MINNEAPOLIS (April 14, 2010) – With health care reform in the “done” column, the White House and Congress should tackle long-overdue immigration policy reform, say media, legal and community service leaders.
Members of the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium together gathered at Marcus Garvey House studios in Minneapolis, where together with civic and business leaders engaged in a conversation on immigration law with Cara Huang, immigration expert for U.S. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) in Washington.
The conversation will be aired on the May edition of Conversations with Al McFarlane Public Policy Forum on KFAI 90.3 FM and 106.7 FM and on area public access television networks.
Huang said Honda, who is chair of the bi-cameral, bi-partisan Asian Pacific Legislative Caucus, has offered two pieces of legislation with the support of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus and the Black Legislative Caucus, that seek to fix the nation’s immigration system, which many say has been broken for at least 20 years.
“The Reuniting Families Act deals with the problem of Asian immigrants who are citizens or legal residents facing longest family visa backlogs in the system,” said Huang. “Why should they wait so long to be reunited with their families?”
Honda also introduced the Strengthening Communities Through Education Integration Act, she added, which provides tax credits as an incentive for employers to provide English-language training for their employees. She said Honda wants the President and Democratic leadership to remember that immigration is important to the country and to the economy and is consistent with the values of our nation.
Immigration remains a bi-partisan issue, and that a March rally that Honda attended drew around 250,000 people to show overwhelming support for immigration reform.
Loan Huynh, an attorney with the Immigration Law Center at Fedrickson & Byron Law Firm, is also a human rights and immigration expert. She said that immigrants face many challenges and would like the Senate to follow the progressive spirit of the House and provide the leadership to implement some for of comprehensive immigration reform this year.
She said that Congress needs to address not only the needs of the employers, who want to be in compliance with the law, but also recognize that immigrants are being unduly delayed the opportunity to work because of visa backlogs and other status issues.
“Historically, when immigrants from Europe came to America, they too faced resistance and hostility,” said Loan Huynh. “But we have to look at the difference in today’s anti-immigrant sentiment. As immigrants, we’re talking about families and work. But some of the dialog from the anti-immigrant arena is very dangerous because it is based on ethnicity and race. This is really a civil rights issue now.”
Asian American Press Editor and Publisher Nghi Huynh, who is also President of the MMMC, announced the launching of the Immigrant Information Center to help communities navigate the immigration and naturalization process.
“We are creating and assembling information about immigration, and about rights and resources,” Nghi Huynh said. “We can help them understand the process of becoming citizens.”
He said the ethnic broadcast, print and online media including would provide up-to-date information about immigration policy and law to help people better understand Homeland Security and government. It would also promote nonprofit organizations that help immigrants with citizenship, health, housing and jobs.
“Immigrants face so many challenges,” said Abdullahi G. Nur, executive director, African Community Services in Minneapolis. “The big problem now is jobs and housing. Rents are going up. Immigrants don’t have the job skills so they are getting old jobs that cannot support the high rents.”
Nur added that the use of DNA testing to confirm family ties is a problem and that the technology is better used for criminal apprehension cases and not as part of family reunification considerations. He said the policy is problematic and could prevent allowing informally adopted children cared for by a family from emigrating with their families.
Businessman Peter Idusogie noted that Liberians in the U.S. must apply for status to stay here every 18 months. He said this is stressful on families attempting to plan and build a life with the potential for deportation always luring ahead. It is even worse when it involves American born children that will need foster care if their parents are deported.
“You can’t say you value families when your policies break families apart,” he said
Tom Gitaa, Publisher of Mshale, a monthly African community newspaper, said Liberians immigrants and refugees consider family reunification a vital issue and feel they have been treated unfairly in the process. He would like the Immigration Information Center to help spur activity toward immigration policy reform.
“If you ask immigrants what is more important, health care reform or immigration reform, you will find that immigrants feel immigration policy reform is more important,” Gitaa said.
Adolfo Cardona, Publisher of Latino Midwest, said this issues point to the need for more information that is accessible and reliable. It is the mission of his publication is to use information a tool to support immigrants, he added.
“So the issue of trust is important,” said Cardona. “When each of our communities take the initiative to inform our respective communities about immigration challenges, issues and solutions, our people will learn to trust the resources and the processes.”
Cardona said ethnic media can help the United States explore, debate and arrive at immigration policy solutions that are respectful, sensitive, and that reflect the greatest American values.
Peter Idusogie, a local businessman who recently announced his candidacy for Minnesota Governor, said that as a first-generation American, he relates strongly with immigrants that feel they have no voice when they were left out of the health care bill and as they are also used as cannon fodder in the immigration reform discussion.
Born in London to Nigerian parents, Idusogie said immigrants have contributed to the social and economic development of this country since its inception. He said the issue was about the economy during the Clinton era, when there were not enough American workers to fill labor and industry position.
At the time, he said people looked the other way when it came to status. Now with the economy in crisis he said the same people point to immigrants as the problem.
He added that if America can decide that it can secure its boarders, then it can also determine an orderly process that provides more than 10 million currently undocumented people with a path toward legal status.
“People engaged in illegal and criminal activity are a minute minority, said Idusogie. “Let’s identify them, eject them and then fast track everybody else for citizenship or legal resident status. They are here. They are not going anywhere. It is in our own best interests to recognize that.”
Rep. Honda is Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and recently joined other Members of Congress to denounce the new Arizona immigration measure (S.B. 1070) signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week, saying the law “creates a moral and political imperative for the federal government to act swiftly on comprehensive immigration reform to avoid a patchwork of state measures that does not fundamentally fix the broken immigration system.”
Honda cosponsored Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP or H.R. 4321) which has 95 House co-sponsors, what he calls the pro-immigrant allies in the Congress, including the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Honda quotes 2010 UCLA study from Professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda that shows comprehensive immigration reform would garner $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next ten years. He said that not acting to reform immigration would cost the U.S. $2.6 trillion over the same period.