The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the number of immigrants who waived their rights to plead their cases to remain in the United States shot up from 5,500 in 2004 to 35,000 in 2008. Many of the nearly 100,000 people who agreed to leave the country under "stipulated removal" were encouraged to self-deport without knowing that they had valid claims to remain here or that they were entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge.
There are real people behind these numbers. They represent real families who are being separated, indefinitely, from each other. These desperate people return in fear and despair to lands where they experienced persecution. Parents who fled lands because they could not feed and provide for their families are agreeing to return to that situation because they believe they have no choice.
Many of these very same people have been productive and contributing members of our society. We are better and stronger for their contribution. As we look to a new administration taking form, we look for clues as to how that administration will view the immigrant population. Thankfully, there is room to hope.
President-elect Obama has selected Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to be the new Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants rights groups have described Governor Napolitano as one who understands that it is in our nation's interest to not only secure our borders but also to provide for a realistic and practical immigration system that is in tune with our country's economic needs.
She has been a leading voice for comprehensive immigration reform including improved border security measures and a system that will bring undocumented immigrants out of the economic shadows.
In the last few days, leaders from both political parties have indicated that comprehensive immigration reform will be a legislative priority in the 111th Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to reassure the public that Congress will move forward and pass immigration reform legislation. Republican strategist Karl Rove has said that "Republicans must find a way to support secure borders, a guest-worker program and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) that strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation."
These statements make clear that the politicians are paying attention to the will of the American people. A post-election analysis of 21 battleground races for House and Senate seats found that immigration reform candidates beat enforcement-only candidates in 19 of those races.
Clearly, the American public understands that comprehensive immigration reform strengthens America. It would appear that the government is coming to that realization as well.
Immigration reform may not happen within the first 100 days of the new administration. Bolstering the economy will clearly be the top priority. However, it would appear that CIR has not died. It seems to be reawakening. In the meantime, no one should agree to return to a land from which they fled before consulting an experienced immigration lawyer about their rights and possible available relief. And no one should ever sign anything unless they fully understand what they are signing.
All of us at Reeves & Associates wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.
Author's Note: The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the individual legal research and personalized representation that is essential to every case.
Reeves & Associates,
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