Author Archive

Where’s that Finish Line?

After what seemed like a whirlwind of action in the Senate with hundreds of amendments in committee and then hundreds more filed during the floor debate, we ended up with a bill passed at the end of June.  Great timing of course because that still left a good month for the House to crank into high gear and get something passed that could then be conferenced with the Senate legislation in the fall.

And yet, here we sit with a few short work days left before the House breaks for their August recess and we have yet to see any bill come to the floor.  Now, that is actually good news in at least one way, because frankly, the five bills that have passed out of committee in the House are a mixed bag at best with one in particular that I think we all pretty much love to hate: the SAFE Act.

So, if I had to choose between the SAFE Act (or Sensenbrenner Returns) being the vehicle that is used to conference with the Senate bill and inaction, I guess I’d choose inaction.

But still, I know that many of us are champing at the bit here, wanting to push for immigration reform, wanting the next step to happen, to reach the next goal post and being disappointed when House Leadership doesn’t seem to feel the same sense of urgency.

Now we have Speaker Boehner refusing to say whether a path to citizenship might be in a House bill, Minority Leader Pelosi has said maybe a piecemeal approach would be okay if it gets them to conference with the Senate, and then some Democrats are saying that immigration reform won’t even pass in 2014 because of how tough it would be to get it done in an election year.

The question is, do we sit back and take this as gospel or do we do everything that we can to push the House to real action?

I vote for taking action.  I vote for calling our Representatives (202-224-3121) and telling them we need real, comprehensive reform now and not later.  I vote for doing district visits during the August recess and telling staff and Congressional Members about the people in their communities that are being affected, right now, by their lack of action.  I vote for responding to attacks on immigration reform in my paper by sending in Letters to the Editor and Opinion pieces and reaching out to reporters who may be confused about what’s what in immigration law.

If we, along with other community members and stakeholders, refuse to do nothing and make our voices and the voices of our clients heard, I firmly believe we can make a difference.

The Secretary Stakes

I admit to a considerable amount of surprise at Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s announcement that she’d be leaving DHS for the University of California system.  I’ve read all kinds of news stories about how DHS Secretary is a thankless job where one gets the blame when things go wrong (and they always do in one way or another) and no credit when things go right.

Ok, I’ll buy a lot of that.  But this is also a job where the department you head up has a huge impact on the lives of the entire populace of the U.S. as well as a large portion of the rest of the world.  No pressure, future Secretary, but let’s look at the three biggest areas you’d oversee just on immigration (leaving out the myriad other areas of responsibility you have):

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “promotes homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.”

Customs and Border Protection (CBP): “is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.”

I can’t think of another cabinet member that has this much impact on such disparate groups and stakeholders, and again, this is just the immigration related “stuff” you have to handle.

So, who is on the short-list?  According to a couple of articles in the Washington Post, here are some of the more interesting (to me) possibilities:

Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to serve as DHS deputy secretary; Kamala Harris, California Attorney General; David Heyman, DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy; Joe Lieberman, former independent senator from Connecticut; Tony West, Acting Associate Attorney General of the U.S.; Ray Kelly, New York City police commissioner; Jane Harman, former Democratic congresswoman from California; Jane Holl Lute, former DHS Deputy Secretary; Rand Beers, Acting DHS Deputy Secretary; Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington; Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

In recent years, the Secretary has had the honor of presiding over some pretty positive changes in immigration (provisional waivers and DOMA come to mind) as well as overseeing the highest level of deportations ever.  What will come up during the next Secretary’s tenure?  Well, my fingers are crossed that it will start with a C and end with an R.  CIR!

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

After the House Republican Conference met this afternoon to discuss immigration reform plans, I held out hope that the Leadership of my party would see the light. (Yes, I’m an immigration lawyer and a Republican, there are actually quite a few of us out there.) Instead they’ve turned away from what needs to be done and seemingly plan to ignore the hard work of their Republican colleagues in the Senate and House, dismiss the pleas from conservative leadership in the US Chamber, reject the calls for help from small businesses, and essentially destroy the possibility of real reform this year.

How are they going to do that you ask?  They are intent on not taking up the bipartisan compromise Senate bill that was backed by a super majority of the Senate, including 14 Republicans.  They refuse to consider comprehensive immigration reform at all, choosing to push forward on a few individual pieces of incomplete and, in some cases, outright dangerous legislation that would cause economic havoc (SAFE Act anyone?).  And while the stalwart group of seven bipartisan House members has been trying to finalize a comprehensive bill in time, with the summer recess fast approaching, and no commitment by Speaker Boehner to take up the legislation if it is introduced, time is passing swiftly.

Despite the public support, the rallies, the voter polls, the stories of human impact and families, and the supportive quotes they themselves gave after the November elections, I am disappointed to see that real reform doesn’t appear to be the Republican Leadership’s priority.  If it were, they’d take up the Senate bill, see it passed–with some amendments I’m sure–and then send a strong bill to conference committee so the differences between the two chambers could be hashed out.

It’s like that old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  I will continue to beat the drum about the economic benefits of real immigration reform that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported.  I will make visits to my legislators, call, email, write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces.  I will encourage AILA members and stakeholders to do the same.

By sharing powerful examples and taking action, I hope we can give House members from both parties an understanding of why our nation needs balanced, strong, and rational immigration reform.  Make them thirsty to get this important work done.  Make them thirsty enough, and they’ll drink.

 

“I’d Like to Thank the U.S. Senate…”

Seriously, I can’t quite believe it.  The Senate managed to give me a birthday gift, Christmas present, and welcome basket beyond my wildest expectations on the day that I was installed as AILA’s President.  S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” was passed by the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32.

Despite the issues with this bill, and there are a lot of them, let’s be honest, it remains that this bill is a concrete framework with which we can work.  We’re immigration lawyers, and we know that the legislative wording really boils down to real people, their real lives, and real impact.  It’s not a perfect bill, but no compromise measure ever is or will be.  Instead it is a huge step forward on the road to immigration reform that will make a difference to millions of people.

So, thank you to the U.S. Senate, all the hours of work the staff of the “Gang of Eight” and all the Senators, who put this bill together.  Thank you to the stakeholders, the groups and organizations that offered analysis and advice, including our own AILA National staff who all worked however possible to highlight ways to make the bill better.  Thank you to all the AILA members who called their Senators, talked to staff, encouraged clients to share stories, or contacted the media to support real reform.

But most of all, thank you to the immigrants, those documented and undocumented, family and friends, siblings and strangers, who made the case in their communities.  Our nation is not just a nation of immigrants, it is a nation of communities and the sheer power of a multitude of communities coming together has been proven again.

There’s a long road ahead, and it leads right through the House of Representatives, and I can tell you right now there are people who are saying immigration reform is already dead because of what the House leadership has said they will and won’t do.  But we need to call again on the communities that we have built, we need to get out there and be heard.  We need to make the case in every Congressional district, in every state, all across the nation. We’re closer now, than we have ever been.  Our country needs real immigration reform and I ask all of you to fight for it with me.

Senator Leahy’s Refreshing Amendment Policy

Listen carefully.  That ‘click’ ‘click’ ‘click’ sound you hear isn’t your clock.  Around the country, and potentially around the world, immigration advocates and restrictionists alike are hitting the “refresh” button over and over and over again on a Senate Judiciary Committee website.  Why? What’s so special about this website?

This website isn’t just special, it is extraordinary.  It is unique in the history of immigration reform.  It is the fulfillment of a promise by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who has told his fellow Judiciary Committee members that all proposed amendments to S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” must be filed by 5p.m. today and will be posted publicly on this website: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/legislation/immigration/amendments.cfm

‘Click’ ‘click’ ‘click…we’re waiting.  We’re waiting to see what amendments will be offered by the 18 members of the committee.

We know already there will be a sponsors’ amendment, which would replace the current bill with an 867 page corrected version that fixes some errors and typos, and clarifies some things that caused confusion in the original 844 page bill.  The sponsors’ amendment is the equivalent of a shoe-in (see AILA’s updated section-by-section analysis showing the changes here: http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=44283)

‘Click’

Senator Leahy himself has posted an amendment: it would prohibit the establishment of a border crossing fee at land borders for pedestrians or passenger vehicles.

‘Click’

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) has posted four amendments thus far.

‘Click”

So far, nothing else has been posted.  But because of Chairman Leahy’s leadership, we know where we’ll be looking, and for the first time the American public is guaranteed the chance to review the proposed amendments before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins the markup process later this week.  That is a win for a transparent government, reflecting the values on which our country was built.

‘Click’

We’re waiting.  We’re watching.

Immigration Rally in Washington, DC: Marching for Change

On Wednesday, April 10, just the day before AILA’s National Day of Action kicked off in Washington, DC, tens of thousands of protesters marched on the Capitol in support of immigration reform.  Advocates came by foot, car, bus, train, and plane from all over the country.  They held signs telling their stories, or the stories of those dear to them, as they called on Congress to make real change happen this time.

Political momentum seems to be in favor of a bipartisan immigration reform agreement, with the Gang of Eight continuing their work and expected to release a bill perhaps as early as next Tuesday that will offer a path to legalization for the undocumented, and hopefully an overhaul of the patchwork of dysfunctional immigration policies that make up our legal immigration “system” as well.  I’ve been working in immigration law for over 30 years.  I lived through the hope and dismay of 2006, 2007 and 2010.  Amid this march and all the echo events across the country, with the polls and the politicians seemingly lining up in favor of reform, I feel more encouraged than ever.

Reform seems to be within reach. It’s clearly different this time. You can almost feel it in the air.  A newfound courage by key Congressional leadership from both sides of the aisle, being cheered on by Evangelicals in the South, business and trade organization leaders in our financial hubs and industrial cities, moms and dads throughout America’s heartland, all rallying together and recognizing that we can no longer be indifferent.

For those of you who want to have your say, tools to reach out to media are available on InfoNet which I encourage all of you to personalize and use to share the real impact of immigration reform and what it can mean for families, the economy, and our nation.  Photos from the rally are also posted on AILA’s Facebook page.

Washington, D.C. itself seemed to welcome the marchers with gorgeous early summertime weather and blossoming trees.  Let’s hope Congress listens to its leadership and also welcomes the voices of immigrants and their champions and shows us all what good policy looks like.

Prosecutorial Discretion for the Families of Deferred Action Recipients

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I think I’m doing what most Americans do this time of year – I’m counting my blessings.  I have so much to be thankful for – both in my personal life as well as my professional life.  In my professional life, I find myself extremely thankful for several new policies implemented by the Obama Administration the past year and a half in terms of prosecutorial discretion and now with DACA.  I’m thankful for the change in our Administration’s attitude about certain foreign nationals in this country.  I’m so excited that they see things the way I do:  Use the limited resources to target those individuals who would cause harm in our communities.

So, I almost hate writing this blog.  I don’t want to come across as the ungrateful. Sometimes, however, more only makes sense.  So, as I write this blog, please keep in mind that I am indeed thankful for what I have, but at the same time, I think our clients deserve more.

We’ve seen the approval numbers for DACA rising.  The latest update from USCIS shows that over 308,000 requests have been received and over 53,000 have been approved.

USCIS is getting an average of 4,827 requests a day.  They are approving requests from valedictorians, from nursing students, and from potential entrepreneurs.  There are thousands of young people who are already benefiting from DACA and many of them received that work permit because of help AILA members offered: help given through clinics, workshops, outreach, and individual attention.

What we can’t forget is that each of these applicants may have one or more family members that remain afraid and unable to work legally, or worse, are in deportation proceedings.  Many of our DACA clients are minors.  What is DACA worth if their primary caregivers – their undocumented parents – find themselves in deportation proceedings? While DACA is a good step forward, it unfortunately still leaves many out in the cold without recourse.

So why can’t the Obama Administration offer Prosecutorial Discretion (PD) to parents and family members of those granted deferred action under the new policy so that families can remain together? If a more humane immigration system is the goal, and targeted enforcement is the method that DHS is using, then offering PD to family members is a no-brainer.  They’ve already stated that tearing families apart isn’t in our country’s interest.

Think about it.  Current law and regulations already protect family members in other instances like U visas, VAWA cases, and even asylum.  So offering PD to family members of DACA recipients isn’t too far out of line with current policy in keeping families together.

For example, I have a case where USCIS denied adjustment applications for the beneficiary and family of an approved I-140 filed in April 2001.  Unfortunately, they filed their I-485 applications thinking they were 245(i) eligible, but they were not because they were not in the United States in December 2000. USCIS issued NTAs with the denial for the principal applicant, his wife, and a minor child.  ICE filed the NTAs with the Immigration Court in August of this year.  While I know I can protect the minor child under DACA, what am I going to do for his parents?  It should be a no brainer Prosecutorial Discretion case, but ICE statistics show only about 9% of cases have been deemed eligible for administrative closure under PD memos.  I’m stressed for my client because we don’t know what ICE is going to do.

So as I sit here and count my blessings this Thanksgiving, I can’t help but start writing my Christmas list.  Trust me, there are tons of things as far as immigration policy and law I would love to see next year, but if Congress can’t put those things into play, I’m asking for at least some form of PD for those family members of DACA recipients to keep in line with the current policy in keeping family members together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Violent Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric: “It Will Kill You – Warning.”

Last January, Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona during a public meeting with constituents. In the wake of the shooting, the media began a national dialogue about how violent political rhetoric can spark actual violence.

After reading about GOP front-runner Herman Cain’s immigration “policy,” I think it’s time we have that discussion again. In a campaign speech last weekend in Tennessee, Cain proposed an electric fence running the length of the U.S. Mexico border with a voltage strong enough to kill anyone who attempts to cross. “It’s going to be 20 feet high,” he said. “It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying ‘It will kill you – Warning.’” Cain also proposed positioning military troops along the border “with real guns and real bullets.” According to press reports, the audience cheered loudly.

Cain’s remarks, and the audience’s cheers, are a pretty accurate illustration of how vitriolic and hate-filled our country’s immigration debate has become. Essentially, Cain is calling for the death penalty for illegal border crossing. Illegal crossing, for first time offenders, is only a misdemeanor under federal law.

Unfortunately, we’ve heard worse. Like Kansas State Representative Virgil Peck Jr.’s comments that “If shooting . . . immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a solution to our illegal immigration problem.” And Representative Mo Brooks’ (R. AL) comment that he would do “anything short of shooting” illegal immigrants to keep them out of the country. And Alabama State Senator Scott Beason’s comment that it’s time to “empty the clip” when dealing with illegal immigration.

In the days following the attack against Representative Giffords, Sarah Palin was criticized for using similar gun rhetoric like “don’t retreat…reload,” in her campaign materials. While the American public ultimately disagreed on whether violent rhetoric incited the attack against Giffords, there was at least some discussion of the idea that language has consequences.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that violent anti-immigrant rhetoric has life-threatening consequences for immigrants – both legal and illegal, since vigilantes don’t often ask to see papers. The FBI reported that hate crimes against Latinos and Latinas increased by forty percent between 2003 and 2007, the period when political candidates became especially vocal about anti-immigration platforms.

An article in yesterday’s Huffington Post points out some of the most egregious examples. It describes the attack against Alex and Jose Cauich, Mexican nationals who were assaulted outside a bar in San Francisco while their attackers yelled “run like you ran across the border.”

The article also points out that non-immigrants of Mexican descent are being targeted, too. Juan Varela, nine year-old Brisenia Flores and her father were all murdered by anti-immigrant extremists, and all three were American-born U.S. citizens.

The sentiment is spreading to schools, and last week, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez reported seeing an increase of anti-immigrant bullying in Alabama schools.

Border protection and immigration reform are hot-button issues, and I’m sure we’ll hear much more from the campaign trial. But there’s a difference between policies (and politicians) that treat immigrants as problems and policies that treat them as people. GOP candidate Rick Perry, made this point when he called for an “intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform.” Perry, who has been the governor of a border state for more than a decade, has proposed a technological approach, using border cameras and Predator drones to send information to local law enforcement.

We need solutions like those Perry has proposed, and we certainly need reform. But most of all, we need a civil dialogue. If the tone of debate continues to devolve into gun rhetoric, death threats, and calls for violence, these speeches may warrant the same warning sign as Cain’s electric fence.

A Conservative’s Memo to GOP Presidential Candidates

To: Rick Perry (and any other Republican Candidate that wants to win in 2012)
Re: Proudly Support Immigration Reform Because It Will Put Americans Back To Work

As an immigration advocate and proud conservative who resides in Oklahoma City, a place that even Sarah Palin would agree is smack in the middle of  the “Real America,” I offer the following unsolicited memo to Gov. Rick Perry (the current front runner), and any other Republican candidate who wants to get elected in 2012.

Right or wrong there is an undeniable perception out there that conservative doctrine, particularly as espoused by the Republican Party, is anti-immigration. And, unfortunately, there is good reason for that.  Just listen to the Republican Candidates when they debate the issue. Either they display shocking cluelessness or articulate their immigration positions with an alarming pandering to the extreme right. If I were to summarize the two most recent Republican debates, in particular the CNN Tea Party Debate, it would be limited to blabber about fences and boots on the ground.  Unfortunately, there has been almost no thoughtful discussion about solutions to the broken immigration system.

In fact, to the contrary, the Republican candidates seem to view a record on immigration as a serious political liability. They are using the immigration issue to attack front runner Governor Rick Perry in an attempt to derail his candidacy by vilifying him for his previous support of a temporary worker program and granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented students. Perry’s critics lament his position that we should secure our borders before burdening all U.S. employers with a problem laden E-Verify system. This strategy of rebuking our own for supporting reasonable immigration reform is short-sighted, economically foolish, and potentially disastrous for the future of the G.O.P.  President George W. Bush captured 40% of the Hispanic vote to win the White House and in 2012 that number will undoubtedly need to be higher for Republican success.

The upcoming  election will be about putting Americans back to work.  And because of that, the conventional political wisdom will be that now is not the time to fix the immigration system, including  creating a pathway to lawful compliance for the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

It might be easy to package that logic into a sound bite, but it’s not true. All credible studies show—from conservative, centrist, and more liberal think tanks alike—that immigration reform will boost our GDP by millions of dollars, increase America’s revenue, and, most importantly, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work.

And this is hardly a revolutionary idea. No less a conservative than Ronald Reagan understood that America’s economic strength depends, in no small way, on an outward looking immigration policy that rewards the independent, hard working spirit that made this nation the greatest on earth. In his farewell to the nation, Reagan described his vision of America as the “shining city on the hill,” where “the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

Reducing an issue as tough and complex as immigration reform to a sound bite about border security or boots on the ground carries grave political danger for the future of the G.O.P. The past several national elections have clearly demonstrated that Latino voters have become a force to be reckoned with. And while immigration reform is hardly the only issue important to Latino voters, a candidate who disparages undocumented workers does so at his or her peril.

In short, I strongly recommend the Republican presidential hopefuls follow Gov. Perry’s example and take a hard look at the immigration issue. Articulated correctly, and with vision, it is a ticket to political success because a functional, fair, and safe immigration policy will not only put Americans back to work, but it’s the right thing to do. As for Rick Perry, my advice to him is that he wear his immigration record as a badge of honor, not something to hide from.

 

It’s Time to Engage the Hate Mongers!

Just a couple days following my election to AILA National Secretary, I received a phone call from a good friend directing me to a website for an organization describing itself as a champion of American values. After a cursory review, it was obvious the entity was composed of immigrant bashers blaming Hispanics for everything from a depressed housing market to global warming. The site had a vast archive of articles, each ranting about the demise of America because of the “Mexican Invasion.” (Guess someone forgot to tell these people Mexico was already part of America.)

Scrolling down the pages, I noticed a reference to my election from a press release posted on the site. Below were numerous threats and comments describing me as a traitorous, idiotic socialist apparently leading an effort aimed at making Mexico City the next US Capitol. My mother would have been proud – her son right up there with the Anti-Christ. Not bad for a cowboy boot wearing redneck Baptist Republican from Oklahoma City.

I found similar references on other sites and discovered that our AILA President, a fellow conservative Republican, was also the target of several mischaracterizations. I thought, who were these people and why did they hate me? I have never published my views on border policy, enforcement, and quotas. I next reviewed nearly a dozen of these anti-immigrant websites. It didn’t take long to realize these groups not only hate me; they hate you; they hate their neighbors; and they probably hate each other.

It’s obvious that the culture of hate is thriving in our country, but just how bad is it? The Spring 2009 Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) gives us a clue. http://www.splcenter.org/intl/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=1027. The report, titled, “The Year in Hate” identifies immigration as a focus point for these groups. The report concluded that there were “926 hate groups active in the U.S., up more than 4% from 888 in 2007. That’s more than a 50% increase since 2000, when there were 602 groups.”

SPLC’s Intelligence Project, originally called Klan watch, was created in 1981 to gather information on the Klan but has now evolved into an effort to monitor domestic hate crimes and hate groups throughout the nation. The SPLC Intelligence Project is recognized as an acknowledged expert on U.S. hate activity.

These hate groups seem to be everywhere, many hiding behind the electronic mask of the internet, not subject to complete discovery by the hate trackers. One thing is certain, the anti-immigration movement has become a foundation for the existence of these extremist and white supremacist groups.

For an interesting read on what SPLC has to say about the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), go to http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2007/12/11/fair-crossing-the-rubicon-of-hate&splcnewsletter;=panewsgen-121107/.

There are also those who spew venomous attacks on immigration advocates in comment and discussion sections following internet media stories. While we certainly guarantee the right to free speech in this country, it’s often difficult to distinguish between their hate messages and legal extremist opinions. They live on the edge of illegality, they are loud and they are being heard.

I previously believed we could eradicate hate through education. Unfortunately, even some of the educated are falling prey to the message of the hate mongers. I am now convinced we must be more vocal and louder than those with twisted minds. We need to post our messages of tolerance, loyalty and compassion to this country and the principles upon which it was founded. We need to blog, publish and be heard. It’s time for each of us to engage the hate.

T. Douglas Stump