Becoming American


This week, I become an American citizen, 27 years after coming to the United States.

Like most immigrants, I emigrated to the United States for its promise of opportunity, freedom, and equality. My parents had sacrificed much to send my brother and me to the best private school in the Philippines, but it was not enough to secure financial stability, much less upward mobility. As a young gay man, I was stifled by the cultural and social expectations of the time. I decided that moving to New York City would allow my family to save face and me to live and love openly and with integrity, while pursuing opportunities waiting for me. Like millions of other immigrants, I shared the American Dream of prosperity and happiness.

The seeds of this dream were planted over a century ago, when the United States colonized the Philippines in 1898. The fact is, immigration is an unintended consequence of imperialism. At the turn of the twentieth century, Filipino farm workers were recruited to provide cheap labor in Hawaiian sugar plantations. At the same time, Filipino students were sent to the U.S. mainland to be educated as future administrators of the Philippines. Life for these men was difficult but they persevered and many stayed, building new lives that seemed golden to many back home, including my maternal grandfather.

Lolo Pedong loved everything American. He named his first child, my mother Georgena, after the first president of the United States. He regaled us, his grandchildren, with World War II stories and praised MacArthur for keeping his promise and saving Filipinos from Japanese perdition. He repeatedly told us the story of young George Washington and the poor cherry tree.

It is no surprise then that my uncle settled in rural Mississippi in the 1960s to serve poor whites, blacks, and Choctaws as their general physician. Thanks to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, he was then able to bring my grandparents and unmarried uncle and aunts to the United States in the 1970s. This change in immigration policy also permitted my paternal aunts to stake their fortune in America. But the law had its limits and my family remained in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, my family never stopped gazing at America. How could we not? Life under the Marcos dictatorship was hopeless and good things came from my aunts and uncles in America: U.S. dollars and balikbayan boxes filled with mac and cheese boxes, Spam tins, Hershey’s chocolate, name-brand clothes, and other American delights. We were weaned on Sesame Street and entertained by Hollywood.

On July 7, 1990, armed with my parents’ blessing and $1500, I came to America and never looked back. I put myself through grad school, received my Master’s degree, then my doctoral degree, I’ve had three careers in small business, nonprofits, and now, in academia. I met and married the man of my dreams and we live comfortably in the greatest city in the world.

But until this week, something was missing. A sense of stability and rootedness. A basic confirmation of who I know I’ve been for quite some time now: an American.

Citizenship had been elusive for me, not for lack of desire or want of trying. Immigrants can become citizens through employment or marriage. Employment was never a viable option and marriage was denied to me and my husband until 2010, 12 years after we got together. Our union was not recognized by the federal government until 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision finally paved the way for me.

America has its flaws and my path to becoming American has been long, and at times, challenging. But America is in my heart. This is my home, this is my land, and these are my people.

Originally published on HuffPost.



Looking Up and Missing Out


A good number of photos I’ve taken in Italy and in particular, Rome, had me looking up, straining my neck or contorting my torso to capture an impression of the ornate, over-the-top, and gilded ceilings and domes of the city’s churches. There are so many of them that it has all become a blur of rich hues and gold. It’s understandable to be awestruck. Rome and the Catholic Church were built to project power, wealth and empire. But all this looking up has made me look down for grounding, for reality.

The Italy tourists like me see or choose to see is historic, monumental, romantic. We come with our guidebooks and lists of places from friends who have preceded us. We come to consume something different from our day-to-day lives, so we flock to the sites and stare at art which we have been told are essential to a grand tour. But we tend not to look around us, to see the reality about us.

The South Asian men providing selfie sticks and appearing with umbrellas as soon as rain falls. The African men demonstrating how a flat piece of wood opens up to form a basket. The Eastern European women serving pasta and pizza in several languages. The Chinese merchants making sure tchotchkes are in abundance. The Filipino nannies tending plump fair-skinned babies and picking up the shit of pedigreed pets.

Over four million immigrants from Romania, Morocco, Albania, China, Ukraine, the Philippines, India and other countries live in Italy. The Instituto Nazionale di Statistica reports that in 2013, 7.4 percent (4,387,721) of the country’s population was foreign born or native born children of immigrants (15 percent of all births). This statistic does not include the clandestini or undocumented immigrants.

And there are the native Italians going about their business, living as we do back home: commuting, eking out a living, caring for families, albeit precariously. The European Parliament Directorate General for Internal Policies reports that in 2012, 29.9 percent of people living in Italy were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In January 2014, the youth unemployment rate was a staggering 42.4 percent.

Italy today has very little resemblance to the Roman Empire. Its people go about quotidian lives amid all the ruins, museums and churches. They’re really no different from us. I suppose that’s why we look up.

Check out erwindeleon on Instagram for pictures looking up.

Both Parties Propose Immigration Bills But Pass None

Immigration activists marched on the Capitol last October - Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W

Immigration activists in front of the Capitol. (Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W)

Democrats are thinking of introducing an immigration bill as early as December, CNN reported Monday. It is not clear what it would cover—possibly the DREAM Act—but apparently Congressional Democrats would like it to differentiate themselves from Republicans in order to secure Latino votes in 2012.

GOP lawmakers tend to focus on border security and enforcement. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, for instance, passed the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month and a vote in the Republican-controlled house is expected soon. The law would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to ignore environmental laws on federal lands including Glacier National Park and the Great Lakes.

The Scott Gardner Act is another Republican-sponsored bill and it seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by directing the U.S. Attorney General to take into federal custody any unauthorized immigrant arrested for a DWI or similar infraction by state and local law enforcement officials. The Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act likewise seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by penalizing states and other jurisdictions that block E-Verify and Secure Communities.

While trying to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Republican House members have simultaneously presented bills recently meant to attract foreign investors and high-skilled professionals. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act which would eliminate country quotas for employment-based green cards. Rep. Raul Labrador proposed the American Innovation and Education Act of 2011 which would speed up green card applications for foreign-born grad students who have high-tech jobs waiting for them. These bills signify an acknowledgment in the GOP that immigration policy for legal immigrants needs to be reformed.

If the Democrats introduce anything, it will most likely be a bill that acquiesces to the GOP imperative for border security and enforcement while re-introducing DREAM Act provisions. Like all other federal immigration legislation, it will go nowhere. Fact is, nothing major will pass anytime soon. Not before the upcoming elections or during the 113th Congress, regardless of who takes control of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the White House.

Immigration laws that myopically emphasize border security and enforcement will not win the hearts of Latinos, even if this rapidly growing group of voters agrees with other Republican concepts. These proposals may pander to the conservative nativist base and pretend to address our nation’s economic woes, but at the end of the day, these measures skirt around the obvious need for comprehensive immigration reform, which many Latinos consider priority numero uno.

It is helpful to know where parties and politicians stand on immigration so we can hold them accountable. Party allegiance is not set in stone, a concept many of us are starting to embrace.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 27, 2011.

Can State Immigration Laws Be Rolled Back?

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56.

Alabama passed one of the most severe and stringent immigration laws in the nation last June. It requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, mandates that immigrants carry papers at all times, criminalizes granting rides or renting to undocumented immigrants, prohibits courts from enforcing contracts with those immigrants, and makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to transact business with the government. HB 56 also instructs law enforcement officials to demand papers from anyone they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally.

The bill has spurred lawsuits from religious leaders, the Obama administration, and civil rights organizations. The latest courtroom development Friday had the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issuing an injunctionwhich temporarily blocks parts of HB 56.

So public school teachers and administrators do not have to check their wards’ immigration status and immigrants will not be charged for walking without sufficient identification—for now. Police officers can still ask for documentation, courts are still barred from enforcing contracts made with unauthorized immigrants, and these immigrants can be charged with a felony for doing business with the state.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, a University of Alabama professor and expert on Latino and Labor issues, believes that the remaining provisions are problematic. He said people “can get profiled and pulled over for almost anything.”

He is troubled most by the contracts provision. “Any contract between an undocumented immigrant and anyone else is automatically void and unenforceable. If you sign a rental agreement it is void. If you sign a loan agreement, a mortgage, a title loan, or an employee contract, they are all void and unenforceable,” he said.

Since the law bars any public office from conducting business with undocumented immigrants, it will be difficult for them to get basic services. “This means immigrants can’t get tags for their cars. Some local governments are also interpreting this as a prohibition to hook up water, sewer, or electricity service for immigrants,” said  Innis-Jiménez.

What can be done to counter Alabama’s immigration law other than going to court?

Some immigrant advocates have called for boycotts. A consortium of Spanish-language radio stations instigated a one-day protest last Wednesday to prove that Latinos are crucial to Alabama’s economy.  A Facebook pagecalled on Latinos to unite and “bring Alabama economy down (sic).” Reports indicate the one-day protest led some poultry plants and businesses to close but only had minimal economic impact.

Even if opponents of HB 56 are able to muster a protracted boycott of the state, it is highly unlikely that the law will be knocked down completely. Despite concerted action against Arizona’s controversial immigration law which cost the state its reputation and hundreds of millions in lost revenue, the law still stands, albeit with a partial injunction, as it winds its way to the Supreme Court.

Its also unclear if boycotts have staying power. The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, called off the nationwide protest last month and Arizona was recently chosen by NFL owners to host Super Bowl XLIX.

Innis-Jiménez thinks Alabama’s harsh law will be seriously challenged only when non-immigrant Alabamans feel burdened by HB 56. They are the ones, not the small number of Latinos in Alabama, who can pressure elected officials to change course and possibly even repeal the law.

He gave the example of Alabama’s business and agricultural communities, which for the most part remained silent while the legislators were crafting the legislation. These interests are only now becoming vocal opponents, as they see their bottom lines getting slashed by the law which has scared Latino laborers—authorized and unauthorized—out of the state.

Ordinary citizens are also starting to be inconvenienced. In the most populous county in the state, residents are suffering longer than usual queues at courthouses due to HB 56 and budget cuts. Budget shortfalls have resulted in the closing of courthouses, just at a time when many more residents must flock to them, required to verify residency to buy or renew their driver’s licenses or car tags.

Alabama’s experience is not unique. Other states, like Arizona and Georgia, that passed harsh immigration laws inadvertently inflicted externalities upon their non-immigrant residents.

Innis-Jiménez predicts that eventually, non-immigrants in Alabama will witness the negative fallout of this law. A decrease in the number of public school students for instance, will lead to decreased federal funding. Multinational corporations that value diversity and employ immigrants will think twice before setting shop in states like Alabama.

Change will occur in Alabama, “not out of concern for human rights, but out of inconvenience,”  said Innis-Jiménez.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 20, 2011 and WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, “New Allies in Battle Against Controversial Alabama Law.”

New Jersey Universities Inaugurate Immigrant Presidents

October 15, 2011; Source: NJ.comA. Gabriel Esteban, 49, became the 20th president of Seton Hall University.  The first non-clergy to hold the post since the 1980s, Esteban is also the first Filipino-American head of a major U.S. university.  Nariman Farvardin, 54 and a native of Iran, was chosen as the seventh president of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Esteban arrived in California in 1988 and earned his doctorate in administration from the University of California at Irvine.  He had been serving as Seton Hall’s interim president when the board made the position permanent in January.

Farvardin came to the U.S. during the Iranian revolution and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He was serving as provost at the University of Maryland before taking over the reins of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Their stories are just two among the many immigrant tales of success born out of opportunity, hard work, and belief in the American Dream.

Farvardin, who barely spoke English when he first arrived, said, “I thank this magnificent and welcoming country for giving me a new home, for extending helping arms when I needed them, for allowing me to build a career in a way I could not have possibly built anywhere else in the world.”

Both men are examples of what good education can provide for immigrants and ultimately for the country. Esteban and Farvardin are responsible for steering the academic lives of thousands of students.

“In this country, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world, education has proven to be the great equalizer and allowed upward mobility,” Esteban said. “Education has become a symbol of hope.”

Education continues to be the path many see as the way to improving their fortunes and ensuring their children’s future, especially among those who give up so much to pursue the American Dream. Unfortunately, there are those who would deny deserving and hard-working immigrants the opportunity.

Perhaps the ascent of Esteban and Favardin will help remind all of us that immigrants do come to partake in America’s promise and also to help build a better future for all.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 17, 2011.

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

dream act activist

While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

U.S. Senate Apologizes for Discriminating Against Chinese Immigrants

October 7, 2011; Source: Silicon Valley Mercury News | America, no doubt, is a nation of immigrants; but it has not always been welcoming to people who seek a better life in this “land of opportunity.”

In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law. The first exclusionary U.S. immigration law made it impossible for Chinese migrants to enter the country and for those already in the United States, life insufferable.

Chinese immigrants had been lured to the West Coast in the 19th century by economic opportunities such as the Gold Rush then the Transcontinental Railroad.  High unemployment and declining wages, however, led to the scapegoating of the Chinese community and the enactment of a series of policies, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which targeted and marginalized one particular ethnic community.

The U.S. Senate, pressed by the Organization of Chinese Americans and other civil rights advocacy groups, has now apologized to the Chinese American community, well over a century later. The bipartisan resolution also expresses regrets for the draconian immigration law and the racial violence that erupted in San Francisco and cities around the country during that time. The bill acknowledges the persecution and detention of Chinese immigrants at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Sen. Scott Brown, one of the bill’s sponsors, wrote, “This resolution cannot undo the hurt caused by past discrimination against Chinese immigrants, but it is important that we acknowledge the wrongs that were committed many years ago.”

“It’s a welcome step forward that really highlights how our country is able to acknowledge a moral obligation to living up to our ideals,” said Eddie Wong, director of the nonprofit Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “This whole idea of expressing regret, and acknowledging it was a wrongful act of racial discrimination, is an important thing.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor, wrote, “I hope this resolution will serve to enlighten those who may not be aware of this regrettable chapter in our history.”

This can also draw a cautionary tale as state immigration laws are passed which disproportionately affects the lives of Latinos, immigrants and native-born alike. Although state immigration laws are being enacted out of federal inaction on immigration, these policies, like the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, marginalize one racial group, this time Latinos.

Will we apologize to another immigrant group yet again?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 9, 2011.

Alabama’s Immigration Law Fails Our Future

A classroom in Birmingham, AL
A classroom in Birmingham, AL. (Photo: Terry McCombs/flickr)

Last Friday, close to 2,000 Latino students in Alabama didn’t show up at school. That is roughly five percent of the Latino children in the school system. Their parents kept their children away out of fear – twenty-four hours earlier, Alabama had begun asking students for papers.

The state passed what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the nation in June but its implementation was delayed until a federal judge ruled on lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders. Last Wednesday, the judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, upheld several parts of the statute, including the one that prompted parents to keep their children at home and some to even leave the state.

This law mandates that public schools check birth certificates when a child enrolls for the first time. If a birth certificate is not presented, parents or guardians have up to 30 days to submit other documentation or sign an affidavit about the citizenship or immigration status of the student. Otherwise, the children are counted as undocumented.

The law does not require school officials to submit names of undocumented students to immigration authorities, but the fear among immigrant families in the state—many are a mix of individuals with and without papers—is understandable. The law’s passage indicates that the loud anti-immigrant rhetoric in Alabama has been codified.

Such laws, and the reaction to them, will keep many children of immigrants – native and foreign-born alike – from their constitutional right to an education. This will have serious implications not only for their future but for our nation’s future.

Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of our population. They account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family–the majority Latino.

The number of Latino children in our public schools has been steadily increasing. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that at the turn of the century, 16 percent of all children in the school system were Latino. A decade later, 22 percent of all students are Latino. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics projects that by mid-century, four out of ten children will be Latino, up from two out of ten today.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications. In less than a decade, when baby boomers reach retirement age, the current cohort of immigrant youth will comprise a large proportion of the workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting our aging population and maintaining America’s place in a fast-changing global order.

For this reason–among other, moral responsibilities–it is imperative that we provide quality education for Latino children and other children of immigrants to prepare them for our shared future.

Current education statistics indicate that we are not doing a good job.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports dismal information. American schools are resegregating. Seventy eight percent of Latino students are in predominantly minority schools. Eight in ten Latino public school students in grades four, eight and 12 are reading or doing math below grade level. Latino students are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. Thirty percent of Latino high school students attend the more than 1,600 “dropout factories” across the country. Only six in ten Latinos finish high school.

Now state anti-immigration laws are making it worse for these immigrant children. And ultimately, the rest of us.

Since the nineteenth century, public schools have been integral to the social, political and economic integration of immigrants. Through public education, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society.

A good education can give immigrant children the foundation necessary for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn will uplift the lives of these children and their families, economically and socially.

Unfortunately, the current trends in public education, exacerbated by reactionary immigration policies like the new Alabama law, will result in an underclass of poorly educated Americans who are expected to bear the rest of us on their shoulders.

We should be encouraging immigrants and their children to attend school, not scaring them away from getting an education.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 6, 2011.

Is Massachusetts Turning Red on Immigration?

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant living in Massachusetts and looking for work. (Photo: WBUR)

A bipartisan group of Massachusetts lawmakers presented an immigration bill last Monday which makes one wonder whether the traditionally progressive state is turning red.

The proposed legislation is very much in the same vein as laws passed by more conservative states. The bill, provoked by a recent fatal accident involving an allegedly drunk undocumented immigrant driver, sets up a complaint line to report individuals who are working in the state illegally.

The statute also requires the immigration status of individuals appearing in court to be checked; calls for stiffer penalties for driving without a license and for creating, disseminating or using false identification; penalizes and sanctions companies that hire unauthorized immigrants; requires students at public colleges and universities to verify their immigration status to qualify for in-state tuition; asks applicants for public housing, family assistance or college grants to prove legal residency; and requires the administration to produce a report outlining how it is helping jurisdictions deploy the Secure Communities program.

Should the sponsors of the bill convince their fellow legislators to pass the law with constituent support, it would be a dramatic change in sentiment from a year ago.

A 2010 Suffolk University poll, taken after Arizona’s draconian immigration law passed, found that while 53 percent of Massachusetts residents said they supported Arizona’s SB 1070, only 43 percent said Massachusetts should pass a similar law.

But the drunk driving incident and other crimes allegedly committed by a few undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts are being used by enforcement advocates to drum up support for the bill.

Could the citizens of the Bay State get riled up enough to push their lawmakers – a majority of whom are Democrats – to support the proposed legislation?

Massachusetts has recently undergone considerable demographic changes. It is one of six states that can attribute all of its population growth during the past decade to Latinos.

At the same time, although the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is lower than the national rate, 8,900 people lost their jobs in August. To date, the state has only recovered a third of jobs lost during the recession and over a quarter of a million residents remain unemployed. The poverty rate rose from 10.3 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent in 2010. Median household income fell by nearly $3,200, from $65,254 in 2009 to $62,072 in 2010. Might economic troubles, fear and uncertainty cause Massachusetts residents to blame undocumented immigrants for their woes?

A bipartisan group supporting such an immigration bill is a troublesome sign. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Massachusetts would turn red on immigration. The state’s economy is doing better overall compared to the rest of the country. The legislature is controlled by Democrats and Gov. Deval Patrick, who refused to bring the state into the federal Secure Communities program, will surely veto any measures like the one being proposed.  The Bay State should remain blue. For now.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 30, 2011.

New Hotline for Immigrants Facing Deportation

September 19, 2011; Source: The Chicago Tribune | Life for undocumented immigrants will continue to worsen as more states take an anti-immigrant stance and pass unforgiving immigration laws. Moreover, traversing our labyrinthine immigration system has gotten all the more confusing for those facing imminent deportation as immigrants and their advocates receive mixed signals from the current administration.

President Obama has given hope to some people in deportation proceedings while simultaneously kicking more people out of the U.S. during his first term than George W. Bush did in two terms. As of mid-September, the Obama administration had deported over 1 million immigrants.

In response to the rapid pace of deportations and confusion over the administration’s selective reprieve, The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has set up a legal-aid and assistance hotline modeled after those for homelessness and domestic violence.

People who call 855-435-7693, or 855-HELP-MY-F(amily), will be assisted by volunteers who can refer them to attorneys, social service agencies, or foreign consulates that can provide assistance. Help is currently offered in English, Spanish, Korean and Portuguese, the predominant languages spoken by ICIRR’s constituents in the state.

Volunteers fielded 173 calls from all over the country, however, during the helpline’s test phase. “We’ve had calls from New York, New Jersey, California mostly, North Carolina,” said Dagmara Lopez, coordinator of the phone network. “One morning we got about 50 calls within an hour.”

Ms. Lopez and her volunteers can expect to receive more calls within and beyond Illinois as word spreads to the hundreds of thousands facing deportation and the millions wondering when their time is up.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 22, 2011.