By Tammy Alexander
Though there were many significant developments in 2012, hundreds of thousands of immigrants continue to be deported each year, separating families and creating undue hardships.
Obama administration: The most notable event of 2012 happened in June when the administration announced that some young undocumented immigrants (or “DREAMers”) who were brought to the U.S. as children may apply for temporary relief from deportation and a work permit. Earlier in the year, a new waiver process–not yet in effect–for the “three- and ten-year bars” was proposed that could help keep thousands of families from being separated (these “bars” are provisions of the law which prohibit applicants from returning to the United States if they were previously in the U.S. without proper documentation). Also in October, Temporary Protected Status was extended for Haitian immigrants, allowing them to stay in the U.S.
In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released guidelines for Prosecutorial Discretion, directing agents to focus on deporting individuals who had committed serious crimes. It was hoped that this program would reduce the number of families separated by immigration enforcement activities; however, out of a review of 300,000 cases of immigrants in detention, only 3.6 percent were released.
Supreme Court: In June the Supreme Court struck down three provisions of Arizona’s SB1070 law, but upheld the “show-me-your-papers” provision requiring law enforcement to ask for documentation from those they suspect are undocumented. The Court reiterated that it is not a crime for an undocumented immigrant to remain present in the U.S. or to seek employment.
Congress: A proposal to end the diversity visa lottery, which allows approximately 50,000 immigrants without family connections or high-tech jobs to come to the U.S. each year, passed in the House in November, but did not come up in the Senate.
Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate passed a reauthorization bill in April, and the House passed a version in June that would have rolled back many protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence. The House and Senate were unable to agree on a compromise bill before the end of the year.
Office activities: MCC Washington Office staff continue to work on these and other issues related to immigration. Staff co-led workshops at the Western District Conference assembly and the MCC United Nations seminar. On the web, staff created a resource page for Deferred Action for DREAMers and are currently overhauling the immigration pages to make resources more accessible. Quarterly Immigration Updates, in English and Spanish, continue to be a popular resource.
A new 12-panel display of migration stories will debut at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix. The MCC display will then be available for churches, colleges, relief sales and other venues. Also, MC USA is holding regional immigration workshops leading up to Phoenix. Look for one in your area or contact our office for more information.
What’s next? The impact of the Hispanic vote on the presidential election sparked new conversations in Washington around the topic of immigration. For the first time since 2007, immigrants and advocates have a glimmer of hope that Congress might attempt to reform our broken immigration system. Local voices will be crucial and there are many ways to get involved. Subscribe to immigration action alerts (washington.mcc.org/alerts) to stay informed about pending legislation and grassroots campaigns.