The State of Immigration Reform: A shift away from empty promises?

Featured Commentary in La Prensa San Diego

By Nancy Landa

President Obama is right about one thing. As he said in his State of the Union address, “…the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” A sense of urgency was palpable in his request to Congress to send him an immigration bill in the next coming months as he committed to sign it into law immediately.

Without fail, border security was at the forefront; not only did President Obama embraced it as continued immigration policy, but also referenced it as a success of his administration with illegal crossings reaching their lowest levels in 40 years. It was probably safer for him to focus on such statistic rather than the other historic record he has set and for which he has received criticism by immigration advocates: the number of deportations under his first term, currently at 1.4 million.

It is promising to hear President Obama continues to stand firm on keeping a pathway to citizenship as part of the comprehensive immigration reform package. We are yet to see if Democrats will effectively persuade Republicans to warm-up to the idea of including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration plan, a potential contention point in upcoming rounds of negotiations. On the other hand, President Obama repeated much of the Republican rhetoric when he discussed the laundry list of requirements to “earn” this proposed pathway to citizenship: Get background checks, pay taxes and a significant penalty, as well as learn English.

As a former undocumented immigrant that faced the legal technicalities which prevented me to adjust my legal status in 20 years, I realized how complex and broken the immigration system really is. Often times I wonder if President Obama and the so-called bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ understand such complexity and if their proposals will actually reform a bureaucracy that is flawed in many ways. From visa processing wait times to detention and removal proceedings, the immigration system shows to lack the flexibility, humanity, and pragmatism that add to its dysfunction.

A two minute speech did not give enough room for elaboration aside from what we have already heard from President Obama on what he envisions in an immigration plan. The same can be said for the much anticipated official Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio. Although there are doubts if enough Republican support will be gathered to reach a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, there is no question they have been forced to be more receptive to work with Democrats toward a solution.

The devil is in the details, and particularly true as reform plans go through the deliberation process in both houses, which will give us a better indication if it will actually be “comprehensive”. But in contrast to four years ago, the immigrant community might actually see real change rather than empty promises. In the words of President Obama, “Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.”

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook, Twitter or her blog at mundocitizen.com

Compromise on ‘Pathway to Citizenship’ is Short of True Reform

Featured Opinion Blog in Latina Lista

By Nancy Landa

We are only weeks away from legislation been introduced to formalize the national conversation on solutions to the immigration issue the U.S. has been facing unaddressed in this manner since the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986.

Although we are seeing some Republicans now forcibly crossing the isle to support some type of immigration bill, it seems the debate is now focusing on whether a pathway to citizenship will be part of the reform package. Some reform advocates and media experts are pressing Democrats to take off the negotiation table a pathway to citizenship if it is the only way to strike a deal with Republicans on immigration reform that could potentially provide legal status to the over 11 million undocumented immigrants.us passport

In a recent opinion piece, NBC columnist Esther Cepeda is asking immigration activists to stop demanding pathway to citizenship, not seeing major issues if immigrants face long waits for citizenship, or perhaps not been eligible for citizenship at all.  One of her main arguments is that there is no major difference in the benefits and protections “legal residents” and citizens receive except for the right to vote.

Such statement oversimplifies the challenges that immigrants are increasingly facing in maintaining legal status which is no longer permanent with recent law changes. Permanent residents can lose their legal status in light of an expanded aggravated felony policy the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented. A non-criminal offense such as drug possession (as opposed to drug trafficking) can initiate deportation proceedings of legal permanent residents. This is an issue well documented by Amnesty International USA which also became very palpable to me during my own deportation proceeding.  I met many detainees who in large part had been permanents residents and were facing many months of detention, were very likely to lose their permanent residency and to be deported. Additionally, many of them were not high-priority criminals posing a threat to national security as DHS claims to be targeting.

I understand that in politics both sides have to give in to reach a middle ground. But lets first begin by understanding how this debate has been positioned. Republicans are trying to frame pathway to citizenship as one of the extreme solution to immigration reform, and it seems many are falling into that trap. The New York Times Editorial said it best in a recent opinion referring to their take of the House Republicans during recent hearing debates: “The false middle ground [they] seemed to be seeking was limbo: legal status without hope of citizenship. Or, second-class noncitizens.”

It is true that not all permanent residents will apply for citizenship. To begin with, the cost of applying for citizenship, now at close to $600, will be the first barrier to overcome for many that are struggling financially. Secondly, there are all the other requirements like years of residency, basic knowledge of English and US government and history etc. which will further reduce the number of citizenship applicants. However, this does not mean we should assume immigrants do not want to become citizens. Therefore, why use this logic to conclude that citizenship is an optional amenity to the immigration reform package? Immigrants should have the option to decide if they want to become citizens rather than having the immigration system decide for them.

The immigrant community has compromised enough and this point should be a non-negotiable for those that believe in true comprehensive immigration reform. And if you ask me, I think we have already paid a stiff price with over 1 million immigrants deported under President Obama who will not be able to benefit from any reform legislation.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter or her blog at mundocitizen.com

 

Updated: 15 Feb 2013

Guest Voz: If a Deportee Could Vote

Posted date: November 05, 2012 | LatinaLista

By Nancy Landa

MundoCitizen

Over the past few months, I have been on a personal vendetta against President Obama for his broken promise on immigration reform and on the record-setting deportations under his administration.

There has been very little proof that the majority of children, youth, and families that have been deported are high priority cases or that this is in any shape, way or form improving the security of the US contrary to what the administration states.

The Great American Boycott and 2006 U.S. immigration reform protests, on May 1, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have any doubts, you just need to look at my personal story.

In 2008, I had actually signed up to volunteer on the Obama campaign not too far from my now hometown of Tijuana, just across the border (or as we say here,en el otro lado) in San Diego. We were hoping to turn around the conservative vote there, not only for the presidential ticket but also for local candidates.

I remember that Tuesday night during the election rally, after working tirelessly on Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, we were glued to the monitor waiting for the election results. And the rest was over, we were celebrating with joy President Obama’s victory.

The first thing I said to myself was: “I really hope that the legal limbo that I found myself in would be resolved” not only for me but for the countless of DREAMers that believed in the HOPE he represented for comprehensive immigration reform.

But now four years later, all we have is over a million deportees and a short-term fix (Deferred Action) which allows only a temporary relief to undocumented youth that are yearning for an opportunity to be productive members of society in a permanent way.

The question for me now is, would I still support President Obama if I was in the states?

Well, before I can answer it I had to revisit why I even care now. I no longer live in the U.S. I should pay attention to Mexican politics right? Well, in a way I am. I have not gotten around to being involved in campaigns as I still have much to learn about Mexican politics (a whole different animal) but I did vote in our elections this past July, my first-ever vote in presidential elections.

But having lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years, with close ties to friends and relatives that live there is enough for me. Not to mention that we in Mexico should care about the elections in the U.S. as our relationship with our neighbor up north is very relevant to us.

Having said that, I return to the main question. And on this matter, yesterday I had a debate with my dad about the elections and just realized for the first time in my life since I recall discussing politics with him, he is favoring a Republican!

My hardcore staunch Democrat dad is holding Obama’s promise for immigration reform against him. And I understand that, it is very hard to be forgiving about this when you experience deportation.

And I also have the right to adopt that view. At the same time, when I take a look at the bigger picture and compare the candidates in what I see in the news, hear in their speeches, read in the newspapers about their views, all in light of their party’s political platforms, I am not too certain things will be better for the immigrant community with Mitt Romney.

I agree with the criticisms against the Democratic party as they are the “party of whips” that do not take strong stances on issues and cannot get their votes aligned to make things happen. And I do believe they are are ‘cop outs’ when they use the “we do not have enough Republican support” as an excuse for ineffectiveness around the immigration issue.

What is also obvious to me is that the Republican party has taken a much more antagonistic stance toward undocumented immigrants. Romney has stated he supports self-deportation, does not support continuing with Deferred Action, opposes the DREAM Act and is more concerned about securing the border.

Actually, I think he is much worse than Bush Jr. on immigration. He will not be the reincarnation of former President Reagan as many Republicans, especially in the Latino community, would like to believe when they state he would deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

The truth is, both parties have failed the immigrant community. I lived in the U.S. during four presidents, representing both parties and during that time, there were no immigration law changes that could have helped individuals like me become legal permanent residents.

And although a temporary solution is not what we expected from President Obama four years ago, it is much more than we have gotten from any other president on this issue in two decades. Romney will pose to be a risk to all those DREAMers that are slowly coming out of the shadows to apply for Deferred Action.

The last thing we need to see is for those borders to continue to be flooded with deportees, especially of young immigrants, because of the inability of either party to revisit immigration laws that have been inflexible for so long and do not work anymore for our current reality.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter @mundocitizen.