A Carson City forum Tuesday took a look at the history and current status of the nation’s immigration laws.
“The thing I want to say as an attorney, and what I would ask of you as an immigrant, ask of you as a woman, ask of you as a mother, ask of you as a human being, is that you pay attention to what is being debated in Washington,” Sylvia Ontaneda-Bernales, a Reno-based immigration lawyer, told the audience at the Sierra Nevada Forum’s event, “Immigration: Fears, Fallacies and Facts,” held at Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.
Ontaneda-Bernales said she was not there to debate the topic, but to provide background and a foundation for understanding it.
“Immigration has been controversial since the republic was born,” she said.
She gave an overview of laws starting in the late 18th century with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years, through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which organized the country’s immigration statutes and still forms the basis for today’s laws. The 1952 law is also known as the McCarran–Walter Act for its sponsors, Nevada’s Sen. Pat McCarran and Pennsylvania’s Rep. Francis Walter.
Ontaneda-Bernales also covered presidential proclamations such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1942 executive order which led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, including citizens, and President Barack Obama’s 2012 directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
DACA defers action on undocumented individuals who came to the United States as minors and who apply for it and meet certain criteria.
“If you applied for DACA you knew what you were getting into,” said Ontaneda-Bernales. “It doesn’t confer lawful status, it defers deportation. You can apply for work, you can go to school, and as long as you don’t run afoul of the law you are fine.”
The policy is in limbo, though, said Ontaneda-Bernales. In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA would be rescinded and expire March 5.
Two judges have since blocked the change, including a decision on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn. That follows a similar ruling in January by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, which the Trump administration appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday is considering whether to hear the appeal.
Ontaneda-Bernales also talked about what she called some of the fallacies surrounding immigration, including so-called anchor babies and chain migration.
Any child born here is a citizen but would have to wait until they are 21 years old before they can petition to bring a parent and that parent would not qualify if they have been in the country without lawful status, she said.
“No one can bring in a grandparent, a cousin. A spouse, a parent, a minor child get automatic visas,” said Ontaneda-Bernales, but that often takes years because of the annual limit on total visas and limits on visas from different countries.