Top 10 Victories for Immigrant Rights in 2013

This post was originally posted at Race Files

While Congress struggled in 2013 to enact just and meaningful reform, and the President is close to surpassing 2 million deportations, immigrants won victories in many states and many levels.

In no particular order:

1. The Supreme Court Strikes Down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act


Undoubtedly, the fall of DOMA’s Section 3 has brought much-needed relief among members of the LGBT community. While there is much more left to do in terms of winning rights for all members of the LGBT community, over 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples can finally live together without worrying about imminent family separation due to archaic U.S. immigration policies. With same-sex couples now scoring green cards throughout the country, and non-immigrants gaining the ability to finally bring their partners to the U.S., this is one giant step forward for immigrant rights.

Honorable mentions: The Supreme Court also struck down Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship to vote, and also provided relief from removal for many individuals who were charged for drug trafficking for mere possession of marijuana under state laws.

2. Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents

In 2012, only three states–Washington, New Mexico, Utah–granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Great local organizing in 2013 saw additional states such as MarylandNevadaIllinoisVermontColoradoConnecticutOregonCalifornia and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will see those states granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents in the New Year.

Driver’s licenses for undocumented residents is a public safety issue because immigrants have to pass the road test before they can get licensed, and they are also more likely to purchase auto-insurance.

3. Instate-Tuition for Undocumented Students

New JerseyColoradoMinnesota, and Oregon passed laws that permit in-state tuition for undocumented students. MassachusettsFlorida, and the Ohio Board of Regents also approved a tuition-waiver for DACA-eligible students. These states joined California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington state, who have similar laws on the books.

4. Drop the I-Word

More media outlets such as the Associated PressUSA TodayDenver PostGood Morning America, and the San Francisco Chronicle, took a step towards dropping the use of “illegal immigrant” in their coverage of stories about undocumented or unauthorized immigrants. Last year, I wrote an article for the New America Media as to why journalists should drop the word as it is more complicated than legal and illegal. Race Forward has more information about the Drop the I-Word campaign. Hopefully, more outlets decide to drop the use of this inaccurate and dehumanizing discourse, and adopt less politically charged language such as “irregular” migrants.

5. More Use of Administrative Measures to Provide Relief for Immigrants

After issuing the successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to provide relief for undocumented people brought here as minors, federal officials also issued memos to stop disrupting the parental rights of undocumented parents and issued parole-in-place to stop the deportation of immediate family members of U.S. military personnel. As NDLON’s growing Not 1 More Deportation campaign puts more pressure on the Executive Branch, it would be interesting to see whether President Obama can continue using administrative measures to decrease or stop deportations until Congress can enact some meaningful immigration reform.

6. States Fight Back Against “Secure Communities”

Joining the District of Columbia and Illinois, California passed the TRUST Act to prohibit local law enforcement officials from detaining immigrants longer than necessary for minor crimes in order to hand them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Now, local law enforcement in California can only hand over non-U.S. citizens to ICE in the event of serious crimes and sex offenses. California also saw the passage of a spate of pro-immigration bills, such as one to grant law licenses to undocumented law school graduates, and made it a crime for attorneys and employers to “induce fear” by threatening to report someone’s immigration status.

7. Federal Court Provides Due Process for Detained Immigrants

In Rodriguez v. Robbins, the Ninth Circuit held that the government must provide automatic bond hearings to immigrants detained six months or longer. Before this case, non-U.S. citizens facing removal from the country would languish in detention for months, even years, until the adjudication of their cases. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, this ruling should benefit thousands of immigration detainees across the Ninth Circuit, which includes states such as California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Arizona. Here is more information on how to request a Rodriguez bond hearing.

8. Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

After a long wait, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), with several new protections that are of relevance to immigrants. Most notably, Congress added “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by the U-visa, available for victims of crime in the U.S. The reauthorization of VAWA also allows the surviving minor children of a VAWA self-petitioner to retain the ability to qualify for lawful permanent residence in the event that the qualifying relative passes away after the filing of the application.

9. Federal Court Delivers Blow to Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law

legal settlement proved to be a death-knell for one of the worst immigration laws in the country. Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, HB 56, followed the same fate as anti-immigrant laws passed by states like Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina, when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down many of its most invidious provisions, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing an appeal from the state. Under the settlement agreement, Alabama can no longer detain persons solely for their immigration status.

10. Bring Them Home – The DREAM 9 and DREAM 30

In a bold act of civil disobedience, three undocumented youth leaders self-deported to Mexico, in order to bring back their previously deported counterparts. All nine were paroled into the United States, but spent weeks at El Paso Detention Center where they uncovered various different cases of abuse against immigrant detainees. Similarly, the DREAM 30 were another group of formerly undocumented immigrants who came back to the United States. While some were deported as part of a cynical political ploy, most were paroled into the U.S. and allowed to stay here to pursue their asylum claims. Their bold actions reunited families, expanded the definition of a “Dreamer” beyond U.S. borders, placed pressure on the Obama Administration to stop deportations, and highlighted the prolonged detention of asylum seekers who had already established “credible fear” of returning to their countries of origin.

We look forward to some more inspiring victories for immigrants and racial justice in 2014.

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