Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Interfaith & Immigration

On May 30th I attended one of Marin Interfaith Council's periodic Religious Leaders' Luncheons. The topic was immigration. I learned a lot from the three speakers, all attorneys: Mark Silverman of Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Alyssa Simpsoon of Canal Alliance ("the Canal" is a neighborhood in San Rafael where many immigrants, mostly Hispanic, live), and Paul Cohen of Legal Aid of Marin.

When the INS was conducting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids in "the Canal" in March, MIC was a strong presence. (Later update on ICE raids here.) Beginning at 5 am religious people from more prosperous areas of the county arrived with candles and flashlights to bear witness to the action and to stand alongside of those being raided to offer support and to thwart intimidation.

Most Hispanic immigrants in Marin County are from Nicaragua and other Central American countries and not from Mexico. They work to send money back to their countries for the betterment of their family and friends. This is where international aid could help ease immigration: instead of just relying on immigrants here to send money home, bigger government efforts at investments in those countries could provide employment and other opportunities to the citizens of those countries so they'd be less desperate to come here.

Legal Aid conducts workshops to educate immigrants about what their civil rights are. Most immigrants don't realize they have any rights at all. They do. Among the rights cited are:
  1. Immigrants have the same rights as any other tenants (cannot be evicted without cause, or discriminated because of ethnicity);
  2. They are entitled to access to interpretation services in the courts;
  3. They have the same employment rights as any other employee (overtime pay, etc.);
  4. They have the right to be "mirandized" if they are arrested; and
  5. They have the right to be advised of any criminal charges.
Immigrants are also protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, to wit:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Obviously this is of particular importance in the case of ICE raids. But when ICE raids are conducted at gunpoint, what's a law-abiding immigrant to do?

Interest on attorney trust accounts is collected (I guess by the State Bar) and used to pay for the legal representaiton of indigents. All my years working in law and I never was aware of this! If immigrants are indigent, they are entitled to the same representation.

If a person or a company hires an undocumented worker, that entity can pay the worker up to $1,500 without being required to file any tax forms or to pay Social Security.

Mark Silverman told us that there are four elements needed to fix the system:
  1. Legalize those who are here now. Seventy percent of Americans support amnesty.
  2. Create a program whereby new workers can enter this country legally.
  3. Bar further immigration.
  4. Facilitate family immigration.
If a family member has a green card proving legal permanent residency, his or her family members are entitled to priority to enter the U.S. This is not as easy as it sounds, though, because it takes 12-15 years, and if you're Filipino, up to 23 years. This in partly due to the fact there is a limit of 20,000 people per annum from any one country. The countries that reach that figure are Mexico, the Philippines, China and India.

I know that my maternal ancestors who first came to these shores simply emigrated from the Netherlands and settled on Indian land in New Amsterdam. I know my paternal grandmother had Quaker sponsors when she arrived here some 300 years later. I know that the mass immigrations of the mid-19th century gave rise to our current immigration policy, among the first of which was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. I know we can do better.

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