Senate Immigration Bill Is Not a Clear Victory for Immigrant Communities

Source: Huffington Post Politics Blog – Alisa Wellek

The final Senate vote on the immigration bill has just been cast. This is a historic moment for the United States, but there remain serious problems with this flawed bill as it stands today. The Senate bill falls short of ensuring fundamental due process protections for all aspiring citizens, and disregards the safety and wellbeing of immigrant communities nationwide by including extreme and punitive measures that leave individuals vulnerable to racial profiling, automatic deportation and human and civil rights abuses along the borders. As the legislation moves on to the House, there are critical protections that must be guaranteed and expanded … Read more

Senate Immigration Amendment’s Gang Provisions Enforce Guilt by Association and Not Conviction

Source: Huffington Post Politics Blog – Angie Junck

This week the Senate will choose to either perpetuate the harsh and ineffective policies of current immigration law, or take important steps forward to ensure that the millions of undocumented individuals and green card holders have a fair chance to get on the pathway to citizenship. As it stands today, the bill and proposed amendments fall short of ensuring a fair and inclusive path forward. The current bill imposes extreme limitations, which will result in keeping thousands, if not millions from coming out of the shadows. The bill continues to criminalize immigrants by targeting specific groups for deportation; one such group includes alleged members of a gang. Targeting gang members sounds like a sensible enforcement focus, but the Senate bill’s provisions are crafted so broadly that they target even those who have never been gang members, have never been convicted of a crime, or left gangs years ago and have long since rehabilitated. Moreover, an amendment to the current reform bill, introduced by Sen. Grassley, makes this harsh provision far worse by making it very easy to be labeled a gang member …read more

The Sylvain Family

Roland Sylvain is a green card holder who moved from Haiti to the U.S when he was just 7 years old and has lived in the U.S. for 35 years. Roland is a family man who loves to spend time with his U.S. citizen wife, his four U.S. citizen children and his U.S. citizen stepdaughter. He is known as the anchor of his family.

Roland’s family and home are in the United States. His parents are both naturalized citizens who emigrated from Haiti to build a better life for their family. Roland’s mother is a licensed practical nurse and his father, a former yellow cab driver, is a recently retired school bus driver. After saving up from their hard work, Roland’s parents purchased a home in Piscataway, NJ, where Roland grew up with his brother Carl and sister Cristina. Roland currently splits his time between Jamaica, Queens and Connecticut, where his wife, Lilly, lives with her daughter. His sister lives in nearby New Jersey and his brother lives in Georgia. Roland also has a large, extended tight-knit family in the U.S. (his mother has 9 siblings), most of whom live on the East Coast. Roland has always been one of the leaders in keeping his family–both immediate and extended–together. He is the first to jump in and take care of things when there is an issue. He also organizes family vacations and reunions.

Roland and his wife Lilly are both frontline workers who have stepped up to serve their communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Roland is a Quality Assurance Production Lead at a company that distributes personal protective equipment (PPE). He has been risking his health to work in-person to ensure that other frontline workers have access to life-saving PPE. Lilly is a registered nurse and has also been working in person throughout the pandemic. In these unprecedented times, they have supported each other and relied heavily on one another.

Despite Roland’s strong family ties and many contributions to the community, he is now facing deportation because of Virginia convictions he received after writing someone else’s name on traffic tickets 18 years ago.

In 2002, Roland and his family were en route to Florida for a vacation when they were pulled over for speeding. Everyone was forced to exit the vehicle and sit on the side of the road while a police officer issued Roland three traffic tickets. In a moment of panic, Roland signed someone else’s name on the tickets because his own license had been suspended. Roland immediately confessed his true identity to the police officer, but it didn’t matter; the officer charged him with forging public records. Roland pleaded guilty without being advised of the immigration consequences of his plea. He received a one-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for each ticket he signed. When he asked about the suspended sentence, his lawyer told him it was no big deal; that it was just a traffic infraction. Roland never served any time in jail. After his conviction, Roland moved on, started a family, and developed expertise in quality assurance. He had no idea that his guilty plea would change his life forever.

In 2011, Roland and several family members decided to take a week-long Fourth of July cruise. When they returned to Florida, Roland, along with others on the ship who weren’t U.S. citizens, was taken to an immigration office. An official took his fingerprints and green card. Roland later received a date to appear in immigration court in the mail and found himself in removal proceedings. Immigration officials argued that Roland’s Virginia convictions from ten years earlier were “aggravated felonies” and that he should be deported without the immigration court considering how long he’s lived in the U.S., his family ties, or his contributions to community.

Then, in 2014, something happened that Roland thought would turn his life around: he received a rare grant of prosecutorial discretion from ICE and the immigration court administratively closed his case. Roland thought he would be able to put this legal nightmare behind him. That is, until his case was reopened.

In 2018, four years after being granted prosecutorial discretion, ICE moved to reopen his case, citing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision in Matter of Castro Tum. Roland is now again confronted with the threat of exile and permanent separation from his family and his community.

A pardon from the Governor of Virginia could prevent Roland’s deportation.

The Forrester Family

Dana Forrester met her husband, Astley, while on vacation in Jamaica. Astley was working as a security guard at Dana’s hotel when they met. She was grieving the recent loss of her mother at the time, and discovered that Astley had also just lost his own mother; this brought them close together. After Dana left, they spoke on the phone every day, becoming extremely close and falling in love. She soon returned to Jamaica and they were engaged. Dana became pregnant with their daughter, Lilla Lora, who is named after Astley’s late mother.

After applying for the fiancé visa for Astley to come to the U.S., immigration officials told them they should marry right away in order to secure the waiver needed to consider and waive his previous convictions. As an adolescent in Jamaica, Astley was convicted of possession of marijuana on two separate occasions. The amount was minimal; he was made to pay a small fine to the Jamaican Court and he served no jail time. As a result of these charges, he has been permanently barred from entering the United States.

Dana and Astley got married in Jamaica, but soon discovered that immigration officials had misunderstood the circumstances of their case and had advised Dana and Astley incorrectly; marriage would not provide him the waiver he needed to join his family in the U.S. Because of these old and minor marijuana possession charges, Astley cannot come to the United States under any circumstances.

Dana cannot move their family to Jamaica as she is the primary caretaker for her ailing father and has a son from a previous relationship. She is struggling to take care of her family on her own without the support of her husband by her side. Astley calls Dana every morning to wake her up, drink coffee and read the bible together.

Their daughter talks to him every day through Skype and often says that her “daddy is lost and can’t come home.” She has tea parties and plays games with her dad over the computer. Dana’s son, Imanni, is nine years-old and is very close to Astley, seeking out his advice and help with homework.

The Forrester family is now forced to live their lives together through machines and electronic correspondence. They are waiting for the day that they can live together as a family.

Putting an End to Sledgehammer Justice: Lawmakers Must Heed the Call for a Fair and Inclusive Path to Citizenship

Source: Huffington Post Politics Blog – Alisa Wellek

The current immigration bill falls short of overhauling our broken immigration system. The heart of the bill is clearly the pathway to citizenship, but what’s missing from the conversation is the number of individuals who will actually be barred from this path. Provisions in the bill and several amendments that senators will vote on this week exacerbate the current denial of due process rights in the immigration system. They aim to further exclude immigrants, both undocumented individuals and green card holders, leaving them off the path and without a fair day in court before facing permanent separation from their families…read more

Expanding Domestic Violence Deportation Grounds Does No Favors to Survivors

Source: Huffington Post Politics Blog – Paromita Shah

What’s at stake in the immigration reform bill is whether or not we continue to perpetuate the harsh and short-sighted policies of our current immigration laws. As the bill and proposed amendments stand today, we are headed down a path that will continue to criminalize immigrants and mandate wholesale lock up and deportation. We cannot afford to squander this moment; the outcome must be a set of fair and humane policies that consider the individual circumstances of the millions of undocumented and green card holders who live on American soil …read more

Let Immigration Judges be Judges

Source: The Hill’s Congress Blog – Dana Leigh Marks

The upcoming congressional debate over comprehensive immigration reform presents a rare opportunity for immigrants living in this country to have a real chance at pursuing the American dream. As reform legislation is drafted and debated, we must consider the essential role immigration courts play in ensuring that everyone has a fair day in court when presenting their case to remain in the United States. Congress must revisit the courts’ current resources and structuring, and better equip and empower our benches to secure due process for all …read more

The Immigrant Justice Network is a leading advocacy voice against the criminalization of immigrants in the United States. Grounded in racial justice values, we build power to defend the dignity of all immigrants.