Panelists push for immigration policy reform

By Leah Larson, Guest Writer

“Immigration Near and Far,” a panel of four speakers discussing the importance of immigration reform in the U.S., marked Constitution Day at Pacific Lutheran University. The campus community gathered in the Anderson University Center Regency Room to listen to the lecture and subsequent conversation.

Leno Rose-Avila, a member of the board of directors for Amnesty International, addresses students at the lecture "Immigration Near and Far" on Tuesday evening.
Leno Rose-Avila, a member of the board of directors for Amnesty International, addresses students at the lecture “Immigration Near and Far” on Tuesday evening.

Two of the panelists were from PLU’s Hispanic studies program — Carmina Palerm, associate professor of Hispanic studies, and senior Wendy Martinez, a major in Hispanic studies and political science. The other two guests were Mary Beth Leeper, a PLU alumna and attorney specializing in immigration law and domestic violence, and Leno Rose-Avila, a member of the board of directors for Amnesty International.

Throughout the lecture and the following discussion, all four speakers emphasized the importance of immigration reform in the U.S. Reforming the immigration policy would allow immigrants to have access to work permits, allow people to immigrate to the U.S. and help the people who have already immigrated here.

“Immigration is such a complex issue that sometimes you think about it from far away and think it doesn’t really impact you,” Martinez said.

But, she continued, “there are students who sit next to you in your classes who are DREAMers [the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act], people who immigrated here at a young age, graduated high school and now have work permits. Immigration impacts everyone.”

Rose-Avila and Martinez both strongly emphasized that most immigrants come to the U.S. for work-related reasons.

“People don’t really come here for Disneyland. They come here to work,” Rose-Avila said.

However, the speakers expressed doubt that serious immigration reform would happen in the near future.

“I would really love to see the Senate bill come to fruition.” Leeper said, referring to S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.

“I don’t think it will,” Leeper said. “I think the House will be inclined to pass parts of what’s talked about as comprehensive immigration reform. Then I hope that will be reflected in the next presidential election.”

The panelists also discussed the one-year bar when applying for asylum. This requires applicants to have been in the U.S. within one-year of their application. Part of the bill that the Senate is working with involves removing that bar, which would enable a large population of people who have strong cases to apply for asylum.

A large number of people with strong cases are denied asylum because of inadequate legal representation or various other minor factors.

“I love the Constitution, but I know it has to change,” Rose-Avila said. “You’re the ones who can make a difference.”

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

The 2013 Senate bill would change the family and employment-based visa categories for immigrants, provide critical due-process protections, increase the availability of nonimmigrant workers to supplement all sectors of the workforce and provide legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants within the United States.

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