Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Obstacles Do Not Deter Commitment to Immigration Reform

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC, Special Projects Policy Fellow

On September 6 the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law held a hearing on the STRIVE Act of 2007. After Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) brought the hearing to a start, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), who introduced the STRIVE Act, raised serious concerns about Congress' inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, indicating that "we need to roll up our sleeves, engage friends from both sides of the aisle, and negotiate workable solutions that can effectively address the problem."

Local Official Requests Federal Immigration Enforcement Powers

In the absence of federal legislation, states across the country have passed local ordinances on immigration as identified by Corey Stewart, the Board of Directors Chairman for Prince William County in the state of Virginia. Stewart's testimony during the hearing included asking Congress to grant local officials the power to enforce federal immigration laws, such as imposing fines on homeowners renting to undocumented immigrants. However, these kinds of powers were found unconstitutional by a federal court in the Hazleton decision this summer.

Increasing involvement of state and local police authorities in the enforcement of federal civil immigration laws will not address issues faced by immigrant or refugee communities. Rather, these types of harmful measures may discourage individuals from reporting crimes committed against them or which they may have witnessed, or from seeking other assistance from local policing agencies. They may also lead to racial profiling and discrimination.
>To see a link of an AFSC Analysis to Key Provisions of the STRIVE Act click here

"Amnesty" Argument Taking Valuable Time from Debate, Chairman Says

Representative John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns that the fight over the term "amnesty" was taking valuable time from the immigration debate and creating an "unnecessary anti-immigrant bias." Representative Steve King (R-IA, and Ranking Minority Member of the House Immigration Subcommittee) suggested that the bill would provide "amnesty." Representative Jeff Flake (D-AZ, co-sponsor of the STRIVE Act), however, defined the term amnesty as an "unconditional pardon for breach of law," and emphasized that this act would not represent an unconditional pardon because it would create a set of rules to allow people to admit their undocumented status, pay a fine, touchback (e.g., return to their home country) for a certain period of time, and re-enter the U.S. under a new legal system.

"Playing By the Rules" Myth Debunked

One issue mentioned during the hearing was precisely the idea that there are some who manage to "play by the rules" and achieve lawful status after entering the United States. Both Representative Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Representative King (R-IA) mentioned that they had been descendants of immigrants that "played by the rules" and earned lawful status. However, this notion that the immigration law necessarily benefits those who "play by the rules" was contradicted by the words of small business owner Tony Wasilewski, and US Navy Petty Officer Eduardo Gonzalez.

Mr. Wasilewski's wife Janina arrived in the United States from Poland, applied for asylum but her case was denied and she was subsequently deported. In the case of Mr. Gonzalez's wife Mildred, her marriage to Mr. Gonzalez nullified her ability to obtain legal status through her mother because she was no longer an unmarried daughter under 21 years of age. She now faces deportation.

While attempting to abide by immigration laws, both their wives exposed themselves to the convoluted and austere immigration system. Although Mr. Wasilweski is soon to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Petty Officer Gonzalez was granted citizenship in 2005, the only action that would help their wives' cases is a comprehensive overhaul of the broken immigration system. >To read more about their cases click here.

A brief discussion ensued in which Representative King questioned Mr. Gonzalez about his citizenship status, suggesting that he would like to, "see us identify more as Americans first. It seems to me that it was missing in your testimony." Mr. Gonzalez responded that he was a U.S. citizen. Representative Gutierrez however, commented, "Shame on any institution that has a panel such as this and then questions their Americanism, their right to say I love this country. We say that each and every day."

STRIVE Act Passage "Unlikely," But Commitment Continues for Broad Overhaul

Representative Flake observed, "[I]t appears unlikely for the STRIVE Act to pass and that is unfortunate." Nonetheless, the various Congresspersons who participated at the hearing concurred that the current immigration system is in dire need of repairs. As Representative Gutierrez observed in his closing remarks, "We are the majority, we got elected to lead. Let's figure out comprehensive immigration a bi-partisan manner."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Separated Spouses Testify Before Congress

"What good has been done from my family being broken up?" asked Thomas Wasilewski of the Chicago area, whose wife, Janina, was deported to Poland.

In two weeks Thomas Wasilewski, an immigrant from Poland and long-time Chicago area resident will become a proud citizen of the United States. Unforutnately, his wife of 14 years and his son will not be there to celebrate. This past June, his wife, Janina, was deported.

"Unfortunately, my family is one of the many families who suffer due to irrational immigration law in our country," Wasilweski told the House Judiciary Committee Subcommitee on Immigration last week during a hearing on the STRIVE Act.

"Despite my legal status and the support of our community, I was not able to stop her deportation," he said. >To read his full testimony click here.

Eduardo Gonzalez, a U.S. citizen and elisted Petty Officer in the United States Navy, testified that he worries his wife, Mildred, may also face deportation.

Mildred's mother came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 1989 when Mildred was five yeard old. This was a period of war and strife in the Central American region and she feard for her family's safety. In 2000, she applied for asylum under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) and included Mildred on her application.

Although the U.S. government granted her mother legal status in July 2004, the couple's decision to marry six weeks earlier cancelled Mildred's eligibility to obtain status through her mother because she was no longer an unmarried daughter under 21 years old.

"At the time we got married, we did not know that Mildred and her mother would have an appointment with immigration in July of 2004. After all, they had already been waiting for 4 years for an appointment at that time," Gonzalez told the Subcommittee members.

In June 14, 2007, the couple appeared in court expecting that Mildred would be given at most 120 days to leave country. The judge, knowing that Gonzalez was about to be deployed and had a 20-month old son, decided gave Mildred a 12-month extension, Gonzalez testified.

"We recognize that Mildred has been fortunate to get extensions. These extensions do not solve our problem, but only prolong it. On June 8, 2008, if Mildred's legal status does not change she will have 60 days to voluntarily depart the United States or she will be deported," he said. >To read his full testimony click here.

Stories of Separated Families Not Unique

"I wonder whether our country [is] any safer or any better now that Janina is gone. What good has been done from my family being broken up?" Thomas Wasilewski said.

He told the Subcommittee members, "I hope this hearing and my testimony will help all the separated families so they can be united again. I also hope that my testimony will move you, members of this committee, to fix our immigration laws so that no more families need to be torn apart."

"As you may already know, my family is not the only one going through the same situation," Gonzalez said. "Many will not come forward and speak about it because they fear they might have to pay the consequences. Mildred and I also worry that this might have a negative impact on us, but given this opportunity, we feel that if we tell our story we might be helping out others in same situation." he said.

You Can Help Keep Families Together
Write to your member of Congress to keep families together or use our online tool to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Sample Text: As a person who believes that families are the essential components of productive and healthy societies, I am greatly troubled that multi-status immigrant families are being torn apart. The separation of children from their parents, husbands from wives, and elderly parents from their loved ones is cruel and inhumane. This does not reflect the values and guiding principles of our nation.

I urge you to lead with conviction and exert visionary and humane leadership that keeps families intact and allows them to continue to contribute to our nation's vibrancy, growth and future. Please play a vocal policy role in repairing our broken and out-of-date immigration system now.