Executive Action On Immigration – Who You Should Thank Before the Party Gets Out of Control

Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

For more than a year now, I have worked with the grassroots movement trying to secure broad administrative relief from President Obama on immigration. I co-authored the Not1More Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations to the President in the Spring. Just a few months ago, we were quite unpopular amongst advocates in the Beltway, who were asking the President to delay issuing administrative relief on immigration, but since the midterm elections, we are all the rage, and invited to cocktail parties everywhere. The Democrats may have lost the Senate due to the delay, but now that the President has signaled his desire to take executive action on immigration, the Democratic base seems fired up and ready for change.

It is certainly a pivot in the right direction. My experience as an undocumented immigrant has prepared me well for this moment since something similar happened when we won Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “Dreamers”—the beneficiaries of DACA—became the “cool kids” that everyone tried to hang with, while we tried hard to grapple with how it divided our community into deserving and undeserving immigrants. My experience as an LGBT individual is also quite similar. Straight people, for lack of a better term, want to celebrate with us at our parties now, and act like they are cool with us, which makes for rather awkward conversations. I have learned to take people at face value, revel in my accomplishments, and forget about them the moment the happy hour is over. Because we have much more important work to do.

Nothing has been announced yet, so if you are confused about all the noise on executive action, you need to consult the chart here. The delay is cause for protests, not parties as the President continues to deport more people than ever before. Moreover, family detentions continue, as the Obama Administration builds a brand new facility in Dilley, Texas to imprison mothers and children escaping persecution in their home countries.

If any announcement does come, remember to thank NDLON’s Not One More Deportation movement. Without NotOneMore, we would have a dead immigration bill with no momentum for change and frankly, no prospects for executive action. Remember to thank the undocumented workers, parents, and youth who stopped buses, infiltrated detention centers, put their bodies on the line to ask for this change, and endured many attacks from pro-reform advocates. Unlike what Julia Preston writes in the New York Times, it is not big money which has brought us here, but big, courageous hearts of those who have been directly impacted by our devastating immigration laws. This is an undeniable fact, and perhaps it would not make it into the history books, but you had better not forget it.

It’s also important to remember that whatever the President announces will mean thousands left out and left to fend for themselves. Many of them are among the ones who organized for this change in the first place. They are our friends, loved ones, and members of our community. We have to help those who qualify but we must also fill the gap for those who did not make it, and work to ensure that they are represented as well.

Those who opposed administrative action at any time should start redeeming themselves by doing applications for relief at no cost to applicants, and contribute some application fees while they are at it. But don’t hold your breath. You’ll notice that they are the first ones taking credit and trying to make money from this.

Got legal questions for me or need help? Hit me up here.

Last Chance to Complete DACA Survey, (Open Even To Those Who Have Not Applied)

If you qualify, or know someone else who does, please take part in this historic study of undocumented young people by completing this survey.

To qualify for the survey, you must:

1) Currently live in the United States, but have been born in another country;
2) Are between the ages of 18-32;
3) Are not a U.S. citizen;
4) Are not a legal permanent resident;
5) Arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and;
6) Have not left the United States in the last 5 years

Please note that you can take the survey even if you have not applied for DACA, or are not eligible due to other factors. Harvard professor, Roberto Gonzales, who launched the survey, tells me:

We’re hoping for a final surge from around the country, and are hoping to boost numbers in Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Texas. We want people to know that you don’t have to be a high achiever to take the survey, and the survey is also open to those who haven’t applied for DACA but are eligible.

The National UnDACAmented Research Project is a national study that seek to understand the effects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on the everyday lives of young people receiving (or wishing to receive) its benefits. This is the first and only national survey of its kind on the undocumented youth population. The purpose of the project is to understand the effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on the everyday lives of young people who have applied for, or are planning to apply for, DACA.

It is critically important that people participate in large numbers to give a more accurate picture of our community, and to ascertain what sort of services our community still needs in a post-DACA world.

The survey closes on Tuesday  at 11:59 pm, so this is your last chance to take it. It takes only 15 minutes to complete.

Update: Earlier version of this post stated that participants were getting $20 gift cards. The project has actually run out of these. But it is still advisable to take the survey, because it helps out our community.

Mayorkas v. Cuellar De Osorio: From the Frontlines of the Supreme Court

Prerna Lal at the Supreme Court for Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio, CSPA

Admission ticket to the U.S. Supreme Court

A major storm was supposed to take over the District of Columbia today. While the federal and District government closed down in anticipation of bad weather, I trudged along to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Mayorkas v. de Osorio, an issue that has defined most of my existence in the United States.

Due to the storm, I was able to obtain really good cushy seats near the front of the courtroom, under the nose of nine Supreme Court Justices, whose one decision on this matter can change thousands of lives, including those of many so-called Dreamers currently living in the United States.

The issue is rather simple, though it appears convoluted. Due to immigration backlogs, people intending to immigrate to the United States through their parents or siblings currently spend many years waiting in line for a visa after their petitions are approved. However, by the time they can get a visa through the approved petitions, the intending immigrants are forced to leave their children behind or see their children face removal proceedings because their young sons and daughters are now over the age of 21. This is often referred to as “aging out” of the process. At the heart of Mayorkas v. de Osorio is whether the children who “age-out” can retain their original place in line and immigrate with their parents, rather than facing lengthy separation or worse, detention and deportation.  

In 2001, the Congress passed a law called the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA), which speaks directly to the matter. Section 203(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by the CSPA, states:

If the age of an alien is determined … to be 21 years of age or older … the alien’s petition shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.

That sounds clear and unambiguous enough. The plain meaning of the text is that all derivative beneficiaries or minor children who happen to age out by the time they can obtain an immigrant visa, can use their earlier assigned date to retain their place in line. This prevents them from waiting in line for many years, sometimes decades, in order to reunite with their families.

However, since the passage of the law, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has construed this section of the CSPA very narrowly, and limited it to a particular class–only those children who were sponsored by their lawful permanent resident parents and turned 21 before they could complete the process are covered. This narrow limitation is not prescribed in any law or regulation besides a questionable BIA decision (Matter of Wang), and hence, has gutted a substantial benefit under the CSPA. Indeed, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court: “The Solicitor General’s continuing insistence that that the [law] is ambiguous raises serious institutional concerns…[Congress] does not typically give an agency carte blanche to rewrite statutory language that is clear.”

Separated from her adult children due to the agency’s narrow interpretation of the law, Respondent Cuellar de Osorio, a lawful permanent resident, filed a lawsuit to compel the agency to interpret the law as passed by Congress. The case was consolidated due to many similar cases, and certified as a nationwide class action by a California district court. Cuellar de Osorio and her class of litigants lost in District Court, but won at the Ninth Circuit. Their victory was also boosted by a win in the Fifth Circuit case, Khalid v. Holder. However, the Department of Justice appealed the Ninth Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari.

I decided to make it to the Supreme Court this morning because the issue has personally impacted my life for more than a decade. When my grandmother sponsored my mother for a green card, I was a child and expected to immigrate with my mother. However, by the time, my mother became eligible for a green card, I was over the age of 21. Instead of getting a green card with the rest of my family, I was placed in removal proceedings under the auspices of the Obama Administration. While I eventually married my U.S. citizen partner, many of my counterparts are still separated from their family members, with no hope of family reunification in the near future, except for winning retention of their original priority dates under the CSPA.

Elaine J. Goldenberg, Assistant to the Solicitor General, began the oral arguments, pleading for a deference to the government’s interpretation of Section 203(h)(3), and resorted to characterizing the aged-out children of lawful permanent residents as line-cutters. Justice Ginsburg interrupted her, suggesting that the impact on the aged-out child is much more severe, and that the aged-child has indeed, waited in line. Justice Breyer honed in on the fact that the government’s interpretation of the CSPA made the impact of the statute minuscule, and seemed to be against the spirit of the statute. Ms. Goldenberg continued to insist that the minor children who had aged out were cutting in line for a visa, and tried to paint the statute as ambiguous, and thus, asked the Supreme Court to defer to the agency’s narrow interpretation of the law.

Under the Chevron doctrine, a court is only supposed to defer to an agency’s interpretation of a law if the statute in question is ambiguous, and the agency interpretation of the ambiguous statute is reasonably construed. Litigating for the lawful permanent resident parents such as Cuellar de Osorio, Mark Fleming effectively countered the government, contending that there was no need to decide whether the government’s interpretation of the legislation was reasonable, because the statute in question was unambiguous. Besides, even if the Justices found the statute to be ambiguous, the agency’s narrow interpretation of the CSPA is incompatible with the ameliorative aspect of the statute, which is family reunification. After all, one of the principles of statutory construction is that a remedial statute such as the CSPA, should be applied liberally. Fleming also described to the Justices how “automatic” conversion under Section 203(h)(3) could happen in two ways. First, the derivative beneficiary can be granted a green card at the same time as the parent. Second, the lawful permanent resident parent can file a petition for the derivative beneficiary and request retention of the older priority date.

The entire transcript for the oral argument is available here. I think Mr. Fleming won this one.

However, predicting how the Justices may vote is an exercise in futility. We just have to wait and see. In my opinion, Justice Breyer, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Alito, and Justice Sotomayor seemed to be on the side of the Respondents, with the rest of the Justices being toss-ups except for Justice Scalia, who seemed to be the only one fervently in favor of the government. However, most of the Justices appeared confused, which is probably the only thing going for the government right about now.

Still, if MotherJones can slice through the complex legal language and get the gist of the case–which is about putting a stop to family separation and deportation–I am sure that at least five Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court can do the same.

The storm did not last long. I walked out of the court with the sun shining down brightly at me. Lets hope for the same for all our families soon.

Whither Immigration Reform?

NIYA Bring Them Home

The DREAM 9 after they were released on parole

Lets get this out of the way: Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), with a pathway to citizenship, is dead for 2013.

Many of our friends working hard on Capitol Hill insist that immigration reform talks are moving forward despite the death of the House “Gang of 7” lawmakers who were supposedly working on a bill. I respect the undocumented youth who have been working with legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, to move the ball forward. It is not an easy task. I have been there and done that 2007-2010, watching the federal DREAM Act come up for a vote and fail to pass twice over. I have played the game with lawmakers, lobbied extensively on the issue, and organized to bring about legislative change. But the apparent failure of these efforts is also a testament to why we need people outside the institutions, such as The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) to kick things into gear, and inject energy and enthusiasm into the debate.

I just received word from the The National Immigrant Youth Alliance that that they are not waiting for comprehensive immigration reform. To be clear, that is not what NIYA is about in the first place. NIYA’s mission is to teach immigrant communities how to fight for themselves. After the brilliant DREAM 9 action, the NIYA will be doing another border surge this coming week, Bring Them Home 2, where they will bring back dozens of families previously deported. This is in response to the very real urgency that many of us feel in our communities: we cannot face the horrors of cartel violence and live torn apart from our homes and families for another second.

As for the institutions still working towards comprehensive immigration reform, I wonder how much of that is simply the immigration non-profit industrial complex talk to keep the issue alive and not concede that the comprehensive strategy has been a dismal failure for our communities. I also wonder whether the 1,100 people deported on a daily basis can afford to wait while politicians and self-appointed figureheads pander with their lives. I have heard from many friends within the immigration reform complex that the main goal of the continuous push for immigration reform is to punish the GOP at the polls, rather than to win relief for all our communities. I could care less for the political games, and contrary to that goal, there is a real sense of urgency in a lot of immigrant communities to bring about change. Many are now looking to the so-called nuclear option — President Obama, exercising his discretionary authority, to grant relief for the 11 million, and pursue other executive remedies.

Least we forget, President Obama was compelled to issue Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), after pressure from both inside and outside groups. While it has many shortcomings and served as a way to silence a lot of critics, the program has granted relief to close to 500,000 undocumented youth. There is no reason that the President cannot expand it to cover everyone. As even Republican Marco Rubio pointed out last month,  Obama could be “tempted” into legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants with the “sign of a pen” if congressional reform efforts keep stalling. Many organizations, such as the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) have insisted on this temporary fix as well.

When compared to the option of eventually passing an immigration bill complete with border militarization, criminalizing future undocumented populations, and no pathway to citizenship, as many groups are now willing to compromise behind closed doors, deferred action for all may be the better temporary solution. It will remove the threat of deportation for millions of families, and allow them to reside and work legally in the United States. As more families come out of the shadows, show their contributions to society, Congress would have to create a more permanent fix, as it did with NACARA in 1997, where certain Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries and their dependents were granted lawful permanent resident status after their cases burdened the asylum system. A little birdie tells me that the Bring Them Home project has similar goals.

Plan A is then, to stop the deportations and grant deferred action for all. It puts more pressure on House Republicans to do something, besides drag their feet in order to kill immigration reform. It stops Democrats from using the immigration issue as a way to pander to growing Latino demographics. Deferred action for all would also create energy and enthusiasm in immigrant communities across the country. And President Obama, currently known as the Deporter-in-Chief for record-breaking deportations, gets to rewrite history books about how he granted amnesty to the 11 million, and liberated the undocumented. He shouldn’t pass it up without a second thought. That would be a mistake.

The clock is running down.

When the U.S. Government Says “Oops We Are Sorry, We Do Not Wish to Deport You”

I’ve had an interesting few weeks.

On November 6, the DHS counsel in San Francisco filed a motion to dismiss removal proceedings in my case and told me to apply to the USCIS under de Osorio v. Mayorkas. That sounded like a fair request until DHS also filed a motion to stay the issuance of a mandate in de Osorio, until Dec 26, 2012, and it was granted by the Ninth Circuit.

If the Immigration Judge granted DHS’ motion to dismiss as well, I would be placed back into the limbo of having no status and compelled to apply for deferred action. Funnily, the DHS cannot just dismiss proceedings once jurisdiction is vested with the Court. So last week, we wrote and filed an 8-page opposition to the DHS’ motion to dismiss, laying out how dismissal of proceedings were prejudicial to me. That’s a rare occurrence.

I was justifiably outraged during this entire ordeal but I have now chosen to be amused by the government’s desire to not continue removal proceedings. Much like my undocumented friends are not allowed to “trespass” detention centers and make visits to the GEO Group headquarters, I’m not allowed to be in removal proceedings. While the U.S. government deports nearly half a million people every year and creates a human rights catastrophe in doing so, the same government would rather invest resources into terminating my removal proceedings. What makes me so special?

Maybe it scares them. Maybe it terrifies them. Maybe they are just too lazy to deal with it. Or maybe they just do not know what they are doing.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. government chose to place me in removal proceedings. And I will choose when my deportation proceedings are over. The DHS needs to deal with the end consequences of their actions. They need to waste their time in trying to deport me so they can’t pick on someone else who can’t fight back. And ultimately, they need to admit defeat when I win my green-card from under their noses.

Peace out.