With the ‘Brexit’ vote, the Trump campaign, and the recent Supreme Court decisions, immigration policy lies at the heart of the current news cycle. Orlando immigration lawyer Henry Lim discusses five major recent immigration-related news stories, and their significance for immigrants in Central Florida. Immigration and race remain a focal point of widespread anxiety over the availability of jobs, and what defines our national values, and identity.  Even more troubling, immigrants are the personification for many who are growing increasingly concerned about the demographical chances in our society. The news in recent weeks only highlights the fear, anger and distrust of immigrants, which lies behind political and social upheaval both in the US and abroad.

In Europe: immigration and societal anxiety at heart of ‘Brexit’

‘Brexit’, the UK’s June 23 referendum vote in favor of withdrawing from the European Union, clearly illustrated the same anxiety and fears at play in the United States and in other EU countries experiencing high immigration levels. Dismissing the economic benefits of immigration and the likely negative economic impact of leaving the EU, Britons followed their feelings. Voters, primarily working class and older citizens, expressed their anxiety over the economy and their perception of a changing social order and a loss of national identity, with immigration the face and focus of these concerns. As Amanda Taub observed in the New York Times later the same week: “For many people, identity trumps economics. They will pay a high price (literally, in this case) to preserve a social order that makes them feel safe and powerful. That dynamic is not limited to Britain, or to this referendum. It is playing out in democracies around the world, and immigration has become its focal point. Many citizens, particularly those who have suffered under the economic pressures of globalization, express their anxiety over these changes by focusing on another form of change: foreigners in their midst. Halting immigration, even if the actual effect is to worsen their own economic situation, seems like a way of staving off those larger changes.” The full impact of this move in the United Kingdom remains to be seen, but immigration advocates worldwide continue to watch the situation with concern.

In the United States: political hot potato

In the US, immigration remains one of the hottest of political hot potatoes for this campaign cycle.  Since launching his candidacy for president, Donald Trump tapped into, and encouraged, a wellspring of fear among some voters over the impact of immigration on America’s economy, culture and way of life.  His irresponsible rhetoric on this sensitive issue further marginalizes the immigrant community and feeds a climate of mistrust, even hate (something Orlando, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre, now knows far too much about).  His impractical and inhumane solutions do nothing to unify or problem-solve when we so desperately need a leader with an inclusive vision for immigration reform.

Disappointment, heartbreak in wake of Supreme Court immigration deadlock

For hundreds of immigrant families, the hope for such reform seems especially faint with the recent Supreme Court deadlock over the case challenging expanded DAPA. The deadlock could mean continued struggles for many, and certainly represents a disappointing setback for immigration reform. On June 23, with just nine words — “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court” — the eight-member Supreme Court upheld a Texas appeals court’s injunction against President Obama’s expanded DAPA program. This case, United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, challenged President Obama’s 2014 executive action, which protected qualified immigrants (among them, parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents) from deportation, and would have also provided them with work permits, drivers’ licenses, social security numbers and a chance to eventually seek legal permanent status. As a result of the Supreme Court deadlock, the immigration system will likely remain as-is until after the November election, when it will depend on the new Administration as to the agenda and appetite for immigration policy reform. In the meantime, we continue to fight for those immigrants still faced with the day-to-day struggle to make a living and to find a path to legal status.

Fear, uncertainty and immigrant voting rights

Many have observed the significance of diversity in the fabric of America. So, why should immigration now engender so much fear and uncertainty? Throughout history, new immigrant populations have drawn a deep suspicion of those from different cultures than their own. However, many of the great immigration waves of the past came from Europe and a predominantly white immigrant population.  Today, immigrants coming to America represent a broader racial, religious and cultural diversity, which not all white Americans find easy to embrace. Beyond this, the recent economic recession has eroded the American economy and reduced the sense of job security for many workers.  The 9/11 attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorism from extremist groups forever changed the manner in which America welcomes immigrants.  Racial tensions, too, inevitably affect the immigrant community. The disturbing escalation in violence, such as the recent awful week which culminated in the deaths of multiple civilians and police officers, only adds to the urgency of electing leaders committed to realistic, workable, inclusive solutions. Applications for citizenship already hit an all-time high this year, though any election year typically sees a spike in naturalization applications. Daniel White reported in TIME magazine: “Applications for immigrants applying to be U.S. citizens are higher now than they were in the last election cycle. Between October 2015 and March 2016, Immigration Services received 439,887 N-400 applications for citizenship, compared to 412,414 applications in 2012 during the same period. That’s about a 6% increase.” While Trump’s rhetoric cannot be the only reason for the uptick in citizenship applications, no doubt the country’s focus on the immigration debate encouraged those eligible to apply to take the step to naturalize in time for the general election, so their voices, as new Americans, can be heard as well. According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. electorate in 2016 will be the most ethnically and racially diverse in the country’s history. As of this coming November 6, Pew estimates nearly one in three eligible voters will be Hispanic, black, Asian, or another racial or ethnic minority.  The number of non-Hispanic white voters, while still dominant, decreased from 71 percent in 2012 to 69 percent in 2016. During the 2012 presidential election, Pew reported only 48% of Hispanics and 47% of eligible Asian voters actually cast ballots, compared to 64% of non-Hispanic whites and 67% of eligible black voters.   Will those eligible to vote do so in greater numbers this year?  Given the gravity of the issues facing all Americans, every vote and every voice counts in this important debate.  

Here in Florida: increased access to Florida KidCare

On the positive side, the Florida House recently passed a law which will provide immediate health insurance coverage for many immigrant children.  As of July 1, immigrant children who lawfully reside in Florida (click for details) will qualify for Florida KidCare coverage without a wait period.  Previously, non-citizen children could not qualify for coverage until they had lived in the United States legally for at least five years. We encourage parents to visit Florida KidCare’s site and to contact them to review their children’s eligibility.

Immigration questions after the Pulse attacks

Central Florida has been home to Lim Law since the very beginning and we have been proud to serve its Hispanic community. This makes it all the more difficult to see the pain a hateful man inflicted at Pulse nightclub just over one month ago from the date of this writing. The tragic attack struck very close to home for too many people in Orlando, but it hit the LGBT and Hispanic communities – our communities– particularly hard. We mourn the loss of one of our clients, gunned down in the attack. We also grieve alongside the families and friends of those who died. More than 90% of the victims were of Hispanic heritage. Unfortunately, as a result, immigration issues have resulted in compounded difficulties for many of those who must now recover from their nightmare experience. The needs are vast. Some hope to bring family members to the United States from overseas temporarily, to mourn together. Some want to bury a loved one at home, but fear for their ability to return afterwards. Others have been afraid to come forward to get help because their immigration status could attract the wrong attention from the authorities. Do not stay silent — you CAN get help for all of these immigration concerns. Lim Law and other Central Florida immigration attorneys have provided free immigration legal services to the victims of the Pulse shootings and their families through the Orange County Bar Association. Even if you have not been physically harmed, you can still receive help.

Looking ahead for immigrants

The terrible events felt by many around the world – from Paris to Nice to Istanbul to Orlando – were perpetrated by those who act out of fear and hatred. While some have responded with heightened fearmongering, many more have responded out of love. If the ‘Brexit’ vote can be considered any indication, the upcoming election in the United States will be of major significance for immigrants watching the deep division over this issue in the United States. The nature of the voter turnout this year could determine which vision of immigration becomes law: a path to citizenship, or a “big, beautiful wall.”

Ask Henry Lim Do you have a question for Henry Lim? During over 20 years of practicing law, he has helped more than 10,000 families move to the United States. You can Ask Henry a question at [email protected] or submit a video question by sending a link to one of our channels. For legal assistance, email or call for an appointment: 407-897-8870. Our first consultation is complimentary.

FURTHER READING

Krogstad, Jens Manuel. “2016 electorate will be the most diverse in U.S. history”. Feb.3, 2016.http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/03/2016-electorate-will-be-the-most-diverse-in-u-s-history/ Taub, Amanda. “A Lesson from ‘Brexit’: On Immigration, Feelings Trump Facts”. June 26, 2016.www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/europe/brexit-economy-immigration-britain-european-union-democracy.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fthe-interpreter&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=collection White, Daniel. ““Applications for U.S. Citizenship Now Higher Than During 2012 Election”. June 6, 2016.http://time.com/4357131/donald-trump-immigration-citizenship-applications/?xid=emailshare