Immigrant organizations key to carrying out Obama’s executive action

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Last Thursday, the president laid out his long-anticipated executive action on immigration, which grants reprieve from deportation to an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, individuals who have lived here for at least five years and have no criminal record. Now, many people will be able to work legally without fearing deportation and separation from their families and communities.

The executive action also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include young immigrants—DREAMers—who have aged out; provide visas for foreign nationals who invest in the US economy and those who pursue science, technology, engineering, and math degrees in US universities; and add security personnel and resources at the border. The executive action, however, does not include farm workers or the undocumented parents of DREAMers. Moreover, none of the beneficiaries will receive public subsidies under the Affordable Care Act or will be eligible for public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Undocumented immigrants who want to request this reprieve will have to submit an application for deferred action, a process that can be demanding and does not guarantee automatic approval. An individual will have to provide documents proving she meets eligibility requirements, complete multiple government forms, pay taxes and fees, pass a criminal background check, submit her biometrics, and then wait to hear whether her application has been approved. The process can be daunting.

A majority of undocumented individuals are low income and will encounter challenges with the requisite paperwork, application forms, and fees. They will have few resources, if any, to secure the services of immigration attorneys. Some will fall prey to notarios, others will hire expensive lawyers they cannot afford, and many will turn to immigrant-serving nonprofits that provide free legal assistance and other social services. These community-based organizations are best suited to help immigrants with the legalization process and, in the long run, with integration into the economic, political, and social mainstream.

An Urban Institute brief on immigrant legal-aid organizations reveals, however, that these nonprofits are few and far between and that capacity is a major issue. Analysis of National Center for Charitable Statistics data indicates that at least 684 nonprofits provide some form of legal aid to immigrants and are dispersed throughout the United States in traditional, emerging, and new immigrant gateways. But the ratio of legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented immigrants is alarming.

In the 10 states with the most undocumented immigrants, nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants would have more people to serve than other nonprofits. For instance, in Texas, the ratio of immigrant legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented clients is 1 to 41,250. In contrast, the ratio of other nonprofits to the general population is 1 to 2,916.

Immigrants

As undocumented immigrants start applying for deportation reprieve, legal-aid and other immigrant-serving organizations will bear the brunt of helping these individuals. Aside from assisting in the deferred action application process, these groups will continue providing basic social services, as beneficiaries of the president’s executive action will not have access to free health care and other safety net programs available to US citizens and permanent residents. It is crucial to identify, map, and survey immigrant-serving organizations to determine their capacities and challenges in serving immigrant communities. This information will be invaluable in discovering where the gaps in resources and services are so that they may be filled and that more immigrants can join the mainstream.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends blog. Reposted on the Huffington Post.

Photo: President Barack Obama announces immigration executive action on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at the White House. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) 

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Majority of Deported AAPI Are Not Criminals

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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.”

LGBT Groups Fight for Inclusion in Immigration Reform

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May 2, 2103; The Advocate

This week, senators will be offering amendments to the immigration bill crafted by eight of their colleagues. Advocates have been working overtime on lawmakers to make sure that changes in the measure reflect their interests. LGBT groups have been among the most vocal, protesting the exclusion of same-gender bi-national couples and insisting that any bill voted on by the full chamber include LGBT immigrant families.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has indicated that he would offer an amendment allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born spouses and partners for green cards, a privilege enjoyed by straight Americans. Republican senators have warned that such a move would be a “poison pill” which would kill any immigration bill. “It will virtually guarantee that it won’t pass,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told POLITICO. “This issue is a difficult enough issue as it is. I respect everyone’s views on it. But ultimately, if that issue is injected into this bill, the bill will fail and the coalition that helped put it together will fall apart.”

Religious fundamentalists and other conservatives have weighed in, threatening to withdraw support if immigration reform were inclusive. “We strongly would oppose the provision and it could force us to reconsider our support for the bill,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Public Affairs.

LGBT advocates are calling that bluff. “We do not believe that our friends in the evangelical faith community or conservative Republicans would allow the entire immigration reform bill to fail simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex couples equal immigration rights,” reads a joint statement from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream, and the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. “This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex bi-national couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.”

The president, who has chosen to let Congress take the lead in forging immigration legislation, has hedged on the matter. While he continues to assure LGBT and other progressive groups that he supports the inclusion of gay bi-national couples, he has also made it crystal clear that he will sign compromise legislation that will leave some sectors disgruntled. “I can tell you I think that this provision is the right thing to do,” he said. “I can also tell you I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill.”

President Obama is spot on in that not everyone will be happy. Should a final bill pass, it is very possible that gay bi-national couples will not be part of it. Fact is, compromises are made and deals brokered whenever legislation is crafted. Moreover, some constituencies are more valuable than others. In this situation, the LGBT lobby will not prevail as there are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

No Surprise, Gays Left Out of Immigration Reform Bill

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(Photo: Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)

The Senate Gang of Eight has finally released its much-awaited immigration legislation. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is characterized by President Obama as a compromise bill which is largely consistent with his own principles for immigration reform.

The proposed law further fortifies our southern border and bolsters law enforcement, provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates guest worker programs for low-skilled and agricultural workers, increases the number of employment visas, and eliminates employment and family visa backlogs. It also cuts and limits the number of family visas and repeals diversity visa programs while creating a merit-based visa system based on education, employment, and length of residence in the U.S.

The comprehensive bill excludes LGBT families. Lesbian and gay Americans and permanent residents will still not be able to sponsor their loved ones for permanent residency.

The exclusion of families like mine comes as no surprise. I have been in Washington, D.C. long enough to know that compromises are made and deals brokered when crafting legislation. I am also aware that some constituencies are more influential than others. In order to get bipartisan buy-in, both sides had to give some. The Democratic senators decided that tens of thousands of LGBT families are dispensable. While the LGBT community has sway with Democrats, it was not enough in this battle. There are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

How do I feel? Angry, certainly. Resigned, mostly. This is how our democracy works. In the coming months, various interest groups and their champions will lobby Congress to make sure that they get something in the final immigration reform package. LGBT organizations and coalition partners will vigorously protest the exclusion of lesbian and gay binational couples. But at the end of the day, we will still be left out in the cold. And President Obama, who includes us in his own reform blueprint, will sign a comprehensive – but not inclusive – immigration law. And, I will be rational, saying to myself that this is a good thing.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

With Fiscal Cliff Averted, Is Congress Ready to Tackle Immigration Reform?

When will the new Congress take up immigration reform? (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katieharbath/)

During an interview with David Gregory last Sunday, President Obama reiterated his commitment to immigration reform. “That’s something we should get done,” the president told the NBC host.

But can our elected officials actually get it done? Somehow, they did manage to stop themselves from pushing all of us over the fiscal cliff. Does this mean that they will be able to prioritize immigration reform as promised by party leaders?

Elise Foley and Sam Stein of the Huffington Post report that the Obama administration will push for legislative action this month. But legislation is not crafted overnight. A substantive bill can take months to write, especially a bipartisan one. The Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” led by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have started work on a comprehensive immigration bill, but they are in the early stages. Even if they do manage to introduce one within the next few weeks, there are no guarantees that Congress will take up the bill. While a fiscal cliff deal was reached, sequestration and the debt ceiling will have to be dealt with two months from now. Then the federal budget within three months. Not to mention gun control.

In short, immigration legislation may very well stew for some time before being debated, voted, and eventually passed.

The president’s role in advancing immigration reform is therefore pivotal, his leadership imperative. Will he lead Congress or will he be led by Congress?

Muzaffar Chishti, director the Migration Policy Institute’s New York Office told ABC News that the president “has to make it clear that he’ll use his bully pulpit and his political muscle to make it happen, and he has to be open to using his veto power.”

David Gregory rightfully points out that the president’s political capital is limited. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Obama manages the upcoming battles over the competing legislative priorities.

Even if the president does put the full weight of his office behind immigration reform, it will be countered by inertia and intransigence in Congress. He chose his words well in only promising that legislation will be introduced this year. It will be up to our representatives to do their job and once and for all fix our immigration system.

With the mid-term congressional elections already on the horizon, it only makes sense for lawmakers to do all they can to pass comprehensive immigration reform. After all, they will need the votes of ascendant Latinos, Asians, and other immigrant groups for whom immigration is a very, very important issue.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 4, 2013.

What to Expect In Obama’s 2nd Term – Small Steps at Immigration Reform

President Obama at his Chicago victory rally. (Photo: Flickr/wchinews)

President Obama won another four years in the White House despite the economic head winds, thanks to tenacious campaign staff members, tireless volunteers, long-viewed voters, and a solid coalition of immigrants, communities of color, women, LGBTs, young people, and working class whites.

These various constituencies will no doubt hold the president accountable but they will also work closely with him at achieving the changes that remain to be accomplished.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a promise made twice over that will have to be kept if the Democrats want to keep the Latino vote in 2016. The Obama administration will also have to address the situation of 11 million unauthorized immigrants beyond indiscriminate deportation, prosecutorial discretion, and deferred action.

Republicans can no longer be obstructionists or pawns of fringe elements in their party. They need to learn that whileLatinos and other immigrants share the same bread and butter concerns of most Americans, they also care about friends and family who have been demonized by GOP candidates and talking heads. The Republican Party has to find a way other than tokenism to make communities of color believe that they have a place in the starkly White tent.

But can and will comprehensive immigration reform be achieved? While I believe in the president’s and Democratic party’s commitment to immigrants, the realities of our country’s fiscal and economic problems, foreign policy quagmire, and ossified partisanship make me think that major reform is a pipe dream.

What will pass during the next Obama term are smaller legislation that deal with the demand for high-skilled workers and agricultural labor. The DREAM Act also has a strong chance of finally passing both houses of Congress. These are bites our elected officials can take and the general public can stomach.

It is painfully apparent that our immigration system needs to be fixed and that the immigrant vote can no longer be ignored. Will Republicans loosen the grip of fringe elements in their party and collaborate with Democrats and the president?

Immigrant communities and their allies are watching with 2016 in mind.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, November 7, 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.

Survey Reveals Asians Are a Voting Bloc that Cannot Be Ignored

By not reaching out to Asian Americans, parties risk alienating the fastest growing demographic. (Photo: Flickr/subtle_devices)

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the nation’s fastest growing racial group, growing by as much as 46 percent during the first decade of this century. According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, Director of the National Asian American Survey (NAAS), AAPIs are an important and growing political constituency. While only 5.6 percent of the U.S. population is of Asian descent, six hundred thousand new AAPI voters participated in the elections for the first time in 2008 and a similar number is expected to do so this year.

AAPI organizations have been heavily mobilizing the community, urging people to register and vote. The Asian vote could very well determine the outcome in battleground states where there are large concentrations of AAPIs. In fact, one in six Asian Americans lives in a battleground state.

NAAS has released a report on the 2012 elections which includes a number of findings which can prove invaluable to both Democrats and Republicans, not just in this election cycle but moving forward as the AAPI community jockeys for its place in American society and politics.

Earlier this week, the Wilson Center’s Asia Program hosted a panel which discussed the 2012 National Survey of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Although NAAS is an academic and nonpartisan effort to poll the opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on a wide range of issues, Ramakrishnan anticipated that many in the audience were interested in learning how the AAPI community will vote in November.

Among U.S. citizens in this group, 45 percent can be described as “likely voters.” Filipino Americans, the second largest AAPI group, and Japanese Americans are the most likely to vote among AAPIs. 43 percent of Asian American likely voters support Barack Obama while 24 percent support Mitt Romney. There are some considerable differences by ethnic group however: Indian Americans, the third largest group, show the strongest support for the president (68 percent) while Filipinos show the strongest support for Gov. Romney (38 percent).

It is crucial to point out that nearly a third of likely AAPI voters remain undecided. In contrast, recent surveys reveal that roughly 7 percent of the general population is undecided. Moreover, a little more than half of Asian Americans consider themselves independent or non-partisan.

Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), warned both parties that they have been ignoring the Asian American community at their peril. She distributed an AAJC handout showing that over the past couple of years neither Democrats nor Republicans have seriously reached out to AAPI registered voters. Only 23 percent of registered Asian Democrats and 17 percent of registered Asian Republicans were contacted. Although the community shows greater support for Mr. Obama and leans Democratic, they “have the potential to be the margin of victory” for either party Moua stressed. If the Democratic Party fails to convince undecided and independent AAPIs, then the GOP has an opportunity to win more votes for Mr. Romney and other Republican candidates.

Ramakrishnan, when asked what might explain President Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s better standing among AAPIs, said that it has a lot to do with perception – which party appears more welcoming and inclusive. The Republican convention for instance hammered the message that America is a Christian nation. Only four in ten Asians are Christian. The rest are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs or those unaffiliated with any religion.

Voters, regardless of their race or ethnicity, will support candidates they can identify with and who they believe understand their concerns. Asian Americans still feel invisible and ignored, but they are ready to take their seat at the table. Both parties better get to know AAPIs fast and vie for Asian American votes just as they do for other communities of color.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 28, 2012.

Romney Presents Best Candidate for Latinos: Obama

Romney’s Etch-a-Sketch machine. (Illustration by DonkeyHotey)

There were no surprises from Mitt Romney during his speech at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ (NALEO) annual conference in Florida last Thursday.

Romney hammered the president on the economy and high unemployment rate among Latinos. In character, he skirted the question on everybody’s mind: whether or not he would repeal President Obama’s immigration reprieve for undocumented youth if elected.

“I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure,” Romney offered, fantasizing that he would somehow get both parties to work together at passing immigration reform.  He did hint at a possible solution for undocumented youth. The GOP candidate promised that as President, he “will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service.”

Senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie gave a more straightforward and honest answer about Obama’s immigration order during CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

“Every executive action that President Obama has taken will be subject to review,” Gillespie said. “In the case of this case, it will be subject to review as to whether or not it’s legal. So there’s legitimate questions about the legality of it.”

The Bain Capital founder came to Florida knowing full well that he had to do an etch-a-sketch on immigration and make amends with an audience he and other GOP presidential hopefuls had wantonly abused during the Republican primaries with strident anti-immigrant rhetoric. Self-deportation was Mitt Romney’s unpopular answer then.

“I’ve come here today with a simple message: you do have an alternative,” Romney said. “Your vote should be respected and your voice is more important now than ever before.”

No doubt the Latino voice will be more crucial than ever come November. But Romney and the Republican Party have not exactly been respectful. Latinos and other immigrant communities do have an alternative—an alternative to Romney.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, June 26, 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.