Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

Could Religion Be the Common Ground for Immigration Reform?

The Catholic Church is no stranger to the headlines.  As a Catholic I am often disappointed by its focus in the media and its presentation and stance on many issues.

However, since the selection and inauguration of Pope Francis, much of the conversation in and around the Catholic Church has changed.  Last month, when the Pontiff met with President Obama, immigration became the latest issue to make international headlines from the self proclaimed “Pope of the Poor”.  Pope Francis highlighted the struggles of migrants and the often inhumane U.S. immigration policies and laws.  A ten year old girl from Los Angeles, who was able to speak to the Pope, shared the story of her father who had been in detention and who she hadn’t seen for two years.  Shortly after the story broke, her father was released from detention.  USCIS claimed the two events were unrelated – perhaps it was the Pope’s first miracle?

To me, this time the Catholic Church is on the right side of the debate.  Other recent efforts by the Church to draw attention to the need for reform include the Mass held at the border on April 1, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, which brought together family members on both sides of the border fence to remember those who had died trying to cross the border into the U.S.

Across the country, many Catholic leaders are repeatedly and publicly enjoining their congregations to see immigrants as people first, as human beings who are imperfect, as we all are, most of them just trying to build a better life for themselves and their families and calling for immigration reform.

These Catholic voices are joined by thousands of others of varying faiths.

They are joined by Jewish leaders who recognize the relevance immigration has played in their religion’s histories, teachings, and U.S. experiences. They are joined by Methodists who see the destruction that our current broken system brings to communities.  They are joined by Muslim faith leaders who underscore the dignity of the human life and experience and the need for laws that respect that dignity.

In one recent multi-denominational vigil in Los Angeles, all of those faiths and more were represented, all calling for immigration reform and the change necessary to keep families and communities together.

Faith leaders, who may disagree on the finer details of dogma, agree that immigration is a moral issue and one that impacts those of all faiths.  This has not gone unnoticed by President Obama who on April 15 met with faith leaders to discuss immigration with the hope of reaching consensus across party lines.

People of faith, like Pope Francis, see the universality of the human condition. He calls on all of us to show compassion for our fellow man. Immigration reform done right would reflect that compassion.  Perhaps religion, which we too often see as a source of division, can this time serve as a bridge to unite us and serve as a basis and foundation for immigration reform.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

America’s April Fools’ Lottery Is No Laughing Matter

shutterstock_180736661Today thousands of U.S. employers large and small are buying lottery tickets hoping they will win the right to employ a highly skilled, well-educated professional.

This is not an April Fools’ joke.

Unfortunately, this is the system under which the nation that sees itself as the world’s leading economy allows its businesses to hire the best and the brightest from around the world: the H-1B visa “lottery.”

Under a law that hasn’t been touched by legislators in years, there are only 65,000 new slots available for employers to hire university-educated foreign professionals, plus another 20,000 for employers hiring foreign nationals who have graduated from U.S. advanced degree programs. In years when our economy was at its worst, this annual limit was no problem.  However, as the economy slowly recovers and employers increase hiring, the allotment of H-1B’s has been exhausted earlier and earlier within each Fiscal Year, and last year, over 130,000 H-1B applications were filed by employers for 85,000 slots on the very first day of filing—April 1—resulting in the now infamous lottery.

According to all forecasts, this is likely to be repeated in the current year, a cruel April Fools’ joke visited upon U.S. employers as a result of outdated laws.

What is truly foolish here? It is foolish to place artificial limits on the number of smart and highly educated professionals who can come here to work for U.S. employers, when it is obvious that the number of H-1B applications filed each year is well regulated by market demand.

It is foolish to prevent foreign talent from coming to the U.S. when it has been consistently shown that these individuals create jobs for U.S. workers. It is foolish to perpetuate a system that stymies U.S. business, prevents growth and drives foreign investment to other countries.

Sadly, until Congress does its job and updates our antiquated immigration laws so that American businesses can remain competitive in the global marketplace of the 21st century, the joke is on all of us.

And that’s no laughing matter.

Written by Eleanor Pelta, AILA Past President

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

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

Just like politics.

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

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

But then it all seemed to hit a brick wall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

Top Ten Similarities Between March Madness and the U.S. Immigration System

shutterstock_71304997As a native Hoosier and Indiana University graduate, I have always loved March Madness – the idea that any team could find a place and then potentially win or, at the very least, upset, the tournament is exciting and inspiring.  Additionally, I love lists.  Competition and the fast pace of both the games and the eliminations make March Madness a unique and inclusive sporting experience.  That said, this year was disappointing for Indiana basketball, and without my team participating, I have not been as involved.  With a bit of perspective, and inspired by another Hoosier, David Letterman, I have been pondering the top ten similarities between March Madness and U.S. immigration.  Drum roll please…

10. Competition – In March Madness, 12th seeded Harvard can eliminate 5th seeded Cincinnati; in the immigration March Madness (aka H-1B filing season), an Art History graduate from an unranked regional college could beat out a Nuclear Engineer from MIT.

9.  Randomness – In March Madness, just because you made it out of the first round, don’t expect to make it to the final four.  In immigration, just because you got picked in the H-1B lottery doesn’t mean you’ll survive adjudication.

8.  Seeds/Preferences – March Madness organizes the 68 participating teams into regions and seeds; the highest ranked teams play the lowest ranked teams giving the teams with the best records the best chance to make it to the final four.  Immigration has preferences and chargeability; some preferences move faster than others, and chargeability means that some nationalities “beat” others by virtue of lower demand.

7. Cinderella stories – Dayton defeats Ohio State!  DREAMers – those brought to the U.S. as children can apply for work permits under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)!

6.  Athletes are the stars – in March Madness the players and coaches make the magic happen.  In immigration, athletes and most well known artists, actors and musicians get access to O or P visas–not subject to the same numerical limitations or delays as H-1Bs.

5.  Politics run high – no matter what IU’s seed is or chance of advancing, I could never pick Michigan or Purdue to beat my alma mater.  Just like some members of Congress don’t want to hand others the “win” on immigration reform.

4.  The President weighs in – Barack-etology had Duke and Ohio State advancing.  He didn’t make that happen. President Obama’s views on immigration reform legislation are simply not authoritative because he isn’t in Congress.

3.  The cards are unfairly stacked – Consider the chances of 16th seeded Weber State beating #1 seeded Arizona.  Sure, it’s possible, but very difficult.  For a foreign national to get through the labor certification process, an employer must show that no U.S. worker is available, qualified and willing to take the job.

2.  Uniquely American – college sports played at this level with the amount of marketing and revenue only happens in America – and we’re also the only country with this mismatched patchwork of laws and policies masquerading as an immigration system.

1.  Even if you aren’t interested, you can’t escape either one – office bracket pools, televised games showing everywhere, social networking blasts with comments and commentary – How could you not have heard that Duke was upset by Mercer?  Same with immigration – articles, blogs, social commentary – our immigration system is constantly the subject of media attention.

At least with March Madness, on April 7, 2014, we will have a national champion.  With immigration – the madness isn’t contained to one month.  Without action by Congress, U.S. immigration madness will continue.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

Another Kind of March Madness

shutterstock_9560890For many immigration practitioners, no matter how devout a college basketball fan they may be, another type of March Madness overtakes their lives to the exclusion of all else:  H-1B season.  We’re in the midst of it right now and it’s going to be a brutal year; experts in the field expect the 85,000 visa cap to be reached immediately upon acceptance of H-1B visa petitions on April 1.

This kind of extraordinarily high demand for H-1B visas, a category set aside for skilled workers, demonstrates yet another fault in current American immigration policy.  It is clear that American businesses depend heavily on skilled foreign workers and our current system just doesn’t permit these workers to enter the American economy without jumping through hoops and being lucky enough to be picked out of a hat for one of the H-1B slots available.

Let’s talk numbers: approximately 124,000 visa petitions were filed during the first week of April 2013, and experts are predicting well over 150,000 petitions to be filed in the first days of H-1B visa petition acceptance this year.  Said otherwise, up to half or more of all eligible skilled workers who already have a job offer in hand from a U.S. company will have their petitions denied for lack of available visas.

The 85,000 H-1B cap isn’t established using a set of economic indicators, combined with local and regional workforce needs, but instead was set arbitrarily and implemented in 2003 when the previous cap of 195,000 was drastically reduced.  But this sort of capriciousness with caps and limits is status quo when it comes to our nation’s immigration laws across the board.

Those who defend the cap as a way to protect U.S. workers are short-sighted.  As the American Immigration Council’s Executive Director Ben Johnson described during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, “Highly skilled immigrants complement their native-born peers; they do not substitute for them. This is true throughout all high-skilled occupations, but is particularly true in STEM fields.  Arguments that immigrants are depressing wages or freezing out native-born workers belie the available evidence.”

The H-1B March Madness keeps me and many of my colleagues busy and employed, which I appreciate.  But as an American, who cares deeply for this country, knowing that yet another facet of our immigration laws doesn’t reflect the needs of our nation, or its founding values, is disheartening.

Something needs to be done.  And while much of the debate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) centers around family unity and bringing the undocumented out of the shadows, it is easy to overlook how CIR could impact American businesses and help our economy flourish.  But the Senate-passed bipartisan bill last June contained changes to employment-based immigration as part of a comprehensive approach.

By raising the H-1B cap and creating easier access to jobs for foreign-born, educated individuals, CIR will help the economy continue to grow by allowing our businesses to grow and advance in a competitive global economy.  Without reform, we risk getting behind in the global marketplace, losing skilled workers to other developed nations and economies.

Reform to our immigration quotas for temporary and permanent workers is vital to our economy.  Providing additional visa options to temporary unskilled seasonal workers for our agricultural industry and long-term skilled workers to America’s businesses are important changes that should be implemented.  The current arbitrary limits on visas don’t help anyone.

Recently an open letter to Speaker Boehner was signed by 636 business leaders, calling for immigration reform.  Companies ranging from Microsoft and Google to Caterpillar and Hormel Foods understand the need for America to stay competitive in the global marketplace.  Without immigration reform, we risk losing major bases of operations to foreign shores, and that would hurt our economy.  Having lost so many manufacturing jobs to global outsourcing, America cannot afford to lose our tech sector and other corporations requiring skilled workers as well.

The need for immigration reform is obvious.  America’s businesses need reasonable, legal avenues to bring educated and skilled foreign workers here, to help boost our economy.

This type of March Madness has to stop.

Written by Bryon M. Large, Esq., Chair, AILA Colorado Chapter

The Long-Awaited and Vitally Important PREA Rule is Imminent

shutterstock_172161761We heard today that the long-awaited and vitally important Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) final regulations will likely be issued next week by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The importance of these regulations cannot be overstated. The PREA Commission found that immigrant detainees are particularly vulnerable to abuse which is why implementation of these regulations is so important.  No one should be subjected to sexual assault or any form of abuse while in government custody.

I’m encouraged, and I know that my fellow AILA members are as well, that the rule’s release is imminent.  It has been nearly two full years since we submitted testimony to the House of Representatives calling for DHS to apply PREA regulations to immigration detention facilities.

The immigrants held in these detention centers have waited far too long for this protection.  It is incredibly important that DHS now moves as quickly as possible to ensure that the new rule covers all facilities – including local jails that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Those local jails hold about half of all ICE detainees on any given day so it is imperative that they also be covered by these regulations.

I know that when it is released, AILA staff will be reviewing the final rule.  It is my sincere hope that the changes to detention policy will lessen the fear of abuse that too many immigrant detainees face.

More next week!

Written by AILA President, Doug Stump

No, It’s Not Over

shutterstock_147492446Last week I came to Washington and met with House leaders about immigration reform.  I heard a lot of pessimism and I certainly understand where it’s coming from.  After the high of the Senate bill passage, during AILA’s Annual Conference of course, we’ve descended into the lows of inaction.

There was a glimmer when the House Republican leadership released their standards for immigration reform but then the appearance of backtracking immediately thereafter resulted in a fizzle, rather than an explosion of forward momentum.

But let’s be honest, it was never going to be easy.  But we’ve kept up the fight.

And what’s impressive to me, and keeps me optimistic about our chances, is the fact that immigration reform is turning into an issue that is uniting more and more Americans rather than pulling them apart.

What do I mean?  Well, we’ve got poll after poll that points to an acceptance of the need for reform that helps the undocumented get on the road to citizenship.  We’ve got poll after poll that emphasizes the acceptance of DREAMers as the incredibly deserving group of kids that they are.  We’ve seen a shift in public perception from an emphasis on security and enforcement at all costs towards welcoming and understanding and wanting to DO something about our broken immigration system.

So while Washington, DC may be at a standstill, while Capitol Hill may not be moving, the rest of the country is.

And what that means is that we need to keep up the advocacy, keep up the push, and keep up the hard work in our communities, in our states, and in DC.

Which is why I’m asking you for your time.  Make a visit in February or March to your senator or representative.  Talk to them or their staff about why immigration reform is important.  Offer yourself as a resource, a person they can turn to for solid information about what bills have been brought up in committee, what they would mean for your community, and why this issue is so important.

Tell them about what you’ve witnessed.  Bring along a client and their family if they’re willing.  Share the impact that reform would have on a family facing deportation, local businesses, agriculture, high-tech, what have you.

And then commit to doing the visits again, in DC, as part of AILA’s National Day of Action on April 10.

I’m not giving up.  I’m going to keep meeting, educating, and sharing.  I’m going to keep my voice loud but respectful.  I’m going to make sure that both sides of the aisle know where I stand, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

You can sign up for the National Day of Action online.  It’s free, it’s important, and I hope to see you there.

Written by Doug Stump, AILA President

Advance Parole Rules Need Review

shutterstock_151420769On Friday, I received a difficult phone call many immigration lawyers face on occasion.  While it is fortunately a rare occasion, demographics and statistics assure us that these calls will continue.  My client’s derivative adjustment application has been pending since 2007, she is working based upon an EAD, and her father is dying in India.  The family expects his death will come any moment, certainly within a couple of days.  She didn’t have an advance parole.

My first step was to call the local Field Office Director (FOD) and I immediately found an individual at USCIS with both the compassion to understand the need for the advance parole, and the commitment to help.  The FOD suggested I file the I-131 online, and get her the receipt as soon as possible.  Within an hour, we had electronically filed the application, including the supporting documentation from the doctor, and the FOD spent the rest of Friday afternoon seeking the technical ability and legal authority to issue the travel document.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to issue the document before the weekend notwithstanding what I am certain was a dedicated effort.  After a very long weekend for my client, the FOD returned to work on Monday morning to continue the effort. Fortunately, the advance parole document was issued first thing Monday and my client was able to travel immediately.  Before that could happen, however, our office spent an entire day working with her, and the FOD spent most of the same day working on the effort, as did many other local office and service center staff, and other personnel within USCIS.   A great deal of effort by all parties was required, during which my client spent a few very difficult days with a lot of stress and anxiety concerning her ability to be with family at the time of her father’s death.

This experience led me to think about the rule that requires the issuance of advance parole, and more specifically, the reason that the document must be issued before the applicant departs from the United States.  The regulation imposes the rule that departure before the document is issued constitutes an abandonment of the adjustment application.  8 CFR §245.23(j).  There is no statute that mandates this rule.  The regulation was written when adjustment applications took 30 to 60 days to adjudicate, and the need to travel during this brief interim period was rare.  The predominant theory suggested that an individual applying for adjustment wanted to live permanently in the U.S., had just submitted an application for this benefit, and absent extraordinary circumstances, there should be no immediate need to travel.  By 1992, the processing times were slightly longer, and Associate Commissioner James Puleo issued a memorandum with instructions to grant advance parole upon request unless the need to travel was contrary to law or public policy.  He explained this new standard as follows:

This instruction was clearly meant to accommodate the legitimate travel of persons inconvenienced by visa numbers becoming unavailable after they filed adjustment applications. Construction of the term ‘bona fide business or personal reason’ to require a showing of emergent or extreme need to travel is inappropriate. Accordingly, travel for a bona fide business or personal reason should be considered as travel for any reason which is not contrary to law or public policy. 

Adjudicator’s Field Manual, Chap. 54.3(b), quoting from the 1992 Puleo Memo (emphasis in the original).

In July 2007, at the same time 325,000 adjustment applications were filed, many of which are still pending today, USCIS published a new fee schedule that became effective on July 30, 2007.  This notice increased the filing fee for adjustment applications to $985 (plus $85 for biometrics) but included applications for employment authorization and advance parole for every adjustment applicant, irrespective of the need to travel.  From 1992 to 2007, we moved from a standard that required “emergent or humanitarian considerations” to a new standard that makes the advance parole application a routine part of every adjustment application.

The only reason advance parole is required before travel is because the regulation imposes this requirement.  8 CFR §245.23(j).  But if this is not required by the statute, only by the regulation, what is the policy imperative behind this rule?  I suggest that today, there is no good reason for this rule.  The nature of the adjustment application and the routine advance parole applications that are now a part of every single application, suggest that an applicant’s travel before the document is issued no longer justifies the abandonment of the underlying adjustment application.  By eliminating this rule, clients with an emergent need can travel, and make arrangements to have the approved document sent to them overseas once it has been approved.  This would eliminate the stress, time, money, and attention of the applicants and USCIS personnel to expedite a process that is required only by an obsolete rule.

Written by Rob Cohen, Vice Chair, AILA’s USCIS Liaison Committee

GOP’s Principles on Immigration Reform: A Welcome Sign, So Let’s Steer Forward

shutterstock_153955259House GOP leaders on Thursday released their standards for immigration reform.  With these principles, they renewed their position that reform of our broken system can only be attained “through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.”  They made clear that they will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) noted that “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) tweeted that “Today’s House #GOP #immigration proposal falls short of the bipartisan #CIR we passed last year in the Senate…but I welcome any movement that leads to Congress finally fixing our broken immigration system.”

The first priority towards reform according to the GOP principles is the “fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders”, and so these principles prioritize securing and verifying the security of our Borders before tackling other aspects of our system.  Although this concept of “securing borders” is not new to the GOP rhetoric, one wonders if members of the House GOP have read the statistics that show deportations were at a record high in 2012 with 409,849 total deportations – the highest they’ve ever been.

Furthermore, at its peak, U.S. Border Patrol data show that apprehensions of undocumented immigrants nationwide and along the Southwest border routinely topped 1 million.  In 2004, the Border Patrol counted nearly 1.2 million apprehensions along the Southwestern border.  In 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended 364,768 individuals nationwide, 98 percent of whom were caught on the Southwestern border.  If these figures are not enough to signal a secure border, since FY 2001, the U.S. Border Patrol has steadily increased its number of agents from 9,821 agents nationwide to more than double today at 21,395 agents.

House Republicans make it clear that reform will include a “zero tolerance” for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future, irrespective of the driving forces to do so, yet hopefully with a more robust legal immigration system and reduction in backlogs, the need for many to cross without documentation or overstay a visa will be minimal at best.  The principles also call for a robust visa tracking system and further require the full implementation a workable electronic employment verification system.

For a party that has long cherished and respected family values, it seems the principles frown at immigration through family members and “pure luck” – presumably referring to our current Diversity Visa Program.  It is true that at the crux of any developed Country is its ability to remain competitive in this global economy and attracting the brightest talent is a key component of this competitiveness.

A robust legal immigration system that includes visas and green cards for individuals seeking to contribute to not only the economic but social fabric of our nation is important, yet let’s not forget that these talented individuals have also left family behind.  Extended family such as parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and grandparents are part of what fosters the entrepreneurial spirit, the researching drive, and the thrill at discovery that leads to excellence in many fields.  To say that family is not part of the success of a developed country is to fall short on the American dream.

It is promising to find the House principles recognize the committed spirit of the DREAMers, the young and talented aspiring Americans who are ingrained not only in our social fabric, but are a key part of our economic growth and development.

At the end of the line, we find those who have endured years of agony in taking steps to reunite with family and loved ones, who have lived in fear of deportation, abuse, and indifference; the 11 million individuals who have contributed to our economy and our neighborhoods.  Individuals, who despite living outside the “rule of law” have also risked it all in search of a better life, and along the way have contributed and improved our great Country.

To them, these principles offer a way to live legally and without fear in the U.S. if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families.   The principles recognize what these individuals are already doing and remove the yoke of fear and insecurity.  Without a defined roadmap to full integration however, we will have to wait for further details to see the prospects of these individual becoming full-fledged Americans.

What this all means is yet to be seen.  These principles will serve as the House’s foundation for the immigration bills to be introduced, and as we all know, “the devil is in the details”.  The announcement from House leadership is encouraging following President Obama’s call to make this a “year of action” and pass immigration reform.

The balancing act will come when the parties sit down and hammer out the details of a series of bills addressing each aspect in these principles.  Critical to this balance is the understanding that our system must be completely revamped if not in one full sweep then with concise bills that address all areas of our system.  The American people are ready for it, the DREAMers are ready for it, the 11 million are ready for it, so let’s steer these principles forward for the future of our Country.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

Justin Bieber’s Immigration Story: An Opportunity to Engage

shutterstock_161450657How should we respond to the Justin Bieber story; as an organization, as leaders of that organization, and as individual members?  The first reaction would probably be to not respond at all.  It’s irrelevant, it’s beneath us, it’s a fluff piece with no relevance to us as either attorneys or as an organization of immigration practitioners and advocates.

But perhaps we are missing an important opportunity to engage people who don’t always bring up the issue of immigration reform, or think about things like detention rules, ICE holds, prosecutorial discretion and other issues that are the daily reality of our own professional lives and many of our clients’ personal lives.  And even more than using this as an opportunity to discuss immigration law and equal justice, it is a rare opportunity to ask people with whom we engage why they feel the way they do about our nation’s policies on immigration.  We can also ask why it took a young white pop-star from Canada to get so many people to think about it.

Quite a few people, both attorneys and non-attorneys, have asked me about this story because of the immigration component.  The same is probably true for many of us.  Here is one way to approach it when someone else brings it up:  Start with the immigration facts, including his specific status as an O-1 visa holder and the potential consequences of his recent run-ins with the law.  But then present them with a parallel story: strip away the celebrity coating and look at the facts of what Bieber did, applying them to other aliens, and see what we come up with.  Let’s say someone from another country, maybe Mexico, is living in the U.S.  Justino is mid-20s, only speaks his native language, works as a gardener.  Ask the person you’re engaging to create a picture of Justino in his head.  Perhaps Justino makes the local paper because he was also arrested, driving without a license, under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana.  He was with a group (gang?) of friends who were racing down a residential street, and these menacing hooligans even blocked off the street to prevent anyone from messing up their plans to tear up and down the block at twice the speed limit.  When police showed up, he cursed and yelled at them and resisted arrest.  What is the reaction at the local diner the next morning when someone points out that news story?  Would the expectation be that Justino got a low bond and walked out of court, or would such a suggestion be met with disbelief and outrage?

This lesson in disparities is an important one, but it doesn’t need to be the limit of how far we are willing to tread into the world of paparazzi and twitter A-listers.  But we can do even more than point out inconsistent application of immigration law or use this as just a lesson in equal justice.  We can also engage the person asking us questions about why it is that they asked the questions in the first place; why now?  We can talk about how this one story of a Canadian popstar has caused so many people to examine issues that they never raised before, even though they knew that thousands of aliens are deported every year.

That may seem like the same thing as raising the equal justice issue, but there’s a subtle difference.  One approach points a finger at the system, deriding “them”, the authorities and enforcers and politicians, for allowing disparate treatment based on things that shouldn’t matter as much as they do.  The second approach holds up a mirror and challenges each person to ask what his or her role is in that inequality.

So why not take this opportunity to challenge individual people we come in contact with daily, especially when they ask us about the Bieber story, and what may happen to him, and why it may be different than how others are treated.  In addition to pointing out the issue of equal justice, let’s also ask those individuals why they are bringing up questions about the system now, but never thought to bring them up before.  When they heard stats on the news about the number of deportations, why didn’t they ask who those people were, or how they got in that situation, or if they were given a chance to stay or not, and how that’s decided, and by whom.  Ultimately, what does this tell us about the harm of not bothering to try to learn about people and, as a result, dismissing them or falling back on stereotypes.

It’s easy to focus on the power of AILA as representative of more than thirteen thousand attorneys, with our unique access to national leadership within the Beltway.  But this organization is made up of so many individuals who interact with people every day, including clients, family members, colleagues in other areas of the law and friends.  These people ask us, as individual immigration attorneys and advocates, about immigration issues because of our individual expertise and experience.  That is an incredible opportunity for us to extend the work of our organization beyond the Beltway and into the communities, right into local coffee houses and dining rooms.

If the vehicle for that discussion starts with someone asking us about Justin Bieber, so be it.  That is still a unique opportunity for all of us, from the new AILA member to the Chapter Officer to members of the national Executive Committee and our organization’s employees.  We can shoot for the hearts and minds of individuals spread out in every corner of the country, where the discussions taking place are as important, if not more important, than those taking place on Pennsylvania Avenue and the halls of Congress.

Let’s use not just our collective power, but also our individual power to inform, challenge and inspire every person with whom we interact, using the opportunities that present themselves.  Yes, even the Justin Bieber story.

Written by Andrew Nietor, AILA San Diego Chapter Secretary