By Maria Elena Salinas/Commentary Santa Maria Times
It will be a historic moment, without a doubt. On Tuesday, Jan. 20, the entire world will have its attention focused on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to witness the inauguration of the first black president. Not just because of the historic nature of the event, but because so many people are in desperate need of change. There are high hopes for what Barack Obama will bring to the presidency, to the country and to the world. And everyone seems to have a different list of priorities. For Latinos, it’s immigration reform.
Obama has said he will work to have an immigration-reform bill in place in the first year of his administration, but proponents of an overhaul cannot wait that long. A group of Latino evangelical groups took over a section of the Capitol Jan. 7 and literally prayed for immigration reform in the first 100 days of the new administration.
“We marched, we voted and now we want Obama to keep his promise and give us an immigration reform,” said Rafael Guevara of CONLAMIC, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.
Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez won’t wait even 100 days. He says he is ready to introduce new immigration legislation on the very same day Obama takes the oath of office, expressing concern that the president-elect and his transition team are not giving the issue the importance it deserves.
Gutierrez says he does not get the impression that there is a sense of urgency on the matter, since there has been no word from Obama on the possibility of an executive order to stop the immigration raids. “They do not understand how every day our community is being destroyed. Waiting until the end of the year will mean that tens of thousands will be separated from their families,” he claims.
There are not many details on what his proposal will include or how it will be different from the Kennedy/McCain Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that failed to pass Congress in 2007. The only thing he has said is that it will include a path to the legalization of undocumented immigrants and the reunification of families, and that it will attempt to speed up the process of obtaining a visa.
The sense of urgency for immigration reform became even more evident when Attorney General Michael Mukasey made the surprising announcement that immigrants who are in the middle of deportation proceedings, including those who are seeking asylum, will no longer have the right to reopen their cases because of mistakes made by attorneys who represented them in the past.
The decision drew strong criticism from immigration advocacy groups. The American Immigration Law Foundation condemned the action, calling it an assault on constitutional principles and accusing the attorney general of reversing years of legal precedent. are outraged by this action,“ said Nadine Wettstein, director of AILF’s Legal Action Center in a press release. ”With this ruling, the administration is attempting to undermine an immigrant’s right to a fair hearing on whether he or she should be thrown out of the country.“
The ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project called the decision a dangerous move away from the U.S. tradition of fairness and due process. ”This order will have a tremendous negative impact on countless people who will be deported simply because they had the bad luck to be represented by the wrong immigration attorney,“ said Deputy Director Lee Gelernt.
Less than two weeks before the end of the Bush administration, this certainly is not good news for immigrants and those who defend their rights. It’s been a tough eight years that began to go downhill for immigrants after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Since then, immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, have unfairly been treated as criminals.
Barack Obama will have the weight of the world on his shoulders upon taking the oath of office. He is inheriting monumental problems in the U.S. and abroad. The livelihood of millions of innocent immigrants who come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families, and contribute to our country’s well-being with their hard work, should also be on his list of priorities.
Maria Elena Salinas can be reached at mariaesalinas.com.
January 12, 2009