Olawale Advocates for Immigration Reform

I was honored when I got a call from the Columbus’ Mayor’s Office to be a speaker and one of the five panelists at an immigration reform forum being organized by the City of Columbus and co-sponsored by YWCA Columbus titled “A Conversation on Immigration Reform” scheduled for August 20, 2013. I was slated as the only immigration attorney on the panel and was requested to speak on the need for immigration reform in reference to family reunification.


The speakers and other panelists include Maria Klemack McGraw, Grove City Council member, Benito Lucio,Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services’ Migrant Worker Ombudsman, Pat Valente from The International Entrepreneurs (TiEOhio), Carl Ruby, Director for Bibles, Badges and business for Immigration Reform of Ohio and Michael Dalby, President and CEO, Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Also present were the press, city officials, politicians and staffers from Congress woman Joyce Beaty’s office. Congressman Pat Tiberi and Steve Stivers were invited, but they sent their regrets.


I brought my years of experience as an immigration attorney and personal experience as a second generation immigration reform beneficiary to the forum while I detailed the reasons we need to reform existing law to allow family reunification without unnecessary delay. I am a second generation beneficiary of the last immigration reform law that was passed in the 1980’s.


I arrived in the United States in 1997 without a dime but with big dreams and the determination to succeed. From 1999 to 2002, I was enrolled in college full time, while also working two full-time jobs concurrently and still managed to graduate college in three years. After college, I immediately enrolled in law school and worked all through law school. After law school, I worked for a law firm for four years before starting my own practice, which I have managed successfully for another four years. Thereby, I am able to contribute to both the Ohio and the American economy as an entrepreneur and an employer of labor. All these were possible because of the 1986 immigration reform, this personal story also accentuates the fact that new immigrants create new businesses; they are hard working and help shore up the economy. When given the opportunity, immigrants often thrive because of their work ethics and determination.


A Conversation on Immigration Reform (Click link to watch video)


I spoke about how current immigration laws impede family reunification, especially for permanent residents who do not obtain residency simultaneously or contemporaneously with their spouses and children. A green card holder has to wait between three to five years after petitioning for their spouses and children before the family members can join them. If peradventure, the spouses and children are already in the United States, they are not allowed any temporary immigration relief such as work authorization or travel permit while their petition is pending, neither would they be allowed to adjust their status in the United States even when their visas become available unless their non-immigrant status have not expired.


The long wait for visas and reunification often destroy marriages and alienate children from their parents. Based on my professional experience, when an immigrant spouse has to wait between three to five years for their spouse to join them, by the time they reunify, they would have become strangers to each other. Strangers created by the long years of separation, living in different countries and experiencing different cultures. The magic and affection that once held them together would have died because it wasn’t frozen in time like the visa.


With the children of permanent residents, the long wait strains the parent-child relationship. Thus, by the time the child joins their parent, both would have lost the time to bond, the parent would have missed integral period of developments in the child’s life; as such the child may not be able to develop the feeling of intimacy and trust a child develops for a parent because of the years of separation.


Immigrants should not be forced to choose between living in the United States to the detriment and exclusion of their spouses and children abroad. The family is the foundation of a nation. As such we should ensure that we are not systematically gradually breaking down the family unit of new immigrants by making them wait for so long before reunifying. Since our collective American consciousness put the family institution on a high pedestal, we ought to do the same for new immigrants and ensure reunification with their families within a reasonable time.


Emmanuel Olawale, Esq.