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Notes from American Immigration Lawyers Association September 27, 2013 Conference in Austin, Texas

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Hot Topics from American Immigration Lawyers Association Fall  Conference in Austin, Texas, September 27, 2013

by Immigration Attorney, Ruby L. Powers, Houston, Texas

– We are all working and hoping for comprehensive immigration reform this Fall 2013 because if we get much beyond Spring 2014, our window for reform might be over. AILA and local chapters are organizing advocacy efforts.

– Reason to Believe denials for Provisional Waivers – AILA will discuss with NBC via a liaison committee meeting in late October 2013 and we are hoping for some more guidance and improvements in the situations.

– Many people are waiting for comprehensive immigration reform and have not flooded Ciudad Juarez like expected. Other attorneys have noted less cases due to suspected anticipation of reform.

– If no other ineligibilities, processing at Consulate in Ciudad Juarez for I-601A waivers will take 2-3 days (this doesn’t take into account biometrics and medical exam)

– Only 50 applications have been adjudicated in Ciudad Juarez for the I-601A provisional waiver as per Consulate General David J. Jendrisak with the Department of State Ciudad Juarez, Mexico post.

– CBP will unveil an online FOIA tracking system on Monday, September 30, 2013.

– New Fiscal year for US Government starts October 1, 2013 and if Congress doesn’t act, funding will be cut for many Government operations related to many aspects to visas and immigration functions.

– Online system for I-94s (paperless) do have issues and AILA and CBP have been working on improving the issues.

– Tactics to challenge mid-wife birth passport application challenges


Immigration advocates claim ” resounding win” in quiet August

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.

With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.

Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009. 

Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.

“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”

The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”

At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.

Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.

“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.

Snyder and Robbins said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that they always viewed the recess as a potential challenge, citing concerns that Republicans would return to Washington hardened against reform because of opposition from vocal constituents. “Recess is something that panders to the extreme,” Robbins said.

The advocates said they remained optimistic about the chances for final legislation despite the uncertain outlook in the House, where Republicans are likely to focus on fiscal fights until at least October and potentially the entire fall.

A bipartisan proposal from a group of seven negotiators is stalled because Republicans in the group say it lacks support from the majority required by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on immigration legislation.

While lawmakers in both parties have said they want to get a final bill signed by the end of the year in advance of the 2014 midterm elections, advocates said there would still be a window of opportunity early next year before the campaigns begin in earnest.

Boehner has said he wants to get reform done, and backers of the effort said their optimism stemmed in large part because of the electoral imperative that many Republican leaders see in winning over Hispanic voters in future national elections.

“The House Republicans either get it done, or they get blamed for blocking it. It’s as simple as that,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Sharry and others have made clear that while they want to help Republicans succeed, they are threatening serious political consequences in 2014 and 2016 if reform dies.

“We would love to be patting the Republicans on the back for finding a way forward,” Sharry said. “But if they don’t, we will be kicking their ass.”


Growing Number of Republicans for Immigration Change

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: September 2, 2013, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As Congress wrestles with immigration legislation, a central question is whether the 11 million immigrants already in the United States illegally should get a path to citizenship.

The answer from a small but growing number of House Republicans is “yes,” just as long as it’s not the “special” path advocated by Democrats and passed by the Senate.

“There should be a pathway to citizenship — not a special pathway and not no pathway,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told ABC 4 Utah after speaking at a recent town hall meeting in his district. “But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”

Many House Republicans said people who illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas should not be rewarded with a special, tailor-made solution that awards them a prize of American citizenship, especially when millions are waiting in line to attempt the process through current legal channels.

It’s far from clear, however, what a path to citizenship that’s not a special path to citizenship might look like, or how many people it might help.

The phrase means different things to different people, and a large number of House Republicans oppose any approach that results in citizenship for people now in the country illegally. Some lawmakers said such immigrants should be permitted to attain legal-worker status, but stop there and never progress to citizenship. That’s a solution Democrats reject.

Nonetheless, advocates searching for a way ahead on one of President Barack Obama’s second-term priorities see in the “no special path to citizenship” formulation the potential for compromise.

“I think there’s a lot of space there,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. “And that’s why I’m optimistic that once they start grappling more with details, that’s when things start getting more real.”

Once Congress returns from its summer break the week of Sept. 9, the focus will be on the GOP-led House. The Democratic-controlled Senate in June passed a far-reaching bill that includes a big, new investment in border security and remakes the system for legal immigration system, in addition to creating a 13-year path to citizenship for those already here illegally.

House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach, promising to proceed instead with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security. No action is expected on the House floor until late fall, at earliest, because of pressing fiscal deadlines that must be dealt with first.

The timing crunch, along with the significant policy and process disagreements, has left some supporters pessimistic about the future of immigration legislation. They find hope, however, in some recent comments from House Republicans around the country suggesting they could support a solution that ends in citizenship at least for some who now lack legal status.

Democrats, some Republicans and most outside immigration advocates are pushing for a relatively straightforward path to citizenship like the one in the Senate.

It imposes certain restrictions, seeks payment of fees, fines and taxes, and requires that prospective immigrants attempting the process legally are dealt with first. Once those criteria are met, most people here illegally could get permanent resident green cards in 10 years, and citizenship in three more. Agriculture workers and immigrants brought to this country as children would have a quicker path.

That approach is rejected by most House Republicans as a “special” path to citizenship.

“It’s not a bill I can support,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said at a Verona, Va., town hall meeting recently. “We think a legal status in the United States, but not a special pathway to citizenship, might be appropriate.”

Goodlatte has said that after attaining legal status, immigrants could potentially use the existing avenues toward naturalization, such as family or employment ties.

He and others also argue that many immigrants would be satisfied with legalization alone, without getting citizenship. That’s something many advocates dispute, though studies show that a significant number of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven’t taken that step — about 40 percent in a Pew Hispanic Center study in February.

Goodlatte has not provided much detail on how he foresees immigrants moving through existing channels from legalization to citizenship. Depending on its design, such an approach could touch anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of the 11 million people here illegally. So if House Republicans end up taking that approach, how they craft it would help determine whether Democrats and the advocacy groups could go along.

For now, advocates said that making immigrants here illegally go through the existing system would help relatively few of them.

Current law says that if you’ve been in the country illegally for more than a year, you have to return to your home country for 10 years before you can re-enter legally, which would likely dissuade many people.

Moreover, existing family sponsorship channels are badly backlogged, and many are capped. People applying for citizenship through their siblings face waits of more than 20 years in some cases, for example. On the employment side, existing visa programs are difficult to use and inadequate to meet demand, and also face long backlogs.

Waiving the requirement for people to exit the country and adding visas to reduce backlogs could take in a substantial number of the 11 million here illegally, arguably without being a “special” pathway, advocates said.

It’s a long shot, but the result could be an immigration deal between the House and the Senate, and a bill for Obama to sign.

“If the House wants to dis the Senate bill and come up with their own approach to the 11 million that has no special pathway to citizenship, we would be happy to work with them on a way that would meet with our bottom line, which is an inclusive, immediate path to legal status for the 11 million, and an achievable and clear path to eventual citizenship,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group. “They can preserve the sound bite and we can have the policies that we want.”


Immigration Advocates vow big Washington rallies to press reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published, The Hill, September 2, 2013

The shift in tactics comes as some leaders in the movement are voicing frustration that the more narrowly tailored activities used during the August recess have failed to maximize pressure on House Republican leaders to take up immigration legislation.

“I say that one of the problems we have is that Congress isn’t hearing enough from the American people, that we’re using too many sophisticated methods of communication,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier this week. “We’re buying ads there, and radio ads there, and hiring this lobbyist there. We need people power, and we need to concentrate.”

A series of demonstrations and rallies are planned for major cities on Oct. 5, ahead of a march in Washington on Oct. 8, Gutiérrez said. He said organizers hoped to attract 15,000 people in the capital to pressure Congress.

With budget and debt-ceiling debates expected to dominate an abbreviated legislative calendar in September, immigration reform isn’t likely to come to the House floor until October, lawmakers and aides have said.

Even then, advocates may have difficulty sustaining momentum for the issue, particularly if the fiscal fights drag out through the fall.

Immigration reform advocates defended their strategy for August, saying their goal was to “outgun” the movement’s opponents and generate headlines in local rather than national press.

“It’s been not huge marches on Washington, but those have been happening on Main Street, in key districts around the country,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, the group pushing for immigration reform backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And that’s something we’re very proud and optimistic with how that’s gone.”

“You do have to lobby,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The August plan, Snyder said in an interview, was for a “massive number of events in Republican districts, not necessarily huge rallies.”

“We’re planning to escalate the pressure in September, October and November,” he said. “We’re executing a plan that we made some time ago.”

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform said the relative lack of major activity in August was due to the slim chance that the House would actually consider legislation similar to the bill that passed the Senate in June. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House won’t vote on that measure and that any immigration proposal must gain the support of a majority of the Republican conference.

“As long as that’s the case, there’s not this great sense of looming danger out there,” said Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Beck voiced doubt that any plans for large rallies by reform advocates would alter the political dynamic. “I thought that was what they were planning for August. It sounds like more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see how more political theater is going to make a difference.”

 


Path Toward Citizenship or Legalization

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: The Hill’s Congress Blog, August 30, 2013

Controversy over a path toward citizenship is the most important roadblock to immigration reform.

Many conservatives oppose a path to citizenship because it’s unfair to reward law breakers with citizenship.  Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) said, “People that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.”  On the political left, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez  (D-ll.) said he, “is opposed to proposals that bar citizenship or create a permanent non-citizen underclass.”

To Labrador’s point, the heavy fines, fees and bureaucratic abuses that would prod every legalized immigrant on a path toward citizenship are hardly an award for legal behavior.  And to Gutierrez, a legalization status less than citizenship is no more an underclass than the millions of green card or visa holders that currently happily live without becoming citizens.

There is a simple solution to this impasse that could satisfy both camps: Create two paths.

The first path should be toward a permanent work visa where the immigrant cannot apply for citizenship unless he or she serves in the armed forces or marries an American.  This visa should be very cheap – hundreds of dollars – and granted quickly after national security, criminal, and health checks.

The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship. This path should be more difficult and expensive, something similar to the Senate’s path to citizenship. Those legalized unauthorized immigrants who want to become citizens should be able to do so.

For unauthorized immigrants uninterested in citizenship, who just want to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, a simple and low-cost path toward a permanent work permit would save them headaches, uncertainty, and cash.

This would definitely be consistent with conservatives like Labrador who say that unauthorized immigrants do not want citizenship.  “They’re not clamoring for it,” he said earlier this year. “It’s only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it.”

If Labrador is right, most unauthorized immigrants would choose a more affordable and easier path toward legalization rather than a more expensive and difficult path toward citizenship – if they were given a choice.

A look at the polls, however, indicates that unauthorized immigrants do want citizenship. In fact, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 87 percent want to become citizens. But if history is any guide, many of those respondents would choose a cheaper and easier form of legalization if it was offered.

The 1986 Reagan amnesty bill created an affordable and straightforward path to a green card and citizenship.  But almost a generation later, only 45 percent of former unauthorized immigrants have naturalized.  The 2013 bill would likely produce an even lower rate of naturalization, as the path to citizenship is much more arduous than the Reagan-era bill.

As a general rule, one-size fits all reforms rarely work well.  A path to citizenship is not likely to be an exception, although it’s better than the status quo.  Allowing a second, simpler path toward a permanent work permit that won’t lead to citizenship will allow otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, those who will be affected most, to choose their own level of legal status.

Conservatives can say that millions of unauthorized immigrants will be legalized and most won’t choose citizenship, while leftists can say they created a path toward citizenship.  Most importantly, the deportations can stop and immigration can be liberalized.  All of these sides win.

Left-wing interest groups claim to know what’s best for unauthorized immigrants, which is why many of them are pushing for a path toward citizenship.  Conservatives claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t want citizenship, so it shouldn’t even be offered.  Instead, there should be at least two paths toward legal status, one with citizenship and one without, and the immigrants themselves should choose which one they want to individually follow.


Labor Day Celebrations Should Also Pay Tribute to Immigrant Workers

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Trends Leave a comment

Originally Published: Immigration Impact, August 30, 2013

Americans are observing Labor Day, which pays tribute to the many contributions and achievements of American workers. As celebrations are underway, the holiday offers an opportune moment to reflect on the very concept of American workers. In other words, who is an American worker? Where do immigrants—who contribute their talents and labor to the production of goods and services in the United States—fit into the picture?

Numerous studies have shown that the effect of immigration on native-born American wages is positive when taking the long view.

Since the formation of the United States, immigration has helped fill labor supply needs to enable the country to emerge as—and remain—the world’s economic superpower. In fact, the United States’ most prosperous periods coincide with waves of immigration, and to this day, immigrant workers continue to be a key component of the U.S. economy.

Currently, foreign-born workers comprise 16 percent of the country’s workforce, and their contributions to the U.S. economy and society take many shapes. The U.S. economy benefits from the valuable skills and talents provided by foreign-born high-skilled scientists and engineers and medical doctors, but it also relies on the work of immigrants of differing skill levels in a variety of industries, many of which experience labor shortages. In some key industries, such as agriculture, food processingconstruction, or eldercare, the role of immigrants is vital. Because less skilled immigrant workers are frequently paid lower wages than their American counterparts, translating into lower prices for goods and services, moreover, American’s living standards are also greatly enhanced by immigration.

In spite of their many contributions, however, immigrant workers are continually portrayed by anti-immigrant voices as a threat to American workers. These fears are often overstated and fueled by prejudice rather than hard evidence. Research has repeatedly shown that, as a whole, foreign-born workers do not affect U.S. employment. Furthermore, both immigrants with advanced degrees and temporary workers boost the employment of native born Americans. To a large extent, this is due to the fact that immigrants possess complementary skills to the existing native-born workforce. Various studies have shown that foreign-born and native-born workers tend to have differentiated sets of skills and new immigrant labor creates new opportunities for the native-born labor force to specialize. In other words, the inflow of immigrant workers encourages native-born workers to pursue more complex occupations, thereby also enhancing wage outcomes.

At the same time, numerous studies have shown that the effect of immigration on native-born American wages is indeed positive when taking the long view. As economist Giovanni Peri states, “in the long run, immigrants do not reduce native employment rates, but they do increase productivity and average income.”

In spite of their many contributions, however, a considerable segment of immigrant workers does not enjoy the benefits that are attached to being contributing members of the country they call home. Because of their undocumented status, many immigrant workers have no option other than to work in the underground economy and be frequently subjected to multiple forms of exploitation. This situation is not only detrimental for immigrant workers’ themselves, but also for the country’s economy.

In an historic vote on June 27, the U.S. Senate passed an unprecedented bill to overhaul the immigration system. This bill includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, and if it became law it would improve the lives of millions of immigrant workers who are already living in the country, contributing to the economy and raising families. It would also lead to undeniable economic and fiscal gains.  As the House of Representatives weighs its decision on the undocumented population, House members must recognize the value of immigrant workers and the urgent need to bring them out of the shadows. As numerous researchers have indicated, a solution that falls short of offering a path to citizenship for the undocumented would be not only harmful for many immigrant workers, it would also be damaging for the U.S. economy and, therefore, for the American people.

 

 


Speaking Up for the Voiceless Among Us – Texas Civil Rights Project

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published by James C Harrington, TCRP Director

For Americans, Labor Day is that end-of-summer holiday which wraps up vacation time and ushers in the school year. We don’t remind ourselves that unions originated Labor Day in 1882 to pay tribute to workers, mostly immigrants, who were in the throes of organizing against an economic structure that grotesquely exploited men, women and children in factories, mines and sweat shops and on docks, railroads and ranches.

It is shameful we rarely recall and honor the brave struggle of these workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to better their families’ lives — and our lives. We have a collective amnesia about the nearly half-century of their suffering, jailings, beatings and sometimes death that brought about better wages, increased workplace safety, curtailed child labor, provided retirement and sick leave, and promoted the common good. It eventually gave us the 40-hour work week and eight-hour work day, and it passed minimum wage and overtime pay laws.

The battle goes on

We now take these hard-won rights as a given and rarely recall the immense sacrifice that made our lives better and these rights real. But the struggle is far from over.

The U.S. Economic Policy Institute reports that one percent of this nation holds 35 percent of its wealth. The top 10 percent receive 45 percent of the income, while the other 90 percent split up the remaining 55 percent.

About 46.2 million people live in poverty, a steadily rising number and the largest in the 52 years for which estimates have been published.

Texas has one of the country’s highest poverty rates with nearly four million people at or below the poverty line, pushing 20 percent, well above the national average of about 15 percent. Child poverty is significantly higher in Texas than across the country.

Join TCRP for our 23rd Annual
Bill of Rights Dinner

Featuring Keynote Speaker

Damien Echols
of the “West Memphis Three”

Saturday, November 9th, 2013
University of Texas Alumni Center (Austin)

Info and Tickets Online

Non-college-educated women, working full time, earn 77 percent of what similar male workers make, for which they suffer a detrimental cumulative effect over their lifetime. For African-American workers overall, the comparison with white workers is in the low 70s; and for Hispanic workers, in the low 60 percentile.

This all is partly tied to the demise of full-time jobs with benefits. Ever more common are lower-paying part-time jobs, which require a family to hold two or three to survive. And there are fewer benefits, meaning more out-of-pocket medical costs. Nor is the minimum wage any longer a living wage.

Workers’ rights are based on the inherent dignity of a person. Workers are not simply a means of production like raw materials and capital. They bring unique talents to their jobs. In return, they are entitled to work in conditions that enhance their dignity rather than detract from it.

Solidarity is the key

Martin Luther King Jr. always tied civil rights and economic rights together. In fact, the march we mark for its 50th anniversary was named the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

We belong to one human family — a family that crosses boundaries of race, class and country in an economy that is more globalized and interdependent every day. Our ultimate focus must be the common good, not short-term self-interest. We all must look beyond our boundaries and comfort levels to speak for the voiceless, promote human rights and dignity, and seek the good of all — and future generations. Solidarity is the key.

This is how we can best honor those who brought us Labor Day and made our lives better.


White House Official Says Immigration Reform Vote Not Likely Until October

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published: Fox News, August 28, 2013

The Obama administration’s domestic policy director urged supporters of comprehensive immigration reform on Wednesday to do as the civil rights leaders of the 1960s did – not let opponents defeat them.

Cecilia Muñoz, one of the most senior Latino officials in the White House, linked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with today’s fight for immigration reform in an interview with Fox News Latino.

“Today is about celebrating how far we’ve come and recommitting to the work that is ahead,” Muñoz said, adding that just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s addressed jobs, so does immigration reform.

“Immigration reform is just one piece of the agenda,” she said, “we can now quantify what it means for creating jobs, not just for immigrants, but for the rest of us.”

Muñoz, who has been a point person for Obama on immigration policy, said that significant movement on an immigration reform measure, or measures, was unlikely to happen before October. She said there are few legislative days in September, when members of Congress are to return from summer recess, and that their focus will be the debt ceiling and the budget.

That is later than the August deadline that President Obama had hoped for earlier this year, expressing concern that delays could hurt the chances of an immigration reform bill passing by December.

And in an interview with Fox News Latino a few weeks ago, Muñoz had said she hoped there would be a vote on a reform bill before October.  But on Monday Treasury Secretary Jack Lew set a mid-October debt-ceiling deadline, and some Republicans in the House are saying that it makes major action on immigration bills unlikely in that month, according to Politico.com

Muñoz said there’s no valid reason for more delays on House action on immigration.

The Senate, which passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, showed that “it’s possible to get this job done well and it’s possible to get it done in a bipartisan bill,” she said.

House Republican leaders have said they will not vote on the Senate’s sweeping immigration bill, and that they prefer to address the issue in a piecemeal fashion, through several separate measures.

“It looks like the House will bring [for a vote] some portion of five bills that have been ready since July,” she said.

“They’ve already been through the committee.”

Muñoz said the president is not trying to rush reform legislation.

“We would like a debate” on the House floor, she said. “We think there’s bipartisan support for a reform bill.”

Some Republican leaders who are key to what happens to immigration bills in the House have been particularly vocal in recent weeks about their opposition to the general concept of allowing some undocumented immigrants to legalize their status.

As recently as Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, assailed Obama for issuing a directive that calls on immigration officials to use discretion when considering detaining immigrants who have minor children.

Goodlatte said the directive undermines the efforts in Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the flawed immigration system. Many conservative members of Congress have criticized efforts by the Obama administration to loosen penalties for certain undocumented immigrants, including a 2012 directive suspending deportation for those who were brought to the United States as minors.

Muñoz balked at the criticism.

She said such directives are part of  “a series of building blocks” that were laid out a few years ago in a memo by John Morton, the then-director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling for prosecutorial discretion in the case of undocumented immigrants who were not criminals or tied to terrorism.

“We’re maximizing the law enforcement impact of what we do,” she said, by prioritizing enforcement actions according to categories of undocumented immigrants.

As for Goodlatte, she said, “You could argue with the congressman, or anyone else, who is dissatisfied with our broken immigration system, that is a great argument for fixing it. It’s now abundantly clear. . .the depth and breadth of the constituents who support immigration reform is [now] greater than anyone has ever seen.”

 

 

Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2013/08/28/white-house-domestic-policy-official-says-immigration-reform-vote-not-likely/#ixzz2dqMAqIJB


9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published: Washington Post, August 29, 2013.

The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.

Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Read award-winning novelist Teju Cole’s funny and insightful parody of this article, “9 questions about Britain you were too embarrassed to ask

1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s about the same size as Washington state with a population a little over three times as large – 22 million.  Syria is very diverse, ethnically and religiously, but most Syrians are ethnic Arab and follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Civilization in Syria goes back thousands of years, but the country as it exists today is very young. Its borders were drawn by European colonial powers in the 1920s.

Syria is in the middle of an extremely violent civil war. Fighting between government forces and rebels has killed more 100,000 and created 2 million refugees, half of them children.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.

Fighting escalated from there until it was a civil war. Armed civilians organized into rebel groups. The army deployed across the country, shelling and bombing whole neighborhoods and towns, trying to terrorize people into submission. They’ve also allegedly used chemical weapons, which is a big deal for reasons I’ll address below. Volunteers from other countries joined the rebels, either because they wanted freedom and democracy for Syria or, more likely, because they are jihadists who hate Syria’s secular government. The rebels were gaining ground for a while and now it looks like Assad is coming back. There is no end in sight.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

That’s a complicated question, and there’s no single, definitive answer. This is the shortest possible version — stay with me, it’s worth it. You might say, broadly speaking, that there are two general theories. Both start with the idea that Syria has been a powder keg waiting to explode for decades and that it was set off, maybe inevitably, by the 2011 protests and especially by the government’s overly harsh crackdown.

Before we dive into the theories, you have to understand that the Syrian government really overreacted when peaceful protests started in mid-2011, slaughtering civilians unapologetically, which was a big part of how things escalated as quickly as they did. Assad learned this from his father. In 1982, Assad’s father and then-dictator Hafez al-Assad responded to a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising in the city of Hama by leveling entire neighborhoods. He killed thousands of civilians, many of whom had nothing to do with the uprising. But it worked, and it looks like the younger Assad tried to reproduce it. His failure made the descent into chaos much worse.

Okay, now the theories for why Syria spiraled so wildly. The first is what you might call “sectarian re-balancing” or “the Fareed Zakaria case” for why Syria is imploding (he didn’t invent this argument but is a major proponent). Syria has artificial borders that were created by European colonial powers, forcing together an amalgam of diverse religious and ethnic groups. Those powers also tended to promote a minority and rule through it, worsening preexisting sectarian tensions.

Zakaria’s argument is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines. He compares it to the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, after which a long-oppressed majority retook power from, and violently punished, the former minority rulers. Most Syrians are Sunni Arabs, but the country is run by members of a minority sect known as Alawites (they’re ethnic Arab but follow a smaller branch of Islam). The Alawite government rules through a repressive dictatorship and gives Alawites special privileges, which makes some Sunnis and other groups hate Alawites in general, which in turn makes Alawites fear that they’ll be slaughtered en masse if Assad loses the war. (There are other minorities as well, such as ethnic Kurds and Christian Arabs; too much to cover in one explainer.) Also, lots of Syrian communities are already organized into ethnic or religious enclaves, which means that community militias are also sectarian militias. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has developed along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in Zakaria’s view, this is a painful but unstoppable process of re-balancing power.

The second big theory is a bit simpler: that the Assad regime was not a sustainable enterprise and it’s clawing desperately on its way down. Most countries have some kind of self-sustaining political order, and it looked for a long time like Syria was held together by a cruel and repressive but basically stable dictatorship. But maybe it wasn’t stable; maybe it was built on quicksand. Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a coup in 1970 after two decades of extreme political instability. His government was a product of Cold War meddling and a kind of Arab political identity crisis that was sweeping the region. But he picked the losing sides of both: the Soviet Union was his patron, and he followed a hard-line anti-Western nationalist ideology that’s now mostly defunct. The Cold War is long over, and most of the region long ago made peace with Israel and the United States; the Assad regime’s once-solid ideological and geopolitical identity is hopelessly outdated. But Bashar al-Assad, who took power in 2000 when his father died, never bothered to update it. So when things started going belly-up two years ago, he didn’t have much to fall back on except for his ability to kill people.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Yeah, Russia is Syria’s most important ally. Moscow blocks the United Nations Security Council from passing anything that might hurt the Assad regime, which is why the United States has to go around the United Nations if it wants to do anything. Russia sends lots of weapons to Syria that make it easier for Assad to keep killing civilians and will make it much harder if the outside world ever wants to intervene.

The four big reasons that Russia wants to protect Assad, the importance of which vary depending on whom you ask, are: (1) Russia has a naval installation in Syria, which is strategically important and Russia’s last foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union; (2) Russia still has a bit of a Cold War mentality, as well as a touch of national insecurity, which makes it care very much about maintaining one of its last military alliances; (3) Russia also hates the idea of “international intervention” against countries like Syria because it sees this as Cold War-style Western imperialism and ultimately a threat to Russia; (4) Syria buys a lot of Russian military exports, and Russia needs the money.

Iran’s thinking in supporting Assad is more straightforward. It perceives Israel and the United States as existential threats and uses Syria to protect itself, shipping arms through Syria to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas. Iran is already feeling isolated and insecure; it worries that if Assad falls it will lose a major ally and be cut off from its militant proxies, leaving it very vulnerable. So far, it looks like Iran is actually coming out ahead: Assad is even more reliant on Tehran than he was before the war started.

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

Oh man, it gets so much worse. But, yeah, let’s listen to some music from Syria. It’s really good!

If you want to go old-school you should listen to the man, the legend, the great Omar Souleyman (playing Brooklyn this Saturday!). Or, if you really want to get your revolutionary on, listen to the infectious 2011 anti-Assad anthem “Come on Bashar leave.” The singer, a cement mixer who made Rage Against the Machine look like Enya, was killed for performing it in Hama. But let’s listen to something non-war and bit more contemporary, the soulful and foot-tappable George Wassouf: Hope you enjoyed that, because things are about to go from depressing to despondent.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Because it can’t. There are no viable options. Sorry.

The military options are all bad. Shipping arms to rebels, even if it helps them topple Assad, would ultimately empower jihadists and worsen rebel in-fighting, probably leading to lots of chaos and possibly a second civil war (the United States made this mistake during Afghanistan’s early 1990s civil war, which helped the Taliban take power in 1996). Taking out Assad somehow would probably do the same, opening up a dangerous power vacuum. Launching airstrikes or a “no-fly zone” could suck us in, possibly for years, and probably wouldn’t make much difference on the ground. An Iraq-style ground invasion would, in the very best outcome, accelerate the killing, cost a lot of U.S. lives, wildly exacerbate anti-Americanism in a boon to jihadists and nationalist dictators alike, and would require the United States to impose order for years across a country full of people trying to kill each other. Nope.

The one political option, which the Obama administration has been pushing for, would be for the Assad regime and the rebels to strike a peace deal. But there’s no indication that either side is interested in that, or that there’s even a viable unified rebel movement with which to negotiate.

It’s possible that there was a brief window for a Libya-style military intervention early on in the conflict. But we’ll never really know.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

Okay, you’re asking here about the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle signals that it wants to launch some cruise missiles at Syria, which would be punishment for what it says is Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

It’s true that basically no one believes that this will turn the tide of the Syrian war. But this is important: it’s not supposed to. The strikes wouldn’t be meant to shape the course of the war or to topple Assad, which Obama thinks would just make things worse anyway. They would be meant to punish Assad for (allegedly) using chemical weapons and to deter him, or any future military leader in any future war, from using them again.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

You’re definitely not the only one who thinks the distinction is arbitrary and artificial. But there’s a good case to be made that this is a rare opportunity, at least in theory, for the United States to make the war a little bit less terrible — and to make future wars less terrible.

The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century. The institutions that do this are weak and inconsistent; the rules are frail and not very well observed. But one of the world’s few quasi-successes is the “norm” (a fancy way of saying a rule we all agree to follow) against chemical weapons. This norm is frail enough that Syria could drastically weaken it if we ignore Assad’s use of them, but it’s also strong enough that it’s worth protecting. So it’s sort of a low-hanging fruit: firing a few cruise missiles doesn’t cost us much and can maybe help preserve this really hard-won and valuable norm against chemical weapons.

You didn’t answer my question. That just tells me that we can maybe preserve the norm against chemical weapons, not why we should.

Fair point. Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is. But the reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror. In a world without that norm against chemical weapons, a military might fire off some sarin gas because it wants that battlefield advantage, even if it ends up causing unintended and massive suffering among civilians, maybe including its own. And if a military believes its adversary is probably going to use chemical weapons, it has a strong incentive to use them itself. After all, they’re fighting to the death.

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

That’s why the Obama administration apparently wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria, even though it won’t end the suffering, end the war or even really hurt Assad that much.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Short-term maybe the United States and some allies will launch some limited, brief strikes against Syria and maybe they won’t. Either way, these things seem pretty certain in the long-term:

• The killing will continue, probably for years. There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen.

• Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It’s very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it’s hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

• Russia will continue to block international action, the window for which has maybe closed anyway. The United States might try to pressure, cajole or even horse-trade Moscow into changing its mind, but there’s not much we can offer them that they care about as much as Syria.

• At some point the conflict will cool, either from a partial victory or from exhaustion. The world could maybe send in some peacekeepers or even broker a fragile peace between the various ethnic, religious and political factions. Probably the best model is Lebanon, which fought a brutal civil war that lasted 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and has been slowly, slowly recovering ever since. It had some bombings just last week.


Visa Bulletin Released: F2A Visa Category is Now Current

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

The Department of State has released the September 2013 Visa Bulletin. According to it, the F2A category(spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents) remains current for all countries.

Generally, individuals who are petitioned for by a lawful permanent resident, rather than a United States citizen, must wait until a given date or period before visas will be made available for their category. In some cases, individuals may have to wait several years before visas for their particular category are made available, prompting many immigrants to wait to for years to even put in an application.

As a result of the recent update, rather than having to wait until a later date individuals’ applications that fall underneath the above category are currently being reviewed and visas have been made available. These individuals may now be eligible for adjustment of status, meaning regardless of the date when the petition was filed, if all other requirements are met, they are able to apply for work authorization, and eventually a drivers license and social security number. If you are the spouse or child under the age of 21 of a permanent resident and have already filed, or would like to file petitions in order to gain a visa underneath this category it is advised that you seek legal advice as to how to proceed.

For more information on qualifications and the latest updates to the visa bulletin visit the USCIS.gov website, or the Travel.State.Gov website.

If you are interested in obtaining a visa to enter the United States underneath these conditions or filing an initial application, contact the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers in order to obtain a consultation and further advice on whether or not you qualify.


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