Perhaps not since the Japanese internment camps of the 1940’s, or during the aftermath of 9/11, have immigrants been more fearful than they are now. Never have I seen immigration attorneys and advocates more concerned about what might happen to their clients and communities. And never has an administration been more brazen and hostile against immigrants in the name of enforcement and the rule of law.
So what can be done? The answer is, we raise the bar on the fight! But with so much to fight for, where do we even begin? The border wall? Detention beds? Raids? Protecting DREAMers? Defending sanctuary cities? There are so many important issues to advocate for.
What most of these issues have in common is the intent to remove people as quickly as possible, without due process or humanitarian consideration. These disastrous proposed changes will affect people who have been here since they were children and only know America as home; people who have been living here with their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident families; people who are victims of domestic violence or other crimes; people who are running their own businesses and hiring American workers; people whose only crime was to enter the U.S. without status, in most cases many years ago, and often not of their choosing.
President Trump promised that only “bad hombres” would be deported and that a system would be put in place for people to come back legally. But we are seeing the opposite. People are being detained and deported, seemingly randomly, sometimes during simple check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Removing mothers, DREAMers and people with longstanding community ties doesn’t make America safer. Removing them doesn’t respect the values upon which this country was founded. And removing them is ripping apart families in the most heartbreaking way imaginable.
For example, 23-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient Juan Manuel Montes was deported from the U.S. back to Mexico. He did not have a criminal background. He cannot come back to the U.S. because he is subject to a 10-year bar from returning. His case is ongoing and the National Immigration Law Center is leading that fight as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) refuses to share information with the attorneys about his interactions with officers.
Another example of someone trying to “come back legally” is Karl* from an Eastern European country. Karl has a successful business that employs a number of American workers. He is out of status and would desperately like to get back into status. Although he would be eligible for a nonimmigrant or investor visa, should he leave or be removed from the U.S., he would not be able to return for at least 10 years, same as Juan Manuel. His business would fail and his employees would be left without jobs.
If the rhetoric of this administration is to tell people “come back legally,” then a legal path must be created so that they can quickly return and reunite with their families.
While the ideal solution is real comprehensive immigration reform, that is a long fight and is not going to happen anytime soon. So, I propose that we tackle the 3/10 year bar with expediency. If we cannot stop the deportation of all immigrants caught up by a deportation force on steroids, maybe we can focus on a way to bring them back. And the only way to do that is remove the 3/10 year bar law that was put in place in 1996.
It is likely to cause an uproar and it will be an uphill struggle. But perhaps we start with what is happening now – remove the 3/10 year bar for only those who arrived in the U.S. before November 8, 2016 (election day). There is room to be creative.
There is no question in my mind that as immigration lawyers, advocates and organizers, the 3/10 year bar issue must be pushed to the top of the agenda because we need to have an option for those we’re not able to save before removal. This would give them a chance to return, to rebuild their lives, to care for their children, and contribute to our communities and country. Let’s be creative with policy solutions and give Congress a chance to take action on a small piece of the immigration law puzzle, with a simple solution to address the needs of today.
* name changed
Written by Tahmina Watson, Co-Chair, AILA WA Chapter Response Committee