Nebraska and Iowa Immigration Lawyers Meet in Omaha

scott packer pic #1By Scott Packer, Creighton Law School Class of 2015

“All politics is local.”

Counter-intuitively, this quote, popularly attributed to Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, describes immigration: Though federal law governs immigration, states and local communities experience the effects of immigration and increasingly enforce immigration law.

The frustration of regional lawyers working within the current immigration law framework was palpable this fall members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association from Nebraska and Iowa met for their regional conference in Omaha. Beneath the surface of panel discussions on issues such as consular processing, worksite compliance, and removal litigation simmered issues relating to the need for and politics of immigration reform.

On the reform front, this past summer President Barack Obama promised action in the form of executive orders to respond to the surge of “border children” arriving from Central America. Backlash from that proposition caused the President to delay executive action until after the November elections. Still, the President took steps, largely perfunctory, to make it appear that the government was not blind to the situation at the border: The Department of Justice announced a change of priorities for the Executive Office of Immigration Review to give adjudicative priority to recent entrants, delaying proceedings for immigrants who have been in removal process for years.

Immigration reform initiatives have also been undertaken on the other side of the aisle, though those efforts did not receive much praise amongst the lawyers at the conference. One AILA conference speaker, for example, characterized a Republican proposal to put a border agent every five hundred yards across the southern border as “not an immigration policy at all. It’s playing ‘Red Rover’ on the border.”

Federal reform – or the lack thereof – has significant implications in Nebraska and Iowa. According to the Immigration Policy Center, the foreign-born shares of the Nebraska and Iowa populations have more than tripled since 1990. And, though they do not represent the majority of these states’ immigrant populations, the immigration debate often centers on the portions of the immigrant population who entered the country illegally.

In Nebraska, 2.4% of the state’s population is unauthorized immigrants; 9.4% of the state’s population overall is Latino and 1.9% is Asian. In Iowa, 2.7% of the state’s population is unauthorized immigrants; 5% of the overall population is Latino and 1.7% is Asian.

Often lost in the preoccupation with illegal immigration is the contribution that immigrants overall make locally. In Nebraska, Latino-owned business had sales and receipts of $786.7 million in 2011. And unauthorized immigrants paid $42.3 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which estimates that immigration reform would result in $10.2 million additional annual tax revenue.

But for immigrants to contribute to society as equals there has to be willingness to reform a system which does not accept the realities of immigration today. To move forward, a simple truth must be accepted: Viridiana Almanza, coordinator of the Nebraska DREAMers Project Coalition, accepted an award at the AILA conference luncheon. During her acceptance speech, she spoke about the nature of being the child of an illegal entrant. “People tell you to go home, but this is home.”

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