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Making Sense of the Immigration Bill

Media: 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x235,  E-mail: tyaku@thenyic.org
New York City  (Thursday, April 25, 2013)

Making Sense of the Immigration Bill

  On First Day of Senate Judiciary Committee Mark-up of Senate Gang of Eight Bill, Coalition Press Briefing Delves into Bill Components

As the Senate Judiciary Committee went into its first day of debate on the bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced by the Senate Gang of Eight last week, lawyers and advocates from the New York Immigration Coalition hosted a briefing to discuss specific components of the proposed bill.
 
The introduction of the bipartisan bill came about because of the determination of a group of senators, including New York’s Chuck Schumer, to put the public interest above partisan politics  and take action on this pressing national need. This breakthrough also happened as a result of years of effort by immigrants and their supporters to come together across diverse ethnicities, geographies, and sectors to tell their stories and keep the immigration issue front and center against all odds.  Historic immigrant voter engagement, mass mobilizations, story-telling, public education to change the terms of the debate, research on the economic impact of immigration, calls to Congress and the White House, sit-ins and other forms of peaceful civil disobedience:  together, these harnessed the political will of President Obama and Congress to tackle the nation’s broken immigration system.
 
Earlier today in Washington, D.C., members of the New York Immigration Coalition joined the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and Congressman Luis Gutierrez outside the Capitol to announce the next phase of the nationwide campaign for reform, which will include mobilizations across the country on May Day and marches on Mother’s Day highlighting the stories of children who have been separated from their parents and of families who remain at risk of deportation and separation.
 
[Photo Above] Congressman Luis Gutierrez in Washington D.C with Manuel Castro of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), Estela Vazquez, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East and board member of NYIC, and representatives from NYIC member group, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
 
 [Photo Above] NYIC member group, New Immigrant Community Empowerment is represented by Hildeberto Olivares at a press conference earlier today in Washington, D.C
 
“Today marks the next phase of our campaign for reform,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The introduction of the Senate bill is proof positive that we’ve made real progress and that immigration is no longer the subject that dares not speak its name.  But there’s still a lot of work to do with the Senate and the House, and to make sure that the bill that ultimately crosses the President’s desk for his signature keeps families together, respects human dignity, strengthens our economy, and upholds our values as a nation.”
 
Participants in today’s briefing emphasized that the Senate bill is just that—a bill, one that is not yet law and that will be debated in the Senate during this mark-up period.  Further process to finalize a bill that gets passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President is still to come.  What this bill has done is spark intense interest among the public. The speakers today urged the media to warn their readers and viewers not to be defrauded by unscrupulous individuals promising to help them apply for legalization.  There is no legalization program yet; there is no new immigration law; there is a proposal on the table in the Senate that is being debated; action is awaited in the House.
 
Key issues addressed at the briefing included:
 
  1. Border Security
    The last several years have seen a massive build up of resources on the border.  As highlighted by a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute, current funding for immigration enforcement is at an all-time high and outpaces funding for all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, while border crossings are at an all-time low. At today’s briefing, Rebecca Engel, of the New York Civil Liberties Union, discussed the concerns regarding lack of adequate training for border enforcement agents, the risks to civil liberties, and the continued over-allocation of border resources. 
  1. Immigrant Visas
    The bill, as it is currently written, establishes a new Registered Provisional Immigrants status that would allow the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States as of December 31, 2011, to obtain lawful status, become employment-authorized, and have permission to travel. The RPI provisions further allow adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident status (“green card”) after ten years, and to apply for US citizenship after an additional three.  Patrick Young of the Central American Refugee Center, discussed the new RPI status, and offered a comparison to the legalization program of the late 1980s. While Mr. Young commended the proposal in general, he also raised concern about the early cut-off date for eligibility, and the prolonged path to citizenship.
    To the great concern of advocates, however, the bill also drastically reduces the availability of family-based visas by eliminating the sibling category and diversity visas, adding an age cap for married children, and shifting away from the traditional family-based immigration system to a new, merit-based system. Steve Choi, executive director of the Minkwon Center for Community Action, spoke about these cuts and the likely devastating effect they would have on communities across the country.
  2. Interior Enforcement and Due Process
    For many years, the overly-zealous enforcement of immigration laws, coupled with a lack of transparency and due process in our current system, has been cause for concern.  As noted by Angela Fernandez, of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights, the current bill does not go far enough in assuring that due process protections are honored. Although, for the first time, the current bill provides for legal representation of minor children and mentally ill detainees, these protections do not go far enough to uphold the fundamental due process protections embedded in our system of justice.
  3. Reforms to Non-Immigrant Visa Program & Employment-based Visas
    The proposed bill calls for several reforms affecting employment-sponsored visas, and employment verification. It would make E-Verify mandatory nationwide, would increase the number of employment-based visas based on economic demand, and creates a new W visa to help employers address labor needs.  Michael Mandel, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, noted the overall advantages of such a system.  However, he also focused on concerns, including privacy concerns regarding a mandatory E-Verify system that has been known to be fraught with error.
 
[Photo Above, Left to Right] Angela Fernandez, executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights; Michael Mandel, attorney and representative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association- New York; Rebecca Engel, attorney at New York Civil Liberties Union; Camille Mackler, director of Training at New York Immigration Coalition; Steven Choi, executive director of MinKwon Center for Community Action; Patrick Young, attorney with Central American Refugee Center speak at a press briefing on the proposed comprehensive immigration bill and its components.
 
“A truly comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system must reflect this country’s founding principals of equality, under the law, for all.  While the Senate’s bi-partisan proposal introduces some due process protections, such as providing free legal representation to immigrant children or mentally ill detainees, it turns the clock back on other due process protections,” said Angela Fernandez, executive director, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “This proposal includes more criminal barriers which will usher more people into immigration jails and mandatory deportation proceedings, without their having an opportunity to present the circumstances of their case in a fair hearing.”

This bill represents an important first step for the many New York families that have for too long been forced into the shadows by a dysfunctional immigration system,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman.  “But it also creates problems that threaten the privacy and liberty of immigrants and citizens alike.  This is particularly true with regards to the national border.  We need to restore common sense to border security and enforcement, and with any new border security measures must come stronger oversight and accountability for Border Patrol. “

“Any reform to employment-based immigration must balance protecting workers rights while ensuring that businesses have the ability to hire the workers they need to help the economy.  The Senate’s proposed changes to nonimmigrant visa programs in Title IV are a good starting point for dealing with the future flow of temporary workers to the US and related issues,” said Michael Mandel, immigration attorney and representative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association- New York.

"We are very concerned about the potential impact of last week's proposed Senate bill on immigrant families,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action. “While there are potential benefits to increasing the total number of family-sponsored visas and in eliminating the unconscionable backlog, we are very troubled by the elimination of the "sibling" and "married adult children" sponsorship categories that thousands of our Korean, Asian and immigrant community members have used to come to this country and start a new life.  We look forward to working closely with our elected officials to improve on these aspects and strengthen our family-based immigration system."  
 
"The earned legalization is a long and complex path for immigrants who want to become citizens. While it has many humane provisions, the envisioned long waiting period for citizenship will deprive our neighborhoods of an immigrant voice at the polls every election day for 13 years,” said Patrick Young, attorney, Central American Refugee Center (CARACEN-NY).
 
In the coming weeks, the New York Immigration Coalition will be joining mobilizations across the nation on Mother’s Day and May Day to highlight the human cost of our broken immigration system and appeal to the moral urgency of repairing it.

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