Majority of Deported AAPI Are Not Criminals

index_224_2355668558

Immigrant advocates have been very vocal about their displeasure at President Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration. “Where is the leadership and courage from President Obama?” asked Gregory Cendana, Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), “Asian Americans are losing hope.”

Indeed, it is personal for many in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as undocumented family members remain at risk for deportation. About 11 percent of the country’s undocumented are AAPI, mainly from China, the Philippines, India, Korea and Vietnam.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data group at Syracuse University which gathers nonpartisan information about U.S. federal immigration enforcement, reports that immigration court judges have ordered 82,878 individuals deported so far this fiscal year. TRAC points out that only 20 percent of these people are being “removed” because of criminal or any other activity that posed a threat to national security or the public safety. This statistic only rubs salt in the collective wound of immigrants.

Nearly six percent of individuals ordered to leave their families and communities are AAPI (4,778). Immigrants from China (1,840), India (793), the Philippines (344), Vietnam (251), Nepal (198), and South Korea (189) make up 75 percent of AAPIs being deported. The entire AAPI community is represented, including  the island country of Niue (2), Bhutan (1), Brunei (1), and East Timor (1).

Until immigration reform passes and the deportation of non-criminal immigrants stops, AAPI advocates will continue their protest.

“If our elected leaders are serious about fixing our broken immigration system, they must back up their words with actions,” said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “We will  continue to mobilize our base and make our concerns and needs heard from all across the country to Washington, DC.”

Advertisements

Legal Violence Against Immigrants and Their Families

Protesting ICE raids. (Photo: Flickr/SEIU)

Legal Violence in the Lives of Immigrants is the title of a report released by the Center for American Progress this week. I found the term “legal violence” unsettling at first, because while our legal system can be unfair at times, I do have faith in it. It’s more than being oxymoronic. Ours is a democracy that does not sanction violence, or ideally should not, on people working for the American Dream and who want nothing more than to be part of our society.

Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy Abrego, authors of the report, argue however that legal violence is indeed inflicted upon immigrants and their families through immigration enforcement. The physical, economic, emotional and psychological well-being of immigrants and their native-born family members are harmed by the cumulative effects of enforcement—detentions, deportations, raids, and traffic stops—along with the crippling fear and stigma that result from the enactment of stringent anti-immigrant policies.

One would think that the Obama administration’s immigration reprieves would allay many immigrants’ fears. The Morton Memo gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel leeway, that is, prosecutorial discretion, in deciding who gets detained and deported: mainly hard-core criminals and threats to national security. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows eligible immigrants to remain and work in the United States for a couple of years.

The administration’s deportation record combined with state-level immigration initiatives however have seared the dread of separation from loved ones into the immigrant psyche. As the report highlights,

Close to 400,000 people have been detained and deported each year since 2009, and an estimated 34,000 detention beds are available every day. New initiatives such as the Secure Communities program, which checks the status of people booked into county jails in participating jurisdictions, have added another layer to the web of Border Control, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other immigration agents operating across the country. On top of these federal efforts, some states and localities have passed their own anti-immigrant laws, such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070 … and Alabama’s H.B. 56 … These laws seek to criminalize all aspects of undocumented immigrants’ life and behavior.

Menjívar and Abrego illustrate that it is the “ever-present fear of enforcement actions” which impacts immigrants and their families the most.

“This fear can take many forms, such as a community refusing to leave their houses or take their children to school because of an impending raid, or an unwillingness to speak out against abuse in the workplace,” write Menjívar and Abrego. They add that even “those with temporary legal statuses, such as deferred action or Temporary Protected Status, also fear that they too could be victims of detention or deportation.”

The legal violence wrought by hardline immigration laws meant to encourage self-deportation not only impacts immigrant communities but our nation as a whole. We have created an environment that hampers the integration of immigrants who could otherwise contribute more to our economy, engage more fully civically and politically, and strengthen our society. We have turned our backs on our immigrant history and legacy.

Violence to immigrants might not be written into law, but it is certainly inflicted through enforcement of draconian immigration laws.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, December 14, 2012 and the Huffington Post, December 17, 2012.

Between Obama and Romney, Choice Should Be Crystal Clear to Immigrants

Mitt Romney at the second Presidential debate. (Photo: Flickr/barackobamadotcom)

During the second presidential debate on Tuesday a question about immigration was finally posed by an audience member. “Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?”

Gov. Romney’s response belied his hardline immigration stance. He may have paid lip service to his immigrant ancestry and acknowledged the need for more high-skilled visas, but he stressed that “we’re going to have to stop illegal immigration.” He swore not to “grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally.”

Rather than proposing a path to citizenship for those who have been living here for some time without papers, he said that he’ll “put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so.”

This, in his grand scheme of things, would encourage the 12 million “undocumented illegals” to choose self-deportation. “If they find that — that they can’t get the benefits here that they want and they can’t — and they can’t find the job they want, then they’ll make a decision to go (to) a place where — where they have better opportunities.” He did offer a way for “kids of those that came here illegally” to gain permanent residency, namely through military service.

In contrast, the President reiterated the need to fix “a broken immigration system” and articulated the need for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “I’ve done everything that I can on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system.” He reminded those who point out that he has not fulfilled his promise of reform, “I have sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term. And I said, let’s fix this system. Including senators previously who had supported it on the Republican side. But it’s very hard for Republicans in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, if their standard bearer has said that this is not something I’m interested in supporting.”

Mr. Obama also acknowledged the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants which is “good for our economic growth.” He reminded Mr. Romney that while the Republican candidate had said he would veto the DREAM Act, the current administration has granted a reprieve to young immigrants. The President derided the self-deportation policy solution of Gov. Romney and his anti-immigrant allies.

For most immigrant voters, none of this is new. A majority of Latinos and Asian Americans support President Obama because they are acutely aware that he and the Democratic Party have long embraced people of color and immigrants. They know, that at the end of the day, they will fare better under an Obama White House and a Democratic Congress, not only as immigrants but as hard-working lower and middle class Americans.

There is no denying that the Obama administration has deported a staggering number of unauthorized immigrants, including those who are not, in Mr. Obama’s own words, “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community” but “folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” This approach, in my mind, is a misguided and very unfortunate attempt by the administration’s to prove their law enforcement bona fides to Republican critics and lawmakers who never intended to and never will cooperate in enacting comprehensive immigration reform.

Nonetheless, for the few who remain undecided, what else is there to consider? Review the debate video, read the transcript, and check both men’s past words and actions. Gov. Romney is hell bent on getting rid of those people, those who are here illegally without considering that they are the parents, children, uncles, aunts, friends and neighbors of millions of Americans who only want a shot at the American Dream. President Obama in stark contrast, is determined to treat everyone with dignity while finding a fair and rational solution to an intractable immigration stalemate.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 19, 2012.

Gearing Up for Deferred Action

Starting Wednesday, you will be able to apply for deferred action (Photo Flickr/dreamactivistorg)

Beginning Wednesday, as many as 1.76 million young undocumented immigrants can apply for the reprieve President Obama announced in June, a program the government calls “deferred action for childhood arrivals.” Those who qualify will be considered on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, will be able to apply to stay and work in this country legally for up to two years. The application will cost $465 and require several background checks along with extensive financial, medical, education, and other records.

Requests for deferred action will be processed if the applicant is an unauthorized immigrant under the age of 31; came to the United States before her 16th birthday; has continuously resided in the country for five years; is currently in school, has graduated from high school or received GED equivalency, or is an honorably discharged veteran; has not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor; and is determined not to be a threat to national security or public safety.

Additional details will be released on Wednesday. In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has provided a hotline and answers to frequently asked questions on its website.

Many young immigrants welcome the opportunity to come out of the shadows and work or go to college.

Claudia Jimenez, a 19 year old Venezuelan native who has been in the U.S. since she was eight years old, shared her enthusiasm with the New York Times. Since graduating from high school last year, she has not been able to work or attend college. “Now I have something,” she said. “I can actually do something with my life. Before it was like my life was on pause.”

But others are wary. Time magazine features Karla Zapata who, while ecstatic over the prospect of getting a work permit, expressed her fears.

After years of living in the shadows, Zapata and her friends aren’t convinced it’s a good idea to give their personal information to the government when there are no guarantees that President Obama’s new program for young immigrants will last and no promise they’ll be accepted into it in the first place. Some see that ambiguity as an invitation for possible deportation.

Groups have rallied to support young immigrants like Jimenez and Zapata who hope to begin the process of legalizing their status (the program is not an amnesty and does not provide a path to citizenship).

The New York Daily News reports:

United We Dream, a network of youth-led organizations across the country, launched a national campaign with its partners last week, to offer assistance to as many of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers eligible to take advantage of the program … The campaign, titled We Own the DREAM/¡Unete Al Sueño!, hopes to guarantee that there is a national and local infrastructure to support Dreamers who are eligible for this opportunity to remain in the United States to complete their education and contribute to the economy.

Key partners in this infrastructure include the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG-NIP).

Young people who apply for deferred action will need all the help they can get to navigate what’s likely to be a cumbersome and confusing process. Since the president’s announcement, immigrant advocates have warned about unscrupulous attorneys, notarios(public notaries) and “immigration consultants” who are out to fleece desperate immigrants and their families.

At the end of the day the deferred action program is only a temporary reprieve. Only comprehensive immigration reform through legislation will once and for all address the issue of unauthorized immigration as well as other shortcomings of our immigration system.

As November fast approaches, it is crucial to know where the presidential candidates stand on all of this. We know that President Obama supports DREAMers. What about Governor Romney?

In reaction to the administration’s June announcement, he said “I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order of course is just a short-term matter … It could be reversed by subsequent presidents.” He may have been referring to himself after infamously declaring during the Republican primaries that he thought the DREAM Act is a mistake and he would veto it.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 14, 2012.

Obama’s Immigration Reprieve: ‘The Right Thing To Do,’ But Not Good Enough

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

President Obama finally acted on behalf of undocumented youth because “it is the right thing to do,” he said Friday. He announced temporary reprieve for DREAMers, as they are also known, during a press briefing at the White House Rose Garden.

“It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “They’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country—to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents—or because of the inaction of politicians.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano acted on the president’s mandate and issued a memorandum explaining how prosecutorial discretion will be used. Individuals under 30 years of age can benefit if they are able to prove that they were brought into the country when they were younger than 16; have lived here for at least five years; are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and have no criminal record or pose no threat to national security or public safety. Importantly, eligible youth will be able to apply for work permits.

This major immigration policy could affect up to 1.4 million children and young adults, based on the Pew Hispanic Center estimates. This number, almost twice the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimate of 800,000 beneficiaries, includes 700,000 immigrants between the ages 18 to 30 who are currently enrolled in school or have graduated from high school and an additional 700,000 who are under the age of 18 and are enrolled in school.

The president made it clear that “this is not amnesty, this is not immunity.  This is not a path to citizenship.  It’s not a permanent fix.  This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

Precisely because this is a temporary measure with a path to nowhere, it leaves DREAMers with many questions and keeps them uncertain about their future. This is an order which could instantly be revoked by a President Romney after all. For all these reasons, undocumented youth and their advocates are cautiously celebrating the directive.

“The devil is in the details, and we don’t have a lot of details right now,” Daniel Rodriguez, a 26 year old DREAMer, told the New York Daily News. “We’re trying to get them. The president needs to execute his promise and implement this action immediately. We cannot wait until after the election.”

Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian American Justice Center applauded President Obama’s action but said it wasn’t enough. “While this is forward movement on our immigration policies, we can’t stop here. We call on Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and all undocumented immigrants,” Moua said.

I have no doubt that the President believes granting a reprieve to these young Americans is the right thing to do. And it is. He was also spurred by relentless pressure from the DREAMers themselves and their advocates, including very vocal ones in the Democratic Party. Moreover, this was a brilliant political move that took back the DREAM Act discourse from Marco Rubio and the GOP, locked in the Latino vote, and cornered Mitt Romney who has yet to say whether he would rescind this reprieve or not if he wins the presidency.

The President did good, but not enough. Comprehensive immigration reform has to be achieved. If does get re-elected, he and his party better deliver.

Originally posted in Feet in 2 Worlds, June 18, 2012.

Please Etch-A-Sketch Away the Self-Deportation Myth

Undocumented immigrants protest Alabama's harsh new immigration law (Photo: Dreamactivist)

This is not what self-deportation looks like:Undocumented immigrants protest Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56. (Photo: DreamActivist)

Mitt Romney revealed how he would address the issue of 11 million unauthorized immigrants during a Republican primary debate earlier this year:

“The answer is self-deportation, which is that people decide that they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” the presumptive GOP presidential candidate said.

The strategy is also known as “attrition through enforcement,” which anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA describes as the “enforcement of all the laws already on the books” at all levels of government to “make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.”

Proponents of the approach in Alabama assert that their tough immigration law has already led to the self-deportation of many undocumented immigrants. They present the state’s falling unemployment rate as evidence of this trend.

“If you compare our unemployment rate drop to the region, our drop was much more quick,” State Sen. Scott Beason, a sponsor of Alabama’s HB 56, said. “I have been asking for months for the people who say [the law] had nothing to do with it, to explain to me what did it. Why are we so much faster, and why did it start in October?”

So does “attrition by enforcement” truly work?

new report by the Immigration Policy Center claims it does not. Dr. Alexandra Filindra, author of the report, titled The Myth of Self-Deportation, says the problem with the self-deportation theory rests in the assumption that immigrants will make an economic decision to leave.  She doesn’t buy the idea that undocumented immigrants will leave voluntarily rather than risk getting arrested, detained, and eventually deported.

Filindra counters this theory with preliminary evidence from studies conducted in states where draconian immigration laws have been passed showing that the immigrant population has largely remained in place.

Many economists say the presumed correlation between HB 56 and Alabama’s unemployment rate is faulty. Rather, they contend the fall in the state’s unemployment numbers is a result of people dropping out of the workforce while job creation remains more or less flat.

“The proponents of the immigration law really have no solid, defendable, reasonable evidence other than the desire to link those two together,” Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University Montgomery, told the Montgomery Adviser.

Ahmad Ijaz, an economist with the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, added that “it’s mostly because as the jobs are hard to get during the recession, a lot of people give up on looking for a job.”

Juan Pedroza, whose research is cited by Filindra, writes that “it’s tough to tell whether (and how many) immigrants have left a community if you are looking right after a state passes a law. It can take years of evidence to test claims of a mass exodus.”

Pedroza also mentions an important variable in any undocumented immigrant’s equation: his family. He writes, “immigrant families with school-age children have local roots. Parents have invested a great deal in their children’s future by settling down and enrolling their children in school. These families rank among the least likely to flee for good.” In other words, jobs aren’t the only incentive to remaining in a locale.

So, as presidential candidate Romney moves to the center on immigration and shakes his Etch-A-Sketch, he might as well erase his preferred method for dealing with our unauthorized neighbors. May I humbly suggest a reasonable and fair solution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants?  A majority of Americans — including Republicans — favor a strategy that includes both enforcement and a path to citizenship.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, May 4, 2012.

Romney on Immigration: Hardliner, Not Flip-Flopper

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaking in 2010. (Photo: World Affairs Council Philadelphia/flickr)

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been accused of flip-flopping on issues, chief among them immigration. But has his stance on immigration really shifted that much?

Finger-pointers wonder how Romney has the chutzpah to accuse Gingrich of being soft on immigration, claiming the former Speaker was opening “a new doorway to amnesty,” when he once shared Gingrich’s position that long-time residents without papers should be granted a path to citizenship.

In 2005, then Massachusetts Governor Romney told the Boston Globe that it was not “practical or economic for the country’’ to deport all undocumented immigrants. “These people contribute in many cases to our economy and to our society,’’ he said.

A year later, Romney told Bloomberg News that immigrants who are in the country unlawfully “are not going to be rounded up and box-carried out.”

He added that “we should have those individuals who are here illegally begin a process either of returning to their homes — particularly those that are unable to be here without government support or those who are involved in crime –or beginning a process of registering for a citizenship, applying for citizenship and then carrying out the process necessary to get there.”

But Romney was far from being an advocate for immigrants. Westy Egmont, a Boston College professor who served as Co-Chair of Governor Romney’s Advisory Committee on Immigrants and Refugees, recalls his interaction with Romney during this period.

“He started as a person without much opinion or a position on immigration,” Egmont said. “He didn’t want to meet with the advisory committee on immigrants and refugees which was odd since we were his appointees, there to serve him at his behest.”

Eva Millona, Executive Director of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition who served as Co-Chair with Egmont shares the impression.

“He was disengaged as a governor, not just only on immigration but on other issues as well,” Millona said. “He wasn’t very much present in the state.

Romney’s detachment did not mean that he had a soft spot for unauthorized immigrants.

Egmont remembers that Romney “was increasingly moving to the right” and “was increasingly looking for ways to demonstrate a hardline stance towards undocumented immigrants and as he left office, he signed up Massachusetts to the 287g program.”

Millona believes that Romney, though disengaged, has always been a hardliner on immigration issues even while Governor of Massachusetts. “He has been consistent and not friendly to immigration policy and to immigrants and refugees,” she said.

Indeed, while governor, Romney vetoed legislation that would have afforded in-state tuition for undocumented students; opposed driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants; requested a federal investigation of companies that allegedly hired workers without documents; and fought against bilingual education in public schools.

Although Romney may have once thought it impractical to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants, he has consistently said that they should fall back in line behind those who play by the rules. Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director, said that he “absolutely opposes” allowing unauthorized immigrants “to cut in line.”

“Those people who had come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship,” Romney said during a 2007 “Meet the Press” interview, “but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally.”

It’s less of a flip-flop, then, rather than soft lines becoming hard. Or, one could argue that it’s simply a lack of clarity on Romney’s part.  Should all immigrants without papers be sent back en masse to their native countries or only certain individuals?

Millona argued that Romney “lacks understanding of U.S. immigration policy, that it’s an outdated policy, that it needs to be repaired.” She thinks that the presidential hopeful does not know “what needs to be reformed in terms of national immigration policy and national integration policy.”

Perhaps so. But at this stage of the game, Romney is more intent on proving to the base that he is the most conservative when it comes to immigration than showing his understanding of the issue.

Originally posted on WNYC It’s A Free Country and Feet in 2 Worlds, December 20, 2011.

Gay Binational Couples Fight Back

gaymarriage

A gay couple outside of the City Clerk’s office in lower Manhattan on July 24. (Photo: asterix611/flickr)

After last week’s commentary on the response of gay binational couples to new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deportation guidelines, I received quite a few heated reactions.

Kathy Drasky, whose story is featured in Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Lawsent me a link to an online petition spearheaded by the organization she co-founded, Out4Immigration, an all-volunteer grassroots group made up of binational couples and their supporters.

The petition criticizes DHS, which the group says has left the LGBT community “disappointed” because the new guidelines “fail to specifically mention gay and lesbian binational couples,” who are in danger of deportation because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents them from equal protection. It also offers a way for people to get involved.

“We like to go on record and empower as many of us as possible,” Drasky told me via email. “So many couples are living in exile, or under the radar, or from visa status to visa status that they find it hard to get involved and do something.  We strongly encourage people to use these petitions to educate their friends, families, colleagues and communities about our issue. What same-sex binational couples face is a very complex issue. It is rarely even understood by other LGBT people, so our work is cut out for us.”

C., who asked not be identified since his husband is an undocumented immigrant, said, “You must have seen the video of the cop pepper-spraying the students at UC Davis. The rage I feel at the sight of that is the rage I have so often felt at our government’s failure of its LGBT citizens where it comes to immigration. The very fact that it continues to let itself tear committed families and couples apart, squandering resources for all involved, is nothing but gratuitous cruelty, just as the officer’s stupid display of power was.”

C. has been with his spouse for 18 years and they recently got married in New York.

“The lack of language clearly protecting families like mine where immigration is concerned, is a de facto policy statement that only some families count, only some families are valued, and government officials still allow fear of us to rule their ability to take a stand on our behalf,” C. said.

He is concerned that the lack of clarity on who is allowed to stay and who will be deported leaves them vulnerable to the whims and prejudices of an immigration official, particularly one who does not care for gay people.

“Our almost two decades together would be torn apart, spreading circles of hardship to employees, extended family, and our community,” C. said.

“This is not consistent, in my opinion, with the ideals upon which this republic was founded—and counter to the reality I see in the real world of my community, where we are acknowledged by everyone we know as a couple, committed as any other,” he added.

C. and his husband have run a small business since 1997 and they are very much embedded in their community.

“We have our house, we have our dogs, we have our business, we are active in our neighborhood’s redevelopment…we have our life here.”

C. and his husband are not giving up without a fight. They do what they can to raise awareness about the plight of binational same-sex couples. They even speak up in a video produced by the Devote Campaign, albeit in the shadows.

“Some of the most impressive couples I know are binational same-sex couples who have endured against all odds.  We bring much to our families and communities, and I believe am keeping the American Dream alive by fighting for it,” C. said, “by speaking out about this issue, by taking risks.”

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, December 1, 2011.

Gingrich’s Immigration Stance: Heart or Calculated Gambit?

gingrich_gage_skidmore

Newt Gingrich speaking at CPAC 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Newt Gingrich’s comments on immigration during Tuesday’s CNN debate sparked a maelstrom. He suggested that some immigrant families, including those with members who are in the country without papers, should not be broken up.

“I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here a quarter-century,” he reasoned.

He qualified, however, that he was only referring to immigrants who have been in the country for decades, not those who recently came and are in the country illegally.

“If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”

Saying that he was prepared to take the heat for his words, Gingrich continued. “Let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but finding a way to give them legality so as not to separate them from their families.”

Is the former House Speaker showing Rick Perry that he has a heart? Or is it a calculated risk to differentiate himself from the pack and position himself as the smart moderate who can win a general election?

My bet’s on the latter. After all, his support for immigrants who have been here for a long time and have played by the rules is aligned with the sentiments of most Americans. A majority do think immigration is a good thing and support a path to citizenship for most unauthorized immigrants.

Gingrich long ago acknowledged the rising importance of the Latino vote in the U.S. In 2009 he launched a bilingual conservative news website for Latinos called “The Americano.”

But his stance on other immigration issues does not deviate much from other Republican candidates. He is big on national security and wants a fence built around the borders, employers to check the immigration status of all hires, and everyone to speak American English. I highly doubt that he would support lesbian and gay immigrant families.

So as Mitt Romney flip-flops on immigration further to the right and Rick Perry tries his darnedest to prove that he is indeed tough on unauthorized immigrants, Gingrich is now portraying himself as the one with the solutions and the heart.

And unlike Romney, he appeals more to the social conservative base. He is a repentant and “real” Christian.

Originally posted on WNYC It’s A Free Country, November 23, 2011. Also posted on Feet in 2 Worlds.

Gay Binational Couples React to DHS Deportation Guidance

A protest against the Defense of Marriage Act in Chicago

A protest against the Defense of Marriage Act in Chicago. (Photo: Michael Lehet/flickr)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent guidance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys Thursday which clearly identified enforcement priorities among pending deportation cases. In short, it said who should be deported and who gets to stay.

The directive clarified the “Morton Memo” released last June which listed some factors ICE officers, agents and attorneys should consider when apprehending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Many immigrant advocate groups welcomed ICE’s new policy, which is intended to focus deportations on high-level criminal offenders. But gay binational couples and their advocates are up in arms because the new guidelines do not specify gay unauthorized immigrants married or partnered to American citizens as deportation cases that should be “carefully considered for prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis” by ICE .

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), released the following statement Thursday:

I am very concerned by the Administration’s failure to state in its written Guidance to ICE attorneys, released today, that families of LGBT binational couples should be treated equally, like all other families in America. While I appreciate prior commitments by DHS that LGBT family ties will be taken into account in immigration enforcement decisions — and that this will be explained to ICE agents — without such a directive in writing, there is a serious risk that such families could be wrongfully divided. With the Administration taking an otherwise positive step to make immigration enforcement fairer, it is extremely frustrating that families of LGBT binational couples remain at risk. I will be working to ensure that those families are also protected.

Steve Ralls, Immigration Equality’s Director of Communications told the Washington Blade that the omission of gay binational couples “isn’t just deeply disappointing; it is also detrimental to LGBT immigrants and their American spouses and partners.”

“By declining to address, in writing, the unique circumstances surrounding those couples, DHS has left too much room for interpretation and left too many couples vulnerable to separation,” Ralls said.

Judy Rickard, an American citizen married to a British national and the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Lawis directly affected by ICE’s policy. Judy and her wife were hoping for deportation reprieve through the use of prosecutorial discretion by ICE attorneys. The exclusion of gay binational couples from the DHS guidelines has left Rickard disappointed and anxious.

“By not making clear and unambiguous directions to DHS and ICE employees, we are at risk for variations in interpretation of the procedures that have been ‘understood’ but unevenly applied already this year. If I were to be subject to the process without crystal-clear and enforceable directions, I would be in fear of separation. LGBT binational couples have been assured by President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Secretary Napolitano and Director Morton that we would not be in imminent danger of deportation, that our families would be kept together. Now, this move to create the language that will be used for agents across the country leaves us out and that does not bode well for how things will go. I am upset and fearful for us all,” Rickard said.

Lin McDevitt-Pugh, an Australian national who lives with her American wife in the Netherlands where their marriage is recognized, also feels let down by the Obama administration.

“An American citizen should have the right to live in their own country, with their legal spouse,” she said. “This is the case for heterosexual couples, and not the case for homosexual couples. When love exile Bob Bragar met Presidential candidate Barack Obama, Obama asked why he lived in the Netherlands. When he heard that Bob could not live with his Dutch husband in the US, Obama said ‘That’s not fair, that’s really not fair.’”

McDevitt-Pugh and her wife moved to the Netherlands because they feel “wanted and honored” there. Gay marriage has been legal in the country since 2001. ”We don’t live in the US because we can’t,” she stressed. “We have been actively pushing for change in the US immigration law since 2002. Living in the Netherlands, we have tasted fairness. We like it. We want it in the USA. We want US immigration law to include same-sex permanent partners.”

As a foreign-born spouse of an American citizen myself, I am not disappointed only because this comes as no surprise. As a minority multiple times over —immigrant, gay, and of color—I realize that people like me have little political clout and are the first to be thrown under the bus.

I am also aware that full reprieve for binational couples like us will only come either through the repeal of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or passage of immigration bills such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). Neither of which will happen anytime soon because of the political stagnation in DC.

This does not mean that I or others in my situation are powerless or without hope for the future. We continue to speak out and tell our stories. We support and work with organizations and individuals who are committed to justice and equality for all people. We remind our neighbors of our nation’s founding ideals and appeal to our better angels.

We ask friends and family, especially those whom politicians and political parties listen and cater to, to be proactive.

Last week, while visiting my husband’s family in North Carolina, my sister-in-law asked me what she can do to help us. I told her that she could share our story and explain the challenges faced by thousands of gay binational couples to those who might not be aware of this injustice. I suggested that she contact her congressperson and senators and ask them to sign on to the repeal of DOMA and cosponsor UAFA. These politicians would at least welcome a straight, married, professional and church-going woman to their offices.

The omission of gay binational couples from DHS’ deportation guidelines is unfortunate, to say the least. All the more reason to keep the fight and not lose hope. History is on our side and we will prevail.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, November 21, 2011. Also reposted on WNYC It’s a Free Country, “DHS Deportation Guide Leave Questions for Gay Binationals,” Novmber 21, 2011; and Huffington Post Gay Voices, December 5, 2011.