Excellent article from the San Antonio Express News by Gary Martin contrasting the backgrounds and views on immigration of the two U.S. Representatives from San Antonio, Lamar Smith and Joaquin Castro.
Excellent article from the San Antonio Express News by Gary Martin contrasting the backgrounds and views on immigration of the two U.S. Representatives from San Antonio, Lamar Smith and Joaquin Castro.
Texas Monthly by Nate Blakeslee
Excellent analysis of Ted Cruz's gamble in opposing immigration reform.
[Cruz] is betting that the Republican party can thrive without the Latino vote. Or, put another way, he is wagering that embracing the tea party is the way forward for the Republicans generally and that, contrary to what other conservatives have been preaching since Obama's reelection, no turn to the center is necessary for the party to take back the White House.
It is ironic that a Texan has emerged as one of the leaders of the opposition to the bill, since so much of the hard-line rhetoric about immigration reform is based on fallacies that fade away the closer you get to the border itself.
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Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada, and whose father immigrated from Cuba, is not himself a product of the [Texas bicultural] tradition, and he seems, at times, to be espousing positions that are disconnected form the reality that Texans know well.
Texas Tribune by Julian Aguilar
Two months after a top state Democrat filed a resolution telling Washington that Texas was all in for immigration reform, the measure has proved instead to highlight a lingering divide on the issue.
Despite the talk nationwide about broad support for comprehensive immigration reform and embracing those who “would come out of the shadows” if given the chance, Texas lawmakers haven't bought into the bipartisan hype.
In February, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, chairman of the International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, co-authored House Concurrent Resolution 44 with state Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston. Carefully crafted to include several talking points from Republican groups in favor of reforming the country’s immigration system, the nonbinding resolution was engineered to be an easy sell. It called for an increase in border security, stronger monitoring of visas for potential overstays and adopting an employment verification system – all GOP talking points.
But it also supports a pathway to citizenship.
With fewer than seven weeks left in the legislative session, Anchia has yet to gain support for the measure from a Republican.
The glitch is in the language, said state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas. “Conservatives and others alike are nervous that what path to citizenship means is, we have an amnesty program in place,” he said. “Amnesty means a lot of things to a lot of different people.”
Villalba has taken the lead for the conservatives and is working with Anchia to change some of the language.
“We remain optimistic,” Anchia said, despite the lack of visible support. “And we’re making progress.”
But this week also proved the state House members need not look to their federal counterparts for advice on finding common ground. Just days before the so-called Gang of Eight — a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators — was scheduled to unveil its plans for immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, filed companion legislation they dubbed the "Border Security Results Act of 2013.” That bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to meet certain benchmarks, including a 90 percent apprehension rate, and inform Congress regularly of its progress in securing the border.
While Anchia’s measure is nonbinding and symbolic, the Cornyn/McCaul measure has teeth. And the duo has clout. Cornyn is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul, who worked for Cornyn in the Texas attorney general's office, is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
They don't intend to tell DHS how to do its job or derail immigration reform, they said, adding they want their colleagues to be better informed about the situation on the border as the debate moves forward.
Democrats were not amused.
“With about 800 miles of Texas-Mexico border in the district, I know the border impacts every part of our state. I’m hopeful that this bill is a good faith effort to move forward and not an attempt to build another wall between immigrants and the American dream,” U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said in a statement.
His fellow freshman, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, added: "Opponents of immigration reform seek to hold the process hostage by insisting on a finding of border security on the U.S.-Mexico border. Attaching such a condition to the immigration reform debate is nothing more than a plain attempt to thwart reform efforts. In other words, those who would condition immigration reform on a finding of border security simply oppose a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized individuals currently in this country.”
KUT News by Joy Diaz
Officials have noticed an unusual trend along the border recently: more undocumented immigrants turning themselves in. Though the exact cause is unclear, some say the sequester might have something to do with it.
You may ask why I am weighing in on school discipline issues. How does that relate to immigration?
For six months, I have been working with young people who are applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I have been appalled by the number of young people with misdemeanor convictions received for school discipline issues for which they most often plead guilty without legal representation. This causes problems and expense in the DACA process and in other areas of their lives.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has proposed changes to this system:
Ticketing for nonviolent misdemeanors forces students to go to court, Jefferson told the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. In addition to being a waste of resources, he said, that practice makes it more difficult for students to turn their lives around. “What used to be, in our day, a trip to the principal's office now lands you in court,” he said. “We're overcriminalizing low-level, nonviolent offenses in the classroom ... and then they're on a path to our criminal justice system.”
I applaud Chief Justice Jefferson for taking on this important issue and proposing a solution.
See the complete story in the Texas Tribune by Maurice Chammah.
Texas Tribune by Justin Dehn and Alana Rocha
El Pasoans sound off on politicians who demand a secure border before immigration reform can happen.
"This idea that we need more is just absurd," Fernando Garcia is the Executive Director for the Border Network for Human Rights, a grassroots organization based in El Paso that documents civil rights abuses. "We have done so much already, and we realize that some people, they don't want immigration reform."
Great story on the problems with the U-Visa today in ABC News/Univision by Cristina Costantini. It features the 13-year old Waco sexual abuse victim and the difficulty in obtaining a crime victim certification for her.
Rosa Gutierrez, a 13-year-old girl living in Waco, Texas, was repeatedly raped two years ago by a 43-year-old man who was once her mother's boyfriend.
Along with her mother, Rosa, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, is residing in the country without authorization. Despite the fear of being deported, Rosa's mother turned her boyfriend of the time into the police. He is now serving a 35-year prison sentence for his crimes, thanks in large part to the testimonies provided by the two women.
But the trauma associated with the incident has not ended for the teen and her mother. Rosa, who was brought to the U.S. as a one-year-old, is not eligible to receive counseling for the abuse under government programs like Medicaid, because she is living in the country without authorization, according to their pro bono attorney Susan Nelson. And Rosa's mother, who was once financially dependent on her daughter's abuser, has found herself unable to find stable work without legal status.
The good news for these women is that there's a special visa, known as the U visa, intended to be used in cases just like these. The visa grants temporary status to undocumented victims of crimes and their close family members if they will cooperate with law enforcement. As part of the process, police or prosecutors are required to sign a form confirming that the victim suffered a crime and will cooperate with local authorities or has done so already.
The bad news, however, is that the district attorney in her town, Abel Reyna, rejected her request for the certification necessary for visa because of his interpretation of the law.
Herein lies one of the major problems with the so called U visa, says Susan Bowyer, the directing attorney of the Immigration Center for Women and Children, the agency which she says assists about one in every 10 victims who are awarded the U visa each year.
"A person can be a victim of a violent crime and cooperate fully with the police in one city but have no chance of getting a certification, while someone in a neighboring city can be knocked unconscious, not even witness the crime because she was unconscious, and be awarded the certification easily," said Bowyer. "It's hugely unfair, arbitrary, irrational, and inconsistent -- but it sure is better than not having it at all."
Like many immigration provisions, U visa law is mandated federally, but implemented inconsistently by local law enforcement. Some advocates, like Bowyer, say that more resources should be devoted to ensuring local law enforcement agencies can carry out U visa certifications consistently to make the program better serve victims in need.
Proponents of U visa say the program makes a difference because it often allows victims to be less financially dependent on their abusers, and more likely to come forward, by granting them four years of legal status, and allowing them to apply for permanent resident status after three years. Advocates say the program also encourages undocumented communities to cooperate with law enforcement.
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Susan Nelson, the Waco Texas attorney representing Rosa in her fight for a U visa application, believes despite her client's legal status, there's a moral imperative to help victims in Rosa's positions. Nelson says the claims that the system is susceptible to fraud is unfounded, given the fact that its very difficult to even qualify for the program because all crimes must be certified by prosecutors or the police.
Of the four U visa applications Nelson submitted to District Attorney Abel Reyna 's office over the last two years, all were rejected. Rosa's application sat on the desk of District Attorney Abel Reyna for 10 months before he rejected it, according to Nelson.
"U visas are not supposed to be a reward for testimony, but rather an insurance policy to make sure that justice is done," Reyna wrote on his office's Facebook wall in response to an article critical of how he handled the case. Reyna's spokesperson said he was unable to comment for this article due to a very busy court schedule this week.
Although Reyna refused to sign a certification after Rosa's case was closed, other local law-enforcement agents won't issue a U visa while the case is ongoing, because they fear the defendant will lose their desire to cooperate fully without the visa incentive, according to Susan Bowyer. She says part of the hesitation to sign a U visa certification has to do with how undocumented immigrants are viewed by law enforcement.
"The problem is in our country is we loathe undocumented immigrants, and we call them illegals and aliens, and so law enforcement feels very torn, and the question is fraught, about what to do when the victim herself is undocumented," Bowyer says. "And they have to sign under the certification under the penalty of perjury, so it puts a lot of pressure on law enforcement."
Luckily for Rosa, her attorney was able to appeal to other agencies to finally get her certification. Judge Ralph Strother of Wacos 19th State District Court finally issued the visa after Nelson approached local courts as a last resort.
"She didn't ask to be here or ask to be a victim," the judge told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "It was just the right thing to do."
But that doesn't mean Rosa will receive a visa. In just three months, the government has already awarded half of the visas allotted for this year.
"[Rosa and her mother] have some sense of relief now that they've gotten the certification, but we still have a long way to go," Nelson said.
Here is a copy of the Q&A article that ran in Tiempo this week:
Tiempo: Tell us about your experience with clients and immigration issues.
Nelson: My first encounter
with immigration law was when my husband and I adopted our daughter from Russia.
Although we are both lawyers, we needed help to navigate the complex
immigration process. After our experience with the adoption, I started
receiving calls from other attorneys and individuals who knew of my experience.
I began practicing immigration law beyond pro bono cases in 2003, and it is now
where I spend the majority of my time.
I like immigration law because it allows me to help people keep their families together. Many lawyers help pick up the pieces when families fall apart, but I work to help families who want to be together stay together. I am often frustrated by the current state of the law when I see deserving people whose families are being torn apart without remedy or recourse.
Tiempo: What is the difference between the Texas DREAM Act and the one that is being discussed in Washington?
Nelson: The Texas DREAM Act was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in 2001 and provides that all students, regardless of immigration status, may qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges or universities provided they have lived in Texas the three years leading up to high school graduation and resided in Texas the year prior to their enrollment in higher education.
The Texas Dream Act has succeeded by providing access to higher education for students who otherwise are unable to afford the increasing cost of attending college and by providing needed money to Texas colleges and universities. In the present legislature a bill has been filed that would repeal the Texas DREAM Act. Governor Perry hinted that he would veto such an attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students, but I hope that this bill will never reach his desk.
The federal DREAM Act (The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support but never became the law. If enacted, it would provide a path to permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, who graduated from high school or obtained a G.E.D. in the U.S. and who have good moral character if they complete two (2) years of college or in the military.
Tiempo: What can be expected with the political climate on immigration now that President Obama has been re-elected?
Nelson: In recent years, attempts to fix our nation’s broken immigration laws have been hijacked by the anti-immigrant, anti-“amnesty” movement. I am hopeful there will be a change in the dynamics and an opportunity for Congress to make changes in our laws that will place the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. on a path to earning legal permanent residence.
Tiempo: Could you explain in a few words the Deferred Action decision from last year?
Nelson: In June of 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would accept requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This initiative is designed to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people residing unlawfully in the U.S who were brought to the United States as children, are attending or have graduated from U.S. schools and who have good moral character. Young people who are approved for DACA receive an Employment Authorization for 2 years that can be renewed as long as the DACA program continues, but it does not provide a path to permanent residence for these young people.
Tiempo: What cases have you dealt with recently regarding Deferred Action?
Nelson: I represent a number of clients with DACA cases. In addition, I provide direction to the Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic. We assisted 120 young people to complete applications in the Fall, and plan to have another DACA Clinic this Spring. Most DACA applicants receive approvals in about 3 months.
Tiempo: What is the current status of applications for immigrants who have been victims of a crime in McLennan County?
Nelson: In 2000, Congress created the U-Visa for victims of certain crimes in order to encourage undocumented victims to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In order to apply for the U-Visa, a crime victim must first obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency, prosecutor or judge stating that they were the victim of a qualifying crime and that they cooperated with law enforcement.
There has been a problem in McLennan County in recent years. The Waco Police Department does not sign the required certifications but refers all requests to the District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Abel Reyna has declined to sign all of the requests for certification that I submitted on behalf of crime victims, including one for a minor sexual abuse victim whose abuser is serving 35 years in prison because she and her mother came forward.
Fortunately, judges can also sign the certifications. Judge Ralph Strother recently signed the certification so that this brave young girl can apply for a U-Visa.
However, our judges cannot shoulder the entire burden. There is a need for the DA’s office and police departments to also sign the certifications, and I hope that they will reconsider their policies.
Tiempo: What can the community do to support the DREAM Act Alliance locally?
Nelson: The Waco DREAM Act Alliance is a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the DREAM act and immigrant rights. They meet regularly and support local DREAMers and their families. You can find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/groups/WacoDREAM/ or on-line at www.wacodream.org.
You can also express your support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform by contacting your congressional representatives and Senators. You can find your representative’s contact information at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. Your Senators’ contact information can be found at http://www.senate.gov/.
The Waco DREAM Act Alliance and national organization United We Dream are working to stop the deportations of family members of DACA eligible young people and U.S. Citizens. If you know of someone in deportation proceedings who fits into this category, they should complete a Case Questionnaire at http://unitedwedream.org/end/ and contact the Waco DREAM Act Alliance.
Tiempo: What is the new rule that effects the way that spouses of U.S. Citizens obtain their permanent residence?
Nelson: The Obama Administration is attempting to lift the burden of our broken immigration laws by making rules that change the process but not the law.
Under current law, many immigrants who enter the country without inspection cannot apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) in the U.S., and instead must finish the immigration process abroad. Unfortunately, for most people, just leaving the country—even to pick up a visa sponsored by a family member—automatically makes the intending immigrant subject to a penalty for their “unlawful presence,” potentially separating them from their family for up to ten years.
For some, but not all, the penalty can be waived. To be successful, applicants must show that denying the case would be an extreme hardship to their qualifying relative(s); the impact on the immigrant doesn’t count. Hardship factors can include family separation, economic hardship, medical issues, country conditions abroad, and any other difficulty or harm faced by the qualifying relative(s), if the waiver isn’t granted.
Under the old rule (which will continue to be the process for spouses of permanent residents), the applicant can not apply for the waiver until after they leave the U.S. and have their consular interview. They are required to wait in their home country while the waiver application is decided.
Immigrants can be stranded outside the U.S. for months or even years while waiting for a decision on whether they can return to their family. Many families endure the emotional strain, financial hardship and dangerous conditions of this waiver process. Others simply are unwilling to take the risk.
The new rule allows spouses of U.S. Citizens to apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence before they leave the U.S. for their consular interview. If they receive the provisional waiver, they will leave the U.S. to apply for their immigrant visa knowing in advance that their case will probably be approved, and they could be back with their families—as a legal resident—in a matter of weeks.
The new rule takes effect on March 4, 2013.
Susan I. Nelson is a Waco attorney and practices with her husband, Alan Nelson, in The Nelson Law Firm, P.C. She represents individuals and businesses in immigration cases and writes the Texas Immigration Lawyer Blog (www.centeximmigration.com) in which she provides news and opinions on immigration law and policy. Susan came to Waco in 1976 to attend Baylor University, and has been here since that time. She has practiced law in Waco since she graduated from Baylor Law School in 1990.
Baylor Line by Meg Cullar
KWBU by Rebecca Fogel
Great story about Raul Ortiz and the social media efforts to prevent his deportation.