Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition talks about immigration, leadership and the Pen Campaign.
1- Do you think that an Immigration Reform is coming and when?
The New York Immigration Coalition and other groups across the country continue to push the Administration and Congress to pass fair and just immigration reform. Two years ago, President Obama promised to work toward passing immigration reform. In his State of the Union address this week, he spoke to the need to stop deporting the young people who could be enriching our nation, and the need to bring people out from the shadows. Obviously, passing immigration reform in this Congress is a heavy lift, but we will continue to keep up the pressure. And in the meantime, we also know there’s plenty the President can do with the stroke of a pen, by signing an executive order that will stop the senseless deportations and destruction of families. His words must be followed by actions, in order to move us to a fairer and smarter immigration system.
2- What elements do you recommend the next Immigration Reform should have?
Some of the elements that the Coalition has been advocating in our push for fair and just immigration reform are a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; reducing immigration backlogs so families aren’t separated for years on end; adequately responding to the needs of our country regarding the future flow of immigrants; and effectively and safely enforcing any new law that is passed. Additionally, keeping families together by preserving family immigration must remain an important part of reform, and this can be done through eliminating application backlogs. We also need visas for workers at all skill levels and a process to adjust for need. Increased visa numbers must go hand in hand with long-term investments in the U.S. workforce, including better education and job training opportunities. Reforms must also uphold the wages and working conditions of all workers and ensure that all workers have the same workplace rights and protections as well as a clear path to citizenship.
Immigration reform must address flawed enforcement methods that rely on inaccurate worker databases that wreak havoc on the workforce, create impossible mandates for employers, and promote unlawful discrimination in the workplace, as evidenced by over 20 years of employer-sanctions laws. Fair interior and border enforcement practices must respect the security of all and should be conducted with accountability and respect.
Lastly, our immigration policies should provide immigrants with opportunities to learn English, naturalize, lead prosperous lives, engage in cultural expression, and receive equitable access to needed services and higher education.
What we need is a rational and forward-looking solution that puts our nation back on track toward long-term economic security and social stability. To develop this comprehensive solution, business, labor, religious, immigrant and native-born constituencies must work together and engage in a constructive process with lawmakers.
We need to shift away from the enforcement-only approach to immigration that has been the norm in recent years, leading to almost 400,000 deportations in the year 2010 alone. Immigration reform needs to occur at the federal level so we have a functioning immigration system that serves the public interest and prevents unconstitutional and counterproductive laws at the state or local level, like Arizona’s SB1070, which arose out of frustration with federal inaction but does nothing to solve our immigration problems. What Arizona-like policies do, however, is instill fear in immigrants, tear apart communities, give rise to racial and ethnic profiling, and hurt the economy.
3- Now that Congress is under the control of the Republican Party what do you think they will do about immigration?
Under the new leadership, we are seeing anti-immigrant proposals that would deny citizenship to children born in the United States of undocumented parents—a clear violation of the 14th amendment. We are also seeing an increase in the trend of enlisting local police and law enforcement personnel as immigration agents through the expansion of programs such as 287G and ‘Secure Communities’—a trend that destroys police/community relations, undermines public safety, squanders public safety resources, and exacerbates the harmful impact of racial and ethnic profiling. Adding to the increasingly divisive policy proposals being unveiled is the plan by Congressman Steve King, the new head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to hold hearings on what he calls the “radicalization” of American Muslims—which amounts to nothing less than fear- and hate-mongering. The House Subcommittee on Immigration has also changed its name to the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, further emphasizing the new leadership’s enforcement-only approach to immigration reform.
It is clear that while we will continue to press for real solutions to our broken immigration system, we also need to defend against destructive and divisive measures that bring us no closer to a workable immigration system that serves the public interest and respects human dignity.
4- Why president Obama and governor Cuomo did not mention immigration in their inauguration speeches?
We can’t tell you why Governor Cuomo did not mention immigration in his State of the State address. But we’ll be making sure we’re heard in Albany—we’re counting down one month to our Immigrants’ Day of Action in Albany on March 1st, when we’ll push our top ten budget and legislative priorities to the Governor and state legislature. President Obama in his State of the Union address noted that reforming our immigration system is a crucial factor in growing our economy and winning our future. We were glad to see the prominent space he gave to immigration in his speech, and will now keep up the pressure to make sure that his eloquent words translate into action.
5- Are new immigrants in this country being manipulated by the two parties?
There’s no doubt that immigration has been used as a wedge issue to divide and distract. That’s an unfortunate reality in American politics, and we go through waves when we’re either more or less welcoming of immigrants.
6- Why the Dream Act did not pass last December?No sabemos
It was heartbreaking that the Senate did not come together to pass the DREAM Act and provide the opportunity for young people to fulfill their potential and contribute fully to our country, the only place they call home. Unfortunately, political pandering and polarized political beliefs came in the way of a unified effort in the Senate to pass the legislation. It was especially painful that Senators who had once championed the DREAM Act now ran from it. We must however also take note of our victories, including the passage of the DREAM Act in the House of Representatives. This was a massive step forward and it was made possible by the persistence and hard work of thousands of young people and organizations around the country who support them. While the DREAM Act ultimately did not pass in the Senate, the inspirational spirit and energy of young people who came out as undocumented, marched thousands of miles to demand justice, and made hundreds of thousands of calls to Congressman and Senators must not be forgotten. We must continue to foster this spirit as we continue to fight for justice for immigrants and immigration reform. The fight to pass the DREAM Act and pass immigration reform will not end here.
7- What is your opinion of Secure Communities? It’s an ill-advised program that shifts new immigration enforcement responsibilities to New York’s already strained police force—it jeopardizes police/community relations and, even though its stated goal is to target only serious criminals, a large number of folks deported as a result of Secure Communities have no criminal record whatsoever or only minor offenses such as traffic violations. It also requires additional officer time, supervision, and money. Establishing a clear line of separation between federal immigration enforcement and our state/local workers not only makes smart fiscal sense, but also helps protect the integrity of the relationship between law enforcement and New York communities.
8- Why the number of deportations increased last year?
Under the Obama administration, deportations have reached a record high, surpassing the records set by the Bush administration: some 400,000 deportations in the past year alone. Most of these deportations are of hard-working immigrants and family members, not of those who pose a threat to public safety. We are talking 1,100 people a day. This is an ineffectual policy that in no way bring us closer to a working immigration system; instead, it squanders resources, hurts the economy, and tears families and communities apart.
9- How the Arizona immigration laws against immigrants is affecting other states and NY?
We’re seeing localities across the country going through hoops right now to out-do Arizona, as opportunistic politicians cynically seek political gain by feeding into people’s fear, anger, and frustration. It’s hard to see why they do it, because there’s no good that can come of it—it won’t fix our broken immigration system, but it is divisive and destructive, and it pretty much destroys local economies.
10- How the political and economic climate in USA is affecting immigration?
Immigrants often become scapegoats during times of economic crisis, and that’s some of what we’re clearing seeing in the United States these past few years. So the climate is more hostile now. And there may be fewer individuals coming now, but that is likely to be because there are fewer job opportunities in a weak economy. And that’s a big reason why people come—to work and build a better life for themselves and their families.
11- In terms of immigration, do you think that New York City has progress, is more open now than 10 years ago?
New York has long been a welcoming place for immigrants, and has been a model for the rest of the nation, with political leaders that stand with and stand up for immigrant communities. But it’s like what our founding fathers did in striving for “a more perfect union.” We have seen great progress over the years, with policies that ensure confidentiality and language access, for instance. But there’s always room for improvement—we are working hard to get the City and State to stem the skyrocketing dropout rate among students still learning English, for instance. So yes, there’s been great progress, and yes, we’ll keep working to see more!
12- Is out there a leader to guide the new immigrant community at a national and local level?
There are so many vibrant, strong, inspirational leaders—from the brave young people whose efforts to push the Dream Act led the president to highlight the Dream Act in his state of the union address; to the leaders of the nearly 200 organizations that are members of the New York Immigration Coalition. Come to Albany with us on March 1st, when you’ll be inspired by the hundreds of immigrant leaders and community members who are helping us create a fairer, more just society!