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Senate Judiciary Committee Highlights the Critical Problem of Reducing Family Based Immigration

11:05 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Senator Mazie Hirono

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

In response to reports that the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform, could possibly eliminate family categories for adult married children and siblings of US citizens (F3 and F4 categories respectively) in exchange for more skilled labor, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony to discuss the potential consequences of such legislation. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) chaired the proceedings and offered some important insight during her opening remarks.

It’s from my own experience as an immigrant that I believe immigration reform should make the family immigration system stronger, not weaker.  And we should not ignore the challenges immigrant women face.

Oftentimes women and children are overlooked in the overall immigration conversation when  they should be given special attention. Women and children make up nearly two thirds of immigrants. Furthermore, less than one third of employment-based visas are granted to women as principal green card holders, resulting in women relying heavily on the family-based system to gain entry into the country. As immigrant women are increasingly becoming the heads of households it is paramount to recognize the unique obstacles these women face as they attempt to navigate the labyrinth that is our immigration system. Any legislation that reduces family-based immigration will leave out a large segment of the immigrant community.

When discussing the impact of immigration backlogs, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) makes a very good observation:

Don’t these backlogs incentivize illegal immigration? If you’re overseas and have no prospect of seeing your parents for over 20 years… I would like to think that my kids will do everything they could to be with me.

Contrary to the rhetoric that immigration reform only encourages illegal immigration forced migration, it is actually the outdated and restrictionist immigration law that helps fuel it. When family members are faced with the possibility of waiting decades before being reunited, many will naturally choose to be with family. In essence, eliminating entire categories will do nothing to decrease the current 4.3 million family members waiting in line for green cards. If anything, it will only exacerbate the issue. We could possibly find ourselves in a worse situation years from now. As Mee Muoa notes, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center,  even “skilled” labor have family members. It is preposterous to think that a strong family network for immigrants will not provide value to this country’s best interest.

Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bring an End to Operation Streamline?

6:40 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

The Detention Watch Network is launching a campaign urging Congress to bring an end to Operation Streamline.  Started in 2005 under the Bush administration, Operation Streamline funnels migrants that cross the border into the criminal justice system to be prosecuted for immigration related “crimes.” Those apprehended at the border for the first time are prosecuted for the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized entry punishable up to 6 months in prison and those re-entering the country after a prior deportation order are prosecuted for felony re-entry punishable up to 20 years in prison.

According to the Detention Watch Network:

In 2011, unauthorized entry and re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system – more than murder, robbery or financial fraud. These prosecutions are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. Latinos now make up more than 50 percent of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the US population.

The federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry since 2005, above and beyond the $2 billion per year it has spent on the civil immigration detention system. Much of the aforementioned $5.5 billion has been channeled to private prison corporations to confine people in “CAR” prisons with deplorable conditions for merely trying to reunite with their families.

Last night, the President delivered his State of the Union address where he gave immigration reform a grand total of 210 words. Of course, a number of DREAMers were invited attend. As for the speech itself, there were the usual talking points of border security and earned citizenship, all of which was nothing more than a dog and pony show created to distract from the real  issues plaguing our immigration system. There is real human suffering happening right now as we speak, most of which can be alleviated by simply suspending punitive enforcement policies such as Operation Streamline. If Congress or the President wants to have any credibility regarding immigration reform then they need to start shifting the narrative towards ending the criminalization of immigrants.

The Congressional Black Caucus Lends Its Voice to the Immigration Debate

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee: “The Congressional Black Caucus will be pivotal” in immigration reform.

On February 4, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held its first meeting on comprehensive immigration reform. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) made critical points in the meeting that are oftentimes missing from the debate.

On these points about the issue of where we can come together and where there are distinctions is to raise the factor of how serious and difficult this process may be, the Congressional Black Caucus will be pivotal in its role. One, because it is the conscience of this Congress. Two, because we have the uncanny ability of seeing from a broader perspective with what we have gone through in our lifetime, what our communities go through. We’ve seen discrimination and we are sympathetic and sensitive to how we can help others.

The support from the CBC should not surprise anyone. More African Americans who voted in the last presidential election support a process for legalizing undocumented immigrants than Latino voters do. In a November Gallup Exit poll, 81% of African Americans support immigration reform compared to 77% of Latino voters. An interesting piece of information that is constantly overlooked by the media and especially by our politicians.

In a press release, Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) outlined key concerns for comprehensive immigration reform:

  • Advancing legislation and policies that lead to comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Providing a voice for undocumented immigrants of African descent within the comprehensive immigration reform debate.
  • Addressing issues of mass detention and unjust criminality of immigrant populations.
  • Ensuring policies that are aimed at improving conditions within low-income and vulnerable communities are not averted by comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The most striking piece is the issue of mass detention. Oftentimes, under the guise of the “rule of law” immigrants are racially profiled, unconstitutionally placed in detention centers for extended periods of time and denied access to legal counsel. While private prison corporations are allowed to profit from human suffering, many families are unjustly separated in the meantime. Rarely if ever do we hear these issues addressed. Instead, we hear the same predictable rhetoric that places emphasis creating a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased funding for border security. It will be interesting to see what level of involvement the CBC will have in the next few weeks on immigration reform. It will be even more interesting to see if the CBC can garner enough attention to these critical issues that have beleaguered the immigrant community for far too long.

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We can do better than Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) – much better

12:56 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Last night, the home of Erika Andiola, prominent leader in the migrant justice movement, was raided by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). Her mother,  Maria Arreola and brother Heriberto Andiola Arreola were taken away. Fortunately, both Erika’s mom and brother were released this morning. Erika is known for fearlessly confronting Arizona’s SB1070 during its inception and has since then led multiple campaigns for immigrant rights.  Not only I am inspired by her activism, but I understand all too well to the fear of being separated from my family for no other reason than lacking documentation.

I am hoping that Erika’s case will finally raise the awareness that is needed to confront this administration’s inhumane deportation policies. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other U.S. president in history. Just this past year alone, this administration has deported 409,849 individuals, setting a new record for deportations.  With all this talk about CIR, it is my hope that we abandon this “politics of respectability” approach to immigration. Instead of critiquing, challenging and dismantling a system that has created division there are those of us striving desperately join its ranks. Everytime we cling to this narrative of who is worthy of legalization we are giving legitimacy to a system that  relies heavily on the injustices of other people. By doing so, entire communities are rendered invisible. We become complicit in our own oppression.

Roberto Lovato says it best:

The terrifying raid of the Andiola family that we heard about and witnessed recently should give us reason to actually read what Obama and his immigration allies are pushing when they say “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR). Read for yourself how they are proposing legislation that looks like this most recent CIR proposal in 2010, legislation that prioritizes and expands raids, imprisonment, deportation terror like that experienced by the Andiola.Check out the legislation. It’s there for you to read, as is the tragic lie these “leaders” are perpetrating against us all. “Comprehensive Immigration Reform means legalizing ,at best, about 3-5 million (NOT 11-12 million) undocumented people in exchange for condemning non-eligible current immigrants and all future undocumented to the kind of terror Erika Andiola and her family experienced last night. About 80-90% of CIR is about more enforcement and punishment and only 10-20% about citizenship. Please read the laws (or the analysis) before joining those asking you to mouth that fatal phrase: “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Yes, Erika. It can happen to any of us. None of us are safe. Let this be an awakening for all those in the “movement.”