Friday, October 3, 2014

Family advocacy class homework: Write a (fake) letter to an office including personal position on a bill of choice.

September 24, 2014


President Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.


Dear Mr. President:


I am writing to you in my support of H.R. 3431. This is a bill that aims to preserve the family unity between United States Citizens and a foreign national given a ban from entering our country due to prior undocumented status. This bill is not a loophole for immigrants to enter the country, but is an advocacy effort for family unity. The family is the key component to which all of our laws and customs are provided for. Our country can do better in our current immigration struggles, especially in this specific area of immigration—hardships dealt to our own citizens. These families deserve to have their rights honored and respected.


Our nation prides itself in protection and intervention efforts to support children and families in times of need. The United States has traditionally provided a safety net to families in distress that distinguishes us from third world countries. The families that are affected by the current immigration law are in need of intervention. I am asking for your personal intervention in the lives of these citizens of the United States.


The pending bill H.R. 3431, or “American Families United Act,” is for the purpose of preservation of United States Citizens families with an immigrant family member. These are United States Citizens lives that are being torn apart. There is no relief effort available. The emotional comparison for these families who have their family member deported or detained is death; however, there is no option to grieve, so these family members are stuck in emotional limbo. Their only relief is to fight for the safe return of their loved one. There are children who maintain a phone relationship with their parent. There are fathers who attend the birth of their child via Skype. There are mothers who struggle to not only survive as single moms, but deal with deep emotional scars as they fumble through the complicated immigration law. If these affected Americans want to keep their family together, sometimes their only option is to move with their American children to a foreign country to live with their deported spouse.


The United States has been deemed the Melting Pot thanks to Israel Zangwill’s turn of the century Broadway play that depicted the romance of two people with different nationalities living in the United States. Zangwill also said, “If they would but suffer to be melted in the pot, then they would become just as American as anyone else,” (PBS Online, n.d.). There is no justification for the separation of families due to lack of immigration reform.


As an American Citizen, it is difficult to imagine that a marriage is not honored by our government. It is hard to fathom that the weight of a person’s citizenship is not enough to pull in their immediate family member—but it is not. The Illegal Immigration Reform Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) has become a nemesis for families. Before 1996, the requirement for an unauthorized alien to marry a United States Citizen and acquire a legal visa was to simply pay a fine. Due to the IIRIRA of 1996, the action of obtaining a legal visa by paying a fine has been replaced with an automatic 3, 10, 20-year or lifetime ban from the United States regardless of marriage to a citizen. This ban is applied to the United States Citizens where there is a family.


The bill specifies in section two that Congress is to protect the rights and interests of the United States Citizen family members. It also seeks to provide the immigration court with discretion in proceedings in which a United States Citizen is an immediate family member. To place an immigration ban from the United States on a family member causes the entire American family to potentially be dislocated from our country. That is a denial of rights of protection for those citizens. “In many cases what triggers a banishment of three or ten years, even life, is a trivial or even wholly technical violation. It can be as inadvertent as being the passenger who nods when the driver is asked a question in a language not understood,” (AFU, 2014). Asking the United States citizen to choose between their spouse and their country is not a choice, it is an abuse.


These grieving citizens who have experienced a loss of spouse due to detention or deportation are desperate for relief. The 1996 IIRIRA bans that are placed on citizens’ spouses are making people vulnerable to unscrupulous lawyers.  The new electronic visa application submissions are “forms [that are] easier to fill out [that] would keep people from turning to fraudulent lawyers, also known as ‘notarios,’ who trick immigrants into paying high fees for services they either do not or cannot deliver,” (Wilson, 2014).


The private prison industry is benefitting. Each year billions of dollars are made in immigrant prisons. This is wrong. This is profit made through the abuse of human rights.

“It took 596 days for them to give Pedro a day in court and finally give him permanent residency. Every one of those days was a profit for CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). In the first quarter of 2011, CCA’s net income was $40.3 million and with each quarter their income increases. Each time there is a new anti-immigrant law like SB-1070 in Arizona or HB-87 in Georgia, their ‘beds’ fill up with immigrants and their profits increase…. CCA was at the original planning discussion to initiate SB-1070 because they profit from harsh immigration laws” (as cited in Bring Pedro Home, 2011).

My dearest friend Emily is only one of thousands of United States Citizens whose spouse was taken from them. Today the annual profits are at a minimum of three billion a year due to the Continuing Appropriation Act of 2014 that requires a bed quota of 34,000 minimum immigrants to be in prison per day (Lindsey, 2014). How can we justify rich getting richer from arbitrary policy regarding the family of US citizens?


United States Citizen children have been affected. Separation from a parent is indeed a traumatic event not only dealing with the missing parent, but with the remaining parent’s stress and debilitated parenting skills, economic status, and legal battle. Laurel Scott is regarded by many in our family unity activism groups as one of the top immigration lawyers in the United States as well as advocate for family unification and helping other lawyers with this extremely complex law.


“Immigration law as it is written is too harsh. The effect of the law is often to keep foreign nationals from their children for a period of ten years or longer. If one polls convicted felons and asks them what the most difficult part of incarceration is, many will report that the separation from family is the hardest part. While a common sentence for manslaughter is one to three years in prison, one to three years away from one's family common "sentence" for immigration violations is ten years away from one's family. I'm not sure that's what Congress meant to do, because I don't think Congress contemplated the commonality of US citizens and unlawfully present immigrants falling in love and starting a family. There may be some unconscious racism in Congress' failure to consider just how often Americans and Mexicans fall in love. I think Congress also failed to consider how difficult it is for US citizens to move abroad. It is especially difficult for US citizen women to move to countries with a street harassment problem, which is quite common in much of the world. As Congress is mostly men, it is not surprising that they did not consider how inhospitable most of the world is to women. In the end, the law is very harsh, probably due to Congress' failure to consider all the factors.” (L. Scott, personal communication, September 23, 2014)


Let us consider the factors of what an American family would endure for family unity abroad: language and cultural barriers, financial barriers, health-care issues and educational barriers, to name a few. An American child attending public school in another country is at a disadvantage not only in assimilating initially to that country, but upon return when the ten year bar is able to be petitioned against with a hardship waiver. Educational barriers for American citizen children have rendered the No Child Left Behind law in complete disregarded. There is no Individual Education Plan (IEP) or tutoring offered for displacement upon return. The education that a child citizen is forced to miss in the formative years has everlasting effect. I am aware of these facts due to my education in Early Childhood Education and because of my own first-hand ethnographic accounts with my own children as well as stories of other families’ experiences shared with me.


Health-care is generally a step up from home-remedy. Giardia, a parasite found in water, is a common illness within the families living in exile. Exposure to the Chagas bug of Latin America that creates an incurable, life-threatening illness has become important enough to be questioned when giving blood at the Red Cross. They ask, “Have you lived in Latin America?” because if you are infected by this common bug, there is no cure. Numerous digestive issues are common due to the unrefrigerated meats. The lifestyle in general is incomparable to what a typical United States citizen ever will experience within the United States, without question. These are all experiences shared between affected American Citizens and with my own first-hand ethnographic accounts with health issues as an American with small children while living in Mexico.


How are families to survive when they cannot speak the language or are at a disadvantage financially because they cannot function in their spouse’s country? Many have found online work or are teaching English. Their wages are below American poverty level. They live without conveniences such as hot-water and large appliances that even our poor in America have. This is not my opinion, but it is a summarization of years of shared data among the families that this letter is regarding.


Then there are the families that are separated that simply cannot move abroad due to healthcare dependency for themselves or their child or for other reasons. Their marriage is completely held over a phone for months, sometimes years. Parenting becomes transformed into single-parenting. Any lack in a two-parent income falls onto the remaining parent. Applying for assistance requires a petition for child support from the missing parent. This would ultimately destroy their visa petition, appearing as an uncooperative parent when the order is revealed in the system. The impossibilities of financial contribution as a father are exacerbated when weekly salaries are sometimes forty to fifty dollars. Therefore, financial responsibility falls completely on the remaining parent, most of the time a mother, on top of the legal fees to file the extremely expensive visa process. It becomes near impossible for the family to afford to visit each other. I know this to be true from my own experience and from the shared experiences of other families in this situation that remain as unofficial published data.


Dear President Obama, “policymaking is a cyclical process” as Blumer expressed (Lens & Gibelman, 2000). This bill could help solve major issues within some very special and unique family situations that are no less deserving of their American citizen rights than you are. I am personally involved as a friend and activist for these families and have experienced both living in exile with my children, as well as, living years of separation from my former husband. It is a very difficult life full of trauma. The numbers are growing. What used to be tens of us have grown to be hundreds or perhaps thousands of families in a few short years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, “1.5 million undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, but have been unable to gain legal status themselves,” (Altman, 2014). It is not a fair situation nor does it express a quality of liberty or justice for any of them.


Thank you for your time and consideration regarding the issue of family unity for immigrants with American Citizen Spouses and the hardships that they endure due to current immigration law.


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