Tag Archives: DACA

Will Biden’s Immigrant Plan Save Ravi Ragbir?

Ravi Ragbir’s Story  

Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition,  is a Trinidadian immigrant with a criminal conviction who has been fighting his own deportation since 2006. He says the existing immigration policy with its origins in the Chinese Exclusionary Act is extremely racist, and should be totally repealed.

Ragbir claims that even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.

Under Trump says Ragbir, ICE terrorized immigrant communities and families to force them to ‘self deport’. Many immigrants who lost Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were forced to flee to Canada. Ragbir himself was publicly bound by ICE agents and detained for deportation, to make an example of him. Though he won his challenge, ICE continues to surveil him and target over thousand immigration leaders and advocates in a ‘campaign of terror.’

You can listen their stories via this link – https://www.immigrantrightsvoices.org/

Ragbir shared his story at an ethnic media briefing on January 29, in which immigration experts reviewed President Biden’s Immigration Bill, which was sent to Congress on January 20.

After four years of cruelty and chaos, said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, during which the Trump administration weaponized an already dysfunctional immigration system, the country now has a President and slight majority in Congress that is pro-immigrant.

So realistically, what we can expect from this progressive, pro-immigrant movement, said Sharry, is a plan for an immigration system that is fair, humane and functional. It’s goal will be to undo the cruelty inflicted on immigrants and refugees in recent years, and to pass transformative legislation that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

The Biden Immigration Proposal

According to Sharry, the Biden administration hit the road running on immigration.

In his first week, Biden signed six executive orders, issued two DHS memos to change immigration policy ,and introduced a sweeping legislative proposal.

The Bill ended the Muslim and African bans, ordered the reinstatement of DACA, stopped border wall construction, and imposed a 100-day moratorium on most deportations (though a judge in Texas  has issued a temporary restraining order to thwart one of Biden’s key immigration priorities).

The proposed agenda winds down the MPP program which left thousands stranded in Mexico after being denied the right to apply for asylum, extended DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) for about 4000 Liberians, and offers guidelines to restrict the number of people at priority for arrest under immigration law.

It also has ended efforts by the Trump administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the Census count, for its use in determining congressional seats.

However, warned Sharry, Biden’s immigration bill faces a difficult path in Senate. It’s unlikely that a sweeping immigration bill will find bi-partisan support, but he pointed out that bills processed under budget reconciliation could pass through Congress by a simple majority of 51 votes.

The Biden administration is pushing the immigration issue said Sharry, because the pro-immigrant movement in the country has shifted the debate over immigration, due to activists who have reimagined how the rules around immigration – on deportation for example – need to be enforced.

“We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years,” he noted, because advocates of the immigrant rights movement have “shifted the center of the debate and made what once seemed a little radical seem common sense. “

“The public is way out in front of the politicians on this one, remarked Sharry, adding that “How this plays out politically, is that the wind is at the backs of the Biden administration.”

Public opinion has shifted in favor of immigrants, even though “Trump demonized immigrants and made it his signature issue,” stated Sharry.

It forced the public to think about immigration when friends and community members were subjected to deportation, families were being separated, and toddlers were ripped away from moms and dads at the border. The wedge issue of immigration began losing its edge.

Instead, Trump’s nativism backfired with the majority of Americans, remarked Sharry.

His view was echoed by John Yang of AAJC,  a DC-based civil rights organization, who added that the American public believes in a more inclusive America. He urged the need to find ways to engage with the small segment that fears the browning of America. Ragbir added that regular citizens living amidst the trauma of job loss and the pandemic, now realize how challenging life is for non-citizens.

The  US Citizenship Act of 2021

“It really is a racial justice bill,” said John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), referring to Biden’s US Citizenship Act.  The new bill is important to Asian Americans, because their story “isn’t quite part of the narrative” on immigration but legislation will affect Asian Americans in a very significant way

According to AAJC, current immigration patterns show that close to 40%of all immigrants come from Asia. It’s predicted that by 2055 the largest group of immigrants will be Asian American. So the pathways to citizenship offered by the US Citizenship Act is an “exciting” drive toward ‘racial equity’ said Yang, likening it to the 1965  Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which was part of a whole civil rights legislation.

The 11 million undocumented includes almost 1.7 million Asians,  about 120 thousand of whom are eligible for DACA and 15 thousand (specifically Nepalese), who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

It also includes the Reuniting Families Act which focuses on family immigration, explained Yang. Its inclusion is a victory for Asian American advocates who have fought to protect families, a cornerstone issue of Asian American immigration.

Approximately 70% immigrate to the US via this provision while only a small minority come to the US on H-1B, high tech or STEM work visas, Yang clarified. The majority of Asian Americans, like immigrants before them, he added, have come here to make better lives because they believe in American values, and want to contribute to society.

What the US Citizenship Act does for families

The US Citizenship Act adds green cards to clear the long backlog (almost 20 years for certain countries) and reunite families. It also reduces the backlog for employment based visas like the H-1B and H-4 for families stuck on temporary status, and protects children who fall out of status when they turn 21. (Read about the H-4EAD visa here)

Families on temporary status are allowed to remain in the US while they await permanent residency and  family unity waivers are provided so families can sponsor their family members. The bill also promotes diversity, covering LGBTQ equality, orphans, and foreign veterans who fought alongside Americans, among other provisions.

Significantly, the bill includes legislation that will make it harder for a future president to reinstate these bans by a simple executive order.

Immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta explained that the current immigration law is ‘woefully inadequate’ with respect to legal immigration and skilled immigrants.  Not enough green cards are allotted to employment based categories and investor categories based on country of birth, he said. It will take an Indian H1-B visa holder several decades before they can receive green cards, while employers have to wait years  for a skilled worker to get permanent residency.

The bill attempts he said, to recapture visas that haven’t been used, in order to help reduce backlogs.  Employment and business reforms also include a 60-day freeze on artificial wage increases for H-1B visas that impact employers sponsoring highly skilled workers.

The Public Charge Rule  

One of most contentious immigration issues under the Trump administration was the  Public Charge Rule which was implemented in a way to slow the demographic shift in the country. It administered an immigrant wealth test and assessed the use of public benefits such as healthcare, housing or nutrition, to deny people their green card.

It meant that In the middle of a pandemic, people were afraid to get healthcare, tests or vaccines, for fear of falling foul of the system.

According to Mariaelena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, the Biden administration will begin the process of undoing the Public Charge rule, but would need to launch a robust community outreach and education program to regain the trust of immigrant families and encourage them to seek the help they need.

Immigrants need to be fully included in the Biden administration’s agenda, added Hincapié, to ensure that inclusion and equity are at the core in every federal department. Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Covid Task Force, for example, should closely look “at how their policies impact immigrants in this country.”

Given what immigrants and the country have been through, said Hincapie, the last four years have felt nothing less than a war on immigrant families. But from day one, the Biden/Harris administration has shown a strong commitment to unequivocally centering immigrants in the narrative and to undoing the harm of the past.

“Today we are so hopeful,” said Hincapié, that the new administration will collectively build a twenty first century immigration system “that is truly grounded in racial, economic and gender justice.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Trump’s War On Immigrants

The Trump presidency has made more than 400 changes to US immigration policy since it took office, waging what immigration advocates are calling ‘Trump’s war on immigrants.’

The Trump administration went on the offensive in January 2017, accelerating changes to immigration policy in a series of rapidfire executive actions. A report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in July catalogs more than 400 revisions which have swiftly and ‘dramatically reshaped the U.S. immigration system’ in the last four years.

The sweeping changes impact “everything from border and interior enforcement, to refugee resettlement and the asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration courts, and vetting and visa processes,” states the report, and places tough restrictions on potential tourists, foreign workers and international students.

Sarah Pierce, Migration Policy Institute

“Many of the changes reflect the administrations’ really strong knowledge of immigration law,” confirmed Sarah Pierce, a policy expert who co-authored the report, at a briefing on immigration system changes hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 7.

The new regulations reflect the administration’s willingness to enforce technicalities “that have been on books for years,” said Pierce, but have rarely been implemented. Those penalties and restrictions are now being used to restrict immigration into the country, reflecting emerging trends in the administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

What Laws have Changed?

The consensus among immigration experts at the briefing was that the Trump administration has used the current national crises to further their political agenda with executive orders that significantly reduce the flow of legal immigrants into the country.

Ignazia Rodrigues, NILC

Ignazia Rodrigues, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) described the push to add a citizenship question to the census as an example of the administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

Most of the changes have been implemented by executive fiat without going through Congress, explained Pierce. Acting on the rhetoric that immigration poses a threat to the nation’s security and economy, the administration has doubled down on reducing immigration into the country, driving reform through ‘layered changes’ on a series of regulations, policy and programs.

For example, under a new revision, ICE can enforce a1996 law to levy exorbitant fines of $799 a day on unauthorized  immigrants who remain in the country in violation of a removal order.

In another draconian example, the Trump administration has expanded the definition of who fits the Public Charge rule, which bars foreign nationals who receive or are deemed likely to receive public benefits from becoming legal permanent residents. The rule uses the totality of the circumstances test to evaluate a broad set of metrics such as education, English proficiency, income, jobs, health and family size to deny entry to applicants.

As a result, a large number of green card holders are at risk of denial MPI reports, because at least 69% of recent green-card recipients have at least one of the negative factors that could be weighted against them under the regulation. The ruling will disfavor women, the elderly and children, as well as nationals from Central America and Mexico. Findings from MPI also show that immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America are less likely to be favored under the new Public Charge rule, said Pierce.

Though these changes may seem like minor technicalities, taken altogether they will have a monumental impact in dismantling and reconstructing the immigration system in the long term, and significantly change the face of U.S. immigration.

The MPI report finds that these critical changes will result in closing off humanitarian benefits, sealing the southern border, creating hurdles for both legal and unauthorized immigrants already in country and reducing legal immigration into the country.

However, the advent of the coronavirus has fueled the administration’s immigration offensive.

“The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of changes this administration has made,” said Pierce, identifying three major changes enforced since the COVID-19 crisis began, and the implication for prospective immigrants.

The administration invoked a 1944 public health law that allows the Surgeon General to restrict the entry of individuals deemed a public health threat, and block people at the US-Mexico border. The order, issued directly from the CDC director Robert Redfield, allows border security to bypass established protocols and expel children and asylum seekers from countries with communicable diseases, effectively ending asylum at the southern border. Human Rights First condemned the CDC order for “ending refugee and child protections at the border indefinitely, endangering rather than saving lives.”

Then, on April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation restricting permanent immigration in order to protect American workers and their jobs. The proclamation and the follow up June 22 proclamation restricting temporary workers, limits the entry of foreign workers (on H1B visas for example) and prospective immigrants applying for employment-based green cards from abroad. It also restricts ‘chain migration’ by temporarily suspending entry for many prospective citizens applying for family-based green cards from other countries. Effectively, citizens and green card holders are prevented from sponsoring family members – parents, siblings, spouses and children – to join them in the US.

Kalpana Peddibhotla, Immigration Attorney

Losing skilled foreign workers would negatively impact innovation and job growth especially in the high tech sector said immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, as several studies show that “foreign workers in STEM fields are critical to the innovation in the growth of patents,” and “immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses than US born natives.”

However, the restrictions continue unabated.  Travel bans still exist for foreign nationals traveling from 31 different countries, said Pierce, and the President recently signed an executive order restricting the ability of federal contractors to hire foreign nationals; the new order also referenced further restrictions proposed in the future for the H1B program.

These orders achieve what the administration has been working towards long before the pandemic began, remarked Pierce. “It’s hard to imagine them walking back any of these restrictions, even after the pandemic is no longer a prevalent issue.”

It’s uncertain whether future administrations would have the time, resources and willingness to reverse the restrictions said Pierce, adding that some reversals would require careful consideration; for example, if restrictions were lifted at the southern border it could result in a surge of unauthorized arrivals.

As the country begins the slow process of recovery from multiple crises – a pandemic, an economic slowdown and racial injustice uprisings, “It’s hard for me to picture a future administration investing this much in immigration,” said Pierce.

However, she pointed out that a future president could easily reverse the original 2017 travel ban which is still in place and expanded in 2020, because it would send “a visible strong signal that the US is changing its tone on immigration.”

It’s important to note that every one of these executive actions have been contested by lawsuits filed against the administration said Peddibhotla. “This is definitely not a great way for us to be governing and managing our immigration process. But it’s incredibly important that the lawsuits continue in order to hold the administration accountable.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

How I Became a Political Activist

When our fresh-out-of-college son got his first job as a field organizer with the Democratic Party in Maryland, my husband and I privately began worrying about what kind of a future the son of two Indian immigrants could have in this unorthodox career. But in breaking out of the Asian parenting stereotype, we’d told our children we wouldn’t push them into medicine or engineering and instead would support their individual choices. I must confess this was easier said than done, for our children sure tested our resolve! 

First, our daughter went to music school to pursue her passion for opera, and then our son, Aman, declared that he was getting into politics. 

One day, Aman called me from work, “Mom, can I put you down for a two-hour shift for phone-banking or canvassing?” 

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, the organizer will give you a list of voters with whom you can either talk on the phone or you knock on their door. Either way, your job is to convince them to vote for Hillary.” 

This was an alien concept for me. Growing up in India, elections had merely meant seeing billboards with smiling faces of random politicians or seeing truckloads of party-workers with loud-speakers chanting names that I’d paid scant attention to. My experience in American politics had been equally limited. Although I’d been here two decades, I’d only chosen to become a citizen in 2008, because I wanted to cast a vote for America’s first Black President. 

I hesitated before replying, “I don’t know if I can do that. I have an accent, I look different…” 

He interrupted me, “That’s nonsense, Mom. You’re American, that is all that matters. As a lawyer, you don’t need me to tell you that if a female President is to be elected, people like you must become politically active – you are a woman of color, an immigrant. I’m putting you down for two hours on Friday morning.” 

He hung up. 

So there I was. For two months every Friday morning, I showed up at the Party Headquarters to talk to random strangers on the phone about which local or national issues were important to them, and then probe whom they intended to vote for in the Presidential election. 

Despite some rude hang-ups and nasty comments, with each phone call, my trepidation decreased and I began to feel more comfortable in this role. Soon I discovered some kindred spirits among the other volunteers and made a few friends. 

A while back I had rolled my eyes when my son said to me, “Mom, “this whole campaign-business is addictive,” but now I was discovering how right he was. I too had gotten sucked in, so much so that – now as a “regular” at the office, I often ran into our Congressman and the two Senators from Maryland and chatted them up like we were old friends. 

In July, when Donald Trump won the nomination at the Republican National Convention, panic began to set in among the volunteers at the office. I too felt my blood pressure rising. My family, like most others who weren’t working at the Party office, were dismissive of this mounting anxiety because they were sure that America would never send  “a xenophobic, race-baiting, sexist, anti-Muslim and Mexican-hating man to the White House.” 

Yet, on my calls each Friday, I sensed the tide turning and my fear increased. My calling-list comprised of only Democrats in Maryland, a very Blue state; even then, every session resulted in responses that left me in shock. 

Several people said that they were willing to vote for the entire Democratic ticket except for Hillary. One man even yelled at me when I tried to question what he had against Hillary. “She is the devil,”  he said, “and Donald Trump is our lord and savior!”

By the time October rolled around, I was in a state of frenzy. I phone-banked three times a week, went out canvassing, and constantly tried recruiting people to volunteer. But despite my overwhelming sense of urgency, others seemed to be blasé about the election. Most were sure it was a slam dunk for Hillary, and they dismissed my response as a mere overreaction. 

I will never forget the evening of the 6th of November 2016.  As the results from each state began to roll in, I watched in shock as all my past premonitions came to fruition. But this time my own sense of growing horror was reflected in the faces around me. My whole family watched with tears in their eyes as Hillary gave her speech late that night. 

Over the following weeks, analyses of voting patterns revealed that several minority voters in key swing seats had sat out the election. Even though I had worked very hard for months, it was only now that I fully understood what my son had meant when he’d said that more people like ME needed to become active participants in our democracy. 

 So, after giving myself a few weeks of rest, I set to work. Using Facebook, I contacted other like-minded people in my area, and we began to organize a local chapter of the Indivisible movement and our little grassroots group of “resistors” was born. 

On a protest march

The day after Donald Trump was sworn into office, we collected on the National Mall for the Women’s March. Following this, we met on a monthly basis and continued to grow our ranks. In April, we joined other groups with homemade placards to attend the Tax March, followed by the Climate March. 

Soon, the newspapers started reporting about how grassroots groups such as ours were mushrooming all over the country. The Resistance became a household term and our homemade signs got featured on magazine covers. 

With speaker Nancy Pelosi

The last three and a half years have seemed almost Sisyphean to the members of political grassroots groups. Through our advocacy, networking, boycotting, and protesting, we’ve won some battles and lost some.  The two feel-good highlights were lobbying to save the Affordable Care Act with just one vote in the Senate and then flipping forty-one House seats in the Blue Wave in 2018 (which handed Speaker Pelosi the gavel once more). Unfortunately, the failure to secure the release of immigrant children held in the detention camps created by the Department of Homeland Security or to secure support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were difficult setbacks. 

Through other ups and downs of this political roller coaster, such as the regretful withdrawal of the US from the Paris Accord, the reneging of the Iran Accord by America, the non-consequential findings of the Mueller report, and even the failed impeachment trial, the grassroots groups have continued their work –  increasing voter registration (especially among immigrant communities), phone-banking and letter-writing to prospective voters for either regular elections or special elections. 

We’ve helped gather support for progressive legislation at the state, local and federal levels. Now with the upcoming 2020 election, the groundswell of activism is beginning to gather force once more. 

Even with the advent of this unprecedented pandemic, our enthusiasm hasn’t waned. Circumstances have taught us to adapt and almost all our efforts from fundraising to phone-banking to letter-writing are being organized through virtual meetings and zoom calls. A month ago, a virtual fundraiser organized by the Biden campaign was attended by a hundred and seventy-five thousand supporters. It raised over $11 million.

I often tell my friends that in the last few years I have morphed into a new me. Despite the decline in America’s standing on the world stage, I now stand taller as an American than ever before; not because I agree with the turn our country has taken, but because I now understand how much behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing about real change and how much is at stake for not just our generation but also the next. 

The next generation of Indian-Americans is coming of age and for their sake, I hope that our community begins to be more active in political engagement. Many of us came to the US to make better lives for ourselves but now is the time for us to step out of the immigrants’ cocoon and fulfill our civic duty to a country that welcomed us all. 

This is a time like none other in American history, a time when the very foundation of its democracy has been shaken and this time calls on all of us to become political activists. 

Shabnam Arora Afsah is a writer, lawyer, and short story writer who is working on her first novel based on the Partition of India. She is a committed political activist and also runs a food blog for fun!


Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Census Poses No Risk to DACA Holders, Experts Say, Encouraging Participation

Featured Image provided under licensing with no changes made

Today we continue with our occasional series meant to answer the most frequently asked questions regarding the census. If you have a question or doubt about the census, please write to pilarmarrero700@gmail.com and we will consult the experts to get the answers. These questions were gathered through social media. 

Question: “I am a citizen and I live with my boyfriend, who has DACA. If the Supreme Court approves ending DACA, should I include my boyfriend’s information in the census count of my household? I am afraid including him may have negative consequences for him.”

The DACA program, a deferred-action decision allowing temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, was put in place by President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would phase out the program, alleging that it was illegal from the very beginning.

Several lawsuits argued that Trump´s planned termination of DACA violates federal law requiring certain procedures before major rules are changed, as well as equal protection and due process guarantees.

Federal courts issued nationwide injunctions blocking the administration´s plans to end DACA and forcing the continuation of program renewals. The Supreme Court took up the cases before lower courts had fully heard them, an unusual step. A hearing was held in November in front of the Supreme Court, which could issue its ruling at any time before June.

That means the final decision on DACA could come in the middle of census field operations, which start in remote areas of Alaska in January and continue through several phases up until the end of July. 

More than 700,000 people in the United States have active DACA permits, and they often live in mixed-status families with others who have a variety of immigration situations or are native-born citizens. People may fear that they are putting family members in some kind of danger by naming them in the household´s census response. 

But that is not so, said Daniel Sharp, legal director for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, a leading organization helping young immigrants with DACA become aware of their rights under terms of the policy. 

Sharp worries that DACA holders or their families won´t participate in the census due to the misconception that their name and other information could be disclosed to the Department of Homeland Security and used against them for potential immigration enforcement. 

“There´s a two-part answer to that question,” Sharp said. 

The first is that the Census Bureau has very strict laws about sharing personal information. “The confidential protection laws that apply to the census information are among the strongest that exist in our laws,” Sharp said. “The U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from virtually all inter-agency information sharing.” 

That means the Census Bureau can´t disclose the person´s name, their immigration status or any other information. It can only share “aggregated data,” meaning  how many people are in a particular demographic group, for example, but cannot pass on any individual´s information to any other department of the government. “This is by law,” Sharp added. 

The second answer to that question is that adding the DACA holder to a particular household´s census answer does not give the government any additional information it does not already have due to the person´s having applied for DACA. 

“The federal government already has all this information,” the lawyer said. “Whatever risk of deportation the individual DACA holder has is independent of whether or not they participate in the census. They have given their information to the government when they applied and renewed their DACA. Even if they moved, the government could track their social security number and find where they work or live.” 

Furthermore, the information given to the government by DACA holders is protected under terms of the 2012 policy stipulating that the government may not use the information for immigration enforcement unless the person poses a national security risk. 

The issue itself is in litigation right now. The federal government is under a nationwide injunction to follow its original 2012 promise about not sharing or using DACA recipients’ private information for enforcement purposes against them or their family members unless certain circumstances exist, such as that the person poses a national security threat or has committed certain crimes.

Sharp says that adding DACA holders to the census responses in the household where they live is “desirable and encouraged. The information is safe, and it´s important to be counted.”

Sharp also recently emphasized that even in the case of an adverse Supreme Court decision on the DACA program, most of those affected would still have the right to defend themselves in court against a deportation order and are likely to be able to stay in the country for years, even in that worst-case scenario.

Activists and lawyers want to make sure that every DACA holder is counted in the census because even if they spend years battling to legalize their status in the long term, they have the right in the meantime to get the resources and services everyone else gets from the once-every-10-year population count. 

 

Sizing Up Immigrant Rights—Best Hope In Ballot Box

Less than two weeks after the Trump administration’s arbitrary deadline for Congress to take action on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) came and went with no solution, four veterans of the immigrant rights movement agreed that the outlook is bleak and the challenges are significant. The greatest hope lies in the voting booth –a shift of power out of Republican hands after the November elections – and the fact that those most impacted are taking action to protect themselves and inform others in their communities.

“It’s highly unlikely that Congress is going to pass any relief to benefit young people who make a huge contribution to the country they call home,” said Frank Sharry, Director of America’s Voice in Washington DC.   “Congress and the White House are no friends.”

Sharry was joined by attorney Joshua Rosenthal of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) deputy director Sally Kinoshita, and California Labor Federation field coordinator for southern California Hector Saldivar. The four spoke on a national telebriefing for ethnic media on March 13, hosted by ILRC’s Ready California.

Calling it a “war on immigrants,” Sharry said the  administration aims to “slash immigration by 50%, turbocharge deportations and construct a border wall as wasteful as it is insulting,” He counted five failed bipartisan efforts to provide the “bill of love” the president claimed to want while decreeing the end of DACA.

Democratic leadership, for its part, “despite a lot of effort, a lot of back and forth,” simply “couldn’t cut a deal with a leadership that doesn’t want to make a deal.”

“It’s a cynical, cruel strategy that the White House has pursued,” Sharry said. “Our best hope is that litigation will allow Dreamers to keep their status until hopefully we get a new Congress (in November’s elections).”  If power shifts out of Republican hands, there will be “a much better chance – although not a slam dunk – that legislation will be able to move forward.”

In the meantime, people are forced into “a horrible decision, to stay without papers or leave. We’re hoping to protect as many people as possible, buy them as much time as possible.”

NILC lawyer Rosenthal was also cautious in his assessment of efforts to challenge the Trump campaign through the courts.   “Courts are only able to go so far. They’re not going to be the final answer. We can’t ignore the role of Congress and the states in providing protection for immigrants.”

He cited as good news rulings in California and New York this year that found the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement it would cut off DACA applications a month later to be “arbitrary and capricious.”   When the government tried to fast-track an appeal of those rulings to the Supreme Court, the justices refused to consider taking the case until they had gone through the remaining lower-level appeals courts, meaning that those eligible to renew their DACA status can continue to do so. If they do eventually review the case, their decision wouldn’t arrive until the spring of 2019.

Even then, he added, the injunction “is a limited, temporary form of relief.” It leaves out an important set of people, those unable to receive DACA status prior to the Trump administration’s decision to end the program.

Rosenthal recommended visiting informedimmigrant.com and its Spanish version, immigranteinformado.com, for lists of trustworthy service providers sorted by location for help in applying for DACA, and other information.

With almost a third of  the country’s undocumented immigrants, California has mounted the most comprehensive effort to resist the Trump administration’s “war on immigrants,” declaring itself a sanctuary state.

Sally Kinoshita of ILRC noted that there is no legal definition of the term “sanctuary.” But she cited several state measures that provide some resistance to federal efforts against immigrant communities.   These include SB 54, AB103 and AB540 which respectively restrict the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement); require the state attorney general to inspect detention facilities operated under contract with the federal government; and require judicial warrants in advance of detentions.

“These laws help to make clear that California is much safer for immigrants,” Kinoshita said.  Despite that, ICE recently launched a four-day campaign in Northern California in which 40% of the more than 200 arrested had no criminal records.  The raids aim to stoke public fear by portraying immigrants as a threat.

Kinoshita noted that the state has budgeted $45 million for immigration education, outreach and legal services.

The state’s Department of Social Services’ website lists 100 nonprofits that receive state funding and have either free or low cost services.  She recommended those in California refer to ready-california.org, with its lists of trusted service providers, trainings and events.

For those all-important screenings, Kinoshita recommended the website immi.org, which enables people to do them anonymously and online.

Hector Saldivar, who coordinates field activities for the California Labor Federation, spoke of increased fear and anxiety throughout immigrant communities. Himself a DACA recipient, he described his own family’s agonizing situation when his mother was recently denied re-entry into the country.

Like Kinoshita, Saldivar praised AB540 for its role in curtailing ICE’s ability to enter work places at will without a judicial warrant. On the ground, he said, forming a network of rapid response units has “provided solidarity and support” for workers facing ICE raids and “silent raids” – audits of a workplace’s I-9 forms that verify workers’ identity and employment authorization.

“This is the most crucial time to go out and show our support,” he said, “particularly for those whose status is secure.  We’re not going to allow them to be picked up or detained and then forgotten.”

Kinoshita agreed. “We can no longer ask those who are most vulnerable to take the most risk.  People who are eligible to naturalize need to do it now,” she said, even if only to vote.

Voting, she said, falls “on the less risky side” of actions people can take and “is so critical.”  “We need Congress to step up. We’re relying heavily on the judiciary and can’t take it for granted.”

Calling the current political climate “one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Frank Sharry said his biggest worry going forward is that “Republicans will maintain control of Congress.”

He’s hopeful, though, that immigration activists are going to prevail, not only in the courts and on the streets, but at the ballot box.

“We’re on the right side of history.”

 

Immigrant Rights Activists See Turning Point For All Americans

By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

Warning that the country is heading down a white nationalist, nativist path, four immigrant rights advocates issued a call to action just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected all four proposals to change U.S. immigration policy, and a second federal court found the president’s “Muslim ban” unconstitutional.

The advocates spoke at a national telebriefing for ethnic media sponsored by Ready California, a collaborative cross-sector effort led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected,” said Sameera Hafiz, an attorney and senior policy strategist for the ILRC in Washington, DC.  “The reason we’re here is because of Trump’s decision in September to rescind the DACA program and throw the lives of close to 800,000 young people into chaos and uncertainty.

“But while the Senate was ostensibly debating the future of the DACA program,” Hafiz argued,  “the reality is that any (proposed) DACA proposals go hand in hand with eliminating the diversity visa program, severely curtailing the family immigration program and expansive border enforcement measures – far beyond what we think about when we think about border security.”

“And while we’ve been focused in DC on the legislative side, we’ve been distracted from what the administration is already doing.” Hafiz cited attacks on jurisdictions with sanctuary policies and other enforcement actions against Dreamers, mothers and activists.

Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), agreed that what is underway is an attack on legal immigration itself which she called “a white nationalist agenda (whereby) certain individuals are not qualified to come into the United States based on their country of birth and their religion.”

On average, Salas noted, “our clients being deported from Los Angeles had been in the country more than 25 years. With the crippling of various legal channels like the Central American minors program, the separation of children from parents, the ending of diversity vistas, “the list goes on,” she said –“we’re destroying people’s lives.”

“This is not just about the immigrant community any more. It’s about what kind of country we want and who we are, as Americans.”

Zahra Billoo,  executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a civil rights attorney, hailed the decision by the Fourth Circuit which joined a chorus of courts across the country who have said that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, she noted, “Whether you are from Iran or Somalia, it does not matter what your story is, you cannot come to the US.”   Billoo quoted a Georgetown University estimate that 60000 people had been impacted in their efforts to get an education or see their families.

“We’re optimistic,” she said, but cautioned that what’s legal doesn’t always align with what’s moral.  “The court in the past has allowed many unjust things, such as the Japanese internment.”

Adoubou Traore, director of the African Advocacy Network which provides legal counsel for immigrants of the African diaspora, highlighted the dramatic growth of the African immigrant community, from 816,000 in 1980 to more than 4 million in 2016,  Largely faceless and voiceless, this population has borne the brunt of every new restrictive immigration measure, from the Muslim ban to the removal of Temporary Protective Status (TPS).   As immigrants and as Blacks, “we are the only group that has been named racially, and coming from countries that have been named in ways that I don’t even want to repeat, but we all heard it.”

Asked about the future of the immigrant rights movement, Salas noted the “tremendous mobilization by immigrant youth and this will only increase as people mobilize around the March 5 Congressional deadline for a solution on DACA.  

“But this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general,” Salas emphasized.

“We need to stand up not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community. We need to stand up as Americans, as a country saying this is not who we are or what our values are.  I think this is what’s missing.”