The Latest Crack in Our Broken Immigration System

Undocumented immigrants who arrive as children may be well into their 40s before they get a green card.

— by  

Diana_Torres-small-color-headshotIn a bustling room at the Third Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico a group of white and Latino parishioners gathered for a workshop on immigration. They wanted to learn more about the issue.

Julio Alvarez, a Mexican immigrant, was there to answer their questions. “Why can’t immigrants just wait in line and move here legally? Isn’t there a process to do that?” one parishioner asked. “The truth is,” Alvarez replied, “standing in line is a myth for the majority of us.”

Stone Cold Immigrants, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Alvarez’s personal experience with our nation’s immigration system illustrates this harsh reality.

Mexico’s weak economy pushed Alvarez out of his country in 1996. “When I decided to immigrate to Albuquerque, New Mexico I had 5 pesos — or less than a dollar — in my pocket and a family to feed,” he recounts.

Upon his arrival, Alvarez’s U.S.-citizen brother sponsored his petition for U.S. residency. As allowed by federal law, he included his wife, Myrna, and their school-age son, Edgar, in his application. He hoped that all of them could eventually reside in the United States legally.

That was 16 years ago.

Since then, Alvarez has established a successful automotive repair shop, bought a home, and saved enough money to send his child to college. But our broken immigration system has left him standing in that immigration “line.” And a recent Supreme Court decision just made things worse.

It takes the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency an average of seven years to grant immigrants green cards. Due to the structure of the immigration system that imposes a per-country cap, the wait now lasts more than two decades for Mexican immigrants.

As long as the petitioners’ dependent children don’t come of age during that period, they remain eligible for green cards. If those children turn 21 before the family reaches the front of that proverbial line, a Supreme Court majority recently ruled, those young immigrants “age out.” They lose their place in the immigration line where they may have stood for most of their young lives.

That’s a brutal reality for the Alvarez family.

Julio Alvarez has waited 16 years for his green card. He probably needs to wait two more years — or even longer. Meanwhile, Edgar will turn 21 and lose his place in the line he has waited on for more than half his life.

If Edgar, an engineering student at the University of New Mexico, applies for his own green card, he’ll be in his 40s before he gets to the front of the line. Tens of thousands of people face this Orwellian predicament.

The new ruling makes congressional action even more urgent. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat to David Brat in his recent primary means that the already stagnated immigration reform debate may hit a dead end on Capitol Hill. According to conventional wisdom that ignores the prevailing views in that Virginia House district, anti-immigrant fervor helped Cantor’s tea party challenger pull off a surprise win against a candidate who outspent him 40:1.

This is bad news for Edgar Alvarez, who will turn 21 later this year.

After he reaches that milestone and graduates college, he may be forced to move to Mexico, a country he barely knows.

If Edgar wants to stay here he has limited options: He can marry a U.S. citizen or resident. Or he can find an employer to sponsor his green card. Few employers make this commitment because it’s a costly and time-consuming process.

If Edgar can’t find a path to shedding his undocumented status, his New Mexican community will feel the loss. The young man engages in local politics and campus life. He pays taxes, mentors younger boys who are aspiring engineers, and works as a public health advocate.

How can the United States turn its back on the more than 560,000 talented, young adults that are in a situation similar to his?

Our nation can certainly do better than that.


Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. The author changed the name of the church and the names of the members of the “Alvarez family” in this commentary at their request. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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My Thoughts on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo

— by Rich Dunn, NVRDC 2nd Vice Chair

In 1836 Texas declared independence from Mexico, primarily over the issue of slavery, which Mexico had abolished in 1829. Mexico never relinquished sovereignty over Texas, and since slavery was an issue in the United States as well, it wasn’t until 1845 that a Southern president, John Tyler, formally annexed Texas as a slave state, precipitating the Mexican-American War of 1846-1847.

American forces quickly occupied 525,000 square miles of Mexican territories that are now California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and the western parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico as an assertion of its “manifest destiny” to become a continental nation. What was left of Mexico was then invaded from several directions, and after a year and a half of war, Mexican forces were forced to surrender.

Under terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico relinquished sovereignty over Texas and ceded the occupied 525,000 square miles in exchange for $15 million (4.5¢ an acre / $1.20 an acre in today’s money) and some important political concessions.

Article 8 of the treaty states that “Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico … shall be free to continue where they now reside” and automatically become full American citizens one year from the exchange of ratifications, so in the context of Article 8, “now” meant May 30, 1949.

Article 9, which was rewritten by the US Senate during the ratification process, redefines “now” as an indefinite “proper time” in the future. It also states that “in the mean time” they “shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.” As congress has yet to decide that the “proper time” for full citizenship has arrived, “in the mean time” means now [2013] and Mexican-born residents of Nevada and other western states still have treaty rights to live and work here, with or without a green card.

Isn’t it time our country followed the law and showed some respect for the people we agreed to share the west with all those years ago? The treaty has no document requirements, so can we please stop calling our Mexican friends and neighbors “undocumented”? And since the treaty clearly recognizes the right of Mexicans to be here, isn’t it time we stopped calling them “aliens”?

It’s also worth looking at what has happened in US-Mexican relations in the decades since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took effect 165 years ago.

Believing that the treaty meant what it said, the Census Bureau counted Mexican-born residents of the west as US nationals in every census from 1850 to 1920. Only since 1930 have they been treated as foreigners.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was in effect over 40 years before a joint survey team determined exactly where the border actually was, and then only to insure that the US Navy had access to San Diego harbor.

After immigration from Europe and Asia was almost completely shut down in the 1920’s, Mexican workers were actively recruited to relieve the resultant labor shortage.

When the Border Patrol was established in 1924, only ten agents were assigned to watch the entire southern border out of a single office in El Paso, Texas. And they were looking for illegal Chinese immigrants, not Mexicans.

There weren’t even any fences along the southern border until 1949, and then they were only put up to protect US ranchers from cattle infected with hoof and mouth disease.

Though there were mass deportations of questionable legality during the economic depression of the 1930’s, the Bracero program once again recruited Mexican workers to fill labor shortages in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Until 1965, there were no immigration quotas for Mexicans, yet only in the past 50 years have “illegal” workers from Mexico been considered fair game for exploitation that would otherwise be considered illegal, and targeted for detention and summary deportation that make a mockery of due process and basic human rights.

Awareness of the needless deaths, dislocations and disruptions of family life resulting from these draconian measures have become an increasingly heavy burden on America’s collective conscience, so the time has come for all of us to give serious thought to our moral and legal obligations stemming from Articles 8 and 9 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which is both an unfulfilled promise and the law of the land.

Make a call in support of real immigration reform

Please make a call to Representative Mark Amodei and ask him to say he would support a discharge petition that would allow an up-or-down vote on a meaningful immigration reform bill with a viable pathway to citizenship for millions of aspiring Americans.

Click below for a sample script and the number to call:

Take action now ►

Take action for real immigration reform.

When Congress returns, they’ll have 3 weeks before the current continuing resolution expires and either a NEW budget or a NEW continuing resolution will need to be negotiated and passed, else we’ll be facing a government shutdown.  Three weeks!  That means any meaningful efforts to pass a House-generated Immigration Reform bill will take a back seat to nowhere.  But, that doesn’t have to happen, the Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill  with an overwhelming majority of 68 Senators.  The House doesn’t need to create a whole new immigration bill.  The Senate’s approved bill is waiting at the desk in the House for action and the Speaker Boehner is refusing to put the bill up for a vote in the House. The Senate’s bill is far from perfect, but it does advance family reunification, protect the rights of workers, and, most important, provides a viable path to citizenship for millions of aspiring Americans.

But this immigration bill, which holds millions of lives in its balance, is far from a done deal. We have heard from our friends in Washington that there are more than enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill on immigration reform. But, not surprisingly, the House Republican leadership has been resorting to its usual grandstanding and political obstruction in an effort to kill immigration reform.1

We need your help to turn up the pressure on Representative Rep. Amodei. A parliamentary tactic called a "discharge petition" could bring an immigration bill to the floor of the House for a vote, even if Speaker Boehner continues to block action on immigration reform. If enough representatives say they would sign a discharge petition, then one of our allies in the House could even potentially introduce the original Senate Judiciary Committee bill on the floor, bringing back a better bill draft that doesn’t include the unnecessary, harmful and expensive provisions for excessive border-enforcement measures.

Will you call Rep. Amodei and urge him to say he would support a discharge petition that would allow an up-or-down vote on a meaningful immigration reform bill with a viable pathway to citizenship for millions of aspiring Americans? Click here for a sample script and the number to call.

We cannot let obstructionist politicians stall the momentum for real immigration reform by letting it die a slow death in Congress.

The time is now for real immigration reform that keeps families together, protects immigrants from violence and discrimination, and provides immigrants who are living in America and contributing to our society a roadmap to citizenship. Instead of focusing on an inhumane, costly and dysfunctional "enforcement" strategy, it’s time to switch to an approach that is both more humane and that makes more economic sense.2

The media has already been taking note of the momentum for a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill with pathway to citizenship on the House floor.3

Call Rep. Amodei: Tell him to say he would support a discharge petition that would allow an up-or-down vote on a meaningful immigration reform bill with a viable pathway to citizenship for millions of aspiring Americans. Click here for a sample script and the number to call.

Thank you for fighting for the rights of immigrants.

Murshed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Click below for a sample script and the number to call:

Take action now ►

1. Markos Moulitsas, "What the hell are House Republicans doing with immigration?," DailyKos.com, August 5, 2013.
2. Mahwish Khan, "When Immigration Enforcement Equals Inhumane Enforcement," America’s Voice, July 20, 2012, and Marshall Fitz, Gebe Martinez, and Madura Wijewardena, "The Costs of Mass Deportation," Center for American Progress, March 19, 2010.
3. Steve Benen, "Immigration reform’s odds improve — a little," The Maddow Blog, August 9, 2013.

Tell House Leadership: Remove Steve King from immigration subcommittee

Rep Steve King, R-IA

Remove Rep. Steve King from his seat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Border Security now. His hateful characterization of immigrants as criminal drug smugglers and his continued extremism don’t reflect the views of a majority of Americans — nor his constituents in Iowa. It’s time to show your commitment to real immigration reform by removing him from his position.
Sign-the-Petition
Why is this important?

Wildly irresponsible and hateful comments are nothing new for Rep. Steve King of Iowa’s 4th District, who has repeatedly pushed legislation against the children he calls “anchor babies.” But recently, he may have hit a new low.

In an interview with Newsmax, King slandered young immigrants who would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act stating that “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Even House Speaker John Boehner responded by suggesting King’s comments were out of bounds, stating “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.” And Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., suggested on Tuesday that “we as a nation should allow this group of young people to stay in the U.S. legally.”

Yet King has shown no remorse and refused to back down. In an interview with Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson on July 24th, King said, “It’s not something that I’m making up. This is real,” and responded to critics by saying “it’s enough for anybody to be offended these days. They apparently don’t have to use their brain.”

It’s time for House leadership to take stronger action against King and distance themselves from his hateful rhetoric.

As a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Border Security, King’s disgusting comments on immigrants have been highlighted by the media. And despite the fact that his views are completely outside the views of mainstream Iowans, he’s been given a national soapbox to distort our views. The fact that House leadership have allowed King to keep his position send the message that they’re not actually interested in real immigration reform.

But if Iowans and others from across the country stand-up and demand that House leadership throw King out of his seat on a major immigration subcommittee, we can hold him, and house leadership, accountable. GOP leaders know that showing leadership on immigration reform is extremely important to the future of their party. We can demand they do more than just give lip service to DREAMers and voters by kicking King off his immigration subcommittee seat now.

Sign this petition and demand house leaders show their commitment to real immigration reform by telling extremist Tea Party congressman Steve King that his hate speech has no place on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security now.

Sign-the-Petition

REFERENCES:

Rally for Justice for Immigrants and Immigration Reform, Wed 5/29

Rally01.fwWHO

  • Immigration Reform for Nevada
  • Mi Familia Vota
  • United Latino Community
  • Justice for Immigrants
  • St Teresa of Avila Catholic Community, a member of ACTIONN
  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, a member of ACTIONN

WHAT
Campaign for Citizenship launch and public assembly

WHEN
Wednesday May 29, 2013,  6:30 pm-8:15 pm

WHERE
Little Flower Catholic Church, 875 East Plumb Lane, Reno, NV 89502

RSVP and INFO:

  • Cory Hernandez …… 775-560-2233
  • Elvira Diaz ………….. 775-203-5759

The Campaign for a Path to Citizenship is launching a public assembly to lay out the Campaign and ask U.S. Senator Heller and Congressman Amodei to support the plan. This event will include Nevada State Senator Majority Leader Mo Denis speech about Why Immigration is a Justice Issue, testimonies from immigrants and prayers for unity.

The Path to Citizenship is a partnership of community organizations throughout Nevada launching an immigration reform campaign with a path to citizenship. This includes citizenship in seven years, including all eleven million undocumented immigrants, first phase of legal residency benefits, reducing detentions/deportations, and avoiding third class citizens. The Coalition includes: St Teresa of Avila Catholic Community, a member of ACTIONN; the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, a member of ACTIONN; ; Mi Familia Vota; United Latino Community, and Justice for Immigrants.

The U.S. is now facing a third generation of children growing up in homes with undocumented family members. The Path to Citizenship reforms proposed by the coalition promotes citizenship for all as an American value that is good for our families, communities and economy. Seven years is consistent with current law and is considered a reasonable amount of time for a person to successfully go through the process of taking on the responsibility and rights of becoming an American citizen.

The Campaign calls on Congress to establish a straightforward and well organized process that allows all undocumented immigrants residing in the country to come out of the shadows to receive legal residency. After two years of legal residency, immigrants should be able to apply for Green Cards, which generally lead five years later to the ability to apply for full citizenship, making the entire path to citizenship no longer than seven years. DREAMers who have received Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status should be eligible for Green Cards immediately, or within two years of approval of their applications under the DREAM Act provisions of the new law. Fees should be reasonable for working families, and workers in the informal economy should be able to apply for temporary residency and citizenship. Individuals should not be excluded from citizenship based on minor crimes, including those related to undocumented status and border crossing.

People approved for the first phase of legal residency should be able to work, drive, attend school, and travel out-of-country for family or educational purposes. Congress should build on the highly successful DACA policy. Legal residency should make it possible for immigrants to begin to fully integrate in to the community.

Massive spending on border security combined with economic changes in Mexico and the U.S. have resulted in zero net flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. It does not make sense to make a path to citizenship contingent on border security measures that are already underway. Instead as we maintain border security and enable people to apply for legal residency, we need to reform enforcement policies that are unnecessarily detaining hundreds of thousands of immigrants who pose no danger to the community. Our goal should be a smarter system that makes families safer by prioritizing prevention of violent crime, while sharply reducing federal spending on detention centers.

Increasing the opportunity for immigrants to legally enter the U.S. is important to the social fabric and long-term economy of our country, and to sustain a coherent immigration system. Federal policy should promote the value of family unity. The current backlog of immigration cases should be processed expeditiously. Any temporary worker programs should include labor and civil rights protections to prevent the exploitation of immigrant workers and to ensure that job access, quality and pay for all workers is strengthened, not undermined, and should not create a class of residents without access to a path to citizenship.

Looking for a carpool from Carson City, call Marty 775-690-3913