Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ Category.

Let’s Dance

Leslie DanceThis blog post is adapted from the speech I gave when I was installed as AILA’s President for the 2014-15 term. I was thrilled to be able to reflect at the Annual Conference hosted by my home chapter, the New England Chapter of AILA.

New England is where I found immigration and, if I hadn’t found immigration I don’t think that I would be practicing law. I started my legal career in New York as a commercial litigator, but I found my calling after moving to Vermont. I found it in immigration law through dance in Vermont – African dance in Vermont.

While I have always loved to dance, I’m not the most adept at it, but that never stopped me from enjoying all forms of dance in all its facets. So it was that in 1998 I began attending African dance classes in Burlington. Several members of the National Ballet of Guinea as well as Senegal and the Ivory Coast lived and worked in Burlington and after class they would ask me questions about their immigration status (P-3s). However, I knew nothing about immigration whatsoever and referred them to a terrific immigration attorney instead.

I am a first generation American (my mother was born in and escaped from Hungary) and between my history and my involvement with foreign dancers I made a life altering decision by deciding to concentrate only on immigration.  I distinctly remember my first task. I needed to determine whether a client had been admitted to the U.S. Admitted? They were here weren’t they?  - Of course they were admitted.  It took 16 hours of research before I realized that I had entered a world where nothing was as it seemed: the world of immigration law.

Five years ago I started on my way to the AILA presidency, working my way up from Secretary through all the roles and responsibilities until this year. Looking back at those years, I reviewed the goals I had set out each year for myself and the organization. I took a look at what had been resolved and accomplished, what issues recurred over and over again, what issues still remain, and which of my goals have not yet been reached.

While many of my priorities changed from year to year one issue remained constant – ironically it was the lack of consistency and predictability in adjudications, determinations, rulings, and admissions – and the need to fix this through, among other things, interagency engagement. Our world requires that we typically deal with not just one agency, but at least two, and generally three.

When I meet with new clients, I along with other immigration attorneys, often find myself saying something akin to the following during our initial consultation:  “Before we proceed it is imperative that you understand that, even if your petition is approved by the USCIS, you are not home free. You also need approval from the Department of State and then, even if you pass that hurdle, you still must obtain permission from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to actually enter the U.S.”

This situation is unfortunately a constant in all areas of our practice whether it is business, family, or removal. Think of H-1B visas denied after petition approval for critical employees, approved fiancées who never get here, or as we call it in our office, “love’s labors lost,” or waiver applicants with provisional grants denied on other grounds not previously believed to make one inadmissible. The interagency disconnect is not limited to the petition, visa, and subsequent admission situation. It is also at the heart of so many of the procedural issues that we face.

Thus, it makes sense that my primary long-term goal relates to AILA’s liaison work. One of the many benefits of living in Vermont is that I learned to practice immigration in a place where I truly had access to government officials and was able to work with them to address some of the issues that came up as a result of interagency miscommunication.

Having learned to practice where openness and accessibility continue to be the standard has guided my vision. Those of you who have sat in meetings with me likely have heard two recurrent themes. The first is that my local CBP, USCIS, and ICE offices are the exemplar. I have never felt that I could not approach them and they have always been willing to talk and listen. The second is a request I make, at each and every meeting: whether the agency would be open to a multi-agency dialogue at a later date.

I believe that many of our adjudication and process problems stem from the fact that two or more agencies have conflicting interpretations of the law or regulations and that they do not actually know the effect that their actions have on the applicant when that applicant must next deal with another agency. They may not know what switching to an automated form might mean for another agency which still requires a hardcopy. I believe that we could solve so many issues if we were just permitted to sit down together and explain the problems that crop up.

Interagency engagement is not the only way to attain more consistency and predictability in what we do. Another aspect is the need to locate, isolate, and change the negative policy that seems to be driving so many adjudications, decisions, and admissions. In our area of practice, I think more than in any other, discretion abounds. But it seems that more often than not the trend is toward denial rather than acceptance.

Earlier I told you that I found immigration through African Dance. However, not only did African Dance lead me to immigration, it taught me immigration. In representing my dance community I encountered early on in my career almost every immigration situation there is. The good news is that I was able to help them, at least until fairly recently.

Almost three years ago, one of my clients returned home to Guinea to visit his family and bring back new and current dance and drum rhythms. He had an approved P-3 and had never been in trouble with the law or violated his status. However despite that, his visa was denied for immigrant intent. He had returned to Guinea because of his strong family ties, yet he was denied. That sort of denial would not have happened just a few years ago.

Through all the ups and downs of immigration law practice, one thing has been constant – AILA. AILA is a community where people who perform the same work can obtain from it the tools they need to practice their profession. I truly believe that with just the InfoNet and AILAlink immigration attorneys have all the tools they need to practice immigration and, practice it well. But by also offering accessibility to mentors, practice management help, ethics guidance, media training, advocacy, and liaison assistance, immigration attorneys get all that they need to become well rounded and truly excellent in their field.

More than that though, I believe AILA goes far beyond just a professional community. It is also a fellowship. I practiced law for 11 years before joining AILA. I never experienced elsewhere the support, camaraderie and professional generosity with my peers that I found here. I ask that all of you continue to engage, to care deeply about AILA and its governance, and to share your thoughts and insights.

I am looking forward to this year. To liaising with the government and you. To working together to make positive changes in immigration, to make things better for our clients, to making AILA the best it can be.

Almost every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday I wake up with a feeling that something is special. They are dance days. I hope that every day this coming year is a dance day. If that happens I know that we can accomplish our goals and make a difference, as, in the words of the Hopi who steadfastly believed that through dance they would influence the Gods and accomplish their goals,  – To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak. So, let’s dance!

Written by Leslie A. Holman, AILA President

To watch Leslie’s full speech, including a performance by her friends from the African dance and drumming community Jeh Kulu, watch here: Video: Leslie Holman Installation Speech

Getting a Little Serious about the Need for Immigration Reform

shutterstock_197321441This is a post adapted from my speech last week in accepting an award from AILA for outstanding contributions made as a young lawyer in the field of immigration and nationality law. While the occasion was a happy one and I was honored to receive that award, I took the opportunity, as I do here, to emphasize what is wrong with our current system and that we desperately need to fix it.  I hope you find it of interest:

As I think about the great migrations of people, I’m reminded of my own “gringa” migration from the heartland of Iowa to Washington, D.C. While my own journey was not nearly as harrowing an experience, it is that journey that led me to practice immigration law, to AILA, and to the work that I’m so passionate about.

I have been incredibly lucky to have several amazing people guiding me throughout my journey. My parents who taught me that everyone no matter their background deserves the chance to pursue their dreams. My wonderful husband Justin, whose constant love and support sustains me. Michelle Mendez, my friend and co-professor in the Catholic University immigration clinic who is the most selfless, passionate advocate that I know. The dedicated staff of Benach Ragland, and my partners who I deeply respect and admire; there is no one else I would rather work with in pursuit of our shared mission. Finally my mentor, the late great Michael Maggio: despite his busy immigration practice, he always found time to contribute to our field as a policy advocate, a pro bono champion and a mentor. I have strived to use Michael’s well-rounded approach to our work as a model in contributing through my own practice, especially as I’ve observed the developments in our field over the last few years.

We’re going to get a little serious now.

We are now faced with a humanitarian crisis at our borders.  CBP and ICE officers are using excessive force, inhumane detention conditions, and “no process” removals. We are faced with immigration courts fighting against insufficient resources, overcrowded dockets and cabined legal discretion. And we are faced with a renewed assault on our asylum system by Congress and the agencies themselves.

Yet, no actions are taken by those in power to fix our system. Instead we have a Congress that points fingers and strikes a pose in Capitol Hill hearings and an Administration which, on the back of an immigration reform-focused campaign, has taken to putting Band-Aids on gashes rather than treating the underlying wounds.

Until we have leaders who are going to work together to solve real problems that affect real people, American businesses, and separated families, it is up to us. It is for these reasons that this award is only the beginning of my journey.

Thank you so much for this honor and I hope you will join me in restoring due process and humanity in our immigration system.

Written by Dree Collopy, 2014 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award Winner

 

What the Tony Awards Can Teach Us About Immigration

This year’s Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday, June 8 in New York City.  I’ve always been a fan of the ceremony and, having seen a fair number of the nominees, I was struck by the strong intersection between Broadway theatre and immigration this year.

Take for example, A Raisin in the Sun, nominated for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actress and Best Director.  The play opens with Langston Hughes poem, Dream Deferred: 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The title of the poem including the words “dream deferred” immediately struck me as relevant to the current immigration debate with the DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the news.

Similarly, the struggle and eventual success to bring our great nation from segregation to equal rights, both incredibly difficult and long overdue, closely parallels the struggles of many immigrants today.  Political debate and the conversation around immigration reform are reflected in another one of one of this year’s Tony nominees, All the Way.  This Best Play nominee follows President Johnson’s herculean efforts to convince Congress to enact the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. The political landscape may have changed, but perhaps President Obama could take a lesson in manipulation, or at least negotiation, from Tony nominee, Bryan Cranston, the actor portraying LBJ in motivating Congress to act.

In addition to the political parallels, this year’s ceremony, hosted by Hugh Jackman, originally from Australia, includes the nominees who  mirror academia and the business world; the list of the best of the best on Broadway includes not only Americans but natives of Switzerland, Cuba, Ireland, former Yugoslavia, Canada and the U.K.  In the technical categories, a non-U.S. citizen is included in the short list of every category barring one.

Broadway theatre is widely acknowledged as the best in the world.  It is a mixture of cultures, perspectives and stories which reflect our country, the American people and their dreams.  Broadway itself is the child of immigrants.  The names most closely associated with the Broadway tradition are largely those belonging to some of New York’s earliest immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  If you’ve ever watched a Broadway musical, and marveled at the production, then you owe some thanks to Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr., the child of a German father and French mother, he grew up in Chicago and is considered an “American icon” and father of the modern musical show.

Fred Astaire’s father was from Austria—you may not recognize his given name of Fred Austerlitz. Julia Elizabeth Wells – also known as Broadway legend, Julie Andrews – hails from the U.K.  Audrey Hepburn, Ann-Margret, Alan Cumming, Rita Moreno, Sophie Okonedo and so many other immigrants have brought their talents to The Great White Way.  Countless producers, managers, choreographers, technicians, and playwrights also helped establish and continue the proud Broadway tradition of world-class entertainment.

Last year, part of Broadway itself was named “Juan Rodriguez Way” in honor of a freed slave from the former island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, who became the first non-native immigrant to ever settle in present day Manhattan in 1613. Broadway continues to inspire immigrants who make this country their own.

So on Sunday evening, when the Tony Awards are presented, I will not only be enjoying the spectacle of theatre, but also a proud tradition and industry which has welcomed and celebrated immigrants since its earliest days.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

H-4 Work Authorization: A (First) Step in the Right Direction?

shutterstock_170161988On May 6, 2014 DHS announced proposals to “attract and retain highly skilled immigrants.”  Along with my other business immigration colleagues, I was thrilled when the news broke.  While it isn’t comprehensive information reform, it is a step in the right direction.

Let’s look at the issue of work authorization for spouses of H-1B workers, which got the most press following the announcement.  I have seen quite a few articles in which immigration advocates and experts express disappointment with the proposals noting that the change is minor and not that big of a deal.  But let’s look at this provision more closely.  According to DHS Director Mayorkas the changes would benefit as many as 97,000 spouses in the first year and about 30,000 a year after that.

Consider that the entire annual cap subject H-1B allocation is 85,000 and according to the Department of State nonimmigrant visa data more H-1B visas are issued every year than any other work visa.  This proposed rule is therefore pretty significant in the grand scheme of nonimmigrant work visas.  From my corner of the world of immigration law, there is indeed cause for celebration.

But looking at the proposals, and perhaps giving some inspiration to the administration, why not provide work authorization to all H-4 spouses (or dare we wish, all spouses of nonimmigrant work visa holders)?  Under 214(a), the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to make these changes broader and better.  Here’s why the change, again while welcome, is so limiting –

To qualify, the principal applicant beneficiary must have been granted an H-1B extension under AC21 or an immigrant petition must have been approved for the H-1B principal applicant.  In practice, this means the H-1B worker will have already been in the U.S. for six years in this status.  Alternatively, the sponsoring employer would have to have completed its portion of the permanent residence process for the individual, which in my experience is not normally in the first years of the H-1B but more commonly when an H-1B is extended or nearing the six year maximum.  In addition, a lengthy process must have been completed before the spouse can qualify for work authorization: a PERM Labor Department application must have been filed, which realistically takes six months to prepare; the PERM must then be certified, which will take months; the immigrant petition must be prepared and filed with USCIS, and USCIS must approve that petition—a process that currently takes four to six months, and has been known to take considerably longer.  This therefore leaves thousands of H-4 spouses who won’t qualify under the new provision or who will likely need to wait years before they do.

This particular change will therefore provide a benefit to a large number of H-4 spouses, but why stop with a narrowly carved out subsection?  Changes are welcome, and we can do more.  Let’s do it.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

What’s Happening to Florida?

shutterstock_33919990Last week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that are heading to Governor Rick Scott, who has stated that he will sign them. One grants in-state tuition to undocumented “Dreamers.” Another will allow Jose Godinez-Samperio, a DACA recipient and law school graduate, the ability to be a licensed attorney in the State. Jose was in Tallahassee in the gallery on the day the Florida House passed the bill. He was given a standing ovation.

I am still shaking my head. What happened to Florida? Gov. Scott ran on a platform in 2010 that called for Arizona-type laws to be enacted. Four years later, he is supporting significant pro-immigration legislation. I thought we could easily count on current Florida leadership to remain oppositional to any pro-immigration issue that was not forced upon them.

It would be easy to be cynical and chalk it up to politics. It is an election year, after all, and perhaps some politicians are finally realizing it is not a bad idea to try to garner favor in the  immigrant community.

Certainly I believe that is a big part of it. But, I also think that we may be witnessing a change in attitude across the board.

After the vote last Friday, I was contacted by a local newspaper columnist who had written earlier in the week in support of the Jose Godinez-Samperio bill. He had received responses from readers asking questions such as “Why didn’t he apply for citizenship?” “Why does he need a special law, couldn’t he have started the citizenship process during law school?” “Didn’t he want to become a citizen?”

He contacted me to make sure he was not missing anything – that there had been no change to federal immigration law recently of which he was not aware. I assured him that no, there had been no recent change.

The columnist, Tom Lyons, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, then wrote a follow-up column clarifying that Jose did not have the option of obtaining citizenship and said of the questioners:

the more I thought about those people who wanted to know why that would-be lawyer hadn’t applied for citizenship, the more I thought kindly of them. Though they apparently missed a key point in the nation’s immigration debate, I think their question was based on a nice assumption. They assumed that U.S. law couldn’t be as rigid and mean as it actually is.

This illustrates what I believe is also happening in Florida; people are becoming more educated about the issues. And as they get more educated, they may be becoming more compassionate…and passionate to do the right thing.

I only hope that the individuals in office at the national level take a look at what is happening in Florida since I hear Florida might just be a tad bit important when it comes to presidential elections.  I hope they realize that the House really needs to follow Florida’s lead and move forward on immigration reform.

By Victoria Jaensch Karins, Chair, AILA Central Florida Chapter

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