I spoke with a reporter last week about the immigration laws affecting Reina Franco and her family. Reina is a U.S. citizen, and her story is a great illustration of how the U.S.’s broken immigration system continues to make a daily, painful impact even on its citizens:

Reina Franco worries about her family. She worries about her father, 61-year-old Santiago Olivarez, because of his recent physical and mental breakdowns, and the lingering fear of his deportation.

“He wants to be strong for the family,” she says, but “his body is not letting him anymore.  He cannot take it the way he used to take it before.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Franco’s mother and father moved back and forth across what was then a more fluid border. They would come to the United States and work on farms, returning at season’s end to Mexico. In 1989, they relocated permanently to the United States, and are now a family of citizens, DREAMers, permanent residents and waitlisters.

Mr. Olivarez, however, is caught somewhere in between, his legal status murky and tentative despite years of paying taxes and contributing to Social Security.

You can the read the rest of Reina’s story here.

One of the most exciting parts of the drive to change our country’s long-broken immigration system has been the increased attention for immigration. How many of us can now state approximately how many millions of people live in the U.S. undocumented? How many of us could name that number a year ago?

Recently Odalis Suarez, a graduate student in journalism at DePaul University, decided to dedicate her final project to reporting on immigration reform. She did a good job focusing on some of the grassroots concerns for the movement, and even dared to interview the opposition. I was thrilled to help out, although I may have proved that soft speakers are just not made video.

This is not a comprehensive summary of each candidates’ expressed opinions or actions related to immigration, but rather a light preview highlighting their interactions with the subject during the last seven to eight years.

Obama

  • 2005 - Obama cosponsors the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. This act, introduced by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy, included legalization for undocumented immigrants, guest worker programs, and border enforcement.
  • September 2006 – Obama votes for the Secure Fence Act, which approved $1.2 billion for a fence along the U.S./Mexico border.
  • June 2007 – Obama votes no on a provision to make English the official language of the U.S. government.
  • 2008 - While campaigning, Obama promises to tackle immigration reform within his first year of office.
  • June 25, 2009 – Obama holds meeting with 30 lawmakers whose views vary on immigration to begin an effort to form a bipartisan bill on immigration.
  • July 1, 2010 – Following a meek of meeting with lawmakers on the topic, Obama gives first major speech on immigration as president, advocating for a “comprehensive solution” for the issue.
  • January 2011 – Obama ends Bush-era border fence project which cost $1 billion.
  • May 10, 2011 – Obama mocks emphasis on border enforcement to solve illegal immigration: “Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”
  • 2012 - The Obama Administration deports more individuals in its first three years than any administration since the 1950s.
  • June 2012 – Obama tells Republicans in Congress to send him the DREAM Act, saying he will “sign it right away.”
  • June 15, 2012 – Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announces the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, set forth by the Obama Administration to re-prioritize removals; granting qualifying individuals a two year reprieve from deportation and work authorization.

Romney

  • 2004 – Romney vetoes a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. He also threatens to veto a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
  • March 2006 – While refusing to comment on proposed immigration legislation, Romney states he would like to see reforms that encourage illegal workers to register with the government, pay taxes and apply for citizenship.
  • December 16, 2007 – In a Meet the Press interview, Romney expresses that he supports undocumented immigrants having some sort of pathway to apply for legal residence and citizenship.
  • 2008 - During the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Romney embraces the support of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
  • May 3, 2009 – Romney calls immigration a high priority, urgent issue, saying he wishes to increase legal immigration.
  • December 31, 2011 – Romney explicitly states that as president he would veto the DREAM Act.
  • January 2012 – Romney suggests that “self deportation” is the ultimate solution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
  • January 26, 2012 – Romney states that he believes English should be the official language of the United States.
  • February 2012 - Romney calls Arizona’s E-Verify mandate as a “model” for the rest of the country. Said that on Day One he would drop the Obama Administration’s suit against Arizona, challenging SB 1070.
  • June 21, 2012 – Romeny explains at National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Annual Meeting that while he doesn’t support the DREAM Act, he would offer qualifying applicants a path to legal residency – not citizenship – in exchange for military service.
  • June – October 2012 – Romney changes his position on undocumented immigrants going into the military, saying that they would be eligible for permanent residency, and thus eventually citizenship.
  • October 1, 2012 – Romney says he would not revoke deferred action for the childhood arrivals who receive it under the Obama Administration’s program.
  • October 2, 2012 – “I actually will propose a piece of legislation which will reform our immigration system to improve legal immigration so people don’t have to hire lawyers to figure out how to get here legally.”
  • October 3, 2012 – Romney’s campaign clarifies that while a Romney Administration would not revoke grants of deferred action, it would discontinue the program immediately upon taking office.
  • October 16, 2012 – Romney again suggests he will streamline the immigration system, making it so applicants do not need an attorney to enter the country legally.

The Islamophobic film which allegedly motivated recent attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts has inspired a lot of noise and some much needed discourse on the U.S.’s relationship with Islam. For a disgraceful few, the events have confirmed earlier negatively held positions. Others have questioned this country’s fear of Islam, while still very much referring to Muslims as an “other.” And some have taken this opportunity to point out that Islamophobia is alive and well in the U.S.

As many continue to debate the circle of hate that seems to have caused this violence, the American Islamic community have presented an impressively unified voice, expressing that (1) the killings are disgraceful and (2) they in no way represent Islamic values, the foremost of those being peace.

For example, Melody Moezzi, executive director of 100 People of Faith, wrote a lovely piece asking for a more Islamic reaction of art, rather than arms:

While I fully believe that the best way to respond to offensive compositions is to pay them no heed, sometimes that’s simply impossible. The current instance is a case in point. In such situations, we must ask ourselves—both as Muslims and as responsible global citizens: What is the most effective and responsible way to respond to an offensive film or cartoon or other form of expression that has gained popularity for one reason or another? What kind of response most respects and represents our beliefs and ideals as Muslims?

Certainly, violence is neither an effective nor responsible reaction. In fact, it’s both counterproductive and un-Islamic. In this case, the most productive and powerful response is also the most viable one: fight bad art with better art; fight ugliness with beauty; fight lies with truths.

Rather than take the defensive, we need to be proactive. We must create our own works of art—our own films, cartoons, satires, songs and writings—to challenge and subvert the Islamophobic messages of less transcendent works.

American freedom of expression will not go away. However, with an American Islamic community that is so quick and ready to educate the public on true Islamic values, I’m hopeful that American ignorance won’t last.

This story is a compilation from many of the VAWA cases I’ve worked on in the last four years. All names have been changed, but the content couldn’t be more true.

Their’s was a love story. A drama.

David and Veronica met through close friends. He brought flowers to their first date. She smiled brightly each time he opened the door. He complimented her dress.

For their third date, Veronica made him dinner. Ignoring how hopelessly overcooked the meat was, David had three helpings. He told her how wonderful it was to have someone cook for him.

A month later, he met her family. He wore a tie and said all the right things. He understood that with her Mexican roots, family was everything.

When Veronica met David’s family, things went less smoothly. David was very close to his mother, and his mother wasn’t partial towards other cultures. She said things like “your people” and “illegals.” But David assured her it went well.

A week later on Valentine’s Day, Veronica came home from work to find her bedroom full of rose petals and balloons. In the center of her bed was a card. It was a love note. David even included some of the Spanish she had taught him, starting it with the words “Mi amor…”

A month later, they decided to move in together. Money was tight, but paying only one rent would help. Veronica was thrilled to make a home with David. She worked tirelessly arranging the furniture and decorating the walls. David couldn’t stop telling her what a good job she did, or how excited he was to wake up with her each morning.

One morning, Veronica woke up to David on his knees next to the bed. He told her he loved her and that he wanted nothing more than to make a life with her. Veronica cried as he placed a small ring on her hand.

The wedding was small, with only their families. David’s mom didn’t attend.

Only three weeks after the wedding Veronica found out she was pregnant. With financials still tight, Veronica was frightened to tell David. But he held her and said they would make it work.

Because Veronica didn’t have a driver’s license, she relied on David or friends to drive her to and from work. One day, he was late picking her up from work. She tried to call him, but he didn’t pick up. Veronica ended up walking home, a walk that took her over 2 hours. When she arrived home in tears of frustration, she found David in front of the TV. He blamed her for not reminding him, and walked out of the room.

A couple weeks into the pregnancy, Veronica began to feel ill. Her doctor said it was normal morning sickness that came with pregnancy, but twice she had to miss work because of the nausea. The next time she went in, her boss said there was no work left for her. David said it was just as well, he preferred her at home.

Veronica knew though that with the baby coming their financials would be even more strained. She asked David about petitioning for her immigration status. If she had proper work authorization, she said, she would be able to find a job easier and even get paid better.

For the first time, David yelled.

He asked her over and over: why did she want to work, why she wanted to be outside of their home, and why she thought he couldn’t support them on his own. He punched the wall. He accused her of wanting to cheat, and of already not being a good mother to their unborn child. Veronica didn’t bring it up again.

The next day, David came home from work with flowers. Just like the flowers from their first date. He told her how excited he was to meet his son.

Veronica thought things would get better after she had the baby.

One day though, a month after giving birth, she came home from grocery shopping to find David home early from work. He asked her where she had been and then why she hadn’t told him where she was going. When Veronica hesitated before responding David pulled her by her hair towards him, put his mouth next to her ear, and screamed louder. Veronica sobbed in pain. He told her that she was to stay at home, and before leaving or spending money, she needed to ask him.

When he released her, Veronica went, shaking, to care for their son.

The next day Veronica woke up and found that her son was not in his crib. She immediately confronted David. He told her that his mother hand taken their son for the day. Veronica broke. She screamed. She told David he was not treating her correctly and that she would call the police if he did not return their child to her.

David told her that if she did, he would tell the police she was undocumented. He told her that the police were on his side. She would get deported and he would get to stay in the U.S., with their son.

Veronica could only scream back, and as she did David kicked her in the stomach. As she fell, he kicked her once more in the stomach. Veronica laid in that spot for hours, sobbing and puking, until she couldn’t feel anything.

It seems mad, but this is not an uncommon story. The Violence Against Women Act was created, in part, to help women like this. Women who are  entitled to an immigration benefit, but who can’t petition without the participation of their spouse. Women married to abusers who use their immigration status as a source of power in the cycle of abuse.

H.R. 4970 is not VAWA, it will not give women like Veronica the help they need. 

Please contact your representative and advocate for a real and proper reauthorization of this important legislation.

In what can only be seen as a move to kill the little popularity they have left with women, Republicans are attempting to oppose the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The reauthorization (S. 1925) passed in the Senate last week (68-31) and will be considered by the House next month. House Republicans are already preparing a different version of the bill without the “controversial” updates included in the passed reauthorization.

This 1994 law is central to the U.S.’s efforts to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Those opposed to VAWA, such as Women Against VAWA, have expressed three main concerns with the reauthorization: (1) the potential increase in temporary visas given to undocumented victims of criminal activity, (2) the inclusion of same-sex couples in domestic violence programs, and (3) expanded efforts to reach Indian tribes.

Looking at the full text of the law (easily done on GovTrack.us), these concerns appear rather redundant. For example, while the amount of temporary visas given to undocumented victims of criminal activity may increase under S. 1925, because of a provision on drunk driving tacked onto the end of the bill, overall the reauthorization would exclude or deport far more immigrants than it would let in.

Increased Temporary Visas to Undocumented Victims of Criminal Activity

The proposed VAWA re-authorization, S. 1925, would slightly increase the amount of visas issued each year to undocumented victims of certain crimes, only if there is a need for them. Specifically, the bill increases the amount of visas available to people who qualify for a “U visa”. U visas go to crime victims who have been or are willing to assist in criminal investigations. They are a huge assistance to law enforcement, who frequently have trouble investigating crimes in immigrant neighborhoods, where residents are more wary of the police.

Currently, the law permits 10,000 U visas to be issued each year. S. 1925 says that IF 10,000 is met, THEN U.S. Immigration may issue some of the U visas from the past 6 years that were left unused. HOWEVER, these additional visas can’t exceed 5,000. Meaning, at most, there would be 15,000 U visas issued under the reauthorized VAWA.

Excluding Drunk Drivers

Yet rather than increase immigration to the U.S., in the end S. 1925 would likely decrease it. Tacked on to the end of the reauthorization is an additional amendment to the immigration laws, making a third drunk driving conviction an “aggravated felony.” Under U.S. immigration law, having an aggravated felony on your record makes you ineligible for nearly every immigration benefit and renders you deportable– whether of not you already have legal status to be here.

While the statistics on immigrant drunk driving is scarce, according to MADD, over 2 million people have three or more DUIs. If any of those 2 million people are intending immigrants, current visa holders, or legal permanent residents, this bill will make it nearly impossible for them to immigrate and may even result in their deportation.

In the end, it is very likely S. 1925 would exclude or remove far more people from the United States than it would ever grant U visas to.

Do you think either of the other two “hangups” are worth delaying this important legislation?


In a sad reality check, we were launched into Women’s History Month this week with a political debate on contraceptives that turned just about as ugly as it could have gotten. As the name-calling flew it was almost refreshing to have some blatant evidence that the War on Women is far, far from over.

And it’s a theme we’ve seen before, isn’t it? Religious freedom versus women’s rights. Especially in the last three years the hijab has been wrought with debate over whether it represents oppression or expression. I can’t remember name-calling, but this debate too has certainly seen is ugly moments.

Why do debates come down so frequently between religious freedom and women’s rights? This week, both sides did their best to cover up the other type of freedom at issue. Women’s rights advocates asserted that this debate was only about an attack on women, and religious advocates asserted that the Blunt amendment was about anything but women’s rights. But there’s no denying both were at issue.

Religion is historical, it is based on tradition, and as such it is kind of portal to the past. Which is nice. When you walk in to a place of worship the world feels simpler- you’re focused on traditional ideas and tenants that have been around for thousands of years. An unfortunate result of this, however, is it brings along relics like not always being so welcoming to the idea of the personhood of the woman.

As societal values alter religion does change too, some religions faster than other. But it is hella slow. And sticky. Personally, I’m pro-contraceptives and pro-hijab. So in the mean time, is it possible to have the women’s rights vs. religious freedom debate and remain decent?

The brave souls (especially Sandra Fluke) who stuck up for women’s rights this week were called sluts, prostitutes, whores, and Obama, was labeled a dictator. I’m surprised (and ok, disappointed) there weren’t more people responding by questioning the sexual/contraceptive practices of the Blunt Amendment supporters and name callers. (I’m just putting a guess out there that one of Rush Limbaugh’s four wives has also used contraceptives.) But really, cheap insults don’t get either side anywhere fast.

It would be great if this month was about acknowledging the history of women’s rights advances. But recent events, especially this week, just make it more apparent that the War on Women is alive and well. Thus, maybe this month should be used to acknowledge the current problems in women’s rights and discussing how we can make them history.

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