We Salute the U.S. Air Force

This past December, the NCLR familia sent 150 comfort packages and also letters of support to our men and women in the U.S. Air Force who were deployed to Afghanistan. Recently, the Air Force awarded us with the beautiful globe below in appreciation for our efforts. 

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We salute all the men and women serving in all branches of the military and we thank you for your service!

An Undocumented Military Spouse: The Story of Fanny Lopez

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“When Our Troops Serve, Their Families are Serving, Too.” So says the slogan of Joining Forces, First Lady Michelle Obama’s national initiative to bring attention to the needs of military families. But what happens if a family member is undocumented? Does this mean that they are serving their country any less?

This was the challenge faced by Fanny Lopez, the wife of U.S. citizen David Martinez, a member of the Army Reserve. After their marriage in 2008, David hoped to sponsor his new wife for a green card, but Fanny was ineligible because she had entered the United States without authorization as a child.

Fanny Lopez and David Martinez

Fanny Lopez and David Martinez

“So, why are you still undocumented?” Fanny was often asked. Her friends and family could not believe that an army wife was struggling to get a green card. After all, it is expected that being married to a U.S. citizen should automatically grant you legal status, even more if your spouse is fighting for our country.

Two years after they married, David was deployed to Afghanistan with his reserve unit. He left the United States with uncertainty about what would happen to Fanny while he was gone. He was stationed thousands of miles away from his wife and felt powerless to help. This stress weighed heavily on him and at times distracted from his mission. Fanny also felt the stress of her husband’s deployment.

“My world turned upside down. I started thinking about all of the things that could happen while he was gone,” said Fanny.

While David served on the front lines, Fanny was home worrying not only about her husband’s safety, but also about her own because she knew that she could be deported at any time. Yet Fanny continued to provide emotional support for David and tried not to show her concern.

“We are constantly reminded that our husband’s mental and emotional readiness depends on us,” said Fanny.

In addition to her other responsibilities, Fanny was also an excellent college student. One of her professors, who knew of Fanny’s situation, sent her an article from the New York Times that discussed an internal memo from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about a little-known process called parole in place (PIP). This program provides a path to a green card for undocumented immediate family members of U.S. military personnel. The aim of the program is to promote family unity and secure the readiness of the soldiers.

David needed to be in the U.S. at the time of application, which was impossible while he was stationed in Afghanistan. So while he was gone, Fanny researched the complicated process and waited for David to return home safely.

“Back in 2010, there was almost no information about PIP and the application process,” said Fanny. “It was so uncommon that even immigration lawyers had no knowledge that it existed.”

Fanny_HIBblog_560x372A year later, David returned home uninjured. But as with many veterans, David had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. He leaned on Fanny for support but also worried about her future in the United States. Fanny remained strong for her husband because she knew that, regardless of the situation, undocumented family members are still expected to support their soldiers.

At the same time, Fanny and David hired a lawyer, Isabel Martinez, who helped them research parole in place. Together they fought through the maze of red tape for a year and a half. In September 2013, they succeeded in getting her green card.

Fanny and David believe that regardless of her immigration status, as an Army wife, she has provided a service to this country.

“Our soldiers have fought for this country and the least they deserve is to have the certainty that their families will be protected no matter where they are,” said Fanny. “After all of our sacrifices, our service to this country must be honored.”

Today, Fanny is no longer at risk of being deported, but she worries about other undocumented immigrants, including her close relatives and friends, who face the threat of deportation and separation from their families. She continues to work with immigrant rights organizations that fight to stop deportations and seeks to empower undocumented immigrants in the Chicago area.

“It is unacceptable that we have to deal with a broken immigration system,” she said. “We all deserve a chance to live free from the fear of deportation. We all deserve resources that will allow us to provide a better life for our families.”

Forward GraphicWant to show your support for Fanny and the millions like her? Sign our petition to let the president know the time for administrative immigration relief is now!

New Report Reveals Impact of Health Coverage Gap on Texas Latinos

Image: Ray Bodden

Image: Ray Bodden

A new report released today with the San Antonio Hisapnic Chamber of Commerce reveals the negative impact of not expanding Medicaid in Texas, especially the effects on the Latino community which comprises 50 percent of the state’s uninsured population.

The report “Closing the Health Care Coverage Gap in Texas: A Latino Perspective” shows that Texas, home of the nation’s highest percentage of uninsured in 2012, has the potential to help nearly 600,000 Latinos by expanding Medicaid.

“Despite broad public support and the clear economic benefits of Medicaid expansion—including an estimated boost in the state’s economic output by $67.9 billion during fiscal years 2014–2017 and generating an additional 231,000 jobs in Texas by 2016—the state of Texas has chosen to reject federal funding to expand the program and has yet to bring forth a viable alternative to bridge the coverage gap,” said Leticia de la Vara, Senior Strategist, NCLR. “It is unacceptable that our most vulnerable populations and the very workers we count on to stimulate the state’s economic engine lack the critical coverage that they need to remain healthy,” said de la Vara.

“It’s time to take a step in the right direction and expand access to care for more Texans; it’s the right thing to do to move Texas forward,” said Ramiro Cavazos, President and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Expanding access to health care will help create robust communities, allowing opportunities to reduce incidences of persistent health concerns.”

Read the whole report below:

President Obama Must Act on Immigration Reform

The refusal of House Republicans to act on immigration reform leaves the president with no choice but to act. Join us in telling President Obama it’s time to bring relief to the country and millions of aspiring Americans now! Click the image to sign our petition today!
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This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending August 15

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Week Ending August 15, 2014

This week in immigration reform: New poll findings reflect growing support for children fleeing violence in Central America; Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales voices support for executive action on immigration reform; NCLR celebrates 2nd Anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program through a new installment of its “Hanging In the Balance: Stories of Aspiring Americans” blog series.

–NCLR commemorates 2nd Anniversary of DACA. This week NCLR celebrated the 2nd Anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by highlighting the positive impact the program has had on the more than 587,000 people who have received it. Our blogs this week have explored the tools and resources to better navigate the DACA process; featured the stories of DACA recipients who have benefitted from the temporarily relief; and looked at the need for President Obama to use his executive authority to expand relief from deportation.

Learn more about the DACA impact here and check out this week’s installment of “Hanging in the Balance: Stories of Aspiring Americans” here.

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–Former White House Counsel urges President Obama to act on border crisis, immigration. In an op-ed for USA Today, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales voiced support for President Obama’s potential use of executive authority to address the humanitarian crisis along the southwest border. The former White House counsel also expressed concern over the impact congressional inaction and bickering have had on the children fleeing violence and our broken immigration system, and urged Congressional leaders move forward in crafting a comprehensive immigration plan.

–New poll reflects growing compassion for plight of child refugees. Results from a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll reveal a growing percentage of Americans support allowing the child refuges remain in the United States for some length of time. Poll findings showed 51 percent of respondents believe the unaccompanied children should be allowed to stay in the U.S. at least temporarily, including 38 percent who believe they should be sheltered and cared for until is it safe for them to return home.

Workers Deserve Better: It’s Time for a Fair Workweek for All

By Ricky Garza, Communications Coordinator, NCLR

Workers_fairworkweek_newLatino workers are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, which can often create more problems beyond a smaller paycheck.

Training the spotlight on this issue, a recent New York Times Magazine piece profiles Jannette Navarro, a young Latina mom working as a Starbucks barista. Juggling her responsibilities as a mother, a college student, and a highly competent employee become nearly impossible due to her unpredictable work schedule; automated scheduling software creates her schedule only days in advance.

In the profile, Ms. Navarro’s situation slowly deteriorates as she struggles to make a living commuting three hours, arranging sporadic child care for her son, and working exhausting “clopening” shifts, which couple back-to-back late-night closing and predawn opening shifts.

From the New York Times Magazine piece:

Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.

Navarro often ended her shifts at 11 p.m. and was assigned to open the store hours later at 4 a.m. the next morning. Though she requested it, management never allowed her to work a full 40-hour workweek.

By knowing someone personally who held this job, I realized this is part of the irony of being an involuntary “part-time” barista: taking a second job is impossible without knowing your free hours, and a full workweek is also out of the question because the store hires too many workers in the same situation competing for hours and shifts.

The company swiftly responded to the magazine’s profile, vowing on Thursday to reform their scheduling policies for all 130,000 Starbucks baristas. Starbucks says they will ban clopening shifts, require baristas to receive their schedules at least one week in advance, and work to relocate workers with long commutes to closer stores. If properly implemented, these reforms could go a long way in making workloads more manageable for Starbucks workers.

While this is welcome news for low-wage Starbucks employees, there are millions of struggling workers who will not be affected by the change. Currently, 43 percent of all Latino workers earn poverty wages, and many are stuck with the same types of jobs offering irregular schedules that wreak havoc on workers’ lives. The instability harms not only their livelihoods, but those of the people around them, preventing them from securing doctor’s appointments, child care, time with family, or even arranging a short, well-earned vacation.

Labor-Day-Banner-Photo-4_newThough steps taken to improve working conditions by individual companies like Starbucks will improve the lives of low-wage workers, employees cannot afford to rely on the benevolence of corporate actors alone. That’s why members of the House of Representatives have introduced the “Schedules That Work Act,” which would encourage employers to grant hourly workers stable schedules when they request them. The bill would require employers to approve schedule changes to accommodate care-giving, health care, educational, and other employment responsibilities, and contains measures that would discourage employers from abruptly sending wage workers home in the middle of a shift without full pay.

Today, “just-in-time” scheduling is a systematic challenge for workers in the retail and food service industries. It deserves a legislative and permanent solution. It’s time to ensure a fair workweek for all so all workers are able to hold good jobs with dignity.

DACA: Two Years Later

By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR

Advocacy Central Immigration sisters (2)_resizedTwo years ago today, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for undocumented youth who have grown up in the United States. Lines of young people formed across the country to apply for temporary relief from deportation and for work permits. In Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities, young people filed into NCLR Affiliates and other community-based organizations to receive help in filling out the newly released applications. We’re wrapping up this week by telling the stories of those who have applied for and received DACA.

More than 500,000 people have received DACA, and with it, the ability to work and continue contributing to communities across the country. While DACA is not the permanent solution that is needed, it is an important protection from deportation and recognition that people who have grown up in this country can contribute even more if they are able to continue their education and put their talents to use.

Katherine DACA (2)_resizedDACA recipients have unique stories to tell of their application experience and what it has meant for them, but one thing that is noticeable in hearing their stories is that there is a physical transformation in the people when they get to a certain point in their story. When they describe that they received the notice in the mail and when they saw their social security number, they break out in a smile. You can see that a weight has been lifted. And I have seen that when people describe that they applied for a driver’s license or a state ID, they stand a little taller—they seem a little more confident or assertive as they describe that they feel that they belong. They now have official recognition that they are part of the communities they have called home. Katherine, a student in Maryland, told us, “I always felt like an outsider throughout my elementary and high school career. I am not sure if it was shame or fear that held me back from fully integrating to the ‘American life,’ but in the back of my head I felt different from everyone else.” DACA has been transformative for her and she states, “DACA gave me hope to continue fighting for my dreams in the United States.”

At the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference, I met Jessica, who told her story of growing up in California. She had arrived as a child from Mexico and began kindergarten in California. Her father told her to work hard in school because no one could take her education away from her, and she did. It wasn’t until she reached high school, like many other DREAMers, that she learned she was undocumented. Soon after, school became less important to her. She said, “What’s the point of getting a degree if I don’t have a social [security number]? Who’s going to hire me?” But her father continued to believe in her and urged her to continue her education. It was her father who recommended she apply for DACA. Jessica and her sister applied, and in the video below, she describes what it was like to have her application accepted and the happiness in realizing that she was going to have a California ID. DACA allowed her to realize that she could work to achieve her dream of managing a business in the fashion industry; DACA motivated her: “I want to do something with my life.” Like Jessica, her sister Nadia is also working on her studies so that she can achieve her dream of becoming a civil engineer.

There is much more work to be done to ensure that people who are eligible for DACA can come forward and apply. Now more than ever, we need President Obama to exercise a legitimate use of his executive authority to expand relief and limit senseless deportations in order to keep hardworking aspiring Americans together with their families and in the communities where they have been contributing.

NCLR Marks Second Anniversary of DACA

DACA_videoimage_newTwo years ago today, President Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA grants temporary relief to undocumented youth who have grown up in the United States and who have only known the U.S. as home. In a statement today, our President and CEO, Janet Murguia, recognized the anniversary and urged President Obama to take action on his own in the face of Congressional inaction:

“Over the past two years, DACA has had resounding success, enabling hundreds of thousands of DREAMers to continue pursuing their educational and professional ambitions without the fear of deportation. For these hardworking young people who have grown up in the United States…DACA has kept the promise of the American Dream alive….”

“When the president chose to use his executive authority two years ago, it was in the face of obstinacy from lawmakers in Congress who refused to pass the DREAM Act. As the recent shameful set of votes in the House of Representatives indicates, we are again at a similar impasse on Capitol Hill. Now more than ever, we need President Obama to exercise a legitimate use of his executive authority to expand relief and limit senseless deportations in order to keep hardworking aspiring Americans together with their families.”

Be sure to join our action network to stay updated on the latest immigration news.

GOP Supports Immigration Executive Action Redux

By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR  

DACA_anniversaryblog_pic1This week we’re taking a trip down memory lane and celebrating how two years ago, young people across the country came forward and began applying for work permits and temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. DACA has allowed young people who meet certain criteria to come forward and continue the contributions they have been making to the country they call home. As a new report from the Migration Policy Institute states, more than 587,000 people have received DACA.

If we continued our trip down memory lane, we would see that there was a time when some Republicans in the House of Representatives weren’t attacking DREAMers and trying to take away their temporary relief. In 1999, Congressman Lamar Smith (R–Texas) and others were urging Attorney General Reno to use prosecutorial discretion and to intervene on behalf of immigrants who were facing deportation. Brian Beutler describes those times in The New Republic today. In the article, Beutler links to a letter (below) from Smith and concludes that Smith’s argument could be applied today and that “you could use the same language to push the Obama administration to initiate or expand a program like DACA.”

Lamar Smith Janet Reno letter by The New Republic

Attorneys, law school professors, and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, among others, have stated recently that the president has the ability to act to protect people from deportations. In an op-ed this week, immigration attorney David Leopold wrote, “Critics like to say that the availability of employment authorization or the use of forms and fees pushes the DACA process or its expansion over the blurry line from lawful discretion to executive lawlessness. But they conveniently forget (or are not aware) that the president’s authority to authorize employment of immigrants is long-standing and already well-established in the law.”

As we have learned from DACA, allowing individuals who have been in the United States, contributing and removing the daily fear of deportation from their lives, is a transformative experience. More than half a million young people are now able to obtain work permits, allowing them to earn and contribute more than before, and they are able to get drivers licenses and state IDs that allow them to feel as though they are finally being recognized. Given that House Republican leadership has failed to provide a needed solution that the American public supports, President Obama must act to provide relief. As he said, the American people don’t want him twiddling his thumbs, and doing nothing is untenable. Reform is imperative and it can be achieved partly by means other than legislation.

How DACA Changed My Life

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By Gabriela Gomez, Intern, Communications Department, NCLR

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Gabriela (L) with NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía

I am a college student. I am a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. And, I am  a DREAMer. I am many other things, too, but these factors are especially significant because they advance my story by defining who I am and what I fight for.

I came to the United States when I was eight years old, oblivious to the decision my parents had made and wide-eyed at Maryland’s beauty. There was something so idyllic about my new hometown, from the snow-covered streets to the kind gestures of complete strangers; this place gave me a welcoming sense of comfort. But as I got older, the hardships of being an undocumented student forced me to grapple with new feelings of apprehension and frustration, which became heightened as I entered high school. Given my lack of a social security card and a lawful status in this country, I found myself unable to take on the overwhelming costs of higher education. Part of me felt forced to shelve my plans for college and a future career.

But with the support of family, friends, and great mentors, I was able to push through those obstacles. I refused to allow my status to dictate my future; I refused to allow my status to void the sacrifices my parents had made. I was determined to prove that my contributions to this country were worthwhile and to challenge the narrative that the undocumented community is a burden to society. We were here to strengthen the fabric of this great nation. DACA gave us the window and the platform needed to make our case.

Personally, DACA has given me a glimpse of life as a lawfully present American. The thrill of passing my learner’s permit test, of being asked to come in for a job interview, or even of the satisfaction I felt when I submitted my taxes on time—these small instances felt tremendously rewarding. Yet I was most fulfilled knowing I could finally move forward in my career pursuits, in being able to complement my studies with real work experience and not just volunteering. An internship last summer with the Latino Economic Development Center, a community-based nonprofit in Washington, DC, and an NCLR Affiliate, helped cement my interest in public interest work. I engaged with issues—like affordable housing—that impact so many vulnerable and underserved communities. For many of us, DACA made the difference in us imagining the idea of being influencers in our communities to finally pursuing a line of work where we could best serve others and be agents for change.

DACA has been a transformative experience for many DREAMers, myself included. It has given us a platform to highlight our economic contributions to society, and to echo the positive impact of our career endeavors in the United States. One can only imagine what an expansion of this program would mean to the many other aspiring Americans who want the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and to continue contributing to their communities, to the many who have been here for more than ten years and find themselves proudly embedded in the social and economic fabric of the country they call home.