"Sign in, and please go leave your money in the car," he said again. My hand was shaking. The officer at the T. Hutto Immigration Detention Center was peering at me. Going in as a mom disguised as an Attorney, I was nervous. Yes, practically, I was there to represent my Client, but the mom in me made me want to protect my client and her children to the ends of the earth.
I sat in a glass box waiting for my Client, and she walked in. Stoic, fresh from the shower, with eyes of despair. We looked at each other, mother to mother, and I wanted to apologize. Apologize that this woman, escaping gang violence, walking hundreds of miles in the heat, had ended up here in a glass box.
"Tiene hijos?" I queried in conversational spanish. "Si, tres hijos," she responded, and my heart sank. I knew the next question, and I did not want to ask it. "Donde?" I whispered, "where are they?"
She did not know. Her three children — all under the age of twelve — were taken from her, and hopefully, they were somewhere in Texas. "I pray they are safe," she told me. I couldn’t guarantee they were, so I just said, "I pray, too."
Moms have an understanding that transcends languages and borders. Children are children no matter where in the world they are from, and all have the same basic needs — to be safe and loved. I don't often pray on my cases, but for this one, I beseech for a happy ending.
“Thank you” she said for the fourth time. One of the most polite women I had ever met kept thanking me for doing my job. This LGBT woman from Honduras, full of fear and anxiety, was so grateful to be able to sit in the same Starbucks I nonchalantly came to every morning. I listened to her story. She fled from Honduras for her life for being a lesbian. My client had remained quiet about her sexual orientation her entire life and she was almost grateful to be able to tell her story. The backlash of her community in Honduras if they found out her orientation was a death sentence. Her friend was murdered and tortured. She was scared she would be next.
This was one of my first asylum cases years ago. I remember feeling hopeful, ecstatic, and excited to be in this country that could save this woman’s life. Part of filing an asylum case is looking up the country’s conditions. I spent hours upon hours researching and kept finding news articles about violence and torture against the Gay, Transgender, and Lesbian communities in Honduras. Human Rights watch named the Honduras murder rate as one of the highest in the world with the LGBT community the most vulnerable. 
My Client never wanted to leave Honduras. In fact, she was a brilliant teacher there with a wonderful job, family, and friends. However, word got out about her sexual orientation, and her life changed. Death threats against her life rapidly ensued. Her family stopped speaking to her. Her friends turned against her. She was physically and violently attacked repeatedly, and her fears of being killed became very real. Imprisoned in her home, she was too afraid to grocery shop, work, or even go to the hospital. Her days alive in Honduras were numbered leading her to flee for her life to the United States.
Over the years, I have seen this Client thrive. She is married to a lovely woman, working, and is a wonderful addition to this country. Every year at Christmas, she brings our entire office treats and hugs everyone. I have seen her smile return. She has given as much to this country as it has given her. Seeing people coming to the United States from Honduras fleeing for their lives and being sent back to their deaths is heartbreaking. For many, the journey to get to our U.S. Borders is a scary and dangerous one, but is their last option for survival. For many of us, waking up, drinking our coffee, and going to work is a chore we grumble about. However, there are a group of people in this country — asylees — that take it as not only a privilege, but as a wonder that they are alive. Coming to the U.S. is not a privilege for many of them, it is the choice between life and death. When our United States of America looks at these most vulnerable and brave, welcoming them with open arms, that is the country that I am most in love with. Anything else is a tragedy.
(June 2018: "The only way parents can quickly be reunited with their children is to drop their claims for asylum in the United States and agree to be deported." Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, testifying on Capitol Hill.)
By Shireen Kahlon
[“What’s your Rep up to” is a blog post to help you decipher the legislation of the Representatives in your Districts. While we do not tell you how to vote, we do want to help you make informed decisions when you vote in November 2018]
On Thursday, June 21, Mayor Steve Adler joined twelve other mayors to visit an immigration detention center in protest of the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Mayors from across the United States — including the mayors of Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, El Paso, Santa Fe, Albuquerque — went to Tornillo Migrant Facility in Fabens, Texas.
In April of 2018, President Donald Trump began a policy termed the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. This policy states that anyone who crosses the border illegally will be caught and prosecuted. Once detained, the undocumented immigrant may be placed in a detention center while their kids are taken from them and placed in a children's or a “tender age” (for babies and toddlers) detention center.
ADLER’S REMARKS ON THE POLICY
On June 19, Mayor Adler asked, via twitter, for leaders to stand up, regardless of party. Adler also made an appeal to put an end to Trump’s policies.
While visiting the detention center in Fabens, Adler struck back at President Trump for having yet to visit a single detention center to help protect and reunite the children. Last week, Melania Trump visited the Upbring New Hope Children's Center in McAllen, Texas. She announced she’d like to help the reunification of children and parents happen as soon as possible. Additionally, the White House made a statement on her behalf, saying “her goals are to thank law enforcement and social services providers for their hard work, lend support and hear more on how the administration can build upon the already existing efforts to reunite children with their families." But Mayor Adlor wasn’t swayed by these promises. In a statement, he demanded, “Using children in order to deter or dissuade folks from coming to our border and seeking asylum is unjust, it is wrong, it is immoral, and it is un-American. Children don’t belong in cages…with or without their parents.” (Neely)
ADLER’S REMARKS ON IMMIGRATION
The mayor has spoken up in support of immigration on more than one occasion. After President Trump announced the “Travel Ban” — an executive order signed in January 2018 which stated the United States will not allow refugees from 7 primarily Muslim countries including Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, amongst others — Adler spoke in oppositions to the ban. On January 28th, Adler stated that immigrants are a large part of what makes Austin successful and that immigrants are always welcome in Austin. Throughout his term, he has spoken up for immigrants and sided with the Travis County Sheriff on refusing to arrest nonviolent undocumented immigrants.
Adler has also been a strong proponent for sanctuary cities — cities which limit cooperation with federal authorities surrounding immigration. After President Trump wanted to make sanctuary cities illegal or to cut funding to these cities, Adler hit back stating that he “will oppose anti-immigrant policies, regardless of the personal consequences, because spreading fear and making threats makes us all less safe.” (Statement)
Neely, C. (2018, June 21). Austin Mayor Steve Adler on family separation at the border: 'Children don't belong in cages'. Retrieved from https://communityimpact.com/austin/city-county/2018/06/21/ austin-mayor-steve-adler-on-family-separation-at-the-border-children-dont-belong-in-cages/
Guild, Blair. Melania Trump Visits Detention Center in Texas https://www.cbsnews.com/news/melania-trump-visits-detention-center-in-texas/
Statement by Mayor Adler on ICE Director's Threat to Arrest City, State Officials. (2018, January 03). Retrieved from http://www.mayoradler.com/statement-by-mayor-adler-on-ice-directors- threat-to-arrest-city-state-officials/
By Shireen Kahlon
In April 2018, President Donald Trump announced the “zero-tolerance” policy for undocumented migrants and refugees entering the United States which stated that anybody who crosses the border illegally can and will be arrested and detained. Over the next two months, the National Guard detained 2,000 families. Throughout this period they have separated children and babies from parents, putting the children in their own detention center. The Trump Administration has argued they use the “zero-tolerance” policy to deter other immigrants from illegally crossing the border, and President Trump reiterated that he plans to continue the policy until he gets funding for the border wall. Regardless of the Administration’s justification for their actions, the separation of families and detaining human being in prison-like camps are human rights violations in the vein of the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII and the early stages of the Holocaust.
On June 20th, President Trump signed an executive order to allow families to stay together in detainment camps. However, this executive order does not specify how the over 2,300 children and babies already separated from their families will be reunited with their parents.
In recent weeks, many political leaders have laid out policies to battle the family separation policy. Although he at first defended President Trump’s policy, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) took a step back to call for an emergency policy to end family separations. On June 19th, Senator Cruz stated he would introduce a policy that would require families to stay together, for new temporary shelters to be created to reduce overcrowding, and to expedite the process for immigrants seeking asylum into the United States. This proposed legislation has been supported by numerous Republican senators including senators Marco Rubio (R-FLA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Todd Young (R-IND) amongst many others.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) announced last week that he and many other conservative senators are working on a piece of legislation that would go hand-in-hand with Cruz’s policy. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also commented on the family separation crisis, and promising that he and other senators are working on legislation that would be supported by both Democratic and Republican senators alike.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced the “Keep Families Together Act” which has garnered the support of all Democrat senators. This act says that family separations would become illegal except in cases where the child is in danger while being under the care of his or her parents. However, Feinstein’s act has not received bipartisan support, with Republican senators arguing it is too narrowly-based.
Other senators, including Lindsay Graham (R-SC), have expressed their intention to speak with President Trump on ending the family separation policy. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) has strongly opposed Trump’s policy, hitting back by saying that separating migrant children from their parents will cause severe trauma to the children and that they should not be used as pawns in the immigration debate.
Until an act passes, the only person who can make any changes is President Trump.
Update: On Tuesday, June 26, 2018 a Federal Judge in California ordered federal officials to stop detaining parents apart from their minor children, absent a determination the parent is unfit or the parent declines reunification; reunify all parents with their minor children who are under the age of 5 within 14 days and reunify all parents with their minor children age 5 and older within 30 days. As of June 28, 2018, this Order has not yet been followed.
Photo attribution: By PetrohsW CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
By Shireen Khalon
DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is intended for children who come into the USA undocumented, either with or without their parents. The program allows eligible children to study and work without fear of deportation. To be eligible for the program, applicants should be 31 years of age or younger as of June 15, 2012. In addition, applicants should have entered the USA before the age of sixteen, and lived in the U.S. continuously from June 2007 until present. Another qualification is applicants should either be in school, have earned a diploma of some sort, or be honorably discharged from the U.S. military. Finally, applicants should not have been convicted of any felonies or severe misdemeanors. Although the qualifications are many, more than 690,000 people are currently protected under the DACA provisions.
Unfortunately, DACA is under threat. The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton (R), sued Donald Trump on May 1st to end DACA. Claiming that Trump has excessive power over immigration, Paxton wants the courts to return this power to the states. Further, he believes the power should be more spread out amongst states. If Ken Paxton were to discontinue DACA, more than 160,000 people in Texas alone would be in danger of deportation.
Ken Paxton is not the only politician in Texas against DACA. In January 2018, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) stated he does not believe DREAMers (the term for immigrants protected under DACA) should have any path to citizenship. He, also, believes in terminating DACA.
Texas politicians, including Representative Ted Poe (R) and Representative John Ratcliffe (R) believe the DACA program is unconstitutional and should be eliminated immediately. Contrarily, other representatives, including Al Green (D) and Will Hurd (R) support DACA and want to seek out ways to make sure there is a clear path for citizenship for DREAMers.
In many ways, what happens to DACA will also impact H1B dependents, also known as H4 DREAMers. When H4 DREAMers age out and turn 21 years of age, they will be required to find their own method to stay in the USA, whether that’s filing for a student visa, a work visa, J1 visa, DACA, or a number of other visas. When a H4 DREAMer is eligible for DACA, they have a clear path to green card and on to citizenship.
Whatever the path may be and whatever these politicians believe, President Trump will likely make the final decision on DACA’s fate. While he has gone back and forth multiple times on whether he wants to end DACA or not, there has yet to be a genuine bipartisan discussion about the program. We will just have to wait and find out what happens. Until then, we can only hope Paxton’s lawsuit is thrown out.
TEXAS 10TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT MICHAEL MCCAUL
“What’s your Rep up to” is a blog post to help you decipher the legislation of the Representatives in your Districts. While we do not tell you how to vote, we do want to help you make informed decisions when you vote in November 2018.
McCaul represents Texas’ 10th Congressional District in which 5% of the population is Asian; out of this, approximately 2% is South Asian. The district McCaul represents covers a large area between Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and Houston.
In January 2018, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul teamed up with Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Raúl Labrador of Idaho to propose legislation surrounding immigration titled “Securing America’s Future Act”. The legislation proposes different ways to limit the number of immigrants who can legally stay in United States through harsh enforcement and weak protections for non-citizens.
FAMILY- BASED IMMIGRATION
“Securing America’s Future Act” destroys the family-based immigration system. It gets rid of the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their adult children and siblings for green cards; the ability of lawful permanent residents to sponsor their adult unmarried children for green cards; the ability of adult U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents for green cards; and creates temporary 5-year nonimmigrant visa for parents of U.S. citizens. This requires our U.S. citizen clients to provide financial support and health insurance for their parents, regardless of the personal financial resources of the parents.
One of the more controversial areas of the legislation proposed by McCaul deals with the border wall. Throughout the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump spoke about building a border wall along the US-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration. Since the beginning of Trump’s campaign, McCaul has supported the border wall and wants to ensure that it is built.
McCaul’s “Securing America’s Future Act” looks to construct the border wall. The legislation seeks to install, deploy, and operate the border wall system, fencing, levee walls, checkpoints, lighting, roads, for the purpose of detaining “illegal entrants”. Many view this wall as wasting resources by increasing the country’s deficits to build the wall as well as requiring the hiring of extra Border Patrol and Officers to maintain the border.
RESTRICTIONS ON DACA
Furthermore, the legislation proposes that anyone who has followed the DACA requirements for over three years may be allowed to submit for legal status. Unfortunately, the Legislation lacks permanent protections for Dreamers, provides only contingent nonimmigrant status to eligible applicants for renewable three-year periods, and does not provide a path to permanent legal status or eventual citizenship. Although this legislation has been popular amongst conservative politicians, many critics state it is not bipartisan and should be focused on bringing pointers from both parties.
WORK BASED IMMIGRATION
Congressman McCaul’s legislation imposes stiff penalties for companies who fail to comply with the E-Verify system including civil penalties to Employers if they fail to notify Department of Homeland Security if a person’s employment authorization cannot be verified. He has asked companies to use the E-Verify system to ensure they are hiring solely legal workers. However, the E-Verify system has historically been full of errors and has erroneously denied those who are authorized to work.
CRIMINALIZES ALL NONCITIZENS
“Securing America’s Future Act” criminalizes any illegal presence of 90 days or more. Thus, someone can be charged with the crime of improper entry and face up to 6 months in jail if they stay in the country for more than three months. If the violation follows certain convictions, that period of maximum time of imprisonment can vary from 10 to 20 years. This places harsh convictions on noncitizens and unduly criminalizes immigrants.
Although this legislation has not passed yet, those who live in District 10 of Texas can vote in the elections in November, and decide if this is the Representative they want. Texas Congressional 10th District, “Securing America’s Future Act” is just one of the things your Rep. is up to.
The South Asian Community recently threw a fundraiser gala for Mayor Steve Adler, bringing in the largest number of new donors to his reelection campaign thus far. The evening started with a short introduction by attorney Pooja Sethi, who owns an immigration law firm and hence pays special attention to the policies and politics in Austin. She noted that Mayor Adler has undertaken several initiatives to ensure the Austin community is inclusive, progressive, and diverse — from appointing the first female Indian Chief of Staff, Lesley Verghese, to continuously supporting initiatives that champion the integration of various communities. Sethi highlighted the pride Austinites feel to have Steve Adler as Mayor. Mayor Adler took the stage to address the community gathered to support his reelection bid, and he gave an inspiring speech about the many progressive strides that Austin has made recently.
Mayor Adler called Austin a magical place with its unique, laid back culture, saying, “From Barton Springs to the food - Austin is a place that attracts people from all over and we are in the spotlight.” Austin is now one of the bigger metropolitans and is being touted as an example. No city has done it right yet so let’s be that pioneer to get that sense of community, inclusivity right,” he said. Adler then touched upon topics such as infrastructure & roads. The removal of traffic lights on 360 elicited a huge hoorah from the crowd. He also discussed Code Next — both its merits and concerns — as well as the expansion of Austin Bergstrom Airport and the addition of more domestic & international flights. He also discussed the possibility of having a professional soccer team that brings about team spirit and pride for the city. Before taking questions he recalled an anecdote about his recent visit to India and his chance meeting with Dalai Lama there.
A little 10 year old girl asked him about whether he thinks east Austin is getting gentrified too rapidly. He responded saying that it definitely is and that growth needs to be measured. Then a small boy lightened the mood by asking if we could have longer weekends. Unfortunately, Mayor Adler said, as much as he would love to, he can’t grant us that wish!
The Mayor stayed afterward and conversed with constituents and supporters. Many interesting conversations ensued throughout the evening. It was truly a fantastic fundraiser that allowed for dialog and for the Asian American to participate and get involved with a sense of civic duty and strengthen our city and community.
By Archana Vemulapalli
In January 2018, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul teamed up with Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee and Republican congressman Raúl Labrador of Idaho. Together, the three proposed legislation surrounding immigration titled “Securing America’s Future Act”. The legislation proposes different ways to limit the number of immigrants who stay in USA past their visa expiration date. Additionally, McCaul wants to increase the number of green cards given to skilled workers. This would be beneficial to skilled workers looking for a path to citizenship in USA. As the data suggests, the largest number of foreign skilled workers in USA are located along the East Coast and in Texas with Austin among the top 5 cities. See graph below:
Congressman McCaul has asked companies to use the E-Verify system to ensure they are hiring solely legal workers. The E-Verify System is a system that allows employers to enter in their employees names into a database in which all government records about the employee is listed. Through this database, the employer will be able to confirm the employee is, in fact, staying in the USA legally.
One of the more controversial areas of the legislation proposed by McCaul deals with the border wall. Throughout the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump spoke about building a border wall along the US-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration. Since the beginning of Trump’s campaign, McCaul has supported the border wall and wants to make sure it is built.
One final area of the legislation proposes that anyone who has followed the DACA requirements for over three years should be allowed to submit for legal status. McCaul states this process will allow for people who have committed no crimes and are successful in their community to begin on a path towards citizenship. Although this legislation has been popular amongst conservative politicians, many critics state it is not bipartisan and should be focused on bringing bringing pointers from both parties. We can only wait to see what will happen with this legislation. Until then, we can call our congressmen to either support or defeat this act.
We shouldn’t have to March for Our Lives. We should march in bands and parades, not for our lives (or other basic human rights). Gun violence has permeated American society that we no longer ask if something horrendous will happen. Sadly, it’s become a matter of when the next one will shatter our daily routines. We expect a tally weekly, monthly, yearly. Children are scared to go to school not because of a presentation or pop quiz but because they don’t know if at the end of the day they will go home, to dance practice, or piano lessons. Schools have started active shooter trainings as if they are art or music class.
A society that doesn’t value children has essentially sentenced itself to failure. There is no future without children who can flourish in schools and beyond. The Parkland High School students organizing is the next generation of activism that is encouraging and inspiring to watch. It sparked marches all across the country, including right here in Austin. Attendees (with whom we had informal conversations) observed the passion of the youth attending the rallies and sensed that a movement that could turn into a tsunami of progress.
This the energy needed to foster permanent change through activism; however, it is activism that should never need to happen. Hopefully it will impact society such that future generations will not have to continue to march for their lives.
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
Women’s Day has been celebrated for over a 100 years now and is observed on March 8, every year. In 2018, the theme for the day is #PressforProgress. This hashtag aligns with recent social justice movements. Scandals in Hollywood erupted, inspiring #metoo, giving women a voice as reported by The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. As an Attorney, I often learn about unsung heroes,
who are making strides and living #PressforProgress with their daily actions. While most of us know of Cleopatra, Queens Elizabeth and Victoria, Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie, and Florence Nightingale, here are stories of three modern women who inspire me:
1. Preet Didbal – First Sikh woman mayor in the US, who is also a rape survivor.
2. Kamala Devi Harris, Attorney General - First Indian-American politician in history to represent California in the Senate.
3. Asha Puthli - Indian-born singer-songwriter, producer and actress who is considered a ‘world music’ pioneer, and has recorded ten solo albums for labels like EMI, CBS/Sony, and RCA, among numerous other works.
…and some more women from History you probably haven’t heard of who have been crucial to the women’s movement globally:
4. Olympe de Gouges: in the French Revolution, declared that women were equal to men.
5. Mary Wollstonecraft: British author and philosopher, mother of modern feminism.
6. Hatshepsut: pharaoh of Egypt who took male powers for herself.
7. Isabella I of Castile and Aragon, ruler of Spain who, as a partner ruler with her husband, sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World (among other significant contributions).
8. Barbara Jordan: first Southern African American woman elected to Congress.
9. Henrietta Lacks: The Immortal Woman - The human cells used in the tests for Polio, Cancer, Cloning all come from a young African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks.
10. Amelia Bloomer: Activist and Trendsetter, she established The Lily, one of the first newspapers written, edited, and published by women. She used this vehicle to advocate for women’s clothing reform to abandon corsets, petticoats for looser tops and shorter skirts with pants underneath.
Women, all across the globe, have been challenging archaic patriarchal notions and breaking barriers.. Think of all the courageous women you know, who manage multiple roles, act as backbones of institutions whether they be family, work or community! Thank them and celebrate them this International Women’s Day.