Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 38me1013 (posted Jan. 31, 2001)"
Building a Nation of Justice and Compassion:
A Blueprint for President Bush
By: Margaret A. Catillaz
In his inaugural address, President Bush spoke often and eloquently about his vision for the United States as a nation of justice and opportunity, a nation that, at its best, is compassionate. The President pledged to speak out for greater justice and compassion for all. There are some simple steps President Bush can take to help guarantee that immigrants receive the justice, opportunity and compassion about which he spoke.
First, President Bush can push for the full, permanent restoration of Section 245(i). This provision of immigration law would allow people who are eligible for green cards to apply from within the United States. Without Section 245(i), people must return to their home countries and will be barred from returning to their homes, families, employers and businesses for up to ten years. Congress recently partially reinstated Section 245(i), but that provision expires on April 30.
President Bush also can work to reform the overly harsh 1996 immigration laws. These laws violate American principles of law, justice and fairness that President Bush annunciated on January 20. They deny people their day in court, deny people a second chance, change the rules in the middle of the game, tear families apart, and hit the wrong targets. Under the overly harsh laws, low-level immigration officials have the power to act as judge and jury. Courts cannot review, let alone correct, INS decisions. Neither the INS nor immigration judges can take into account work, business ownership, good behavior, family responsibilities, contribution to the community, U.S. military service or length of time in the U.S. when considering whether to deport someone. Offenses that werent previously grounds for deportation now are, and those definitions are applied retroactively. Many people caught up in this sweeping net have been in the U.S. since they were small children, are married to U.S. citizens and their children are citizens. The overly harsh 1996 laws were designed to target criminals and terrorists. But immigrants who have been law-abiding people for many years are being deported.
The President also can support NACARA parity legislation. Congress during the late 1990s approved the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), which granted people fleeing from oppression and civil strife in certain countries the right to apply for permanent residency. But NACARA denied the same rights to people fleeing from similar circumstances in other countries. Aside from rectifying this obvious injustice, NACARA parity would support U.S. foreign policy and national security in two ways: by helping ensure that billions of dollars in remittances from people living here continue to flow to their home countries, and allowing these long-term residents to remain here rather than having to be absorbed by countries facing economic instability.
Finally, President Bush can push ahead with reorganizing the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We support a plan that would separate, but coordinate, enforcement and adjudications; appoint a single person in charge of both arms with the clout and authority to ensure that there is a consistent national immigration policy, and adequately fund both enforcement and adjudications, so that the agency can effectively, efficiently and fairly process applications and enforce the law.
During last Decembers budget negotiations, leading Republican members of Congress adamantly opposed restoring balance and justice to our nations immigration law, applying the same standards to all people fleeing oppression and war, and permanently allowing eligible people to apply for green cards here rather than being separated from their families and employers. Their steadfast opposition stands in contrast to President Bushs pledge of "building a single nation of justice and opportunity," and his observation that "every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American."
It is now up to the President to put his eloquent words into action.
Ms. Catillaz, a partner in the Rochester, NY, law firm of Harter, Secrest &
Emery, is President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.