April Meeting Recap

By Hilary Crosby

We opened the meeting by welcoming Damian Alarcon from Congressman Miller’s office; immigration matters are included in the issues he monitors for the Congressman. Then members announced upcoming events that took place prior to our publication date. We hope to receive follow-up reports at our May meeting on the West Contra Costa Unified School District Strategic Plan meeting held on Saturday, April 27th to get community input. School Board member (and ECDC member and endorsee) Todd Groves, and the Portola Middle School principal Matt Burnham introduced these programs which have started to “turn things around” at Portola.

Also, in the afternoon prior to our meeting, several of our club embers met with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to request them to direct the Alameda County Sheriff’s department to stop using county resources to pursue people for ICE Secure Communities Program.

Vice president of programs Gabe Quinto reported on the California Democratic Party (CDP) Convention. He, and ECDC members Janet Abelson, Rochelle Okimoto-Pardue, and Hilary Crosby, were delegates, while newsletter editor Carla Hansen attended as an observer with Emerge California. He and Janet, along with other delegates elected from Assembly District 15, attended most of the caucuses. The resolutions passed included support for split roll property tax and a resolution to urge the State of CA and the Federal government
to reform our country’s immigration policy. (You can see all the resolutions passed at the convention on the CDP website at: http://tinyurl.com/bqfjf54)

Betty Brown announced that the El Cerrito Committee on Aging, along with other groups, would be showing the Healthcare Movie locally three times as follows:

•  Saturday, May 18, 10:30 a.m., The Health Care Movie and Discussion (free), City Hall Council Chambers, 10940 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito
• Wednesday, May 22, 2:30 p.m., -The Health Care Movie and Discussion (free), City Hall Council Chambers, 10940 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito
•  Saturday, June 8, The Health Care Movie and Discussion (free), Pinole Library, 2935 Pinole Valley Road, Pinole 94564 (Call 510-669-9719 for time.)

Our main speaker was J. Craig Fong, an attorney focusing on immigration who practices in Los Angeles. He grew up in El Cerrito and graduated from ECHS in 1973. His practice embraces intercountry transfers and family issues. Prior to our meeting, he had completed reading almost half of the 800-page bill introduced in Congress the week before our meeting.

Mr. Fong reminded us that immigrants in the United States are a very diverse community—all kinds of folks, not just Asians or Latinos. Canadians who look and sound just like us as well as those from Asia or those who cross our southern border are taking high value jobs.

Our immigration system is broken. It’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, and it has become a political football.

In reality, the new bill covers 8 basic areas:

  • Legalization
  • Family based change
  • Employment based immigration—Nobel prize winners, PhD’s, etc
  • Temp workers
  • E-verify
  • H-1b visa numbers increased
  • Asylum—now individuals must apply within 1 year of landfall in US. The new bill would get rid of the time limit
  • Fraud—if you’re caught, you’re toast

Legalization is not “amnesty” or a pathway to citizenship. Official estimates put the current population of undocumented immigrants in the US as between 9 million and 12 million, although Mr. Fong believes that number is high due in part to recent reverse migration as the economy deteriorated. College grads and unskilled workers who couldn’t find work went home. However, this meant that skills and training that were acquired in the US are no longer available for our economic growth.

The new law proposes that an undocumented immigrant who can prove s/he was in the United States on 12/31/2011 can apply for legalization. For the application to be approved, the applicant must (1) have proof of being in the US prior to that date, (2) pay any back taxes owed, and (3) pay a fee of $500. Under the proposed act, registered prospective immigrants
(RPIs), would pay taxes annually and an additional $500 fee every 6 years.Since most of the eligible applicants are working and probably paying into the Social Security system using false social security numbers, the “devil is in the details” of figuring out how much would be owed in “back taxes.”Once approved, the RPI would receive an Employment Authorization Card, a social security number for paying social security and unemployment taxes, and eligibility for insurance and a driver’s license. S/he would also receive travel documents allowing him or her to travel out of the US and return. The “right of return” would be a huge improvement over the current law which says that if an individual is in the US “out of status” for more than one year and leaves the country, s/he can’t return for 10 years. If s/he left US, a subsequent visa application would be denied for 10 years. As Mr. Fong put it, “This [proposed law] would help so many people—the number is staggering!“

But approved applicants won’t get green cards until the US border is secured; whatever that means. When asked what would happen to applicants during the time between application and approval, Mr. Fong said, “If the 86-87-88 amnesty is any example, people who were detained in an “ICE sweep” would be released when they showed their application, unless they were wanted for something else.”

The new bill would make some changes to how country quotas would be applied to first-degree relatives. In some cases it will liberalize the exclusion from quotas, such as those for first degree relatives of green card holders, and in some cases it will narrow it since siblings, who are currently excluded from the quota will be included. In addition, the diversity visa, which has benefited people from Africa, would be eliminated.

This presentation was informative, and the audience stayed involved and attentive to the very end. There were topics we only touched on, such as how the new immigration act would affect same-gender couples.

This is a very complex topic, but I left the meeting feeling more prepared to follow this issue through Congress.