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 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 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

For more information on USCIS and its processes, please visit 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? 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Administration takes a bold step forward in providing limited relief to well deserving young immigrants!

ALERT: DREAMers NOT currently in proceedings should not apply affirmatively for Deferred Action at this time. Individuals who are about to be removed and who believe they can demonstrate that they satisfy the eligibility criteria should immediately contact either the Law Enforcement Support Center’s hotline at 1-855-448-6903 (staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or the ICE Office of the Public Advocate through the Office’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024 (staffed 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday) or by e-mail at

On Friday June 15, 2012, the Obama administration announced that it will halt the deportation of young immigrants who were brought to the country as minors and meet other specific requirements. The action is an affirmative and bold response to the broken immigration system and temporarily eliminates the possibility of deportation for youths who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act.  This action gives Congress the space needed to reach a consensus and craft a bipartisan solution that gives permanent residence to qualifying young people.

According to a memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security, eligible immigrants may apply for a two-year renewable grant of “deferred action” if they meet the following criteria:

·         entered the United States before age 16;

·         are 30 years old or younger;

·         have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years;

·         have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor; and

·         are currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or served in the military

Although not granted lawful immigration status, recipients will be able to obtain work permits under existing regulations.

Deferred action has long been used by U.S. presidents to prevent the removal of immigrants for humanitarian reasons.  A grant of deferred action is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that the Department of Homeland Security will not seek the removal of the individual or will not execute a removal order against the individual during a specified period of time while the grant remains in effect.  Statutory authority for deferred action is likely the overall authority of the DHS Secretary for administration and enforcement of the Act found at INA §103(a).

Deferred action is also recognized in the regulations as an act of “administrative convenience to the government” to give lower priority for prosecution in certain cases. 8 CFR §274a.12(c)(14).  The regulations also authorize the Department of Homeland Security to grant employment authorization for recipients of DA and authorization to travel. 8 CFR §274a.12(c)(14).   Deferred action is intended for individuals already present in the United States.  It would not provide an individual with permanent immigration status in the United States, but rather, it “defers” initiation or completion of removal proceedings against the individual.

Young immigrants who qualify for deferred action will be permitted to apply for work permits, but they will not receive green cards or any other lawful immigration status, will not be permitted to sponsor family members, and may be unable to travel abroad.

According to the memo and a Q&A released by the administration, immigrants who are not currently in removal proceedings will have to submit applications demonstrating their eligibility for deferred action. Meanwhile, immigrants who are currently in removal proceedings will be eligible for deferred action, even if they previously declined an offer of “administrative closure” under the ongoing case review process. Although eligibility determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, administration officials said that immigrants who satisfy the criteria in the memo should presumptively be granted deferred action.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shame on the House for passing H.R. 4970!

The action of the House of Representative in passing H.R. 4970, a bill that undermines the core principles of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), is an assault on victims of domestic violence.  H.R. 4970 rolls back existing law and removes long-standing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault -- crimes that predominately affect women.

Supporters of the bill, led by Concerned Women for America, wrote:

“We, the undersigned, representing millions of Americans nationwide, are writing today to oppose the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This nice-sounding bill is deceitful because it destroys the family by obscuring real violence in order to promote the feminist agenda. […]  There is no denying the very real problem of violence against women and children. However, the programs promoted in VAWA are harmful for families. VAWA often encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence.  Further, this legislation continues to use overly broad definitions of domestic violence. These broad definitions actually squander the resources for victims of actual violence by failing to properly prioritize and assess victims. Victims who can show physical evidence of abuse should be our primary focus.”

The Concerned Women for America is a misnomer for the organization as its mission is: “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens - first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society - thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”  It goes on to state that they are the nation's largest public policy women's organization with a rich 32-year history of helping our members across the country bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.”  Their six core values are Family – believing that marriage consists of one man and one woman, Sanctity of Human Life – namely anti freedom of reproduction, Education – supporting reform of public education by returning authority to parents, Pornography, Religious Liberty - supporting the God-given rights of individuals in the United States and other nations to pray, worship and express their beliefs without fear of discrimination or persecution, National Sovereignty -  believing that neither the United Nations nor any other international organization should have authority over the United States in any area. We also believe the United States has the right and duty to protect and secure our national borders.

Nowhere, does this organization support any women's issues, and to claim that VAWA obscures the real violence to promote the feminist agenda is nothing more than misogyny disguised under the label of “Concerned Women.”  As Andrea Dworkin noted “Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of women hating.”

Another supporter of the bill is Natasha Spivack, who started international "marriage service" Encounters International in 1993 with the aim of arranging marriages between U.S. men and Russian women.  The company’s website states: "The Woman Of Your Dreams Just May have a Russian Accent."

The Senate recently passed a bipartisan VAWA bill that would extend protections to undocumented immigrant, Native American, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence. Rather than follow the Senate's lead, the House GOP leadership has focused on a pared-down version that does not extend protections to those groups and actually rolls back existing protections for immigrants who have been abused.

The House’s version of VAWA does not include important improvements to the Clery Act found in the Senate-passed bill that would address the high rates of dating violence and sexual assault in schools and it weakens critical new provisions in the Senate-passed bill that would improve safety for victims living in subsidized housing.

House Republicans who support their leadership's bill argue that LGBT victims are already covered under U.S. domestic violence programs and that rolling back those protections for immigrant victims will crack down on fraud.

As an attorney who has on numerous occasions represented women (and men) who have been victims of domestic violence, I can tell you the reality of what victims have to endure does not even compare to the de minimus argument of any possible fraud. The bill is an attempt to dismiss the advances made in serving immigrant survivors of domestic violence. Lives have been saved because of just provisions designed to increase the personal safety of the abused and their children.

The bipartisan VAWA of 1994 recognized the human rights of those most vulnerable; the undocumented, many of whom are preyed upon because of their status. HR 4970 strips immigrant victims of domestic violence from the right to confidentiality and it undermines current immigration fraud protections. 

Now what does H.R. 4970 do in favor of its supporters?  It eliminates a provision to close a dangerous gap by penalizing US clients of international marriage broker agencies who intentionally lie about required disclosures of their criminal history information in order to lure women.  It also removes a provision to alert foreign fiancĂ©(e)s and spouses of their US citizen petitioners have a protection order taken out against them.  Both of these provisions advance extremist right wing agenda that ensures the continued slavery of women and even children under the auspices of the protection of family, the sanctity of life, religious freedom and national sovereignty.

It is shocking to see this type of legislation even proposed in the post-civil rights era and when international human rights have been globally recognized and advanced.  Shame on the House!

Monday, April 2, 2012

It is sad and disturbing how mean-spirited anti-immigrant individuals can twist language to portray that which is not actually true.  The Administration’s announcement of a “procedural change” in the manner in which waivers for applicants for legal permanent residents has been twisted and misconstrued as a “backdoor amnesty” as “making it easier for illegal immigrants to apply for legal residency” and a myriad of other labels which do not reflect the truth of the matter.
The announcement and proposed rules published today bring a change in the procedure the Department of Homeland Security follows to review and adjudicate these waivers.  Certain individuals applying for legal permanent residency who entered the United States undocumented and are currently in the United States must leave the United States and apply for their legal residency at the Embassy or Consulate in their home country.  This departure from the United States creates a bar to their return which in most cases translates to 10 years of separation from their spouses and family.  The available waiver under the law permits the applicant to reduce this time by demonstrating that the period apart from his or her spouse, children and parents would result in “extreme hardship”.  This law and applicable regulation has been in the books for some time, and the change in procedures does not alter the burden of proof for the applicant.

The only change the procedure brings is the ability for the applicant to remain with his or her family while the agency adjudicates his application.  Prior to this procedural change, the applicant’s only alternative was to leave his or her family and depart to his or her country of origin where after submitting his application for residency he or she would also wait for approval of the waiver application.  Backlog adjudication of waivers meant the applicant would remain outside of the United States for an extended period of time while his or her family remained in the United States.  The procedural change allows the applicant to remain in the United States while the waiver is adjudicated.  This does not in any way make it “easier” for the applicant to obtain legal residency nor is it a “backdoor amnesty”. The applicant still has to meet the established burden of proof and the applicant is not pardoned or exonerated.

Contrary to Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) comment that the "President Obama and his administration are bending long established rules to put illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens," the procedure actually puts interests of American Citizens at the forefront.  American Citizens spouses, children and parents are relieved from the sacrifice and undue agony of separation from their loved ones.  Families are kept together.  The family is the microcosm of society, the nuclear unity that reflects the intrinsic values of a society and this change in the immigration procedures ensures the stability and well-being of this unity.  Anyone twisting, and distorting this procedure for their own political, selfish and antagonizing purposes ignores the interests of American Citizens and American Families.