Justin Bieber’s Immigration Story: An Opportunity to Engage

Author: on 01/27/2014

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

A Matter of Perspective

Author: on 01/17/2014

shutterstock_159340754Is it a half loaf?  Is it a permanent underclass? Or is there a way forward buried under all the rhetoric?

Last year the Senate accomplished what most thought an insurmountable task – drafting and passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that tackles restructuring our dysfunctional system.  The bill was not perfect, but it was a heroic effort of bipartisan leadership and motivated by a strong desire to see our nation move forward.  The Senate bill traveled to the House with great hopes, but as the year came to an end it failed to garner support, much like the indie movie producers put on the back-burner.

Immigration advocates however, did not wither.  Marches, blogs, calls, videos and other advocacy efforts persisted for leaders in the House to pick up where the Senate left off and finish the job.  Meanwhile, families continued to be separated, mothers and fathers were deported, businesses were unable to hire the talent they need, and our economy remained stagnant at best.

However, the New Year saw House leadership making a commitment to take up the issue of immigration again.  Speaker Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, a former and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain on immigration issues who was involved in Congress’ last major attempt to reform immigration law in 2007.  And the Speaker has promised release of a set of “standards” to underpin House efforts at reform.

Those standards for immigration reform are speculated to call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. It also is rumored to call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally. The talk surrounding the standards seems to back away from an “earned path to citizenship” for those who are legalized.

A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy, estimates that between 4.4 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under the expected House proposals.  The key issue is the manner in which the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for Legal Permanent Status – a crucial first step towards citizenship.  Under prospective House proposals set forth by Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, undocumented immigrants could qualify for provisional legal status, if they can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer.

What this means is that, without fixing the inadequate existing system, attempts at reform are likely to fall flat.  Harsh bars to obtaining lawful permanent residence must be eliminated or at least ameliorated.  The current anemic quota system must be made more robust and relate to the real needs of our economy, rather than to the paranoia of those who seek to block the ability of immigrants to migrate legally.

And so depending on perspective and on the full picture, the proposals may put a “Band-Aid” on a current problem or create a new one – a half loaf and a permanent subclass.  This perplexing view would keep us within the confines of our current system.  The challenge is to step outside the box and realize the enormous opportunity the complete revamping of our broken immigration system can garner.

The gigantic step forward is to harvest the talent we already have within our boundaries and weave those people and their families fully into the fabric of our society in a way that will not only improve our economy but invest in the future of our nation.  The efficient and logical, yet arduous, roadmap for integration of talented, dedicated, and invested aspiring Americans already in the United States is the key to being a leading nation.  A fully repaired immigration system is critical to the future of our leadership and competitiveness.  Let us help our leaders see this perspective.

Representative Goodlatte and Immigration Reform

Author: on 01/10/2014

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

Author: on 12/30/2013

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

Author: on 12/23/2013

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.

Place the Agricultural Worker Provisions of SB 744 at the Head of the Table of Immigration Reform

Author: on 12/19/2013

Photo credit David Bacon, http://dbacon.igc.org

Photo credit David Bacon, http://dbacon.igc.org

This past summer the city of Fresno, California erected a monument to commemorate a tragic event: the deaths of twenty nine migrant farmworkers and three border patrol agents in the crash of a US government deportation plane in 1948.  This event was etched into the American cultural landscape by Woody Guthrie in the song “Deportee.” Guthrie said that he wrote that song in large part to give names (albeit fictitious) to the dead because the major national media simply labeled them “deportees.” This was a time when our nation viewed migrant farmworkers, or Braceros, as expendable, exploitable and anonymous; Guthrie strove to call attention to the inhumane fashion in which our nation conducted its agricultural work.  Sixty-five years ago, under the Bracero program, farmworkers would work for short periods of time in the US and would then be deported upon the end of the program.  There was no organized labor representation and the workers signed contracts in English which they could not read.  Due to the gross inhumanity and one sided nature of the program, it was ended in 1964 when the growing movements for equal rights and immigrant rights began to change the landscape.

As we teeter on the edge of losing a chance at immigration reform, even some of our most ardent allies have called for SB 744 to be divided into pieces.  President Obama has signaled his support for a piecemeal approach as long as the important parts get done.  If the House is only willing to address reform in a piecemeal fashion, then we as advocates must push the most just and comprehensive pieces forward first.  It has been clear from the Senate bill that a lengthy path to citizenship and some other decent reforms will be tied to further ineffective and inhuman border security policies.  The bill’s Corker-Hoeven amendment, which is part of the Senate-passed bill, calls for an exponential increase in border patrol staff and the use of drones and other high tech military tools.  Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke rightly labelled this a “bonanza” to the defense industry which would “definitely result in more death and suffering” on the border.  In order to protect border communities and provide for basic human rights for those migrating, we must admit that the Corker-Hoeven amendment will not improve our immigration system and as ACLU legislative counsel Joanne Lin writes would “be simply devastating for border communities,” and focus our efforts on just and humane immigration reform.

The rights of immigrants and the positive alteration of our immigration laws means providing a smooth legalization process, an end to the  draconian aspects of IIRIIRA which have destroyed so many families, and a renewed focus on family unity. We must also press Congress to make sure that immigrant workers are protected, both for their own sakes but also to make sure that there is an equal playing field with US workers, which does not result in further unemployment for those already here.   If done well, reform should result in greater diversity and cultural growth for the US as well as job creation.

The agricultural reform aspects of SB 744 should be at the top of the list for the House no matter how it decides to pass immigration legislation.   SB 744’s groundbreaking provisions, while not perfect, are the result of long negotiations between major agricultural interests and agricultural unions.  These negotiations resulted in wages which do not threaten other workers and provides safeguards for workers to “port” so that they are not tied to one employer and mistreatment which often results from lack of mobility.

S. 744 also allows for those who remain as farmworkers to adjust their status on an expedited path.  Beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative are also entitled to an expedited path to adjustment.  Both these groups have been the subject of deserved sympathy from both parties over the past decade.  This newfound respect for the immigrant farmworker has been largely overlooked in news coverage about the bill but is crucial.

To remain intact, these provisions depend on strong support from labor and industry.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte has proposed his own agricultural bill which unfortunately will not lead to a path to citizenship or permit portability.  It also strips workers of the right to file an unfair labor claim, which not only takes away a fundamental right but also inherently creates an unequal employment situation to that of a U.S. worker who cannot be stripped of these rights.

One especially chilling section of Goodlatte’s bill is to “decrease the access of Legal Aid” to immigrants.    In the case of farmworkers, this bill decreases the ability of workers to obtain legal representation for wage violations which are abundant, ranging from simple disputes to outright wage theft.  At the same time, Goodlatte calls for a decrease in inspection, oversight and regulation.   As someone who worked as a law clerk with migrant farmworkers, I have seen growers refuse legal aid attorneys access to workers, sites and housing.   This unconscionable provision would force farmworkers to labor in remote areas with no protection.  This would result in employers getting away with large scale violations and subjects immigrant labor to a level of serfdom which harkens back to Bracero days.  What is particularly disturbing is that U.S. residents and citizens laboring alongside immigrants would have access to legal aid while their immigrant co-workers would not. This two tiered system would not only lead to widespread labor violations and exploitation but also would greatly harm U.S. workers by essentially creating an indentured work force, exploitable with no recourse.  It is simply unacceptable to even consider this provision.

While there are many provisions in SB 744 which should be eliminated or radically improved, the farmworker provisions are a highlight as they demonstrate that mutual interest between labor and industry can lead to progressive immigration reform which supports workers, both domestic and immigrant, the industry and the nation as a whole.  As advocates for just immigration reform, we need to express our support for this crucial alliance and tell both sides how strongly we support it.   We owe it to those lost in Los Gatos and all of the other migrant farmworkers who have fed our nation for years.

Written by Mark Shmueli, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

The Intolerable Delay for Relative Petitions

Author: on 12/17/2013

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.  http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

Hungry for Reform

Author: on 12/11/2013

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

Remembering Nelson Mandela and Working Toward a Better World

Author: on 12/09/2013

shutterstock_122880505Nelson Mandela will undoubtedly be remembered for many things — bringing an end to the policy of racial hatred, violence and oppression called apartheid, becoming the first black president of South Africa, relinquishing the presidency when he could have easily won reelection, and planting the seeds of economic opportunity for all South Africans.  Mr. Mandela accomplished the seemingly impossible through his integrity and unwavering commitment to his principles.  To those who predicted a post-apartheid bloodbath of revenge against white South Africans, Mr. Mandela answered with reconciliation and compromise. Even world leaders who denounced his positions and tactics during the course of his lifetime have now joined in praise of the inspiration the world collectively draws from the life of this remarkable man.

Our country’s leaders were no exception and issued thoughtful statements regarding Mr. Mandela’s commitment to democracy and justice.

President Obama remarked, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice. “

Speaker of the House John Boehner praised Mr. Mandela as “an unrelenting voice for democracy” and noted that his “perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “The world has lost an exceptional leader who made the world a better place by illuminating in his own nation the shining light of freedom. From prisoner to president, Mr. Mandela demonstrated a lifelong commitment to justice and human rights, and his legacy should serve as an example for all of us.”

Hopefully these eloquent remarks are not merely words that will be quickly forgotten in the partisan gridlock that grips Washington.

Our political leaders should draw inspiration from Mr. Mandela’s mission of justice and join together to pass immigration reform.

And Congress and the President face a much easier task than did Mr. Mandela.  Unlike in post-apartheid South Africa, which was torn apart after many years of extreme racial violence and oppression, in our country today we have broad consensus that our immigration system must be fixed.  Americans from across the political spectrum  -  including conservatives, liberals, business interests, organized labor, religious organizations and grassroots groups  -  agree that we need to replace our broken immigration process with a new system that will fuel economic growth and promote our country’s traditional principles of family unity and justice.

But despite the widespread calls for legislation — even with the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate this summer — the momentum for change has been halted in the House of Representatives.  In fact, the House leadership has not brought any legislation to the floor for a vote.

Our leaders need to take inspiration from Mr. Mandela’s life to work in partnership with adversaries to accomplish goals vital to both sides, and, more importantly, to the country as a whole.  Our leaders in Washington need to set aside their political rancor and partisan differences and allow a vote on an immigration bill that reflects our collective values and meets the security and economic needs of our country.

And each of us, as immigration practitioners, also should look inward to take action based on the inspiration of the life of Mr. Mandela.  As we remember the legacy one of history’s great moral leaders, let each of us reflect on what more we can do to make this world better —better for our clients, our AILA colleagues, our families, our communities, and even those we consider our adversaries.

Because, as Mr. Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Written by Marketa Lindt, Member, AILA Board of Governors

Military Mixed Messages

Author: on 12/04/2013

shutterstock_68018101A couple of weeks ago we heard from USCIS that adjudicators would be encouraged to use “Parole in Place” for many close relatives of active duty, reservists, and veterans in our nation’s armed services.  It seemed like a no-brainer to many since these brave men and women have served our country and this policy, broadly applied, would free many of them from the stress and fear of their family members being deported.

But in something that feels kind of like a bait and switch to me, we heard just a few days later that some of our armed services have been refusing to enlist American citizens and green card holders because they have spouses or children that are undocumented.


America wants to encourage military service and protect those who serve and their families, but pretty soon you probably won’t have to offer parole in place any more–because you won’t have any enlistees who have undocumented relatives.  Because you will have refused their service.  Turned down these people for no other reason than they are related to immigrants without papers.

You’re not turning them down because they committed a crime—you’re turning them down because of who they love.

I’m happy to report though that this news hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and that a bipartisan group of 31 Congressional members, led by Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), has demanded an explanation from our nation’s military leaders.  They want to know some pretty basic information, and I do as well. (I paraphrase four of their questions below):

  1. How long has this been going on?
  2. Are the Army and Air Force doing this too?
  3. How many American citizens and green card holders has this already affected?
  4. How do recruiters determine whether someone has undocumented dependents?

Just to be clear, I understand that for security reasons you need to know who you are swearing in to our country’s service.  I have no problems with that.  If the person trying to enlist doesn’t meet eligibility criteria themselves, don’t let them in. I get it.

But I do have a problem with predicating whether you get to volunteer to serve—and possibly die for our country—solely on who you love and care for.