Review of 10th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference

By Melissa Bowe, Program Manager

I am excited to report that I had the privilege to attend the 10th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference at Georgetown Law School on October 31st. As many of you know, the Senate’s bipartisan passage of sweeping immigration legislation was hailed as a major step forward for immigration reform, but with comprehensive immigration reform a nonstarter in the House, where Republicans favor a piecemeal approach, and the legislative calendar getting tight, the prospect for action are at best uncertain. Panelists and keynote speakers, including Senator John McCain, debated the likelihood of its passage and most importantly (in my humble opinion), shared advocacy and policy strategies for the future.

The role of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, prosecutorial discretion, provisional unlawful presence waivers, and training key players (police, judges, etc.) was emphasized as key advocacy issue areas to focus on during the CIR dead stop in the House. As the Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center stated “there are minor fixes that can happen now,” and she stressed the need for us to CULTIVATE the energy around immigration right now even if it hasn’t moved forward in the House. In particular:

  • How we treat immigrant minors:
    • Counsel provided to undocumented minors in proceedings
    • Screening vulnerable children at the border
    • “Child days” in immigration court
    • Detention center alternatives for children, i.e. foster care
    • Incorporating the “best interest of the child” standard from family law into immigration judgments
  • Obtaining and enforcing asylum regulations
  • Transparency, education and accountability for immigration enforcement and enforcement policies

Panelists pointed to state-based advocacy wins- and declared 2013 the “year of the immigrant,” using California’s wins with the Trust Act, tuition equity and anti-retaliation laws.

Senator John McCain stressed the need for all of us to remain optimistic that comprehensive immigration will pass the house. However, what I walked away with is a renewed sense of national energy around immigration, even if it isn’t packaged as CIR. There are so many ways we can create positive change for our immigrant communities- one being CIR (which I still hope for)- but in the meantime- let’s tap into the national interest in our subject and advocate for these “minor fixes” and major state-based victories that have profound impacts on human lives.