Category Archives: Immigration Law

Faces of Immigration: Newcomers who shaped our nation

By Attorney Elyssa Williams and Joan Lownds

Throughout our history, American immigrants have not only forged the cornerstones of our nation, but have made invaluable contributions in the arenas of science, religion, art, public service, journalism and athletics. As leaders in their fields, immigrants have discovered life-saving medical advancements, served as strong moral and humanitarian voices, and deeply enriched our culture’s unique flair. Here are some examples of our many remarkable immigrants and how they have irrevocably shaped our history. (Part One of Two)

David Ho

Dr. Ho has been the most notable AIDS research pioneer in the U.S. for the past three decades. Born in Taiwan in 1952, Dr. Ho emigrated to the U.S. when he was 12, and spoke no English. Eventually, he learned the language and excelled in his studies, graduating summa cum laude from Cal Tech and earning a scholarship to the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

As a young resident in 1981 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, he witnessed some of the first known cases of AIDS, according to his biography at Wikipedia. He began his research studies, developing “cocktails” of protease inhibitors and other antiviral drugs have brought extraordinary recoveries, with promising implications for eradicating the virus in the future.

Dr. Ho was named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine in 1996, and President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. He is the scientific director and chief executive officer of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and the Irene Diamond Professor at the Rockefeller University in New York.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Catholic community, the chairman of the United States Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, and a papal appointee to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, according to his biography at Wikipedia. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1951, and became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

As one of the leading moral voices in the American Catholic Church, Archbishop Gomez has been a strong advocate for immigration reform, saying a more humane and compassionate national policy will help us “renew our country in the image of her founding promises of universal rights.” He is the author of a notable book on the subject, “The Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation.”

In 2005, Time Magazine named Archbishop Gomez one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the U.S., and CNN also named him to their list of “Notable Hispanics”  in 2007.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov is considered the greatest living male dancer and one of the best ballet dancers in history. He was born in Latvia, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1948, according to his biography at Wikipedia. While on tour in Canada with the Kirov Ballet in 1974, Baryshnikov defected, requesting political asylum in Toronto.

He soon moved to the U.S., and became a highly acclaimed dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and New York City Ballet. He went on to serve as the long time and highly regarded artistic director of ABT. He also pursued a career as a choreographer and actor, and earned an Oscar nomination for his role in the movie, “The Turning Point.” On July 3, 1986, Baryshnikov became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

In 2003, he won the Prix Benois de la Danse for lifetime achievement, the dance world’s highest and most prestigious accolade. In 2005, he opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, an arts complex which provides production facilities for dance, music, theater, film, design and visual arts.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Korbel Albright was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1937, according to her biography at Wikipedia. With the rise of Adolph Hitler, and the years of political turmoil that followed, her family fled to England, and then to the U.S.  Albright distinguished herself as a student, and attended Wellesley College on a full scholarship. She received her master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government, and became a U.S. citizen in 1957.

Her career highlights include serving as a staff member on the National Security Council, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies, a professor at Georgetown University, and as the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997, she was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of State, after being nominated by President Bill Clinton. She was the first female Secretary of State in U.S. history.

After her term ended in 2001, when the Clinton administration was over, Albright received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official. Currently she is the co-chair of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, and chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Women’s Ministerial Initiative. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012.

The purpose of this blog is purely informational. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be viewed as such.

Historic decision recognizes domestic violence victims as eligible for asylum claims

by Attorney Elyssa Williams and Joan Lownds

While the NFL grapples with three highly publicized cases of domestic violence, the nation’s highest immigration court quietly issued a landmark decision that will help provide sanctuary to women who are victims of domestic violence and seeking asylum in the U.S.

In late August, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled in a case involving a battered wife from Guatemala that women who experience this kind of domestic violence may be considered a “member of a particular social group,” which will help support such asylum cases.  This new and clear precedent allows battered women to meet the international definition of a refugee, and the U.S. grants asylum to foreign nationals who fit this definition.

The case is Matter of A-R-C-G- et al, Respondents.

The BIA’s historic ruling found that “‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship can constitute a…particular social group that forms the basis of a claim for asylum,” according to Amy Grenier of the American Immigration Council’s Website.

As a result, Aminta Cifuentes, the Guatemalan woman who sought the ruling in the case, can now qualify for asylum. Ms. Cifuentes fled Guatemala in 2005 after suffering virulent domestic abuse during her marriage. According to the court, she “suffered repugnant abuse by her husband,” after marrying when she was 17, according to a recent story in the New York Times. Ms. Cifuentes said her husband beat her at least one a week, and the beatings included breaking her nose and throwing burning paint thinner on her.  He also repeatedly raped her.

The court agreed that Ms. Cifuentes also met other requirements, because she showed that the Guatemalan government refused to protect her. She routinely reported her husband’s beatings to the police, but was told they would not interfere in a domestic dispute, even during an incident when the police came to her house and her face was bloodied, according to the ruling.

When Ms. Cifuentes fled her abusive husband and moved to another part of Guatemala, he followed her. She then managed to escape to the U.S. with her two children.

The ruling was applauded by legal advocates. “Women who have suffered violence in these cases can now rely on the legal principles established in this ruling,” said Karen Musalo, a professor and director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. She served as an adviser to Ms. Cifuentes.

“For women from Guatemala this decision will certainly save lives,” said Roy Petty, a lawyer in Rogers, Ark., who represented Ms. Cifuentes.

Since its founding, the United States has been a sanctuary for refugees seeking protection from persecution.  We have granted asylum to more than two million refugees in the last three decades alone. The court’s decision upholds this American tradition by providing a safe haven for victims of this particularly devastating and terrifying form of violence.

The purpose of this blog is purely informational. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be viewed as such.  

Politics and the immigration language

By Attorney Elyssa Williams and Joan Lownds

In his classic 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” The British author described how the policies of world governments at that time, such as “the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the droppings of atom bombs on Japan” did not square with “the professed aims of the political parties.” Therefore, Orwell wrote, “Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

Orwell could have been describing the language of the immigration reform debate.

For example, what exactly does “voluntary departure” mean? This is a euphemism for a procedure in which someone immediately surrenders their right to a hearing before an immigration judge, and also basically consents to their own deportation. The more accurate term would be “voluntary deportation.”

Next, what about “Secure Communities,” or “S-Comm?” This is the euphemism for a federal government program in which law enforcement agencies actually take on the role of immigration officers, checking the legal status of everyone brought in for questioning or charges. One of the key components of the program is the practice of holding arrested immigrants for up to 48 hours after they have posted bail or been ordered released, based only on suspected civil immigration violations. “S-Comm” has deeply exacerbated deportation fears among immigrants, and many are now fearful of speaking to local police. How does this lack of due process make communities more “secure?”

Finally, “Operation Streamline” is a euphemism for a Department of Homeland Security program that requires federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers. The initiative “mostly targets migrant workers with no criminal history and has resulted in skyrocketing caseloads in many federal district courts along the border. From 2007 to 2008, federal prosecutions of immigration crimes nearly doubled, reaching more than 70,000 cases,” according to the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Policy at Berkeley Law School at the University of California. So what is being streamlined here?

These are the kinds of euphemisms that “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” as Orwell wrote. It is time to enact a truly solid and concrete immigration reform plan that upholds our American values and ensures the fundamental rights of all.

The purpose of this blog is purely informational. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be viewed as such. 


Immigration reform: Learning from the past; looking to the future

By Attorney Elyssa Williams and Joan Lownds

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), and it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The bill contained the same basic components as most of the current proposals: a path to citizenship; stepped-up enforcement along the border; and measures to discourage employers from hiring workers who lack proof of legal residency.

The law is outdated today because there were an estimated 3 million to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States at that time, and now there are 11 milliona sheer force of numbers that undermines the effectiveness of the legislation.

In retrospect, was the bill effective at the time?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to Dr. Sherrie A. Kossoudji, of the University of Michigan. In an article posted at the Immigration Policy Center, Dr. Kossoudji explained, “Most economists recognize that legalization has worked in the past.  After a significant percentage of the undocumented population was legalized under IRCA…my own research has shown that IRCA provided immediate direct benefits by successfully turning formerly clandestine workers into higher paid employees. Other researchers have shown that IRCA provided unexpected indirect benefits to the communities where legalized immigrants resided. After legalization, fewer of these immigrants sent money back to their home countries…More of their earnings were spent in their communities in the United States.”

The newly legalized workers also contributed much-need revenues to the Social Security and U.S. tax system, according to Dr. Kossoudji.

Based on current studies, let us take a glimpse into the future to view the probable effects of immigration reform. The Congressional Budget office predicted that a bill that included legalization and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would generate $65 billion in new income and payroll tax collection. The Center for American Progress (CAP) described the significant boost to programs such as Medicare and Social Security, saying that “if immigrants acquire legal status and citizenship, they will contribute far more to the Social Security system than they take out, and will strengthen the solvency of the system over the next 35 years.”

Specifically, the CAP study showed that if 85% of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. earned citizenship, $1.2 trillion in Social Security taxes would be paid from their earnings, while only $580.9 billion would be received in benefits. This would cause a net positive contribution of $606.4 billion over 36 years. These taxes would close 15% of the system’s projected long-term deficit, according to the study.

Perhaps this is why immigration reform is supported not just by 87% of the American population, but by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 636 major corporations, including Facebook, Catepillar, Halliburton and Hewlett Packard.

Economic benefits aside, immigration reform would dramatically improve the lives of the 5.5 million children under the age of 18 who live in undocumented households. The constant fear of the deportation of their parents looms over these children, and their futures and education are precarious. Legalized parents would take care of their children and invest in their futures. The value in this is immeasurable.

When we look to both the past and the future, all the signs point to an urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform.

The purpose of this blog is purely informational. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be viewed as such.


Tune in to The Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR between 1:30 and 2 p.m. today to hear Attorney Glenn Formica discuss the humanitarian crisis of the surge of children at the border

Attorney Glenn Formica will appear on The Colin McEnroe Show with Wayne Oyanadel, Executive Director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.