According to speakers at a Livermore Immigration Forum, many immigrants end up in the U.S. because they are escaping warfare and religious persecution. In many cases this is due to U.S. intervention in their country.

The immigration topic is heated and regional because those here already feel that immigrants are taking over homes and jobs. However, most people who are here would rather be in their home country with their families and traditions.

The economy is another factor that drives immigration. People come seeking a better life.

The motivation for immigration and the experience of migrants in the United States was presented at the second Immigration Forum, Perspectives on Immigration, hosted by Livermore Indivisible Immigration Committee at Asbury United Methodist Church in Livermore on May 19.

Speakers Flavio Bravo, M.A. graduate in Migrant Study of University of San Francisco, Enrique Ramirez, Immigration Lawyer, and Spojmie Nasiri, Immigration Lawyer in Pleasanton presented their perspectives on U.S. immigration policies and their implementation. The session was moderated by Mel Chiong, Livermore Indivisible Immigration Committee member.

Flavio Bravo kicked off the forum by citing the quote of Philippino undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, “We are here because you were there.” Bravo talked about U.S. intervention in Central America. El Salvador, during its twelve-year armed conflict, received over $4.5 billion in aid from the Reagan administration. This money was not used for humanitarian purposes. Guatemala’s civil war, which lasted 36 years, received funding from the U.S. with little of the money used to help the affected population. Funds were also sent to Central American countries to support coups it favored.

He noted that President Obama’s response to the surge of unaccompanied children in 2014, negotiated with Mexico to deter the children at the U.S. southern border, and the current administration’s immigration policy have all failed to help families and children fleeing their countries for their lives.

Ramirez stated that immigrants who want to stay here or bring in family members face obstacles. He explained that people who are here, if they are working, paying taxes, and following laws, should be qualified to stay.

Difficult issues affect those who want to remain in the U.S. Children who were born in the U.S. and are therefore citizens, at age 21, can petition for citizenship for their parent(s), siblings or relatives not born in the U.S. However, that relative has to go back to his or her home country for ten years before U.S. citizenship will be considered. The Trump administration wants to move away from all reunification of families with children or relatives who are over twenty-one, calling this chain migration.

Dreamers who were brought to this country as young children remain in limbo. DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has been termed too much of a divisive issue to be talked about by Congress at this time. These children cannot leave the U.S. to go to their countries of origin to visit since they may not be allowed back in.

Nasiri revealed that she came to the U.S. at age two. She and her mother were separated for 12 years due to the Immigration Resource Center rules. Now, with the current president and the conservative Supreme Court members, even though a person might be born a citizen or a lawful permitted resident of the U.S., if they were to leave the country, they might not be permitted back in the U.S., because residents and visitors from certain countries are blocked, the majority of whom are Muslim.

As a lawyer, she sees the struggles her clients are going through dealing with the immigration system. She continued to speak on the Muslim Ban. She was at the airport when the administration first implemented the Muslim Ban. She was uplifted by the empathy and solidarity people showed then. However, the ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. Ultimately the ban, which removes protections for many immigrants and asylum seekers, and makes it more difficult for family members to immigrate, will hurt our economy, she concluded.

The U.S. administration recently added a merit-based rule, that may cause families to be separated. Work visas are being limited based on the premise that a job is being taken away from an American citizen. This policy will drive skilled people to other countries, according to speakers. Most individuals coming to work in the U.S. want to bring in their families. The new policies being proposed will stand in the way of that. Those petitioning for their spouses or even other family members, are told “no” when the filing goes to the U.S. Consulate in a country. The only possible way around this is to show that the U.S. citizen would suffer a severe hardship without the waiver.

Many countries are on temporary protective status because of a natural disaster, war, or other catastrophic occurrence in the country that allows citizens in those countries the ability to renew their work status in the U.S. The current U.S. administration is on a course to eliminate that status.

The forum was co-sponsored by Asbury United Methodist Church, Catholic Community of Pleasanton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, La Familia Counseling, Muslim Community Center East Bay, OFA East Bay Central, and St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church.