Independent’s Day is an occasional opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Last Saturday I attended an event in Falls Church hosted by what was called the “Virginians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform — Strategy Meeting.”
In attendance were various notables from the political and immigration reform community. There was Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and representatives from every one of Virginia’s eleven U.S. Congressional Districts. Also present were representatives from Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine’s offices, as well as the organizer of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), Chair Edgar Aranda-Yanoc.
Stated briefly, the goals were to:
- Create some consensus around the principles of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) debate.
- Form a strategy on creating awareness around current CIR legislation being considered and advocate for its urgency.
It was quite an afternoon. The event had no partisan intent, but politics were very much on the lips of the presenters (as a means to an end). Leni Gonzalez, from the League of United Latin American Citizens Council (LULAC), took the time to describe each Congressman’s position on immigration reform. She referenced both where each had been on the issue and where they needed some “gentle pushing.” The afternoon was a call for not just vocal but political participation on one of this year’s most provocative issues.
Not surprisingly, our neighbors had a broad and deep knowledge of the issues affecting immigrants, though not everyone was in agreement with all of the fixes being discussed. A question was asked regarding to what extent people of dissenting views were invited. The answer was muddled or mumbled, I can’t remember which, but it made clear the challenges associated with “grass roots” organizations when in their infancy. This group is just now coming together when legislation is imminent. Taken in the context of a Senate bill that may be completed by early April, the urgency for a clear consensus on the needs of stakeholders (families, businesses, first responders, etc.) is apparent but perhaps unlikely.
I happen to agree that eleven million people will not “self-deport” and should be given a mechanism for legal status; one that neither overwhelms our systems for processing them nor disenfranchises those who have endured years-long waiting periods.
But to properly begin dealing with the immigration issue, we will need to ensure that there are resources, both human and financial, that can undertake whatever decisions our politicians make. To truly “go big” we should first address the underlying resource limitations.
The US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency tasked with legal immigration into the United States. It does not cost taxpayers anything; its costs are funded by the ones doing the “immigrating.” As with all user-fee agencies, USCIS funds are sent to the federal government’s General Fund at the end of the year and later must be appropriated back to have its budget funded. But there is no guarantee that the funding will match the revenue that was generated or could be generated by USCIS.
If we changed the law to allow USCIS to expand, in direct relationship to the demand upon its services, we could see improved efficiency, encourage legal immigration and give hope to federal workers; hope that the pile of green card applications on their desk may one day become manageable. And all it would cost U.S. taxpayers is a little creativity — a change in how we appropriate funds to user-fee agencies.
We would then be dealing with the issue behind the issue of legal immigration.
Jason Howell, a former accountant and motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.
The demonstration, organized in part by the Laborers International Union of North America, will protest the “use of immigration status against workers” by Corinthian Contractors, Inc. Arlington residents and local immigration groups are expected to protest outside the company’s Shirlington-area headquarters.
Tejada will “stop by the event,” according to a spokeswoman.
In a press advisory, protest organizers accused Corinthian Contractors of threatening laborers with deportation after they complained about not receiving a fair wage.
On December 2, a group of workers sent a letter to their employer, Corinthian Contractors, Inc., asking to be paid the legally required minimum wages for their work on a DC Water project. On December 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested the workers at their usual meeting spot as they waited for their ride to work. Two bystanders were also arrested.
Following their arrest, Corinthian Contractors continued to threaten the workforce with immigration enforcement. Finally, on December 31, 2012, Corinthian Contractors announced that it suddenly discovered that the I-9s of the entire workforce needed to be immediately “re-verified.” Corinthian took the opportunity during the “re-verification” process to fire almost half of the workers working on DC Water projects. The vast majority of those fired had signed a letter complaining of Corinthian’s failure to pay the legally required wages.
These workers have had their lives torn apart. Some have been deported. Others who remain have seen family members deported. All are still awaiting a determination of their status. And all of this turmoil to is due to the ruthlessness of a contractor who was offended that workers would try to hold him accountable to pay legally required wages.
On Tuesday, these workers will tell Corinthian Contractors that they cannot be intimidated out of their rights and will request the public and public officials to join them in demanding justice for Corinthian’s workers!
The protest is scheduled to take place at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday at 3126 S. Abingdon Street.
In 2010, Corinthian Contractors completed work on a $1.5 million contract for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services, according to its website. The company has not responded to a call seeking comment.
Modeled after the federal DREAM Act, Lopez’s bill (HB 1934) would provide in-state tuition at public Virginia universities for undocumented students who graduated from a Virginia high school or GED program, provided they attest to filing an application to become a permanent U.S. resident. The bill would also requires that the student and/or a parent has filed Virginia income tax returns for at least three years.
“A number of talented immigrant students who grow up here and graduate from Virginia high schools are undocumented — through no fault of their own,” Lopez said. “At best, they may be able to take our significant investment in their K-12 education to another state. At worst, they may decide to drop out of high school because college is not a realistic goal.”
“Virginia should be joining states such as Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, New York, Washington, and Oklahoma in passing the DREAM Act and opening this narrow window of opportunity for students,” he continued. “These States understand that encouraging college access and opportunities reduces high school dropout rates and saves long term costs and public benefits spending for the community.”
Lopez introduced the legislation on Wednesday after vowing last year to introduce the bill “every year until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth.”
“I am encouraged by the prospects for HB 1934 this year,” Lopez told ARLnow.com. “More importantly, I remain strongly committed to seeing that undocumented children are given the opportunity to continue their education.”
HB 1934 is now awaiting a vote in the House of Delegates Education committee.
Seven ceremonies, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 15, will be held at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road). One will be held on Aug. 31 will be held at George Mason University’s campus in Virginia Square. In all, about 3,100 new citizens from Virginia and the District of Columbia are expected to participate in the ceremonies, we’re told.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had been holding smaller ceremonies at its field office in Fairfax but, according to spokesman Daniel Cosgrove, the agency has since decided to hold larger, less frequent ceremonies and thus selected the venues in Arlington, which can accommodate the larger events. The ceremony tomorrow at Kenmore is expected to include 400 immigrants, along with several hundred friends and family members.
Cosgrove said the events are not the “special ceremonies” which attract TV cameras and reporters on days like the Fourth of July, but they’re still open to the public.
“It’s always good to get out into the community, show people what we do and give them a chance to see this process,” he said. “It gives people an appreciation for just what a special country this is.”
Also present at the ceremonies will be several dozen volunteers from the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Arlington, who will be conducting non-partisan, on-site voter registration drives.
The voter registration effort will “make sure that all new citizens will be able to exercise their franchise,” said local LWV Voter Service co-chair Kristin Goss, who added that the League as been trying for more than a year to bring the naturalization ceremonies to Arlington.
Called “Pathway to Citizenship,” the event is intended to “assist 8th District residents navigating the federal government’s immigration and naturalization system.”
D.C United coach and former soccer star Jaime Moreno will be the keynote speaker at the event, which is also expected to be attended by Moran, Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada, and representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The event is being held on Tuesday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m., at Gunston Middle School (2700 S. Lang Street).
There are more than 190,000 foreign-born residents living in Virginia’s 8th District, including some 110,000 who are not U.S. citizens, according to 2010 American Community Survey data. As of the 2000 census, there were more than 50,000 foreign-born residents in Arlington alone.
Newly-elected delegate Alfonso Lopez (D) has introduced a bill that would provide prenatal care for recent legal immigrants.
Low-income women in their first five years of lawful residence in the United States are eligible for a number of pregnancy services under Virginia’s Medicaid system, including payment of labor and delivery costs and costs associated with the child once he or she is born. Prenatal costs, however, are not covered. Del. Lopez’s bill would change that.
“Prenatal care can reduce maternal deaths, miscarriages, birth defects, low birth weights, and other preventable problems,” Lopez said in a statement. “Women who receive no prenatal care are three and a half times more likely to have a low birth weight baby and nearly three times as likely to give birth prematurely as other pregnant women.”
“For every dollar we spend on prenatal care, it is estimated that we will get back 150% of the funding due to reduced neonatal costs,” Lopez noted. “Providing this coverage is both the right thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do. I encourage my colleagues in the House of Delegates to join me in supporting this legislation.”
Similar legislation has been introduced by Richmond-area delegate John O’Bannon (R) and Sen Adam Ebbin (D).
In a tree-lined corner of Crystal City, Adel Ishak operates a small seasonal food stand, offering sandwiches, salads and smoothies to the masses of local office workers, apartment dwellers and Mt. Vernon Trail users.
If you’ve ever met Ishak, you probably know him as a hard-working guy who greets customers with an easy smile. What you probably don’t know about the guy serving you snacks and sodas is that not too long ago he was a prominent attorney in Egypt, with a large office and business before the Egyptian Supreme Court.
Ishak moved his wife and twin daughters to the United States five years ago, he says, after they started fearing for their safety. Being a Christian in Egypt, as they were, had become too dangerous, says Ishak.
“Over there, anybody can hurt you at any time,” he said.
In the U.S., Ishak has traded his large office for safety and a much different career path. When he’s not running the concession stand (in the Crystal City Water Park, across from 1750 Crystal Drive) Ishak is working as a part-time salesman for a JCPenney store in Fairfax. He could be doing more, Ishak says, but his poor English limits his job opportunities. In the coming months or years, he’s hoping to remedy that.
“I hope to study a lot,” he said.
Ishak has been gradually adding new and higher-quality items to the menu at the concession stand. Although the stand isn’t making him rich, he says business is “good” and getting better.
“I don’t worry about money, because when I work hard, money comes,” he said.
For Ishak, business is personal. The recipes for many of the menu items, like the smoothies and the fattoush salad, are customized by Ishak to meet his own personal standards. For instance, the mango smoothie contains real mango pieces, as opposed to flavored syrup. (“It’s expensive but it’s good,” he says.)
Plus, Ishak makes a point to provide personalized service. He’ll memorize what regular customers usually order, and will offer to let customers pay him back if they left their money at home.
From the Associated Press to the New York Times to Iran’s Press TV, Wednesday night’s public forum on the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, held at George Mason University’s Founders Hall in Virginia Square, generated plenty of headlines.
The forum was organized as a listening session by a volunteer task force charged with recommending changes to Secure Communities, which Arlington tried and failed to opt out of last year.
After a raucous hour of impassioned speeches, about 150 pro-immigrant demonstrators marched and chanted their way out of the building, declaring the forum an “absolute sham” and demanding that the task force resign. The walkout — and many of the speeches and chants that preceded it — was choreographed by the group CASA de Maryland, which has been speaking out against Secure Communities since its inception.
Armed with signs and slogans, group members helped to pack the auditorium at GMU to its 300 person capacity. Numerous speakers — including ministers, monks, attorneys, activists and County Board member Walter Tejada — told of Secure Communities’ alleged impacts, from the deportation of teenagers to the threatened deportation of accident victims. While it’s supposed to help track down undocumented perpetrators of serious crimes, Secure Communities is not working as the Obama Administration intended, immigrant advocates argued.
The demonstrators’ pivotal moment came when two undocumented mothers, facing deportation proceedings, confronted Marc Rapp, who had been inconspicuously sitting in the audience, observing the proceedings. Rapp, the Department of Homeland Security official in charge of overseeing the Secure Communities program, was told through an interpreter that one of the women, Maria Bolanos, was picked up after she called police during a fight with her domestic partner. She decried Secure Communities and asked to be reunited with her children, as Rapp listened quietly.
Shortly thereafter the CASA protesters filed out of the room, shouting “end it, don’t mend it.” After a noisy demonstration outside the building, they marched down Fairfax Drive and into nearby St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
Back inside at GMU, the discussion continued. Several people spoke in favor of Secure Communities. With the protesters out of the building, there were fewer hisses and boos as they spoke of the need to make sure the country’s laws are followed.
“If you’re going to be an illegal immigrant in this country, the least you can do is not do crime and not get arrested,” said Columbia Pike resident John Antonelli. Other speakers suggested the 9/11 terror attacks could have been prevented by stricter immigration enforcement.
Ofelia Calderon, an immigration attorney who works in Virginia Square, “thanked” members of the task force for the extra business she’s been getting because of Secure Communities.
The Department of Homeland Security will be holding a public meeting in Arlington on the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program.
The meeting will take place between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at George Mason University Founder’s Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive) in Virginia Square. The Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Task Force on Secure Communities is seeking public comments about the controversial program, which Arlington tried and failed to opt out of last year.
From a press release issued by Arlington County this morning:
Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Task Force on Secure Communities is making recommendations to the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on ways to improve the Secure Communities program, including ideas on how to best focus on individuals who pose a true public safety or national security threat. This panel is composed of chiefs of police, sheriffs, state and local prosecutors, court officials, ICE agents from the field, and community and immigration advocates. The advisory committee is considering proposals on how ICE may adjust the Secure Communities program to mitigate potential impacts on community policing practices, including whether special procedures should be adopted for ICE enforcement actions directed toward individuals charged with, but not convicted of, minor traffic offenses.
Anyone planning on attending the meeting is asked to RSVP via email to [email protected]. Attendees are asked to indicate whether or not they plan on making any comments to the task force.
Lost Dog Cafe Expanding — The Lost Dog Cafe location on Columbia Pike is expanding. The restaurant is taking over the space once occupied by an adjacent cell phone store. [Pike Wire]
Changes to ‘Secure Communities’ — The federal government is changing the ‘Secure Communities’ program to “avoid further confusion” about whether it’s optional or not. Arlington tried to “opt out” of the program — which shares local arrest data with federal immigration authorities — last year. The program will remain mandatory for local jurisdictions, but now it will be conducted without formal, signed memoranda of agreement with individual states. [Washington Post]
Capital Bikeshare Saves Lives? — Arlington’s Commuter Services department is touting a recent British study that found that a bike share program in Barcelona saved about 12 lives as a result of the extra physical activity from bicycling. The study also found that the program eliminated 9 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. “In other words, bike-sharing and Capital Bikeshare are good for you and the air we breathe,” an Arlington official writes. [CommuterPage Blog]
Cuccinelli Shrugs off Local Dem Attacks — Those local Democratic candidates who have been calling Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli an “extremist” and other unkind words? Not a concern for Cuccinelli. “It’s a little bit hard to take seriously being called ‘so far outside the mainstream’ by people who are so far to the left they can’t see the middle,” he said in an interview. [Sun Gazette]
Beloved Bishop O’Connell Football Coach Dies — Steve Trimble, Bishop O’Connell High School’s varsity football coach since 2002, died suddenly at his office yesterday morning. Trimble played high school football in Cumberland, Md., before playing for the University of Maryland on a scholarship. He played free safety for the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears during the early-to-mid 80s, before playing in arena leagues and then joining the coaching staffs of several NFL teams. Trimble, 53, was the father of four sons, all of whom played football at O’Connell. [Arlington Catholic Herald]
Immigrant Advocate Wants Office for Latinos — Lois Athey, the head of tenants-rights group BU-GATA, told the County Board over the weekend that she would like the county to establish an Office of Latino Affairs for Arlington’s 31,000 Latino residents. Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to look into options for further outreach to the Latino community. [Sun Gazette]
More iPads Coming for Arlington Students? — Camilla Gagliolo, the instructional technology coordinator for Arlington Public Schools, is a big believer in using iPads in the classroom. The device “is bringing educational technology to new levels of student engagement,” she told a conference. iPads are currently in use at several Arlington elementary schools. [THE Journal]
Storm Damage Caused by ‘Macroburst’ — The National Weather Service says the extensive damaged caused by Sunday night’s storm was caused by a “macroburst” — a larger version of a microburst. The macroburst brought winds of 60-70 miles per hour to some North Arlington neighborhoods, causing trees and power poles to snap in half. [MyFoxDC]
RV Catches Fire on GW Parkway — Traffic was brought to a standstill on the GW Parkway Monday morning when an RV burst into flames. Dark, billowing smoke from the fire could be seen across the river in D.C. The driver got out safely, but the RV was a total loss. [NBC Washington]
Pike Residents ‘Want it All’ — Columbia Pike residents who participated in last week’s ‘charrette‘ process “want to have their cake and eat it too,” in the words of one planner. The county is working to satisfy their demands for expensive amenities and preserved affordable housing. [Washington Examiner]
Arlington Schools Handle Language Challenges — Arlington Public Schools’ Language Services and Registration Center helps children from nearly 3,000 immigrant families, who communicate in 96 different languages, to integrate into the school system. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Runneralan2004
In a letter to colleagues, Chief Judge Brian O’Leary said Adele Lapinell, 74, will be remembered for her “patience and understanding.”
I am saddened to announce that Ms. Adele Lapinell, a staff interpreter with the Arlington Immigration Court, passed away today in a single car accident in the parking facility at the court.
Ms. Lapinell first joined the Department of Justice/EOIR in January 1988. Throughout her years as a staff interpreter at the Arlington Immigration Court, Ms. Lapinell assisted thousands of limited English proficient individuals in better understanding their immigration court proceedings, and helped each of the immigration judges communicate with those who appear before them. The agency greatly depends on staff interpreters like Ms. Lapinell to provide a communicative bridge between the immigration court staff and the aliens who appear in proceedings. Her colleagues and friends at the Arlington Immigration Court will greatly miss her. She will be especially remembered for her patience and understanding.
In a ceremony at the Arlington Public Schools Education Center on N. Quincy Street, Hareth Andrade and Antonella Rodriguez-Cossio from Washington-Lee High School, Henry Mejia from Yorktown High School and Jose Vasquez from Arlington Mill High School Continuation Program received Dream Scholarships to help fund their college educations.
Although countless high school students enjoy grants and awards around this time of year, the Dream Scholarship is reserved for undocumented students — children born abroad who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents.
An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools every year, but they cannot receive federal financial aid and are ineligible for in-state tuition in Virginia. That renders college an expensive, unattainable goal for many.
While activists around the country fight for undocumented students’ rights at the federal level, others, like Arlington School Board Member Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez, are trying to make a difference on a local level. Violand-Sanchez founded and chairs Dream Project, Inc., which awards the scholarships.
While speaking at Thursday’s event, Dr. Violand-Sanchez said that many undocumented students feel discouraged by the restrictions against them and don’t know where to turn. She added that although school guidance counselors and other community members may want to help, they don’t always know the best means if they haven’t previously dealt with students in this situation. She hopes Dream Project, Inc. can bridge that gap.
The four students all described the personal motivators that kept them focused on their goals during difficult times. “I despised the idea of throwing away the opportunities my parents gave me when they brought me and my siblings to the United States,” said Meija, a valedictorian who’s heading to Bucknell University in the fall.
More than 100 demonstrators marched through the busy streets of Virginia Square, Clarendon and Courthouse last night in support of immigrant rights and against deportations.
The protesters, assisted by a police escort, marched from George Mason University’s Arlington campus to the Arlington County jail. Holding signs and chanting slogans in English and Spanish, the protesters made their message loud and clear for scores of bewildered bystanders and outdoor diners in Clarendon.
Once at the jail, a number of speakers addressed the crowd. Most condemned the federal ‘Secure Communities’ immigration enforcement program while praising Arlington for attempting to “opt-out” of the program.
“Arlington was one of the first communities to opt out of Secure Communities,” said Tenants and Workers United Interim Director Jennifer Morley. “When people who live in Arlington heard about it, they spoke out, the organized. Arlington knows that Secure Communities is not the kind of initiative we want in our community.”
“Washington, D.C. is a sanctuary community!” shouted Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ACLU’s National Capital Area chapter, to loud cheers.
A woman identified as “Elizabeth” tearfully spoke about how she was deported before, but made her way back to the area so she could support her young daughter, who has a heart condition.
Also speaking at the rally was Arlington County Police Capt. Jim Wasem, who spoke on behalf of the department. ACPD Chief Doug Scott has previously expressed concern that Secure Communities could dissuade immigrants from cooperating with police investigations.