Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Healing begins with giving thanks

As President Obama spoke again about immigration and the badly needed reform in San Francisco earlier this week, he was interrupted by a young DREAMer frustrated with the record high deportations under this administration.  Obama stopped and addressed the protester’s concerns reminding everyone that we are all trying to fix our broken immigration process, we all want America to return to its days prosperity and innovation, we all want families to remain together and employers to be able to employ the talent they need in an orderly and timely fashion.

But what we must remember this Thanksgiving is that what makes this country great is the coming together to do what is right as a Nation; to be compassionate, understanding and welcoming.  Our country is politically divided on immigration reform.  No other issue since the civil rights movement has divided our country so deeply.   One side pushes for inclusion, compassion and understanding; the other for order of law, security and limits.  Both sides have good points, but they miss the opportunity that this challenge presents.  The diametrically opposing views are precisely what make this country great.  As our Nation continues to advance, grow and develop its demographics and aspirations may change, but our values remain the same: hard work, family and liberty.  The challenges facing us are not new.  This country has seen challenges from its inception and those struggles have taught us lessons that we must not forget - lessons in compromise and healing.

The debate over our immigration laws has turned advocates against each other over strategies for the advancement of the cause; it has created strife within political parties with those espousing a more restrictive approach seen as heartless and unkind.  It has given political pundits and reporters a wealth of discord to report on, analyze and editorialize.  Yet amidst all this conflict, the American people are watching.  The majority of Americans do believe our immigration laws need reform and support a path – albeit an arduous path - of welcoming those already here to fully integrate to our society.

As we gather around our dinner table this Thanksgiving, let us begin the healing of our nation by giving thanks for the ability to understand each other.  Let us reach across the table and acknowledge the positions of our opponents.  Let us validate their concerns and work on reaching a compromise that will result in tangible solutions to our broken, inhumane and dysfunctional immigration laws.

We all want inclusion of those who live among us and contribute to our economy, we all have compassion for the struggles they have experienced in coming to this country and we understand their aspirations to be recognized as Americans.  We also acknowledge the need to maintain an orderly and secure border to protect those liberties upon which this democracy was founded, and we understand the limits needed to maintain that order.  However, we must build a functional system  for the continuing influx of those wishing to come to our country.  We need that system to be efficient and reasonable, something that is currently lacking and causes the circumventing of our current process.

The healing of our differences can only begin with giving thanks for the challenge and opportunity facing us.  We must embrace it and act upon it; we must reform our immigration laws wholly and completely for the process to make sense.  The Senate has acted on a comprehensive package, the House has an opportunity to propose piecemeal legislation aimed to do the same.  Stop the bickering and finger-pointing and come together.  We have a lot to give thanks for.  Let this Thanksgiving go down in history as the time we finally tackled the incredibly difficult task of reforming our immigration system.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

America is a Nation of Values - and Family is part of those values

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted one of the largest surveys ever fielded on immigra­tion policy, immigrants, and religious and cultural changes in the U.S.

The survey of nearly 4,500 American adults explores the many divisions—political, religious, ethnic, geographical, and generational—within the nation over core values and their relation­ship to immigration.

Some of the survey’s findings and highlights are as follows (the link to the report is posted below):
  • More than 6-in-10 (63%) Americans agree that the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally by allowing them a way to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements.
This is an important number that shows that Americans value the contributions of those already living in their communities.  These immigrants are integrated into the fabric of their society and the day-to-day lives of every member of the community.
  • More than 7-in-10 (71%) Democrats, nearly two-thirds (64%) of independents, and a majority (53%) of Republicans favor an earned path to citizenship.
This shows a change in the previous position of Republicans - a softening of their herts or perhaps just a political motivation.  Whatever the reason, the change is significant and welcomed - see bullet point below.
  • Majorities of all religious groups, including Hispanic Catholics (74%), Hispanic Protestants (71%), black Protestants (70%), Jewish Americans (67%), Mormons (63%), white Catholics (62%), white mainline Protestants (61%), and white evan­gelical Protestants (56%), agree that the immigration system should allow immi­grants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.
  • Nearly half (45%) of Americans say the Republican Party’s position on immigration has hurt the party in recent elections.
The Republican Party must recognize that the composition af America has changed and has been changing for decades.  Young, diverse, educated, intelligent, global voters are more complex in their assestment of values - and family values is no longer a national, but an international concept.
  • Views about immigrants’ impact on American society are strongly associated with political ideology. Conservatives (36%) and liberals (31%) are nearly equally as likely to say that immigrants are changing their own communities a lot. How­ever, conservatives (53%) are significantly more likely than liberals (38%) to say that immigrants are changing American society a lot.
  • Overall, Americans are more likely to have positive rather than negative views about immigrants. A majority (54%) of Americans believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries helps strengthen American society, while a significant minor­ity (40%) say that newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values.
The tides are changing, and a brand new world is coming to America.

Recent Survey on Immigration Reform

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Ronald Reagan once said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table”.

He was right.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. The film considered the then controversial subject of interracial marriage, which had been illegal in most states, and was still illegal in 17 states, until June 12, 1967, when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.
The plot centers on a daughter’s return to her affluent American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé to dinner to meet her parents. She finds it difficult to comprehend her liberal parents’ reaction to her plan to marry an African American. While they taught her to treat others as equals, the parents strike a different tone when it comes to their daughter’s choice of a life mate. The fiancé’s parents fly up from Los Angeles to the dinner but, like the parents of the bride to be, they are shocked when they learn their son intends to enter into an interracial marriage. The dinner evolves from an awkward dinner party to a meeting of tolerance and understanding as family and friends try to accept the couple’s choice.

Today the subject of Immigration Reform can also make for an uncomfortable dinner party. Like the gradual but important acceptance of interracial marriage in the 1960s, immigration concerns the evolution of America’s dearly held founding principles.

By recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Congress rightly reiterated that we are a Nation which will continue to protect our most vulnerable members of society – women and children. Congress proved it can put politics aside and work together to do the right thing for women and for America. As our leaders come together to continue the dialogue on the reform of our immigration system – the parameters have been set.

To start, on January 29, 2013 President Obama outlined his principles for immigration reform: maintaining border security, building a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, stopping employers who game the system by illegally employing unauthorized immigrants, and streamlining our legal immigration procedures to ensure family unity for all Americans, including same-sex couples.

The Senate bipartisan framework for immigration reform presented on January 28, 2013 sets forth similar principles for reform but it does not mention binational same sex couples.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) lead the effort in the Senate last year by introducing the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). UAFA would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples — including the right to petition for green cards for partners or spouses. She has made clear that she is committed to getting the legislation passed, either on its own or as part of comprehensive immigration reform package. UAFA was reintroduced in the House as a bipartisan bill for the first time this past February. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) reintroduced the bill with the backing of Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY). They signed on in support of the bill last year, but the legislation has never before been introduced with Republican co-sponsors.

The inclusion of same-sex binational couples as part of an immigration reform package has received support from many advocates, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) even legally-married same-sex couples are unable to petition for legal status for a foreign-born member. This translates into partners being separated by deportation or the inability to obtain visas, with couples at times living apart for long periods of time or leaving the United States entirely.

The Williams Institute at UCLA estimated in 2011 that there were about 40,000 couples who were ineligible to receive the same treatment on immigration as heterosexual couples. Nearly 25,000 children had parents who fit into that category, according to the institute.

As members of Congress come together at the “dinner” table to discuss the reform of our dysfunctional immigration system there is no question that immigration benefits for same sex binational couples should be part of the conversation and proposed reforms.

You heard right, guess who’s coming to dinner? Our nation’s history, founding principles and evolution are all indicators that the dinner table can no longer be missing an important member of our society. LGBT families are truly part of the American family, and not just a partisan political issue. There are many who may be “shocked and offended and appalled”, but the time is here and the time is now to end all the prejudices, bigotry, blind hatred and irrational fears surrounding two individuals falling in love and building a family.

The reform of our immigration system must demonstrate that America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are created equal and that all people have rights, no matter what they look like, where they came from, or what their sexual orientation is.

America must seize this historic opportunity. As Spencer Tracy’s character taught us, it does not matter what others think of another’s relationship. What is important is how much they feel for each other and if it is half of what we feel for our loved ones, that’s everything!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Our Lady Liberty Still Stands As A Beacon Of Freedom

To every immigrant, nothing rings more true than the words of the Emma Lazarus Poem engraved on the Statute of Liberty

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And nothing exemplifies the meaning of such words more than the actions taken by the Senate last week in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate did the right thing in continuing to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – abused women and children. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders still haven’t signaled what they plan to do.

The bill passed the Senate 78 to 22. Among the Senators voted against VAWA reauthorization were Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FLA). Senators Graham and Rubio are members of the “Gang of Eight” who have offered a bipartisan framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.. Sen. Grassley tried to push amendments to VAWA that would have undermined the protections for victims of domestic violence. Thankfully, his harmful amendments did not get into the final bill, but there is a risk they will reappear when the House takes up the measure.

VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation first enacted in 1994 to improve responses to violence against women—including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It was later reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. VAWA made it clear that that our society would no longer tolerate crimes of violence against women, children and the elderly. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, yet it took Congress two more years to act.

The 1994 VAWA included provisions to allow immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse or parent through a process called “self-petitioning.” The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) created new forms of immigration relief for immigrant victims of violent crime – the U visas and victims of sexual assault or trafficking – the T visas. Finally, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 expanded these protections and included some victims of elder abuse. It is important to note that the 2013 Senate bill does not create any new immigration benefits yet it makes important improvements to the VAWA immigration protections. Some of the noteworthy ones are, for example, preventing children listed in their parent’s U visas applications from “aging-out” – that means protecting them, even if they turn 21 years of age before the application is adjudicated. It also adds “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by the U visa which is a critical law enforcement tool.

The 2013 VAWA Senate bill also provides for vital disclosures regarding any violent criminal histories of sponsoring U.S. fiancé(e)s /spouses and other safeguards to give foreign fiancé(e)s/ spouses of U.S. citizens information they need to protect themselves from entering abusive marriages. Significantly, the 2013 VAWA Senate reauthorization bill strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence ensuring that all programs receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It explicitly includes the LGBT community in its grant program, which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. The bill also establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Republican House of Representatives has an opportunity to protect America’s women and children by passing the Senate’s reauthorized VAWA bill. Protection of victims of domestic violence deserves bipartisan support that will ring true to the principles and legacy of our founding fathers – and as President Obama declared in his State of the Union address: “Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.” This includes the freedom from abuse and fear.

Now is the time to seek bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) can make history by reauthorizing VAWA so that Lady Liberty may continue to stand tall…

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Immigrant Women: Forgotten and Discounted

While there was plenty of talk during the presidential debates about the equality of women, one group remained unmentioned and invisible: immigrant women who suffer in silence at the hands of their abusers.

During the second presidential debate, candidates were asked about how each of them intended to rectify gender inequality in the workplace.  President Obama explained that he signed the Lily Ledbetter bill furthering the rights of women to demand equal pay for equal work.  He analogized that women’s issues are family issues and that is why we must fight for them.  Governor Romney talked about his experience trying to ensure he had women’s voices in his Cabinet as Massachusetts governor, with his now-famous reference to “binders full of women.”

Both candidates again mentioned women in the third presidential debate.  Governor Romney talked about how with “the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women [in] public life and in economic life in the Middle East”, and President Obama talked about the responsibility of the United States to “make sure that we're protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can't develop unless all the population — not just half of it — is developing.”

What the debates and ensuing social media traffic has missed however, is the reality that thousands of immigrant women right here in the United States continue to be forgotten and discounted no matter how much equality there is on the books or how much flexibility employers give their women workers.  The reality is especially dire for undocumented immigrant women, who are at the mercy of their abusers and face what seem insurmountable barriers to escaping the physical, psychological and emotional bonds of their relationship.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation that was enacted to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. Congress passed VAWA in 1994.  It was subsequently reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals finally understood that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010.  It is now 2012 and VAWA has not been reauthorized.

In a statement made on the 18th Anniversary of the VAWA, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has historically done to pass a VAWA reauthorization that “expands rather than limits victim access to justice and strengthens law enforcement and prosecutorial tools to seek justice and hold violators accountable.”  He noted that VAWA has been strengthened each time it has been reauthorized, and that after 18 years of progress, it should be no different.

The clock however is ticking…approximately…
  • 658 days have passed since VAWA expired
  • 160 days have passed since Congress’ last action on VAWA, and there are only
  • 48 days until this Congressional session ends and VAWA 2012 dies!
During the past 10 years, with VAWA as an example, states have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and changed laws that treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape.  Businesses have also joined the national fight against violence. Hundreds of companies have created Employee Assistance Programs that help victims of domestic violence. 

We cannot afford to lose these protections for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.  Women are often the primary caretakers, the bread-winners as single mothers, the ones who keep the family together, and the nucleus of our society.  When mothers are imprisoned at home, abused, broken, and discarded, so are our children – the future of our society.

For immigrant women, the terror of an abusive relationship is compounded.  Subjected to threats because of her immigration status, an immigrant woman is likely to be unaware of resources and terrified of leaving her only source of shelter and sustenance, not knowing who to turn to without identification or legal status.

Research shows that nearly 75% of abused immigrant women reported their spouses had never filed immigration papers to give them legal status.  Abusers who eventually filed papers for their immigrant spouses waited almost four years to file.  In addition, immigrant women report that their abusers threaten them with deportation if they try to leave. Worse even, studies show that less than 20% of battered immigrant women without legal immigration status are likely to contact the police.  Yet since VAWA was first enacted, studies show that reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51%.

The presidential candidates mentioned women at least 30 times in the second presidential debate and fewer times in the third debate.  It was a push to court the votes of American women while immigrant women remain forgotten and discounted by Congress.

Our great Nation cannot move forward unless all the population — not just half of it — can participate in Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Friday, August 3, 2012


USCIS will begin accepting requests for consideration of deferred action on August 15, 2012
WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security today provided additional information on the deferred action for childhood arrivals process during a national media call in preparation for the August 15 implementation date.

On June 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines may be eligible, on a case-by-case basis, to receive deferred action. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is finalizing a process by which potentially eligible individuals may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.

USCIS expects to make all forms, instructions, and additional information relevant to the deferred action for childhood arrivals process available on August 15, 2012. USCIS will then immediately begin accepting requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.

Information shared during today’s call includes the following highlights:
  • Requestors – those in removal proceedings, those with final orders, and those who have never been in removal proceedings – will be able to affirmatively request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals with USCIS.
  • Requestors will use a form developed for this specific purpose.
  • Requestors will mail their deferred action request together with an application for an employment authorization document and all applicable fees to the USCIS lockbox.
  • All requestors must provide biometrics and undergo background checks.
  • Fee waivers cannot be requested for the application for employment authorization and biometric collection. However, fee exemptions will be available in limited circumstances.
  • The four USCIS Service Centers will review requests.
Additional information regarding the Secretary’s June 15 announcement will be made available on www.uscis.gov on August 15, 2012. It is important to note that this process is not yet in effect and individuals who believe they meet the guidelines of this new process should not request consideration of deferred action before August 15, 2012. Requests submitted before August 15, 2012 will be rejected. Individuals who believe they are eligible should be aware of immigration scams. Unauthorized practitioners of immigration law may try to take advantage of you by charging a fee to submit forms to USCIS on your behalf. Visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams for tips on filing forms, reporting scams and finding accredited legal services. Remember, the Wrong Help Can Hurt! An informational brochure and flyer are also available on www.uscis.gov.

For more information on USCIS and its processes, please visit www.uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), YouTube (/uscis) and the USCIS blog The Beacon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why saying “I do” still receives unequal treatment under Federal Immigration Laws

Last month, as I read Justice Scalia’s scathing dissent in Arizona v United States, I wondered what he’ll be thinking when he hears oral argument in the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The premise of Scalia’s dissent was that states have the right to control their borders.  It seems logical then that Scalia, and those who claim to cherish state sovereignty, would likewise conclude that the regulation of marriage is also a matter appropriately left to the states.  Why then is it that when it comes to immigration benefits for same-sex couples, state laws which recognize same-sex marriage are resoundingly trumped by the federal law which does not?

The answer is DOMA and its infamous limitation of marriage to unions between “one man and one woman” which puts family-based immigration benefits-- such as green card sponsorship--beyond the reach of same-sex couples.

To be sure, the Obama Administration has made clear its support of  same-sex marriage.  This past May the President gave his public endorsement, explaining that he “had hesitated on gay marriage in part because [he] thought that civil unions would be sufficient.”  His views continued to evolve, so he explained, because marriage “invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

Yet, despite the Administration’s evolution toward support for same-sex marriage, including Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to defend DOMA in litigation, American families in same-sex marriages continue to receive unequal treatment under our archaic  immigration laws causing needless suffering and fear of separation.

Last week Jane DeLeon, an immigrant from the Philippines challenged the constitutionality of DOMA as applied to deny immigration family benefits.  In 2008 DeLeon married her long time US citizen partner. She is eligible for an employment-based immigrant visa, but requires a waiver due to a previous immigration violation.  The waiver is available to immigrants such as DeLeon where the denial of her lawful permanent residency would cause extreme hardship to her US citizen spouse.  In DeLeon’s case the waiver was denied solely because she is married to a woman; even though, under state law, the woman is her wife.

Under our broken immigration system a same-sex marriage celebrated under state law means nothing.  Same-sex couples remain at the mercy of an antiquated and functionally mean spirited statute—and they will so remain at least until the Supreme Court addresses the constitutionality of DOMA. 

First Lady Michelle Obama said recently on the Spanish program “Aqui y Ahora”, "There is nothing more critical than keeping families together”.   Yet how many more American families will be torn apart before the sanctity of same-sex marriage is no longer sullied by DOMA and its impact on our immigration law?