing wage, would put businesses in a difficult position of paying foreign workers more than their U.S. worker counterparts. Another provision, adding to yet more bureaucracy, is a proposed recruitment process to be designed by the Department of Labor.

The H-1B visa has been grossly misrepresented in some quarters as being a program which takes jobs from U.S. workers.  The truth is that foreign talent, especially those educated in our country’s graduate programs, only enhance the job prospects of Americans.  Much has been documented about these job creators.  According to an October 2012 report by the Kaufman Foundation, twenty four percent of engineering and technology companies founded between 2006 and 2012 has at least one foreign born founder.  This figure rises to 43.9% when the survey is limited to the Silicon Valley.  In 2012, these companies were responsible for approximately 560,000 jobs and $63 billion in sales.

In reality, if we want to continue as a leader in this competitive, global economy, we need to facilitate rather than inhibit visas for the talented foreign born who want to build their careers and lives in the U.S.  Many educators legitimately say that we need to examine revamping the U.S. primary and secondary educational system to include some of these skills.  But we can’t wait for our domestic population to provide us with enough of these needed workers if we want to maintain our global competitiveness.

We badly need a comprehensive immigration reform package to provide a path for the 11 million paperless immigrants, secure our borders and provide a reasonable temporary worker program for lesser skilled workers. But it would be a tragedy if this package created unworkable and unnecessary burdens on the ability of the U.S. to provide visas to essential global talent.

Written by Deborah J. Notkin, Chair, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee


The Importance of the Human Stories Behind Immigration

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 (

Written by Dagmar Butte, Member, AILA Board of Governors

Politics of immigration: A style change or attitude change?

Last week the Associated Press (AP) changed its style manual so that the term “Illegal” is to be used to describe an action or procedure, but not a person.  No more “illegal immigrant” in AP stories.

News organizations have debated the use of the term “illegal immigrant” before because it provokes such a strong negative reaction from many people.  “No person is illegal” has been a popular sign and bumper sticker since the push for immigration reform started in earnest in 2005.

The problem has been what to use instead?  Some prefer “undocumented immigrant” but this term provokes an equally negative reaction in others that say it is disingenuous and suggests that no law has been broken.  Still others have pushed for “unauthorized immigrant” as a compromise that refers to the administrative nature of most immigration rules.

AP came to its decision from a different angle.  After talking with advocates for those with mental illness, they learned that people preferred to be referred to as “diagnosed with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic”, for example.

Following this reasoning, they realized what immigration advocates had been saying:  Labeling people objectifies them.  We don’t care very much about objects (that don’t have feelings or relationships).  The genocide in Rwanda, for instance, gained momentum when members of one tribe starting publicly referring to members of the other as “cockroaches”.

“Illegal immigrant” is also less accurate.  For example, a news story about a person not legally present in the U.S. that is hoping the law will change and allow him to stay would invoke a different reaction if the person is a 20-year-old that has been here since he was 2 than if it was a 50-year-old that came here last year on a visitor visa and refused to leave.  Defaulting to the term “Illegal immigrant” does not tell the whole story.

The question for immigration reform is whether AP’s decision is a style change only, or if it signals (or will facilitate) a broader attitude change that will lead to honest debate and problem solving.  Here’s hoping.

Written by Lori Chesser, Vice Chair, USCIS Benefits Policy Liaison Committee

The Need For A Realistic Pathway to Citizenship

We are witnessing the most robust debate in more than a generation on how to reform our antiquated immigration laws to meet the demands of our twenty-first century economic and security needs. In coming up with a broad framework for this comprehensive legislation, we must stand firm against ideologies that do not serve our national interests.

To provide true reform, there must not only be a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, but such a pathway must be free of any unnecessary obstacles, such as getting stuck in a newly created “status” for undocumented individuals before being eligible to receive legal permanent status which is counterproductive. Clearly our government must be able to conduct background checks to weed out criminals, but once that is done, the next logical step is permanent residency which in turn must give way to full citizenship. Under current law, this waiting period is usually five years. Anything short of this will result in failure.

We have already experimented with laws that provide less than full citizenship to foreign workers. The “bracero” program of the late ‘50s recruited a record number of laborers from Mexico. Just through El Paso alone, over 80,000 braceros arrived in Texas on an annual basis. Within a few short years however, the program failed. By 1964, there had been numerous reports of underpaid, overworked, harassed workers which led the officials at the U.S. Department of Labor to refer to the program as “legalized slavery.”

Another example of such failed policy occurred in “post-war” Germany. According to the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, approximately 3 million Turkish immigrants living in Germany who were unable to achieve full German citizenship are now less effectively integrated than other immigrant groups, and thus are more likely to be poorly educated, underpaid, and unemployed. In contrast, according to Sara Silvestri, a social scientist at the University of Cambridge, in the U.K. where full citizenship was granted to all qualified immigrants, Turks adapted to the British lifestyle, became fluent in English, and became involved in civil society.

The Germans learned from their mistake and over a decade ago reformed their immigration laws and provided full citizenship to their qualified migrant workers. I pray that our politicians also learn from past missteps and avoid marginalizing over 10 million individuals by only offering them an effectively permanent second class status in America.

Full citizenship is an honor and a tradition that must not be denied to any qualified immigrant in our country. Qualifications for becoming a citizen must be rooted in our heritage as a nation of immigrants and not in some newly designed artificial scheme being concocted by the restrictionists. Specifically, applicants must be able to pass a civics and history test, as well as show proficiency in English and show good moral character. Learning about our nation’s history and form of government is a vitally important way to encourage them to participate in our democracy, not a means for punishment.

As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: “We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe.”

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Public Service Announcement: Scammers are lying about immigration reform. Please do your part and share facts and information with your community.

If you are reading this column, it is probably not written for you.  It is written for your friends, relatives or neighbors that may not fully understand what has happened, what has not happened and what may happen this year with immigration reform.  For those reasons, I write this with only one request of you: please spread the word to people that do not fully understand what is going on.  They could be easy victims for scammers who want to take advantage of this confusing and exciting time.

I have personally received calls the past few weeks about the “new law” or “nueva ley” that is in effect in immigration.  Some reports are that people are already charging for services based on a legalization program or “amnesty.” NO SUCH PROGRAM exists at this time.  So, below I separate out fact from fiction to help make sure people are not taken advantage of.  You should know what has occurred and what has not occurred during the past several months and make sure to share this with others.

What has really happened:

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): This allows some qualified individuals to apply for a work permit based on their physical presence in the United States, age and other factors.  IMPORTANT: There is no deadline for filing for DACA, as some have been hearing.  Also, there is no official processing time being provided by the Department of Homeland Security.  However, many applications are now taking close to six months to process.
  • Provisional (Stateside) Waivers: This is not a legalization program but is instead a process that allows some individuals who are immediate relatives (certain spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens) to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while they are waiting in the United States.  Currently the regulation only applies to a narrow group of people and does not go into effect until March 4, 2013.  Therefore, if you may think you or a relative qualifies you should do some research now, before going further with any applications.

What has not happened:

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform: This has not happened yet, and it is going to be months before we have any idea of whether it will happen.  We don’t know what this law, if passed, will look like and who it will help.  No one should pay a deposit for work regarding a law that does not yet and may never exist.  Don’t let someone scam your friends, family, or members of your community.

Whenever there is media interest and talk about some sort of immigration reform there tends to be a lot of confusion about it and the process.  There are also, unfortunately, individuals who are already trying to take advantage of this confusion like scammers, notarios, and others.  So it is very important that you learn more about what is really happening with immigration reform and update your friends, relatives and neighbors who may not fully understand what is going on or have access to a computer.

Make sure to stay updated with any breaking news through websites such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other organizations that provide up-to-date and accurate information.

Written by Maurice Goldman, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee