Local attorney hopes immigration reform brings relief.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
It’s on – another round in the ongoing national debate about immigration. Speaking at American University in Washington, D.C., on July 1, President Barack Obama launched the opening salvo, urging Congress to take action on a comprehensive package of reforms certain to resonate on the Central Coast.
“He said, in my view, all the right things, but Congress is the big obstacle,” says Monterey immigration attorney Joanne Haag.
The president called for a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, legal status for students who were brought to the U.S. as children and raised as Americans, and a way for agricultural employers to legally hire workers they rely on.
But he also stressed the tougher-than-ever enforcement actions of his administration: doubling personnel assigned to border enforcement, tripling the number of intelligence analysts, and screening south-bound rail shipments, all of which has resulted in what Obama says is the most secure border in the last 20 years.
Haag says she sees the not-so-positive side of stepped-up enforcement, and the need for reform, every day.
Every couple of weeks, she gets a call from a distressed parent, son, daughter or spouse whose loved one has been taken away by authorities and faces deportation.
“MY GRANDFATHER CAME [FROM GERMANY] TO WORK IN A BREWERY. HE COULD NOT GET A VISA TODAY.’
While Obama invoked the poetry of Emma Lazarus whose words, “Give me your tired, your poor,” grace the Statue of Liberty, Haag says the United States offers no visa for a working person without specific skills or degrees.
“My grandfather came [from Germany] to work in a brewery,” Haag says. “He could not get a visa today.” And, she says, for those who cross the border illegally, the legalization process is fraught with risk.
Consider a typical case Haag handles: an undocumented man faces an up-to-three-year separation from his U.S.-citizen wife and kids if he applies for legal permanent residency.
It’s a gamble, Haag says, because he must leave the country, journey to a U.S. Consulate in Juarez, Mexico, to apply, and face a 50-50 chance of denial.
He can re-apply if he’s denied, but that could mean missing additional years of his children’s growing up and no sure path to legalization.
When people in similar situations come to seek her advice, Haag says, she tells them to think through their choices: live as a fugitive in the United States, return to a life of poverty in your home country, or a surprising third option: “Have you thought of Canada?”
Most clients haven’t, but Haag says although there are no guarantees of acceptance, the country is looking for “good strong workers” and has a high standard of living.
Immigration reform faces opposition from both sides of the debate: anti-immigration activists who believe illegal entry must not be rewarded, and pro-immigrant folks who think an expansion of guest worker plans, a likely component of the reform, leads to abuse and exploitation.
But the president’s weight behind the proposal gives it new life. As local Congressman Sam Farr’s spokesman, Tom Mentzer, notes: “If a couple of Republicans would work on this, I wouldn’t say it’s dead.”