Posts Tagged ‘Immigration Reform’

USCIS Knows What Its Problems Are. Will It Now Fix Them?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Recently, the USCIS conducted a survey of more than 5,000 “stakeholders” (folks who care about and participate in the U.S. immigration system in some way).  These stakeholders were asked to identify the key areas of concern for them.  The USCIS has now released its initial report from this survey, identifying the areas of concern most frequently raised by stakeholders.  The report is enlightening.

This initial report lists the following areas of concern, in order, that USCIS will address:

  • National Customer Service Center
  • Nonimmigrant H-1B (specialty occupations)
  • Naturalization
  • Employment-Based Adjustment of Status
  • Family-Based Adjustment of Status
  • Employment-Based Immigrants Preference Categories 1, 2 (priority workers, professionals and holders of advanced degrees) and 3 (skilled workers and professionals)
  • Refugee and Asylum Adjustment of Status
  • Form I-601 (Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility)
  • General Humanitarian Programs
  • Employment Authorization and Travel Documents

The USCIS has committed to:

convene working groups to review each of the issue areas. Leaders from across USCIS will join analysts, adjudicators and customer service representatives in examining policy and instructional documents that guide our work. USCIS will follow the federal rulemaking process whenever appropriate, and once approved, new policies will be available electronically.

While it is all well and good to internally review and examine policies and procedures, isn’t that the source of the problems with these listed areas of concern?  After all the biggest problem identified by stakeholders is the Customer Service it offers!! I challenge the USCIS to involve stakeholders in these working groups so that not only are real concerns voiced, but solutions can be discussed in an open forum, generating more and better ideas than have been coming out of USCIS since its formation.  Making stakeholders and customers wait to comment on “”possible” internally generated changes until “potential” federal regulations are published (comments which are frequently ignored by USCIS in the rulemaking process) is more of the same old way of doing business.

Director Mayorkas should follow the promise President Obama made shortly after he entered office to make the internal decision making process more open and transparent.  Enough of internal working groups.  Let’s really fix these problems.  Together.

Senator Schumer, You are Wrong!

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Last Week Congress passed its first major piece of immigration legislation in several years.  The Border Security Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 5875)

Besides the fact that the bill itself is a joke–passed without debate, study or analysis as to its effectiveness, there are two major problems–Funding of the $600 Million Dollars Bill, and the “Real” purpose of the bill.

First the “real” purpose of the bill–Schumer and other Democrats have barked loudly that the bill is intended to shut the mouths of border crazies who refuse to discuss any change to our nightmarish national immigration policies until America is safely tucked inside a sealed bubble, invulnerable from entry by anyway but the purest foreign national.  Senator Sessions from the border state of Alabama, who can only be described as absolutely crazed on the issue of immigration, responded to this strategy:

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York was hopeful that the bill would bring Republicans back to the bargaining table. But one key GOP Senator, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, threw cold water on those hopes, calling the bill “more like an effort to receive positive press” for Democrats rather than a genuine attempt to stop illegal immigration.

“Make no mistake: while this small measure can have some value, if it is not followed by strong, sustained action; it is yet another gesture without consequence,” Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement issued Thursday.

“The ‘Masters of the Universe’ in Washington are always proposing new plans to deal with the massive illegality at the border,” said Sessions. Last week, Sessions and Arizona Sen. John McCain, another key Republican, said the $600 million bill was only the first step in toughening the border.

So much for Republicans now happily agreeing to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  Just in case Senator Schumer (and President Obama) did not get the message from Senator Sessions, let me make it perfectly clear:  Republicans will NOT support any type of immigration reform that recognizes the reality we are currently in.  Period.  President Obama, Senator Schumer–If you cannot do it without Republicans, you are not going to do it.  My suggestion is that you get the Democrats to fulfill the campaign promise of immigration reform, or kiss the Latino vote goodbye.  Clearly, the Republicans do not care about their future as a party of inclusion, do the Democrats also not care?

Now, the Second BIG problem with this bill–It is NOT paid for!  Senator Schumer said that this bill would funded on the backs of employers of foreign national employees–specifically those who have more than 50 employees, and who’s workforce is more than 50% made up of H-1B and/or L-1 workers.  For those specific companies, the USCIS is now going to collect an ADDITIONAL $2,000 fee, over and above the  H-1B filing fee of $2,230 and the L-1 filing fee of $820 these companies already pay to USCIS to file (but not necessarily approve) the application.

This full funding of this bill is unclear (like most bills that come out of Congress), but the funding is summarized as follows:

Rescinds from unobligated balances certain funds for: (1) U.S. Customs and Border Protection, border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology; (2) Transportation Security Administration (TSA), aviation security; (3) FEMA, administrative and regional operations; and (4) Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, periodic censuses and programs. Directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to pay in FY2010-FY2011 the full costs associated with deployment of the National Guard along the Southwest border.

So, while it is unclear how much Senator Schumer hoped to raise from his H-1B and L-1 visa stunt, perhaps a little math is in order.  So far this fiscal year, the USCIS has received about 43,000 H-1B applications for new H-1B workers (of a total 85,000 that are available).  That leaves 42,000 potential H-1B applicants to pay the $2,000 Schumer Fee.   If every one of those cases paid the Schumer Fee, that would raise $80,000,000.  That leaves only about $520,000,000 to be funded by the L-1 visa program and the other cost shifting noted above.  There are not even 85,000 L-1 applications filed in an entire year by all applicants, let alone the specific applicants to which this law applies.  Couple the numbers problem with the USCIS attack on the specific type of employer that Senator Schumer is targeted, and the resulting sharp decrease in usage of the H-1B and L-1 visa by those employers, and what becomes clear is that the Schumer fee cannot possibly raise more than a few million dollars.  How pathetic.

So, once again, as citizens, we are left holding the debt for Congress’ effort to throw more money at the border, without a solution to our immigration crisis.  Senator Schumer, you are wrong.   This bill is not about border enforcement, nor is it about getting Republicans to play ball on immigration reform.  This bill is about money; money to special interests who will benefit from it’s spending. But this new law is not about fixing a broken immigration system.   You probably don’t want my advice, but here it is anyway.  The next time you move forward on immigration legislation Senator Schumer, I suggest aiming a little higher in your aspirations and fix the system, don’t just repair a broken pipe.

An Amnesty–Is That Legal?

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I was driving to court recently down a highway in Atlanta when I drove past a toll booth with a HUGE sign on it.  The sign read “AMNESTY.”  I thought:   “wait a second!  Amnesty” is a dirty word, literally unmentionable in polite company.  How could there be an “Amnesty?”

On my way back to the office, I passed the toll booth again.  Again, the sign was there. This time I slowed down (a little), and noticed it was a “Toll Amnesty.”  This toll “Amnesty” is apparently a regular event in Georgia.  I explored a little more about this “Amnesty,” trying to understand how a toll “Amnesty,” turning illegal drivers into legal ones is permitted, but an “Amnesty” that would turn “illegal” people into legal people is not.   I dug around a little on the Internet and found some information about the reason for and the goal of this toll “Amnesty:”

What is the toll violation amnesty program?

Normally, the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) charges a $25 administrative fee, as provided by Georgia law, each time someone fails to pay the toll to travel on the tolled section of Georgia 400. During the limited time of this amnesty program, SRTA is willing to reduce a portion of the $25 administrative fee to $15 per violation. During amnesty, the Customer will be responsible for the $15 administrative fee plus the toll per violation.

Why is SRTA offering its customers an opportunity to compromise their violations?

SRTA’s primary goal is to collect all tolls due. We believe one way we can accelerate the collection of unpaid tolls is to offer a temporary financial incentive to our customers – namely, a partial waiver of the normal $25 per violation administrative fee-if the tolls are voluntarily paid now.

So, the toll “Amnesty” is designed to FORGIVE people for breaking a law (a misdemeanor in Georgia),  bring people out of the shadows of toll illegality, and, as an incentive to do so, have people pay LESS of a fine than if the agents of the state went out and rounded up everyone who is a toll violator.  Does the State of Georgia know who these “illegals” are?  Sure they do! If you  fail to pay a toll, a photo of your car and license plate is taken, so the State of Georgia knows exactly who broke the law and where they live!   (If only those Utah state employees lived here, they could have put their “hit” list out for the Georgia State Patrol to go out and arrest these illegal drivers.)

Let’s compare a proposed national “Amnesty” (or for those of you with sensitive ears–legalization) with this Georgia “Amnesty.”   An immigration “Amnesty” would FORGIVE people for breaking the law (a misdemeanor if they came in illegally and a civil violation if they overstayed their visas), bring people out of the shadows and into our mainstream economy, and lessen the penalties currently in place (a 10 year bar in the home country) to encourage people to come forward right away and become “legal.”

Wow, that is the same rationale for both programs.  One run effectively by the State of Georgia and one denied a chance at being effective by national politicians.  Why can we do one and not the other?  Why can we give “amnesty” to illegal drivers but not to “illegal” people?  Simple–A lack of leadership and a lack of political courage.

Once we can convince our national political leadership that immigration reform is GOOD for America (and it would be very good for America) and that the example set by the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority is a good one to follow,  we can end this divisive debate over immigration, calm racial tensions in America and get back to work fixing our economy.  My only question is — which national politician has the courage to stand up and lead on this key issue?

The Fees, The Fees, Where are the Fees (Going Up!)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The surprise announcement of a proposed fee increase at today’s USCIS stakeholder meeting should take no one by surprise.  USCIS plans to raise filing fees by “generally” 10% or so across the board, except for Naturalization (which is already at an outrageous $675, but will really now be $680) and Adjustment of Status, which is only going up 6% (by $55!!), but the Form I-140 filing fee is increasing by 20% to $580 and Premium Processing is skyrocketing to $1,225!!!  USICS is doing this at a time when inflation has been basically nonexistent, there has been zero accountability from USCIS, and quality of service levels have dropped across the board.

Director Mayorkas has said that the USCIS is taking further steps to cut spending by $160 million from its $2.5 BILLION dollar budget (less than 1%). There is no doubt that USCIS is hamstrung by Congress, which gives USCIS virtually no funding. And, federal law is clear that USCIS does have to recoup some costs from users of its services. These mandatory recoverable costs include:

• Direct and indirect personnel costs, including salaries and fringe benefits such as medical insurance and retirement;
• Physical overhead, consulting, and other indirect costs, including material and supply costs, utilities, insurance, travel, and rents or imputed rents on land,buildings, and equipment;
• Management and supervisory costs; and
• The costs of enforcement, collection, research, establishment of standards, and regulation.
OMB Circular A-25, User Charges (Revised), par. 6, 58 FR 38142 (July 15, 1993).  INA section 286(m), 8 U.S.C. 1356(m), also provides DHS broader discretion to include other costs in their “recapture” from filing fees.
A very interesting and potentially very expensive (for users) change in the regulations is that USCIS is setting up the new fee structure to NOT be tied to Form numbers, such that for the Form I-129, used for many nonimmigrant visas, they can charge separate and disparate filing fees for each type of visa.  The USCIS also is now effectively limiting the types of Forms for which fees can be waived by rewriting the regulation on fee waivers.

What is disturbing to me is that there is nothing in the announcement about reducing the over-hiring from previous two years  (staff cuts) or even reducing salaries.  Frankly, that is the first place EVERY business in America starts.  Heck, even the Department of Transportation had to furlough 2,000 people from its employee roles in March because of a budget fight with Senator Bunning.    Why is there such a reluctance to cut positions or salaries?.  It is quite clear that the USCIS is overstaffed.  Otherwise how do you explain the extraordinary number of unnecessary and redundant Requests for Evidence from the Service Centers that appear to be nothing more than “make work” for examiners? Nor is there anything in the USCIS fee increase proposal about trimming other areas of its budget, including the virtually useless “call centers,” employees benefits, or any other expense.

The real issue here is not necessarily the outrageousness of yet another fee increase, but really the source of funding for USCIS.   More than 95% of USCIS’s funding comes from user fees.  I know of no other federal agency which gets this much of their funding directly from its users. In that respect, USCIS is in many ways like a private business.  If Congress is mandating that USCIS be funded from is users like a private business, then USCIS needs to operate like a private business and be run as such. That would start with cutting not just “expenses” but overhead, which includes much of the over-hiring that was done in the previous administration.

Further, let’s look at what we are NOT getting in this fee increase–quality control, employee accountability, and performance metrics.  We don’t know how USCIS measures its employees or its programs, and we do not know what criteria they use, particularly for “rogue” examiners who issue unnecessary and overbroad RFEs and denials. We are also getting no RATIONAL explanation for the HUGE fee increase for premium processing, other than the USCIS needs the extra money to modernize its systems!

Now, this is a proposed rule.  So I strongly urge every person who reads this to submit formal comments on the proposed rule through www.regulations.gov.  The comment period runs for 45 days, beginning June 11, 2010 and ending July 26, 2010.   Additional detail on the methodology and data USCIS used to develop these fees will be available at www.regulations.gov on June 11, 2010.  I would encourage us to voice our strong opposition to these fee increase until USCIS justifies this increase with better performance, and real budget cuts, not a superficial less than 1%!

I HAVE Read the Arizona Law. And, It Still Stinks!

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

I was at church on Sunday when a fellow parishioner decided to engage me on the Arizona anti-immigration Law.  His main point was this:  ”it is exactly like federal law.”  When I explained to him that it was not actually “exactly” like federal law and that in fact there is no federal law allowing for racial profiling and arresting people because they look “illegal,” he would not believe me (keep in mind, we are at church).

I have heard repeatedly over the last month, from folks who may have read the Arizona law, but who have NOT read the federal law, that the Arizona law is somehow nothing more than an extension of what the Federal government already does.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Arizona law is classic Kris Kobach.   When he worked in the Attorney General’s office under Ashcroft, he took Section 263 of the INA (written as part of the Alien Registration Act of 1940— this law is how we put thousands of Japanese into internment camps), and turned it into “Special Registration” or NSEERS.  NSEERS was designed to have Muslim men who had come into the U.S. legally come and “register” with the then INS.   NSEERS did not require anyone who entered illegally come in and register (that is true).   The program is considered an failure, as it produced no viable evidence of anyone involved in terrorist activities.  It did lead, however, to 13,000 Muslim men being arrested, jailed and placed in removal proceedings, so perhaps Kobach did achieve his goal.

That said, and to make the argument that the Arizona law mimics federal law, Kobach has now taken Section 264(e) of the same Alien Registration Act of 1940, and included it in the new Arizona law (A.R.S. 13-1509).  Section 264(e) makes it a federal misdemeanor, punishable by 30 days in jail and/or a $100 fine, to fail to carry one’s ”certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt car issued to him pursuant to subsection (d).”  Now subsection (d) of the INA 264 says:  ”every alien in the United States who has been registered and fingerprinted under the provisions of the Alien Registration Act, 1940, or under the provisions of this Act shall be issued a certificate of alien registration or an alien registration receipt card in such form and manner and at a such time as shall be prescribed under regulations issued by the Attorney General.”   That alien registration document refers to the registration document created under the section of law that Kobach previously used to remove Muslim men from America.  However, in case you were thinking that this federal statute was actually being used, a search of court records reveals no prosecutions federally for this offense, and the last citation to the statute in an immigration appeals court case 32 years ago.

So, while technically true that federal law does require anyone required to “register” to carry proof of that registration with them at all times, in reality, enforcement of this law has been suspended for decades for good reason–the law has not kept up with the changes in immigration law.  There are now dozens of ways to prove one’s legal status, many of which do not even include proof (e.g. Canadians who enter by showing a passport are given no proof of entry).  The law is basically unenforceable, or other words, broken.

A bigger issue, however, is the provision in the Arizona, that is causing the most outage —  the racial profiling provision found in Section 3 of HB2162, now A.R.S.  Section 11-1051. This is the big lie. This provision does NOT have any federal immigration statutory counterpart. There is a federal regulation that reads as follow:

8 CFR 287.8(b)(2)  If the immigration officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on specific articulable facts, that the person being questioned is, or is attempting to be, engaged in an offense against the United States or is an alien illegally in the United States, the immigration officer may briefly detain the person for questioning.

The question becomes this.  What are “articuable facts” to a trained ICE or CBP officer of a person’s illegal presence in the United States, versus what those facts are to a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff?   Let’s not kid ourselves, this new Arizona law will lead to racial profiling, and thus creates the strong possibility that it is unconstitutional.  Kobach knows he is pushing the envelope on constitutionality here. He has repeatedly played this game at the expense of cities and counties around the United States. His plan is clear, keep getting gullible and politically ambitious politicians to pass marginally constitutional laws, in the hopes of establishing the outer fringes of what is unconstitutional on the issue of immigration enforcement (e.g. mandatory e-verify vs. housing discrimination).

So, Section 11-1051 is an attempt to establish how much “profiling” will be allowed in Federal law.  Kobach wrote:

“[F]or any ”lawful” stop, detention or arrest (actually he wrote “contact” but then realized after passage that this would fail constitutional muster so he had the AZ folks change it) made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state,  . . . county, city, town . . .  in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state (to make sure to include housing violations and cars on blocks in the yard, because you know those are signs of  ”illegals”), where ”reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person, . . . .

Do you really believe that a statute this vague, ambiguous and downright inflammatory actuallywill pass constitutional muster?  I hope not, because it does not.    Now, tell me this–What does this language mean? The term “reasonable suspicion” is nowhere defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  So, what is “reasonable suspicion” that  someone “is an alien unlawfully present?”  Is it the clothes they wear? Their haircut? Perhaps the car they drive? The person’s accent?  Or, do you just know it when you see it, like pornography.

Perhaps the problem here is Kobach. Do we really want a man on a mission to aggrandize himself (and make a living on the lawsuits he causes to be filed by the laws he writes) to be the puppet-master behind these ambitious blinded politicians?  Isn’t a dialogue on the most effective way to curb illegal immigration, without passing unconstitutional laws denigrating entire races of people?  Surely we, as a society, are capable of agreeing on a solution that enforces our borders, punishes bad employers, secures America, AND provides compassion to people, energizes our economy, supplies needed labor and investment, and provides for an appropriate flow of immigrants and non-immigrants in the future.  I just hope we come to a solution before Kobach dreams up his next unconstitutional nightmare.

The Supreme Court Recognizes An Old Right for Immigrants!

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The Supreme Court yesterday issued what can only be considered a seminal decision as it applies to the constitutional rights of all immigrants. In Padilla v. Kentucky, 555 U. S. ___ (2010), the court expressed, at least in summary, its dismay at the increasing difficulties caused by today’s immigration laws:

Changes to immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction. While once there was only a narrow class of deportable offenses and judges wielded broad discretionary authority to prevent deportation, immigration reforms have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited judges’ authority to alleviate deportation’s harsh consequences. Because the drastic measure of deportation or removal is now virtually inevitable for a vast number of noncitizens convicted of crimes, the importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important. Thus, as a matter of  federal law, deportation is an integral part of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes.

Over the 21 years of my practice, I have had literally hundreds of clients who were improperly informed or not informed at all, of the negative immigration consequences of their “plea.” It is, frankly, about time that the failure of the criminal defense bar to adequately inform their clients becomes a reason to have these convictions overturned. I foresee an enormous surge in Motions to Reopen removal proceedings based upon the Supreme Courts decision.
Some may not agree (certainly ICE won’t), and while not mentioned by name, Padilla v. Kentucky also in my view sets aside the BIA’s decision in Matter of Pickering, whch itself was severely limited in Matter of Cota-Vargas, where the BIA recognized the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. Having a conviction corrected because a person was not informed of the consequences of that plea is clearly a legitimate reason to NOT hold that conviction as still rendering a person removalable. So says SCOTUS!

Criminal Defense lawyers around the country will now have to seek training in the immigration consequences of a plea, or do what some of the best criminal defense lawyers already do–retain competent immigration counsel to assist in the defense of their clients. AILA members–Immigration lawyers– should also proactively reach out to the criminal defense bar in their jurisdictions. Teach seminars, offer assistance, and even sign up to assist in the representation of accused individuals in state and federal courts.

Another important signal coming out of this decision is that the Supreme Court may be laying the groundwork for immigration reform as it relates to the extraordinarily harsh and failed policies of removal that were established as part of IIRAIRA (Illegal Immigration Reform Act and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996). The provisions substantially expanding “aggravated felony” definitions, demanding permanent bars for seemingly minor failures, and wreaking havoc on the Due Process clause of the constitution all scream for a “fix.” This decision sends a clear signal to Congress that it is time to get to work on the Reform.

Finally, I can see looking down the road, similar due process claims as they relate to the ineffective assistance of counsel in Immigration Court and before the Board of Immigration Appeals. If an person is entitled to competent representation as it pertains to the immigration consequences of their criminal plea, does it not follow that they are entitled to competent representation during their actual removal hearings? Attorney General Holder set aside Matter of Compean early in his term as Attorney General, and reinstated In Re Lozada as the standard for claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Lozada itself is a poorly reasoned decision and requires a wasteful use of State Bar resources to use the decision to a client’s benefit. Frankly, an argument can now be made that there is, in fact, a right to counsel in Immigration Court proceedings, and that where a person cannot afford counsel, one should be appointed and paid for by the government.

Regardless of any other thoughts, however, I personally want to the thank the Supreme Court for doing the right thing in this case. It shows you that perseverance and holding the government’s feet to the fire can bring results.



The Immigration Malaise–Is the Mojo Gone?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Are we back in the 70’s? As a child of the 70’s myself, I have not so fond memories of the economy and the politics of that era. I am experiencing a sort of deja vu right now as I consider the possibility of immigration reform happening during this Congress.

Now, don’t get me wrong. there were good things about the 70’s. At some point I will think of them and write a blog about them. But, for now, let’s focus on the parallels that cause me concern.

The 70’s were famous for “stagflation.” a seemingly unending period of increasing prices, no or slow growth, coupled with a general feeling of the blah’s among the American People. We had lost our “mojo.” It was tough to find jobs, and what jobs you could find were not one’s you wanted to do. The politics of the era were even worse. Simply put: Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, Ford, Carter. Not exactly a pantheon of great issues or leaders.

Here we are in 2010. We have a non-growing economy, with no “stagflation” but with a general sense of the “blahs.” Few employers are hiring, and no one is willing to take risks. Again it feels like that unique American mojo has dissipated. Politically? Well what can you say? If anything, the partisanship, and cross party rivalry is even worse than during the 70’s. Nothing is effectively getting done, and certainly nothing that requires courage is passing Congress.

Which, finally, gets me to my point. The entire immigration structure in America appears to have lost its way. Congress is lacking the courage and political will to tackle a difficult but necessary issue. The government agency responsible for “service” is currently in “screw you” mode, trying every which way to limit the ability of employers to get visas for prospective employees, seeing “fraud” under every bush and behind every tree, and trying its best to dissuade folks from actually using the immigration system. The agency responsible for enforcement recorded an increased number of removals for FY2009, and is on track for a “better” year this year. The agency in charge of letting folks into the country legally, is doing a terrific job of turning away nonimmigrants with valid visas. The agency responsible for protecting American workers jobs is doing such a great job that many employers with audited petitions now wait TWO years or more to see if the advertisement they ran TWO years ago was adequate for a position available TWO years ago, which the person can then wait another 7 years to fill permanently. Overall, I would say the immigration system has lost its mojo.

So, what can we do. Enlist Austin Powers to find the Mojo? Or, push forward with hope and a belief that the good and right will ultimately prevail. What caused me to ponder on this was rather unusual. I was listening to “great speeches in history” on my IPod, and happened upon Ronald Reagan’s’ Inaugural Speech from 1981. I particularly love this quote:

Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children and our children’s children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

Whether you believe that President Reagan was a great President or not, you have to admit, the speech was inspirational. And, it made me think. Maybe not all hope is lost. If there were only someone to inspire us. If only there were someone to move us forward as a country on the issue of immigration. Right now, I am still searching for that leader, that voice. Let’s hope she shows up soon.

The New Immigration Reform Bill–And an American Hero

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

It cannot be said about many congressman or senators, but Congressman Luis Gutierrez is a courageous hero. I say this not because the legislation he proposed today in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 is perfect. It is not. there are issues that I have with the bill. Rather, he is a hero because he is willing to stand up for what is right. And, it is right to try to fix our broken immigration system now.

That’s right. Now. Not next year. Not in a “second term.” But now. The tatters and ruins of our immigration system cannot be allowed to remain. Everyday we encounter the human toll of what our legal immigration system has wrought, and we see the effects of years of a lack of enforcement of this broken system, AND the effects of years of over-enforcement of that same system. The results are tragically similar, children separated from their parents, husbands separated from their wives, businesses unable to secure their future because of a lack of talent and skilled employment, and an economy unable to nimbly shift from the 19th and 20th century into the 21st century. As a country, we can no longer tolerate what has become a human disaster.

Courage is not something we are used to seeing in Congress. But Congressman Gutierrez has secured 87 other honorable men and woman in Congress to stand with him in this effort. The question now becomes, who else has the courage to stand on the precipice and look into the horizon. Who else can see the future for what it CAN be with a workable immigration system? Political affiliation should NOT be an issue here. The love or hatred of immigrants or immigration cuts across party lines. The tragedy here is that politics will come into play. One party will play games with the other party and the game will be on. Anti-immigrationists will sing long and loud about “law breakers” and “illegals.” There will be, in the words of the Old Testament, much “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Paine (he of “Common Sense” fame), wrote, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” I dare say we are back in those times. Courage is required, Fortitude is a must, and Patience is no longer a virtue. Reform of our immigration system can wait no longer. Congressman Gutierrez–Thank you for having the courage to begin this debate now.

All I Want For Christmas Is a Point-System

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

I think I changed my mind about a point-system for immigration purposes. There, I said it. In my defense, though, I did not come to this decision lightly. No, this comes as a result of years of watching hard-working people from all over the world get the short end of the stick based on some technicality in our immigration laws.

In immigration and in life, it’s often the people in the middle, the ones who go about their work, who mind their own business, who take care of themselves and their families, who go ignored, because immigration, like life, is not fair. As a society, we tend to cater to the “least of these” and to the “most of these,” leaving everyone in the middle to fend for themselves. Unless you’re a superstar or a billionaire with boatloads to invest, or you’re miserably poor and sick without a prayer in the world, this country’s immigration system turns its back on you, and as a result: WE’RE DEPORTING THE WRONG PEOPLE!

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not deporting ALL the wrong people. Laws exist for a reason, and they try to encompass what will be most fair for most people. The issue with immigration law is that it is so discretionary, but discretion seems to be exercised on all the wrong people. A “point-system,” which takes into account things like: a clean criminal record, an impressive academic history and achievements, economic contributions and paying taxes, English proficiency, and likeliness to not make use of public assistance, could be a great way to for the U.S. to keep immigrants who are productive members of society, but who aren’t among the wealthy 1% who can invest their way out of their woes, or down-and-out enough to qualify on a “hardship” claim.

Take Person A, for example. He is a bright young man. One point. He’s bilingual. Two points. He works hard, takes care of his wife and new baby, and has a clean record except for a speeding ticket. Three points. Despite being brought to the U.S. illegally as a young child by his parents, he graduated at the top of his class with especially high marks in math and physics and a strong desire to go to college and study aerospace engineering (which, last I checked, was one of the areas of study deemed as a great need for the future of this country). Ten points. Instead he’s taking voluntary departure because the only thing he did wrong aside from follow his parents to the U.S. when he was nine years old was fall in love with and marry a non-U.S. Citizen and have a healthy baby boy. His child isn’t sick enough, and his wife isn’t poor enough or American enough, so forget about all the points he may have racked up, we’ve kicked this future engineer to the curb.

Person B is a successful businessman. One point. He speaks fluent English and lives happily with his professional, educated wife. Two points. He owns his own company and provides jobs to dozens of workers in his area, even in a time of economic downturn. Ten points. And he’s on the next plane home, to the dismay of even the ICE officers who took him into custody.

Person C is a young woman who can barely read or write in her own language, let alone in English. She has three children, all of whom receive Medicaid, WIC or Social Security Disability. Throughout her years in the country she has openly admitted to using at least three different Social Security numbers to obtain work, but now relies on her son’s Social Security Disability payment for a significant portion of her monthly earnings. Due to the medical conditions of her two youngest children (one has a disability the other is severely autistic) she qualifies for “extreme hardship” and wins her right to stay in the U.S. In person, she’s thoughtful and sweet and her condition merits sympathy, to be sure. But should sympathy and hardship be the only qualifiers? I don’t think so.

I’m not advocating for her removal, or for the removal of anyone subject to extreme hardship, for that matter. I think it is admirable and very humanitarian of the U.S. to consider the plight of the poor. But I am suggesting that it seems unfair, to both hardworking immigrants and to this country as a whole, to “dump” people simply because they don’t qualify under a hardship clause. How many businessmen (or businesswomen), or engineers or scientists have we deported? We are supposed to be a nation that inspires the best in people, yet we’re throwing away some of our most valuable resources and wondering why other countries are emerging more powerful and making strides in science and technology that we are not.

With any luck, a reform package will be discussed in the next year or so. I can only hope it includes some sort of relief for those “in-between” people. Not everyone can buy or marry their way out of an immigration problem, and we’ve got to start keeping some of the smart people.

The Best (and Worst) of 2009

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Let’s face it – 2009 has not been a big year for immigration…but that may not be such a bad thing. Immigration advocates have bemoaned the Obama Administration’s lack of action on the issue, but, in the spirit of the holidays, I believe we have a lot to be thankful for as we look back on this past year…
• Obama’s Inauguration – THE GOOD: Obama has succeeded in driving record numbers of naturalized citizens to the polls with his calls for change and a renewed belief in the American Dream. That’s a positive start. THE BAD: He has not delivered on his promise to address immigration reform just yet.
• Committee Formation – THE GOOD: A committee has been formed to begin discussing a reform package. THE BAD: It has been pushed to the back burner for the moment, given the state of the economy and healthcare in the U.S.
• Janet Napolitano – THE GOOD: Janet was an exceptional choice who has more or less met the high expectations the Administration, and the general public, set for her. THE BAD: Pretty much anyone would have been better at being the DHS Secretary than Michael Chertoff.
• Worksite Raids – THE GOOD: Or lack thereof, should I say? Sure, we’ve seen some action, but nothing compared to the atrocities we saw in Postville or New Bedford a few years back. The few raids that did occur were not only conducted in a much more humane manner, but actually went after bad-apple employers as well. THE BAD: The E-Verify issue continues to crop up and seems to be growing in popularity since the Administration tends to waffle on how they want to handle the enforcement aspect of the immigration issue.
• Relief for Widows – THE GOOD: In one of my personal favorite highlights of the year, widowed spouses of U.S. Citizens are now eligible to have their petitions reinstated at the discretion of USCIS. THE BAD: At the very least, they can request deferred action.
• Mass Trials – THE GOOD: For immigrants detained at the border, en masse trials are no longer a viable option and have been overruled. Unlike previously when immigrants caught at the border were rounded up, read their rights as a group and asked to enter group guilty pleas, each person now shall be awarded an individual hearing before the judge. THE BAD: It will probably be much less efficient and a lot more expensive.
• Lou Leaves – THE GOOD: Lou Dobbs and his nightly rants will no longer corrupt innocent minds across the nation, and Boston-Boy John King and his Magic Map will fill the 7PM primetime spot on CNN. THE BAD: Lou’s considering a Senate run for the state of New Jersey. (I don’t like New Jersey either, but come on!)

Either way, again, 2009 has not been a big year for immigration. We can only hope for good things in the year to come.