Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living a Nightmare

Living a Nightmare

Desperate and hopeless Joaquin Luna Jr. took his own life.  He dreamed of someday becoming either an engineer or an architect.  Joaquin will never live that dream.  Yanelli Hernandez was deported to Mexico yesterday.  Like Joaquin, she also had dreams, but she suffered from depression and a serious mental illness that resulted in her attempting to commit suicide while facing imminent removal from the United States.  ICE denied an emergency stay of removal citing lack of evidence of her mental illness.  The response from ICE begs the question of how many undocumented persons suffer from mental illness or depression but are not receiving much needed treatment or medication.  

 The memorandum by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens (aka the Prosecutorial Discretion memo), listed 19 factors to that an ICE agent may consider when weighing whether he should exercise prosecutorial discretion and, in some cases, grant a stay of removal.  The list is not exhaustive and no one factor is determinative.  One of the factors listed is if the person suffers from a severe mental illness.  While I’m not a doctor or psychologist, I would venture to guess that many people with depression keep their emotions pent up.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 9.5% of the adult American population suffers from depressive disorder.  That statistic doesn’t consider people like Joaquin or Yanelli.

So, imagine if you are in a country where you have an uncertain future.  You want to achieve and make a better life for yourself and your parents, but you are not sure if you can even go to college or join the military.  You cannot leave the U.S. because there is a high risk of facing long-term or permanent separation from family and friends.  For many undocumented persons, they came to the U.S. at a young age and know only this country (“DREAMers”). Finally, to compound your problems, you can’t even trust the two largest political parties in this country.  Note to Republican and Democratic parties: we know that all you care about is wooing future potential voters, but perhaps you could be a bit more discreet and attempt to show some compassion for humans rather than your own political future.

This dilemma is as much a mental health problem as it is an immigration problem.  Every time a politician, on either side of the aisle, makes a promise or a proposal to work on the immigration problem they are toying with the emotions of millions.  Some of the most vulnerable are those DREAMers who have spent most of their lives in the U.S. and consider this their country.  The constant tug of war by politicians, combined with the normal stresses of daily life, is a recipe for more mental troubles. 

My father always told me that you can make lemonade out of lemons, and this is another situation where that can be done.  One positive that we can take away from the plight of Joaquin and Yanelli is that it has further galvanized the DREAMer population and placed a spotlight on the often unaddressed problem of mental illness.  In fact, on Monday, Cindy Padilla from the U.S. Health and Human Services, stated that she will be taking this issue back to D.C. and further explore it.  There is even a great online resource available for those individuals who want more information or need help: http://undocuhealth.org/.

It is unnerving that many (including stars like Oprah Winfrey) in this country ignore the pink elephant in the room when it comes to the plight of undocumented immigrants, and especially DREAMers.  With more consideration as to the benefits of legalizing undocumented immigrants and less overall negativity, perhaps we can help many who suffer from mental illness and depression.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Immigration 101 in Nursery Rhyme

Immigration 101 in Nursery Rhyme

Watching the Florida Republican Primary Debates this week again demonstrated that these final four candidates simply refuse to understand the dynamics of our draconian immigration system.  Perhaps they just don’t understand the complexity of it and the numerous roadblocks that serve as a barrier to those who want to legally immigrate to the United States.  Three of the remaining candidates contend that we must deport anyone who is not legally present in the country.  The other candidate thinks it would be wise to set up some sort of citizen review panel, which sounds more like a bad game show.  Since this seems to be so difficult to comprehend, allow me to demonstrate why their ideas are shameful composed through a format that they might relate to and understand: Nursery rhymes (Note: the following rhymes are based on true stories)

Jack and Jill Meet the Ten Year Bar

Jack and Jill came to Chapel Hill,
To make a new life for themselves.
Undocumented for more than a year,
Now they live in fear.

Jack was pulled over by the police,
He was forced to his knees.
Jack was deported back to Chile,
A ten year bar left Jill lonely.

INA §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) bars a person for three years if they remain in the U.S. without proper documentation (unlawfully present) for more than 6 months.  INA §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) bars a person for ten years if they remain in the U.S. without proper documentation for more than a year.  Therefore, this law provides a disincentive for a person to self-deport as suggested by Governor Romney.  There are limited waivers available for these bars, but most people are too fearful to leave the U.S. and face these harsh penalties.  Attrition through enforcement only makes sense if people actually leave, eliminating state benefits is not going to force people out.  Plus, it is inhumane.

Humpty Dumpty Waited and Waited…

Humpty Dumpty sponsored his son for a green card,
Humpty Dumpty didn’t realize that the process would be this hard,
One year became two years became five years,
Twenty years passed by and his son was still waiting in tears.

We welcome anyone to take an hour (or a week) and try to make sense out of what is known as the Visa Bulletin.  This is published by the U.S. Department of State on a monthly basis.  Processing times can vary from one category to the next, but most family-based sponsored immigration can take a decade or longer.  Conservative economists consistently decry the current system that does nothing more than separate families and hurt the U.S. in competing for the best and brightest foreign workers.  Making the argument that undocumented immigrants should leave and get in the back of the line is completely illogical since the “line” has no end in sight.

Little Boy Blue and Needs Hope

Little Boy Blue, he missed his dreams.
A waste of talent, he often screams.
Where is the boy who picks your grapes?
He’s sweating his ass off and can’t escape.
Will you help him?  Santorum says no.
He hopes that Little Boy Blue self deports.

DREAM Act anyone? Comprehensive Immigration Reform?  Newt Gingrich talks about the plight of grandparents who are in this country without legal status.  What about the rest of the family?  What about the children of immigrants who came to this country when they were minors and have grown up in the United States?  To deny these individuals, many of whom are no longer minors, an opportunity to go to college and join the military and someday become a U.S. citizen is un-American.  The government should give these young people an opportunity to thrive and use the skills they developed in our system.  For that matter, it is high time that Congress passes a reasonable comprehensive bill to provide a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States.