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Immigrants to America Lessons from a Trip to Boston

Last week, I was up in the Northeast. I spent the weekend in Groton, Connecticut with my brother and his family and then, on Tuesday, I headed north towards Boston for our American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Annual Conference.

En route from Groton to Boston, I stopped in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Or as they like to call it “America’s Hometown.” I loved the perfect combination of being an immigration lawyer in what’s considered to be the landing place of our country’s first immigrants.

The city is beautiful, charming, and not too overrun by tourists. I thought about the sacrifices the Pilgrims made in traveling across the ocean nearly 300 years ago, all in search of a new life. While the people who arrive, their country of origin, and their reasons for coming may change, the hope and determination remain just the same today.

Plymouth is proud of its immigrant heritage – something we should all be proud of.

The AILA Annual Conference itself was a whirlwind of networking events, sessions and meetings. Unfortunately, the general mood regarding the chances for comprehensive immigration reform through Congress is pretty dismal.

Many of us are now focused on what President Obama will do in terms of changing policy. Will he grant Parole in Place for anyone with a qualifying relative in the United States? Will he create a public defender system where immigrants are provided legal representation in their removal proceedings? The changes are still to be seen. But I believe in change.

The overriding concern at the conference, though, was the influx of Central American kids at our southern border. These children did not travel thousands of miles through dangerous territory because they heard they could get a green card.

Having recently been retained by three families in this same situation, I can tell you that they come because they are scared. They have no protection in their home countries. They are sexually abused, their family members are murdered, they are forced to traffic drugs. Their lives are disposable to those with real power in their home country.

These children need hope and they need help. However, the Obama Administration is seemingly at a loss on how to handle this humanitarian crisis. On Friday, the White House announced a policy change to increase the number of removals; they have decided to place these children in detention centers.

At the AILA Conference, we were told to expect a plan that addresses this situation to be announced this week. That plan will hopefully lay out a humane, fair, and feasible way for these children to share their stories and apply for protection.

Now that I’m back in Atlanta, I can’t help but think of the two bookends of my trip. European settlers came in 1620 to avoid religious persecution and to seek a better life. Today, young Central Americans come to our border to avoid oppression and abuse of the worst kind.

The story of America continues to unfold, but will we be a country that builds on our immigration history or will we shut the doors to those who are in their greatest hour of need?

– Tracie