President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden’s first agenda is to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform with a groundbreaking legislative package and immigration bill that will grant a quicker pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status.

immigration reform

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Biden’s immigration reform bill: “Restoring humanity to our immigration system”

On Saturday, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, sent a memo to the administration’s senior staff that said the new president’s agenda includes “the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office,” which Klain asserted would “restore humanity to our immigration system.”

Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.

In an interview with Univision,  VP Kamala Harris gave a preview of the bill’s provisions. The new immigration bill will provide shorter pathways to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people, including automatic green cards for immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Wait times for U.S. citizenship would also decrease from 13 to eight years under this bill, and there would be an increase in the number of immigration judges to relieve backlog in cases.

This bill differs from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The key difference being that the proposed legislation “would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.

“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.

Hincapié added Biden’s team would be able to bypass legislation to quickly make a number of administrative changes.

She expects him to announce several executive actions that would expand DACA, overturn Trump’s 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and rescind Trump’s public charge rule, which allowed authorities to deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits.

Setting a new tone: “It’s not going to be about walls.”

Under Biden’s immigration bill, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.

“I think this bill is going to lay an important marker in our country’s history,” said Lorella Praeli, an immigrant and longtime activist who has been talking with Biden’s staff, noting that the measure “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

Praeli, president of Community Change Action, a progressive group based in Washington that advocates for immigrants, described the bill as “an important opening act.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” she said.

You might be interested: “Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

On the topic of undocumented essential workers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “It’s time for essential workers to no longer be treated as disposable, but to be celebrated and welcomed as American citizens. If your labor feeds, builds and cares for our nation, you have earned the right to stay here with full legal protection, free from fear of deportation.”

Additionally, Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, said that, “the public attitude toward immigration enforcement is at a different place in 2021 than it was at any point prior to the Trump administration. I think there just has been a lot of things about how immigration enforcement was executed under the Trump administration that didn’t sit right with a lot of Americans.”

However, he believes Biden’s overall approach will set an entirely different tone in the conversation of immigration reform in America. He sees a more hopeful, positive era ahead.

“It’s not going to be about walls and keeping people in Mexico,” he said.

While the ambitious bill is a great first step for the new administration, the bill will likely face months of political pushback on Capitol Hill by conservative voters, even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Still, if the broader bill were to die or take too long to pass, there are alternate venues Democratic leadership can take to legalize a substantial group of people — specifically the estimated 5 million essential workers now in the country without legal status.

One possible alternative would be to take advantage of COVID relief measures. Democratic leadership could decide to include measures offering legal status to essential workers via a process known as budget reconciliation. This process would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate.

“We are talking about potentially 5 million workers who have put their own lives on the line as essential workers,” Praeli said. “You cannot be essential and deportable.”

“Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announces shut down of South-Texas “Ursula” warehouse detention center. The facility gained national attention when media coverage exposed the overcrowded, unsafe living conditions and showed “kids in cages” back in 2018. CBP officials say the facility will be closed for renovations until 2022. The renovations plan to redesign the facility and remove the chain-link partitions to provide more humane living conditions. 

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Warehouse detention center shuts down

Anyone who has been paying attention to immigration reform issues over the past few years will be familiar with the term “kids in cages” and the deplorable living conditions faced by migrants who have been detained for prolonged periods in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The “Ursula” warehouse facility in South-Texas became infamous when new coverage revealed the harsh, dehumanizing living conditions migrants faced within the facility. Freezing, overcrowded, and filthy the facility packed immigrants–a vast majority of which were young children separated from family–into small chain-link enclosures. 

“Children were in freezing, packed cages and sleeping on concrete,” said Hope Frye in an article with the New York Times. As a lawyer who oversaw a visiting team of inspectors at the Ursula facility, she witnessed first-hand the terrible and upsetting conditions. “It was bone-chilling. Young children were violently ill, separated from their family.” 

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Since then, efforts have been made to put an end to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in these facilities. These renovations are only the first step toward reform at the border. 

“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the center as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an article with The Washington Post.

The renovation, which will be paid for by funds allocated by Congress, will include room partitions that will “afford modest housing accommodations” as well as updating processing areas and providing a recreational area for children. 

At its peak, the center housed over 2,000 immigrants, many being young women and children. The renovated center will significantly lower those numbers, aiming to provide space for 1,100 individuals. 

Ursula’s history and origins

The Ursula center was first opened in 2014 during the Obama administration as a response to a surge of Central American immigrants arriving at the border in search of asylum. At the time, the facility was a welcomed improvement to the previous cramped locations. During the 2014 surge, the bare-bones facilities were not equipped to handle the large influx of individuals, leaving many families out in the heat for hours in exteriors locations. The Ursula warehouse was acquired to remedy this and provide an indoor, climate-controlled environment.  

In 2014, migrants were processed and released quickly from the facilities so the population never grew as overcrowded and unsafe as it has in recent years. However, after the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration the facility soon became overpopulated as migrants were detained for periods of weeks and months on end in unsafe conditions. 

This past year, due to the pandemic, President Trump invoked emergency powers under public health laws to halt most immigration. As such, the facility has been unused since March with thousands of immigrants turned back to Mexico. 

In the fight for immigration reform and as an effort to offer protection to young immigrants, a federal judge ordered last week for the Trump administration to stop expelling young people who arrive on their own looking for asylum in the U.S. 

The future of immigration reform 

While the news of the Ursula facility renovations is welcomed news to immigrant advocates, this is only the first step toward immigration reform at the border. Advocates cautioned that more fundamental changes will be necessary to ensure that migrants are no longer stranded in detention centers for prolonged periods of time. 

“This feels a little bit like window dressing. It is overdue from the perspective that no one should be housed in cages,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, in an article with the New York Times. 

“The more fundamental shift that needs to happen is rigorous application of federal law and an agency standard that calls for expeditious transfer to more suitable arrangements for children and families,” Mr. Bochenek continued. “Nobody was really looking out for the kids. All they had were mats and foil blankets,” he said, describing the conditions he witnessed when visiting the warehouse as part of a monitoring team in 2018. “We talked to teenage girls caring for toddlers in cages. We looked over and saw a boy 7 or 9 years old. The kid was beside himself in tears. He was in deep distress and there were no adults anywhere nearby to find out what was wrong.”

You might be interested: November 1 National Day of Remembrance of Latinxs killed by Covid-19

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

It’s clear that the current system needs to be reformed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do his part to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to immigration and border control. He plans to cut off funds to the expanded border wall and restore the process for welcoming asylum applicants into the country while their cases are in progress. 

Renovations to the Ursula detention center facility are estimated to last 18 months, which will leave border agents without a large-volume facility if a new immigration surge occurs. Last month, over 69,000 migrants were taken into custody along the southern border. Most have been processed at smaller, less-crowded facilities. Still, this 21 percent increase in migrants since September suggests a growing increase in immigration as many individuals are fleeing Central America after recent hurricane devastation, economic distress, and coronavirus related hardships.

NJ driver's licenses

Governor Murphy signs new law expanding access to NJ driver’s licenses

Governor Phil Murphy has signed a new law (A4743) to expand access to NJ driver’s licenses. The bill give more residents of the garden state the opportunity to earn a license while decreasing the number of uninsured drivers on the road, improving safety. New Jersey joins thirteen other states including California, New York, and the District of Columbia, in allowing residents to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. 

NJ driver's licenses

Announcement of the passing of the legislation by Hon. Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy.

Safer, fairer roads for all

NJ Diver's licenses

Official Picture of Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy

“Expanding access to NJ driver’s licenses is critical for the safety of New Jerseyans and a step toward building a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all,” said Governor Murphy. “Allowing residents the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status will decrease the number of uninsured drivers and increase safety on our roads. I thank my partners in the Legislature for sending this important bill to my desk. 

The bill will create two categories of NJ driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards: federally compliant REAL ID, which is only available for documented residents, and the NJ Standard Basic driver’s license and ID, which will be available to all New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status. The bill also ensures that those who hold a Standard Basic driver’s license are treated fairly, prohibiting insurance companies from charging a driver more for having a Standard Basic license and prohibiting employment, housing, and public-accommodation discrimination against an individual for holding a Standard Basic driver’s license or ID. 

The bill will also require the Chief Administrator of Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to establish a two year public awareness campaign to inform the public about the availability of and the requirements to obtain a Standard Basic License or REAL ID. The bill also creates an 11-member advisory board to review the MVC’s implementation of the bill and the issuance of Standard Basic and REAL ID driver’s licenses, with a report for the Board to be issued to the Governor and Legislature containing its findings and recommendations no later than 12 months following the bill’s effective date, which is January 1, 2021. 

Latino community celebrates huge win

NJ driver's licenses, Senator Teresa Ruiz

Senator Teresa Ruiz (L) with Susana G Baumann, Latinas in Business Inc. at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo.

This bill is a huge win for the Latino community and is the culmination of over fifteen years of struggle for this legislation. Since the passing of the bill there has been an outpouring of responses in support of it. 

“It is incredible to imagine the impact it will have on the 168,000 children with undocumented parents and over 400,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz. “These are mothers and fathers striving to make a better life for their children. It is extremely difficult to navigate this state without a car and like every New Jerseyan, they have jobs to get to, children to drop off at school and lives to live. Not only will this law make our roads safer, it will also positively impact our economy and workforce. Other states that have approved similar legislation have seen a significant decrease in car insurance premiums and hit-and-run accidents. We expect to see the same he

“Since the founding of the Latino Action Network in 2009, this has been our number one legislative priority,” said Christian Estevez, President of LAN. “”Governor Murphy’s signing of this bill is a landmark moment for our community and the entire state of New Jersey. It makes our state, a more humane and safe place to live. The coming together of a wide range of constituencies made this possible. It challenges the tone of intolerance set by President Trump at the national level.”

“As the 15th state to pass this legislation, we are shouting from the rooftops that immigrants are welcome in New Jersey,” said Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). “As an organization focused on the inclusion of immigrants in this state, I am heartened by the progress we have made. It doesn’t stop here. We will continue to tackle inequalities through policy for some of the most vulnerable among us. ¡Si se pudo!” 

This bill will undoubtedly change the lives of thousands of New Jersey residents, affording immigrants the means to access educational and job opportunities and gain greater mobility in their everyday lives while also ensuring road safety. 

You might be interested: Lt Governor of New Jersey addresses economic growth topics with Latina entrepreneurs

Margarita Rodriguez, a member of Make the Road New Jersey, knows first-hand the struggle of navigating New Jersey without a license. As a mother, she has at times had to take three buses just to take her son to the doctor and to school. “My life will change now that I can have access to a NJ driver’s license,” she said. “This victory belongs to immigrant brothers and sisters from across New Jersey who have fought so hard for so many years to be able to drive, and for the respect and dignity we deserve. We thank Governor Murphy, who has stood with our campaign from day one, and to our incredible sponsors, especially Assemblymembers Quijano and Schaer, as well as, Senators Vitale, Ruiz, Cryan, Pou and Cruz-Perez, and to Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin for their leadership.”

2020 Census

2020 Census an opportunity for Latinos to count and be counted

The 2020 Census is important for our Latino community.  Why? Because you can count and be counted! 

2020 Census

Everyone living in your home counts. The census counts every person living in the United States regardless of their country of origin or immigration status. This includes children and newborn babies, grandparents, friends, nonrelatives, and everyone who is living or staying with you as of April 1, 2020.

It is safe and confidential. Responses to the census are safe and confidential. Your information is protected by law and cannot be shared with other law enforcement agencies—not the FBI, ICE, or even local police.

It is is easy and convenient. The census is available in many languages, including Spanish. You can respond online, by phone, or by mail.

2020 CensusYour answers to the 2020 Census will impact funding decisions for the next 10 years for important local services in our communities, including:

  • › Schools
  • ›  Health clinics
  • ›  After-school programs
  • ›  Public transportation
  • › Roads
  • › School lunch programs
  • › Playgrounds
  • › Community centers for seniors

The 2020 Census is rapidly approaching, and you can help make sure your community is accurately counted by becoming a 2020 Census partner. You can share the following information about the census with members of your community:

• › It’s safe and confidential. All census responses are confidential, and by law, they cannot be shared with law enforcement agencies or used against you in any way—not by the FBI, ICE, or even local police. The 2020 Census counts everyone living in the United States and its territories, regardless of their place of origin or immigration status.
• › It’s important. The once-a-decade count impacts your representation in Congress, determines how much funding your community receives, and provides statistics to help shape the future of your community.
• › It’s easy. The 2020 Census form will be available in Spanish and other languages. It can be completed online, by phone, or by mail.

Count and Be Counted! 

What does it mean to be a Census partner?
You can make a difference—no matter how much time you’re able to commit. These are some of the many ways you can get involved:

• › Use Census Bureau materials to increase public participation in the census. For example, post materials in Spanish and English in storefronts or share them on your website or social media channels.
• › Encourage people in your community to work for the Census Bureau by sharing our jobs website: 2020CENSUS.GOV/JOBS.

Why become a Census partner?
Invite Spanish-speaking Census Bureau partnership specialists to speak at your events and answer some of the participants’ most pressing questions and concerns.

As a 2020 Census partner, you will contribute to an accurate count of the Hispanic community. A complete count benefits your community and organization by providing accurate data to help with community planning and business decisions like where to open new stores, offices, and restaurants and what products to sell.

How do I become a Census partner?
Determining the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, which will shape future policies affecting your community, business, or organization.
Let us know you’re interested in a 2020 Census partnership by completing a short form at CENSUS.GOV/PARTNERS/JOIN.

When should I become a Census partner?
Today! It is never too early to start talking with customers, community members, and employees about the 2020 Census.

Count and Be Counted!

anti bullying Arlene Quinones Perez

Lawyers in New Jersey respond to President Trump’s immigration EO

Recent President Trump’s immigration Executive Orders were the matter of a joint statement made by a number of Lawyers and Bar Associations of New Jersey. We interviewed the President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, Arlene Quinones-Perez to expand comments on this resolution.

Arlene Quinones Perez President Trump's immigration

Arlene Quinones Perez, HBANJ President during an interview with Jersey Matters

“The Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New

Arlene Quinones Perez immigration

Immigration protest during the Women’s March on Washington 2017

Jersey, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, and the South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey denounce President Trump’s EO authorizing federal funding for building a wall on the south border, withholding of federal funds for sanctuary cities that fail to comply with the execution of federal immigration laws, blocking the entry of refugees and suspending the entry of individuals from Arab countries.

“… We join the grassroots social movement to defend the civil rights and uphold the Constitution, and we will continue to mobilize our members to get involved at all levels. We again applaud the action of elected officials who, following principles instead of politics, are speaking out against these injustices, and call upon elected officials at the federal, State and local levels to take action against these unconstitutional and bias-driven attacks on our communities. Something is wrong, and we need to speak up.

 

Arlene Quinones-Perez, President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey (HBANJ), informed LatinasinBusiness.us that several similar statements were released by the organization she represents.

“We kept an email chain among several organizations in New Jersey because we were concerned by the legal implications President Trump’s immigration Executive Orders would have on our system and the population. As attorneys, we believe this is a direct attack not only on immigration and immigrants but on the Judiciary as well,” she said.

USA-ELECTION/TRUMP

President Trump’s immigration Executive Orders have cause fear and uncertainty among the immigrant population

According to ABC News, President Trump’s immigration comments about the U.S. district court’s order blocking the president’s executive action and an appeals court upholding that ruling were not only inappropriate but also inaccurate.

Trump’s tweets mentioned a “court breakdown” as responsible for a surge in people coming from the seven countries: Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. However, he never mentioned that those halted by his orders were either permanent American residents with green cards or have gone through an already-extensive vetting process.

“We need to raise our voices to let everybody know that this language and this environment caused by President Trump’s comments are unacceptable,” Quinones-Perez said.

She also remembered Trump’s disqualifying comments on United States District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel during the campaign, as a “Mexican” who couldn’t be objective in his judgment of Trump University fraudulent maneuvers.

Deportation and raids are not new for immigrants

anti bullying Arlene Quinones Perez“Raids and deportations were conducted in previous Administrations; however, President Trump’s immigration measures have made the issue one of great visibility, creating fear and uncertainty in the population in New Jersey and around the country,” Quinones-Perez said.

This aggressive environment has created harsh situations for immigrant children in schools, adults in the workplace, neighborhoods and other places were they go to work, worship, receive education or healthcare, and other activities.

Some even have been attacked or profiled by police just because of the way they look. Stories about children being bullied in schools by other students and even teachers have been circulating around the country.

How this situation affects us all, immigrants or not

“As a descendant of a Puerto Rican family, I feel this language affects me personally and my family. We are citizens of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a status that recognizes our citizenship since birth. But what if this President decides to make the Island an independent state?” she reflected.

Luckily, Quinones-Perez also reminds us that the American system of checks and balances set up by the US Constitution ensures that no one branch of government would become too powerful.

Where immigrants and their families can find information

The HBANJ has been partnering with organizations and working with several cities around the state –such as Trenton and Perth Amboy– to set up educational workshops about immigration issues. They can also provide additional information to the public by contacting their offices.

“Another excellent source of information is the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), where qualified lawyers and professionals can be found for specific cases of deportation or other procedures,” Quinones-Perez informed and she concluded, “This situation is not going to go away too soon or easily. That is why we need to keep raising our voices.”

120 days the movie

Family separation, the dramatic decision of undocumented immigrants in film (video)

Undocumented immigratns and President Obama

Thousands of undocumented immigrants are waiting for their time to become Americans.

Every day, thousands of undocumented immigrants live with the fear of deportation, not knowing what could happen to them, their families,  their jobs  and their future at the end of that day. In an hostile immigrant environment fired up by the 2016 presidential campaign, immigrant hard-working families face the dramatic decision of family separation with “voluntary deportation.”

Gravitas Ventures has picked up worldwide VOD & broadcast rights to Ted Roach’s 120 Days: Undocumented in America, the award-winning documentary that chronicles one immigrant’s struggle to keep his family together after an immigration judge orders him to leave the U.S. “voluntarily” within 120 days to avoid an official deportation.

The politically-timely documentary is slated for a VOD release on October 2nd on many platforms, including iTunes (available for pre-orders now), AT&T, Amazon, Cablevision, Comcast, Google Play, In-Demand, DirecTV, DISH Network, PlayStation®, Rogers (Canada), TWC, VUDU, U-verse, and Xbox.

Voluntary deportation

Voluntary deportation is a hard decision for families of undocumented immigrants

The Immigration debate gets personal in this documentary from filmmaker, Ted Roach. Family man Miguel Cortes was detected as an undocumented immigrant at a traffic stop after living in the U.S. under the radar for over a decade. After receiving the judge’s “voluntary departure” order, Miguel, his wife and two daughters have four months to decide if they will send Miguel back alone, or change their names and disappear back into another American city to keep their family together. The film crew joined the Cortes family from the first day in court through Miguel’s last official day in the United States, revealing a hidden side of an undocumented society that few Americans ever get to see.

The documentary had its North American premiere at the Austin Film Festival and was selected for over 20 other festivals, winning 10 awards and four nominations along the way. The upcoming D.C. premiere will take place the weekend of October 22-25, with featured screenings in the Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival and American University’s Human Rights Film Series. The film will also screen at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival.

 

Twitter: @120DaysMovie www.120DaysMovie.com
Facebook.com/120daysmovie Facebook.com/gravitasventures