President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform leaves many searching for answers to this complicated and controversial topic.
Put your questions in context: Read this third in a series of El Diario editorials.
Will the President Act on Immigration? Daring to Hope; Preparing for Change.
By C. Mario Russell
For El Diario
Time is running out for Mr. Obama. He must deliver soon on his promise to change the lives of immigrants in America. The President’s promise restored hope, for which immigrants gave him support and their votes. But it also was made at great cost, in exchange for hundreds of thousands of deportations.
We find ourselves halfway into the President’s second term, and we ask again: will Mr. Obama act on immigration? Many in the nation are more frustrated than ever before, their chorus calls for bold legalization having become pleas for modest and temporary documentation. Millions of immigrants, whether resident or undocumented, whether living in the open or under cover day-by-day, whether waiting to reunify with family or avoid deportation, are yearning for something new.
No comprehensive legalization law has been enacted for almost 30 years. Washington lawmakers have allowed a generation of workers to continue to work, a generation of children to grow into adults, and a generation of families and faithful to set roots in their communities. Yet, those same lawmakers in Washington have shown social neglect and moral indifference, and, as a direct result, have stalled the lives of millions from full participation in America.
For some time now we have heard Mr. Obama signal his intent to use his presidential power to do “something about immigration”–perhaps before the end of 2014 or soon after 2015 begins. We have heard this before, and we know better than to rely on words only; the ground in politics has the quality of quicksand, changing and dangerous. But there is time, and the window of opportunity is open. We must dare to hope.
And if we hope, we must also prepare.
So, permit me to offer practical tips for how to prepare now for any rules that might come from the White House in the future. These are steps that make for good citizenship and for good stewardship. They will be the essential components of any an immigration benefit, whatever form it takes:
First, begin to collect documents:
- All personal and family identity documents
- Evidence of arrival to the US and evidence of residency (utility bills, leases, medical records, etc.)
- Evidence of any trips outside the US
- Evidence of work (especially undocumented workers)
- Evidence of education in the US
- Copies of any immigration applications made to INS/USCIS
- If ever arrested, criminal Certificates of Disposition (originals from the court), because certain convictions may be disqualifying
Second, consider English classes. It is probable that English proficiency of some kind will be required.
Third, begin setting money aside for filing and (possibly) penalty fees and other legal fees.
Fourth, review tax payments for years worked, to make sure taxes were submitted (even if late) and were accurate and complete.
And, finally, no one should give money to notaries, agencies, or lawyers to prepare an application or help them gather documents at this time. If and when there is a new rule there will be reliable agencies to help people at low cost or for free. There is no need to pay thousands of dollars now. To check on the status of any immigration law or rule, call the New York State Hotline at 1-800-566-7636.
Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038; he also teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.