Top 10 Immigrant Rights Victories of 2009

I have tried to make the most inclusive list, in terms of immigrant rights in the United States. If you feel that there is a victory I missed, kindly comment and I’ll review it for honorable mention. In no particular order:

1. Death to the widow penalty

After the Department of Homeland Security granted a deferment on the widow penalty earlier this year, the Senate delivered a death blow to the long practice through H.R.2892. Adoption of this measure meant that the death of a U.S. citizen spouse would no longer result in automatic deportation of widows and widowers and their children. But the 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act goes a step further in allowing the surviving beneficiaries of all approved family and employment-based petitions to be protected as “survivors” and allow them to continue their applications for adjustment of status despite the death of the original petitioner. Read more here.

2. Lou Dobbs Deported from CNN

On November 11, 2009, Lou Dobbs announced his resignation from CNN, prompting that it came about due to some “strong winds of change buffeting this country and affecting all of us.” That is quite the compliment for promigrant campaigns such as,, and Democracia Ahora, who all worked hard to blow Leprosy-Lou out the door. The Onion did a hilarious, must-read satire piece on Lou Dobbs being deported from the USA. Soon thereafter, Dobbs did a 180 degree turn from years of vitriol and hate, and came out in support of immigration reform.

3. Repeal of HIV Travel Ban

President Bush had approved a bill passed by Congress to repeal the HIV travel ban last June but it still remained in place, leaving many immigrants in legal limbo. The Obama Administration finally took action on overturning the 22-year-old travel and immigration ban against people with HIV that will go into effect early next year. Stigmatizing HIV immigrants is a disgrace that only provides a false sense of security and apparently the United States was in the same league as countries like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and eight other countries in instituting this practice.

4. Wisconsin Wins Instate-Tuition for Undocumented Students

After losing several in-state tuition battles this year with heart-break in Colorado, Wisconsin snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, becoming the 11th state to adopt in-state tuition for undocumented students. This came about especially due to the hard-work of Wisconsin-based immigrant rights group, Voces de la Frontera. Contrary to some misguided opinions, in-state tuition increases college enrollment, while not increasing the cost of college to taxpayers and in fact, pours more money into state coffers since students that could not otherwise afford to attend college are paying tuition and spending on higher education.

5. Health care: Congress Passes SCHIP; Removes 5 Year Wait for Legal Immigrants

Earlier this year, immigrant rights advocates scored an important victory when the Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to provide health insurance to 11 million low-income children, which marked the first time that federal money was allocated to cover children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants. Additionally, Congress is on the verge of approving a health insurance reform that removes the 5-year wait for legal immigrants to get tax affordability credits.

6. Education Not Deportation: Immigrant Youth Fight to Halt Deportations

From Noe Guzman in Missouri to Walter Lara in Florida to Taha in New Jersey to Herta Llusho in Michigan and now Jorge Alonso-Chehade in Washington state, 2009 would be marked as the year that undocumented youth organized using new media to successfully halt their deportations. While the Department of Homeland Security refused to grant a blanket deferment to all immigrant youth that would qualify for the proposed DREAM Act, it did agree to look at individual cases and circumstances for granting deferments.

7. HPV Vaccines No Longer Required

Earlier this year, I wrote about how young immigrant women are forced to take the HPV vaccination, Gardasil, to immigrate to the United States. The vaccine did little to prevent HPV and used young immigrant women as guinea pigs for experimentation without incurring the expense of clinical trials. It has also been linked to at least 32 deaths. Well, young immigrant women and girls can breath easier (literally), since the HPV vaccination that played on the ‘dirty immigrant metaphor’ is no longer required for getting a green card.

8. Restrictionism Loses Steam and Elections

With a son of an immigrant in the White House, anti-immigrant forces once again lost elections. From Senator Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina to the NY-23 historic Democrat win to Senator Gillbrand becoming more responsive to immigrant rights to Senator Specter co-sponsoring the DREAM Act, voters and politicians proved that being anti-immigrant even in a climate that scapegoats immigrants, does not spell a victory at the polls. Nor can nativists bring out more than some dozen protesters to rallies. Rahm Emmanuel should make note.

9. Asylum for Battered Women

This past July, the Obama Administration reversed a Bush Administration policy and allowed foreign-born women who were battered or victims of sexual abuse, to claim asylum in the United States. After years of hanging in limbo due to no clear rules and regulations for battered women seeking asylum, the Department of Homeland Security finally cleared the way for a battered spouse, Rody Alvarado Peña of Guatemala, to win political asylum in this country. This spells a positive step towards battered women and victims of sexual abuse gaining asylum through membership in a ‘particular social group.’ Also on the asylum front, asylum seekers are also not going to be jailed and handcuffed upon arrival to the United States.

10. Record number of Hispanic Appointees

The AP reported last week that President Obama is on track to naming more Hispanics to top posts than any of his predecessors, with 35 appointees approved by the Senate already. While that does not automatically translate into a victory for immigrant rights or give the President a pass on not pursuing immigration reform, these appointees are slowly making their mark. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, by far the most famous of these appointees, made history earlier in the month by referring to immigrants without legal status as “undocumented immigrants” for the first time in U.S. Supreme Court history. The Associated Press is slowly following suit and using undocumented and illegal interchangeably, despite the AP-stylebook saying “illegal immigrants.”

Honorable Mentions

North Carolina Community Colleges Roll Back Ban on Undocumented Students: Last year, South Carolina went backwards in time and banned qualified students from attending colleges while North Carolina and Alabama banned undocumented students from community colleges. Still inconclusive about the merits of the ban, North Carolina Community Colleges commissioned a $75,000 study to analyze the costs of admitting students to colleges, which concluded that colleges profit from the admission of undocumented students. This September, the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges voted to overturn the college exclusion rule, and allow undocumented students to attend at out-of-state tuition rates.

No More “No Match Rule” – No match letters used to be mailed to employers when there was a discrepancy between records of the Social Security Administration and the information the employee provided. Employers assumed that this meant “undocumented” and then either fired the workers or threatened them. DHS rescinded the no-match rule earlier this year.

Senate Defeats Citizenship Requirement for Census Forms: On November 5th 2009, the Senate voted 60-39 against the Vitter-Bennett amendment which would have required proof of citizenship and discouraged undocumented immigrants from completing the census forms in order to be counted.

LGBT Immigrants: Shirley Tan and her family fought her removal from the United States, drawing mainstream media attention to the discriminatory practice of not granting immigration rights to same-sex bi-national couples.

Fighting hard for sanctuary city: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring that undocumented youth can only be turned over to federal immigration officials after they are convicted of a felony. However, Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to give ‘no credence‘ to this new policy. Philadelphia mayor also signed an executive order that prohibits city employees, including the police department, from inquiring about anyone’s immigration status.

(Photo Credit: DreamActivist Flickr Photostream)

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