California, Chicago set the tone on rational handling of undocumented

A highway sign by Brave New Foundation shames anti-immigrant states

It’s happening! Reversing ‘cowboy-style’ anti-immigrant attitudes, laws like the ones enacted in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and programs such as Secure Communities, that unfairly target Latinos and Asians and bring about massive deportations of non-criminals and family separation is starting to click throughout the country.

Just this week, in cities like Chicago and states like California, notable advances in Anti-Arizona-like legislation were celebrated.

California is the first state to step up and pass a bill (TRUST Act) instructing police to release undocumented immigrants if they haven’t committed serious crimes — instead of handing them over to the federal government. The bill is a rejection of the federally-imposed Secure Communities, it’s a first for the nation and was sponsored by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. The bill goes now to the governor for signature.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court decision on Arizona v. United States, faith, labor, and immigrant rights groups in over 12 cities are coming together to demand local officials take their own initiative to turn the tide on Arizona-style laws and federal deportation programs like “Secure Communities,” says says Sarahi Uribe, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who is organizing several events across the country to promote legislature such as Ammiano’s.

California had seen an increase in deportations since the launching of S-Comm.

“We congratulate the California Senate on its leadership in passing this legislation, which is a model for states seeking to reject Arizona’s approach of immigration-based policing,” says Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, in an ACLU statement.

“Today’s vote signals to the nation that California cannot afford to be another Arizona,” Ammiano said in a statement after the Senate floor vote. “The bill also limits unjust and onerous detentions for deportation in local jails of community members who do not pose a threat to public safety.”

And yesterday in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the introduction of the “Safe Families Ordinance.”  The ordinance clarifies and extends Chicago’s existing policy of creating a firewall between federal civil immigration law enforcement and the relationship the City of Chicago, and especially the Chicago Police Department, has with its residents.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus applauded the mayor’s vision that sets Chicago apart from other jurisdictions, like Arizona.

“The City of Chicago has been at the forefront of U.S. cities in how it handles the reality that thousands upon thousands of immigrants, families and entrepreneurs are seeking opportunity in our city and the reality that the United States has failed to modernize its immigration system for decades. We no longer have a reliable and responsive legal immigration system. Too many individuals are faced with the impossible choice of abandoning their families or going around our legal system because they can find no way through it to meet their responsibilities as spouses and parents. And we give almost no opportunity to immigrants here illegally to take any action that would allow them to earn legal status,” Gutierrez said.

The Congressman also stated the difference is how states and cities are dealing with the consequences of the federal government and the Congress not facing Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

“In Arizona, they deal with this reality by enacting laws to sanction racial profiling and by condoning the irrational acts of cowboys — sometimes ones who happen to be Sheriffs and carry guns — and set them loose on immigrants or anyone who looks or sounds like an immigrant. We know from the experience in Arizona, Alabama, and many other places that this undermines public safety, wastes precious and scarce law enforcement resources and weakens the bonds of trust between police and the communities they serve and protect. In Chicago, we do things a little differently because we put public safety above political stunts, and we put creating a united, cohesive society over trying to draw dividing lines or driving political wedges,” Gutierrez explained.

The ordinance protects everyone because it allows anyone who witnesses a crime, who knows about criminal activity and anyone who wants to make the city safer to come forward and share that information with police. Most importantly, it targets police resources on criminals and threats and minimizes the amount of city resources devoted to holding non-criminals and non-threats, just because they were flagged in a federal database as possibly violating federal civil laws.

Gutierrez also said that instead of dealing with immigrants by using a ‘building a wall and rounding them up’ approach, the country needs to look forward. “We need laws that match the reality that people are here, people are coming, and that every level of society is more efficient if the federal government sets up a functioning legal system to deal with that reality and keeps up with our modern society,” he said.

A growing number of cities have enacted these progressive policies, including Washington DC, Santa Clara, CA, and Cook County, Illinois and more.

In a press conference in 2011, ICE Director John Morton said that that they estimate there are about one million undocumented immigrants with criminal records and that those individuals are their main target for deportation.

Per the rule of prosecutorial discretion, here’s the deal: if of an estimated population of eleven million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., only one million falls under the “criminal” label; that means that ninety percent should not be the targeted or profiled or deported, including about one million youth that would fall under the deferred action policy or the DREAM Act criteria; and, even better, could qualify to legalize their migratory status once they comply with the list of requirements specified in most comprehensive immigration reform bills brought forth in the past.

I think this new mentality involving fairness, practicality and safety is where the country is finally heading. If Congress could say: ‘ampay me salvo y salvo a todos mis Compañeros,’ before Obama’s first term is over, it would be fantastic. If not, deals like the one we are seeing in California will definitely change the tide, set the tone for a grown-up conversation about immigration and eventually open the hand and turn it from a menacing fist to a welcoming gesture.

Mitt Romney: no friend of immigrants

Mitt Romney

Even though the presidential candidate hopeful currently leading the charts, Mitt Romney, has said publicly he “supports” legal immigration and that he wants to “end illegal immigration so that legal immigration can be protected”, he has not given much detail of what that “support” would actually entail.

As a campaign promise on New Year’s Eve, Romney vowed that if elected President of the United States he would veto any type of Dream Act bill, fence the border and go after the employers that hire the undocumented “as much as the government currently goes after employers that don’t pay taxes…” (which may mean his administration will be relaxed in this area).

Romney, who is supported by anti-immigrant bully, Texas Senator Lamar Smith (R-TX), expressed he would give a “pass” to those who serve in the military but would never allow in-state tuition to youth who came to this country undocumented, even if they came as children and were brought by their parents.

Video: Romney speaks about immigration

A Pew Hispanic Center report (December, 2011) stated that nine-in-ten (91%) Latinos support the DREAM Act, legislation that would permit young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children to become legal residents if they go to college or serve in the military for two years.

The same report said that even though 59% Latinos disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling deportations of unauthorized immigrants, in a hypothetical match-up against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama wins 68% to 23% among Latino registered voters.

Romney’s latest declarations on the Dream Act and his association with the Lamar Smith’s of the world will ultimately hurt him and make the 2012 election an easy win for President Obama, who is clearly not a true BFF of immigrants. Pero… to us Latinos, ultimately, más vale malo conocido… que pésimo por conocer.

Gingrich’s ‘path to legality’ offer to people in country for 25 years is insulting

First, it was Perry who got heat from fellow GOP presidential candidates for charging undocumented young students in-state tuition and having the erroneous (or was it on purpose?) idea to call it the Texas Dream Act, which confused everyone and made them believe the governor is indeed a supporter of the actual DREAM Act, which clearly offers more than a discounted college tuition.

Now it is Newt Gingrich, who somehow gave the wrong impression (or was it on purpose too?) during the latest GOP presidential debate that he is on the side of comprehensive immigration reform.

Just to clarify here, Gingrich’s proposed path to legality would be offered to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for 25 years or more and have established community and family ties.

Let’s take our calculators and look into some quick numbers before we proclaim Newt Gingrich is pro-immigrant.

Ready? Now, this would apply to people who entered the country on or before 1986.

1986? Ring a bell, doesn’t it? Ummm… I remember something taking care of that pesky undocumented problem exactly twenty five years ago…

But let’s see how many people fall under this exciting proposal by the rising star of the GOP.

According to the nonprofit there were about two million undocumented immigrants in 1982. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided amnesty to an estimated 3 million people –a New York Times actually put the number at 2.8 million: 1.7 million under a general amnesty, plus 90 percent of the 1.3 million that applied under a special program for agricultural workers.

So… Gingrich’s proposed “path to legality” is an offer to almost no one.

At a book signing event on Friday in Naples, Florida, the Republican pre-candidate said that he was not for amnesty for anyone, only a path to legality for those who have been in the country 25 years or more. This path however he suggested should be determined by a community board who would decide which undocumented immigrants stay and which go, which were part of the fabric of society, volunteered, went to church and had children, and which did not.

Like the 25-year idea, I sure hope this is not the way things are decided.

Video: Newt Gingrich not offering amnesty. Although he has offered mainly the usual talking points: he looks for a secured border and to make English the official language; there are a few things he has said that could be rescued and should be implemented, such as offering an H1B visa to all foreign individuals graduating from math, science and engineering degrees in the U.S., instituting a guest worker program, and simplifying the system for obtaining visas.

Sister tries against all odds to have her brother’s deportation stopped

Victor Gomez and his daughter

Racing against her brother’s deportation, Elvee Clemons has tried everything. She’s spoken to authorities and appealed to the humanity of those in charge. She started a campaign at to send a letter directly to President Obama and has even reached out to complete strangers; all in the hopes her brother, Victor Gomez, gets released from the jail where he is awaiting deportation.

At 32, married to an American citizen and father to children born and raised in the United States, all that Victor Gomez wants for Christmas is to be granted the opportunity to apply and be processed for legal status without adding deportation to the list of problems already stacked against him.

“I know that he made a mistake and a hard one to repair but he is my brother and I love him and it hurts to see his family broken; not to mention that he is suffering as well. Being in jail for three months has been a learning experience for him, he is at a loss and is facing the consequences of his acts but he would love a second chance to become legal and to raise his children in a safe environment,” says Clemons.

Victor Gomez came to the United State when he was 15. He crossed illegally and stayed undocumented. He later married a US citizen and tried to get his documents in order in 2003. Seven years went by and the situation remained the same. So Gomez decided to rehire the same lawyer who was not of much help in the beginning of his journey.

This time his counselor advised him to return to Mexico, where he would wait until he was invited to attend an appointment to seek his visa.

Four months went by and Gomez, who was the family’s main breadwinner, the one that paid taxes and had never asked for assistance, grew more anxious and desperate as he waited in a country that was foreign to him while getting the news that now his wife had lost her job, got her car repossessed and filed for bankruptcy.

In August he tried crossing the border illegally and was arrested at the end of the month. He has been sitting in deportation jail since then.

“Victor has no life in Mexico he has formed a life here, in America, this is his home. His wife and children are Americans who don’t even speak or understand Spanish, subjecting them to move to Mexico for 10 years is ridiculous! What kind of life would they have there? Not a very good one I’m sure! People don’t just choose to come to America because it’s something to do, they do it because for many there is no future in their country, and it’s almost impossible to do it the right way from the get go. If you are poor and have no way to show that you could afford to come here they won’t even grant you a visitor’s visa; let alone to come and live here,” says Clemons.

Elvee Clemons is asking now that his brother is given the chance to seek his residency and adjust his status in the United States, and not to have to wait the 10 year bar from entry the law calls for today when an individual has entered illegally or stayed undocumented in the United States.

Members of Congress, including Senator Menendez (D-NJ), are working currently on this issue.

“I believe he deserves a second chance, not just because he is my brother, but because he is really a great individual, he looks after others before he even looks out for himself; he would really be an asset to this country because he is definitely a go-getter, as I like to tell him. He doesn’t just sit around and wait for the good things just to happen. He works hard for them and accomplishes them,” says Clemons.

Elvee, who has been a legal resident since 2009, says she is looking forward to applying for her citizenship so that she can vote and help choose people who would represent people like she and her family, when it comes to the civil rights of immigrants, both documented or undocumented.

Unfortunately, Victor does have a criminal record because of driving without a license; and he has been arrested before at a party fight, a charge that was later dropped.

“Victor wanted to do the right thing; and the idea of him putting in his papers to get his residence was simply to have a better opportunity to give his children and his wife a much better and secure life, because he knew things were just getting harder for undocumented people. I just don’t understand how in the many cases like my brother’s, the government would rather break homes and place children in foster homes, and spend billions on public aid, before they grant their parents the opportunity to be back with them,” says Clemons.

And she adds: “I think we all deserve second chances to make things right. And I believe that families that want to be together should be kept together.”

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