They met Friday afternoon in Davenport with questions about how to help their loved ones and friends navigate immigration laws – something panelist Lazara Pittman called an ever-expanding maze.“It’s like a house that keeps having additions.
It no longer looks like a house, you need complicated maps to get through it,” the Iowa City immigration attorney said.
Ms. Pittman joined Des Moines immigration attorney Lori Chesser and Davenport Civil Rights Commission director Judy Morrell at the Quad Cities Interfaith and Churches United of the Quad Cities Area sponsored “Conversation on Immigration.”Together,
the three drew from their many experiences to offer answers to some of the nearly 50 attendees who submitted their wide-ranging concerns on anonymous note cards.The panelists fielded questions regarding government financial aid for college – for which undocumented persons are ineligible – to grounds for deportation.
One questioner asked for help dealing with a brother-in-law who thinks all immigrants should be shot and a wall built to prevent them from entering. The note card requested help “reminding him there is no illegal human.”
“It’s hard to know how to answer people like that,” Ms. Chesser said, noting talk radio and other media have ratcheted up the heat on the already tense issue.
In addition to referring a few Web sites, Ms. Chesser said that for those who look closely at the issues, immigration is an administrative law issue rather than criminal.
“It’s not like theft or murder. It’s much more like, ‘Gosh, you filled out your tax forms wrong,’” she said. “You can break immigration law and not even know it.”
Ms. Pittman’s response was a bit shorter, “Refer him to the Declaration of Independence.”
Another question that plagues many in the debate, one attendee asked why immigrants don’t just come to the country legally. With permanent residency petitions often requiring at least eight years, Ms. Pittman said it is often an extreme hardship for many to wait.
She went on to tell the story of a 25-year-old U.S. citizen who successfully petitioned for his parents living in Mexico to immigrate. However the immigration clearance did not include his 14- and 11-year-old siblings, so his parents were faced with the choice to not come at all or bring their younger children undocumented – they chose the latter, opting to keep their family together.
With many persons experiencing similar situations, Ms. Pittman said the failure of the government leaders to pass the recent immigration reform bill was a great disappointment.
“I think it was completely irresponsible,” she said. “It is irresponsible as legislators not to come to some sort of agreement on something as basic and simple as this.”
The questions regarding immigration may be never ending, and Ms. Pittman said she believes litigation will spike in the coming months as the country forges on without better reform measures.