Sunday, September 8, 2013
As immigration reform waits in the wings of Capital Hill, immigrants around the country are taking the opportunity to speak out and push lawmakers to move in their favor.
In El Paso, Texas this week a couple married on the international bridge to protest what they call an unjust system.
Edgar Falcon, 27, and Maricruz Valtierra, 25, said their vows Tuesday separated by the line that marks the international boundary between Mexico and the United States.
Falcon is a U.S. citizen who lives and works in El Paso. Valtierra is a Mexican citizen who lives across the border in Ciudad Juárez. Normally the fiance of a U.S. citizen can qualify for a green card, but that wasn't the case for this couple.
When Valtierra was a teenager she and her older sister crossed into the United States over the border bridge. Once at the customs booth, Valtierra's sister falsely claimed they were both U.S. citizens, which is against the law. As a result, the U.S. government now bars Valtierra from entering the country, even as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
That means she and her new husband can only live together if he choses to move to Mexico.
"In order to live with her and start a family, I have to exile myself out of my own country," Falcon told the Texas Tribune.
While out on August recess, lawmakers are getting an earful at local town halls about immigration. In New Mexico, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce represents a district where more than half the population is Latino. At a town hall he hosted in Las Cruces last Thursday, some 200 people attended, many holding signs asking for a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
Pearce does not support a path to citizenship, saying that would only encourage more people to break the law. Instead he supports a guest worker program and sending people here illegally back to their birth country to apply for legal entry into the United States.
The Las Cruces Sun-News quoted Pearce telling the town hall audience: "Looking away and legalizing those in the country illegally would tell the world, 'You can come here in any fashion you want."
Other immigrants are looking for ways around the maze of immigration laws. The repeal of a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, in late June by the U. S. Supreme Court means same-sex couples can now sponsor their spouse for U.S. residency. That was a federal benefit previously out of reach for same-sex couples. As more states, like New Mexico, issue marriage licenses to gay couples they open a potentially new legal path for previously ineligible immigrants.
And while reform remains on hold in Congress, the Obama administration has offered temporary relief for immigrants in the country illegally. Under the Deferred Action Program for Childhood arrivals, or DACA, immigrants brought into the country illegally as children can apply for a two-year permit that gives them discretion from deportation and allows them to work. Some of the young people who qualify are now part of a mixed status family, meaning different members of the same family have distinct immigration statuses.
Finally U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is exercising prosecutorial discretion in certain cases against unauthorized immigrants. If an immigrant does not pose a serious threat, such as a conviction for an aggravated crime, ICE can choose to halt deportation proceedings. That happened in the case of Sandra and Carlos Figueroa, couple who was arrested during an immigration raid at an Arizona car wash. Their nine-year-old U.S. citizen daughter, Kathy, famously petitioned President Barack Obama to allow her parents to stay in a YouTube video. In July, the U.S. government decided not to deport the couple.