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My article in India Currents on how the immigration actions announced in November 2014 by the President impacts Indian Americans is finally available here. While some of the most pivotal programs such as expanded DACA and DAPA are currently on hold due to the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit, the Administration is moving ahead with the other proposed changes, through the issuance of more guidance. Feedback on the article is much-appreciated!
The party over executive action seems to have fizzled out even before it started.
As expected, late Monday, February 16, Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction against the implementation of two parts of President Obama Administration’s executive actions on prosecutorial discretion in immigration: an expansion of the current deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program, and a program for the parents of U.S. citizens (DAPA).
The federal district court did not decide on the constitutionality or legality of the programs, but rather, took issue with the fact that the Obama Administration had not followed proper procedures under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), in rolling out the programs. The Justice Department is expected to appeal this ruling and to request a stay of the injunction so that the initiatives aren’t stalled.
While much has been written about how Judge Hanen reached an erroneous decision when he determined that the federal government had to allow for a notice and comment period, no one is actually talking about the fact that the National Day Labor Organizing Network had filed a complaint requesting that the government engage in rule-making with regards to executive action, more than a year before the executive actions were announced. This was a request for formal rule making of the kind that Judge Hanen found lacking from the executive actions announced on November 20, 2014.
The government seems to have not responded to the NDLON complaint, and never bothered to publish a formal notice in the Federal Register when it did announce changes to its prosecutorial discretion programs. If they had, perhaps things would have turned out differently last week. Perhaps not. In any case, the Obama Administration has a major “foot in mouth” problem, and perhaps before embarking on future partisan events to drum up support for his programs, someone should ensure that the intern does send over a copy of the proposed rule change to the Federal Register.
What’s next? Now that the brakes are on, the legal teams on both sides seem to be up against months, if not years, of litigation. That may bode well for the politicos, but not for undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from these programs.
Most talking points sheets say that people should continue preparing for the programs. Sure, that is true. But more importantly, the new enforcement priorities announced on November 20, 2014, remain in place. So if you think the Administration is still detaining and deporting people that it has no business doing, continue raising hell, and continue asking for a more expansive definition of discretion.
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.
Evaluate whether law school is really for you.
I am assuming you have taken the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and are applying for law school. If you are still undecided on whether to take the LSAT, I’d like to note that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) now provides fee waivers to DACA students, which gives you two free tests, and waives most application fees. From the moment you start this journey with taking the LSAT till when it ends with your swearing-in ceremony as an attorney, can take a minimum of 5 years, so if you are going to law school because it is less work than a PhD program, you should reconsider your decision. Before law school, during law school, and after law school, you have to rigorously do the work assigned, and more. There are no shortcuts to success here. You may have to break up with your significant other to actually make it through this so before you truly commit, I’d like you to read this piece by Dean Spade to see whether law school is really for you.
How to pay for it?
You are undocumented and likely ineligible for federal loans. So how do you pay for the hefty $200,000 endeavor without borrowing private loans that make you indebted for life to Sallie Mae or Wells Fargo?
Beyond private loans, crowd-sourcing is one tactic, and how several of us have paid for law school so there is no shame in asking your friends, family and community to chip-in through Go Fund Me, host parties for you and so on. Most people are happy to help. For costs of living that aren’t related to tuition, like rent and food – student flat coops like Downing Students in London are always available and happy to help students find a cheap flat to live in while in school. Another popular idea is to work hard and save up money now, so you are in a more comfortable financial position later.
There are some private scholarships available from institutions such as MALDEF and NAPABA, but they are competitive. I do remember that MALDEF’s scholarship helped me pay for rent in my second year, and NAPABA’s helped me finish law school, so don’t discount them even if the sums seem small when compared to the high tuition rates.
My advice is to score as high as possible on the LSAT, and try to get various full-ride or merit-based scholarships, and pick the school that gives you the most money or the school that costs you the least. Sometimes you may need to pay half-sticker at a better school as opposed to a full-ride at a lesser-ranked school. To make the best decision, you’ve to figure out early whether you have big law aspirations, or whether you just want to practice solo or work in public interest. If you want to practice on your own or at a small firm or non-profit, I’d suggest taking the full-ride at a lesser ranked law school.
Your very last option should be to get a full-time job while in law school. Law school students are advised against working more than 20 hours a week but sometimes we have to do this out of necessity to pay rent or buy groceries. You’ve come this far and you may need to hustle a little longer to get where you want to go.
Invest in bar exam outlines early
If you do decide to go despite the number of people warning you against it, then I have some useful advice for you. I wish I knew this during my 1L year of law school, as I tried to understand all the material from reading textbooks, and commercial outlines. It is not the best kept secret, but BARBRI, PMBR CDs and similar bar review outlines do a much better job of explaining the law than most materials for law students. As you sit and take the bar exam, you wonder why you were not just given these materials in your first year of law school! You’ll find the materials available on sites like Craigslist or eBay at discounted prices.
Make friends in the school administration
Even before I arrived at The George Washington University Law School, I had been the subject of some controversy as their first undocumented admit. I developed a relationship with the Dean of Admissions through various tortured email and phone conversations as we tried to settle on a financial package that would allow me to go to law school as an undocumented student. I was blessed with having a Dean of Students who stood up for me, and guided me through law school, with tips on how to network, get free therapy, where to find the best chiropractor in the city and so on. When I could not afford second semester of law school, the Deans put their heads together and magically found a pot of money for me. The lesson here is that you’ve to be an advocate for yourself so do not be shy about asking for help, and do not miss opportunities to make such connections.
Get as many mentors as possible
This goes hand in hand with making connections and networking. Law school is all about networking both inside and outside law school. If you are introverted like me, you have to work extra hard to make conversation and connections with people. Kindly tell lawyers about yourself and ask them to take you out for lunch. Trust me, people usually bend over backwards to help an undocumented law student, and are interested in your life experiences. Go to seminars and conferences in areas of law that you are interested in and make connections. Reach out to other undocumented students, but also expand your network beyond that. Participate in class, and go to the after-class meetings and office hours of your professors. Serve as a research assistant to get a few good recommendations from professors. And do not discount the relationships you can make with your peers, and your alumni network.
Make the law school curve work for you
Most students go from having straight As to earning Bs and Cs for the first time in their life in law school. That’s completely normal, and do not let it deter you or scare you. Most law school exams are graded on a curve so the majority of the class gets a B+ as an average. Learn to play the curve–you may end up getting a B+ no matter so why spend all your time studying the same thing? After the first year, try to take seminar classes, which are easier on your grades.
Have a life outside law school
This can be difficult, but do not give up on your activism and civic engagement. It is vital to maintain a life outside of law school to give you some perspective. Speak on those panels, go to the rally, lobby Congress, testify before the City Council, continue to do speaking engagements, and so on. The more people that know you and your story, and the more experiences you have with public speaking, the more help you can get in your journey.
Don’t stress about job offers
You have lived the undocumented experience. Chances are you are heavily involved in the community, testified at various hearings, helped to stop a few deportations, and even passed a bill. These outside-the-law-school experiences are vital and the networks you have already established will help you land jobs. Send your resumes around, and reach out to lawyers you have worked with in the past.
If you don’t get lucky through networking, there is always the option of going solo. I had several job offers during my third-year of law school but I was never ready to make any long-term commitments. Additionally, I needed to take some time off to enjoy married life, put an end to my immigration saga, and travel the world. And I am doing just that and having a blast! Chances are, you will have many more options by the time you graduate, and if nothing, decide to go solo. Don’t sweat it now, but work steadily towards your goals. And remember, law school is probably one of the easier things you’d have to do in life.
Figure out where to take the bar and start the moral character process early
Being undocumented may also interfere with bar admission, so either have a plan to adjust your immigration status by the time you take the bar exam, or take the bar exam in a friendly state such as California or Maryland. Additionally, if you do not have a job offer lined up, you may want to take the bar in various states to increase your chances of passing, so try doing a NY/NJ or NY/PA combo, or take the exam in a UBE/MEE jurisdiction, which would allow you to practice in multiple states. Whatever you do, you don’t want to wait many more years before you are licensed to practice.
If you have any additional questions or suggestions, feel free to shoot me an email or join the DREAM Bar Association for more advice and mentorship!
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Ju Hong’s “yelling” to issue an executive order to stop deportations echoed across the country, and has sparked a series of actions mostly calling on the President to use his executive authority to stop deportations. Over 500 national organizations (and growing), including the Mexican American Legal and Education Defense Fund, United We DREAM, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and AFL-CIO, have signed on to a letter asking the President to exercise discretion in stopping his deportations. Even House Democrats joined the chorus yesterday, with 29 House Democrats signing a letter to the President to suspend deportations and expand DACA:
If your child has received DACA, you should not be deported. If you qualify for legalization under the Senate bill — a bill the President and the rest of the country supports — you should not be deported. We cannot continue to witness potential citizens in our districts go through the anguish of deportation when legalization could be just around the corner for them. We look to you to firmly contribute to advancing inclusion for immigrants by suspending deportations and expanding DACA.
President Barack Obama said during a trip to New Orleans, “We should be fighting to make sure everybody who works hard in America, and hard right here in New Orleans, that they have a chance to get ahead.” However, instead of trying to reduce deportations, the Obama Administration is piloting a new, unprecedented and extraordinarily harsh effort to hunt down and deport thousands of hardworking undocumented immigrants in New Orleans.
The Obama Administration’s hypocrisy on immigration knows no limits. Instead of taking action, the President would rather hide behind the “rule of law” discourse, and pretend that he doesn’t have power to do anything. Invoking the “rule of law” is not only disingenuous but dangerous because it is used to quell the demands of the lesser privileged for real, tangible, social change. President Obama says he can’t stop deportations because it isn’t within his powers. Yet, he finds it within his power to carry out mass surveillance, drone attacks, topple regimes, and order extra-judicial killings.
However, short of placing a moratorium on deportations, there are many things the Administration can do to relief the pressure on immigrant families across the country that are well within executive powers. These include:
- Detention: Redefine “in custody” as inclusive of ankle-monitoring programs, in order to let people–62 percent of whom have no criminal records–out of detention;
- Enforce existing memos that allow for parole of asylum seekers who have passed their credible fear interviews;
- Stop the Department of Justice (DOJ) assault against undocumented law school graduates such as Sergio Garcia, Caesar Vargas, and so on;
- Issue “Notice to Appear in Removal Proceedings” only in the most severe criminal cases, which would reduce the immigration court docket over time by more than 60 percent;
- Work on crafting a narrower definition of “aggravated felon” — a catch-all phrase that now includes both serial rapists and lawful permanent residents who have committed non-violent crimes in the past;
- Put an end to Secure Communities (S-COMM), an administrative deportation program that targets persons with minor criminal records, and has led to the ICE detention of over 3000 U.S. citizens;
- Roll back new harsh effort “Criminal Alien Removal Initiative”;
- Pardon prior re-entry;
- Expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to cover all childhood arrivals rather than place an arbitrary age cap;
- Stop assault on lawful permanent resident parents by giving full meaning to the Child Status Protection Act so that thousands of young people, including many Dreamers, can finally reunite with their parents.
And the list goes on. This week, a judge ruled that the President’s uncle, Omar Obama, could stay in the U.S.
But justice is nowhere in sight for those of us with no ties to the President, our deporter-in-chief.