Tag Archives: Democrats

Meet Jim Mowrer, Running Against Steve King of Iowa

23 Aug

Mowrer with ACB and JDC

On Tuesday, August 20, approximately fifty people gathered at Benach Ragland’s offices in Washington, DC to meet and support a 27 year old candidate for Congress from the 4th District of IowaJim Mowrer, born on a farm in Boone Iowa, and a veteran of our war in Iraq, is challenging the incumbent Steve King for his seat in Congress.  Readers of this blog need no introduction to Steve King as he is a leader of the extreme anti-immigrant faction of American politics.  With little results to his name, King has emerged as a rallying point for the “deport ‘em all” crowd with his willingness to say things that are not only insulting but patently and verifiably false.

As this post is about Jim Mowrer and the talents that we hope he will take to Congress, we will not belabor King’s venality.  However, King has seemingly been driven mad by the prospect of immigration reform, and like a wounded beast, his attacks have grown more desperate and chaotic.  In the past month alone, King has managed to earn rebukes from the majority of his own party as well as his church.  Briefly, in the past six weeks, King has:

To list all the idiotic things that Steve King has done and said, as well as the many people who are growing tired of King’s obsession with immigration to the exclusion of the best interests of his constituents would be to devote too much space to this clown. Especially, when there is so much to say about Jim Mowrer.

 

For us, it started with the fact that Mowrer simply is “not Steve King.”  That alone is cause for support.  However, on getting to know the man, it is quickly apparent that Mowrer is a special individual who can make a positive impact on Congress and our public debate.  Mowrer radiates Iowa earnestness and optimism despite a challenging life. Born on a farm in Boone, Iowa, Mowrer lost his father at the age of seven to a farming accident.  His mother had to leave the farm for the town and, for a while, the Mowrers relied upon the social safety net.  Mowrer is careful to credit his mother’s hard work, but is not blind to the role that Social Security survivor benefits provided to his family at their moment of tragedy.  Mowrer went to Iraq with the Iowa National Guard.  Mowrer points to his service in Iraq as when the immigration issue hit home for him.  Mowrer describes fighting alongside permanent residents and the profound impression that their patriotism had for him.  To Mowrer, they were Americans as much as anyone else; they were his brothers in arms.  Mowrer movingly describes putting on citizenship ceremonies in Iraq for his fellow soldiers and the pride that they and he felt during those moments.

Mowrer returned from Iraq and went back to Iowa.  He immediately noticed the extreme Steve King fatigue that residents of the 4th District were experiencing.  He also noted their embarrassment with the Congressman’s antics.  Mowrer knew that King did not represent the people that he grew up among in the 4th District and that those people were suffering while King embarked on his diatribe against immigrants instead of focusing on issues that matter to Iowa.  For example, there is still no Farm Bill, an essential part of Iowa’s economy.

At Benach Ragland on Tuesday, Mowrer promised to be a leader on immigration reform.  While it may be enough for him not to be Steve King, Mowrer said he would lead on immigration reform.  He supports comprehensive immigration reform, the path to citizenship and the Senate bill.  But, just as importantly, Mowrer has a deep respect for immigrants.  As he says, all his brothers in Iraq had “U.S.” on their uniforms and it did not matter where they were from, where they were born or whether they were residents or citizens.  When he needed back up, they were there.

Mowrer at BR

And we will be there all the way for Mowrer.  He has a chance to unseat King.  Defeating King would send a message to all those who follow him that the era of demonizing immigrants is over and the era of solutions and inclusion is here.  There is no room in the public debate for the hateful rhetorical bombs that King lobs.  His followers seldom seem to have the same enthusiastic disregard for the facts and the will of their constituents.  His defeat would send them running to the hills.  King was pushed to the limit in 2012 by a candidate who did not come from the district.  He does not have a war chest for this race and he has alienated his allies in the GOP.  But, most importantly, King is out of step with his constituents.  In a recent poll, the 4th District of Iowa overwhelmingly supported the principles in the Senate immigration bill, including the path to citizenship.

King’s deranged obsession seems to be catching up to him.

 

Mowrer’s campaign website is http://www.mowrerforiowa.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MowrerforIowa

Twitter: @JimMowrer

From the Committee to the Senate Floor: The Immigration Bill Survives!

22 May

 

Yesterday, by a vote of 13-5, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 744, the immigration reform bill.Flake  Three Republicans (Lindsey Graham (SC),Graham Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT)) joined all ten Democrats to vote the legislation out of committee. Hatch

 

 

 

 

 

The five opponents were the five Republicans who had spent the several mark-ups attempting to torpedo the legislation with odious and unworkable amendments, most of which were defeated.  Yet, Senators Jeff Sessions (AL), Ted Cruz (TX), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Chuck Grassley (IA), have vowed to renew their efforts on the Senate floor, where the bill goes next.
Cruz Lee and Cornyn

The bill emerged after several mark-up sessions, largely intact. The bill still offers a provisional status and a path to citizenship, expedited residence and citizenship for undocumented youth, improvements in due process, increased use of E-Verify, tighter border controls, a new temporary worker visa, improved opportunities for employment-based immigration, enhanced H-1B provisions, and more liberal policy for asylum seekers.

The bill was improved by the passage of the following amendments:

  • Coons 2- limits ICE’s authority to perform nighttime removals.
  • Coons 5- provides immigrants with statutory right to see their “A-file” in removal proceedings
  • Hirono 21- allows undocumented youth to obtain federal financial aid
  • Blumenthal 2- prohibits solitary confinement of individuals in ICE detention
  • Blumenthal 8- restricts ICE enforcement at schools and hospitals.
  • Blumenthal 12- provides for expedited naturalization for undocumented youth in military

The bill was made worse by the following amendments:

  • Grassley 44- made conviction of a third DUI an aggravated felony.
  • Graham 1- allows DHS to terminate asylum of an individual who returns to country of nationality

The Committee fought off several “poison pill” amendments designed to gut the entire process or to make the immigration system more inhumane than it is today:

    • Cruz 3- would have barred anyone who was ever out of status from obtaining citizenship
    • Grassley 1- would have retained the one year filing deadline for asylum
    • Cornyn 3- would have made people convicted of minor offenses ineligible for provisional status
    • Grassley 18- would have required applicants for provisional status to disclose all previous social security numbers

GS

  • Sessions 1- would have imposed a $5000 minimum bond for release from custody
  • Grassley 67- would have subjected businesses hiring H or L workers to increased audits and bureaucratic oversight
  • Lee 15- would have required affirmative intent in employment discrimination based upon national origin
  • Grassley 34- would have imposed 20 year sentence for document fraud convictions
  • Grassley 45- would have expanded criminal penalties for illegal entry and re-entry

The strength of the bill was enhanced by the support of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.  Senator Hatch has long been a champion of the H-1B program.  The Committee adopted Senator Hatch’s amendments to increase the availability of H-1B visas and earned the Senator’s support in the Committee.  Senator Hatch has not committed to his vote on the floor, but his support in committee, made the bill more strongly bipartisan and showed that the “Gang of 8” can pull reasonable Republicans into the bipartisan consensus that our immigration system requires serious overhaul.  This compromise required some serious accommodation by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee and it is a welcome sign for our democracy that this issue did not cause the wholesale breakdown that we have come to expect.  This suggests that immigration reform has become a categorical imperative for both parties.

Unfortunately, the bill that came out of committee is as defined by what it does not include by what it does include.  Under pressure from the White House, Senator Leahy pulled his amendment to ensure that LGBT individuals and couples are treated equally and fairly under the immigration bill.  Republicans, including members of the Gang of 8, had balked at LGBT inclusion and, as a result, the Committee gave into homophobia.  We are extremely disappointed that LGBT families were thrown aside in the passage of this bill.  We remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will make this a non-issue soon enough.

The bill will now head to the senate floor, where there will be more debates and amendments.  Immigration reform will likely dominate the Senate for the month of June.  In some good news, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has said that he has no plans to block consideration of the bill.  While any single Senator can filibuster a bill, that Senator needs the support of 40 of his/her colleagues to sustain the filibuster and it is hard to imagine that succeeding without the support of the Senate leadership.

We hope for a strong show of support from the United States Senate.  A bill that gathers 65+ votes will storm out of the Senate and place a lot of pressure on the House to support common sense immigration reform.

The Leaked White House Immigration Bill: the Legalization Component

20 Feb

Drip

It took only three years longer than promised—and a leak that may or may not have been intentional—but the White House has finally produced a legislative proposal to fix the immigration system. Dubbed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2013, the bill would create a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million removable noncitizens in the country, mandate the eventual use of E-Verify for most employers, and dull many of the draconian provisions enacted in the 1996 immigration bill. With the leaked portions of the bill totaling more than 200 pages, there’s a lot to chew on. Today, we’ll look at the part of the White House bill relating to legalizing the undocumented, and tomorrow we’ll review the enforcement-related sections.

Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status

As has by now been widely reported, the bill would allow qualified applicants to first obtain “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” status and later adjust to lawful permanent resident (a “green card” or LPR) status, a prerequisite for foreign nationals wanting to become U.S. citizens. To qualify for LPI status, noncitizens would have to be physically present in the United States on the day the bill was introduced and not have been convicted of a number of specified criminal offenses. Noncitizens could apply for LPI status if they were in removal proceedings, were under an outstanding order of removal, or had illegally re-entered the country after a prior removal. Applicants for LPI status could generally not be detained or removed, and would not be considered “unlawfully present,” while their applications were pending.

Qualified immigrants would initially be granted LPI status for a period of four years, during which time they would be authorized to work and travel abroad for up to six months, subject to renewal. Noncitizens with LPI status could also petition for their spouses and children to receive the same status, even if they are living overseas. Interestingly, the White House bill does not specifically state that LPI status could be accorded based on same-sex marriages. However, it incorporates the standing definition of “spouse” in Section 101(a)(35) of the INA, which is written in gender-neutral terms. As the bill is written, it is thus unclear (perhaps intentionally so) what, if any, protection same-sex couples would receive.

Adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status

To qualify for adjustment, LPIs would have to satisfy any outstanding federal tax liability, be actively studying English and U.S. history, and not have left the country for more than six months while in LPI status. Applicants aged 21 or older when the bill was introduced would have to pay a $500 penalty to adjust status in addition to any processing fees. The government could not grant any adjustment applications until either eight years after the date of the law’s enactment, or 30 days after all immigrant visas became available for family- and employment-based petitions filed before the date of enactment, whichever came first (but no sooner than six years after LPI status was first granted). The only exception would be for noncitizens who were under 16 when they initially entered the country, were enrolled or had obtained a high school or college degree when they applied for LPI status, and had completed two years of college or the military when they applied for LPR status. (Or in other words, those who would qualify under the DREAM Act.)

Administrative and judicial review of denied applications

For noncitizens whose applications for LPI or LPR status were denied, the bill would require the creation of an administrative body housed within the Department of Homeland Security to hear appeals. Notices of appeal would have to be filed within 60 days of the denial, and stays of removal would generally be granted while appeals are pending. If their administrative appeals were denied, prospective LPIs and LPRs could file a challenge with a federal district court, which, in turn, could uphold or reverse DHS’ decision or remand the case back to executive officials for consideration of additional evidence. Importantly, federal judges would also have authority to issue stays of removal, and immigrants would not be considered “unlawfully present” while their appeals—administrative or judicial—were pending.

Protections for Employers of Prospective LPIs

Finally, the White House bill contains a number of protections for employers of workers seeking to legalize their status. For example, employers who learn of employees with pending LPI applications would not violate the law by continuing to employ them while their applications are pending. The bill would also prevent genuine employment records submitted in support of an application for LPI or LPR status from being used against the employer in a civil investigation or criminal prosecution. These provisions may well have been added due to the DACA program, which lead to concerns among some employers of liability or retaliation if their workers used employment records to demonstrate the extent of their presence in the country.

Comparison to “Gang of Eight” Framework

While the bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” has yet to propose actual legislation, it’s almost certain that the path to citizenship in the White House bill is more realistic and immigrant-friendly. Unlike the Senate framework, for instance, the White House would not make the issuance of green cards contingent on satisfying an unknown set of security “triggers.” Based on statements from Marco Rubio, the Senate plan might also require the undocumented to rely on a third party (such as a qualified employer or family member) to sponsor them for a green card, which could potentially leave millions without a true path to citizenship. While we will wait to see an actual bill before expressing final judgment on the Senate plan, the White House has set a high bar.

What is the Deal with the Immigration “Line?”

28 Jan

Line

This morning, we had a chance to review the five page blueprint for immigration reform produced by a bipartisan group of eight Senators.  There is a lot to discuss on the blueprint, but one thing specifically jumped out at me:

“Once the enforcement measures have been completed, individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.

Individuals who are present without lawful status – not including people within the two categories identified below – will only receive a green card after every individual who is already waiting in line for a green card, at the time this legislation is enacted, has received their green card. Our purpose is to ensure that no one who has violated America’s immigration laws will receive preferential treatment as they relate to those individuals who have complied with the law.”

As an immigration lawyer, I have to ask “which line?”  There are dozens.  Let’s try to figure out what they could mean.  There are two basic ways that people seek residence, these are: (1) through family; and (2) through employment.  There are other means, but these represent the bulk of immigrant visas.  The Immigration & Nationality Act limits the number of immigrant visas can be issued annually.  The allocation of that finite number of visas is divided by type of application and country of nationality.  Demand exceeds supply and backlogs in each category have developed.  For example, the Jamaican unmarried son or daughter over 21 of a U.S. citizen would have had to  start the immigration process prior to December 22, 2005 to receive an immigrant visa today.  If the same immigrant were from the Philippines, she would have had to started the process fifteen years ago in 1997.  In the employment based context, an employer who seeks an immigrant visa on behalf of an Indian professional with a bachelor’s degree but no advanced degree would have had to start the process before November 8, 2002 for that employee to obtain a visa today.  On another note, the law allows immigration judges to grant residence to 4,000 people a year if they can demonstrate that they have been in the U.S. for ten years, have good moral character, and their removal would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship on their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse parent or child.   That cap has already been reached for this year and no new visas through cancellation may be granted until October 2013.  Thus, there are a variety of lines that immigrants may fall into.

How does one get into the queue?  A priority date is established when an immigrant petition or application for a labor certification is filed.  If the petition and/or labor certification is approved, an applicant may take her spot in line depending upon the category.  The immigrant visa backlog is maintained by the Department of State, which does not track applications for labor certifications until an immigrant petition has been filed.  Thus, there are many more thousands of people beginning to get in the queue by filing applications for labor certifications.  Also, the State Department is not aware when people drop off the queue.  A person can die while waiting and, obviously, leave the queue.  People get married, divorced or just grow disinterested in immigrating.  The queue is highly dynamic and fluctuates often.

So, which line do individuals go to?  The blueprint seems to require everyone in the queue to obtain residence before a single beneficiary of the new plan gets residence.  That might take a while.  After all, visas are now available for the Filipino brothers and sisters of American citizens if their American brother or sister originally sponsored them prior to April 15, 1989.  Twenty three years.  Does the plan truly require everyone in the queue to get their residence before anyone who applies under the new program?  Does this mean that no one will get a green card for at least 23 years??  It’s amazing that in an era where there is so much concern over “big government,” members of the Senate would propose a process that takes a quarter century to begin.  At least the Soviets stuck to five year plans.

Here is another sneaky fact that makes this whole idea unworkable.  Many of the undocumented in the U.S., the eleven million, that would supposedly benefit from this program, are already in the queue!!!  Many of them have sought immigration benefits and it is only due to the outrageous backlogs that they become undocumented. They have played by the rules, too, but the system has failed them.   It is a myth that there are so many people abroad who “play by the rules” and are waiting patiently for their turn to come in.  Yes, they exist, but not likely in the numbers that the back of the line crowd says, and should be immediately let in with residence rather than waiting in these atrocious backlogs.

There are, in fact, many highly skilled employees, waiting their turn to apply for residence due to backlogs in employment visas.  These folks are here on temporary visas, working and waiting.  They would seem to have a legitimate gripe if the undocumented got immediate residence.  But the solution is not this garbage about the back of the line.  Raise the immigrant visa numbers to an amount that is commensurate with the American employers’ demands for a workforce.  Don’t make immigrants pay for the arbitrary levels of immigration that were created nearly half a century ago.

So, that’s the issue with the line.  So far, the only politician we have seen who gets this is Jeb Bush, who published the most sane piece on immigration that we have seen during this discussion.  The former Florida governor wrote:  “There is no “line.” Critics of comprehensive reform often argue that illegal immigrants should return to their native countries and wait in line like everyone else who wants to come to America. But unless they have relatives in the U.S. or can fit within the limited number of work-based visas, no line exists for such individuals.For most aspiring immigrants, the only means of legal admission to this country is an annual “diversity lottery” that randomly awards visas to 55,000 foreigners. There are roughly 250 applicants for each visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.”

There are many lines; there is no line.  The line moves, grows and contracts.  Immigration reform will have to deal with this messy reality rather than attractive soundbites such as “go to the back of the line.”

Immigration On Deck!

3 Jan

As most of us in Washington returned to work on January 2, 2013, we noticed that many of our fellow Washingtonians were bleary-eyed and slow-moving.  Unfortunately, their lethargy stemmed not from all night and day new year’s electro-funk raves, but from hours of C-SPAN, watching the country go over the fiscal cliff, then climb back up the cliff, and then just hang out somewhere in the middle.  Washingtonians barely had time to recover before the next big news hit- CIS will begin accepting provisional waiver in March and here are the rules!  AND- OBAMA’S IMMIGRATION REFORM PUSH TO BEGIN THIS MONTH! (said the Huffington Post)  Whiplash!

So, the emerging consensus in Washington now is that immigration reform, oddly enough, is the next matter on the nation’s legislative agenda and has the potential to bring the country together after the divisive election and fiscal cliff fights.  As someone who has spent over a decade fighting the immigration wars, the idea that immigrati0n reform may be a bonding force in the country’s polity is unthinkable.  But really, why is that?  Immigration is the one thing that nearly all of us have in common- we all came from somewhere else.  All of us came here or had ancestors who came here not to be part of some or some nationalistic entity, but for a chance to be part of “a nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Yes, that is Lincoln and, yes, it is the Gettysburg Address).  If anything should bring us together, it is our common heritage as humans attracted to the promise of America.  Anyway, that is how it should be, even if it is not.

We think that the bruising fight over the fiscal cliff has pointed a way forward that can be helpful on immigration.  You may recall that the Senate easily passed the fiscal cliff bill 89-8, but the House of Representatives passed it in a much closer 257-167.  Although that is a comfortable 45 votes, the bill attracted the support of 85 Republicans while failing to get the other 151 Republicans.  Thus, the bill needed 172 votes from the minority Democrats to pass.  The combination of these 85 Republicans and the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus has established a new center that can break the grip of the anti-immigrant portion of the Republican party which has held up immigration reform for too long.  The willingness of the Speaker of the House to pass a major piece of legislation over the objection of the majority of his party shows that the Tea Party faction has slipped into irrelevancy.  As the 151 Republicans who voted against the fiscal cliff legislation are many of the same members who would never support any reasonable immigration bill, going around them is essential.

Last month, we wrote about the incoming Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Trey Gowdy, and we noted that the anti-immigrant lobby was panicking that the new Chairman, a confirmed anti-immigrant extremist, would not get much of an opportunity to sculpt immigration legislation and that the Speaker would go around him.  If the results of the battle over the fiscal cliff have shown us anything is that there is a clear route around the Tea Party to get things done in Washington.

The STEM Jobs Act: More of the Same From the House Republicans

25 Nov

The House of Representatives is moving quickly to give the appearance that they have changed their tune on immigration.  The House is scheduled to vote this week on the STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by the anti-immigrant Lamar Smith (R-TX).  The STEM Jobs Act would provide 55,000 additional visas for foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.   Supporters of the STEM Jobs Act argue that it addresses an acknowledged problem area in U.S. immigration law– the difficulty that many needed and valued graduates have in securing residence.  In light of the many technology companies founded by foreign students, the cumbersome path to residence has caused many of these graduates to flee the U.S. and begin building their businesses in other countries.  There is widespread agreement that those graduating with advanced degrees in the STEM fields ought to be given enhanced opportunities to seek residence in the U.S.

The STEM Jobs Act would make 55,000 visas available to graduates who have received Ph.D. or master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.  According to the House Committee on the Judiciary, STEM graduates with Ph.D.s can receive residence if they:

  • have received a doctorate from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, mathematics, engineering, or the physical (excluding biology) sciences.
  • agree to work for the petitioning employer for at least five years in a STEM field.
  • have taken all their course work while physically present in the U.S.
  • are petitioned for by an employer who has gone through the labor certification process to demonstrate that there are not qualified or available U.S. workers for the position.

If there are visas left over after the Ph.D. visas are given out, graduates with STEM master’s degrees will be able to seek their residence on similar terms.

The House voted on the STEM Jobs Act earlier this year.  However, it failed for two reasons: (1) the House leadership used a procedure that required a 2/3 vote; and (2) only 20% of the Democratic caucus supported the Act.  The reason for the lack of Democratic support was because the bill does not increase the total number of visas available.  The bill eliminates the 55,000 diversity visas (visa lottery), so that the total number of visas issued in any given year is unchanged.  As the diversity visa remains one of the few ways that an individual with no family or employment ties to the U.S. can immigrate, many Democrats opposed its elimination.

The new STEM bill also eliminates the diversity visa.  Yet, the Republicans have sweetened the deal by providing for a temporary visa for the spouses and children of permanent residents.  This visa would allow the approximately 320,000 spouses and children of permanent residents waiting for immigrant visas to enter the U.S. and await their residence in the United States.  It would have the effect of uniting couples separated due to the backlog of visas in the category of spouses and children of permanent residents.  Currently, there is a two year backlog to receive residence as the spouse of a permanent residence.  Individuals receiving green cards today would have had to marry and file prior to July 2010.  The new law would allow people in that queue to enter the U.S. one year after filing an immigrant petition and then could wait out the queue in the U.S. with their families.  Something similar  has been done before in 2000, when V visas were given to those waiting in the backlog.  According to press reports, individuals entering to wait out the family based queue would be ineligible for employment authorization.

In summary, the STEM bill seems to be a non-serious effort to reform our immigration laws.  It is acknowledged that the process of obtaining residence for highly educated and skilled immigrants in the STEM fields is highly cumbersome and onerous.  Yet, STEM fails to fix that.  The cumbersome and onerous part is the labor certification, which requires employers to jump through a variety of hoops to petition for residence for foreign nationals.  Yet, STEM leaves that process intact.  Moreover, by tying a STEM graduate to an employer for five years, the STEM Jobs Act places more restrictions on a STEM graduate than on an individual who received her PH.D. in literature, who does not need to remain with her employer for five years.  If the goal of this bill is to unleash the creative and entrepreneurial talent of the STEM graduates, why are they tied to a specific employer for five years?  If, as the House Judiciary Committee states, STEM graduates are behind many of the innovations and new businesses, why does the STEM Jobs Act shackle them?

The STEM Jobs Act uses a lot of words to create exactly what already exists.  It is called the second employment based preference where an employer may sponsor an individual with an advanced degree through the labor certification process.  However, the current law provides visas for all types of graduates and employees who help the economy.  Those visas, except for India and China, are already current.  The India and China backlog is disgraceful and should be remedied, but it can be done in a far more pithy way than the STEM Jobs Act does.  Add 55,000 visas to the second preference.

This also raises the question of whether those visas should be taken from the diversity visa.  I am no fan of the diversity visa.  It seems silly for a country to give out residence based upon a lottery.  Immigration should be about filling the needs of American families and business.  A lottery strikes me as a very unsophisticated way to give out a very valuable benefit.  That being said, I do not think that the diversity visa should be traded for the STEM Jobs Act.  If the STEM Jobs Act eliminated the need for a labor certification and allowed STEM graduates freedom to work for themselves or traditional employers, the STEM Jobs Act could certainly make better immigration policy.  However, the STEM Jobs Act continues on the same bureaucratic path that has caused the problem we have now and does very little to unleash the forces of STEM graduates.  As immigration law becomes a topic of legislative inquiry, those interested in serious reform should make it clear that the same old ways of doing things must come to an end.

Even the sweetener of uniting families is fairly sour.  Applicants would have to have their I-130 petitions pending for a year before they could seek their visas.  This is roughly half of the current backlog.  Once here, they spouses of permanent residents could not work.  This restriction on employment authorization serves no rational purpose other than to stoke marital discord and financial hardship.
The STEM Jobs Act is not an opening bid in the new immigration reality.  It is a last gasp of the dinosaurs who have strangled and stymied meaningful reform of our immigration laws.  We won the election.  Our ideas should be the starting point.

My Trip to the White House to Discuss Immigration Reform

21 Nov

In Washington, we have very hot summers without a real beach to beat the heat.  Our winters can be wet, sloppy messes or we can get pounded with multiple snow storms in a city completely unprepared for more than three inches of snow.  Along with the occasional security scare, World Bank protest and Presidential motorcade, life in the Nation’s Capital can be challenging.  However, certain things make up for that.  I can see the Washington Monument from my window, the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial on the pool and the genuine devotion of DC area residents to ideas in the public sphere are some of them.

Last night, I had another opportunity to appreciate Washington life.  I received an invitation to attend a meeting at the Office of Public Engagement of the White House to discuss priorities for the Obama administration in the second term.  Now, I would have crossed continents and oceans for such an opportunity.  Luckily, all I had to do was take a short two-block walk on a lovely night and I was in the West Wing.  Amazingly, the security guards at the White House are far more relaxed and confident than the guards at your standard federal building.  Perhaps that was due to the President being on the other side of the earth.  Relieved that I got to keep my belt on, I entered the White House, with about seven other people– an impressive collection of people.  An ornate, inviting, and comfortable lobby awaits:

In the lobby, a TV blared Chris Matthews talking Benghazi non-stop.  It must be strange to sit all day in a lobby where national news is talking about your co-workers all day long.  I asked the receptionist if that grows tiresome and she told me that the TV is usually tuned to ESPN.  Good call.  We were welcomed into the White House by the lovely Rumana Ahmed, pictured below:

What a great impression of inclusion and American diversity and unity all at once to be welcomed to the White House by Rumana.

Prior to the meeting, I reached out to many Friends of Benach Ragland and asked for advice as to what specifically should be said about immigration.  Together, we came up with a wish list of immigration priorities, which grew to fifteen items.  Briefly, however, they settled on a restoration of judicial review over most immigration decisions, a generous waiver of most grounds of removability, reform of visa numbers to eliminate lengthy backlogs, DREAM Act, Permanent Partners, enhanced protection for minors, and increased ease in admitting highly educated immigrants.  I prepared my elevator speech to tell them what they needed to do on immigration.  However, it is well known military truism that the best strategy evaporates in the first seconds of battle.  The meeting grew in different ways and adaptation was necessary.

Rumana took us upstairs to meet Jon Carson.  We walked through the internal guts of the working White House and I was surprised to see people piled on top of each other, still working hard at 6:30 with the President in Cambodia.  The workspace was decidedly not plush.  Jon Carson is a super affable guy who oozes sincerity.  I learned that he has a son in Pre-K at my kids’ school, but, unfortunately, his son and my Pre-K son are in different classes!  Washington Living, again. 

He told us that the administration wanted to hear about what they can do better in the second term and how can they use the next four years to push progressive ideas.  Jon said that the two main immediate issues were the fiscal cliff and immigration.  He also mentioned the logistics of having to sign up millions of Americans for health insurance coverage.  The results of the election really dawned on me as the administration was planning the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Jon said that the theme of the second term of the Presidency would be “citizenship,” a theme the President highlighted at the Democratic National Convention.  We previously riffed on the meaning of citizenship as immigration lawyers, but, sitting in the White House talking about making policy and administrative moves that would affect the lives of millions of people, the active nature of the concept became clearer.  It is about creating closer ties of community with volunteers, schools, religious institutions and neighbors.  Naturally, therefore, the conversation turned to organizing.  Many observers have attributed the President’s victory to an organized workforce and volunteer system that delivered the vote and the participants in the meeting discussed how the Obama volunteer organization, Organizing for America, can be deployed not only in service of an election but also in service of progressive ideals.

As the discussion turned to immigration, I offered that some of the best organized and effective advocates are the undocumented youth who have created networks that have pushed immigration to the forefront.  Organizations like DreamActivist and United We Dream have regularly outpaced more traditional organizations in calling attention to immigration injustices.  Jon mentioned that only once has the President urged the public to contact Congress and that was during the debt ceiling fight last year.  That call to arms shut down the Capitol Hill switchboard.  I mentioned that undocumented youth are pretty good at shutting down switchboards and that, if the President came out strong for immigration reform, he would have formidable allies ready to work.  I told Jon that there was a lot of mistrust of the administration on immigration and that they needed to see strong Presidential leadership to get behind immigration reform.  Jon replied that the White House was well aware of the mistrust and expressed hope that DACA represented a turning point.

Jon wanted to know if immigration reform could be a rallying point for progressives for the long term.  Everyone in the room seemed to agree that it was.  Someone pointed out that no matter what their political persuasion, business supports immigration reform and immigration could be a way to begin to repair damage between the President and business community.  I offered that the important parts of the core of the President’s support of Latinos, Asians and women could be solidified with immigration reform.  Latinos would be Democrats for a generation with a generous immigration reform program – one that does not offer some simple and easy fixes while tightening enforcement, but one that recognizes that we have overdosed on enforcement and are in need to benefit reform.  More butter, less guns.  In addition, an appeal to women could be made if Michelle Obama met with U.S. citizen children whose parents have been deported.  The staggering human cost of enforcement on steroids needs to be examined.

This was not a meeting for detailed proposals about restoring 212(c) or eliminating the three and ten year bar.  Rather, it was big picture.  The White House is now preoccupied with the fiscal cliff.  The top legislative priority after fiscal cliff is settled is immigration.  I have no doubt that the White House recognizes the need for very strong Presidential leadership on the issue.  I tried to emphasize over and over again that reform cannot be left to the Congress and the President must guide and frame the discussion.  I also have little doubt that the President is starting from a very generous reform program.  Lastly, I can tell you that the White House is prepared to deploy all its resources on this.  This includes mobilizing the extensive volunteer network and the OFA system to build support for immigration reform.  Remember all those emails you got during the campaign asking for $17?  They are not going away.  Instead of asking you for $17, whoever, they will ask you to call Congress to ensure that generous common sense immigration reform is passed.

This is the best opportunity in a generation for sensible and humane immigration laws and the White House appears committed to doing it right.  I know that there are those of you who don’t trust the administration at all to do what is right on immigration.  And I will concede that the air of the White House may have clouded my judgment.  It is very hard to remain cynical and jaded in the White House.  I hope that you can put aside your cynicism and can dare to believe that, in the words of Sam Cooke, a change is gonna come. (watch below!)  What do you have to lose?