About Me

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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Go Vote, It's Your Duty

By Esther Cepeda
October 29, 2012

I got an alarming e-mail last week from a reader who was very angry because I recently wrote a column that did not portray Latino voters as victims who need to be catered to, cajoled, or specially invited in order to go to the polls on Election Day.

The gist of his message was that if Hispanics don't turn out to vote it won't be their fault because -- I'm paraphrasing here -- if someone has a party and certain guests don't show up, those absent guests can't be blamed for their nonattendance if they weren't formally invited.

Let's get something clear: if you are a U.S.-born or naturalized U.S. citizen of voting age, you have unquestionably been formally invited to participate in our democracy's near-sacred Election Day.

If you are a U.S.-born citizen, it is literally your birthright. And if you've spent any time in public schools -- and most private schools -- there is very little chance that you have not been repeatedly exposed to direct instruction on the workings of this country's political system.

In Illinois, as in most other states, students in the early elementary grades -- and continuing through grade 12 -- are taught about the structures and functions of state and federal systems and about election processes and responsibilities.

Even in Wyoming -- a state which, like 34 others, was given a grade of "F" in 2011 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for failing to adequately teach the civil rights movement-- the state social studies curriculum standards require teaching students, starting in fourth grade, about the rights, duties and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.

As for newer Americans, they learn about what is expected of them as they study for the U.S. Citizenship test. It's made clear in both official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services study guides and practice tests that in addition to jury duty, "Citizens have a responsibility to participate in the political process by registering and voting in elections." Responsibilities are presented and tested separately from information about rights, such as being able to run for elected office or having freedom of worship.

While it would be nice if every politician did consistent, years-long outreach to historically marginalized voting groups -- specific minority groups and women always seem to be ignored as wielders of political power until races get extremely tight -- no citizen of voting age should be waiting on any politicians' special invitation to turn out. It's our job and there is no good excuse for failing to show up for it.

Though it's too late to shame the slackers - those who didn't even bother registering to vote -- into action, there's still time to goad those who might be considering not going to the polls next Tuesday because they think it's unfair to have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Unlike journalist and moderator Bob Schieffer, who ended the final presidential debate with a benediction from his mom -- "Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong" -- here's a less self-indulgent motivation for the final stretch: Go vote, it is your duty.

Tuesday Night's Immigration Town Hall a Chance for Understanding

By Joey Kennedy
October 29, 2012

There are some people -- too many people -- who don't want to hear anything that challenges their perspectives, values or beliefs. They can't handle the uncertainty or the fear that what they may have been taught or what they have thought their whole lives is, well, wrong.

We've seen that attitude reflected plenty of times in the comments on immigration stories on al.com and, most recently, on stories leading up to Tuesday night's Immigration Town Hall meeting at UAB Hill Center's Alumni Auditorium. The meeting, featuring undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, will be from 7 to 9 p.m. and is expected to be well-attended. Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter, is the founder of Define American. He wrote two essays for us on this issue, which can be found here and here.

We're hoping to have a diverse audience, including supporters of Alabama's harsh immigration law, but who knows? One of HB 56's sponsors, state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, declined an invitation to attend and speak at the event.

And I don't think we'll see al.com readers like Eggfoot there. On a recent blog discussing Vargas' visit, Eggfoot weighed in: "Joey, what do you not understand about this issue? Your friend (Vargas) has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that he can add to the discussion of immigration policy in this country. HE IS ILLEGAL. HE DOES NOT BELONG HERE. PERIOD. He has no input to policy making. The only thing he should do is find the next bus or plane back to where ever he came from, regardless of when that happened. Now if he wants to go back to where ever he belongs and then legally immigrate to this country, we might listen to what he has to say. Until then, he is just an illegal alien criminal with no voice."

A little while later, after encouraging a more open-minded exchange, Eggfoot again: "Joey, THERE IS NO OTHER VIEW. The law is what it is and he (Vargas) is in VIOLATION of it and can ONLY make it right by following the law. He cannot invade this country and expect to change its laws to suit himself. This is an absolute. There is no grey area. You are WRONG, he is WRONG, and those on this forum and in this state that support removing illegals are RIGHT."

There's no moving Eggfoot. But he's not everybody, and I've heard from many people over the past couple weeks who appreciate that Alabama Media Group, al.com and The Birmingham News are co-sponsoring such an important event in the community. Some of those people support a tough state immigration law.

The Immigration Town Hall is the first of a series of community engagement projects to be led by The News and al.com. We plan to remain involved and active in the community in significant ways. And if you have ideas of your own, let us know.

Meanwhile, if you are attending Tuesday's Immigration Town Hall, you may want to get to Alumni Auditorium a little early. It very well could be a packed house.

If you can't attend the meeting, it will be live-streamed on al.com. Also, my colleague Edward Bowser will be holding a live chat during the event. Look for details on al.com about the live stream and chat Tuesday around noon.

We'll also discuss the Immigration Town Hall, HB 56 and Vargas during our weekly live chat at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

What do you think?

Walk Culminates in Rally Supporting Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

By Peter Wong
October 30, 2012

Adriana Limon walked the 50 miles from Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square to the Capitol in Salem so that someday her family can move back to Portland.

Her family moved from Oregon, which since 2008 requires proof of legal presence for issuance of driver’s licenses, across the Columbia River to Washington, which does not.

“We had to leave behind a house we had for 14 years,” she said Tuesday as she and others prepared to present petitions with 5,000 signatures to Gov. John Kitzhaber. “It’s sad, because we left our community, our friends, our house — where we had a lot of memories — just to move to Washington to get a license.”

Oswaldo Monroy chose to stay in Portland, but was arrested June 1 for driving without a license. His arrest triggered a hold by federal immigration officials, although he has not been deported.

“I get up at 5:30 every single day, working at two jobs, and I feel I’m still not making it,” he said at a rally at the Capitol. “With a license I could get a better job and I could do my personal business. It’s stressful, but with a car, it could be avoided.”

A small group of walkers made the trek to Salem via stops in Oregon City, Canby and Woodburn. They arrived Monday night and walked Tuesday from the fairgrounds to the Capitol, where they were joined by others.

About 60 people at the rally want Kitzhaber to take steps to restore access by undocumented immigrants to licenses. Rules have become more restrictive since a 2007 executive order by then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski and a 2008 law by the Legislature.

Proof of legal presence in the United States — such as a birth certificate, passport or tribal ID — is a requirement for obtaining a driver’s license or nondriver identification card in Oregon and most states.

The changes were enacted to comply with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which requires states to take specified steps to make driver’s licenses more secure if licenses are used as identification to board commercial aircraft or enter federal buildings.

The federal law does allow states to issue licenses without proof of legal presence if they are clearly marked as invalid for federal identification purposes. Washington and New Mexico issue such licenses, although Washington also issues an “enhanced” license that can be used for federal identification purposes and for travel to and from Canada.

A smaller group from the rally, including Jayme Limon, met with Frank Garcia, Kitzhaber’s adviser for diversity.

Limon said at the rally that Kitzhaber has listed education, health care and jobs as his top priorities.

“Unfortunately for undocumented immigrants, not having a driver’s license affects all three,” he said.

Among those watching was Anne Galisky of Portland, producer of “Papers,” a 2009 documentary about youths without immigration documents. Her next documentary is “14,” about how the U.S. Constitution was amended after the Civil War to grant automatic citizenship to those born in the United States. Some people want to repeal that section of the 14th Amendment.

“I know Gov. Kitzhaber will be welcoming and trying to do his best to work things out,” she said.

Kitzhaber has assigned a group of officials to look into alternatives, including a form of identification used in Mexico. But immigrant advocates call it a partial solution, and critics say it goes too far.

Hundreds came to the Capitol on April 18, 2011, in support — and opposition — to a bill allowing Oregon to issue licenses without proof of legal presence. But the Senate committee hearing took place after a deadline to advance legislation, and the bill died.

“We are doing the best we can,” Adriana Limon said. “We definitely want driver’s licenses back. We will see what happens.”

Immigrants' Dream Disappears

By Ruben Navarrette
October 30, 2012

When agonizing over a difficult decision, you might make a list of the pros and cons.

Now imagine doing it as one of the more than 1.4 million undocumented students who — as part of an election-year ploy intended to help the Obama administration smooth over relations with Latinos — find themselves eligible for a stay of deportation and temporary work visas under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Pro: If you're approved, you don't have to worry about being deported for two years and you can get a job if an employer will hire you.

Con: There is no path to permanent legal status, let alone citizenship. In many states, you can't use the DACA visa to get what many illegal immigrants really want: a driver's license. You put yourself at risk of deportation since you have to apply for the visa from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the very government agency that has already deported more than 1.5 million people during President Obama's first term. You also put any undocumented family members at risk because the personal information you're required to hand over to ICE includes your home address. While ICE didn't know you existed before, now it will always be part of your life since it has a file on you, your fingerprints and your personal information.

The cons have it.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who supervises ICE, recently said that the agency is getting more than 3,000 DACA applications every day. The figure should be much higher given the size of the potential applicant pool.

So far, only about 180,000 people have applied. They have to meet the qualifications — under 31 years old, arrived before age 16, have lived in the United States for at least five years continuously, no criminal record, and be a high school graduate, college student or military veteran.

Only about 4,500 applications have been approved; about 2,000 were rejected or sent back as incomplete.

Those numbers are negligible. You wonder: Is this what all the fuss is about?

Despite the hysterics you hear on right-wing talk radio, it is not as if the floodgates have been thrown open and amnesty declared with the stroke of a pen.

In fact, the vast majority of those who are eligible to apply for the program have not done so.

Why not?

Obama supporters, with a helping hand from the media, insist that it's all Mitt Romney's fault.

In an interview last month with the Denver Post, the Republican challenger said that, if he is elected, anyone who has received a DACA visa should expect that the agreement would be honored and "the visa would continue to be valid." But the next day, the Romney campaign tacked on an addendum — no new visas would be granted.

Romney also told the newspaper that he was confident that by the time the two-year visas expired, he would have in place "a full immigration reform plan." From those comments, one can infer that he intends, as part of his plan, to include a pathway to legal status for undocumented students.

Romney can't be blamed for undocumented students being wary of DACA. The Republican made his remarks in October, but immigration lawyers have been noticing a reluctance on the part of eligible applicants to apply since the program launched in August. They tell me that — for the first two months — people would call their offices, ask questions, thank them and hang up. By the time Romney stated his position, we could already see the number of DACA applications were low.

For this, we have to blame the Obama administration, which — on immigration — has been dishonest and acted in bad faith.

One example is the Secure Communities program, which requires local and state police to lend a hand to immigration agents by profiling the people they arrest for even minor infractions and handing their fingerprints over to federal authorities.

The administration told the states and localities that the program would focus only on violent criminals and that they could opt out: neither turned out to be true.

Quietly but effectively, Obama has declared war on the illegal immigrant population in this country with the goal of thinning its ranks. It worked. But it also created a climate of caution, skepticism and fear. And now trust is in short supply.

As a result of cynical politics and poor leadership, a personal decision that was always going to be difficult has become nearly impossible.

Immigrant Scholarship Program to Take Applications

Associated Press
October 29, 2012

When 25-year-old Rigoberto Padilla first enrolled in one of Chicago's community colleges in 2007, there were few financial aid options available for illegal immigrants like him.

He was brought to the country from Mexico at age 6 when his family crossed the California border illegally for a new life in Chicago.

Starting this Thursday, Illinois officials expect thousands of young immigrants to apply for help for college through a privately-funded state scholarship program.

Immigrant students in Illinois — whether they have papers or not — can apply for tuition help to Illinois colleges and universities because of the Illinois DREAM Fund, which was created by state legislation passed in 2011.

Officials with the fund say special focus will be given to students who don't have legal status to stay in the country.

"Undocumented students are ineligible for federal aid," said Tanya Cabrera, head of the fund and associate director of minority student outreach at Illinois Institute of Technology. "We're not covering everything, but we are giving students a large sum to help them minimize their financial burden."

The fund has raised $500,000 in private donations so far. Immigrant students attending two-year colleges are eligible to apply for $2,000 scholarships and those attending four-year institutions can apply for $6,000.

While some states have tightened regulations around illegal immigration in recent years, Illinois has continued to institute policies that give it some of the most immigrant-friendly policies in the country. There was little opposition to the college scholarship fund, which had backing from top leaders in the state.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the fund, saying last week in a statement that it encouraged students to "pursue their education regardless of their legal status. This fund will help remove the biggest barrier to immigrants pursuing higher education: cost."

Applicants must have at least a 2.5 GPA, and a minimum ACT score of 17 is required of those just graduating high school.

Some critics of the scholarship fund have suggested that it could lead to more illegal immigration, which Illinois officials dismissed.

"We are trying to take care of the immigrants who are here," Cabrera said. "We are trying to provide them access. It's unfortunate that others don't recognize that."

She expects 5,000 students to apply for scholarship money this year. The fund is working to raise $5 million.

"We want to make the scholarship renewable," Cabrera said. "We don't want students to saying, 'It's a one-time thing so what happens next?'"

The Illinois scholarships also come during a shift in federal policy toward young illegal immigrants.

Federal officials announced new guidelines earlier this year that provide a two-year protection from deportation to certain young people brought to this country illegally and the chance to apply for a work permit. The federal government began accepting applications in August. Some groups estimate that as many as 1.7 million people could be eligible; an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S.

Padilla is now pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He will not be applying for a Dream Fund scholarship, having secured funding through other scholarships.

But he hopes the fund will encourage undocumented students to go to college.

"More and more undocumented youth are being discouraged to continue their educations because of the immigration climate," said Padilla, also a member of the scholarship fund's administrative board. "Through the Illinois Dream Fund, we're trying to give undocumented youth a bit of hope and motivation."

Undocumented Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas Addresses Myths, Hosts Conversation on Immigration

By Madison Underwood
October 31, 2012

Jose Antonio Vargas said Tuesday night that people often ask him why he "came out" as an undocumented immigrant at all, and especially in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

"People like me are not coming out," Vargas said. "We're just letting you in. We are coming out, individually and collectively, to say we're not who you think we are, and this is not what you think it is."

Vargas was at UAB's Hill University Alumni Center in Birmingham Tuesday to host a discussion on immigration called "Do I Look Illegal? A Conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas." The event was sponsored by the Birmingham News and al.com, the UAB student group SALSA, the Society of Professional Journalist's Alabama statewide chapter, and Vargas' group, Define American.

Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to the Washington Post's coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, spoke for the first 45 minutes of the event and then fielded questions from members of the audience, people watching the live feed of the event online at al.com, and from users on Twitter.

He went over his biography and answered several frequently asked questions during his speech. He mused that some of the reaction to immigration might have something to do with the shrinking population of white people in comparison to other races.

"When they ask me, 'Where did my country go?' I don't know what country they're talking about," Vargas said. "I don't know if they know we live in the same country."

Vargas was brought to America in 1993, when he was 12. He didn't learn that he was undocumented until 1997, when he applied for a driver's license and had his documents rejected. He kept his status a secret.

"I thought I could just write my way into America," Vargas told the crowd of about 300. He said he thought if he just kept his head down and worked hard, he could make it.

"For the next 13 years, that's precisely what I did: I lied, I broke the law, so I could pay taxes, so I could support my mom in the Philippines," Vargas said. But, while covering state dinners and events in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., his status began to bother him.

"I thought I had the word 'illegal' tattooed on my forehead," Vargas said. He told his editor, who did not report him.

During the question and answer session, Vargas said he was asked earlier on Tuesday how he responded to concerns that cheap immigrant labor makes it more difficult for legal people to get jobs.

"That's a very legitimate question." Vargas said. "Wait a minute. Are you blaming the people who are getting the job, or the people that are doing the hiring?" There's a paradox, Vargas said. There is effectively a sign at the border that says "Keep Out."

"Ten yards later: 'Help Wanted."

Vargas was joined on stage by Victor Palafox, an undocumented activist from Alabama who was brought to America as a child. Asked why undocumented aliens do not serve in the military and earn their citizenship that way, he said many would if they were able.

Palafox said he has confronted politicians, including Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), and asked why they support Alabama's immigration law. "Why are you against us when we're so willing to be here?," Palafox said he asked the politicians.

Birmingham News/al.com community engagement specialist Joey Kennedy fielded a question from the audience: Who benefits from our immigration policy?

"Employers," Palafox said. "You basically have conventions of indentured servitude." Palafox said he knows people in the area who cannot leave their jobs even though they are mistreated. Vargas said he hears frequently that undocumented people are threatened with being reported by employers who don't want them to quit.

One viewer asked what advice Palafox and Vargas had for undocumented people when it comes to revealing their status.

"I would say please do so. Please, please, please do so," Palafox said. "Coming out as undocumented is one of the most liberating things."

"At the end of the day, this is something you do for yourself," Vargas said. "I am doing this because we have to work for the greater good, and because we have to speak up for the people who can't speak up for themselves."

Palafox and Vargas also each addressed a question about how they see their lives as undocumented immigrants playing out.

"My happy ending is not missing a turn signal and being deported," Palafox said. He wants to be a history teacher and teach people why he loves the country.

"I just want to be able to drive," Vargas said. "I just want a license. I just want to be able to take my grandmother on trips. I just want to be able to be a full human being. I guess that's what happiness is."

"This is arguably the most controversial, yet least understood issue in America," Vargas said in his opening speech. "People just do not know how this works."

"12 million undocumented white people from Europe crossed the border known as the Atlantic Ocean," much like, Vargas said, the approximately 12 million Latino undocumented immigrants that are thought to be in the U.S. now.

"What's the difference?" Vargas asked. "Is it because we look different? Is it because we cook different food? Or we speak different languages?"

"What exactly does an illegal look like? Can you tell?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Biden: We're 'breaking our neck' on immigration reform

By Donovan Slack
10/30/12 11:27 AM EDT

Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that he and President Obama have been breaking their necks trying to get immigration reform.

"Right now, you’ve got the president and I and a lot of Democrats out there breaking our neck trying to get a real immigration law that takes millions of people out of the shadows, making sure that 'Dreamers' don’t have to go back in many cases to countries they’ve never been," he said in an interview with the Enrique Santos radio show.

The vice president urged Latino listeners to vote for him and Obama so Republicans would be spurred to join them in passing an immigration law. He said if they turned out in large numbers and pushed Obama and Biden to victory, it would send a message to the GOP.

“If the Latino vote comes out, the Hispanic vote comes out and changes the election, all of a sudden those guys who paid no attention to you, no attention to the Hispanic community, no attention to the Latino community. All of a sudden theyre going to say, 'Oh my Lord I guess we better get in line with the president. I guess we better start moving in the direction of paying attention to this incredible, this incredible pool of talent we have out there. So this is a chance to gain influence that’s almost disproportionate to the impact that you may have directly in the election."

The president said in a Univision forum in September that he takes responsibility for failing to pass immigration reform -- he prioritized health care and the economy in the first years of his term -- but he also blamed GOP members of Congress for blocking his agenda. “In our branch, in our system of government, I am the head of the executive branch. I’m not the head of the legislature, I’m not the head of the judiciary. We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done," Obama said at the forum. "So I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn’t get it done, but I did not make a promise that we would get everything done, 100 percent when I was elected as president.”

More Mexicans Seek Asylum in U.S. as Drug Violence Rises


By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

October 28, 20125:00 a.m.

EL PASO — One of his clients, a Mexican waitress and widowed mother of three, says she played dead under a pile of bodies to survive a massacre in Ciudad Juarez led by men she recognized as federal police.
Another client says Chihuahua state police hacked off his feet after he refused to pay them bribes.
They came to El Paso seeking Carlos Spector, 58, a burly, hard-charging immigration attorney who has developed a strange specialty in this Texas border city. His clients, instead of crossing into the United States illegally and hiding out, are seeking asylum.
To the dismay of conservative critics in the U.S. who call asylum seekers "narco refugees" and some officials inMexico who call them "traitors," Spector has been trying to broaden the definition of asylum, a status granted to those fleeing persecution in their home countries. He calls them "exiles."
Compared with those fleeing other countries, relatively few Mexicans have been granted asylum. Still, the number of applications has risen rapidly and reflects, Spector says, the collapse of order in parts of Mexico.
Typical of his clients is Gabriela, 39, who was working as a secretary at the police department in the border town of Guadalupe in 2008 when she and her colleagues started receiving death threats. Some threats — possibly by drug cartels, but Gabriela was never sure — were carried out.
"They started killing them, one by one," she said.
Gabriela, who asked to be identified only by first name to protect her family, fled in 2010 with her husband and daughters, ages 17 and 9.
"If I go back, they'll kill me. And not just me, my family," she said.
Some of Spector's clients have been threatened on the streets of El Paso. So has Spector. The son of an American father and Mexican mother from Guadalupe, he is hard to miss with his red hair and beard.
Last year, a red SUV pulled up alongside Spector's car in front of what serves as his office, a mint green house in a working-class neighborhood. The man behind the wheel, all in black, leaned over his female passenger and pointed a gun at Spector.
"You've taken enough cases," he said in Spanish. The woman grinned.
Spector, a barrel-chested Air Force veteran who grew up in El Paso and spent years organizing illegal immigrant workers in Texas, was not deterred. He and his staff are juggling about 50 political asylum cases and taking on more, mostly from Chihuahua state.
Violence escalated in the Chihuahua's largest city, Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, after the Mexican government sent in troops to combat drug cartels in 2008.
As cartel violence increased in Mexico, so did requests for asylum. Such requests can basically be made in two ways, and the method often reflects the resources and circumstances of the applicant.
Some applicants seek asylum "affirmatively," meaning they already have entered the United States, sometimes with a border crossing card, and then approach U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Last fiscal year, 4,042 Mexicans sought asylum this way, more than triple the number of applications five years earlier. During the same period, the agency approval rate increased slightly — to 9% from 7%.
People may also seek asylum "defensively." A defensive claim is made when a person seeks asylum at a port of entry — such as a bridge or airport — or if the person is picked up for entering the country illegally and faces proceedings in immigration court. In the last fiscal year, 6,133 Mexicans sought asylum defensively, up from 4,510 the year before, according to U.S. Justice Departmentfigures.
Experts say this method is more adversarial because the asylum seeker is often fighting in immigration court hoping to avoid deportation.
In fiscal years 2007 through 2011, U.S. immigration courts received 21,104 defensive asylum claims from Mexicans. During the same time period, 2% of such Mexican asylum applications were granted. By contrast, out of all U.S. asylum applicants during the same period, about 24% were granted.
Among the top 25 nationalities granted asylum, Chinese often top the list. Last fiscal year, Mexicans ranked 23rd — the first time they made the list in five years.
U.S. officials say Mexican asylum applicants are reviewed like any others.
Timothy Counts, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that each asylum applicant must show "credible fear," defined as "a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."
Decades ago, political asylum was seen as "something for people fleeing wars: Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile," Spector said. For Mexicans, he said, it was tough to make a case and easier "to just come and stay with your cousins."
Then in the late 1980s, he met Ernesto Poblano.
Poblano was mayor of the Mexican border city of Ojinaga, southeast of El Paso. After he identified government officials as drug traffickers, the Chihuahua governor accused him of being a drug trafficker, and Poblano fled to the U.S. With Spector's help, he won asylum in 1991, one of the first Mexicans to do so.
"Carlos very much takes on these matters from a human rights perspective, and he has been successful in some cases where many would think he would not be," said Kathleen Walker, El Paso-based past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. She called Spector "a true crusader in trying to push the asylum envelope."
Spector argues that his clients are at risk because the Mexican government cannot or will not protect them.
Each asylum case can involve multiple people and take years to resolve. Out of 76 asylum applications Spector handled since 2008, only five have been granted, covering 15 people. None of his cases have been denied, though a few applicants have given up and returned to Mexico.
Among Spector's successes is the case of activist Saul Reyes Salazar, 46, a former city secretary in Guadalupe, who was granted asylum in January along with his wife and three children after several members of his politically active family were threatened and killed — by cartel members and corrupt Mexican soldiers, he alleges. Since 2010, more than 30 members of his family have fled to the U.S., many seeking asylum.
Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, 45, a cameraman for the Mexico City-based network Televisa, was also granted asylum last year after he and his crew were kidnapped while covering problems at a prison in Durango in 2010, a crime he alleged the Mexican government helped the Sinaloa cartel carry out.
A Mexican government official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak, acknowledged security problems in northern Mexico, particularly in Chihuahua and Tamaulipas states: "We know there are cases where people have been abused by police and the military, and we are dealing with them."
"We don't know the reasons for all people asking for asylum, but we do know people are leaving for violence-related reasons. We're not denying that. We face challenges and vulnerabilities," he said. "Our loss is your gain, in many ways — we don't want to lose young people, entrepreneurial people to go and live in another country."
He pointed to judicial reforms in Mexico that could increase prosecutions, but said it's difficult to hold officials accountable when victims flee.
U.S. immigration officials and government attorneys have argued that some of Spector's clients do not qualify for asylum — that they're no more persecuted than anyone else in Mexico.
"What this attempts to do is to stretch the definition" of asylum, said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the conservative, Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform. "The history has been once people realize there is an avenue of getting into the United States, if you say certain magic words, everyone starts using that."
As Counts, the citizenship and immigration spokesman, noted, violent conditions can support an asylum application, but "violence alone is not sufficient to qualify for asylum."
Jose Alberto Holguin crossed to El Paso from Juarez last year with Spector's help after his 26-year-old son was gunned down at a bar in 2009. Holguin, whose family runs a bus company, says the attack was punishment after he refused to pay bribes to La Linea, a gang working with the Juarez cartel that has included corrupt police.
"We're not people trying to take advantage of this country's system," Holguin, 50, said. "Most of the people seeking asylum here in the U.S. suffered a tragedy. There are those who have lost more than us — three, four sons."

Decision 2012: Why Immigration Matters

By Alicia A. Cadwell
October 26, 2012

The issue:

Illegal immigration is a decades-old problem. With an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living, and in many cases working, in the U.S. the question remains: What do we do? Lax enforcement potentially leads to more undocumented immigrants competing with U.S. citizens for jobs and some social services. But a too-tight policy could mean farmers and others in industries that rely on the cheaper labor of undocumented immigrants are left begging for workers, passing higher costs on to consumers or going out of business altogether.

Where they stand:

President Barack Obama has pushed for the DREAM Act, a path to citizenship for many young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Efforts to pass the bill have repeatedly failed, most notably in 2010 when it stalled in a Democratic-led Senate. In June, Obama announced a plan to delay deportations for many undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the DREAM Act for up to two years and let them get work permits.