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Close to Home: Finding local clarity on immigration issues

Immigration issues are in the news every day. As the economy continues to improve, immigration has moved to the front of the line of issues of concern to Americans. Particularly contentious right now is the debate about the plan laid out in November by President Barack Obama to use executive authority to protect about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportations.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative law firm based in Washington, has filed a brief in the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas on behalf of 27 federal lawmakers. The brief says that the president’s executive actions should be halted because they are unconstitutional. Meanwhile, a group of civil and immigrant rights groups has filed court papers opposing a lawsuit filed by 24 states. The groups include United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center.

Since 1952, each of the 11 presidents, from President Dwight D. Eisenhower through President Obama, have used their broad executive authority to address unanticipated situations affecting foreign nationals at home and abroad. Roughly 1.5 million spouses and children of immigrants gained legal status under the Immigration and Reform Control Act of 1986 and became eligible for deferred action in 1990 under President George H. W. Bush’s Family Fairness policy.

Although Gallup, CBS and other national polls show most Americans feel our current immigration system is broken, it is unclear what direction the new Republican majority in Congress will take to “fix” a system that currently costs us nearly $18 billion for immigration and border enforcement.

As we try to understand how changes to the immigration system might impact each of us, we look at our own community. Locally, approximately 26 percent of Sonoma County residents were born outside the United States, yet, most of us remain unfamiliar with the laws and challenges faced by members of our local immigrant population and the agencies that help them.

Given that, the public is invited to a community event on Thursday at Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., where a panel of experts will offer diverse perspectives on immigration. Organized and sponsored by the American Association of University Women branches from Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg and the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County, this discussion, beginning at 6:30 p.m., will explore issues faced by immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and the help that is there.

Included on the panel will be a “dreamer,” an immigration counselor, an immigration lawyer, a professor emerita, a K-12 educator and a community leader working to advance educational equity at the college level. Lisa Carreño of 10,000 Degrees, will moderate the program. This is a wonderful opportunity to educate ourselves about this very important topic.

Patricia Souza is program co-vice president for the Petaluma branch of AAUW and manager of the Family Resource Center.

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