“Rooted in the belief that our democracy is enhanced by a diversity of voices, the League of Women Voters believes that a path to citizenship or provisions for unauthorized immigrants already living in the U.S. to earn legal status, will strengthen our nation and society.” This statement, from the League’s national website, clearly shows how important immigration policies are to our organization the League of Women Voters.

With immigration policy and positions continually in the national news, we sometimes forget all these issues are local as well. It’s time to come together and find out how, on a local level, we can participate in civil dialogues and actions to bring equity and common sense into the conversation. As part of the League, we believe he best way to achieve this is through education. To help us with our understanding of the issues, Margaret Hass, president of Greater Lafayette Immigration Allies spoke at a recent Lunch with the League program. Her presentation, “Immigration: National Trends, Local Impact,” brought many problems to light.

In terms of national trends, most of us know how serious things have been for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. We’ve seen overcrowding and sometimes horrific living conditions for people in border patrol custody. There have been thousands of family separations. Waiting times for adjudication of all kinds of immigration applications have increased.

Immigrants seeking admission to the United States through humanitarian pathways are finding that those pathways are being dismantled. For example, there is Temporary Protected Status. TPS is a little-known program that offers a temporary legal status to certain immigrants in the United States who cannot return to their country of origin due to ongoing armed conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary reasons. Due to relatively recent policy changes, more than 300,000 people are at risk of losing this status. Many people in this situation have lived in the United States for many years and built their lives here by working, marrying and having children. Likewise, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has been up in the air since it was rescinded by the administration in 2017. 

The program was designed to protect young people who had arrived into the country as children. They are still considered to be undocumented although many don’t have much knowledge of or experience in their countries of origins. While DACA never provided a pathway to citizenship, it has allowed at least 90,000 young people to live, work and study legally. However, their situation is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. While the government is still processing renewals, it is not allowing new applications, which means that nearly 100,000 young people are leaving school every year without a secure future.

Family-based migration is the most common way people achieve permanent status in the United States. It depends not only your exact relationship but what country you are from. The backlog for processing the applications for family-based migration is extraordinary. A monthly publication is put out by the U.S. State Department called “The Visa Bulletin” and lists the backlogs. As of July, if you are a Mexican unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, they are now processing applications made in 1996. All the categories of those applying for family-based migration mention spouses, sons, daughters and siblings but there is no category for grandchildren or grandparents at all. To be sure, this isn’t due all to bureaucracy but more to do with the limited number of visas available to applicants each year. It is a problem that needs to be addressed.

People may ask themselves how these issues affect them in Indiana. First of all, there are students who suffer under the anxiety awaiting the resolution of the DACA issue. There are also immigrants in Indiana who are in the process of applying for asylum status. They are initially not allowed to work which makes it nearly impossible for them to pay for the legal work they need. Without meaningful national legislation to address the problems, there is general anxiety among all immigrants, undocumented or not, about how they will be treated. Here in Crawfordsville we recently had an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid and many of us saw how impersonal the system can be.

This takes us back to the mission of GLIA and their three action areas: fellowship, education and advocacy. In terms of fellowship, they put on a number of events to bring everyone from various backgrounds together to promote diversity and inclusion and show immigrant communities that they are supported. We are lucky to have Humans United for Equality in Montgomery County who are also working hard to bring us together.

GLIA also contributes time and money to immigrant communities to make sure people, regardless of their status, have access to good information and know their rights. They distribute a “Know Your Rights” guide as well as a postcard containing facts about the many contributions immigrant communities make to West Central Indiana. For example, immigrants in U.S. House District 4, which includes Lafayette and Crawfordsville, paid $240.7M in taxes and spent $717.6M in products and services in 2014. 

Advocacy is also important to GLIA. They have held several rallies about the issues and are tireless in contacting public officials and spreading the word about the importance of immigration in our communities. They can use all the help they can get and you can easily find and contact them on Facebook of gllliallies@gmail.com.

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