Across our nation, many organizations and leaders are campaigning for policies that treat immigrants with respect. Some of the movement’s strongest leaders have agreed to share their latest achievements and what motivates them to push forward. I’m excited to bring you an email interview with Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, an organization that has been in the forefront of the work for comprehensive immigration reform. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins carried out the interview.
Join Lynn Tramonte in fighting for fair and compassionate immigration reform and welcoming state policies! Beyond this interview, you can learn the latest about immigration reform legislation or take action.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): After you graduated from Denison University, you started working at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). What made you become involved in immigration advocacy?
Lynn Tramonte (LT): My first job after college was with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ government consulting practice in Virginia. They asked me which agencies I was interested in and I choose the INS because my grandfather was the son of Italian immigrants and he was extremely proud of them. I didn’t think I was going to find my true calling or something, I just thought it sounded interesting. At the INS, we were working on implementing “customer service” improvements to the naturalization process, but there were so many roadblocks to having an effective immigration system that couldn’t be fixed through process improvements—the law needed to change. When I learned about the fact that our government was detaining asylum-seekers—people who had already been through traumas in other countries and now we were putting them in jail until we decided whether they can stay—I was outraged and began looking for a way to help. In a classic DC moment, I met a woman socially who worked for the National Immigration Forum. When they had an opening she let me know, and I walked in and told them I was the best person for the job. They made me sweat it out, but I got the job and it became much more than that. It’s a mission.
CP: As someone with years of first-hand experience with this issue, what do you see as the main obstacles to passing the immigration bill S.744?
LT: Honestly, that’s a hard question to answer because I know we are going to pass S. 744 in the Senate. I know it’s not going to be a cake walk. I know there are amendments that are going to give us heartburn and others that are going to give us heartache. But the bill will clear the Senate. The House is a little further behind, but not much. They have a bipartisan group working on legislation just like they do in the Senate. There are a lot of questions swirling now about process—how will the House move the bill forward—but there’s a commitment from House leadership and members in both parties to do it. Immigration reform is a miracle issue in congressional politics. It used to be described as controversial and the “third rail.” Now, it’s described as the issue in Congress that is most likely to pass because it has real bipartisan support.
CP: While advocating for the immigration reform bill, what has surprised you the most?
LT: The most amazing thing to witness has been how the movement behind immigration reform has grown and become such a powerful force due to the leadership of immigrants themselves. During the Senate Judiciary Committee markup, the hearing room was packed with immigrants and their allies. They were paying rapt attention to the proceedings, following every amendment. After the vote for final passage, the crowd erupted in joy with tears and hugs everywhere. Even the lobbyists in suits and the senators felt the excitement knowing that something huge had just happened. Immigration reform was advancing to the Senate floor and it wasn’t just any immigration bill, it was a good bill. The audience started chanting “Leahy! Leahy! Leahy!” I don’t know how often that happens in Washington hearing rooms, but the immigration issue is magical. It’s people fighting for the basic right to make a living and keep their families together. The people who work on immigration reform are caring and patriotic; they’re just pushing this country to live up to its stated values.
CP: What are your favorite parts of S.744? What do you think could be improved?
LT: I love that the law was crafted with a spirit of humanity. There are little details that will matter in real people’s lives. Some families already separated by deportation will have a chance to reunite. There are provisions to ensure that retired people and others who work in the informal economy are still able to file an application for legal status. People who have been here in legal limbo for years with TPS [Temporary Protected Status]—unsure if they can put down roots but living their lives all the same—will finally get to stabilize their status. Thanks to an amendment from Senator Franken, children will be treated better by the system if their parents are detained. Thanks to an amendment from Senator Hirono, immigrants applying for legal status can pay their fines in installments. All of these changes together add up to a more humane system. It’s far from perfect, but it would be a major step forward in addressing how our nation treats immigrants.
Just as there are many things I like, there are many areas of the bill that I think go too far. The resources and requirements for border enforcement are over the top and don’t take into account the fact that we already have unprecedented amounts of enforcement. Unauthorized migration is at net zero, and the new immigration system set up by the bill will completely change the landscape. The bill creates a visa program so that immigrants coming to fill available jobs in key sectors can enter legally rather than illegally. Once this system is in place, it will be a totally different context for enforcement.
I would also like to see great prioritization of family relationships in the new immigration system—and equal treatment of all families. We’ll keep pushing for the broadest, most inclusive, best bill possible.
CP: If comprehensive immigration reform isn’t passed, what do you think our country will look like in five years? Ten years?
LT: I think Americans are already frustrated by the lack of action on this issue in Congress. For too long, the broken immigration system was a symbol of all that is wrong with Washington—a focus on partisan politicking instead of bipartisan problem-solving. But now that is changing. When Congress passes immigration reform this year, not only will they bring stability to the lives of millions of American families, but they will prove that the government can actually do the right thing and move us forward.