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Immigration reform sparks Brooklyn reaction

Brooklyn attorney Alice Antonovsky. Photo by Alice Antonovsky

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

America, New York City and, of course, Brooklyn, are the great melting pots welcoming immigrants with open arms. 

But is that an accurate depiction of the history of immigration in the United States? In reality, immigration is much more complicated -- and more expensive for the taxpayers since 9/11.

The template that the senators are following is not unfamiliar to those entrenched in immigration reform, notes Brooklyn College professor Anna Law.  "They are not inventing anything new here, said Law. “The agreement seems to follow the Immigration Act of 1986. It is a two-pronged approach: one track that allows for the legalization of undocumented persons and a second track for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.”

In October 2012 a Brooklyn woman, an immigrant to the United States, was reunited with her family after spending four months in a Virginia prison, detained by federal immigration officials. The woman, Ms. Lin, 32, had been an innocent bystander during a sting to catch people buying fake green cards, according to her lawyer, C.J. Wang.   

These types of immigrant detentions happen all too often, Wang reflected in an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “I have another client, a man from Bay Ridge, who is currently being unlawfully detained by immigrations agents,” he said.

According to Wang, her client, Mr. He, was picked up on a DWI charge on Thanksgiving and was transferred to immigration officials with a deportation order being issued against him.  

“I fought for my client and obtained a stay of deportation, but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials refuse to honor the stay and release my client,” Wang said.  “This is what is wrong with the nation’s immigration policy -- it is hypocritical and orders are loosely enforced.”

Washington hopes to address Wang’s concerns.

A bipartisan group of leading senators has reached an agreement on the principles for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration law, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

The eight senators endorsing the new principles are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The deal also covers border security, non-citizen or "guest" workers and employer verification of immigration status. Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain — the legislation could run into trouble in the Republican-controlled House — the development heralds the start of what could be the most effort in years toward overhauling the nation's inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.

Given the current political environment, “this bipartisan effort is earth shattering,” commented Law. “When your party loses the Hispanic vote by 20 percent to President Obama's 70 percent, there is something that needs to be done,” Law said. “A lot of what is driving this push for reform is the realization of the Republicans that they are making themselves irrelevant by ignoring the Hispanic vote,” Law concluded. 

Several lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn't get enough GOP support.

Brian Figeroux, a family attorney in Downtown Brooklyn, welcomes the move by the Senate. “This is a big deal,” he said. “The president would not be the president of the United States of America without the support of Hispanic voters.”  

President Barack Obama is committed to enacting comprehensive immigration legislation and will travel to Nevada today to present his vision, which is expected to overlap in important ways with the Senate effort.

While members of the Democratic Party have outwardly expressed their support of fairly expansive immigration reform and inclusion, the Republican Party has been characterized as halting the process in the past.

“What's changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” McCain said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.”

Some Brooklyn attorneys are hesitant to display excitement.  “It’s a little early to get excited,” said Brooklyn immigration attorney Nicholas J. Mundy. From his 16 Court St. office Mundy hypothesized the benefits and hurdles that the overhaul faces.

“The biggest effect, besides the fact that it’s going to have worker programs which will please the masses, it’ll be a complete overhaul that will help students. The biggest problem: opening up agreeable pathways for those immigrants who have been here for many years and who have forged a life for themselves, notwithstanding the illegal way they entered the country,” he said.

 “This is going to give people a real chance to get indoctrinated,” attorney Alice Antonovsky said. “However we all need to be mindful that a lot of things can stand in the way. There may be a penalty for having entered the country illegally. Persons may have to pay back taxes.

“It’s hard to encompass every person and every person’s individual case but, while there are a lot of quirks in immigration law, this agreement is a step in the right direction,” she said.

For Wang, the introduction of new legislation is not enough. “It is not a matter of the administration or members of the government creating new policies. Policies are mere rhetoric. The administration needs to enforce their current policies,” said Wang.  

“The Obama administration has issued an order stating that if you are an immigrant and arrested on a minor charge, like a DWI, you should not be detained on immigration charges,” Wang noted.

The policy that Wang is referring to was announced in December 2012 and excludes illegal immigrants from deportation for minor offenses. It targets only detainees convicted or charged with a felony or three or more misdemeanor convictions.

In He’s case, “There is a stay on his deportation yet, he is still in custody. How can the government institute new rules when their officers do not enforce the present ones?” Wang asks.  

In the meantime, Wang continues to defend He in both the immigration and criminal DWI cases against him.

January 29, 2013 - 3:14pm


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