Worthington, immigration and the devilish details

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One mother was reunited with her baby. One father was released from jail to undergo the testing that might make it possible for him to donate a kidney to his (U.S. citizen) son. But most of the rest of the 230 families whose fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were arrested in Worthington on December 12 are gone. Many have been shipped out of the country. Most of the rest are still in custody, far from Worthington and far from Minnesota.

On February 14, the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota reported on the heroic work done by attorneys from not only their office but also from the Detention Project (ILCM, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Centro Legal) and the private immigration bar and volunteers. The stories were still heart-wrenching, and showed more clearly than ever the inhumane, broken system that is U.S. immigration law.

The thirteen-year-old girl, left without parents when her mother was shipped to Mexico and her father disappeared. Days later, he was found in detention in Atlanta.

The twelve- and thirteen-year-old U.S. citizen children, the only safe members of their families, who had to look for missing relatives, shop for groceries, seek help.

The parents, trying to get passports for their U.S. citizen children, so they could take their sons and daughters away from the towns where they were born and raised and go to school to return to a “homeland” that offers no opportunity for parents or children.

The convoluted laws benefit predators who target immigrant families. “Within the first days, we heard five stories of people who had paid notary publics $3,000 to do the paperwork for them, in full belief that this would get them legal status,” reported Cynthia Anderson. “And, of course, it didn’t. People fly in, even from other states and charge people money to do nothing.”

Even worse, people’s desperate attempts to get jobs and support their families, here and “back home,” get them in even deeper difficulty. A 1976 law means that anyone who uses false documents to claim legal immigration is barred from immigrating legally in the future. That means that someone who uses another person’s birth certificate to get a job—even with that person’s permission—is barred from legal immigration in the future.

For people who try to stay within the law, the news is bad. ILCM director John Keller tells the story:

Take, for example, a married couple. The husband is a U.S. citizen and the wife is undocumented. Even though the law allows him to file a petition for her, the “devil is in the details,” as they say. As a lawyer, I must inform them that under our current laws and system, the processing of the paperwork will probably take one and one-half years. Not so bad, they think. Wait, there’s more … I have to tell them that after the first one and one-half years, since she entered the U.S. without a visa, she will have to return to her home country and wait, in a worst case scenario, up to ten years, without being able to legally return to her husband and children. Eleven and one-half years for a U.S. citizen to legally immigrate his wife. This is the legal process we want millions to go through? At this point, the U.S. citizen usually says: ‘Well, wait, but we have a child, or two children, born in the United States. Surely, that will help … the government doesn’t expect us to separate the little children from their mother … does it?’ That is a difficult question to have to answer. I tell them that the government lets you choose if your U.S. citizen children will separate from you or from her. They could always go with her.

Let me be clear. The current laws and their interpretations do not promote strong, stable, loving families—in many cases, the laws destroy them. A healthy nation, Minnesota, and our Minnesota communities depend on healthy, stable, strong families and our immigration laws must be reformed to that end.

A resolution introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate this week calls for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to promote family reunification and a path to legalization for hard-working immigrants in the United States, which only the U.S. Congress can pass. Illinois, Georgia and New York have passed similar resolutions.

The Minnesota legislature is considering a Commission on New Americans, which would study and recommend specific initiatives to keep Minnesota a strong and welcoming destination for immigrants, and to learn from success stories in Willmar, Pelican Rapids and Worthington, which have been strengthened by the arrival of new immigrants in their work forces and schools. (And it’s a bi-partisan issue—while Democratic Senators Mee Moua and Sandy Pappas have taken the lead on immigration legislation over the years, Republican State Representative Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake is co-sponsoring the Commission legislation.)