I recently traveled to Washington DC for what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) calls its “National Day of Action.” This day is commonly referred to as “Lobby Day” and is exactly that: a day of lobbying with Congress. Immigration attorneys (some with clients who have particularly compelling stories) attend meetings with various Congress members on Capitol Hill to discuss what can be done to reform the current immigration law (answer: quite a bit).
The clients who accompanied their attorneys ranged from business owners hurt by the lack of H-1B numbers to a US Citizen separated from his family member due to the extremely long wait times. By far the most common client attendees (and understandably so) were DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) grantees who made impassioned pleas for why Congress should enact legislation making the benefits of DACA into an actual law (as opposed to an Executive Order, which does not actually grant them any legal status, just defers their deportation).
I focused my own meetings on work permission for spouses of H-1Bs and O-1s and increasing H-1B cap numbers as well as numbers in both the family and employment Green Card categories to speed wait times. These are issues that I see affect so many foreign nationals. I also came prepared with statistics (provided by AILA) on the amount of deportations and other enforcement actions taken by the Obama Administration because there seems to be a new talking point by Republicans in the House of Representatives that Obama is not enforcing the current immigration laws. In fact, the statistics show that criminal prosecutions for immigration violations reached an all-time high in fiscal year 2013. Illegal re-entry alone is the most prosecuted crime in America, jumping 76% during the Obama Administration.
I had the privilege of speaking with a US Representative and her legislative aide as well as the staff for a second US Representative and two US Senators. It’s a difficult time to try to push for immigration reform as the momentum seems to be gone. Last April when we lobbied, things were so hopeful and the aides were discussing the substance of different reform measures with an optimistic tone. This year the mood was not so encouraging. The Senators feel they did their job and passed a bill and now it is up to the House to pass their own. It seems like everyone is waiting for someone else to make a move but no one is willing to step forward and offer a solution that a majority of Congress would vote for.
While ultimately the day was a bit frustrating, it was enlightening to see how “the process” works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be). Walking the same hallways as our members of Congress and speaking with the representatives who can produce real change to the current immigration laws was an experience I wouldn’t pass up for pretty much anything--well, actually, I would for a new comprehensive immigration reform law.