National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Updates Archives

Celebrating a Great American Tradition

November 25, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno


On Thanksgiving we celebrate the harvest with our families and friends, a tradition that grew from an amalgamation of many harvest festivals, and particularly from the story of the arrival of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  On that ‘first Thanksgiving,’ the immigrant pilgrims were welcomed to America, receiving the generous aid and hospitality of the Native Americans who lived there.  It was a moment of unity, and the inspiration for a treasured American holiday.


Nowadays, those seeking opportunity and refuge must present a visa upon arrival, endure an expensive and protracted process to seek permanent residence or, if papers are not in order, they may be greeted with handcuffs and prison.  


A coalition of advocates for asylum seekers have sent a letter to members of Congress in advance of this holiday season, reminding them that thousands of immigrants, asylum-seekers, workers, parents, and others, will spend Thanksgiving in detention, without their families, awaiting some reprieve from a broken immigration system that is preventing them from living their lives.  The advocates urge Congress, to make reforms to honor our traditions.


 “The pilgrims arrived on these shores almost 400 years ago in search of religious freedom. Centuries later, the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us to honor the core freedoms that continue to make the United States a place of hope and safety for refugees fleeing religious, political and other forms of persecution.” 


The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is also reminding lawmakers about separated families and the need for reform.  They are distributing and collecting holiday postcards to deliver to congressional offices.    The postcards show a young boy and his father on the front, with the message on the back:


“Dear Member of Congress: As a person of faith, every day I see the unacceptable consequences of our broken immigration system through the separation of families and the escalation of fear in our congregations and communities. This holiday season, you can help keep families together by supporting comprehensive immigration reform.” 


Meanwhile, back at Plymouth Rock (or close by) at the MIRA Coalition’s Thanksgiving luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick announced the New Americans Agenda, a set of 131 recommendations on how to welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees into the civic life of the Commonwealth.  The New Americans Agenda reflects the spirit of the original Thanksgiving, a celebration of gratitude and an open welcoming of newcomers.

On Thanksgiving we give thanks for our joys in life, our families and loved ones, our health and homes, our work and our freedoms.  It’s a tradition well-suited to include long-time Americans and new immigrants alike.  It’s also a time to think about those who cannot experience this tradition because of our broken immigration system.  By next Thanksgiving, after Congress has passed comprehensive immigration reform, the refugees and immigrants who are now the victims of our broken system will join us in that wonderful tradition.

Photo by Flickr user Perry G.

For a Town that Made a Mistake, Immigration Reform Might Speed Revival

November 24, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Photo by Timetrax23

Monday evening, the New Jersey Immigration Coalition and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Riverside, New Jersey, hosted a vigil in that town to support immigration reform and the town’s ongoing efforts to emerge from a period of xenophobia that peaked in the passage of an anti-immigrant ordinance in July 2006.  Passage of the ordinance led to a chain of events that has had devastating economic consequences for the town.


In July 2006, the town Council passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which made it illegal for local businesses to hire immigrants who could not prove they were in the country legally.  The ordinance also made it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants.  Fines started at $1,000 for a first time offense.  Business owners could also lose their business permit.


The effects of the ordinance were immediate.  Immigrants left.  Businesses closed and storefronts were boarded up. Legal challenges prevent the law from ever going into effect, and they were expensive.  According to this New York Times article, 


Riverside … has already spent $82,000 defending its ordinance, and it risked having to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees if it lost in court. The legal battle forced the town to delay road paving projects, the purchase of a dump truck and repairs to town hall, officials said.


Prior to enactment of the ordinance, Riverside was experiencing a revival, with an influx of immigrants, mainly from Brazil and Ecuador, who opened and patronized many businesses in a downtown that had experienced a long decline after local textile mills shuttered in the middle of the 1900s.  With a single rash act, town politicians reversed the city’s gains.


In September of 2007, the ordinance was rescinded.  Lesson learned.  The town launched a series of efforts to repair relations with the immigrant community.  Last year, David Verduin, President of the Riverside Coalition of Business Owners and Landlords, offered his insights. He traveled to Long Island to make a presentation at a panel discussion organized by Long Island Wins.  The panel was titled, “Don't Make Our Mistakes: Lessons from Riverside, New Jersey in the Costs of Attacking Immigrants.” 


The activists who gathered on Monday called for comprehensive immigration reform.  According to the Burlington County (New Jersey) Times, the Rev. Angelo Amaral of St. Peter's Church believes that immigration reform would help bring people back to Riverside.


It has been the lack of reform that is at the heart of Riverside’s problems.  As Marlene Lao-Collins, Director for Social Concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, pointed out,


"The lack of reform has had a negative impact on a local level. That's caused a lot of consternation among folks and they sometimes feel fearful and they aren't able to live within the fullness of a community."


The broken immigration system is a catalyst for fear—not just in the immigrant community, but among established residents who see their community changing, and are susceptible to the xenophobes who like to use the word ILLEGAL as a broad brush to paint the entire immigrant community. 


The failure of Congress to act to fix our immigration system has created a situation in which no one appears to be in charge, and this has provided opportunities for xenophobes to step in and pressure local politicians to enact their own immigration policies—policies which communities soon come to regret.


The immigration system has to be fixed at the national level, and that is the job of Congress.  The sooner they get down to work, the sooner communities like Riverside will be able to heal.

Photo by Timetrax23

VIDEO: How We Will Make Real Immigration Reform a Reality!

November 23, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno

Cross-Posted from Reform Immigration for America:

On Wednesday night, 60,000 people joined what was an incredible call to action on overhauling our nation’s broken immigration laws.

Today, we’re releasing a new video that features Congressman Luis Gutierrez unveiling his principles for reform in October, and which calls on all of us to help build the movement for real immigration reform:

 We all know our immigration system needs fixing.

Immigration has been used as a wedge to obstruct progress on everything from the Stimulus to health care reform even the 2010 Census. There are many skeptics out there who believe Congress doesn’t have what it takes to pass reform in 2010 – or that even if they have what it takes, they don’t have the nerve to do it.

But just last week, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano reinforced the administration’s commitment to reform, laying out the details for why this push is different, and why we need to get it done.

What’s more, the national movement for real immigration reform is growing—and we are only getting bigger.

On Wednesday night, there were over 1,000 house parties in 45 states, with supporters gathered together anxiously to hear what they could do to help make reform a reality. All across the country, people are primed and ready to do whatever it takes to win this battle, and if you are not one of those people, now is the time to join the fight.

Watch our new video, sign up for the text message network, and help spread the word today.

In 2007, opponents of immigration reform took credit for stopping legislation in its tracks, overwhelming Congressional offices with a flood of angry phone calls and faxes. They took control of the debate and scared the pants off of vulnerable members of Congress.

This time around will be different, but it will take all of us to make real immigration reform a reality.


The Census, Re-apportionment, and the Immigration Debate

November 19, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


Census taker


One undercurrent to the year-to-year political shenanigans that play out in Congress around the immigration issue is the demographic change that is occurring in the country, officially measured every 10 years by the decennial census.  There is a census coming up, in just over four months, and our friends over at America’s Voice have just published a report giving us a little preview on the impact that the growth of the Latino population will have on the number of representatives in Congress that states will have once representation is adjusted to account for population shift that has occurred in the past 10 years.


The report projects that Latinos are responsible for 51% of the growth of the U.S. population since the last census in 2000.


While there are states that will gain representation largely due to the growth in their Latino population, perhaps the more interesting projection is that, in states that are losing population, growth in the Latino population of those states has stemmed their overall population decline. 


At the same time that the Latino population is growing in many parts of the country, a trend that is now several decades old continues: Northeast “rust-belt” states (also: cold-winter states) are losing population to sun-belt states, as their population ages and retires, or looks for economic opportunities elsewhere.   Latino in-migration is countering some of this loss.  Three of the states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, would have lost population were it not for the growth in their Latino population.  Louisiana will register a population decline, but that decline has been mitigated by growth in the Latino population.


What impact might these population shifts have on the immigration debate?


It is expected that eight states will gain representation in Congress, while eleven states will lose.  However, even in states where the growth in the Latino population will lead to more representation for the state, the political influence of Latinos will be mitigated by the politics of re-districting.  New congressional districts will be drawn to account for the re-distribution of the population.  In most states, the drawing of new districts is controlled by the state legislature, and the party in power tends to draw districts in such a way as to include a majority of voters that will vote for the party in power.  As the report notes,


“Republicans are poised to control the redistricting process in most of the states poised to gain seats in the U.S. House.” 


Given that, in recent years, Latinos have become more Democratic, we can expect that districts will be drawn to dilute the Latino vote in many of these states.  This gerrymandering, however, can only go so far.  As the report notes:


When drawing new Congressional borders following the 2000 Census, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature “moved” 100,000 citizens from the majority Latino Congressional District 23 to Congressional District 25 in order to protect a District 23 incumbent who was out of favor with Latinos.


The effort was struck down by the Supreme Court, which judged the resulting dilution of Latino votes a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Other trends will also lessen the impact of Latino population growth.  In Arizona, while there has been growth in the Latino population, the share of the electorate that is Latino has declined.


On the other hand, other factors will magnify the impact of Latino population growth.  In the mostly northern states that will be losing representation, Latino population growth combined with the out-migration of non-Latinos will mean a greater share of the electorate will be Latino, and most of those states are controlled by Democratic legislatures.


Finally, superimposed on all of the population shifts is the political shift that, if it continues, will magnify the Latino voice in the immigration debate.  The Republican Party, thanks to the prominence of its extreme voices in the immigration debate, has been driving Latinos into the Democratic camp.


How all of these long-term trends ultimately play out will be something to watch.  One can certainly hope that, if nothing else does, these long-term trends will slowly erode away the logjam in Congress.


Photo by Flickr user Adria Richards.

Update: President’s Senior Advisor Says Immigration Reform Advancing

November 16, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On November 13, we wrote about the speech DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered earlier that day at the Center for American Progress, where she laid out the Administration’s position on comprehensive immigration reform.  In that speech, Secretary Napolitano reviewed the accomplishment of DHS in addressing the concerns of some of the Members of Congress who, in 2007, opposed immigration reform because they felt the government could not sufficiently control the border or enforce the laws in the interior.  Many of those concerns have been addressed, as she detailed in her speech.


Over the weekend, President Obama’s Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, reiterated this message.  “We have to have better security at our borders and we are developing that,” he said.  He noted that, at present, “good work is being done on both sides of the isle” to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation that could create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 


As the time approaches for the introduction of legislation to reform our immigration system, we look forward to more efforts by the administration to remind Members of Congress that 2009 is not 2007.  DHS has seriously focused on the concerns of those who wanted to see more enforcement, but going forward, as Secretary Napolitano said on Friday, DHS will need immigration reform to do its job as effectively as possible.

“DHS needs immigration reform”

November 13, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


DHS Secretary Napolitano
Photo: Center for American Progress


Today, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress laying out the Obama Administration’s position on immigration reform.  It was a very strong speech, and what follows are some highlights.


First, Secretary Napolitano acknowledged the Administration’s preoccupation with the very serious economic situation the country is facing, but went on to note that this Administration is “taking on the critical challenges that have been ignored in Washington for too long.”  One of those challenges is immigration reform.


“Let me be clear: when I talk about “immigration reform,” I’m referring to what I call the “three-legged stool” that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here.”


Of course, this has been tried before, and didn’t get through Congress.  What’s different?


“In 2007, many members of Congress said that they could support immigration reform in the future, but only if we first made significant progress securing the border. This reflected the real concern of many Americans that the government was not serious about enforcing the law. Fast-forward to today, and many of the benchmarks these members of Congress set in 2007 have been met.”


She reminded us of how the immigration landscape has changed since 2007.


“The federal government has dedicated unprecedented resources to the Mexican border in terms of manpower, technology and infrastructure—and it’s made a real difference.”


She noted not only that the Border Patrol has attained a level of 20,000 officers and there have been hundreds of miles of barriers built, but that the Administration “has increased the resources the government is dedicating to combating drug cartels, and the smuggled cash and illegal weapons they thrive on,” and this has resulted in a significant increase in seizures of drugs, cash, and weapons.


In part due to enforcement, in part due to the economy, the number of illegal border crossings has declined by more than half from a few years ago.  Enforcement of immigration laws in the interior has also stepped up.  Secretary Napolitano touted the revised 287(g) agreements, Secure Communities, and the expanding use of E-Verify (which, she said, was gaining nearly 2,000 employers per week).


Since 2007, new technology has been deployed that allows us to more quickly screen someone trying to enter the country.


“…new biometric technology allows us to take the fingerprints of people coming into the United States and compare their prints against databases we couldn’t access before. This means we have new and enhanced abilities to quickly identify people….”


Regarding the government’s ability to handle reform, she noted that backlogs for immigration services have been eliminated, and processing times for all kinds of immigration applications have been reduced.


Another change since 2007: more of the public is demanding sensible solutions.


“There are leaders of the law enforcement community speaking out, saying that immigration reform is vital to their ability to do their jobs keeping Americans safe. Faith leaders, including the National Association of Evangelicals, have announced their support for immigration reform as a moral and practical issue. We are seeing more business leaders and more labor leaders engaged in this debate in a constructive way than we have ever seen before.”


[Conveniently, and as if to underscore Secretary Napolitano’s point about increased engagement on immigration reform, we were alerted to this blog post on NumbersUSA, an anti-immigrant group, which provides a list of the major institutions of our society that are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.  It is an impressive list of nearly 50 mostly religious institutions, plus civil rights organizations, unions, business associations, and political organizations.  They are dismissed as “elites” by NumbersUSA (elites being anyone who does not agree with NumbersUSA’s anti-immigrant positions).]


The bottom line, for Janet Napolitano speaking as Secretary of Homeland Security, was this:


“When it comes to immigration, I took an oath as Secretary of Homeland Security to secure the nation by enforcing the law and managing legal flows across the border. Let me be clear: to do this job as effectively as possible, DHS needs immigration reform.”


While Secretary Napolitano listed new legal tools the Department would like to see to make enforcement more effective, she reiterated a point she made several times during the presentation:


“Let me emphasize this: we will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows.”


In addition to a legalization program and enforcement, Secretary Napolitano also said that, going forward, we need to “make sure the immigration system works to support American families, businesses and workers.”


On these points, she explained that,


  • “…unions will never achieve the best terms for workers when a large part of the workforce is illegal and operates in a shadow economy.”

  • “…our visa policies must work for every sector of our economy, and across the income scale. … We need to revise our current provisions for legal migration to help assure a legal workforce in cases where businesses can’t find Americans to fill their jobs.”

  • “Our immigration system is outdated where families are concerned, and we need to modernize and streamline the laws governing this process.  No one should have to wait in a line for years in order to reunite with a spouse or a young child.”


Among the questions that Secretary Napolitano responded to in the question and answer period after her remarks, she said that, regarding the timeline for reform, she hoped that in the first part of 2010, legislation would be moving.  To a question about whether enforcement elements of reform might move ahead first, with legalization following later, she said that, from a law enforcement perspective, having so many people in the country with unclear status makes it very difficult for the police to do their job of protecting their communities.


You can find Secretary Napolitano’s full remarks here.


A video of the CAP event can be viewed here.

The Forum's press release commenting on Secretary Napolitano's speech can be found here.


DREAMers: Taking the Reins of their Cause

November 13, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno

This post was originally featured at

By Maribel Hastings

The second article in the series Immigration Reform: Know the Players

WASHINGTON, D.C. - One group that has changed dramatically since past immigration battles -- with help from the growing influence of social networking--are the so-called “DREAMers:” undocumented youth who would benefit from the proposed DREAM Act. The act would form part of a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, and has also been proposed as an independent bill.

The DREAMers didn’t come here by choice. They were brought to the United States as young children, or were victims of the broken immigration bureaucracy. The DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support, would grant them a path to legalization if they completed their studies or joined the military.

Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across the country.

Over the past decade the DREAM Act has been proposed in Congress as its own bill and as part of other immigration bills, including the failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007.

After the failure of the 2007 reform bill, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) proposed it as a separate piece of legislation, but couldn’t secure the 60 votes required for debate.

Juan, a student and member of the 
DREAMActivist network--and one of the bill’s potential beneficiaries—believes that the 2007 setback sparked the creation of a more organized national movement.

“I think the main difference between now and 2007 was our decision to use the tools at our disposal and saturate every media channel possible to put a face on our cause, to humanize the issue,” Juan told America’s Voice.

It’s a movement that relies on volunteers — not an easy task, since the majority of the DREAMers, in addition to being undocumented, lack the resources to make frequent lobbying visits to Washington. But they have succeeded in halting deportations and they are present in every corner of the country. Their fight has been depicted in films such as Papers, which has been shown in various cities.

United We Dream is the coalition of local and national organizations advocating for the DREAM Act. Dream Activist is “United We Dream’s interactive page,” explained Marisol Ramos, co-founder and board member of the coalition and the 
New York State Youth Leadership Council.

The network aims to explain to the public and Congress that legalization doesn’t just make sense for humanitarian reasons, but also for economic competitiveness, as it would allow the US to tap an enormous quarry of talent.

Juan emphasized that the United States already allows undocumented students to attend elementary school, middle school and high school. “It’s like planting a fruit tree and then leaving the fruit to rot. They’re not benefiting from their own investment,” he pointed out.

Ironically, while the government promotes programs to encourage minority students — particularly Hispanics -- not to drop out of school, it doesn’t legalize those who want to continue studying, or have completed their studies and want to work.

The DREAMers have established an organizational model that has enabled them to mobilize their cause without central offices or a budget of millions of dollars.

“Almost 100% of our work is voluntary,” declared Ramos, who, in addition to her regular workday, dedicates another seven hours of work to promote the DREAM Act on social-networking sites.

For Ramos, the setbacks of 2007 “confronted us with a cruel reality, but we’ve matured politically and we’ve made ourselves better activists.”

Walter Lara, whose deportation was suspended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told America’s Voice, “my case is a good example of the DREAMers’ organizing capacity.” Compared to 2007, “there are definitely more organizations, they’re using the Web more than ever, they’re interacting effectively with other groups, and they’re taking advantage of every opportunity in social networks and traditional media to promote their cause,” he declared.

But the debate surrounding the DREAM Act has been complicated.

Part of the opposition comes from those who always complain about undocumented immigrants being “rewarded.” Others oppose certain provisions in the DREAM Act, such as the one offering legalization in exchange for military service.

And still others argue that passing the DREAM Act separately would hurt efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The same would be true of legalizing agricultural workers, they say. Without those two sectors, they worry that there won’t be the political will to consider the rest of the undocumented population.

But Ramos noted that many of the parents or relatives of the DREAMers are undocumented, and the wisdom they’ve gained in the process “has made them better activists and they’re ready not only to promote the DREAM Act, but other causes as well.” 

“In the long term, this will help any cause,” Juan concluded.

Click here to read the first part in this series, “With Law Enforcement On Our Side”:

The DREAM Act has been reintroduced in the current session of Congress.

In the Senate, it has been introduced as S. 729 by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). The bill has 32 cosponsors and has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The corresponding House bill, which has 105 cosponsors and counting, is H.R. 1751.


New York State Youth Leadership Council

New York State Youth Leadership Council

Underground Undergrads>Pass the Dream Act

One Dream 2009

Dreams to Be Heard

Citizen Orange


North Carolina Latino Coalition

Coalition of Higher Education for Immigrant Students

Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Sunflower Community Action


El Pueblo NC

Florida Immigrant Coalition


Asian American Justice Center

Asian American Institute of Chicago



American Association of State Colleges and Universities

I still have a dream

Papers the Movie

CA Dream Network

Higher Education Access Alliance



A Veteran’s View: Honor Immigrants’ Service to Country—Protect Their Families

November 12, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno

This post was originally published at America’s Voice

Posted 11/11/09 at 11:56am


I wanted to share this powerful story featured at The Sanctuary today, in honor of Veteran's Day and all of the men and women who serve our country in uniform.

The story is from U.S. Army veteran, Ethiopian refugee, and American citizen Alemayehu Addis, and it includes a call to action. He asks us to support new legislation that would protect immigrant military families from the kind of hardships so many face when their loved ones return home from duty and try to navigate our broken immigration system.

Here's a snippet of Alemayehu's story -- check it out:

I came to the United States when I was 11 years old. I remember the day I first set foot on American soil as if it were yesterday: May 23, 1991. The oppressive humidity of a Washington D.C. summer made it even more memorable. Ethiopia is a warm country, but I had never experienced such a combination of swamp-like humidity and searing heat before. We stayed in Washington DC for about a month before we moved to Philadelphia where my family and I live now.


My story is similar to that of thousands of other immigrants in the United States Armed Services. They love this country, the freedom it enjoys, and the unparalleled opportunity it represents. It has been my experience that immigrant service members are the most eager to prove how much they love this country with their service because they are keenly aware of how unique and special our country is. According to a report released this week by the Immigration Policy Center, there are over 114,000 immigrants currently serving, and over 10,000 were naturalized as U.S. citizens last year. Since September 11th, over 53,000 men and women in the armed services have become U.S. citizens.

Yesterday, Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey introduced a bill to provide immigration relief to the thousands of immigrants and their families serving overseas. Simply, the bill aims to keep the families of US service members together while they fight for our freedom. At the very least, service members have earned the right to be united with their closest family members on a permanent basis without fearing that they will face unfair and unexpected deportation.

Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell said earlier this year:

I have seen it thousands of times in my military career: the young men and women who come to this country as immigrants and volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces, the children of immigrants who volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. You will find no better or more loyal soldiers than these young men and women who may already be citizens who hope to do their service to become citizens.

I can think of no better way on Veteran’s Day to honor these service members, who have put their lives on the line for our freedom, than to support this bill – the Adjustment of Status for Family members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Neither can we.

Note: Cross-posted at Daily Kos.


Joining the Fight for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

November 11, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


This post is co-authored by Nora Feely, who compiled the veterans stories included below.

Last February, in a speech addressing immigrant integration and President Obama's campaign promise to reform our broken immigration system, General Colin Powell declared his recognition of the importance of immigrants and first generation citizens in the Armed Forces.

I have seen it thousands of times in my military career: the young men and women who come to this country as immigrants and volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces, the children of immigrants who volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. You will find no better or more loyal soldiers than these young men and women who may already be citizens or who hope to do their service to become citizens.
-General Colin Powell, February 9, 2009

While these soldiers may be loyal, some have their lives turned upside down by our broken immigration system.

This week, just in time for Veterans Day, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill, S.2757, that would allow parents, spouses and children of members of the Armed Forces to adjust their status and receive an immigrant visa. This will prevent the deportation of the close family members of those who are serving our country in the Armed Forces.

Absent comprehensive immigration reform, Senator Menendez, along with his co-sponsors (Senators Durbin, Feingold, Gillibrand, Inouye, and Landrieu), reasonably propose to provide relief from our broken immigration system for the people who risk their lives for this country.

Also this week, the Immigration Policy Center released a report on immigrants in the military since September 11, 2001. The report notes that there are more than 114,000 immigrants currently serving in the military. It discusses the history of immigrants in the military, with special attention to recent changes in the law to enhance the integration of immigrant service men and women since September 11, 2001. The report also draws attention to the fact that Congress has still not passed the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status to undocumented young people who have gone through our school system and seek to go on to college or to serve in the military.

As General Powell noted, we are fortunate to be loyally served by immigrants and the children of immigrants who give their time, and sometimes their lives, to defend our country. Many subsequently go on to a life of public service. Below are the stories of a few of the brave men and women General Powell spoke of. Having fought for our country in the Armed Forces, they now have joined the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

Ahmed R. Ali's family immigrated to the United States in 1976 from Bangladesh. They fled their war-torn nation in search of stability and greater opportunities in America. Ahmed's parents worked odd jobs and moved around for years before his family settled in Bethesda, Maryland, where his father was able to obtain further education in engineering. Ahmed held a full-time job in order to attend college on a part-time basis before deciding to join the military. He chose this path in order to expand his educational opportunities and serve his adopted country. After graduating at the top of his class from Boot Camp, Ahmed requested the most technical job available and entered advanced training to become an Aegis SPRY radar specialist in the Navy. After graduating from training with high marks, he served six years of active duty and deployed three times to serve in the Middle East.

Since leaving active duty, Ahmed has been in the military reserves working for the U.S. government and for several defense contracting firms. In 2005, he started his own IT & Engineering firm that he built into a successful and well respected company with a multimillion dollar revenue. His clients include the Defense Information Systems Agency, Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Commerce, Veterans Affairs, and the IRS among others. Ahmed has accomplished the American dream, reaching success through hard work and dedication. Despite all of his business and financial success, Ahmed says that the accomplishment he is most proud of is having served in a United States uniform. He believes that immigrants are the backbone of our country whose skills, spirit, and contributions should be welcomed by all Americans through comprehensive immigration reform.

Domingo Berlanga grew up in Bryan, Texas, during a time when restaurants had signs that read "No dogs or Mexicans Allowed." He was a farm-worker until he volunteered for service during the Korean War. After being stationed in various locations throughout the country, Mr. Berlanga was deployed to Alaska where his unit was the first line of defense against a Soviet invasion of our Northern border. When Mr. Berlanga left the military, he became an active member of his community as an active member of the United Autoworkers Local 598 in Flint, Michigan. He discovered that many Latino veterans were not receiving the benefits they earned under the GI Bill. Remembering the discrimination he faced in Texas, Mr. Berlanga became a founding member of a chapter of the American GI Forum, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all Hispanic and Latino veterans receive the benefits they earned. Continuing to help those in need, Mr. Berlanga became a co-founder of a community center that provides computers for the unemployed, facilitating their search for work. Today, at the age of 80, he is the post commander of the American GI Forum in Flint and is working to establish a referral clinic for non-English speakers.

Mr. Berlanga has dedicated his life to equality and justice and has worked constantly to give back to this country and its communities. He also comes from a family dedicated to our military -- his brothers are veterans of World War II and Korea, two of his sons fought in Vietnam, and his third is a National Guard member. This is a family the United States is lucky to count as citizens. Yet Mr. Berlanga is bothered by the unfair treatment some families of our men and women in uniform receive under our current immigration system. Without comprehensive immigration reform, our country will miss out on important contributions offered by people like Mr. Berlanga.

Ivan Silva, born to a Mexican mother and Portuguese father, is the child of first generation immigrants. Hoping to advance his education and fight the effects of drugs in local communities, Ivan joined the military in 2000 and served in the US Navy Special Forces as a Search and Rescue Team Coordinator. He served one tour in South America as an anti-drug smuggling operative where he was responsible for confiscating 4.5 cubic tons of cocaine. He was later deployed to two tours in Iraq. After serving his country for five years, Ivan came home to his wife, a second-generation immigrant, and his two children. He finished his Bachelors degree and will soon hold a MBA.

For Ivan, serving in the military was an extremely significant milestone in his life, giving him a deeper connection to his country. Ivan sees the United States as a nation of immigrants and believes it should remain that way. He is a strong supporter for comprehensive immigration reform, and believes it would level the playing field for those driven to succeed by providing the opportunity for education and training with hard work.

Saif Khan and his family moved to the United States from India in 1993, seeking greater educational and professional opportunities for his family. Saif decided that he wanted to give back to the country that had given him so much, and between high school and the start of college at Virginia Commonwealth University, he joined the Army National Guard. He served in the Guard from 2000-2006. His unit was mobilized for several State and National Emergencies and in 2003 they received orders to serve in Iraq. Years before, Saif's family applied for citizenship but his family's request was held up in the backlog. As he prepared to deploy Saif became increasingly concerned about missing his scheduled immigration interview while he was in Iraq. Saif explained his predicament to his Commander who got in touch with the Department of Justice, which expedited his interview, and Saif was naturalized on the tarmac just before being deployed.

While serving overseas, Saif first spent time in Kuwait. Many of the contract workers serving the base were from India and Saif's background proved useful as he became the ad hoc translator so the workers could communicate with the soldiers. Saif's unit moved to Mosul where they were assigned to provide security for the Explosive Ordinance Team as it defused roadside bombs. Saif returned from Iraq in 2005 and reentered college at Virginia Commonwealth University. Although his original major was biology, Saif was so fascinated by the treatment of troops and veterans that he switched his major to political science. He has since interned with Senator Jim Webb's Richmond office, performing veterans outreach and he has worked organizing veterans. Saif feels that military service was a way for him to pay back his country for the rights and freedoms he has been given in the U.S. Despite the risks, it has made him proud to serve. He also feels that some ignore him because he is an immigrant, but when he tells people he served in the military, in combat, then he becomes the ultimate citizen in their eyes.

From these experiences, Saif strongly supports giving others the opportunities he has received. While he was serving in Iraq, Saif's two sisters became citizens. During the ceremony, his mother wore a button that read, "My son is serving in Iraq." These are the kinds of families we can welcome into our nation through comprehensive immigration reform.


For Veterans, Broken Immigration Laws May Be a Tougher Battle

November 09, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


(Thanks to Forum intern Vanessa Gutierrez for this post.)


Even after risking their lives for our country, military veterans are not guaranteed they will be treated fairly by our immigration laws.  The mistreatment that some of our military veterans and their loved ones suffer as a result of our broken immigration laws is a national embarrassment, and a compelling example of why Congress must act to fix the immigration system.  Although this week we celebrate a national holiday in honor of our veterans, for some that holiday only highlights the feeling that the country has turned its back on them.


Robin Ferschke lost her son to the war in Iraq, now she may lose her grandson and daughter-in-law to a half-century-old immigration law. 22-year-old Sgt. Mike Ferschke was stationed in Japan for three years, where he met Hota. The couple had been together for 13 months prior to marrying by proxy, after Mike was deployed to Iraq.[1] Under U.S. immigration laws, proxy marriages are not valid unless the marriage is consummated after the couple takes their vows. The marriage, although recognized by the Department of Defense, is not recognized by the Department of Homeland Security.[2]


Sgt. Ferschke lost his life on August 10, 2008, not having a chance to reunite with his pregnant wife.[3] Their plan had been to go back to his hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, and raise their son. But, because the Ferschkes never consummated their marriage, Hota and nine-month-old Mikey, a U.S. citizen by birth, now face possible deportation. Hota and Robin asked lawmakers to intervene on their behalf, and on behalf of the numerous other families in a similar situation.[4]  Robin stated that her son “fought for his country. And now we have to fight our country for what is right.”[5]


The Ferschkes may be helped by a private bill, introduced in Congress, that would allow Hota to legalize and remain in the U.S. Hota is one of the military wives impacted by U.S. immigration laws featured in the “In Their Boots” documentary series, a project raising awareness of the sacrifices of American veterans and their families.


A different kind of case is represented by the Barrios family. Jack Barrios, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depends on his wife, Frances, to raise their two young children and support him as he undergoes counseling two years after returning from Iraq.  Frances, who was brought to the US at age 6, found out that she was undocumented when she was in high school.  She now faces deportation, which would leave Jack, in his fragile state, to take care of himself and his two young children.  Hundreds of U.S. soldiers are in a similar situation.  They are fighting for their country, while at the same time they fight the immigration bureaucracy.[6]  [Update: The Los Angeles Times reports that Frances Barrios was granted humanitarian relief from deportation by the Department of Homeland Security.]


While our byzantine federal immigration laws can create nightmares for our veterans, the hysteria of cultural conservatives to enact ever-more punitive immigration laws can pile on troubles for some veterans—and it is not just non-citizen veterans and family members who are affected.


Salt Lake County (Utah) officials applied a Utah law requiring verification of citizenship from individuals receiving public benefits to disabled veterans. The County interpreted the law broadly to include property-tax-breaks as a “public benefit.”  Over 3,500 disabled veterans received notices requiring them to provide proof of their legal status in order to qualify for a property-tax-break from the county.  Given that the U.S. military does not recruit people who are in the country unlawfully, it is not surprising that officials have found no unlawfully present disabled veterans.[7]


Recently, Congress acted to fix one problem that penalizes the spouse and child of veterans and others who die while the immigrant visa application for the spouse or child is in process.  Up to now, if a serviceman or woman dies while his or her spouse or child are still in the process of obtaining their permanent immigrant visa, the government stopped processing the visa application because the sponsor—the service man or woman—had died.  Under these tragic circumstances, for the military spouse and child, not only had they lost their loved one in service to their country, but they also lost the right to live in the U.S.  Last month, a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security contained a provision offered by Senators Menendez, Nelson, Gillibrand, and others to allow the application of spouses and children of U.S. sponsors to continue, even if the sponsor dies before the application is complete.


Until we reform our immigration laws in a more comprehensive way, however, those veterans and military families whose lives intersect with immigration law will risk experiencing the cruel consequences of our broken immigration system.

[1] Associated Press, Marine’s Wife gets bipartisan Senate help, by Kristin Hall, (Oct. 14, 2009)

[2] Los Angeles Times, Bill would allow widow of Marine killed in Iraq to stay in the U.S., (Oct. 14, 2009).

[3] Knoxville News Sentinel: Legislators join effort to keep family of fallen Marine in United States, by Michael Collins, (Oct. 14, 2009).

[4]WJLA News: Soldier’s Family Fights Deportation, (Oct. 13, 2009).

[5] Knoxville News Sentinel: Legislators join effort to keep family of fallen Marine in United States, by Michael Collins, (Oct. 14, 2009).

[6] Los Angeles Times, Struggling Iraq Veteran may lose his Anchor, by Teresa Watanabe,0,144983.story (Oct. 26, 2009).

[7] The Salt Lake City Tribune, Disabled Vets Upset Over Citizenship Proof Policy,, (Oct. 17, 2009).

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