A guest post from AILA Board of Governors Member Dagmar Butte:

I recently received a response to a Contact Congress letter from a new Senator that appeared, on its face, to fully support CIR. As I read the letter more carefully; however, it became apparent that the letter focused almost exclusively on border control issues and employer compliance. It concluded that these goals had to be accomplished before any other sorts of reforms could be enacted. He said we needed to restore the rule of law first. The letter brought me face to face with two unpleasant realities and reminded me that we cannot relax our advocacy efforts with the new administration. First, this person is a Democrat so it proves we cannot make any assumptions about anyone on this issue based on their party affiliation. Second, it reminded me that there is a lot of education of policy makers to be done and we as AILA members are ideally suited to that task because we see all parts of the immigration system in a way most people never do.

While I think we all agree that employer compliance and border control must be a part of any comprehensive reform- even if we disagree how that should be accomplished – we have to teach Congress that Comprehensive Immigration Reform is so much bigger and more complex than that. It is not just about putting more guards on the border and punishing employers who hire undocumented workers. Restoring the rule of law cannot occur if the law is, as this Senator acknowledged, broken. Only when our law is restructured in such a manner that it fairly addresses all aspects of immigration can we regain control over our borders and obtain employer compliance. These things are not a prerequisite to reform; they are the end result of sensible, well thought out comprehensive reform.

We need to make it viscerally clear to Congress that, among other things, today we have a system that denies immigrants basic due process protections, allows them to die in jails when there only sin is being undocumented, and separates US citizen children from their undocumented parents – or worse – end up deporting these US citizen children with their parents if there is no one in the US to care for them. We all – members of Congress and ordinary Americans – need to remember that these are people. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters – often of American citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Whenever I have told a member of Congress a sympathetic story in this realm, the usual response is: “That poor family, something should be done to help that person.” The problem is that this is often the same member of Congress who also says: “We must be tough on unlawful immigrants, we must control our borders and we must increase enforcement.” This is clearly a disconnect since the only way to help that poor family, and thousands like it, is to fully reform the system and not focus on enforcement and ignore reform until enforcement works. Sadly, since 1996, Congress has largely played to the second sentiment and usually ignored the first. This must change or we are headed for a crisis much more serious than we face today. Immigration issues to some degree or other permeate every major piece of legislation Congress will consider this year from health care reform to economic legislation and Congress must craft a reform bill that allows these other important pieces of legislation to proceed smoothly and it must do so soon. We as AILA members have an obligation to help Congress do that.

Here is just a short list of what I would like to help Congress craft. Use all or part of it, use it as a jumping off point for your own list, but whatever you do, make sure Congress gets that any attempt at immigration reform must include the following:

1. A method for families to be united in the United States without subjecting them to the lengthy or even permanent bars to re-entry that result purely from unlawful presence in the US. To do this, INA 212(a)(9)(B) and INA (a)(9)(C) must be eliminated.
2. A more sane and less arbitrary method for aliens in removal proceedings who have US citizen or LPR spouses, parents or children to remain in the US than the current Cancellation of Deportation process.
3. Restoration of due process protections for all aliens, even those who have committed serious crimes. After all, our constitution does not say every person is guaranteed due process of law “unless he or she is a criminal.” It says everyone gets due process.
4. More resources for Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals so that they have the time to actually decide and review cases in a meaningful manner. This will relieve pressure on the Courts of Appeals and restore integrity to the immigration review system.
5. Restoration of discretion for Immigration Judges particularly in cases involving minor criminal violations where the alien either has fully reformed or the factual circumstances are such that there are substantial mitigating circumstances.
6. Making Immigration Judges truly independent so that there are free to render truly impartial decisions and so that they are not viewed – rightly or wrongly – as simply rubberstamping the policies and decisions of DHS.
7. A restructuring of the current quota system that actually considers the migration patterns of today –both in terms of family and business immigration. For example, today’s quotas were created at a time when no one anticipated large numbers of brilliant engineers coming from India and China and a time when, frankly, we did not need them. Today we do and the current nine year backlog in processing petitions for Indian born engineers who hold Masters’ Degrees (many from the US) is outrageous and stupidly shortsighted.
8. A robust program both for high skilled workers and essential workers in agriculture and other industries that have difficulty attracting a qualified workforce.

This is just my two cents, make sure you put in yours!