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Turning Our Backs on Our Own History

shutterstock_151907147The humanitarian crisis involving the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors at our borders has brought out diverse opinions within our government and country.  Some politicians would like to send these minors back to Guatemala on a bus.  Before we become too critical about the future of these voiceless children, let’s not forget about our country’s history regarding unaccompanied minors.

The influx of unaccompanied minors is not a new phenomenon. Our great country has always opened its arms to needy children during humanitarian crisis.  During World War II, Jewish families sought safe haven for their children escaping the death camps of Hitler and the Nazis. Prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, Jewish parents sent their children in small groups (roughly a dozen at a time) to the United States based on pre-existing country quotas. After 1941, when the United States became more aware of the brutality of the Nazi regime, unaccompanied children were brought in larger numbers. During their voyage to the United States, dedicated women acted as chaperones on the ships that brought the children to our country.  Upon reaching the United States, the unaccompanied children went to Jewish foster homes. Although some of the children were reunited in America with the parents and siblings they left behind in Europe, most became the only surviving members of their families. This effort became to be known as the One Thousand Children.  Other countries also participated in this endeavor.

Between 1960-62, over 14,000 Cuban children were sent to the United States unaccompanied to escape the oppressive Castro Regime.  Known as Operation Peter Pan (Pedro Pan), the program was created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami in December 1960 at the request of parents in Cuba to provide an opportunity for them to send their children to Miami to avoid Marxist-Leninist indoctrination. Approximately half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau. The unaccompanied children from the Cuban Refugee Children’s Program were placed in temporary shelters in Miami, and relocated in 30 States.

In 1975, during the end of Vietnam War, unaccompanied children were evacuated from Vietnam during “Operation Babylift” before the fall of Saigon.  During the war, thousands of babies were born and abandoned, many of them the mixed-race sons and daughters of American GIs.  Operation Babylift sent these children to various countries, mostly the United States.  According to Miriam Vieni, a US social worker and adoptive parent, “the ‘Baby Lift’ was a way of removing them from a dangerous situation without the usual processing…”.

Central American countries suffered greatly through years of unrest and violence during their civil wars.  The United States involvement in these civil wars is no secret.  Thousands of people were displaced and many came to the United States.  Children who suffered immense psychological damage grew up in the inner city and were exposed to the United States gang culture.  Years later, many Central American youth in the United States fell prey to the culture of gangs.  In 2006, ICE’s “Operation Return to Sender” arrested and removed thousands of gang members repatriating them to their Central American homelands.  The result was that the unique American gang culture infested the Central American countries.  International criminal organizations were established and have ruled over these countries, driving many people to flee, including the children, to avoid being recruited by the criminal gangs.

Since 2009, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have collectively seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications from the same three countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Many others have fled to the United States where numbers that were steadily growing over several years have now surged in the last few months.  While there may be various reasons why parents are sending their children out of the country, or where parents aren’t present, the children themselves are choosing to flee, the Congressional testimony of Bishop Mark Seitz reflects that violence in the country of origin is the “overwhelming factor” pushing children to flee their country.

It is important to note under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress transferred the care and custody of unaccompanied minors to Health and Human Services (HHS) from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to move towards a child welfare-based-model of care for children and away from the adult detention model. In the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which expanded and redefined HHS’s statutory responsibilities, Congress directed that unaccompanied minors must “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”

Under these laws, unaccompanied minors that are not from Mexico or Canada must be detained, processed, interviewed, and some information collected.  The intent of these laws is to protect children from human trafficking abuses and ensure their due process rights are respected.  These unaccompanied children are referred to immigration court to present their cases. These laws also provide for the creation of a system of pro bono representation for these children to navigate the labyrinth which is the immigration court system.  Just a few short weeks ago, the current Administration announced the creation of a program that will provide pro bono representation for these children through “justice AmeriCorps” by recruiting 100 attorneys and paralegals.

With this backdrop, the Obama Administration is now seeking funding and assistance to speed up the deportation of these children.  While many in Congress feverishly hammer the notion of the need to follow the rule of law, the concept of expeditious removal of children is unconscionable, especially when our current laws prohibit such action.  Circumventing the law is not the answer.  The care of these children and respect for their due process rights should be paramount. At a time when Congress and the Administration should be working together on commonsense immigration reform, it would be reprehensible if they can only agree on expedited removals of these terrified, voiceless children.

Before we are quick to judge and put these unaccompanied children on a bus, we should stop and consider our legal and moral obligations to this humanitarian crisis.  Moreover, let’s not forget our own country’s history when it comes to the treatment of displaced unaccompanied helpless children.  There is a legal process in place for these situations; we must not forego such protections for political convenience.

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA President-Elect

Three So Far, Who Will Be Next?

shutterstock_144700498Over the past few days, we have seen them stand up for immigration reform.  Representatives Steve Denham (R-CA) ,Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and David Valadao (R-CA) who have already been out in front on the  need for a path to citizenship (Denham even did a YouTube video about it), stepped forward again.  They have announced that they are signing on as co-sponsors of H.R. 15—the bill House Democrats have introduced that is almost identical to S. 744, but instead of the ill-conceived Corker-Hoeven “Border Surge” it contains the McCaul border security provisions.

This is not a crazy, left-wing, liberal Democrat bill.  Trust me, I could describe a host of things in the bill that a lot of people wish were different. Eliminating the 4th Preference Family category and severely limiting the 3rd Preference Family category, border enforcement on steroids, I could go on…

But by co-sponsoring this piece of legislation, these three representatives have made what is fact (that it’s a bipartisan centrist bill) into what could be a new truth for the Republican Party.  This new truth is simple: immigration is not a party-line issue.  The need for immigration reform done right is not something that appeals only to one “side” or the other.  It appeals to those who want to see our country flourish and succeed.

The last poll I saw showed that well over 70% of voters think that a roadmap to citizenship is what our nation needs, what our people deserve, and what lives up to our values of equal rights and fairness.  That’s not just a poll of Democrats.  That’s a poll of Independents and Republicans too.

California groups have also been visiting their representatives to remind them of these important truths. Focusing on Republican members, these bands of families, students, business and faith groups have provided the perspective needed to persuade Congressional members to trust their gut feelings and moral fibers.  Separating the rhetoric from the facts, Congressional Republicans are realizing Immigration Reform is a necessity to enhance our security, and economy, while keeping our family values and sense of fairness intact.

These Republicans took a bold step, but one that is most remarkable to me because it is one that most Republicans in Congress don’t seem to see as possible for them.

Ask your Representatives to take a look at their district, take a look at your state, and take a look at our nation.  Tell them they need to take these Representatives’ example, co-sponsor this bill, and step forward into the future. Ask them not to take a leap of faith, but a leap into the realities of our national needs.  Our economy needs a jump start.  Let the fresh blood of Immigrants be the spark plug to our recovery and the willing partners in our future national endeavors and success.

Will the next willing partner please stand up?

California on Immigration—Great Steps Forward and New Requirements for Immigration Attorneys

shutterstock_89347900Governor Jerry Brown signed several bills last week that will make a huge difference for many immigrants.  “While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” Governor Brown said. “I’m not waiting.”  The bills are mostly positive, but one creates new requirements for AILA members practicing in California.

First, undocumented immigrants in California will be able to obtain driver’s licenses which is great news, not just for immigrants and their families, but also for many law enforcement agencies and insurance companies who supported such a measure for safety and security reasons.  This isn’t likely to be instantaneous; according to reports, the licenses are expected to become available to immigrants no later than January of 2015.  However, there is talk that the licenses could become available as early as late 2014.  They also won’t be just like other licenses, instead they will have a special designation on the front and a caution that the document is not a form of identification at the federal level; a sort of scarlet letter.  California isn’t alone; my state joins ten others that already had similar measures.  But California is the biggest state to pass a bill like this; an estimated 1.4 million drivers are expected to apply for the licenses during the first three years.

Governor Brown also signed the TRUST Act—which will prohibit local law enforcement from detaining immigrants charged with minor crimes in order to let federal authorities know about them for immigration violations.  If an immigrant were charged with a serious offense, then they could be held for 48 hours and transferred to federal authorities for potential deportation.  We’re delighted that Governor Brown signed the TRUST Act, along with bills allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain law licenses and one that criminalizes employers who “induce fear” by threatening exposure of a person’s status as someone who entered the country illegally.  AB 524 prevents employers from using the reporting threat to stop workers from complaining about workplace abuses, unsafe working conditions and wage theft. SB 666 allows an employer’s business license to be suspended or revoked for retaliation against workers based on immigration status.  Governor Brown also vetoed a bill that would have allowed noncitizens to serve as jury members.

So those were all big steps forward for immigrants and advocates.

Governor Brown also signed AB1159, a bill that was of tremendous concern to AILA.  The law’s intention is to protect potential victims of immigration fraud.  At its onset, AB1159 sought to regulate the practice of Immigration Law in California.  AILA raised major concerns about the bill earlier in the summer when the state legislature was taking up the measure, including the fact that some requirements could endanger attorney/client privilege, make it more difficult if not impossible for lawyers to offer pro bono or low cost services, and even prevent lawyers from advising clients on how changes in the law might impact their case or how to prepare for change.

Due to the staunch advocacy led by the California Chapter Chairs, AILA’s Executive Committee, and many AILA members, AILA was able to correct the misguided efforts of the California State Bar and the bill’s authors. After long negotiations, the bill’s author agreed to take out the onerous requirements against Immigration Attorneys, while continuing to tighten requirements against immigration consultants and notarios.

AB 1159 prohibits Immigration Attorneys from entering into contracts relating to Immigration Reform before the law is actually signed into law by the President.  AILA carved out an exception for preparatory and investigatory work, like requesting FOIA’s, background checks, and post-conviction relief.  If money has been collected by an attorney for a law that does not exist, the attorney must refund the money or place it in an attorney/client trust fund.

Additionally, AB 1159 requires all attorneys that enter into contracts relating to an Immigration Reform Bill to inform the client where they can report complaints.  The California State Bar will create the document, translate it into various different languages, and post it on their website.  After reaching this compromise, AILA withdrew its opposition to the bill.

The bill also increased the amount of bond that immigration consultants must carry from $50,000 to $100,000 as of July 1, 2014.  It also prohibits the use of the term “notario,” which has been misconstrued as someone who is qualified to give legal advice.  The bill also provides that a person who violates the ban on the use of the term “notario” is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per day for each violation.

While the bill is far from perfect, AILA remains at the forefront of promoting ethical lawyering and preventing the unauthorized practice of law.  AILA has been advocating against the unauthorized practice of law way before it became politically expedient to do so.  AILA will continue to monitor other state legislatures for similar bills and reach out to legislatures to ensure the best method in which to combat immigration fraud at all levels, including the new fraud frontier – internet notarios or “net-tarios.”


It was a frantic Tuesday with voters lining up in the early morning to cast their votes in another historic election.  Media coverage lit up the screens of homes and businesses across the nation, social media crowded the internet and pundits began their analyses.  By the time night had descended on this great nation, even as some votes were still being counted in Florida, the message was clear: Democrats would return their candidate to the White House for a second term.  It was a bitter pill for Republicans to swallow, even Fox News had a fit of denial, as they continued to scrutinize “the numbers” and began the blame game.

Reports showed that President Barack Obama captured an astounding 71 percent of the Latino vote. That translated to a 44 percentage-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Latino vote–down from Republican shares of 31 percent in 2008, 44 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000. President Obama also picked up 93% of the African American vote and 73% of the Asian American vote.

The message was clear.  Not only do the political parties need to wake up to the changing demographics of our nation, but the nature of the American discourse on immigration must change.  Winning the Latino vote requires consideration of tone, respect, and connection with the community.  Republicans were able to attract Latino voters in the 2004 Presidential election because they showed with their language and tone that they had respect for the Latino community.

Not so in 2012.  Latinos were treated to an onslaught of poisonous and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric by the Republican candidates; from their incessant use of the racially charged slurs like “illegals” to their standard bearer’s opposition to the DREAM Act and support for the inhumane policy of “self-deportation.”

Nor was the hateful rhetoric  limited to the presidential debates.  Congressional Republican candidates, like Steve King, added to the fervor by categorizing immigrants as “animals” and then added insult to injury by claiming he meant his words as a compliment to Latinos and the immigrant community.

In this politically hostile climate Latinos were subject to racial profiling in several states and a rise in hate crimes in their communities.  The effect on Latinos was perhaps best summarized by a Puerto Rican voter inFloridawho answered when asked by a reporter why he voted for President Obama, “Don’t the Republicans know we are listening?”

As the comedic genius, Rodney Dangerfield, repeated throughout his career, we “just don’t get any respect.”  Human nature requires respect as a starting point for any meaningful communication or relationship.  The disrespect exhibited by the anti-immigrant voice in this election cycle was obvious and clear.  No party can expect political support when there is no basic human respect.   If the message of hate is directed at me, why should I support you?

Political candidates need to understand that dehumanizing the undocumented immigrant population  is also offensive to against those who immigrated but are now citizens with the power of the vote.  Simply stated, if you attack the undocumented immigrant population, you inherently attack the documented immigrant’s sister, brother, parents, uncle, aunt, cousin, boyfriend, girlfriend and family.  Statements like, “we support legal immigration, but not illegal immigration,” do not effectively distinguish between legal or non-legal family members or mixed status families.  Latinos do not tell their family members, “We support and love legal family members, but not undocumented ones.”  This runs to the core of the Latino Community.

Nor is it enough to simply learn “Latino Speak,” as suggested by Republican strategist Karl Rove. Understanding Latinos necessarily involves connecting with our community.  That means making sincere efforts to incorporate and interact with the fastest growing minority group in the United States.  Embracing Latino political candidates is a start, but not an end in and of itself.  Understanding, believing and advocating for issues that are important to the Latino community is certainly the right road to travel.  These issues are not Democratic or Republican.  They are American.

Political candidates need to come to terms with the awakening of a political sleeping giant.  Thanks to all the dehumanizing attacks against the immigrant population, this voting population has been rudely awakened, and it will never go back into hibernation.  Latinos have decided to stand up and say in a loud and clear voice “enough is enough! We will no longer be ignored and we will be counted.”

Political parties who alienate the Latino Community do so at their peril.  This likely explains conservative political pundit Sean Hannity’s new found and “evolving” support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Latinos seek a serious and robust debate about all issues of concern to their community and to America as a whole—including comprehensive immigration reform.  But the discussion must be respectful in tone and founded upon a sincere desire to connect with our community.

In the words of Aretha Franklin, political parties need to have a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”  Tone, respect, and connection come before political support.

Who will take it up?  ¿Quien dice yo? We are listening…

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis and Annaluisa Padilla     


Touting the Record

by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Secretary

Yesterday, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano and the director of ICE, John Morton proudly announced they had broken a record—in fiscal year 2010, the Obama Administration deported 392,000 immigrants.  That’s good news for those who claim Obama does not enforce the nation’s dysfunctional immigration laws.  But, statistics and numbers do not tell the entire story.

Everyone agrees that we need to protect the American public.  And the Administration has correctly made removing dangerous criminals a top priority.    Yet, only half of those removed—more than 195,000—were convicted criminals.  And there is no way to know whether they were priority cases—Terrorists and dangerous criminals—or simply folks who had been deported for some long ago youthful indiscretion. The rest of the deportees–197,000 people–had committed no crimes and were otherwise likely law abiding,  hard working folks.  The government’s big statistic leaves me wondering how many of them were mothers and fathers forced to leave American families.

ICE programs like Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), aimed at detaining noncitizen criminals, might look good on paper but don’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny.  Both programs have drawn criticism because they are susceptible to abuse.  Critics argue they lack safeguards against racial profiling or related abuses..  The Administration stated Wednesday that no racial profiling will occur because the Secure Communities program screens everybody who gets fingerprinted regardless of race.  Yet, this claim does not account for the fact that an individual’s immigration history can be checked regardless of whether he or she is ever charged with an offense.  The obvious danger is that an arrest may easily become a pretext for a quick check on a person’s immigration status creating a very real danger that people who look or sound “foreign”– including US citizens – will be subjected to racial profiling.

The CAP program has resulted in Latinos suffering increased rates of arrests for petty offenses.  A report on the CAP program discovered that implementation of the CAP program in Irving, Texas coincided with a spike in the arrests of Latinos for petty crimes.  See Trevor Gardner II and Aarti Kohli, The C.A.P. Effect: Racial Profiling in the ICE Criminal Alien Program (The Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, Sept. 2009). The report concluded that there is compelling evidence that the CAP program “tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.”  The report also noted that ICE is not following the program’s congressional mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.

In Florida the most recent ICE data shows that in Broward and St. Lucie counties over 51 percent of Secure Communities deportations are of non-criminals.  All 67 Florida counties became party to Secure Communities as of June 2010.  See, ICE, Secure Communities: Setting the Record Straight.  In Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 54 percent of deportations are of non-criminals.  In Harris County, Texas, 1,880 of the roughly 8,000 illegal immigrants removed through the program were counted as aggravated felons, about 5,500 had convictions for lesser crimes and 620 had no criminal history.  See Susan Caroll, All Texas counties join ICE immigrant checks. Yet, the Harris County Texas Sheriff failed to mention this at yesterday’s press conference.  In Webb County, Texas, 53 percent of individuals deported pursuant to Secure Communities had no criminal record.  In Maricopa County, Arizona it was 54 percent.  In Pima County, Arizona, it was 51%.  See, ICE, Setting the Record Straight.   Yet, Wednesday’s announcement continues to boast that Secure Communities as a program that successfully targets serious criminal aliens. This is simply not the case.

The bottom line is that Secure Communities has created “insecure communities” where people live in fear and families have been separated due to minor driving violations.  Addressing this concern, the Administration stated in yesterday’s announcement, “unfortunately families do get separated in the immigration process.”  What about America’s commitment to “family values”?  Where is the humanity in this process? Numbers and statistics do not tell the whole story.

Some communities have requested to opt-out of the Secure Communities program to maintain their strong relationships with the community.  In a recent letter Secretary Napolitano assured Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren that a community not wishing to participate in the Secure Communities program could opt out. Yet, in Wednesday’s announcement Secretary Napolitano stated, “we do not view this as an opt-in, opt out program.”

Thus, while the higher deportation numbers are offered to underscore the Administration’s enforcement efforts, we need to ask whether, in the absence of a comprehensive fix to our dysfunctional immigration system, it is also smart enforcement.  Who has been deported? Are we removing undocumented youngsters whose only offense is to dream?  Are we deporting future soliders and scholars? Are we deporting mothers and fathers who support American families?  Are we forcibly separating mothers from small children?  Are we deporting the Nikki Diaz Santillan’s of our country who work tirelessly to make our businesses and families prosper while receiving no reward for their efforts?

If these are the people we are deporting, then there is nothing to tout about.

I fear that by the time we get around to reaching a solution countless American families will have been separated and destroyed.   I for one hope that the Administraion’s next announcement of record breaking immigration news will be that it has kept its promise to the American people to fix our badly broken immigration system.

Now that would be something to tout about.