Category Archives: Immigration

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

NETWORK Government Relations Team
November 5, 2018

The Midterm Elections are upon us — and NETWORK is busy looking ahead to the work that must be done for the rest of the year.

Members of Congress will arrive back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 13 to finish out the final legislative efforts for the 115th Congress. There are some time-sensitive issues Congress must address, as well as others that may be considered if there is time and political will. All the items on the agenda will be affected by two factors: the outcome of Tuesday’s election as well as subsequent leadership elections, especially in the House of Representatives.

With these uncertainties in mind, here is NETWORK’s analysis for upcoming issues in the final days of the 115th Congress.

Must Do: Fund the Government for 2019

Appropriations: Congress outperformed all expectations by passing 7 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2019 before the start of the fiscal year, which began on October 1.  While kudos are in order, NETWORK is urging them to pick-up where they left off as soon as they return and it’s imperative that they finish the job before the end of the year.  Lawmakers have until December 7th to reach agreement on the 5 remaining spending bills which fund programs at more than 10 federal agencies, or risk a government shutdown.  Several of our Mend the Gap issues are among the log-jam.  These include: programs that fund the 2020 census, affordable housing and keep immigrant families together.

Border Wall

The most contentious issue will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security; which President Trump has already threatened a government shutdown if Congress fails to appropriate roughly $5 billion for his border wall.  A government shut-down would be detrimental just weeks before Christmas and would coincide with the anticipated arrival of thousands of migrants trekking toward the Southern border.  NETWORK has joined hundreds of advocacy organizations in calling for Congress freeze spending at FY 2018 levels for immigration enforcement officers, agents and detention beds.   And we urge Congress to pass a separate short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security.  NETWORK is ready to kick our advocacy efforts into high-gear if we perceive threats around funding for our immigration and census priorities.

2020 Census

Funding for the Census Bureau, which requires a significant ramp-up for Census 2020 preparations and planning.   If Congress returns to the dysfunction we saw last year with repeated funding delays via Continuing Resolutions, it could seriously threaten the ramp-up and preparations for our government’s largest peacetime undertaking, the decennial.  Fiscal Year 2019 is the pivotal year leading up to the 2020 Census so postponing full funding would have dire consequences on the preparations and outcome of the count.  While the proposed funding levels from the Senate and the House seem acceptable, it is unclear what the budget impact would be on the impending court ruling on the controversial citizenship question.

Click here to read more about NETWORK’s FY 2019 appropriations priorities.

That being said, there are some outstanding “Maybe” issues that Congress could address: the Farm Bill, Criminal Justice, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Farm Bill: Protect SNAP

There has not been much apparent progress since the Farm Bill moved into conference in August.  One of the primary sticking points in negotiations is the nutrition title and reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The partisan House Bill—which passed by 2 votes on the second try—includes harmful provisions that would undermine the program’s effectiveness and cut nutrition assistance for millions of Americans.  The Senate bill, which saw the strongest bipartisan support of any prior Farm Bill (86-11), makes key improvements to strengthen SNAP without threatening food security of participants.  The 2014 Farm Bill expired this month but, fortunately major programs like SNAP have a funding cushion that minimizes the impact of Congress missing that deadline.  It’s highly likely, though, that the Farm Bill conference committee will kick into high gear when Congress returns on November 13th.  During Lame Duck NETWORK will need your help to ensure that the nutrition title from the Senate bill is what’s ultimately adopted and voted into law.

Criminal Justice

There is wide speculation that the Senate could join the House and take up a modest criminal justice reform package during the Lame Duck session, if 60 Senators agree to proceed.  In May, the House passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Over the summer the President tentatively agreed to include several sentencing reform elements into a prison reform package. The Senate was split on the issue of separating prison reform from sentencing reform but has changed course given the President’s willingness to negotiate a compromise.  While NETWORK supports sentencing and prison reform as a joint legislative package we did not take an official position on the First Step Act.

Read NETWORK’s thoughts on the First Step Act, from when it passed the House, here.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

As Congress concludes work for the year, there is a tradition that of a small group of tax bills that are bipartisan, non-controversial and relatively inexpensive get passed.  This group of tax bills is called “extenders.”  Members of the tax writing committees are now reviewing what their priorities are for any extender bill.  One of the tax initiatives under consideration is passage of “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 548) which expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to meet the housing needs of extremely low income renter households. This credit is the primary tool to encourage private investment in affordable housing development and is responsible for 90 percent of all affordable housing developments built each year.  Since it was passed in the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has incentivized the creation of 3 million affordable rental homes around the country.  NETWORK will work with

Given the national shortage of affordable housing, NETWORK believes it is critical that new build more low income housing units. Passage of this bill will go a long way to meeting the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable low income individuals and families.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Laura Peralta-Schulte
October 24, 2018

On October 10, 2018 the Trump Administration proposed drastically expanding the definition of who constitutes a “public charge” through a proposed rule in the Federal Register. Such a change would have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of individuals and families. If approved, it would set a wealth test for those seeking to become lawful permanent residents (LPR or green card holders), to extend or change the category of a nonimmigrant visa, or to bring family members to the U.S.  During this term in Congress, the Trump Administration has urged Members to pass legislation cut the family based immigration system and to shift to a merit based system.  Having failed to persuade Congress to much such a change, the Administration is now proposing to change the rules which will in practice limit legal immigration to US to those who are wealthy, well connected and well-educated.

The Administration is punishing people who wait years for a visa to come to America, work hard, and build a better life for themselves and their families. Previously, the government only restricted immigration applications on public charge grounds if it determined an immigrant would likely depend on public cash assistance or need long-term medical care in an institution at the government’s expense. Now, the bar will be much higher and impossible for many average, hardworking people to overcome. Under the proposed rule, receipt of an expanded list of public benefits will also be counted against a person including basic food, health and housing assistance. The full list includes:

  • Long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense
  • Medicare Part D
  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Public Housing
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • General Assistance

D.H.S. is also considering adding the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the list.

Further, under this rule, having income below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,975 for a family of three, would also be counted against an applicant.  A full third of all previous applicants had an income below this level. D.H.S. would also consider age, health, family status, assets, education and skills when determining whether an immigrant would become a public charge and certain characteristics would be deemed “negative factors,” or as indicators that the immigrant could become a public charge. Children, for example, start out with a negative mark because they don’t work.  If an immigrant has a medical condition, that will make it harder to become a lawful permanent resident. Preferencing the wealthy and failing to consider the tremendous gifts all immigrants bring to our communities is wrong.

The consequences of this proposed rule would be felt directly by those applying as well as U.S. citizen children: parents of U.S. citizen children could perceive they must choose between depriving their children of critical public health and safety programs or jeopardize their own immigration status. This is a painful and impossible decision. Both outcomes have devastating consequences for the wellbeing of children and families in America as one quarter of children in this country have at least one immigrant parent, and 90 percent of those children were born in the U.S. This is not a theoretical assertion.  The last time the United States made changes to the public charge rule, as part of the welfare reform effort in 1996, it instilled so much fear in communities that it led to significant drops in the use of programs critical to families. Even populations who were exempt from the public charge, like refugees and victims of trafficking, stopped using critical benefits that provided the support necessary for their families to become stable and healthy.  The use of a temporary assistance program known as TANF, for example, fell 78% among the refugee population despite the fact that refugees were not subject to the public charge test. The current proposed rule would similarly instill great fear in our communities across the country.

Finally, it is clear that the faith community and others who provide human needs services to those struggling in poverty will not be able to meet the needs of those impacted by this rule.  For example, Catholic Charities serves 1 in 9 individuals in need of food assistance in the United States. If the federal government implements the proposed changes, Catholic Charities would absorb an estimated $24 million in services that would no longer be covered.

We can all work to defeat this rule. Stay tuned for more resources and an upcoming action alert from NETWORK for how you can make a difference!

Walking and Praying for an End to Immigrant Detention

Walking and Praying for an End to Immigrant Detention

Vince Herberholt
September 13, 2018

St. Joseph Parish in Seattle embarked on a journey almost a year ago that recently resulted in a prayer pilgrimage and Mass at the GEO run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Washington – a destination 30 minutes away by bus and light years away from where we come from as a faith community.

St. Joseph is a wealthy Jesuit parish in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  The houses that surround the parish sell for millions of dollars.  Very few of our members would be considered poor or marginalized and almost no one would be considered “illegal” or more correctly undocumented.  And yet a year ago, our parish, known for its commitment to social justice,  started a journey of education and  solidarity with  the immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker and those detained in Immigration Prison.

After some preliminary research and assessment, we discerned that the greatest need, our interest and gifts as a faith community lie with public witness and advocacy.  So beginning in March 2018 we published a Parish Letter, “A Church of Accompaniment,” that serves as our Mission Statement.  From there we organized 2 community forums on Immigration and detention attended by over 300 people.  In the second forum we were joined by our Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, our representative who is a staunch advocate for immigrant justice.

Now with growing parish support, we began planning with our Jesuit Sister Parish, St. Leo the Great, for a pilgrimage and Mass at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.  On August 25th we gathered at St. Leo’s and began our prayerful 1.6 mile walk to the detention center in a bleak industrial area near the Port of Tacoma.  We were surprised and pleased that over 500 faithful people joined us.

The Mass was co-presided by our two pastors, Frs. John Whitney SJ and Matt Holland SJ, and the homily was delivered by Fr. Scott Santarosa SJ, the provincial of the Jesuit West Province.  His words exhorted us to “bridge all divides, and foster understanding among diverse peoples and cultures, and make people feel in the most real way at home.”

At the conclusion of the Mass we blessed the detainees and their captors.  It was a hopeful day that renewed our energy for the continuing journey and cemented our relationship with immigrants and refugees.

To learn more about St. Joseph Parish, visit their website here

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Tralonne Shorter
September 12, 2018

This summer, Congress made extraordinary progress toward completing the requisite 12 spending measures for upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019. To date, the Senate has passed nine spending bills, while the House has passed six. Lawmakers have until September 30 to finalize spending bills or extend funding at current levels through a continuing resolution (CR).  Efforts are underway to bundle nine* out of 12 spending measures into three packages by September 30 and put the remaining three** bills into a CR, averting a government shutdown.

One reason for the Senate’s remarkable pace on appropriations is President Trump’s vow to not sign another omnibus spending bill.  To achieve this progress, the Senate uncharacteristically spent part of August in session.  Another reason is a bipartisan agreement between Appropriations committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not to pack spending bills with controversial provisions that would weaken bipartisan support.

NETWORK continues to lead lobby efforts supporting our Mend the Gap priorities.  These include:  humane border enforcement that promotes family unity and funding increases for affordable housing, workforce development, job training, child welfare and health care.  In addition, NETWORK will continue to oppose efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Immigration

Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy dominated the appropriations debate and faced strong opposition across party lines in both chambers.  NETWORK joined pro-immigration advocates in garnering support for more than 12 amendments to the Homeland Security bill that adds report language that clamps down on family separation with better oversight and accountability standards for ICE detention centers.  Additionally, we successfully lobbied for more funding to support alternatives to detention, family case management services, and mental health screening of unaccompanied minor children crossing the Southern border. However, a major disappointment by House Appropriators includes the reversal of the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement drafted by the ACLU which set a 20-day limit for family detention and governs the conditions of detention for children, including that facilities be safe, sanitary, and age appropriate.    If enacted this would allow immigrant families to be indefinitely detained in facilities with harsh conditions not supported by Flores.  Thankfully, the Senate approved LHHSED Appropriations bill leaves the Flores settlement agreement intact and the House language is not likely to be part of the final bill.

As for immigration enforcement spending contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion more than the Senate for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Southwest Border Wall.  Other areas of concern include, a 10 percent increase in detention beds, as well as funding to hire almost 800 more border and customs agents/officers.

NETWORK will continue to push back on efforts to separate families or that would undermine humane border enforcement as negotiations gain momentum post the mid-term elections.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, unless Congress passes the next Farm Bill before then or extends the current reauthorization.  Regardless of when Congress finalizes the next Farm Bill, funding for SNAP will not lapse as the government is statutorily required to continue funding the program subject to participation demands.  Since 2015, SNAP enrollment has declined by more than 4.7 million people resulting in a $73 billion automatic appropriation for FY 2019.  This is $794 million less than FY 2018 and a 10 percent reduction since FY 2015.

Census

House appropriators gave a big boost to the Census Bureau in the FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (CJS) bill, approving nearly $1 billion more for the agency than the Senate. However, it is unclear how much of the $4.8 billion for the agency will be allocated for the 2020 Decennial.  Conversely, the Senate appropriators (under new leadership) appears to have taken a more conservative approach and adopted the President’s FY 2019 budget request to fund the 2020 Decennial at $3.015 billion.  This is drastically different from NETWORK’s request of $3.928 billion minimum baseline.

Besides census activities, the CJS bill also funds immigration related law enforcement and adjudication efforts within the Department of Justice.  Regrettably, the House Committee bill, fails to fully protect immigrant families and includes increased funding for immigrant-related law enforcement efforts.  Congress is not expected to finalize the CJS bill until sometime after the mid-term elections.  NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push for the higher number for the 2020 Census contained in the House bill.

Housing

Funding for housing programs fared better in the Senate.  The Senate approved a $12 billion increase above the President’s FY 2019 budget request−and is $1 billion above the House bill.  Housing programs help nearly 5 million vulnerable families and individuals.  This includes:  $22.8 billion for tenant-based Section 8 vouchers; $7.5 billion for public housing; $11.7 billion for project-based Section 8; $678 million for Housing for the Elderly; and $154 million for Housing for Persons with Disabilities.  Both committee bills reject the Administration’s rent reform proposal, and reinstate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, which were eliminated in the President’s FY 2019 budget request.  However, the House reduces spending for the HOME program by 12 percent.

NETWORK will continue to advocate for increased funding for affordable housing programs.

Children and Human Needs

The LHHSEd Appropriations bill funds popular safety net programs, like Medicare and Medicaid operations, home energy assistance, Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant.  It is the 2nd largest spending bill, after defense and comprises about 63 percent of total discretionary spending.  The House and Senate bills are slightly different—overall the Senate bill is better because it has a higher spending allocation and contains no poison pill riders unlike the House.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked by Republican lawmakers.  Both the House and Senate bills reduce access to affordable health care by cutting funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operating budget by nearly half a billion dollars.  According to the House Committee report, Democrats view defunding CMS as “a misguided attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.” If enacted this cut would significantly impact Medicare as it subject to mandatory 2 percent sequestration cut pursuant to the Balance Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).

NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push back against efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.


* Agriculture; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Interior; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

**Commerce, Justice, Science; Foreign Operations; and Homeland Security.

Guest Blog: Celebrating Our Dreams, Our Families in the Face of Threats to Family Reunification

Celebrating Our Dreams, Our Families in the Face of Threats to Family Reunification

Sam Yu
August 31, 2018

In February, the Senate voted on four different immigration bills for our undocumented young people. They all included plans to cut family-based immigration and they all failed to pass. Moreover, the Trump administration was doubling down on using harmful rhetoric around “chain migration” in order to further alienate and dehumanize communities whose families benefit from family-based sponsorship.

An overwhelming majority of Asian Americans come to the U.S. through the family-based sponsorship, meaning that any cuts directly impact our community. Forcing immigrant youth to choose between their futures and their families is pure blackmail and intolerable.

In order to spark dialogue and fight back against the harmful “chain migration” rhetoric, NAKASEC and affiliates launched the Our Dreams, Our Families” campaign. During February and March, we shared stories of impacted folks from our community whose families have benefited or will benefit from family-based sponsorship. All of the stories can be found at www.nakasec.org/ourdreamsourfamilies.

In one of our stories, Esther, our DACAmented young leader, explained how “it infuriated [her] that members of Congress, even our so called ‘allies,’ would think that [she] would ever want a pathway to citizenship that would prevent [her] from sponsoring [her] own parents… Our parents made us who we are today, our parents are the original Dreamers, and when you celebrate the achievements of Dreamers like [her], you are celebra

ting the achievements of not just our parents but our friends and our communities.”

Esther’s story and her declaration that her mother deserves to stay too captures the essence of the “Our Dreams, Our Families” campaign. We are asking Congress to value our families, protect family-based sponsorship, and fully understand that we cannot support undocumented young people without also supporting their families. Families are a cornerstone of American values and they deserve to stay together!

Sam Yu is the Communications Coordinator at NAKASEC. NAKASEC organizes Korean and Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice. Learn more at www.nakasec.org

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Guest Blog: Living out Our Hope That All May Be One

Living out Our Hope That All May Be One

Father Jim F. Callahan
August 24, 2018

Worthington, Minnesota is a community of 13,000 people, located in the Southwest corner of the state. It is a diverse community with 64 nationalities, living, working and worshipping together. The Latino population comprises the largest immigrant community. Seventy-five percent of our public school children speak Spanish as their first language. Most members of our immigrant communities come without documentation.

People often wonder how Worthington has the second largest immigrant community in the state. What draws immigrants here are the meat packing plants in the city and surrounding communities as well as the numerous farms throughout the region.

The challenges facing the immigrant communities in Worthington are racism, prejudice, and discrimination. Lack of affordable housing, medical, and dental care are also challenges that the community faces. As a result of the need for medical care, we established the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic, and later, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Dental Clinic. Anyone without insurance is welcome. We became a 501(c)(3) four years ago, and have seen over 1200 patients.

The Parish of St. Mary is a church of hospitality. Our primary objective is to make the parish a welcoming and safe haven for all people. After the election of Donald Trump, fear seized our community. We announced to the parish we would do everything possible to help and protect our people. The staff prayed and studied what would be the most Gospel-based response to this crisis. Already we were experiencing families being torn apart by deportation and mothers separated from their children. So we unanimously decided that we had to become a Sanctuary Church. Since our declaration of becoming a Sanctuary Church, we have received support from the diocese and individuals and faith communities around the state.

We believe Sanctuary has biblical roots and we have mandate to proclaim justice for all people, regardless of race, creed, or color.

We work closely with the Immigrant Law Center based in St. Paul. We established a steering committee made up of immigrants and community leaders and the church sponsors programs, workshops, and listening sessions related to topics which affect the community. As a Catholic Faith Community whose foundation is the Eucharist, we have an obligation to live out the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching, living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

St. Mary’s Parish prays for comprehensive immigration reform and for the end of this reign of terror, where families will no longer hide in the shadows, where families will no longer be separated or children taken from their parents because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or who they call God.

Our prayer is as a Nation, as a Church, as a People, that one day all may be one.


Father Jim F. Callahan is Pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Worthington, MN.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

We Cannot Allow This Cruelty in Our Country

We Cannot Allow This Cruelty in Our Country

Fighting Immoral Policies Tearing Families Apart at the Border

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal
August 17, 2018

Our nation is in crisis. The words on the Statue of Liberty—”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—seem far away as families on the border are separated as a result of President Donald Trump’s inhumane and cruel “zero tolerance” policy.  The policy has resulted in thousands of children being placed in tent cities, shelters, and foster homes across the nation, with no plan to reunite them with their parents.

Two weeks ago, I spoke with 174 women who were, at the administration’s orders, transferred thousands of miles from the southern border to a federal prison just outside Seattle. Most of these women were asylum-seekers, fleeing rape, violence, and persecution. The majority had been held in various facilities for over two weeks, many for over a month.

The mothers had been separated from their children at the border, and not a single one had spoken to their children since then. All but two of the mothers did not even know where their children were. They wept as they told me that they had been “deceived” by agents who told them to just leave the room for a minute to take a picture or see a judge, and when they returned, their children were gone. They didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

The women I spoke to had already made heartbreaking choices in deciding to come to the United States. One woman told me that her oldest child was shot killed by gangs, her second shot and paralyzed, and that she had to leave that paralyzed child in order to try and save her third child. She had been separated from that last child at the border and had not seen him in a month. Another woman traveled to the border with one child, leaving another child who was blind behind because she knew he could not make the difficult journey.

I am an immigrant and a mother, and what I heard breaks my heart.

We must demand that Trump fix the crisis he created, and reject his false claims that he has taken any action to do that. The executive order he signed does not reverse his zero-tolerance policy that created these abuses and violations; instead, it allows for the indefinite detention of children and their parents in family prison camps. His administration has challenged a previous court settlement that clearly states that children cannot be detained for more than 20 days. That means that, very soon, either he is going to separate families again or he is going to defy that court order and continue to detain children illegally. Does anyone seriously believe that incarcerating children is a solution to the crisis the president has created?

On top of that, the administration has no plans to reunite the thousands of children who have already been separated.

We cannot stand for this. As one of only a dozen members of Congress born outside of the United States, I began my organizing in the wake of 9-11, forming Washington’s largest immigrant advocacy organization to combat the abuses at the time against Sikhs, Muslims, Arabs, and immigrants. I saw then that strength emerges in times of crisis and that is what we must focus on building all over again today. That’s why I’m calling on Trump to overturn his zero-tolerance policy, reunite families, and release them from their prisons.

This isn’t about politics—it’s about right and wrong. We have to stand up for America.

Representative Pramila Jayapal represents the state of Washington’s seventh district. The first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, Representative Jayapal has spent the last twenty years working internationally and domestically as a leading national advocate for women’s, immigrant, civil, and human rights.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Humanizing the Immigration Debate: A Conversation with United We Dream

Humanizing the Immigration Debate: A Conversation with United We Dream

August 10, 2018

United We Dream, a youth-led organization with hundreds of thousands of members, is one of the strongest voices for immigrant rights in our nation. United We Dream has shaped the immigration debate on Capitol Hill and across the country since it was founded, advocating for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and other legislation on the national, state, and local levels to improve the lives of immigrants and their families. 

Recently, NETWORK Government Relations Associate, Sana Rizvi, interviewed Juan Manuel Guzman, Community and Government Affairs Manager at United We Dream, to hear more about United We Dream’s history, current advocacy, and vision for a future of just immigration policy. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sana: Hi Juan Manuel, thanks for talking with us. Could you give us a brief history of how United We Dream was created and how important it was, in that process, to be an immigrant-led organization?

Juan Manuel: Yes, absolutely. The co-founders of United We Dream, Cristina Jimenez and Julieta Garibay, always tell us how United We Dream  started. As you know in 2001, there was this Dream Act. It was a bill that was introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), but it wasn’t up until 2006 or 2007 when immigrant youth, Dreamers, from different parts of the country had the opportunity to meet each other.

One of the catalysts of having United We Dream form is that idea of “Oh my gosh you are undocumented like me, but you live in another state and I didn’t know you existed.” So, United We Dream started as a network, a network of young immigrants who basically shared the same stories or similar stories and lived similar things here in the United States as undocumented immigrants. They decided to say, “Okay, you live in Texas, I live in New York, let’s keep in touch and see how we can move things forward.” So, that’s how it all started.

I think there was a point in the movement in which people, or at least the young people, their input was not as valid because young people making decision for themselves was not that mainstream. So, there was that need of people saying “No, I need to have a say about my life. Not only am I somebody who will tell his or her story, but I also want to be at that table where the decisions happen. I want to be able to influence that.” Because up until then it was other organizations doing the work and immigrant youth just being called to say their stories. More than the photo-op, immigrant youth wanted to have more influence on their own lives. So, they tell us that it all started with one desk. United We Dream only had a desk and a phone and people just trying to make the most out of it. As you know, it went from that desk and now it’s been 10 years.

Sana: We know that one of United We Dream’s guiding principles is “Our Stories are Power.” How do you use the power of stories in both mobilizing supporters and lobbying elected officials?

Juan Manuel: I think when politicians and the media and everyone talks about immigration in particular, it is a very hot issue. Sometimes when you don’t put a face to that, to those reports, when you don’t do that, you don’t humanize. What the stories do is basically put a face, a story, a human being, to what is being discussed. Politicians can talk a lot about policy but it is only when you understand the effect on people when it starts to make sense for you whether that policy is right or it’s wrong. So the stories are very powerful.

I did a lot of advocacy meetings with Republican offices for the DREAM Act campaign, for example. And you know, me, an undocumented immigrant, talking to Republican offices, that is not easy. But when I told them about the sacrifices of our families, for example, I remember telling this to one staffer: I told her, “Our families— our dads, or moms, our cousins— they worked hard for a better future. From dawn to sunset in backbreaking jobs, sometimes being abused, sometimes being treated unfairly, so we can have a better chance” and people would relate to that and say, “My mom worked a lot too and made a lot of sacrifices and you know what, I understand. It makes sense.” That is why our stories are so powerful.

Sana: What do you think is the most significant campaign that United We Dream has worked on in the past?

Juan Manuel: What a question. Probably the one that had the most impact is our DACA campaign. In 2010, right after the failure of the DREAM Act in Congress, United We Dream and other organizations decided to see how we could move into an executive branch strategy. Eventually, after a lot of work, activism, and organizing, immigrant youth were able to force the hand of the president of the United States into signing an executive order. It was the organizing, it was the strategizing, it was everything that made DACA happen. And that had, as you’ve probably seen, a huge impact on the lives of people, of families. It is not just about the DACA recipient who was able to get a work permit and be protected from deportation, but it was also an impact on the families, the economy, and the communities where we live. I think that is one of the most important results from our organizing.

Sana: So, moving onto the current situation which is, unfortunately, attacks on DACA and attacks on the immigrant community. With all of this, how is United We Dream balancing its priorities and what are some of your current campaigns?

Juan Manuel: I have to say the end of DACA [by President Trump] had a huge impact on United We Dream, because we are primarily led by undocumented young people. So the end of DACA took us to a 7-month [legislative] campaign for the Dream Act. That happened until March 5. We fought, we did everything that we could to find a legislative solution, but ultimately, politicians were not able to come up with a solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth but at the same time doesn’t hurt our families. So after March we decided to go back to the drawing board and see what is next.

I think at this moment what is important is that there have been a lot of leaders that emerged during the DREAM Act campaign. Even though there is that difficult reality that the future of the DACA program is in limbo, people have this energy, this willingness, to fight, to do something for their communities, to step up. There are many people in the country that we need to be involved at the local level. We have to see how we can protect immigrants at the local level. How do we work with the city council, how do we work with the school districts, how do we work with local organizations so we protect immigrants? Especially for people who are not protected or are losing protections, like TPS recipients or our own family who do not have any protection. How do we push for policies and people who are going to not only support us, but putting a stop to what has been coming from the federal government?

Sana: What keeps you all hopeful during this time? As an organization, I see United We Dream get up after we have a defeat and say, “Okay we are going to keep working, we are going to keep doing this.” What keeps that hope up?

Juan Manuel: I think we were able to see that in the DREAM Act campaign. We worked really long hours. We used to wake up really early, go to bed really late at night. Every day: working, going to Congressional offices, doing visits, doing actions, doing everything. We used all our energy and we were tired and it was difficult and it was cold, but at the same time you could see that people were still hopeful, were still energized and willing to fight. I think when you see that even though you might be tired, you might be burned out, you also have this sense of hope. In the worst times you can get the best out of people and I think that’s what gives me hope. When we didn’t have any certainty about our lives, it became the greatest leadership that we’ve seen. I think that’s what gives me hope that this is not over yet. We are going to keep fighting.

Sana: What is your long-term vision for just immigration policies in our country?

Juan Manuel: I think United We Dream has set it up clearly. It is not just about immigration. It goes beyond immigration. That was one thing we were able to see with President Trump coming to power. It is only not immigrants who are being attacked. It is also women. It is also our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is also the LGBTQ community that is being attacked, the environment. So I think the future for United We Dream and the vision is that we want to build this network of people, of people of conscience that want to work on behalf of these issues.

But most importantly, we want to seek racial justice because immigration is also a racial issue. You are seeing black and brown kids being separated from their families right now. They are not white kids. They are black and brown kids being separated from their families and black and brown people being incarcerated at such high levels. In the case of immigrants in detention centers, immigration detention centers, which are just jails— I can tell you that that is the future. Racial justice for issues that affect black and brown communities.

Sana: Are you hopeful that we will be victorious?

Juan Manuel: I think that sometimes we have to stumble and we have to fall a little bit so we can see the direction of our lives. I think that‘s true on a personal basis but also as a country. I think the country itself is waking up and people are saying, “I don’t agree with separating children, that’s not right. I don’t know what kind of political views you have but that is not a political issue, that’s a moral issue.” And I think people coming from that moral point of view will be able to say, “That is not the direction that we are going to go.” And I think progress, of course, is not linear, sometimes you have to take one step back to get two steps or three steps forward.

Sana: Can you give one word to describe how this movement makes you feel?

Juan Manuel: Wow, that’s a profound question. I think empowered. I joined the movement right around when Donald Trump was about to become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Before that, I was in the shadows and I felt very disempowered. That’s how you just feel. You don’t know your future here in the country. All these things being said about you and your community and your people. I had so much frustration and anger inside myself because of all the hateful things I was hearing. It was through the movement in United We Dream that I could feel empowered. I was able to say, “We can have an impact on the direction of our lives.”

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Bearing Witness to the Pain of our Immigrant Family Calls Us to Action

I have shed tears watching the news coverage of ICE raids in work places. I have watched the separation of children, including very young children, from their parents in horror. I have had tears in my eyes as Temporary Protected Status for vulnerable people is ended without regard to the lived realities in these countries. I am shocked as the Republican Party, which always prided itself on being the party of “family values,” sets out with calculated cruelty to tear families apart. In the process, they are tearing the heart out of our nation.

But tears are not enough.

Pope Francis in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate, challenges us with the insight: “The only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?” (Paragraph 102).

So how do we stand in the shoes of these immigrants? For some in Chicago it is being part of a prayer ministry for detained immigrants. In New Jersey, just across from New York City, it is providing detained people with basic necessities like stationery, stamps and international phone cards. In southern California, it is in providing parish identification cards and safe havens when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is around. In Minnesota, it is state organizing to provide actual protection for undocumented families. On our southern border, it is leaving water along the paths immigrants travel. In schools, colleges and, universities, it is making education accessible for undocumented children and young adults.

Everyone engaged in these and myriad other ministries is putting themselves in the zapatos (shoes) of the immigrant.

As I don’t spend my time doing this direct work, I sometimes wonder how am I putting myself in these sacred shoes? I am lead once again to the crying need for systemic change in our immigration policy. Our nation is being torn apart. Our values are being trampled. Our people are being hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, a mother told me that her first grade son came home extremely worried. He feared that his parents would not be there for him when he came home from school. He and his pals at school were talking about what had happened to one of their pal’s parents. His anxiety was high as he blurted out in tears: “It isn’t fair!”

I know that primal cry. It resonates in my being. I want to stand up and say STOP! This is my part – and yours. Together we are called as the NETWORK community to lobby Congress to change these unjust laws. But it isn’t just our own members of Congress that need to hear from us. We can get our friends around the country to contact their members of Congress too. We need to be missionaries of the common good for our family members who are suffering.

If we are going to reclaim our country, we must act according to our faith values. We will put ourselves in the shoes of those seeking our help and do all in our power to change these unjust laws. I commit to you that I will not step back from the fray even when my heart is broken and I want to flee. Will you act with me in the face of this mounting horror?

It is in this struggle that we might come to know the holiness that Pope Francis talks about. He tells us that it is marked by perseverance, joy, passion and boldness, community and constant prayer. Let us continue our advocacy, knowing that in our time this is the Gospel path. Let us respond together to the invitation: Come Follow Me!

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.