What does 2014 hold for Immigration? The Department of Homeland Security enters the New Year with new leadership, following the confirmation of Jeh Johnson for Secretary of DHS and Alejandro Mayorkas as Deputy Secretary. The drive for immigration reform will continue to be a major factor in 2014, as the movement has come into its own through the collaborative efforts of small and big business, immigrant rights groups, religious organizations, numerous government agencies, and most importantly the grassroots efforts of citizens and noncitizens alike.
Indeed, it appeared that 2013 was going to be the year for inevitable immigration reform with the passage of Senate Bill S. 744 in June. Despite the House’s failure to find a bi-partisan resolution to the Senate Bill, there were plenty of other memorable immigration moments in 2013, including repudiation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the Supreme Court (and its impact on permitting immigration benefits), ongoing implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative (DACA), and a range of pro-immigrant measures at the state level which reflect a desire to support the integration of aspiring Americans into their communities.
Here are some of the most prominent immigration stories of 2013.
1. The Passage of the Senate Bill
The Senate galloped into 2013 with optimism and enthusiasm for Immigration Reform. In April, the bipartisan “Gang of 8” produced S.744, a comprehensive reform bill which passed the Senate in June. While the bill was far from perfect, it contained a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., the strongest ever version of the DREAM Act, and a new visa designed to meet America’s changing labor needs. The Senate bill received bipartisan support, but has been held up by the House of Representatives, who have yet to agree how to proceed on immigration reform, piecemeal or as one large overhaul.
2. Pro-immigrant measures sweeping the States
In 2013 states advanced positive laws and policies that further integrated immigrant communities into American life. Connecticut, Colorado, and California passed their own versions of the TRUST Act, which limits who state and local officials may hold for possible deportation. Several cities—including Newark, New Orleans; and New York City—also enacted policies to limit when local law enforcement officers may detain a person at the request of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Previously, only three states allowed people to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, but by the end of 2013 eight more states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, acknowledged the economic and public safety necessity of this step. Further, every state except Arizona and Nebraska allows DACA recipients to receive licenses. States expanded access to in-state tuition to undocumented students, and many localities are creating welcoming initiatives directed at encouraging immigrant entrepreneurship and relocation to their communities.
3. The Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA
One of the most exciting immigration stories of the year was the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), thus granting federal recognition to married same-sex couples. The biggest impact was for same-sex couples with mixed immigration status. In the aftermath of the DOMA decision, USCIS immediately began approving pending applications from eligible same-sex couples.
4. The Implementation of DACA
In 2012, the biggest immigration story was the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by President Obama. Now, over a year into the program, more than 455,455 applicants have been approved, and those young immigrants are considered lawfully present. The program has been incredibly successful – allowing “the DACA-mented” to attend school, get jobs, and obtain their driver’s licenses in most states. However, many more have not applied, citing filing fees, mistrust of the program, the hope that something better awaits through immigration reform, or the lack of outreach and education about DACA in their home state.
In 2014, as the first recipients begin to renew their DACA status and as USCIS puts into place a similar policy directed at family members of military personnel, it will become clear that although administrative action can benefit many immigrants, it is not a permanent fix and broader legislative reform is still needed.
5. Immigration Activists Grow Stronger and Bolder
While the top immigration stories revolve around action or inaction at the federal level, the most far-reaching story has to be growth of the pro-reform movement. The most public event was the Fast for Families, where four activists undertook a 22-day, water-only fast on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The fasters sought an end to the separation of families caused by our broken immigration system, calling for comprehensive reform and a pathway to citizenship, and in the process attracted the attention of the national press, members of Congress, and the President and First Lady. The fast is ongoing; the original four passed the torch to a new group of fasters, which included Representative Joe Kennedy.
FWD.us is an advocacy organization created by the Silicon Valley innovators and leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. By utilizing online social media, blogs, political cache, and traditional media, FWD.us promotes immigration policies that lead to a more advanced workforce and stronger knowledge in the U.S. economy. A growing number of sit-ins have been staged at Congressional offices, including the offices of Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. In August, during Congress’s summer recess, hundreds of rallies, actions, and events took place across the country calling for reform. Many activists have been willing to risk arrest in peaceful acts of civil disobedience, and many more have spoken out to their representatives, community, and even to the President.
Though 2013 was a banner year for those committed to immigration reform, we are constantly reminded that failure to reform our laws hurts individuals, families, communities, and our country as a whole. Perhaps in 2014 we will finally be able to put the passage of comprehensive immigration reform at the top of our list of memorable events.