Reform Battle Brewing

Mexicans and Muslims Among many Worrying About Impending Immigration Law Changes


November 2016

BY JERRY HUFFMAN

It was an historic moment for Milwaukee, Wisconsin immigration attorney Elizabeth Murrar last Tuesday, or so she thought. She was about to vote, for the first time, for a woman as president. And her four-year old son Jaime was at her side to help.

“He understood ‘we’ were voting for the next President,” Murrar explains. “And we were both excited.”

Then the world changed.

From day one of his campaign, Donald Trump found the ultimate political piñata by targeting immigrants. Every immigrant must be illegal. Every immigrant was a drug dealer or a criminal. Every immigrant was going to steal your job. The president-elect successfully demonized millions of people a soundbite at a time. Even those trying to do the right thing.

In the last four years 700,000 young immigrants came forward to register with the government through DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. In exchange for their registration, and if they could pass a security check, the government agreed to not deport them or use their information to target any other family members living at the same address.

“I’m scared the Trump administration will use the DACA files to go after thousands of young people who followed the law and came in from the shadows,” says Murrar. “Any promise of protection was from the Obama administration and when Trump is sworn in all he has to do is sign a new executive order and the round-up can begin.”

“If Hillary Clinton had won, there might have been a chance for meaningful reform but that won’t happen now,” Murrar explains. “I’m afraid Congress will pass even stricter controls which will make things even more difficult. The chance for any positive reform is gone.”

Her clients and their stories are what motivate Murrar, who was singled out as one of the Milwaukee Law Journal’s Up and Coming young attorneys earlier this summer.

She talks about the Mexican parents she represents who have three young children, all citizens since they were born here, who are terrified of being deported. Their youngest daughter is critically ill and in need of almost daily medical help. But for them to stay in Milwaukee puts them at risk of being jailed. To take their child home risks her life. It’s a Sophie’s Choice scenario that would cut the heart from any parent.

For Murrar, the immigration battle also hits close to home. Both Jaime and his father, Rami, are Muslims. Trump’s original call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. included ones who are already American citizens. “How can I risk my son and his father visiting relatives outside the country if we’re not sure either of them will be allowed back in?” she wonders.

If there is one note of optimism for Murrar it may rest with House Speaker Paul Ryan. “He’s already spoken out against the wall and the Muslim ban. Ryan may be our best shot at stopping the extremists,” she says.

Justice isn’t just delayed in immigration law, it’s almost non-existent. And if you’re the one standing at the wrong end of the line after last Tuesday, life in a country that was once defined by its immigrants is about to become a lot tougher.

It makes Murrar’s job tougher, too. “But how do I walk away from these people?” she says. “Who would be here to fight for them?”

 

Jerry Huffman is an Emmy-winning television producer and owner of Go2Guy Communications, a public relations company in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s also been an immigrant himself, having lived abroad for nearly six years working with three international news organizations. He can be reached at jerhuff@hotmail.com

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