Human-Centered Immigration

The Current Reality

As an immigration attorney representing and defending undocumented individuals and families in immigration court, I know all too well the injustices and failures of our immigration system that our leaders fail to passionately fight against and correct. Almost 45% of our district’s residents are immigrants, but the American immigration system is a dream foreclosed. We build private prisons to cage immigrant children. We subject millions of people to living in fear every day, not knowing whether they can continue to live in our country, to make a livelihood, and to have the legal means and access to resources and jobs to even live here. 

Our inhumane immigration system, including its quotas, is stuck in the past from an era that no longer fits. Its exclusionary, racist policies and enforcement from the past (i.e., Naturalization Act of 1790, Asian Exclusion Act of 1875, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 197 and the National Origins Act of 1924), along with the couched mentality of keeping “the other” or foreigner out, is something that continues to hurt and restrict America’s own livelihood, morals and strength as a nation and people. To make matters worse, inefficient administration has led to a system that makes immigration near impossible, with too many examples to provide such as family-sponsored immigrants receiving green cards this year from applications filed in 1997. In addition, we’ve trusted a problematic group to help interpret and enforce the exclusionary, racist policies and political rhetoric of the system. Anyone who claims “immigration happened definitely in my day” is correct: they didn’t have to deal with ICE, which began in the early 2000s as part of the reaction to the President Bush-era’s “war on terror” and is an experiment that has failed beyond expectation.

We’re long overdue for a change that brings us back to the moral, immigrant centered country we have always been. As an immigration attorney, I know exactly where we can improve. Undocumented immigrants have paid over $27 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2017, with a total spending power of $200 billion. Yet, despite paying into our system and our economy, our undocumented immigrants are shut out of accessing the same government services as taxpayers who are citizens. No nation found on the principles of liberty and justice can claim that any human being is illegal without ever providing the adequate, efficient and humane pathway to citizenship they deserve. 

What Needs To Be Done

We must establish human-centered and inclusionary immigration policy that respects, celebrates and helps continue the essential role of immigrants in our nation’s past, present and future by first repealing: 

  • The disastrous 1996 immigration laws and related provisions that have created heinous policy like the three and ten year bars that prevent undocumented immigrants who leave the U.S. from returning for specific periods of time, which have forced undocumented individuals to leave the U.S. while they await citizenship, despite qualifying for legal status.
  • Mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
  • Permanent deportation, which has led to individuals being permanently excluded from reentry for minor violations like failing to appear for a court hearing.
  • Expedited removal, which allows for removal even without due process such as the ability to appear before an immigration judge.
  • The “Constitution-Free Zone,” which allows CBP officials to essentially “waive” Fourth Amendment protections and engage in arbitrary stops and searchers and to operate checkpoints up to 100-miles inside our borders. 

We must 

  • Clear bureaucratic backlogs to employer-based and family-sponsored visas.
  • Reclassify spouses, permanent partners and children of Green Card holders as immediate relatives.
  • Strengthen LGBTQ+ protections by allowing citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their partner even if the partner lives in a country that does not recognize marriage equality.
  • Allow children, permanent partners, and spouses of H1-B visa holders to obtain a work permit.
  • Create statutory exceptions to the one-year filing requirement for asylum seekers.
  • Provide expanded work permit authorization and protection to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in our country, including the ability to renew work permits when EOIR proceedings are on appeal.
  • Expand and expedite the asylum-seeker track by eliminating the 1-year asylum filing requirement, codifying certain particular social groups. 
  • Protect Dreamers and make DACA permanent.
  • Make prosecutorial discretion to dismiss or administratively close proceedings, permanent.
  • Reassess and stipulate an expanded number of visas for each respective category, including, clearing waiting lists like those waiting to receive permanent residency relief through a 42B grant. 

And we must fully fund and move jurisdiction of immigration and asylum courts from the DOJ, which is under the Executive Branch, to the independent Judiciary, to help empower our immigration judges to make decisions on a case by case basis.  This would reduce the politicization of our immigration system as anti-immigration federal officials can easily stifle proceedings within immigration and asylum courts, create backlogs and easily replace judges with political cronies like President Trump did. We must hire more immigration judges to reduce backlog as well. 

Furthermore, we must enact a just pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country. We must increase protections and naturalization opportunities for all undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, regardless of current age. We must abolish ICE and redistribute its necessary functions to the appropriate agencies, creating humane and responsible immigration enforcement. We must end mass deportation and mass immigrant detention by permanently abolishing and outlawing private and for-profit prisons and detention centers. We must decriminalize immigration by making improper entry and reentry a civil, and not criminal, issue. We must abolish and outlaw the use of DNA testing and facial recognition technology by immigration and border enforcement officials, and federal, state and local police departments. We must permit all deported Veterans who were honorably discharged to return to the U.S. and cease the practice of Veteran deportation, and we must automatically grant the option of full citizenship for any who serve in our armed forces. 

What This Will Do For Us

By establishing a human-centered and inclusionary immigration policy, we can continue to celebrate and protect the essential role of immigrants in our nation’s past, present and future, which makes our country great — in numbers, strength, diversity, economy and community. 

We can also make sure that our country continues to be one grounded in dignity, justice and equity. Immigrants  create a win-win situation for us all — visibly reflected in a robust economy with everyone having equal access to live, work, and pursue the American Dream. These values, love, and heart for the people make our nation great. By empowering and ensuring that immigrants and non-immigrants thrive in our country, we are doing the same for us, our communities, and nation. 

Click here to find immigration legal resources on assisting Afghans in the U.S.

Current Related Bills Authored by Other Members of Congress

References:

  1. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2020/visa-bulletin-for-june-2020.html
  2.  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/02/cuban-migrants-detention-ice-facility-new-mexico
  3.  Here in California, despite a state law banning private prisons, the four private prisons in our state - Mesa Verda, Adelanto, Otay Mesa and Imperial Regional - continue to operate with renewed federal contracts totaling $6.5 billion

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