Tag Archives: Immigration

Is Executive Action on Immigration Imminent?

14 Nov

obama immigration reformIt is only fitting that major technological achievements like the successful placement of a lander on a comet be paired with news that the Obama administration is planning many reforms to our nation’s immigration policies.  After all, our space program and many of our most successful technological breakthroughs are directly related to an immigration policy that made it easier for the best and brightest to come and work here.  Yet, many worry today that our immigration system is so broken that it prevents the entry and lawful integration of hard workers struggling to improve their lives in the U.S.  The comet lander was a project of the European Space Agency and not NASA.

U.S. immigration policy today, instead, says no to the best and brightest, rejects those who are willing to perform jobs that others refuse to do, and breaks up families over minor violations.  In short, U.S. immigration policy not only does not help America grow, but is actually a hindrance.  Most people of fair judgment recognize this.  Last year, the Senate took a step to make some needed reforms to U.S. immigration law.  While the bill the Senate passed was far from perfect, it would have gone a long way to fixing many of the problems with the immigration system.  However, the House of Representatives refused to take up the bill and instead voted to deport DREAMers and sue the President.

In light of the crisis in immigration, the President announced in June that he would make changes by the end of the summer in regulations and policies to ameliorate the harsh edges of immigration law.  He pushed this back until after the November election to help certain Democrats retain their Senate seats, which they lost anyway.  Ironically, the one democrat that he could have helped with executive action, Mark Udall of Colorado, also lost, partially due to a discouraged Latino electorate.  Immediately after the drubbing Democrats took, the President reiterated his commitment to executive action on immigration reform.  Then IT happened.  A breathless report appeared last night (November 12) on FOX News stating that the President was going to announce his immigration “amnesty” plan on November 21 and he would legalize millions of immigrants.  The White House quickly denied that any final decisions had been made and that, certainly, no timelines had been promised.  Yet, today, the New York Times reported that the President was weighing an option that could provide up to 5 million immigrants with some type of DHS_cis_WR_atprotection from removal.  The NYT article stated that a central part of the plan is to provide deferred action, like DACA, to the parents of U.S. citizens or to people who have been here for a long period of time.  In addition, according to the Times:

Mr. Obama’s actions will also expand opportunities for immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation’s southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history.

A new enforcement memorandum, which will direct the actions of Border Patrol agents and judges at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement and judicial agencies, will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers, officials said.

So far, these articles are the clearest indication that the President intends to do something about immigration.  And it appears that he is ready to do it soon.  It is important to note that nothing has been decided, no timetables have been set, and that the President is still free to choose to do nothing.  In addition, the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has stated that the House will fight him “tooth and nail” on administrative reform.

In the meantime, it does appear that some form of administrative reform is coming.  We still don’t know what it might look like.  We asked this in August and still do not know for sure.  Although we do have some ideas. People who may benefit, such as the parents of U.S. citizens, should make sure that they have certified birth certificates, marriage certificates, tax returns, dispositions of criminal charges, school records, church records, passports and other papers showing who they are, what they have done with their lives and why they deserve a chance to stay.  And, since it is ThrowOverwhelmedback Thursday, we offer you this post from just over two years ago about what immigrants should do while waiting for deferred action relief.  Many of the suggestions remain good advice.

Stay tuned.  We will give you accurate and current information as it happens.

GUEST BLOG: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Maryland Closes Gap with Federal Law to Expand Courts’ Jurisdiction. By Michelle Mendez

25 Aug

This blog post was written by FOBR Michelle Mendez, Senior Managing Attorney at Immigrant Legal Service of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.MM

 

On April 8, 2014, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law Chapter 96, which, through a small, technical fix that closes a gap between state and federal law, expands the jurisdiction of an equity court to include custody or guardianship of an immigrant child pursuant to a motion for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) factual findings. 2014Md. Laws, Chap. 96. The law expands the jurisdiction of the court by defining a child for the purposes of SIJS factual finding determinations in guardianship or custody proceedings as an unmarried individual who is not yet 21 years of age thus aligning the definition of child with the federal definition. The idea for this change in law arose from the experience of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington Immigration Legal Services staff as they continued to encounter youth with harrowing life situations that rendered them SIJS eligible but who were already 18 years old. This law goes into effect October 1, 2014, but some judges have already begun accepting cases of those who have already reached the age of 18.

 

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What is SIJS?

There are few groups more vulnerable than immigrant children who are SIJS-eligible. As we have seen with the recent surge of unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America, many have arrived in the United States fleeing APphoto_Immigration Obamaa combination of violence, threats, natural disasters, human trafficking, child labor, and abuse, neglect, and abandonment from their families. Though SIJS-eligible, without competent counsel to guide them through the complexity of this family law and immigration law hybrid relief, these children face the constant threat of deportation and without legal status, access to student loans and work authorization, they face significant barriers to becoming stable, productive members of society. That is why it is imperative that we as attorneys know and understand SIJS.

A Special Immigrant Juvenile is an immigrant child who has been declared dependent on a juvenile court because a state court judge has determined that (1) his or her reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and (2) it is not in the best interest of the child to be returned to his or her home country. A juvenile court is defined as “a court located in the United States having jurisdiction under State law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles,” and can include a juvenile court, family court, probate court, county court at law, or child welfare court. SIJS is the only area of immigration law that incorporates the best interest of the child principle to take into account the special needs of abused, abandoned, or neglected immigrant children. When introducing SIJS back in 1990, Congress designated this task to state juvenile court judges because federal immigration authorities are not equipped to determine the best interests of children. State juvenile judges do not make immigration determinations and instead only determine if the facts required for SIJS are present in a case; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sole authority to grant SIJS status via the approval of Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, subject to extensive background and biometrics checks.

SIJS factual findings are issued in state courts in accordance with foster care, guardianship, delinquency, adoption, or sole custody proceedings, meaning that the request for SIJS factual findings must accompany one of these types of filings. Submitting only a motion for factual findings for SIJS will not vest the state court with jurisdiction. Dependency on a juvenile court does not require state intervention; a judge may commit a minor to the care of a private individual through a guardianship or sole custody determination, which was clarified by William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. A finding for SIJS purposes does not require formal termination of parental rights or a determination that reunification will never be possible, but Special Immigrant Juveniles are ineligible from ever sponsoring their parents for immigration status so the “chain migration” arguments do not apply to this relief.

What does Chapter 96 change?

Maryland law already permitted courts to issue SIJS factual findings. However, prior to Chapter 96, juvenile courts in Maryland could only exercise jurisdiction to consider individuals for SIJS up to age 18, which is the age of majority for guardianship and custody matters, even though federal immigration law permits anyone to apply for SIJS who is under age 21. This three-year gap significantly abrogated the federal law and caused undue hardship on the most vulnerable immigrant children. Chapter 96 closes this gap for this discrete class of Marylanders to carry out the will of the federal law on SIJS.

How Does Chapter 96 Benefit Maryland?

By expanding Maryland courts’ jurisdiction when determining whether immigrant youth qualify for SIJS, Maryland will have more stable families and community members. Through guardianship and sole custody proceedings, private individuals who want to take on the full legal and financial responsibilities of youth who have been abused, neglected, and abandoned can do so, providing an adult role model and easing reliance on state resources. At the tender age of 18, adult supervisiMD mapon makes a critical difference – studies show that involvement of surrogate parents is a key factor in educational achievement and avoiding risks such as alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and violence. SIJS youth can gain protection against being forced to return to unstable, life-threatening environments as well as obtain legal status, making it easier to qualify for student loans and attend school, learn English, and work legally. These youth become productive members of society, benefiting Maryland’s economy and increasing tax revenue and consumption. Moreover, SIJS proceedings are fiscally neutral to the state: the Department of Legislative Services determined the changes made by Chapter 96 fit within existing judicial procedures and carry no additional fiscal effect.

With children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala seeking safety in United States and Maryland having received 2,205 of these children from January 1 to July 7, 2014, Maryland will be able to serve the families of these children better than any other state thanks to Chapter 96. Chapter 96 will allow SIJS-eligible children to pursue this relief consistent with the intent of the Congressional framework, and not needlessly close the courthouse door on them on their 18th birthdays. This is crucial because the number of non-profit and private attorneys with SIJS competency do not meet the demand for representation for SIJS-eligible children so the wait lists are long and the cases slow-moving. Thanks to Chapter 96, the abused, abandoned, or neglected undocumented immigrant children who come to Maryland will have better chances and a longer opportunity of becoming documented, fully-contributing members of our society.

To learn more about SIJS, consider taking a case pro bono case from one of the following reputable non-profits with in-house SIJS expertise and a pro bono program offering mentorship and sample materials:

 

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Immigration Legal Services

Pro Bono Coordinator Jim Feroli, James.Feroli@catholiccharitiesdc.org

 

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Washington, DC Office

Christie Turner, cturner@supportkind.org

Baltimore Office

Liz Shields, lshields@supportkind.org

 

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore

Esperanza Center

Managing Attorney Adonia Simpson, asimpson@catholiccharities-md.org

 

Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition

Legal Director Heidi Altman, haltman@caircoalition.org

*Detained cases only

 

To learn more about how this law came to fruition, visit: https://cliniclegal.org/resources/articles-clinic/maryland-law-expands-eligibility-special-immigrant-juvenile-status

La Santa Cecilia Celebrates the Beatles, Migrant Workers and Strawberries.

6 Aug

For the last few years, La Santa Cecilia, a Mexican-American band, based in Los Angeles, California, has not only made excellent music, but has also championed the plight on undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  Their 2013 song “Hielo” told the stories of intertwined lives in the immigrant community.  The video for Hielo included many undocumented immigrant activists including Erika Andiola and her nearly-deported mother.  When La Santa Cecilia won a Grammy, they dedicated it to undocumented workers in the U.S.

Now, they have released a beautiful version of the classic Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” with a video that pays homage to the workers who get the strawberry from farm to table.  Naturally, we would not bother you with a political music video if the music was not superb, so enjoy La Santa Cecilia’s lovely take on this classic.

BR “Stars” at American Immigration Lawyers Association Conference

26 Jun

Panoramic_Boston

The Benach Ragland crew just returned from the annual conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Boston, Massachusetts.  The annual meeting is the largest gathering of immigration lawyers and provides an opportunity for lawyers to learn from each other and improve their services to their clients.  This year, Benach Ragland attorneys Dree Collopy and Andres Benach, served on the conference faculty.  On Friday, Dree spoke on a panel that encouraged lawyers to think about issues in removal proceedings that go beyond the availability of relief entitled “Challenges and Strategies Beyond Relief.”  On Saturday morning, Andres served as a “Star” on the “Litigating with the Stars” panel, which challenged lawyers in the audience to think through common (and uncommon) scenarios and share their strategy.  The “stars” then critiqued the answers.  It was, indeed, a pretty sharp group of lawyers, as the stars gave out lots of “9s” and “10s.”

AILA also asked Andres to serve a third year as a member of the amicus curiae committee, the committee that decides which cases AILA will support with amicus briefs and prepares briefs on behalf of the organization.  In 2013-14, the committee submitted sixty briefs.  Dree was chosen again to serve as the Chair of the AILA asylum committee.  Thomas Ragland will continue to serve on the Federal Court Section Steering Committee.

The highlight of the conference was Saturday evening, when AILA gave its 2014 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Immigration and Nationality Law.  In presenting her with this award, AILA cited Dree’s full caseload at Benach Ragland, as well as her leadership of the Catholic University Law School Immigration Clinic and her stewardship of the AILA National Asylum Committee.  Lastly, AILA noted that DrDree2ee is writing the upcoming edition of AILA’s Asylum Primer, a practical how-to for anyone seeking to represent an asylum seeker.  AILA subsequently published Dree’s speech accepting her award on its Leadership Blog.  Dree cited the humanitarian crisis on the border, the lack of due process, and the failure of the political branches to address the serious policy issue of immigration:

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

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

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

After the awards ceremony, BR and many FOBRs headed out for a night of dancing, before getting back to the work that we knew awaited us.

 

Coke’s Beautiful Ad

3 Feb

 

Coca-Cola had a beautiful advertisement during the Super Bowl.  The ad featured America the Beautiful sung in a variety of languages by Americans of all different ethnicities.  It is easy to be jaded and cynical in that this was an attempt to sell one of the more unhealthy products we have created.  However, in the current political climate and the debates raging on immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism, the Coke ad showed that one of the most successful companies on the planet has cast its lot with a multicultural and inclusive America.  Of course, it made the decision to produce the ad based upon demographics, market research and a bottom line analysis and not due to adherence to a great moral principle.  But honestly, who cares?  Purity tests are for Stalin.  Coke’s ad represented a vision of America that is not only accurate but also beautiful in its kaleidoscopic inclusivity.

Lots of words have been written about the backlash against Coke for airing the add.  We will not waste our time on these modern-day know-nothings.  They are destined for the dustbin of history and we hope that by failing to give them more attention, we will only accelerate that process.

What the Coke ad did for me was remind me of a talk I have given to second graders at Lafayette Elementary School in DC twice in the past three years and I will certainly do it again when my youngest reaches that grade.  The second graders study immigration and I get to spend a morning with the seven year olds and talk about immigration with them.  It is always fascinating and hilarious.  But what is so amazing is how seven year olds simply get it.  They understand why people immigrate.  Even if they do not understand the complexities, they understand that people have come to America because they dream of a better life.  The concept is entirely natural to them.

Mr. Kings class

I always start my discussion with the second graders by explaining that America is an idea.  Unlike, for example, being French, a person is not an American because her mother, her mother’s mother, her great grandmother and so on were all born here.  A person is American because she and her family believed in the ideals of the American experiment, ideals we have not always held up, fought wars to establish and keep struggling to realize.  I explain to them that their parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came to this country so that one day they could attend Lafayette Elementary, so that they would be raised believing that they can do anything.  So railsplitter_i52428_450px obama-childthat their lot in life would not be pre-determined by the circumstances of their births.  This may seem like high-falutin’ stuff for second graders, but they understand that America is not a land of kings and czars, but a land where an unschooled frontier lawyer could become the greatest president this country has ever seen and that a mixed race son of an immigrant could be the first black President.

After discussing that for a while, we turn the talk to tacos.  The kids always understand that the food they love comes from somewhere else and they are always grateful for the presence of these cuisines that they have come to love.  Growing up, I thought all food was Italian (it was Long Island), but these kids are surrounded by Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Central American and African cuisine.  They are bearers of remarkably diverse culinary passports.

So, the Coke ad reminded me of these kids who understand and value immigration and think that their world is a more interesting and better place for having a broad spectrum of ethnicities at their feet.  They are growing up in an age of incredible richness and texture, a richness that was captured beautifully by the Coke ad.

Moving Beyond the “Illegal Immigrant” – The Associated Press Drops the Pejorative Term. Who’s Next?

3 Apr
Image representing Associated Press as depicte...

Image via CrunchBase

Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that it would stop using the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe an individual present in the US illegally, or who entered the country without proper authorization. This is a great victory for the long history of organizing against the word “illegal” beginning with the transnational No Human Being Is Illegal campaign and more recently, the Drop the I-word campaign, in addition to the many undocumented immigrants across the country who have insisted on defining ourselves beyond the pejorative brush of “illegal” or “illegal immigrant.”

The AP dropping the I-word also has wide ramifications not just for the media, but also for the way we view and treat people. ”Illegal” or “illegal immigrant” is a dehumanizing pejorative imbued with violence and oppression. I have written at length about how “illegal immigration” and hence, “illegal immigrant” came to be part of our lexicon through the construction of true and false immigration. There is no coincidence that the legal history of deportations coincides with the use of more virulent language to separate desirable immigrants from undesirable immigrants, and castigate the latter as undeserving of any civic or political rights.

By painting certain people with the broad brush of illegality, the state apparatus makes it easier to deny rights to persons without papers, and conduct large-scale violent

Members of the South Central Farm attending th...

Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. The banner, in Spanish, reads “No human being is illegal”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

actions against them, actions that now take the form of workplace raids, detention and deportations. Changing such language then, does help to make it more difficult to castigate people as undesirable and unwanted.

However, this is not just about political correctness. It is also about accuracy. Beyond the sheer dehumanization and violence, the use of the phrase” illegal immigrant” has always been plain lazy journalism. It presupposes that someone is in violation of immigration law without affording the person due process, which is quite contrary to our laws. In my widely-read New America Media article, It’s More Complicated Than Legal vs. Illegal, written last summer,  I mention more accurate, legal and less dehumanizing ways to categorize people,:

Overstay: Someone who overstays her admission to the country. An overstay may or may not accrue unlawful presence, and may simply be out of status.

Entry Without Inspection (EWI): Someone who enters the country without inspection or proper admission. An EWI may still be eligible for admission without leaving the country.

Immigrant: A green-card holder whether through admission or adjustment of status.

Non-immigrant: Anyone who is in the U.S. temporarily with legal status but is not a green-card holder or U.S. citizen.

Asylee: Anyone granted asylum in the United States due to past persecution or well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

These are merely suggestions. As always, I’d err on the side of people defining themselves. I also think it is quite possible to write a story about an immigrant or immigration reform without necessarily having to categorize the actions of people who may be here without proper authorization. Maybe now, news organizations beyond the Associated Press can focus on covering new stories and opinion pieces about the lives of actual people as opposed to painting us all with the brush of a lazy, inaccurate and dehumanizing pejorative.

There is something to be said about the continued raids, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, despite the change of language. While it is too soon to declare victory in terms of the treatment of irregular or unauthorized immigration, and the AP will continue using the phrase “illegal immigration” as a way to describe immigration outside the law, this is a step in the right direction.