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Thread: How to Enlist the Help of Your Elected Officials - by Corin in Exile

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    Post How to Enlist the Help of Your Elected Officials - by Corin in Exile

    The following guide was written by Corin, a wonderful writer and a great advocate for all whose lives are affected by US immigration policy. Her blog Corin in Exile details how she and her Brazilian-born husband are moving beyond the 9B ban. For various reasons, they've opted not to pursue the waiver process, and instead are becoming established outside the US. She wrote the following guide based on her own experiences with elected officials, and hopes it can help others who are fighting their own immigration battles. She has graciously permitted her expertise on this issue to be published here on I2us.

    -------------------
    While living in the US, I worked for a state-level elected official. A large part of my job was devoted to immigrants’ issues. At the same time, I was navigating immigration issues in my personal life. Having been on both sides of the desk, I learned that help from your elected officials can sometimes provide the necessary nudge – that little push across the finish line… as long as you know how to help your elected officials help you!

    1. Follow politics.
    The last thing you need to do is waste your time trying to get an anti-immigrant crusader to save your spouse from deportation! Not all elected officials want to help immigrants or even their American spouses. Not all elected officials are particularly good at constituent services. Do a little digging to find out about your elected officials’ immigration stances and constituent services records. Local immigrant advocacy organizations can often assist you with gathering that information as well as strategizing about which officials might be more helpful (your Congressman instead of your Senator, or perhaps one Senator instead of the other, etc…). Find out (usually on their website) who on their staff works on immigration issues and how you can contact them.


    2. Know your civics.
    Every level of government (municipal, state, and federal) has a different role to play and can assist you with different parts of your immigration process. For instance, only your federal representatives (your US Senator and US Congressman/woman) can get information from ICE, US consulates and embassies, or other federal agencies. You will be asked to sign a privacy waiver that allows them to inquire on your behalf.

    To find your Congressman, go to: http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html
    To find your Senators, go to: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

    (note: you can generally use your elected official's website to locate information on the process for getting immigration casework assistance. The Privacy Release form can generally be downloaded from those sites and contains more information about how to return it to seek assistance)

    Your state officials (State Representative or State Senator) can help you with some of the more logistical problems that you’re facing: finding legal representation, connecting with an immigrant services group, dealing with detention centers, navigating forms and red tape, accessing state services, and sometimes following up with your US Senator or Congressman. They can also connect you with state agencies (if there are any in your state) that assist immigrants and refugees. Remember that not all states give their state representatives or state senators a full (or any!) staff and not all states have a full-time legislature, so the responsiveness of state officials can vary.

    Your mayor or city council (at the local level) can address many of the city issues that underlie immigration problems, especially police profiling. They may also be able to connect you to local immigrant services groups. They are even more likely to be understaffed, depending on the size of the city and their familiarity with immigrants’ issues.

    3. Make personal contact.
    If you have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with your elected official or their staff, this tends to be a very effective way to make contact (but that isn’t to say, however, that calling or letter writing won’t also get you help).

    4. Staff are people, too!
    You may never sit down with the elected official him- or herself. This does not mean that your case isn’t getting any attention! Staffers may seem like little more than go-fers, but they are actually the ones who do the bulk of the work! They will remember the ins and outs of your case and they – not the elected official – are the ones who have built the necessary relationships with contacts at ICE and other federal agencies.

    Sometimes when you’re dealing with a US Senator’s office, an intern will be responsible for a majority of the real go-fering behind your request. Some interns are lovely, bright, and committed, so give them a chance to help you out. They usually do a good job with tasks like checking on the state of your request; you probably don’t need a staffer to do that. If an intern is unable to assist you, politely ask that the staffer return your call. Also, most interns are college kids and few are prepared to answer complicated questions about immigration law, so save those for discussions with staff.

    5. Have a very specific problem or request.
    You might be feeling like it’s all falling apart and like someone needs to just do something, but don’t approach your elected officials like that! You have one of two choices: the first is to have a request in mind, like “I would like a letter of support from your office,” or “I am looking for pro bono legal help.” Your second choice is to have a goal in mind, like expedited processing.

    Some things that I have seen elected officials’ offices assist with include: following up on/supporting visa applications, following up on/supporting immigration/waiver applications, requesting expedited processing, finding legal representation, finding financial assistance, information gathering, making connections with/between service providers, tracking down an individual in detention, dealing with prisons/detention centers/police, assisting with paperwork/bureaucracy/translation, organizing informational events, collaborating with immigrant services groups, etc... No doubt there are other possibilities as well, but it depends somewhat on the official, their position, and their staff.

    6. Be respectful of their time.
    This goes for letters, phone calls, meetings… anything! Elected officials and their staff are extremely busy. It is safe to expect your elected official and their staff to be perpetually exhausted and overloaded on information, names, and faces.

    Therefore, for your request to get the attention it deserves, you need to be strategic. This means that when you call, have a meeting, or write a letter or email, it should focus on the facts. You should not preach, moralize, or ramble. What will help you most is conveying the “need to know” information clearly and efficiently. (Having been on both sides now, I know how hard it is to adhere to this suggestion, but it is important, helpful, and -- ultimately -- respectful.)

    Do not be offended if the staffer is not especially empathetic. Some can be, but for others it is a waste of their time and energy – time and energy better spent on advocating for you. They also hear some pretty disturbing stories in the process of doing immigration work; their distance may be a coping mechanism.

    One of the best ways to respect a staffer/official’s time is through organization. Approach the office with a clear outline of the important facts as well as any questions or specific requests. Knowing numbers and dates as well as having copies of documents is also crucial.

    Lastly, respect their time by being an active participant. From the perspective of staff, trying to help a constituent who seems totally uninterested in helping the staffer help them is immensely frustrating! If you do not know an important piece of information about your case, try to find it out! If you run up against red tape in the process, a staffer may be able to assist you, but if you simply didn’t go to a Googleable website or call an informational hotline, the staffer will have to spend his or her time doing those things rather than advocating for you – and everyone else on his or her “to do” list!

    7. Coordinate with your lawyer.
    Most offices are relieved to be able to coordinate with a lawyer (you will have to give the lawyer and the office permission to talk to one another as you have a privileged relationship with both). It is absolutely in your best interest to have these folks working together to support you. At the very least, you should make sure that each is aware of the other and that you update both on any new developments.

    Staffers are sometimes familiar with good/bad immigration lawyers, so this is another way to vet your lawyer.

    8. They can’t fix everything.
    There are several constraints on an elected official’s power:

    Institutional/Legal – Your elected officials are constrained by the separation of powers. The legislative branch (your Congressman, for instance) cannot bully the executive branch (like ICE or USCIS) and certainly cannot have undue influence over judicial proceedings. They usually ask that “all possible discretion be exercised on [so-and-so’s] behalf.” What that means is that they’re asking for the most sympathetic treatment possible within the bounds of the law, but unfortunately that often stops short of “fixing” most immigration problems.

    Political – Some cases (like those with serious criminal convictions) are too politically fraught for elected officials to champion openly. Even though this type of “history” is almost never that simple, staffers will usually “protect” their bosses from the sorts of cases that might make for uncomfortable headlines. The media and political opponents do not shy away from crass oversimplifications, and it is a staffer’s job to spot bad press before it happens. This constraint may not be discussed upfront, but it is helpful to remember.

    If your spouse does have “a history,” however, you should not hide it, as it might embarrass the official and hurt your credibility with staffers. You also cannot know ahead of time if your spouse’s “history” is problematic, so don’t assume that your elected officials can’t help. Even if an elected official cannot advocate for your case in the ways that you had hoped, they may still be able to assist in other ways, so don’t despair!

    Time/Staffing – By the time you consider asking your elected official for assistance, you’ve usually exhausted all other options – and that is also true for almost every person who contacts the office. What this means is that the offices doing really good immigration work are balancing countless intractable, heart-wrenching cases at once – deported husbands, detained DREAMers, foreign workers, visiting performers, children being adopted, children being abducted, refugees, victims of trafficking… you name it!

    If they can’t attend to your needs this instant, it’s not because they don’t care or they’re twiddling their thumbs. Yes, it’s frustrating to be told to wait, but – depending on the nature of your request – a few days or even a week is not excessive. Some staffers are good about checking in and letting you know that they’re still working on your case (or waiting for a response themselves); others are not. If you find yourself working with a less communicative staffer and you’re expecting news in the near future but not immediately, calling once per week is probably enough to keep your case fresh in their minds.

    -------------------
    To read more wisdom from Corin, or to converse with her, visit her blog Corin in Exile.
    Last edited by Los G; 06-03-2011 at 08:14 AM.
    Please post your immigration questions on the forum, not in a private message. Always consult an experienced lawyer before filing.
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