Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ 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

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

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

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

Representative Goodlatte and Immigration Reform

shutterstock_86506957 (1)In an interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart that will air this weekend, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) discussed prospects for immigration reform.  What he reportedly said made me cautiously hopeful. But it also showed me that we all have some work to do to get to smart reform.

According to a transcript of the interview, he talked about the progress that the committee had made last year by passing four bills out of committee.  Now, none of those four bills was anything that I’d want to see become law in their current forms, and at least one of the bills is quite troubling.  A couple of the others have some elements worth using, but need more work.

He didn’t share much about the principles that Speaker Boehner says are forthcoming from House, but he did say that they hoped those principles might galvanize support for immigration reform.  He emphasized the need for interior enforcement and the fact that a large proportion of immigrants who are here unlawfully are actually overstays.  That all seemed reasonable.

I am heartened that he was talking about achieving a legal status “for people who are not lawfully here.”  It is important for any immigration reform to recognize that legality, not mass deportations, is the answer for most of the people here without status.  And he is right that they should be “able to live here, work here, travel to and from their home country.  Be able to– own a business, pay their taxes.”

But stopping there would be a mistake.  The problems that some European and Middle Eastern countries have faced by having people present with no hope of ultimate integration—essentially  a permanent second-class status—have created undue pain for those countries.  Unless we fix the legal immigration system, and make sure that the people whose statuses are regularized now can participate fully in a robust legal immigration system, with an opportunity for naturalization for those who seek it, we will not have lasting reform.

I’m an immigration attorney and after decades in practice, I want change.  I would love to see the day when our system is more than just a cracked and broken set of policies.  I would embrace a new, straightforward immigration system that was clear with lines for people to get into without putting them into decades of limbo.  I want our businesses to get the best and the brightest as employees, and be able to keep them on.  I am eager for the entrepreneurs to feel welcome here in the U.S. and use their talents to drive our economy.  I dearly wish for a day when families are no longer torn apart but instead valued for what they are: the cornerstone of our nation.

I believe that this interview is a thawing of Mr. Goodlatte’s views on immigration and I feel cautiously hopeful that he is committed to really trying to pass meaningful legislation. I, for one, stand ready to help.

Hitting the Pause Button

shutterstock_142988869With prospects for immigration reform continually waxing and waning almost weekly, it is time to take decisive action to ease the pain of millions waiting for our leaders to pass immigration reform.  While Congress continues to debate internally whether and how it will take up this important issue, several Members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called on the President to exercise greater discretion and halt deportations until the law can be fixed.  Now is the time to hit the pause button on record-level deportations.

Make no mistake, our immigration law is a difficult machine.  Seemingly well-intentioned, laws like the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (“IIRAIRA”) have severely complicated individual cases, frequently making it impossible for deserving immigrants to legalize their status.  All too frequently I hear the misconceptions of immigration law restated as facts.  The most common misconception I find is that spouses of American citizens automatically get their green card.  One unfortunate truth, for example, is that laws like IIRAIRA can impose permanent bars to spouses of United States citizens for unlawful reentry to the United States after traveling to their home country to attend to sick or dying parents.

On December 5, 2013, 29 Members of Congress drafted a letter, calling on the White House to stop deportations in the more sympathetic cases.  Those Members asked that deferred action be granted to those that would potentially benefit from proposed legislation.  Their call joins those of 543 faith-based organizations, civil rights groups, legal associations, and labor organizations, to cease the forced expulsion of non-criminal immigrants who would benefit from immigration reform.  Specifically calling for the expansion of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to include potential beneficiaries of immigration reform, those Members of Congress have labeled the obstruction to immigration reform as “senseless opposition that neither reflects the public will, nor the moral responsibility we hold.”

Recently, House Minority Leader Pelosi joined the conversation, urging President Obama to increase the use of discretion in the deportation process.  She is urging the White House to enact policy to suspend deportations for parents of DREAMers who have already received temporary relief under the DACA program.  She believes the government can and should halt the deportation of those whose only fault is being here without status.

Our government has a real opportunity to create an effective humanitarian program to temporarily remove the threat of deportation from individuals’ lives.  While most are in agreement that serious criminals should be treated differently, enacting immediate relief by expanding agency discretion while Congress continues to debate an overhaul of the immigration system is a humane temporary solution.  Too often our impossible immigration laws break up hardworking families and create additional hardship to those born within our borders.  DACA has brought this conversation to the forefront, allowing some of those living in the shadows to come out and tell their stories.  It has provided educational opportunities to our deserving youth and it has provided dignity to hardworking students trying to pursue the American dream.

Hitting the pause button on deportation for America’s undocumented youth has been a positive step forward.  Now is the time to hit the pause button for more of America’s hardworking immigrants until Congress can achieve an appropriate solution that is humane, ensures public safety and national security, and keep families united.

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

This Time Next Year

shutterstock_161204669It’s holiday season again.  For me, no matter what mood I’m in, I find it hard not to smile a bit more this time of year—at Santa collecting donations, or a child’s face lighting up at the taste of a candy cane, or even at the often sappy holiday music that I’m unable to resist singing along to.

We’re so blessed. I know I’ll have a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family around me this Christmas.  I’ll get to start off duck hunting with my lab Otis, see the kids opening their presents, hug my wife, and enjoy the day.

But, I don’t just dwell on all the good.  I also think of a lot of other people who aren’t having quite the same holiday experience.

Is that some sort of human quirk that we don’t just enjoy the moment but instead think of things that aren’t as good?

Well, whatever the reason, this holiday season I’m going to keep thinking about the American families who have lost one or more members this past year to removal.  I’m going to be thinking of the folks in detention, many of whom did nothing more harmful than a minor traffic violation but who have been separated from their families nonetheless.  I’m going to be thinking of the delays that so many petitioners face as they go through the process for a green card.  I’m going to be thinking of all the AILA members who are worried about a client being denied a provisional waiver without a good reason.  I’m going to be thinking about the American businesses, small and large, who could be doing better if they had the right workers but have run into roadblocks due to our messed up immigration system.

Surrounded by wrapping paper, with Christmas music playing, and my family around me, I will say thanks for my good fortune.

And I’ll be getting ready for the immigration reform fight to resume in 2014, with a renewed effort.  Because the human toll of our broken immigration system is both tragic and also avoidable.  I hope you’ll all join me in committing to advocate and educate in 2014.

So that this time, next year, we’re celebrating our newly reformed immigration system, we’re getting ready for the implementation of the new laws, and we’re forever grateful for the opportunity we had to fight for what we believed in.

In the meantime, hug your loved ones, have a happy holiday, and I’ll see you next year.

The Intolerable Delay for Relative Petitions

shutterstock_114417286I recently met with a prospective client.  The facts were not unusual: she was 35 years old, a U.S. citizen who is, and has been, living abroad, and she met somebody she wishes to marry.  With this decision comes a host of other major life decisions: how to introduce her fiancé to her family, when and where to get married, and when and where to begin a family.  These are choices that many, if not most of us, experienced in our 20s and 30s; it is part of the human experience.  But when each half of a soon-to-be-wed couple is from a different country, there are additional considerations of immigration laws and processing that must be taken into account.

We reviewed the options: a fiancé visa if she wishes to be married in the U.S., or a relative petition and an immigrant visa application following a wedding abroad.  For the latter option, there is the legislative provision for a K-3 visa if the processing is going to take a long time.  However, USCIS has eviscerated this provision by insisting on adjudicating the K-3 petition simultaneously with the relative petition.

The discussion naturally turned to processing times.  I had to explain that it was absolutely unknown.  Right now, relative petitions are taking close to — maybe more than — a year.  K-3 petitions may or may not be available.  I still don’t understand the benefit of a K-3 petition since if USCIS is going to adjudicate the K-3 petition, why not simply approve the relative petition?  It appears that USCIS agrees, but rather than approving the relative petition in a timely manner, it doesn’t adjudicate either until an unknowable period of time has passed.

It is, of course, close to impossible to plan a wedding based upon a fiancé petition.  There is a 90-day window for the wedding, and the timing of that window cannot be known in advance.  By the time it is known, there is insufficient time to find a venue, hire a caterer, send invitations, and plan a celebratory wedding.  It is simply not possible.

Then, of course, my client wanted to consider the timing to start a family.  She would like to have a baby in the United States, where she is more comfortable with the medical care, and has the support of family.  But she naturally wants her husband to be a part of that experience.  After all, it will be his child as well.  The biological clock is ticking and family planning issues are a major consideration.

Oh yes, the fiancé lives in an Islamic country.  We don’t discriminate based upon religion, of course — this is America.  Except I am required to advise this client that “administrative processing” might be a phrase in their future.  If so, “administrative processing” based upon the non-discriminatory security checks may delay her husband’s entry to the United States by anywhere from 2 weeks to a year or longer.  This makes it more difficult to plan.  No, let’s be honest, it’s not more difficult, it’s impossible.  Of course, since he has been denied a visitor’s visa based upon section 214(b), there is no hope that he may be able to come to the U.S. temporarily to share in the birth of a child, and then return to his home country to wait for the immigrant visa.

So I find myself discussing the timing of a pregnancy with my client.  Should she wait to get pregnant or get pregnant before getting married if they are going to apply for a fiancé visa? (This was not acceptable to the client.)  She is 35 years old, so the question shifted to what if she has trouble getting pregnant?  Should she start now? If a child does come along, what happens to the process to bring her husband to the U.S.?  Will he miss the first year or more of the child’s life?

Then I get angry.  She should not have to discuss all of this with her immigration lawyer– these are issues best discussed with her obstetrician and family if she chooses.  Yet our dysfunctional immigration system makes it an immigration issue.  It should not be an immigration issue, and to make it an immigration issue is just plain wrong.

USCIS appears to have put immediate relative petitions on hold.  There is a heavy case load, we are told, and yet they still collect a $420 filing fee to adjudicate each petition.  We are told that the fee, which has increased fourfold in the last 20 years (more than 300 percent higher than the cost of living increase[1]) is because the fee pays for the service and permits better service.  Twenty years ago a relative petition took weeks to adjudicate.  Now?  Now it takes years.

It seems that USCIS owes the American citizens it purports to serve an explanation.  And following the explanation, an apology, and a plan to correct this injustice is the least that should be done.  To paraphrase, justice delayed does indeed create injustice.

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

[1] In 1994, the INS increased the filing fee for a relative petition to $80.00.  The Department of Labor, Consumer Price Index, calculates that $80 in 1994 has the same buying power as $126.07 today.  This is an increase of 333% above the increase in the consumer price index.

Hungry for Reform

shutterstock_91039637As I write this, I am enjoying a mug of hot chocolate.  It is the first thing I have consumed other than water in over 24 hours.  And it is – hands down – the best mug of hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

I was so hungry.  I can’t remember the last time I was hungry and knew I wasn’t going to eat for hours, but that’s how I felt for the last 24 hours.  There have been times where I’ve had meals delayed—too busy, too rushed, too absorbed in other things that food falls by the wayside.

I’ve been lucky enough not to ever worry though that, at some point, food would be found and would fill my stomach.  This isn’t the same experience that so many Americans and people around the world have, and I realize that.  I have the luxury of denying myself food voluntarily.

But why did I?  Why did 160 of AILA and AIC staff and AILA members do the same?  Why are thousands of stakeholders across the country letting their stomachs grow empty and their bodies complain?

Because it’s the least we can do.  This hunger that we feel during a one day fast is so little compared to the hunger of the committed fasters who went 22 days without food before passing on their fast to others ready to step up and Fast4Families.

This hunger that we feel is negligible when you consider the children, the siblings, the spouses, the parents whose lives are torn apart when they run afoul of our broken immigration system.  They hunger for stability, for safety and security and freedom from fear.

So I was hungry for a day.  A lot of folks would say, that’s dumb, that going hungry won’t solve anything.  Just me, not eating.  That’s not a statement.

But, while one alone is a quiet action, when you add together the hundreds and thousands of participants across the country the call gets louder.  Combine the individuals, add in elected officials like Reps. Kennedy, Vargas, and Garcia who have also fasted, and you start hearing about it all over the country.  From California to New York, people are standing up and adding their voices, making an uproar.

And an uproar can cause change.

So yesterday, I went hungry.  It wasn’t fun.  But I took action, saying with my voice and with my body that I want change and that I’ll fight for it.  l drank water but it didn’t fool my stomach for long.  I started dreaming about what I’d eat when the fast ended.

And today, I will break my fast by dining at my favorite Indian restaurant.  And while I scarf down that delicious naan and curry, I will think of my Indian clients, many of them doctors working in underserved areas, and teachers working in inner city schools – people who are contributing to our society in ways that many Americans do not.  And I will think about how, under our current system, these people who have always played by the rules could be waiting literally decades before they will be approved for a green card unless we fix our broken system.

And the emptiness in my belly will be replaced by a fire – a fire to continue raising my voice on behalf of the voiceless and calling on House Leadership to move us forward on immigration reform.

The truth is, I’m still hungry.  Hungry for change.  Let’s get this done.

Written by Jennifer Minear, Member, AILA Board of Governors