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OneAmerica on Justice for Immigrants

OneAmerica on Justice for Immigrants

The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform legislation has come under further examination. 300 amendments to the 844 page bill have been proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The most ambitious goals of some of the amendments were to dismember the provisions in the bill for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation that provided a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants and its refugee and asylum provisions have remained virtually intact. With a vote of 13-5 in favor, the bill has been cleared for a Senate debate.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

The original legislation that was put forth by the Gang of Eight seeks to expand legal immigration over a period of 10 years, increase border security, and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. This last provision in particular has gained the support of many civil rights and social justice organizations; although some have expressed opposition to the length of time undocumented immigrants must wait before applying for citizenship, which is proposed to be 13 years.

OneAmerica is among those organizations who have expressed this opinion. OneAmerica was founded immediately after 9/11 to address the backlash against immigrant communities of color which included Muslims, South Asians, Arab Americans and East Africans in the United States. Nearly 12 years on, and OneAmerica has expanded to become the largest immigrant advocacy organization in the state of Washington. It also plays a major role in national coalitions within the due process and immigrant rights arenas.

The following is an interview conducted by laws.com with OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz on his organization’s stance on the current immigration reform bill and the work of his organization in the realm of immigrant rights.

What are OneAmerica’s views on the immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate?

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) is a compromise bill.  It includes a road map to citizenship, but the path is long (at least 13 years from the point when one can register for legal status), and includes some obstacles, like income and employment requirements, that should be removed.  It reduces visa backlogs that currently keep families apart for decades, but it replaces the current family and employment visa systems with a new merit based system that will disadvantage some family members in the future.  It includes a historic agreement between business and labor interests on future worker visas.  While less than perfect, it is an important, bipartisan bill that has a strong chance at becoming law.  And there is tremendous support for it.  This is an opportunity we this country must seize, while the opportunity is there.

What are some of the key changes you would like to see happen to our country’s immigration policy?

This year offers an historic opportunity to repair our broken immigration system thanks largely to the huge role Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters played last November in re-electing President Obama and candidates who support comprehensive, commonsense, compassionate immigration reform.  We will use every opportunity to tell our Members of Congress to “Remember November.”

The Senate bill has elements to both support and oppose and OneAmerica is working with our members and allies to ensure that the end result is a strong bill that represents our values by creating clear a pathway to citizenship and keeping families together.  When it comes to abusive border and detention systems, we must ensure accountability, humane treatment, and due process.  In one victory, OneAmerica and our allies within the Northern Border Coalition successfully fought to have the Senate Judiciary Committee adopt a ‘sensitive locations policy’ that would restrict how immigration enforcement agents patrol courts, schools, hospitals, and other community institutions.

In general, OneAmerica supports the agreement that has resulted from negotiations between labor and business interests put forth by the Senate ‘Gang of Eight’.  We have respect for the painstaking negotiations that have led to this agreement, and oppose efforts that would undermine broad support for the legislation.  However, as the bill moves forward, the Senate must ensure that workers who are under non-immigrant visa programs enjoy the full worker protections that everyone else does, that non-immigrant visa programs do not contribute to abuses by unscrupulous recruiters or employers whose practices contribute to human trafficking, and that the bill respects the role of women workers by ensuring that they have the ability to contribute to our nation.

Some organizations have argued that undocumented immigrants should not get amnesty because entering the country illegally is not a victimless crime. They go on to argue that undocumented immigrants harm documented immigrants and Americans by taking away jobs they need, and that charity should begin at home. What is your response to this idea?

The assertion that immigrants are only a drain is flat out wrong.  Undocumented immigrants are making important contributions to the economy as workers and as taxpayers.  Their presence – and their spending – actually helps to grow the economy, and there’s no evidence that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs that native born workers are scrambling to fill.  Let’s also recall that we’re talking about workers and families that have been here for years.  Bringing these workers out of the underground economy so that they are not easily exploited, will boost their earning power and the wages and working conditions of documented workers, and the economy overall.  It’s time to stop repeating the arguments that were used against the Germans and Swedes 200 years ago and the Irish, Italians and Chinese a hundred years ago, and look at how the economy really works.

What are some of the accomplishments of OneAmerica?

OneAmerica was created to respond to the anti-immigrant backlash that followed the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  At that time, people were lashing out at immigrants who were as American as anyone because of the color of their skin, their dress or religious beliefs, and we were called Hate Free Zone.  We’ve built a broad coalition of communities across Washington State, and have helped to launch national coalitions that have pressed the case against racial and religious profiling.

Today, while remaining true to that multi-ethnic focus on civil liberties, OneAmerica is now at the forefront of efforts to help immigrants integrate into society through citizenship, civics, innovative English language learning programs and financial literacy.  We are also making strides to ensure better representation of immigrant and refugee communities in government, including successful efforts to influence legislative re-districting and running voter registration programs across Washington State.  We’ve also supported efforts across school districts in King County, Washington to improve strategies to close the opportunity gap for the children of immigrants and refugees in our school systems.

What does OneAmerica have planned for the future?

In one year’s time, I hope we’ll be in the final planning stages of a massive effort to help hundreds of thousands of immigrants legalize their status following the enactment of a federal immigration reform bill.  Immigrants and refugees will continue to struggle with our immigration system: while the bill may improve some aspects of immigration law, other aspects of the law will only get more complicated, and in some cases more punitive.  We’ll continue to ensure that immigrant and refugee communities have a voice in these ongoing efforts.  While a tremendous milestone, a comprehensive immigration reform bill is not the end of the fight for immigrant and refugee rights.

At the same time, I see OneAmerica bringing to bear our experience and base of support on other issues less specific to immigrant status that are vitally important to immigrant and refugee communities.  For example, education policy, economic policy, and economic development strategies that consistently fail to take into consideration the voices and needs of these communities who continue to be underrepresented in government and in the policy and decision-making processes that impact their lives.

For more information on OneAmerica, please visit their site. For more information on immigration laws and the latest news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page

Interviwed with Rich Stolz of OneAmerica, Seattle, Washington

Jim Gilchrist of The Minuteman Project on Immigration Reform

Jim Gilchrist of The Minuteman Project on Immigration Reform

The so-called bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators have come up with legislation that they claim will change our immigration system for the better. This legislation would allow more legal immigrants to enter the country over the next decade, strengthen border security, award more visas based on education and professional credentials and controversially grant legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

Supporters of this legislation feel that it fixes an immigration system that has been broken for decades. However, a conservative backlash against it has begun in the House. The backlash is specifically against the provision to grant a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. After all, these people committed a civil offense, and a path to citizenship would ultimately be a reward for breaking the law. Those who are against this reform in the House are hoping to thwart this irresponsible legislation through a strategy of delay and dismemberment. However, a bipartisan group of House members is working behind the scenes to draft a bill that does have such a path to citizenship.

Immigration is one of the most divisive issues in the United States. However, a recent Pew Research poll has shown that perhaps the Gang of Eight is out of touch with what their constituents expect from a truly responsible immigration policy. This poll reveals that 55 percent of Americans oppose granting citizenship to those 11 million who entered the United States illegally. And among the group that would naturally seem most supportive of such a path to citizenship, Hispanics, only 49 percent support the measure.

The Minuteman Project is a national, activist organization that was founded on August 1, 2004 by Jim Gilchrist. It is a civilian-led border watch group that aims to raise awareness of the problem of illegal immigration to the United States. It wants the United States to remain governed by the rule of law and its immigration legal code enforced for the sake of national security, economic prosperity, and domestic tranquility.

The following is an interview with Jim Gilchrist, Founder and President of the Minuteman Project, on his opinions regarding the immigration reform legislation and the work of his organization in the realm of stemming the tide of illegal immigration.

How do you feel about the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

I feel it is an ongoing tug-of-war that will not be resolved with the current session of Congress. I think the debate will continue for perhaps another decade. There are so many people who want the immigration laws simply enforced, but, there are also millions of people who, for various selfish reasons, do not want those immigration laws enforced.  It will depend on who has the greatest pull on that political tug-of-war rope. I think right now the rope is being pulled mostly by the Democratic Party in the direction of amnesty for illegal aliens and a systematic dismantling of immigration law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Because the immigration law enforcement advocates have not come out with the unity and solidarity that the pro-illegal alien, anti rule-of-law activists have, groups like the Minuteman Project have much less prominence in the debate than it used to have a few years ago.  

Most of the lack of alliance among the immigration law enforcement advocacy groups is due to chronic infighting within and among the various organizations.  It seems, in my opinion that some elements on my side of the debate for enforced immigration laws are in the movement to egotistically promote themselves as the "savior" of America.  Others are in this activist movement for greedy financial reasons, meaning, and the possibility of creating a "cash cow" that will attract unlimited donations to the organization and provide its staff with an opulent life-style.  Unfortunately, these egotistical and greedy activists earnestly set out to discredit and destroy organizations that would otherwise be allies, when their spotlight of attention or unimpeded access to the national donor base of cash contributors is threatened.  

What are some of the changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

Very few changes are necessary. What is necessary is doubling the funding of the U.S. Border Patrol and the bureau of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – that would take about another 18 billion dollars for about a two year period. That would provide those law enforcement organizations with the manpower and womanpower and the working capital that they need to purchase equipment, hire professional investigators, border patrol officers and prosecuting attorneys to handle the prosecution of those persons engaged in what I refer to as the “21st Century Slave Trade.” The “21st Century Slave Trade” is essentially criminal activity that lures and funnels millions of impoverished people from around the world into the United States for exploitation.

Of course, it is more than just the criminal activity that is conducted by the criminal cartels that upsets Americans; it is also the cultural issue…the lack of assimilation into the American culture by millions of persons who essentially just want to transfer their homeland's language, culture, customs, etc. into the United States. A lot of people from Mexico are in the United States illegally – they want their friends and relatives to come here and join them – that is a natural reaction for people everywhere.   But, they appear to be reluctant to speak a language other than their own or to assimilate into the melting pot which is the United States.  Illegal aliens from all countries around the world who are in the United States seem to create their own national enclaves within U.S. communities and neighborhoods.  The Mexican lack of assimilation is more profound than that of illegal aliens from other countries because of the enormous number of Mexicans and Central Americans here illegally dwarfs most of the illegal alien populations from other countries.

I do not condone their trespassing into the United States – I think they should stay in their homelands, wherever they are from, and try to create change there the way we do here…by taking their grievances to the streets and to their governments in protest.

Do you think it would be a better policy to change our immigration system so that more highly-skilled workers are permitted rather than low-skilled workers?

Absolutely! I will explain why.  Let’s go back to the founding of the nation.  The very first Congress of the United States of America, in 1790, actually established our very first immigration policy.  The Founding Fathers were tired of England exporting into the colonies all their criminals and their ne'er do wells.  The Colonists wanted our Congress to establish a policy that would essentially provide two primary things. The first is an immigration policy that would guarantee that we have highly skilled and vocationally skilled persons immigrating here with the talents, trades, and vocations necessary to continue us as a global economic power with a very broad middle class and a tax base. Of course, they did not talk about a middle class or income tax base in 1790, but they did talk about becoming a global economic power through a rationally proscribed policy of immigration. The second criteria of immigration is that not only do we want to maintain our status as a global economic power, but we also want to remain a civilized society so we want to attract people with the character and integrity necessary to allow us to continue being governed under rules of law by the electorate. And essentially those two criteria comprised our immigration policy in 1790, and they still apply today, in 2013:  immigrants who bring with them economic prosperity and civilized attitudes.   Our immigration policy never intended, and never should intend, to allow people to come here to engage in criminal activity or to feed at the public trough at the taxpayers’ expense.   Almost all of the people that are coming here illegally are impoverished and are an unwanted burden on our society.

Now, I believe in benevolence, and I believe in charity, but I also believe those altruisms begin at home.  Charity begins at home, and in the case of illegal aliens, it is their nation of origin, not the United States of America, that is their home.

What are some of the accomplishments of the Minutemen Project?

I set out in 2004 to bring national attention to issues that I felt were threatening to our domestic tranquility as a nation, as a society and as a people. Since immigration at the time was the most critical dilemma, in my opinion, facing the U.S., I chose to bring as much national awareness to the illegal alien invasion dilemma as possible and I have succeeded a thousand fold! I have no regrets at all!

Unfortunately, there have been some bad apples who have been attracted to the immigration law enforcement advocacy movement. They are your homegrown racists, your Nazis, your KKK mentalities, your fascists. I have met those groups and I have disassociated from them. They are not running under the title of American Nazi or KKK, they are running under immigration reform titles, but without a doubt they are fascist and racist organizations. However, in all fairness, you find the same extremist mentality among those who are for open borders and no immigration policy. Unfortunately, you have the extremists on the left, who are very hostile and very mean-spirited, and you have the extremists on my side of the debate on the ultra-right who are equally hostile and violent. If you want an example, in any debate you are going to have a left and a right, and the further left they get and the further right they get, the more hostile and violent they tend to be. So, on the ultra-left you have Ted Kaczynski: Unabomber, Harvard graduate who killed three people and injured about two dozen others by sending them bombs in the mail!  And on the right you also have equally violent mentalities. Tim McVeigh from the ultra-right killed 168 people with that bomb in Oklahoma! Those two extremists side in any debate – whether it is about taxes or paving road, or building school or hospitals or anything – those two extremist sides are an anathema to any positive or any respectable solution to any problem. And I always advise people to steer away from them. We want a centralized solution to this problem – centralized meaning a peaceful resolution, a bloodless resolution. And that brings us to the center and away from the extreme left and the extreme right.

If the legislation for amnesty does pass, what would be the next step for the Minutemen Project?

If the legislation for amnesty passes, then we will address it in a more aggressive manner than we have lately. We probably would get back to street demonstrations and rally the troops. However, I am a little reluctant to go back to street demonstrations because of the propensity of bad apples showing up on both sides and creating violence, and engaging name calling and hate speech. But probably would be more aggressive in pinpointing those who I feel are specifically responsible from both major parties for thumbing their nose at the rule of law. The consequence of amnesty is going to be a message to the world that we have no immigration laws here, that you can come here at will as many as you want, set up shop wherever you want, because you are never going to be kicked out and we are never going to seriously enforce our immigration laws. And that means we can expect at least 300 million more newcomers over the next five or six decades, maybe as many as a billion! There are four billion impoverished people out of the 7 billion in the world’s population. A good segment of that four billion would love to migrate to the United States and tap into that supposed bottomless cornucopia of welfare benefits programs and freebies that are funded by this supposed incredibly wealthy tax base we have, which is a myth! We do not have that anymore! Maybe in the 1950s and 1960s we had it, but, over time, it has been fading away. We are looking at a pathway not to citizenship with amnesty, but a pathway to the demise of the United States insofar as it being an assimilated and unsegregated nation! I think the U.S. will break up into segments based on religion, culture and language, just like the former USSR did. I do not see amnesty as a good thing; I see it as a horrible thing!

But I do not think this legislation is going to pass. I think it is going to be a tug of war over the next decade. Because the closer it gets to passing, the more the natives get restless, and start making more noise, and start contacting their congressmen and their senators!

One final comment is that just because I say it, does not mean it is true and there is no challenging counter point. I am just expressing my opinions as an American citizen and I will never pretend that I am always right and my adversaries are always wrong. I am part of the debate, and I think any audience should be allowed to listen to me.  I apply that rule to everybody, even those I disagree with, and including incurably dogmatic universities like Columbia and Harvard (among others) that pose as intellectual visionaries while simultaneously maintaining an earnest opposition to free speech for "all."  

For more information on the Minuteman Project, please visit their page. For more information on immigration law and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Interviewed with Jim Gilchrist of The Minuteman Project, Laguna Hills, California.

Californians for Population Stabilization on Immigration

Californians for Population Stabilization on Immigration

The so-called bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators has introduced legislation, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, that they say will reform the immigration system. This legislation promises, among other things, to tighten border security and controversially grant legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

Supporters of this bill, S. 744, say that it will greatly improve a dysfunctional immigration system. However, a conservative backlash against it is taking place in the House. The backlash is specifically against the provision to grant a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants. Those who oppose this reform in the House are hoping to kill the bill through a strategy of delay and dismemberment. However, a bipartisan group of House members is working behind the scenes to draft a bill that does will have a path to citizenship.

The debate on immigration is certainly divisive in the United States. However, a recent Pew Research poll has shown that perhaps the Gang of Eight is out of touch with what Americans truly want in terms of immigration reform. This poll reveals that 55 percent of Americans oppose granting citizenship to those 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) is a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve the future of the state of California through the stabilization of the state’s population. CAPS aims to educate the public about the negative impacts of overpopulation, and has given the issue of immigration special attention by sponsoring media and public awareness campaigns and working with lawmakers to promote responsible immigration policies since most of the United States’ population growth and that of California was a result of immigration.

The following is an interview with Joe Guzzardi, Senior Writing Fellow at CAPS, on his views on the immigration reform legislation.

How do you feel about the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

Right now, the dynamic of the debate has shifted dramatically from the time before the bill (S. 744) was introduced, when the Gang of Eight and their media supporters dominated the debate by falsely promising that it was going to be an overhaul that would feature security measures and would make sure that all of the amnesty illegal immigrants would pay taxes and go to the back of the line.

Now that the people have had the time to read the bill there is a growing realization that none of the promises are included in the bill! There is no increase in border security, there is no way amnestied illegal immigrants are going to pay back taxes or fees or anything else promised! Remember that Senator Marco Rubio promised that border security "triggers" would be in place before any illegal immigrants were legalized. We now know and Rubio admits that this is not the case.

So 11 million illegal immigrants will be instantly work authorized and compete with 22 million unemployed or under-employed Americans. Over the first decade after passage, as many as 33 million new green cards could be issued. Outrageous on both counts. And we also know that, according to the Heritage Foundation, the legalizing illegal immigrants would cost American taxpayers $6.3 trillion. More outrage that the already beleaguered taxpayer—who by the way opposes amnesty— would have to fund. It's important to remember that the amnesty legislation is strictly Beltway-driven and has little support from grassroots Americans.

What the Gang of Eight had hoped to be a "yea" slam dunk vote is now highly doubtful. Rubio himself indicated it's questionable that, as written, S. 744 would pass the Senate and added that he doesn't expect it would pass the House. So, to answer your question succinctly, I think the bill is terrible in every respect and I put its chances of passage at 50/50 at best.

What are some of the changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

I would personally like to see things that would really make a difference in immigration reform in the United States! I would certainly end the way the anchor baby clause is wrongly interpreted, which is a huge incentive for illegal immigration, certainly into border states like California and Texas. I would like to see automatic citizenship ended,  I would like to see much more secure and extended fencing along the border, I would like to see employers who hire illegal immigrants punished meaningfully with jail time and significantly fined, and not given token fines.

I want mandatory E-Verify, and an end to the idiotic Diversity Visa. Honestly, most of the other dozens of visas are questionable at best. We saw in Boston an example of the rampant abuse of the student visa and U.S. asylum policy. Include as questionable the fiancée visa ("K"), the religious worker visa ("R"), and non-immigrant worker visas like the H-1B visa.

Look at the abuse the K visa has set off—hundreds of for-profit Internet sites unscrupulously matching aging American citizens with young women from all over the world. The women are eager to marry someone they hardly know for in exchange for legal U.S. residency

Except in extraordinary circumstances, the visas serve little positive purpose and all of them encourage immigration abuse, the last thing we need.

Do you think it would be a better policy to change our immigration system so that more highly-skilled workers are permitted rather than low-skilled workers?

If there are going to be changes in the visa system, and certainly there are areas where changes could be made that would be positive for the country, I certainly agree that people with higher skills and more education should be at the top of the list of anybody who comes into the United States.

But the idea of more visas for low-skilled workers is an unfunny Chamber of Commerce joke! You have 20-22 million Americans that are either unemployed or underemployed, and of those 22 million, a significant portion of them have little education and would do those kinds of jobs if they were made available to them. So yes, if you were to prioritize the different visa categories, I would agree that the first people who should be considered are people who have high education levels and who are probable entrepreneurs, and who would start businesses that would employ Americans.

What are some of the accomplishments of Californians for Population Stabilization?

CAPS was formed in 1986 and has been in operation continuously since then. It has always had a strong environmental perspective and wants Californians as well as the other 49 states' residents to be more environmentally aware. CAPS helps Californians realize that what was once a beautiful and unspoiled state has suffered significant changes in its environmental quality for numerous reasons, including high levels of immigration and also high birth rates among some immigrant families.

We believe more people equals more cars, more housing, more schools, more hospitals – all those things need to be built to accommodate higher population. When houses etc. are built, land—which in many parts of California has been agricultural land— is lost forever. The term generally used to describe the phenomena is "sprawl." So immigrants come to the United States and to California not to live the way they did in their home country, but to become consumers and excessive consumerism is bad for the environment.

Secondly, one of the things CAPS has done is that we have been active in helping to block previous amnesties: the 2006 and 2007 amnesties. And we have worked tirelessly to block the DREAM Act in all of its different manifestations! The DREAM Act was introduced 10 years or so ago, and it has been an ongoing but successful to keep the DREAM Act from passing.

Last year we started an outreach program among California colleges and universities to get students to submit essays on why preserving California and its environment is important to all California residents, but especially important to the younger generation! We had tremendous response.

If this legislation does pass, what would be the next step for Californians for Population Stabilization?

I'm confident legislation, as currently written, will not pass. If it passes the Senate, it is not going to pass the House. Nevertheless, what I foresee is endless weeks of hashing and rehashing immigration in both the House and the Senate.

In other words, the issue is not going to go away. And even if S. 744 does pass, for immigration advocates, it still won't be enough. There will be something out there where they will say, “it is great that the bill passed, but it didn't do enough for this or that particular group.”

Remappingthedebate.org, for example, went to pro-immigration advocates and asked at what point they would agree that there is enough immigration to the United States. None of them were willing to answer the question. They wouldn't name a number they would identify as "enough" and agree that the immigration policy in the United States is sufficiently inclusive to end their lobbying efforts. The reason they wouldn't answer is that they want unlimited immigration to the U.S.

CAPS is committed to fighting and winning the fight for a better and fairer America for all Americans no matter how long that battle may take.

For more information on Californians for Population Stabilization, please visit their page. For more information on immigration laws and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Interviewed with Joe Guzzardi of Californians for Population Stabilization, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

NumbersUSA on the Dangers of an Irresponsible Immigration Policy

NumbersUSA on the Dangers of an Irresponsible Immigration Policy

The immigration reform legislation introduced by the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators has now come under further scrutiny. The Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed some 300 amendments to the 844 page bill. These amendments are varied, and range from protections to gay couples to efforts to strengthen border security. The most ambitious goals of some of the amendments are to take down the provisions in the bill for creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. However, most observers have noted that despite these efforts, it is unlikely for the bill to change significantly,  as its bipartisan supporters are likely to act as one  to halt any significant changes to its composition.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

The GOP has proposed most of the amendments – 194 of the 300 total – and most of these are aimed at further fortifying the U.S. border. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas submitted a plan, 70 pages long, to significantly strengthen border security and make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to get on the controversial path to citizenship. Other amendments proposed by Democrats, such as the amendment proposed by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that would make foreign born same-sex partners of American citizens eligible to apply for a green card, are also controversial.

The original legislation that was introduced by the Gang of Eight aims to expand legal immigration over the next 10 years, tighten border security, and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. It is particularly this last provision that has caused a backlash among a huge segment of American society.

NumbersUSA Education & Research Fund provides a forum for Americans of all national, ethnic and political backgrounds to focus on the singular issue of the numerical level of American immigration. It works to educate policymakers, opinion leaders and members of the public on immigration policies and legislation and their consequences. NumbersUSA advocates for a reduction to the levels of immigration for the sake future generations of Americans to be able to enjoy a high degree of mobility, environmental quality, worker fairness, fiscal responsibility and individual liberty.

Laws.com conducted an interview with NumbersUSA on its stance on the current immigration reform bill.

How do you feel about the immigration-reform bill being debated in Congress?

We oppose S. 744 because it would substantially increase the number of foreign job seekers at the expense of citizens and Legal Permanent residents. The bill would add 33 million foreign job seekers just over the next decade. This would increase job competition across the spectrum, although less-educated, lower skilled Americans would be hurt the worst.

What are some of the changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

We support mandatory use of E-Verify by all employers; enforcement of existing immigration laws; a reduction in legal immigration below the current historically-high level; an end to the practice of bestowing citizenship on children born in the U.S. to foreign nationals; adjustments to currently fraud-riddled guest worker programs, and real border security.

Do you think perhaps allowing more highly skilled workers to enter the U.S. and a cap on unskilled immigration would be a better policy to follow?

No, while 53% of recent college graduates under/unemployed, S. 744 proposes that every foreign student who earns a U.S. Master’s or PhD degree in a STEM field be automatically given a permanent work permit.  Data refute the sponsor’s labor-shortage claims. For instance, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks STEM salaries of those newly graduated, reports that overall engineering starting salaries have been flat for nearly three years since 2010, with a tiny 0.3% increase.  Similar trends exist for more experienced workers. In fact, according to Prof. Norman Matloff (EPI Briefing Paper #356, Feb 28), no study other than those sponsored by industry has ever confirmed a shortage!  

Increasing unskilled labor outside of Agriculture just worsens job prospects for poor and less educated citizens and drives down wages. That dashes the hopes of so many who want to climb the economic ladder into the middle class.

What are some of the accomplishments of Numbers USA?

NumbersUSA is an educational and grassroots organization with about 1.7 million members. The NY Times credited our members with stopping the 2007 amnesty bill. We have worked to promote Attrition Through Enforcement policies which are reflected in numerous pieces of legislation introduced in Congress over the years.

If this legislation does pass, what would be the next step for Numbers USA?

We do not believe it will pass but if it does, we will work to ensure that the Obama Administration and future ones do not ignore the law's enforcement provisions or rubber-stamp applications for immigration benefits.

For more information on NumbersUSA, please visit them here. For more information on immigration laws and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Bringing Hope to Many – The African Hope Committee

Bringing Hope to Many - The African Hope Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee has commenced considering amendments to the 844 page immigration reform bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. It is expected the markups will carry on for the next couple of weeks. 300 amendments have been proposed, and they include efforts by the right to further beef up border security, along with efforts from the left to provide eligibility to apply for a green card for the same-sex partners of American citizens. 300 amendments have been proposed in all.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

Probably the most ambitious goals of some of the amendments proposed is to dismantle the provisions in the bill that would create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Most observers, however, have noted that such dramatic changes to the composition of the bill are unlikely to pass, as the bipartisan supporters of the bill are likely to unite to stop any such changes.

Of the 300 amendments put forth, most have come from the GOP – 194 in total. The debate that will take place certainly promises to be engaging.

The bipartisan Gang of Eight senators set out to reform the immigration system in profound ways through this bill. The bill sets to increase border security, expand legal immigration for the coming ten years, and, controversially, create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It is especially this last provision which has gained the support of many social justice organizations.

The African Hope Committee (AHC) is among the social justice organizations that have supported the path to citizenship proposed. The AHC is a nonprofit organization that provides a network of referral services to immigrants and provides a wealth of information on immigration, health and social welfare. Its mission is to serve as a bridge between mainstream services and newly arrived immigrants.

The following is an interview conducted by laws.com with Clarisse Mefotso of the AHC on her thoughts and feelings about the current immigration reform bill and the work of her organization in the realm of immigrant aid and advocacy.

What are your views on the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

I support the immigration reform Bill and I hope this bill will pass very soon. African Hope Committee has been very active with advocacy with the hope to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that address immigration issues for different immigrant groups. We hope the President will pass the bill this year.

What are some of the most important changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

Some of the key changes I would like to see to US Immigration policy are 1) increase the number of people with the advance degree so they could continue to provide their skills and expertise as well as increase the US Economy.2) I support the young dreamers to become US Citizen, to expand the differed action bill to citizen and to remove the age gap3) maintaining the DV lottery will keep the balance of immigrants coming from different countries around the world and give the opportunities to immigrants to improve their life status

Some organizations on the other side of the debate argue that undocumented immigrants should not be given amnesty because coming to the country illegally is not a victimless crime. They argue that undocumented immigration is a drain on public funds and harms documented immigrants and Americans by taking away jobs they need, and that charity should begin at home. What is your response to this notion?

America is the land of immigrants and opportunity. Immigrants have built this country and are very hard workers. Having immigrants in this country allow the country to progress and perform the jobs that most people will not do. There are jobs that only immigrants will do in this country, like working in the farms, restaurants, hotels…..and many more. They are willing to do the difficult jobs that no one else will do.

What are some of the biggest accomplishments of the African Hope Committee?

We just received the NYPD Award in March 2012 for serving immigrants in New York City.

AHC IS A BIA recognized organization and work with BIA Accredited Representatives

Through our commitment to advocacy efforts, community organizing and AHC’s Annual Health Summit, we have served more people in the community than we have anticipated in less than 5 years. To date, AHC has received proclamation from the Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz in 2004, 2006 and 2007; a citation from the Manhattan Borough President, C. Virginia Fields and Council Member Bill Perkins in 2004 and 2005 for recognizing and commending AHC for the vital services we have provided to the residents of the City of New York; an award of recognition from the New York City DOHMH, Bureau of HIV/AIDS/ Women and HIV/AIDS Program, Dr. Marjorie J. Hill in 2004. We have been the 2005 Union Square Awards recipients.  In 2007, we received proclamations of praise from both the Manhattan Borough President and the Brooklyn Borough President for the 4th Annual Health Summit for African women/children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS and actions taken to increase HIV awareness and help to bring people to care. Our staff at AHC was very proud to receive two proclamations from Mayor Bloomberg for hosting the 4th and 5th Annual Health Summit entitled “Ignorance can Kill, Knowledge can Save Lives”, which raises awareness about issues related to the treatment and contraction of this horrible illness. We have also received citations from Councilman Robert Jackson and Councilwoman Inez Dickens. In 2010 we received an award from the US Census Bureau for community organizing activities that encouraged the community to participate in the U.S Census 2010.

AHC has had over 80 staff, volunteers, interns, consultants and board members joined in our efforts in the past. Since 2003, African Hope Committee has reached over (14,500) individuals and distributed over (65,000) information education and communication (IEC) materials on legal issues and diseases of public health importance such as HIV&AIDS, Hepatitis B and STD/is.  Some of these educational materials can be found posted on our website. AHC has successfully organized six ( 6) Annual Health Summits, over ( 21 ) Community Forums and countless Outreach in the New York Metropolitan Area. Other major accomplishments include raising awareness on HIV&AIDS, organizing enlightenment workshops, conducting ( 3) Focus Group Discussions targeted at women and young girl on health and immigration and ( 3 ) summits for Health Care Providers and Community Members/Participants. Maintained case load of over (122).

What does the African Hope Committee have planned for the future?

Continue to develop and expand our immigration program to assist the large number of immigrants living in NYC. Create a center with a big umbrella that provides a range of services. Engage more in advocacy and policy work.  

For more information on the AHC and its work, or to find out how you can help, please visit their site. For more information on immigration laws and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Interviewed with Clarisse Mefotso of the African Hope Committee, New York, New York

The Equal Rights Center on the Civil Rights of Immigrants

The Equal Rights Center on the Civil Rights of Immigrants

The immigration reform bill that has been put forth by the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators is now being marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed a total of 300 amendments to the 844 page bill. These amendments are varied, ranging from protections to same-sex couples to efforts to further increase border security. The ultimate goal of some of the amendments is to do away with the provisions in the legislation that would create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. However, most observers have stated that it is highly unlikely for the basic makeup of the bill to change, as its bipartisan supporters of this legislation are likely to stick together to stop any major changes.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

The Republican side has proposed the majority of the amendments – 194 of the 300 total – and most of these aims to further secure the border. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, for example, has introduced a lengthy plan, 70 pages in total, to strengthen border security and make it much more challenging for undocumented immigrants to get on the path to citizenship. Other amendments proposed by Democrats, such as the amendment proposed by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that would make foreign born same-sex partners of American citizens eligible to apply for a green card, are also controversial.

The original legislation that was introduced by the Gang of Eight aims to expand legal immigration over the next decade, increase border security, and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. This last provision in particular has naturally gained the support of many social justice and civil rights organizations, although some have voiced strong opposition to the length of time undocumented immigrants must wait before applying for citizenship, which is proposed to be 13 years.

The Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a non-profit civil rights organization that promotes equal opportunity in employment, housing, access to public accommodations and government services through research, testing, education, advocacy and enforcement. The ERC works with a diverse group of different populations, and undertakes many activities pertaining to immigrant rights.

The following is an interview laws.com conducted with the ERC on their stance on the current immigration reform being debated in the Senate as well as their work in the realm of civil rights in general.

What is is your opinion on the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

The Equal Rights Center is not directly involved in policy advocacy with respect to the immigration reform debate going on in Congress.  That being said, as the immigration reform debate has drawn out over time, and has become more vitriolic, it has engendered an atmosphere in many communities that fosters discrimination not just against undocumented individuals, but against any person who might fit someone’s stereotype of what an undocumented individual “might look like.”  The results of this atmosphere are an increase in crimes targeting Latinos, alienation and isolation of immigrant communities, and pervasive discrimination that has been documented through civil rights testing.  As the Equal Rights Center works to advance equal opportunity for all, we look forward to the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform by our leaders as a necessary step in eliminating discrimination based on national origin.

Overall, the movement and recognition that a consensus needs to be attained is encouraging.  We seemingly have finally reached a point where both major political parties recognize that immigration is an issue that is in the minds and hearts of Americans, regardless of politics. When we discuss immigration reform we are talking about real families who face the threat of being torn apart every day. Working to address the framework that creates these situations will create a better environment for all individuals who want the opportunity to work in our nation and create a fair path to legal status for those who are already here and contribute to diverse and rich communities across the nation.

Many details remain to be ironed out, but overall we are very encouraged and look forward to working with immigrant communities and other advocates to create more support.

What are some of the key changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

Federal immigration legislation sets the standard for state and local legislation regarding immigrant communities. The Equal Rights Center works to ensure that immigrant communities are granted equal opportunity and equal access in housing, employment, public accommodations and government services. We hope that any legislation will reflect this access to equal opportunity and further prohibit discriminatory practices aimed toward immigrant communities.

Some organizations argue that undocumented immigrants should not be given amnesty because entering the country illegally is not a victimless crime. What is your response to this idea?

Immigrant communities contribute to diversity in all facets of American society. The current 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country also constitute a vital part of the American economy. An even greater drain on public funds is the current immigration system. A report released by the non-partisan, Washington-based Migration Policy Institute reveals that, in 2012, the U.S. government spent more money on federal immigration enforcement than any other federal enforcement activities. And the numbers aren’t even close. According to the report, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012, 24 percent more that than it spent for the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the ATF combined. Investment in a system that eliminates this tremendous spending and encourages diversity in the American labor force would be a benefit to all Americans.

And specifically regarding children and youth, it is encouraging to see that Congress is considering creating an easier path to citizenship for children brought into this country by parents.

What are some of the accomplishments of the Equal Rights Center in the realm of immigration reform?

We continue to vigilantly monitor the debate on immigration reform and its ripple effect on local legislation, as they both have direct impact not only on the communities comprised of our newest Americans, but on the larger struggle to ensure equal opportunity for all.

Recognizing that “English only” rules and similar barriers for people with limited English proficiency (LEP) often serve as proxies for national origin discrimination – and that LEP immigrants may be unaware of their rights and how to seek redress when they experience discrimination –the ERC also gives special attention to LEP communities and in the past year the ERC had connected with tens of thousands of immigrants to help ensure they are aware of their rights.

What does the Equal Rights Center have planned for the future?

The Equal Rights Center will continue its initiatives focused on highlighting and combating discrimination based on national origin, as we have for the past 30 years.  This will include targeted education and outreach to immigrant communities, and civil rights testing and reporting as is illustrated in our most recent report entitled Precaution: Obstacles for Latinos in the Virginia Rental Housing Market.  Finally, we will continue to advocate for immigrant individuals and communities as immigration policy is put into practice.

For more information on the Equal Rights Center, please visit their site. For more information on immigration laws and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

 

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Immigration Reform and Jewish Social Justice: Part 1

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Immigration Reform and Jewish Social Justice: Part 1

The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform legislation has come under further scrutiny. 300 amendments to the 844 page bill have been proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The most ambitious goals of some of the amendments were to dismember the provisions in the bill for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation that provided a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants and its refugee and asylum provisions have remained virtually intact. With of 13-5 in favor, the bill has been cleared for a Senate debate.

The Gang of Eight senators set out to reform the immigration system in profound ways through this legislation. The bill aims to increase border security, expand legal immigration for a decade, and, controversially, grant legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It is especially this last provision which has gained the support of many social justice organizations.

One of these organizations is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which, being an authority on refugee and asylum seeker issues, also supports new provisions that would remove the barriers to protection for these groups.

HIAS has a long, proud and extensive history in the realm of refugee and asylee assistance. HIAS was founded in 1881 to assist in the resettlement of Russian Jewry in the United States who were escaping poverty and pogroms in their homeland. Later on it would help more refugees in both World War I and World War II, with nearly two dozen of its employees being killed in concentration camps or on the battlefield trying to assist Jewish refugees escape the horrors that awaited them. HIAS ultimately managed to help 40,000 European Jews escape that continent during the Holocaust. It continued its work through the decades, and helped Soviet Jewry find a safe haven in the United States and other countries during the Cold War period.

To date, HIAS has managed to resettle more than 4.5 million refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish. As the numbers of persecuted Jews has diminished, HIAS has directed its efforts to help other vulnerable groups throughout the world. On the national level, HIAS engages in advocacy in Washington D.C., and, on the international level, assists refugees in many ways with offices in nine countries.

Laws.com has conducted a two part interview with HIAS. The first part is an interview with Melanie Nezer, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at HIAS, on her views on the current immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate. The second interview is with HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield. He talks to laws.com about HIAS’s history and plans for the future.

Part I: Melanie Nezer Talks Politics

How do you feel about the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

We were very pleased to see the Gang of Eight Senate bill when it was released a few weeks ago. Certainly it is not a perfect bill, but the fact that these eight senators were able to come together and reach this compromise that would do so much to fix our broken immigration system is something that is very encouraging and we are just thrilled about.

What are some of the key changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

HIAS certainly supports some of the major provisions in the bill, including the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and provisions dealing with future flows of migrants and family reunification. These are things that are certainly very important to HIAS.

During the drafting process of the bill we were really focused on the refugee and asylum provision in the bill, just because we do have a particular area of expertise on these issues and we wanted to make sure that some fixes that were long overdue to the law were included in this legislation. So that while Congress was addressing the broad immigration issues, it was also honing in on long standing policies negatively affecting asylum seekers and refugees.

We focused on some of the provisions that directly addressed refugees and asylum seekers and we are happy to see some of these key provisions in the bill, including the repeal of the one year filing deadline for asylum applications. The bill would also give authority to the President to designate groups of humanitarian concern or groups that should be resettled as refugees in the national interest, which would also include an extension of the Lautenberg Amendment for Iranian religious minorities, which is very important to HIAS.

There are other provisions in there that would make the asylum process more fair and efficient. There are provisions in there that would promote integration as it relates asylum seekers and refugees. All these provisions are very important. However, we are concerned that Senator Grassley has filed some amendments that would repeal some of those sections or strike them from the bill, so we are watching that very closely.

In countries that possess a more lenient asylum policy, there has been widespread abuse of the system. Is it not possible, that having a more lenient asylum policy in the United States, could open the door for more abuse of the system?

There is nothing in this bill that would make our asylum system more lenient. The provisions that made it into this bill are primarily about efficiency. You do not have to sacrifice security to remove barriers to protection, so you can achieve the goal of refugee protection better and increase efficiency by changing the procedures.

There is nothing in this bill that would make it easier for people to pass security screening, get refugee status or become asylees; these procedures remain fundamentally the same.

The barriers to protection would be removed, for example, like the filing deadline. It was put into law in 1996 with the primary goal of addressing fraud. And numerous studies have shown that it does nothing to address fraud. What it does is that it actually requires a significant investment of resources to adjudicate the time that the person entered the country, which is really irrelevant to whether the person should get asylum or not. So courts and asylum officers are spending the bulk of their time dealing with an issue that is irrelevant or tangential to the claim. And people who are ultimately able to prove their claim, actually just get lesser protection. Many studies have shown that this is just a bad policy that needs to be repealed. Does this make the system more lenient? I don’t think so. It just makes it more efficient and fair.

Same thing goes for humanitarian groups. Right now, if the US wants to resettle a particular group of people for either  humanitarian reasons or if there is a national interest in doing so, only Congress can do it. And it is very difficult for Congress to go through the procedure and designate these groups. This would just give the president, not some low ranking official, in couslutian with the Secretary of Homeland and the Secretary of State to jointly decide to resettle a particular group. And then individuals of the group would need to prove they are members of the group and that they are admissible.

So this is not an overhaul of the asylum system by any means, it is really addressing on the edges provisions that have been in our law for too long which do not serve any real purpose and just make things harder for people who legitimately need protection.

Interviewed with Melanie Nezer of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Washington, DC 

See Part 2 of the Interview

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Immigration Reform and Jewish Social Justice: Part 2

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Immigration Reform and Jewish Social Justice: Part 2

Part II: Mark Hetfield Talks History and Vision

HIAS has a long and proud history in the realm of refugee protection and resettlement. What would you say is the biggest feat achieved by HIAS in this realm in the post-World War II period?

Well, there is a lot of history there. However, I would say that our most significant contribution was the mass migration of nearly 500,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union to the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The exodus of Soviet Jews was really special for HIAS because the first 120 years of our history began with the mass migration of two million Jews from Russia and ended with the mass migration of two million Jews from the former Soviet Union – 400,000 of whom we brought here to the United States and the rest of whom went elsewhere, including Israel as well as other immigration destinations. So it was a really important end to that part of our history, allowing us to begin a new chapter of helping others and welcoming the stranger.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

Thankfully, there are far fewer Jewish refugees in the world than there were just 15 years ago. Can you tell us more about some of HIAS’s major efforts around the world to help other groups of refugees?

It is no secret that the vast majority of people that we help now are not Jewish, I would say 95 percent are not Jewish. We consider this to be a blessing. We have moved from what I like to call our Exodus period into our Leviticus period. The first 120 years of HIAS history was focused on the mass rescue of Jews who were fleeing persecution, and now HIAS has moved into its Leviticus period where we take the lessons that we have learned from our own experiences and the empathy that we gained from our mass displacement and applied it to helping others who are now being displaced.

We are now helping  not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.

That has been a very significant transition for HIAS. We are doing the same we work we have always done, but now we are doing it to help refugees who are not members of our community, who are experiencing the same types of trauma that Jews experienced for the first 120 years of HIAS’s history. We are doing this in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East as well as through our resettlement network in the United States. So we are very proud of being able to make that transition.

What are some of the future plans for HIAS?

The first thing we are going to do is launch an international campaign to challenge faith leaders, particularly Jewish leaders, to welcome the stranger and create welcoming communities. This is a fundamental Jewish teaching, as well as a teaching shared by many faiths. So HIAS and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been facilitating an international interfaith working group to challenge faith leaders to create more welcoming environments in their communities for the stranger, for the other.

This is also going to be a vehicle for reintroducing HIAS to the international Jewish community, because many Jews know HIAS for what we did, but do not know HIAS for what we are doing now.

HIAS is proud to be out there representing the American Jewish community in working with refugees to make the lives of refugees better and to help them rebuild new lives wherever they are. This is something HIAS is doing on behalf of the American Jewish community, something which all American Jews should be proud of.

For more information on HIAS and their work, please visit their website. For more information on immigration law and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Interviewed with Mark Hetfield of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, New York, New York 

See Part 1 of the Interview

Immigration Nation – The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on Immigration Reform

Immigration Nation - The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on Immigration Reform

The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform legislation has come under further scrutiny. 300 amendments to the 844 page bill have been proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The most ambitious goals of some of the amendments were to dismember the provisions in the bill for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation that provided a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants and its refugee and asylum provisions have remained virtually intact. With of 13-5 in favor, the bill has been cleared for a Senate debate.

The original legislation that was introduced by the Gang of Eight aims to expand legal immigration over the next 10 years, tighten border security, and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. This last provision in particular has gained the support of many civil rights and social justice organizations; although some have expressed opposition to the length of time undocumented immigrants must wait before applying for citizenship, which is proposed to be 13 years.

One such civil rights organization is the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). AALDEF is a nonprofit, national organization. It was founded in 1974 to promote and protect the civil rights of Asian Americans. Through litigation, education, advocacy and organizing, AALDEF works with the Asian American community to provide human rights for everyone.

The following is an interview with Ujala Sehgal, Communications Coordinator at AALDEF, on her opinion on the current immigration reform legislation and the work of the AALDEF in the realms of civil rights and immigration reform.

 

What are your views on the immigration-reform bill that will be debated in the Senate?

The new immigration reform bill, put together by a bipartisan group of Senators, is a historic event and represents the tireless activism of immigrants’ rights activists. However, for this bill to truly be a landmark achievement, it must close the widening gap between U.S.-born and native-born Americans, and must reflect the family values that are important to the Asian American community and to all Americans. The new proposal strips away family unity provisions that should have been at the bill’s core. It provides an unduly long and unwarranted path to citizenship — 13 years – that provides no benefits or tax credits to immigrants during this lengthy wait period, perpetuating an underclass of people for yet another generation. Moreover, it puts an emphasis on programs like e-verify that deputize employers as immigration enforcers, making workers more vulnerable and less likely to assert their rights. These concerns must be addressed. As invigorated as we are that immigration reform has taken center stage, we must be careful not to continue inhumane conditions for those who have already too long been subjected to a broken immigration system. See more of our commentary here as well as AALDEF’s principles for comprehensive immigration reform.

 

AALDEF has voiced concern over the new restrictions on family reunification in the proposed bill. In your opinion, why is it important to keep family reunification at the heart of U.S. immigration policy?

Family values are the core of American values, and the current proposal is concerning because it shifts the focus in our immigration policy away from family reunification with the intent of focusing on economic interests. This does not make sense because family interests ARE economic interests. Families make up the backbone of immigrant communities, and immigrants succeed in the United States when they have a system of support of relatives in the community.

For Asian Americans specifically, family unity is a key concern because, having been excluded for decades, the 1965 Immigration Act made immigration from Asia possible primarily through the family visa program. Through AALDEF’s legal clinics, we encounter undocumented youth clients who are bright, committed, and motivated to contribute to the United States – and these young people will be the first to tell you that immigration reform doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t include their families.

As currently drafted, the bill truly undermines the family-based immigration system by taking away from U.S. citizens their ability to sponsor their married children over 31 years old and their siblings. These categories need to be restored and this bill needs to immediately provide additional visas to clear the whole backlog that has separated families, including same-sex couples, for many years.

 

The immigration-reform bill expands the number of highly skilled immigrant workers. Traditionally, many Asian Americans have come first as highly skilled immigrant workers, offering their skills and expertise in the areas of IT, engineering and medicine. Wouldn't this new provision be beneficial to many Asian migrants hoping to come to the United States?

Education and skill levels among Asian immigrants vary greatly, as is true of all other communities. We must have fair and just policies for all of these workers alike. Giving preference to highly educated workers does not respond to the realities faced by Asian American communities, many of which also consist of low-wage industry workers as well as entrepreneurs in other industries outside of IT, engineering, and medicine.  AALDEF has represented countless clients who are restaurant industry workers, home health care workers, nail salon workers, and domestic workers who have been exploited because of their immigration status and the lack of options available to them. These workers are just as crucial to our economy as IT industry workers – indeed, they make work in industries like IT, engineering, medicine, and health services possible. These workers are also much more vulnerable. An immigration reform bill that shortsightedly favors only the “elite” will ultimately not benefit Asian Americans or anyone.

 

What are some of the accomplishments of the AALDEF in the realm of immigration reform?

AALDEF is an active voice on immigrant rights issues and immigration policy on a national level and is also among the few organizations that provide both community education and direct legal representation to Asian immigrants and their families.

Last year, the Obama administration made the announcement that it would grant "deferred action" status to those young people who qualify as DREAM Act students. AALDEF, which had been involved in advocating for the New York State Dream Act, began holding a series of legal clinics to provide free legal advice and representation to young people who qualified under this directive. This work led to our creation of an undocumented youth group RAISE (Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast), the first pan-Asian undocumented youth group on the East Coast). In the past year since comprehensive immigration reform took center stage, AALDEF has been advocating for key principles for a just and humane immigration reform system as well as specific revisions to the current immigration reform proposal.

Prior to the current debate surrounding immigration reform, AALDEF met an overwhelming need for legal assistance in the decade since September 11 among immigrant communities targeted by the Department of Homeland Security's National Security Entry-Exit Registration Program (or "Special Registration"). AALDEF challenged the government's religious, ethnic and racial profiling of Muslims and other select groups of noncitizens in the name of national security. AALDEF has provided representation and legal advice to thousands of individuals who were affected by post 9-11 immigration policies and educated tens of thousands more through major "Know Your Rights" campaigns.

In 2011, AALDEF and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law released a Briefing Paper, Under the Radar: Muslims Deported, Detained, and Denied on Unsubstantiated Terrorism Allegations, that reveals the patterns of the U.S. government's targeting of Muslims through immigration practices and programs, including the FBI name-check system in the naturalization process, racial profiling at U.S. borders, and the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). AALDEF also advocates against and monitors US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies that entail religious and racial profiling. In 2011, AALDEF, in a joint effort with the Asian Law Caucus, released analysis of hundreds of pages of government documents on ICE's "Third Agency Check" policy.

For more information on our immigrants’ rights work, please visit our website: https://aaldef.org/.

 

What are some of the accomplishments of the AALDEF in the realm of civil rights advocacy in general?

AALDEF was founded in 1974 as a national organization that aims promote and protect the civil rights of Asian Americans. AALDEF focuses on important issues affecting Asian Americans, including voting rights, civic participation and immigrant rights, language access to services, economic justice for workers, affirmative action, Census policy, educational equity and youth rights, housing and environmental justice, and the elimination of anti-Asian violence, human trafficking and police misconduct.

Click here to see a timeline and photographs of AALDEF's achievements, milestones and precedent-setting cases over the past 35 years.

Today, according to the most recent statistics, Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the United States of America, numbering over 18 million. Our community continues to face several challenges, including barriers to voting, exploitation in low-wage jobs, unequal educational opportunities, and immigration policies that keep families apart. AALDEF continues to address these issues through a combination of litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing. For example, in the past year,

§  Voting Rights – We monitored the 2012 Presidential Election and conducted a multilingual exit of 9,096 Asian Americans in 14 states, gaining essential data on voting preferences, key issues of concern, and the need for language assistance.

§  Economic Justice – We recovered over a million dollars on behalf of Nepali nail salon workers, Chinese and Korean restaurant staff, and South Asian and Filipina domestic workers.

§  Immigrants' Rights – We provided free legal clinics for undocumented youth seeking to apply for deferred action and relief from deportation.

§  Educational Equity – We filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the use of diversity considerations in college admissions.

§  Anti-Trafficking – We won a $1.2 million judgment in a human trafficking civil suit on behalf of a Filipina domestic worker subjected to involuntary servitude and forced labor in Rhode Island.

§  Housing and Environmental Justice – We won $400,000 for small business owners in Manhattan's Chinatown who had been charged illegal fees by the New York City Department of Finance.

§  Anti-Asian Bias – We challenged anti-Asian slurs in media, sports, and political coverage, and we fought for a national response to the Sikh Temple massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

For more information on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and to find out how you can get involved, please visit their site. For more information on immigration law and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page

Interviewed with Ujala Sehgal of AALDEF, New York, New York

Providing A Voice for the Voiceless – the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Providing A Voice for the Voiceless - the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform legislation had come under further scrutiny earlier this month. 300 amendments to the 844 page bill were proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The most ambitious goals of some of the amendments were to dismember the provisions in the bill for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation that provided a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants and its refugee and asylum provisions have remained virtually intact. With of 13-5 in favor, the bill has been cleared for a Senate debate.

(More on  News at LAWS.com, contact Adam for interviews “adama@laws.com”)

The original legislation that was introduced by the Gang of Eight aims to expand legal immigration over the next 10 years, tighten border security, and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. This last provision in particular has gained the support of many civil rights and social justice organizations; although some have expressed opposition to the length of time undocumented immigrants must wait before applying for citizenship, which is proposed to be 13 years.

One such civil rights organization is the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Founded in 1911, the USCRI serves uprooted people, regardless of their race, nationality, ideology or social group. It provides opportunities and tools for immigrants and refugees nationally, fights the warehousing of refugees globally, serves victims of human trafficking and protects the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children.

The following is an interview conducted by laws.com with Roberto Ponce, Director of Communications at the USCRI, on his views on the current immigration reform legislation that is set to be debated in the Senate, and the work of the USCRI in the realms of refugee and immigrant rights.

How do you feel about the immigration-reform bill being debated in the Senate?

We are very encouraged! Particularly since it has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will go on to final debate. The US immigration system has been in need for reform for years. We have over 11 million undocumented immigrants that live and work in this country, with many of them belonging to families with mixed legal statuses. In addition, the problem that we currently have is that the current immigration law has separated families for years, if not decades, and has not been modernized for many years, so we need immigration reform. It is a nationwide problem that needs to be addressed.

What are some of the key changes you would like to see happen to U.S. immigration policy?

The USCRI has been working with refugees and immigrants for over a century since 1911.  So, based on our direct experience and the knowledge we have gained from working with these populations, we have identified five key priorities for comprehensive immigration reform.

1) A Pathway to Citizenship – we believe that undocumented immigrants living in the United States must have the opportunity to legalize their status and become citizens.

2) Family Unity – ensuring family unity has long been a guiding principle of US immigration policies, we believe that immigration laws need to make family reunification easier, particularly that of spouses and minor children.

3) Integration into America – it is important that immigrants and refugees have the adequate support to integrate into communities across the country. This means that comprehensive immigration reform must provide support for initiatives that help immigrants in their integration journey, for example, we want to see English language classes, civic classes, and naturalization classes.

4) Protection of Vulnerable Populations, particularly, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children – unaccompanied immigrant children have special vulnerabilities, and we must protect immigrant children by granting them access to legal counsel, reuniting them with family and ensuring their continued care.

5) Safety for those Fleeing Persecution – the US was founded on the principle of protecting those fleeing oppression, so immigration reform must include protections for refugees and asylum seekers who are unable to return to their home countries due to persecution. So what we would like to see are vital safeguards that include an extended deadline for asylum applications, prevention of unnecessary separation of refugee families, a path created for qualified stateless people to gain legal status and a continued commitment to special visas to American allies.

Some organizations have argued that undocumented immigrants should not be given amnesty because entering the country illegally is not a victimless crime. They argue that undocumented immigration harms documented immigrants and Americans by taking away jobs they need, and that charity should begin at home. What is your response to this notion?

Well, first and foremost entering the country illegally is not a crime; it is a violation of civil law. Immigrants are great contributors to the US economy and towns and cities across the country. Many immigrants become entrepreneurs and job creators, positively impacting their communities. In fact, immigrants are creating jobs at a higher rate than the general population in the United States. For instance, immigrant-owned small businesses employ 4.7 million people and had $776 billion in receipts in 2007, and this is according to an analysis of census data by the Fiscal Policy Institute. Also, a 2007 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors concluded that immigration as a whole increases the US GDP by roughly $37 billion each year. So immigration reform makes sense for our country!

What are some of the accomplishments of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants?

We have been a voice for the voiceless for more than 100 years. Lately, we have been working a lot in the area of unaccompanied immigrant children, a situation that is rapidly growing; in fact, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children who cross the southern border has tripled since 2008! The border patrol detained 24,481 unaccompanied immigrant children in 2012, three times the figure of 2008! Most of the unaccompanied immigrant children in US custody right now are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, so we are being proactive in finding partnerships and mechanisms that help unaccompanied immigrant children while they navigate the US legal system.

Recently, we signed an international collaboration agreement with the Universidad Tecnológica in San Salvador, (UTEC), to conduct research on the Salvadoran migrant profile. This report will be presented by UTEC and USCRI in Washington, D.C. and San Salvador in both English and Spanish by the end of the year. So we trust that research will reveal important cultural nuances that will help us create appropriate awareness.

Another thing we are doing, which is very significant I believe, is that, as you know, many unaccompanied children, when entering the US without documentation, are apprehended and detained. By the time they are released to a family member or sponsor who will care for them until a decision is made in their immigration case, most of them have endured violence and attacks of many kinds, so they are traumatized and they are eligible for Post-Release Services. So we work with several partners and organizations on Post-Release Services for children nationally.

We also have an Immigrant Children Legal Program. Many of these children find themselves alone while navigating the US legal system, so we have created an immigrant children's lawyers network, as part of this program.  It is a group of accredited representatives and attorneys who provide pro bono services to children so they can represent them in the courts.

Who can participate in this program?

Any attorney who has expertise in policy issues related to immigrant children before the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the USCIS and those who provide technical assistance can participate. We would be happy to work with them!

Our contact here is Stacy Jones. Her email is sjones@uscridc.org.

In the email they can just explain the work they do and that would be wonderful because this is a tremendous service that we do for these children.

What are some of the future plans for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants?

We want to continue working very hard. We are devoted to the work of refugees and immigrants in the US and around the world. We want to continue to be a voice for the voiceless! We have done it for more than 100 years and we want to continue doing it for another 100 years or more.

For more information on the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and to find out how you can get involved, please visit their site. For more information on immigration law and news, please visit our Immigration Laws Page.

Interviewed with Roberto Ponce of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Arlington, Virginia by Adam Abdelaziz.