Despite our fervent hopes, immigration reform was a bust. The year started out with a great deal of anticipation, on the heels of a presidential election in which the Republicans lost heavily among Hispanics and other minority groups and finally realized that they needed to expand their tent.
Unfortunately, this sentiment did not translate into action in the GOP-controlled House, which refused to pursue a comprehensive immigration reform bill similar to the one passed last spring in the Senate.
At the end, President Obama said he would consider immigration reform on a piecemeal basis, as was the sentiment in the House, but there was no progress toward that goal by the end of the year. With the 2014 elections coming up, it is questionable whether there is bipartisan support for a legalization program for the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the United States.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I would predict that President Obama will pursue other administrative remedies if there is no possibility of congressional action. He did it last year with DACA and I-601A waivers, to benefit DREAMers and “Immediate Relatives” of U.S. Citizens. As a lame duck, he would have nothing to lose by, for example, expanding the I-601A provisional waivers to also include beneficiaries of family petitions – for example, spouses of Legal Permanent Residents and adult children of single LPRs.
My view is that a legalization program is inevitable; the only question is when. There might not be a speedy “path to citizenship,” but what most of my undocumented clients want is a work permit, a driver’s license, a Social Security number and some sense of security. There is a sweet spot out there for both Democrats and Republicans, so I would expect that legalization of millions of unauthorized immigrants will take place if not in 2014 then sometime in the near future.
All this pent-up demand, coupled with the DACA and I-601A administrative remedies, kept our law office quite busy in 2013. We expanded our operation in Hempstead to five-days-a-week, including Saturday, and will be soon opening a satellite office further east.
We also hired several top individuals that will help strengthen our foundation for future growth. Adam Tavares, a 2013 Touro Law graduate, has done a terrific job for us with DACA and Immigration Court litigation. Carmen (“Consuelo”) Fuentes re-joined our firm after several years as office manager for another immigration law firm, and we also added former social worker Xiomara Villacis and former journalist Alejandra Sorto to our paralegal ranks. Also joining the team as a junior paralegal is Miriam Totalhua, who obtained work authorization as our DACA client. More than 500,000 previously undocumented immigrants were granted work permits and relief from deportation through this program.
The DACA program was inspiration for the DMS DREAM Foundation. The Dream Foundation, under the leadership of Leo Herrera, held its first news conference at Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Central Islip, and sponsored the second annual DREAM Cruise in August, attracting community leaders from across Long Island to raise funds and awareness of this program.
The Long Island Latino Teachers Association, the recipient of the DREAM Foundation’s first award, presented grants to more than 10 students during a ceremony at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood.
This past year also marked our firm’s expansion into federal court litigation. On a personal note, I successfully argued my first case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, one step below the Supreme Court. The case involved a Salvadoran man who was denied Temporary Protected Status because a “notario” – who held himself out as an attorney – failed to file his application in time. The judges agreed that my client had exercised “due diligence” and remanded the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals. A favorable BIA decision could provide relief to thousands of immigrants who used “notarios,” thinking that they had special immigration expertise.
Another of our cases, if successful, could expand the grounds of asylum eligibility based on membership in a “Particular Social Group” – in this case, former M-18 members who tried to escape from the gang. We will keep our readers posted.
If there is no significant immigration legislation this year, I would expect that Obama will pursue additional administrative remedies. There are also already-existing remedies for young undocumented immigrants such as Special Immigration Juvenile (SIJ), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and victims of domestic violence and crime such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, for men also) and U visas.
Prime candidates for any new immigration relief would be individuals who have lived in the United States for more than 10 years, have never been apprehended by immigration or police authorities, can demonstrate good moral character, have paid their taxes and have family members who are U.S. Citizens, LPRs or any other legal status.
We are also lobbying for legislation or administrative relief that would make TPS recipients from El Salvador and Honduras eligible for LPR status. By definition those TPS registrants have lived in the United States for more than 13 years, have work authorization, have paid their taxes and do not have any disqualifying criminal convictions.
Unauthorized immigrants should understand that there is NO new immigration program, and that they should not be misled by “notarios” who promise to get them papers. However, anyone who falls into the category mentioned above should contact a good immigration lawyer or reputable legal-services group such as Catholic Charities to explore any options and prepare for eventual legalization.