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What 1 lucky Seattle immigrant's case can teach politicians

Guest Opinion: Only 4,000 people nationally make it through the system after being targeted for deportation over the undocumented status.
Former state Senator Ken Jacobsen

Former state Senator Ken Jacobsen

When I think of the need for immigration reform in America, one man in particular comes to mind: Jose. In 2008, a friend who works at a Northeast Seattle school called me looking for help for a parent of two students there. The man, a cook, had just been taken into custody for not having documentation and he was sent to Tacoma to sit in a federal detention center, awaiting deportation.

I learned that Jose was a shy, reserved man who was his family’s sole breadwinner and who came every day to volunteer at his children’s school. He spoke little English, but was a productive worker and an engaged and caring parent who was beloved by the school community.

His arrest plunged his family into fear and turmoil. His undocumented wife moved out of their Seattle apartment to stay with relatives in Federal Way while she took her children back and forth to school in Seattle on the bus, with their toddler sibling in tow, for several weeks.

I connected the family with a well-regarded Seattle immigration attorney, Margaret O’Donnell, who helped Jose beat the odds by becoming one of only 4,000 people in the entire country that year to receive what’s called a cancellation of removal. After documenting his work history, lack of criminal record and his meeting of the federal standard of showing “extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship” if he was deported, the government gave him a green card allowing legal residence for five years, with the ability to apply for citizenship afterward.

Jose is one of the truly few and lucky undocumented individuals who was able to come out of the shadows and find a way to legal status that allows him to continue being a productive, contributing member of society.

Sadly, for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, there is no path to legal status or citizenship, and little progress toward passing sensible immigration reform. In spite of the fact that polls show a majority of Americans believe that our system is broken and needs a major overhaul, the House Republican leadership has cynically and deliberately stalled any consideration of immigration reform, including a bipartisan bill passed in the Senate last year.  

Even Washington’s own Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers — part of the Republican leadership — has neglected to do her part on immigration reform. But, while she says Republicans “cannot allow ourselves to be defined as the anti-immigrant party,” she has failed to push for a vote or take a public stance. It’s time for her and the other House Republicans to lead by deed, on behalf of their districts and the country, not just spout empty rhetoric and play partisan politics.

Fortunately for Jose, he found an entire community that advocated for him and his family, including parents, teachers and kids at their school who sent letters on his behalf, and an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate our labyrinthine, illogical system. More productive, upstanding members of our community should have this opportunity, and that won’t happen until political leaders have the moral courage to do the right thing and update our immigration laws.

Now, almost exactly five years to the day after he received a green card, Jose recently returned to Margaret O’Donnell’s office to fulfill his dream. He was there to file an application to become a citizen. 

Former state Sen. Ken Jacobsen served in the Legislature from 1982 through 2010, when he decided not to seek re-election. He held leadership positions on transportation, higher education and environmental committees.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 5:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Immigration policy suggestions brought to you by the sponsor of " Allow dogs in bars" legislation year after year.

"Sadly, for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, there is no path to legal status or citizenship, and little progress toward passing sensible immigration reform."

What do you think Ken, could they return home and apply legally through the existing immigration process? Would that be a path to "legal" status or citizenship?

What is this "sensible immigration reform" of which you speak? The amnesty part 2, 1986 revisted? Tell us all Ken, what makes you think those 11 million illegal aliens are going to self-report, pay all back taxes and fees and submit to a multi-year program to put themselves on a path to citizenship? Court order deportations are down 43% since 2009 Ken.

President Obama signed an executive order allowing over a million "dreamers" to work in this country without fear of deportation..I sure am glad that unemployement rates have fallen to the point that we have no more long term unemployed on relief in this country...right Ken?

Cameron

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

The sponsor of that libertarian leaning legislation "dogs in bars" was one of the most intelligent and forward thinking legislators in Olympia during his years there. Since he allowed others to take credit for his ideas, you may not be aware of his many accomplishments. He was one of the very best.

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Cameron, your ignorance is showing.

1: For most people who seek to come here but have no appropriate relative to petition for them or special skill to commend them, there is no "existing immigration process." There is no process for a person without connection to the US to just tell the US government, "Hello, I'd like to immigrate."

2: Many of the undocumented working here already are already paying taxes, including contributions to Social Security, etc., by using fake SSN's or ITIN's. They have no chance of benefiting from the deductions taken and so are subsidizing those benefits for those entitled to receive them.

3: Most undocumented people would be thrilled for the opportunity to regularize their statuses, including paying any back taxes owing ( which might not be all of them because many are able and may be paying already by reporting through an ITIN) and the associated fees. Life in fear in the shadows, work in bottom tier jobs US citizens refuse to take, and few opportunities to advance are not the goals of most undocumented people. Often they are the best and brightest in their families, willingly undertaking terrible risks to provide themselves and their loved ones a better life.

4: Court ordered deportations are down because we are a country that reveres family, aren't we, Cameron? Or do we revere only American families? Should families be torn apart simply because they seek better lives? I don't believe this. Maybe you feel differently.

5: The "Dreamers." So, innocent children brought here without legal admission, sometimes in infancy, should be punished for their parents' desire to give them a better life? How hateful and small.

Educate yourself, Cameron, and take a look at your values. Where did your ancestors come from, and what did they have to do to get here? What was their legal process and how does it compare to today's? What would you do if you had the bad luck to have been born somewhere where you had no opportunity to escape abject poverty, evil or no government, poor to non-existent health care for yourself and your loved ones?

I am first generation on one side and second on the other. I am so deeply grateful to have been born here. I researched the process my Dad had to follow to be admitted to the US back in the 1920's or early 30's, and I can tell you it bears no resemblance to the gauntlet people must run now. There's a lot of information out there, Cameron. I respectfully suggest you consider looking into the realities and consider ALL the consequences of your current attitudes to see if they line up with your values.

mspat

Posted Sat, Apr 19, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Cameron,

You hit every nail on the head.

Excellent post. Simply excellent.

Nina

Posted Sat, Apr 19, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

So sorry! My reply was to Mspat. NOT Cameron.

Nina

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the things that made America a great country is that it serves as a beacon of hope for people who want to build better lives for themselves and their families. I'm all for people from Mexico and elsewhere coming here and being contributing members of society here...I just want them to come here LEGALLY.

While we need to do a better job of making sure people coming here are doing it in an orderly fashion (and we have the absolute right to protect our borders with that in mind), the current system for immigration is a nightmare for those who seek to enter the USA legally. That process has to be streamlined enough that most people seeking a piece of the American Dream (with the understanding that they'll have to earn it for themselves) aren't strangled with red tape while criminals are kept out.

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 5:12 p.m. Inappropriate

My grandparents came to this country, legally as far as I know. They brought some skills that were needed in this country. Statistics were shaky in the 19th century but I am confident that they did not enter a labor market with ten or fifteen percent (real) unemployment. They were not willing to work for less than the existing working population (immigrants that were, Irish and Chinese especially, were demonized). The persecution of the Chinese was the native workers crude, sometimes violent response to what they perceived as a threat to their own existence. We are so much more sophisticated now; we have open borders and unemployment benefits to ease the strain. If we have uncontrolled immigration from Mexico and Guatemala why should we control immigration from Maylasia and Philipines or Bangladesh? what is the point of our national border? if the current process is a "nightmare" it is mainly because so many people want to come to this country; there is no rational system that would regulate the influx that would not irritate and inconvenience the immigrants. Big business wants liberal immigration for obvious reasons; the Republicans dutifully pander to that line. The Democrats see their constituency being constantly replenished, all they need is legal blessing. Meanwhile native American workers can add more jobs to the list that they "won't do" (and won't be expected to do).

kieth

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

MSpat

1. You will have to prove that people without relative sponsors or skills have been excluded from our legal immigration process.

2. So you admit they are here illegally, working illegally, using fake documents and they obtaining benefits that are supposed to be reserved for citizens and legal residents. This is suppose to support your position how?

3. If they would be thrilled to come legally, then they should have availed themselves of the process. Are you seriously saying that of the billions of dollars that are transfered back to their home countries, it has all been taxed properly? Prove it. Do the illegal aliens in our workplace help to drive wages up or down? The jobs US citizens are not willing to do like...Construction, Food service, Food Processing, Hospitality, Landscaping, painting in addition to traditional AG work? Those jobs?

4. The only reason families would be torn apart is if they chose not to return to their home country together.

5. Dreamers were illegally trafficked here by their parents or others, how does that qualify for automatic acceptence? Are the Parents/Human traffickers responsible for bring those dreamers here being prosecuted or deported? Are they even being contacted to verify the dreamers stories?

If you feel guilty about how your parents and grandparents used a less demanding process to enter the country almost 100 years ago, feel free to sponsor more legal immigrants until you feel better. Or return to thier homelands...but please go back there illegally and see what happens.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Apr 18, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Cameron:
Apparently you aren't paying attention very well, and yes, your ignorance IS showing! Our byzantine, illogical, totally broken system is THE REASON we have an illegal immigrant problem!

I followed the legal process to get MY WIFE over here and it took well over a year, the intervention of a skilled immigration attorney, and thousands of dollars. We were already married and I am a FOURTH generation American citizen!!!! In addition, she is well educated, skilled, speaks FOUR languages fluently including English, and was a contributing member of her home country's society.

She was shocked and appalled at how absurd our process is! She has friends who immigrated to Canada and countries in Europe and their experiences were NOTHING like what we went through!

WAKE UP and REALLY DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Posted Sat, Apr 19, 5:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe you should live in a commonwealth country or the EU then. RepublicanWithAConscience. You make my point for me. People like you wife, who have a sponsor and will be self supporting, presumeably wanting to become a citizen and contribute to society are not the issue. People who refuse to even apply for legal immigration, work under false identification and avail themselves of all of the benefits of being here, are the problem.

Could there be reforms? Perhaps, but the '86 reforms ended up being all amnesty, no border security. Mr. Jacobsen contended that "there is no legal path to citizenship" which is a lie, there is a path. The fact that we have a contiguous border with an area of the world that uses the US as a social safety valve and financial resource for thier impoverished is the problem. The fact that current and former legislators feel that the solution is higher/ no limit quotas for low and no skill workers, who are not necessarily interested in buying in to becoming Americans...is the problem.

Cameron

Posted Sat, Apr 19, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Cameron,
You have no idea what you're talking about. Illegals could not have availed themselves of the system, because everyone who wants to immigrate must have a close relative or employer to sponsor them. It is not possible to simply join a line and wait your turn.

The American immigration system actually keeps out good people because of the the requirement to have a sponsor. My family and I wanted to live and work here, but, without a sponsor, our only option was to buy a small business. We sold everything we had to come here legally and have employed several American citizens for the past ten years, but we have no path to permanent residency and never will have under current legislation. We are educated, honest, hard-working people who came here the 'right' way, but we can't plan a future here because if we retire or sell the business, we have to leave.

If we can't find a way to become citizens, how do you think low-skilled, non-English speaking people can? Americans are fond of saying illegals should simply return home and come back legally, but that is simply not possible. Their families, homes and jobs are here, how could they go back to nothing? How are they supposed to live when they have sacrificed everything to try to live better lives?

Educate yourself about how the system works before condemning people who risked so much to get here because no legal path was open to them.

Nina

Posted Sat, Apr 19, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Why have any rules at all then Nina? What is the purpose of the sponsor? To ensure that they are not going to go immediately into the social safety net system? Now their are over 11 million people who voluntarily came into the country illegally and we are supposed to say that it is ok? Our rules mean nothing? Laws are for suckers? If you are willing to live and work here illegally, what exactly is your motivation to do anything legally?

"If we can't find a way to become citizens, how do you think low-skilled, non-English speaking people can?" Perhaps they shouldn't.

"Educate yourself about how the system works before condemning people who risked so much to get here because no legal path was open to them."

Nobody forced them to come here, those that encourage them to come here and work illegally ( The sanctuary State of Washington is at the top of that list locally) are aiding in their abuse at the hands of law breaking employers.

Cameron

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