Hoping the election won’t take away their dreams

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Since the US government began accepting applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in August, I’ve counseled dozens of young people seeking the program’s temporary protection from deportation. (Work permits will be granted to young immigrants between 15 and 30 who can show they arrived before age 16, that they’ve finished school or are in school now, that they’ve been here for at least five years and that they pose no threat to the community.) Nearly every one of them has asked me, “what will happen if Romney gets elected in November?” I wish I knew what to tell them. The candidate has offered seemingly contradictory, vague statements: he has expressed willingness to grant green cards to young people who serve in the military, but says he wouldn’t continue Obama’s DACA program if elected. At the same time he says he won’t revoke approved applications from youth who’ve “paid for it.” (The application requires a non-waive-able $465 fee.) For many applicants, it is taking a while to come up with the fee and gather the necessary documents. With the election looming, applicants and advocates alike are hoping they won’t run out of time – or that they’ll risk future deportation by giving their information to the government. Julia Preston discusses further in today’s New York Times: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/a-romney-stance-causes-turmoil-for-young-immigrants-658416/

Partial DREAM Act enacted

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security announced that DREAMers – undocumented immigrants under thirty who arrived in the US before the age of sixteen – will get a reprieve from deportation and will be eligible to apply for temporary work permits, as long as they have a high school diploma, a GED, or are serving in the military, and have stayed out of serious trouble with the law. This comes after the DREAM act (which has been pending in Congress for a decade and would give those same kids a path to permanent residency and citizenship) was narrowly defeated last December in the US Senate. The Obama administration has since promised “prosecutorial discretion” to relieve DREAMers from deportation, though ICE has nevertheless continued to try to deport DREAMers. Unlike earlier promises of prosecutorial discretion, with this rule change DREAMers will now be eligible to affirmatively apply for work permits even if they are not already in deportation proceedings.

This is not any kind of amnesty (as its detractors will certainly claim) or sweeping overhaul of the immigration system. Those who benefit from the rule change won’t be able to become a citizen, file petitions for other relatives or travel outside the US like they would with a green card. But it’s definitely a big step in the right direction. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to benefit. For hard working youth who consider themselves American in every way but on paper,the opportunity to live and work with legitimacy in the United States is huge.

The new change will go into effect later this summer. Stay tuned for more details!

On St. Patrick’s, remembering how the Irish became white

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

In case you missed it in this weekend’s New York Times - here’s a great op-ed about Irish immigration to the United States. I intend to share this with the next person of Irish (or Italian, or German, or Polish …) descent who I hear complaining about Latino immigration. Also, this reminds me that I need to finish reading How the Irish Became White.

It’s About Immigrants, Not Irishness

By PETER BEHRENS
Published: March 16, 2012

ON this side of the Atlantic, St. Patrick’s Day has become a boisterous, often bogus, celebration of America’s Irish roots. For most, the holiday is an excuse to drink, and perhaps pinch people who aren’t wearing green.

But for many Irish-Americans and Irish-Canadians, including me, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t really about Ireland. It’s about our ancestors leaving that country, often in bitter circumstances, and risking everything on a hazardous journey and being met with fierce hostility and scorn. It is about immigrants struggling, and mostly succeeding, in their new life, or making success possible for their children and grandchildren.

It is a story that should describe all newcomers to America. This March 17, on this side of the water, we ought to be celebrating immigration, not just Irishness.

Before the mass exodus from Ireland provoked by the great famine of the 1840s, new arrivals to North America were either settlers or slaves. The Catholic Gaelic Irish were the first cohort consistently labeled as “immigrants” in the modern, quasi-pejorative sense, and their experience established a stereotype, a template, applied ever since to whichever national or ethnic group happened to be the latest impoverished arrivals: French-Canadians, Chinese, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics.

It’s embarrassing to listen to prosperous 21st-century Americans with Irish surnames lavish on Mexican or Central American immigrants the same slurs — “dark,” “dirty,” “violent,” “ignorant” — once slapped on our own, possibly shoeless, forebears. The Irish were seen as unclean, immoral and dangerously in thrall to a bizarre religion. They were said to be peculiarly prone to violence. As caricatured by illustrators like Thomas Nast in magazines like Harper’s Weekly, “Paddy Irishman,” low of brow and massive of jaw, was more ape than human, fists trailing on the ground when they weren’t cocked and ready for brawling.

Read the rest here.

Deportation system takes thousands of kids from parents

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

What’s worse than getting deported? Getting deported without your kids.

Applied Research Center, publisher of the magazine Colorlines, just released a groundbreaking study of families broken by deportation entitled “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System.” For years, many of us have heard anecdotes about kids getting put in foster care after their parents’ deportation. But this is the first study to show the magnitude of the problem. Analyzing government data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, ARC found at least 5,000 children in foster care because one or more parent had been detained or deported.  Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Josefina’s baby was just 9-months old and Clara’s children were 1 and 6 when they were placed in foster homes with strangers. Clara and Josefina, sisters in their early 30s who lived together in a small New Mexico town, had done nothing to harm their children or to elicit the attention of the child welfare department.

In the late summer of 2010, a team of federal immigration agents arrived at the front door of Clara and Josefina’s trailer home in New Mexico. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) had received a false tip that the sisters, who were undocumented immigrants, had drugs in their home. Though they found nothing incriminating in the trailer and the sisters had no criminal record, ICE called Child Protective Services (CPS ) to take custody of the children and ICE detained the sisters because of their immigration status.

For the four months that ICE detained them, Josefina and Clara had no idea where their children were. In December, the sisters were deported, and their children remained in foster care. Josefina was very quiet as she talked by phone from Mexico a year after she was deported: “I don’t know where my child is; I have no contact with my baby. I didn’t do anything wrong to have my children taken away from me.”

This is the knee-jerk response of legal systems that don’t even communicate with one another – the various state-based child welfare systems vs. the federal immigration enforcement system.  While parents are still present in the country awaiting deportation, detention facilities won’t release them long enough to attend family court hearings about their children’s fate. What’s worse, they’re often detained hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.  Once they’re deported, they might as well have been sent to another planet as far as child welfare systems are concerned.  According to the report, child welfare officials are extremely reluctant to place children with their parents outside the country.  I have no doubt that it’s difficult for children to transition to life in a foreign country that they may have never known.  But that can’t outweigh the profound trauma of permanently separating children from the only parents they’ve ever known.

In the immigration system, people aren’t entitled to court-appointed legal representation, in part because the law considers immigration a “civil” matter, i.e., not as serious as a criminal case.  If a parent does have legal representation in her child welfare case, that lawyer is unlikely to have much experience in immigration law and probably has no way to even communicate with her. It’s clear that getting on the wrong side of either the immigration system or the child welfare system can have devastating consequences.  It’s bad enough to lock up people who’ve committed no crime (lacking legal immigration status is not, itself, a criminal offense under federal law) – especially while the federal government insists that it’s focusing on deporting serious criminals. Terminating the rights of parents who’ve done nothing abusive or harmful to their kids – and refusing to even let parents speak to their children or inform them of their whereabouts – for months at a time benefits no one and just seems completely unnecessary.

In my work at various legal service organizations, I’ve spoken at length with many people who’ve immigrated to the United States – some legally, some not. When I ask them why they come – especially those who’ve risked their lives by crossing the desert on foot – the overwhelming majority tell me something along the lines of “to provide a better life for my family”, “to feed my kids”, etc.  It’s profoundly cruel that while we kick people out of the country, we simultaneously deny them access to the very families they’ve risked so much to care for in the first place.

Download the full report, and read the corresponding article on Colorlines, “Thousands of Kids Taken From Parents in US Deportation System.”

Colbert to Alabama: “I Told You So!”

October 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last fall, Stephen Colbert testified to Congress about migrant farmworkers, calling on lawmakers to enact better legal protections for the people who harvest our nation’s crops.  Now that Alabama and Georgia’s harsh immigration law have chased away immigrant workers, leaving crops rotting in the fields, Colbert revisits the issue.

… And, we’re back.

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hello, dear readers!  After a long hiatus of studying for (and finally passing) the bar exam, I’ll be writing here again on a regular basis in the very near future.  In the meantime, please check out this other site I’ve been working on, the Groundswell Movement.  We recently featured this excellent reflection about the terrible new immigration law in Alabama. Stay tuned!

Thanksgiving

November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

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