Category Archives: Immigration Blogs

Alabama again at forefront of civil-rights issue

Last month we participated in the re-enactment of the 1965 civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. This year, the march took on a whole new meaning — and issue — as Latinos and immigrants’ rights activists joined in.

During the civil-rights era, events in Alabama raised our hopes and fears about the state of America’s creed that this is a country “with liberty and justice for all.”

We traveled to Alabama because last year Alabama passed HB 56, the worst anti-immigrant law in the nation. HB 56 orders public schools to demand immigration papers from children when they enroll, it shuts off municipal water service to customers who lack legal immigration status and it requires local and state police to demand proof of legal status (supposedly without engaging in racial profiling).

HB 56’s most draconian provisions are on hold, temporarily enjoined by a federal court. On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the propriety of injunctions issued against the law in Arizona (SB 1070) that inspired HB 56. The Alabama Legislature has before it bills to either repeal HB 56 or rework its most decried provisions.

Our experiences in Alabama reminded us that the colonies — and the United States that they became — took 250 years and a civil war to eliminate government-sanctioned slavery. Until 1868, Africans and African-Americans on U.S. soil were not considered citizens. It took another century-plus to establish that African-Americans are entitled to equal access to voting, to public services and to public spaces.

America — and Alabama — was a very different place in March 1965. An all-white state police force savagely beat 600 marchers as they nonviolently stood their ground on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the first stage of their pilgrimage to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

Forty-seven years later, national leaders, local and national elected officials crossed that bridge, leading thousands of others, assisted by Alabama State troopers — many of them African-Americans. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who co-led the 1965 bridge crossing, denounced HB 56 as an affront to civil rights and un-American. Other iconic leaders of that era stood at his side and added their voices.

Why the Family Unity Waiver Must be Implemented

On March 16, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) submitted a letter to the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) calling on rapid implementation of the Family Unity Waiver. The waiver is a soon-to-be proposed change in the rules to allow family members of U.S.  citizens to stay in their communities while they wait for a decision on their waiver toward a path to citizenship.  160 organizations from across the nation signed the letter to Alejandro Mayorkas urging for improvements to the proposed rule to ensure more families are kept together.

If fully implemented, the proposed rule that USCIS announced in January would be posted sometime this spring, and it would allow immediate family members of U.S. citizens to stay together as they wait for USCIS to process waivers of the three and 10-year bar to re-entry. Under current law, leaving the country triggers the bar to re-entry, and this creates a serious barrier for undocumented immigrants to come forward, since it could mean long-term separation from their loved ones.  Current law also creates major burdens on federal agencies and sometimes places immigrants applying for such waivers in harm’s way in their countries of origin.  The proposed change, once fully implemented, could keep hundreds of thousands of families together.

FIRM also called on USCIS to extend the proposed rule to include the immediate family members of Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), whom USCIS originally excluded from their initial announcement in January.  FIRM also recommended that USCIS use this opportunity to review how it defines ‘hardship’ under the three and 10-year bar, and invited USCIS to work closely with community organizations to ensure effective implementation of the new regulation once it is finalized.

In Support of In-State Tuition for Undocumented Youth, Active Service Members and Veterans

In 2010, the AFL-CIO expressed its strong support for the DREAM Act—a piece of federal legislation that would provide hard-working immigrant students a path to legal status.  We noted then that the bill is about children who have grown up in the United States, attended local schools and have demonstrated a sustained commitment to succeed in the educational system, but immigration laws provide no avenue for these students to become legal residents.  We also recognized that access to higher education will allow these immigrants to make even stronger contributions to our society, and decrease the number of those forced to live in poverty.  Unfortunately, that bill remains stalled in the United States Congress.

Meanwhile, some states have found a way to help these deserving young people, by adopting their own versions of the DREAM Act.  Those state laws do not provide a path to legal status because that is an area of authority reserved to the federal government, and therefore they do not conflict with the federal DREAM Act; they simply provide access to an affordable education by allowing qualifying undocumented students to attend college at in-state tuition rates.  Thirteen states have adopted such laws.  Maryland’s version is particularly important because it also allows active duty service members and veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition.

Not surprisingly, these laws have become a target of right-wing extremists connected to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the very same organizations that are leading the nationwide attack on collective bargaining and voting rights.  Maryland is currently their bull’s-eye. An organization called “Help Save Maryland,” which links itself to FAIR and Numbers USA—organizations that have been designated “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center—successfully placed the law on the ballot for repeal this fall.

Protecting the Maryland DREAM Act is Important to Working Families

  • Repeal would put the other state DREAM Acts at risk. The extremist forces behind the repeal effort are using Maryland as a testing ground.  If they are successful in Maryland, they are likely to target the other 12 states that have adopted similar laws.
  • Repeal would weaken support for the federal DREAM Act—the only immigration-related legislation that has attracted bipartisan support. The growing number of states that have adopted DREAM legislation sends a powerful message to legislators: There is growing public support for common-sense solutions. Repeal of the Maryland law would accomplish the opposite and may scare away legislators.
  • The state DREAM Acts are the best sign of hope that hard-working undocumented youth currently have. In-state tuition bills are balanced measures that benefit immigrant children who were brought to the United States by their parents through no fault of their own, and who are making the right choices in order to lead productive lives.  These young people live in our communities, attend our schools and pray in our worship centers.  All of us live with the consequences of whether they are provided with hope for the future.
           
  • A growing number of civil society organizations oppose repeal, in part because purveyors of hate are fueling the effort. The Maryland Catholic Conference is among many civil society organizations opposing repeal of the law, and has urged that “we must be wary of an anti-immigration movement afoot in our country, including right here in Maryland, that is fueled in large part by a man who has spent much of his life, albeit at a great distance, playing on people’s fears and prejudices to advance his own racist and classist agenda,” citing the founder of FAIR and Numbers USA.
  • Repeal would further empower the ALEC and others whose goals is to reduce the number of people who vote.  Every time the labor movement beats back ALEC-inspired initiatives—whether it’s Ohio’s SB 5 or Maryland’s DREAM Act repeal—working people diminish ALEC’s strength.  It is in our collective interest to protect the progress we make on the ground and show ALEC just how strong we are.

The failure of the U.S. Congress to act has left a dangerous policy void which the states, reflecting the desperation of the American people, are attempting to fill.  Some states—Alabama and Arizona, to name just two—are implementing mean-spirited and punitive bills that make the situation worse, and which the labor movement has strongly opposed. Others, like Maryland, have adopted in-state tuition bills that bring hope and modest relief for a small segment of the population.  We will support state-level efforts like the Maryland DREAM Act, but make no mistake: These are not complete solutions.  Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.

We need to focus on creating jobs and repairing our economy so it works for the 99%—not on tearing down real solutions and engaging in even more partisan payback.  We will continue to fight back against political games and hold all of our elected officials accountable for their commitment to do what’s right for our veterans, service members, talented young new Americans and all working people.

This was originally published by the AFL-CIO on March 14, 2012.

Would Jeremy Lin Have Succeeded Under Today’s Harsh Anti-Immigrant Laws?

Born to immigrant parents, forced to defy stereotypes, and committed to working hard, New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is an inspiration to many people in this country, not just NBA fans. His success dares children to excel in spite of any preconceived notions attached to them by others. His perseverance encourages others to never give up, even when your back is to the wall.

It’s interesting to wonder if any of this would be possible in an America that codifies discrimination and hate. Would Jeremy Lin’s immigrant parents have found this country so appealing if they had lived in an Arizona where people who look different can be harassed by local law enforcement? Would they have wanted their children to grow up in an Alabama where teachers can interrogate students about their immigration status?

There are countless Jeremy Lins in America today. Men and women, boys and girls with the potential for greatness in them, who have been pre-judged, overlooked, or are just waiting for an opportunity to shine. The world is lucky to have heard Lin’s story.

What I see when I look at Lin is inspiration. I see a person who stared rejection in the eye and didn’t quit.  A man that has had to defy stereotypes ever since he first played organized basketball.

But above all, I see someone that people of all races can look to and believe that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

Unfortunately, when many people see someone that looks like Jeremy Lin, they think of his immigration status. Instead of seeing a person that wants to succeed and contribute to his or her community, they let fear and a misinformed sense of nationalism cloud their vision.

The question now is how many more Jeremy Lins will we miss if they have their way?

Where Are the Auto Companies?

The State of Alabama is once again in the headlines because of its anti-immigration policy. With the de facto legalization of racial profiling, police officers can detain anyone they may suspect of being an illegal immigrant. And while many in the community are outraged by this extreme measure, foreign automakers have been surprisingly (and sadly) silent on the matter. This is troubling for obvious reasons because any person who is not an American citizen now has a target on them.  Now, companies like Daimler AG, Honda and Hyundai are now being called to take a stance. By remaining out of the conversation, these companies are advocating support for a racist and draconian law.

State Commission Scraps Controversial Immigrant Interrogation Procedures

New ruling comes in wake of costly lawsuits filed against county sheriffs

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission today voted to do away with citizenship verification procedures it had unanimously approved on October 15th, 2010. The procedures were the byproduct of Senate Bill 1141 of 2010, legislation sponsored and passed by State Senator Delores Gresham (R-Somerville).

During the 2010 legislative session, Senator Gresham pushed forward SB1141 over the strong objections of sheriffs and civil rights organizations alike, even as critical questions about implementation remained unanswered:

“What kind of documentation would be required to prove that you’re a citizen…would there be any kind of legal recourse? Could that person later on when they were released and get a hold of their papers, would they then be able to sue the jailer for unlawful detention?” —Senator Beverly Marrero questioning Senator Gresham during debate in Senate Judiciary Committee

“I don’t know.” —Senator Delores Gresham (the bill’s sponsor), in response

In its meeting this morning, the POST Commission ruled that statewide participation in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities program more than satisfies any requirement that jailers share information with ICE. The revoked procedures remain the subject of several lawsuits, including one filed in Davidson County contending that the POST Commission drafted the policy in violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. Additional lawsuits in various states of litigation contend that, because of the hastily drafted law and its implementation, county sheriffs across the state are detaining individuals in direct violation of Federal law, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Tennessee Constitution.

The following is a statement from Stephen Fotopulos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition:

“We are encouraged by the POST Commission’s decision to scrap these flawed procedures that call for unlawful interrogation and detention of foreign-born individuals. The previous policy was carelessly drafted, essentially requiring sheriffs across the state to engage in unlawful and unconstitutional acts and burdening local taxpayers with unfunded mandates and costly legal challenges. This entire episode provides a stark reminder of the dangers of turning local government employees into federal immigration agents, as well as a cautionary tale for the Tennessee General Assembly to more fully consider the costly implications of passing state-based immigration laws.

“While the ruling today is a first step in correcting the damage, we urge the commission and the Tennessee Attorney General to further clarify the responsibilities and restrictions on local jailers when participating in the so-called ‘Secure Communities’ program. Secure Communities has recently been plagued with nationwide controversy, as just last week news broke of a 14-year-old girl in Dallas—an American citizen who did not speak a word of Spanish—who was mistakenly deported to Colombia, South America.”

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FIRM Applauds Obama Administration’s Proposal to Keep Families United

Rule Change Eases Prolonged Separations

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) today applauded the Obama Administration’s proposed rule change allowing spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay together in the United States while family members work to gain permanent U.S. residency.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants have to leave the United States and apply for a waiver to lessen the 3-year to 10-year bar they face before they can re-enter the country. Often, the process to obtain a waiver can take months or even years, meaning families have to endure severe prolonged separations.

The rule change would allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens to file their waivers in the United States. The action does not require congressional approval.

“In focusing on keeping families together, the Obama administration is moving in a positive direction to significantly ease the hardship families are going through now to obtain these waivers,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change. The Center is a member of FIRM. “Families should not be torn apart because of their immigration status. The proposal cuts through unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape and focuses on family unity.”

The rule change would help families like Miguel and Lorena Reyes of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Miguel Reyes had to go back to Mexico in August 2011 to apply for his waiver. He is still waiting for it. Meanwhile, Lorena Reyes, a U.S. citizen, is working hard to maintain a normal family life for the couple’s two-year-old daughter, Ruth.

“This immigration process has been so stressful and devastating for me and my family,” said Lorena Reyes, who told her story to the Alliance for a Just Society and the Idaho Community Action Network, both members of FIRM. “Our life is on hold, our family’s future is on hold, as we wait for his visa to be approved. I am struggling financially and also suffering emotionally and so is our daughter. I want my husband to come back home now to wait for his waiver.”

FIRM hopes the policy is extended to immigrants with lawful permanent resident status. Families should not have to wait in other countries for prolonged periods of time to be reunited with their families in the United States.