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Hurricanes and the Border Patrol

July 22, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

At this hour, Hurricane Dolly does not appear to be a powerful storm that will cause major damage or trigger evacuations.  However, the potential path of the storm – towards the border of the Texas Gulf Coast and Mexico – underscores an issue that has been brewing for several months.  What will the Border Patrol do in event of an evacuation in Texas or elsewhere with regards to identity checkpoints? 

On May 16, the San Antonio Express-News reported that the Border Patrol would maintain identity checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley:

Ending years of speculation about the fate of the Rio Grande Valley’s unauthorized immigrants during a hurricane evacuation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has confirmed it will check the citizenship of people boarding buses to leave the Valley and arriving at inland traffic checkpoints.

Those determined to be in the country illegally will be taken to detention centers away from the hurricane’s path and later processed for deportation.

“It’s business as usual at the checkpoints,” said Dan Doty, spokesman for CBP’s Rio Grande Valley sector. “We’ll still check everybody.” – “ID Still Required In Valley Disaster,” San Antonio Express-News, May 16, 2008

But the article indicates the CBP may be more lax in the event of an evacuation so as not to risk the lives of immigrants and non-immigrants alike.  However, the article also notes that the Border Patrol won’t say that they will be lax in public so that they do not appear to be soft or open to an influx of immigrants during a disaster. 

At a recent discussion with reporters, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said he didn’t expect the Border Patrol to publicize a policy on the checkpoints for fear of inviting a free-for-all for unauthorized traffic. The unofficial word, he said, was that agents recognized they’d have to be more lax amid a disaster.

But Tuesday, a reporter photographing a mock evacuation for the Rio Grande Guardian Web site saw Border Patrol agents rehearsing citizenship document checks of people boarding buses. CBP’s Doty confirmed this was the planned procedure and said those determined to be unauthorized immigrants would be taken to separate shelters, likely detention centers in Laredo or San Antonio. He said the highway checkpoints would stay open. – “ID Still Required In Valley Disaster,” San Antonio Express-News, May 16, 2008

Just last week, the Texas Civil Rights Review published a Q&A on a lawsuit filed to force the Border Patrol to publicly articulate their policy.  First published in the Mid-Valley Town Crier of McAllen, Texas,  Nick Braune interviewed Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Corinna Spencer-Scheurich.

Nick Braune: The Monitor reported that a number of groups, including LUPE and Brownsville’s Proyecto Digna, have filed a suit to find out evacuation procedures and policies. One lawyer was quoted as saying that the Border Patrol is being “reckless” and that they would be “creating a danger for everyone” if they start asking people for identification during an evacuation. Are those comments too strong?

Corinna Spencer-Scheurich: No, I don’t think they are too strong. Border Patrol is being reckless because the most important thing in advance of a disaster is to have a plan that everyone knows. We saw what happened when Houston residents tried to evacuate before Hurricane Rita. It took more than 24 hours for people to reach Dallas. Only half of the residents ended up evacuating. Luckily the main force of Rita did not hit Houston. What is clear is that in the event of a hurricane evacuation, everyone needs to be prepared and we have to get people to safety as quickly as possible.

Can you imagine the additional hold up at the Falfurrias checkpoint if Border Patrol is checking IDs? Holiday weekends are bad enough! And some people will not evacuate, risking harm, because they know they might run out of gas because of the gridlock or because they might have other problems. People who might have trouble proving their immigration status or have family members with that problem are also not going to flee. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen. – “Forcing the Border Patrol to Answer a Question,” Texas Civil Right Review, July 17, 2008

Recall that many immigrant families include a mix of “legal” and “illegal” members, so if the Border Patrol does not articulate their policy to the community, what are people to do.  Flee a natural disaster and risk my family or don’t flee a natural disaster and risk my family?  What would you do?

Dolly may not trigger such dire decision making, but as we move to some of the predicted 15 named storms this season, other storms might.

Are We Being Given the Business?

July 21, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

Business is the focus of today’s news and opinion on immigration.  Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post takes a front-page look at enforcement against businesses caught hiring unauthorized workers, concluding that the number of criminal prosecutions against employers and supervisors is up, but that barely a dent has been made in the overall immigration mess:

A three-year-old enforcement campaign against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is increasingly resulting in arrests and criminal convictions, using evidence gathered by phone taps, undercover agents and prisoners who agree to serve as government witnesses.

But the crackdown’s relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation…

In the first nine months of this fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made 937 criminal arrests at U.S. workplaces, more than 10 times as many as the 72 it arrested five years ago. Of those arrested this year, 99 were company supervisors, compared with 93 in 2007. – “In Immigration Cases, Employers Feel The Pressure,” Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, July 21, 2008

But as Hsu’s story points out, officials from both the Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration that preceded it feel that no significant progress at curtailing illegal hiring will occur until Congress changes the laws:

Stewart A. Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, recently told immigration experts the disparity can be traced to ineffective policies that need to be addressed by Congress…

“If you want law enforcement, you have to have laws that are enforceable,” said Doris M. Meissner, who headed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration. The 1986 law banning the hiring of illegal immigrants, she said, “has just been chronically flawed from the time it was passed.” – “In Immigration Cases, Employers Feel The Pressure,” Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, July 21, 2008

Meanwhile, the editorial page at the New York Times follows up on Julia Preston’s front-page report July 6 (“Employers Fight Tough Measures on Immigration”) on the business community getting more engaged in immigration reform efforts in Washington and around the country.  Today’s editorial notes the hodge-podge of state and local measures going after immigrants and businesses that hire immigrants unauthorized to work:

States and cities complain about the broken immigration system, but they can’t create the intricate web of policies needed to fix it — that’s up to Congress. All they can do is try to crack down locally on illegal immigrants and the businesses that hire them. The result has been haphazard enforcement without reform, which only makes the problem worse. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

The Times editorial goes on to note that businesses who want to play by the rules are the main losers in the current equation:

Many companies have operated with impunity in hiring and abusing undocumented low-wage workers, people who are all the more compliant because they are illegal. Like immigrants, good employers need a path to get right and stay right with the law. Current immigration law — with far too few visas and no path to legalization for the undocumented — does not provide one, and misguided state and local enforcement efforts simply layer on the confusion. They impose undue hardships on by-the-books businesses and reward the exploiters. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

The editorial then calls on the business community to step-up to the plate when it comes to fixing our immigration system:

If the country is ever going to emerge from the immigration chaos that Congress bequeathed it last year, it will be because business interests — largely seen as AWOL in the bitter debate — finally joined the fight. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

While we welcome more business voices at the table – and have been working with this wing of the pro-immigrant, pro-reform movement for years – other key actors that have been AWOL for most of the last year (at least in a constructive sense) are the President and Congress.  We would always welcome them back to the table.

Good News From The States

July 11, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

Two items from this week. First, the Boston Globe and other media (link, link) report that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed Executive Order 503: Integrating Immigrants and Refugees Into The Commonwealth. The order launches an intensive statewide project focused on how to better integrate Massachusetts immigrant and refugee populations into the civic and economic life of the state. Known as the New Americans Initiative, it is modeled after an Executive Order signed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2005.

“Massachusetts is and has always been a Commonwealth of immigrants,” Patrick said in a statement yesterday after he signed an executive order creating the initiative. He is expected to speak publicly on the issue today at a naturalization ceremony in Faneuil Hall. “Although immigration reform and enforcement is a federal issue, today’s reality is that states can and must find creative ways to better integrate immigrant and refugee populations through more coordinated services, including English language classes, job training, and citizenship assistance.”

This is accomplished by a public/private partnership that will include a series of public meetings and studies aimed at making recommendations to Gov. Patrick in July 2009.

Quite a different approach than that of neighboring Rhode Island, where Governor Donald Carcieri recently signed an executive order forcing state police to go after immigrants, which the state police were none to happy about. As in most states, the politics of immigrant bashing received a yawn from voters, according to a recent Providence Journal story.

Last night, Governor Carcieri was again on national television –– conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly’s show –– to talk about his executive order cracking down on immigration.

While Carcieri, some legislators and the talk-radio hosts may think the issue is gaining traction locally, a recent public opinion survey by veteran pollster and political science Prof. Victor Profughi, of Rhode Island College, shows a substantial disconnect between average Rhode Islanders and political figures pushing illegal immigration as a top issue.

As noted above, Gov. Patrick followed up the executive order with by attending a naturalization ceremony in Faneuil Hall. Kudos to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition in Boston (which was once run by Ali Noorani, the head of the National Immigration Forum.)

Sanctuary County

July 08, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Here in Washington, restrictionist members of Congress use the term “sanctuary” to describe a city or town that restricts its law enforcement agency from going after undocumented immigrants unless those immigrants have committed some real crime that might threaten public safety. 

In the past couple of months, however, politicians in the state of Arizona have become concerned that Maricopa County, Arizona, is becoming a sanctuary of another sort.  That county is under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has gained national notoriety for his high-profile sweeps of immigrant communities and roundups of undocumented immigrants. 

While he and his men have concentrated on undocumented immigrants who are working here without permission, a backlog of tens of thousands of unserved felony warrants has built up under his watch. 

The Arizona Republic noted in an editorial last Thursday (July 3) that not only is Arpiao not acting against the worst of the threats to the county’s citizens, but he is causing other police agencies in the country to divert their resources as well.  The Sheriff recently staged sweeps in Mesa, Arizona, dubbed “Operation Ghost.”

Arpaio’s “Operation Ghost” was well-named because it will likely produce phantom results. His previous “sweeps” around the Valley did not subsequently lower the crime rate in those areas, according to an analysis of police records done by The Republic. 

But Operation Ghost did result in some very real costs for Mesa, where Police Chief George Gascón had to deploy about 130 officers the first day of Arpaio’s sweep and about 70 the second day. He felt they were needed to keep the peace among the different groups of protesters attracted to Arpaio’s shows.

Some regular police work probably had to wait while Mesa cops watched over the sheriff’s sweep. “Stop Wasting Funds,” Arizona Republic, July 3, 2008

While Sheriff Joe and his boys have been rounding up undocumented workers, 40,000 felons have been free to walk the streets.  In a perverse way, it makes sense.  There is little chance that the busboys, landscapers and maids who are the targets of the Maricopa County Sheriff will be shooting back.  The drug dealers, robbers, murderers, and other felons, on the other hand?  Well, hey, they could be dangerous.  Best leave them to some other agency.

The governor has not been impressed, and she has recently shifted some state funding away from the Sheriff’s office to other agencies more willing to carry out the job of keeping county residents safe.

It is traditionally the county sheriff’s job to go after folks with outstanding warrants. But Arpaio neglected that duty so completely that Gov. Janet Napolitano pulled $1.6 million in funding from the Sheriff’s Office and gave it to a state-led fugitive task force, instead.

Other agencies simply do a better job. “Stop Wasting Funds,” Arizona Republic, July 3, 2008

At a time when Arizona’s economy is slowing, the state simply cannot afford to waste its law enforcement dollars on media celebrity at the expense of public safety.

WaPo and NYT Must Reads

July 07, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

Two must reads we’ve seen so far today:  One was today’s Washington Post Metro section front page look at law students aiding in immigration law clinics.  With so much deportation going on and with so many obstacles to legal immigration and staying legal, it’s all hands on deck. 

The second was the lead story in Sunday’s New York Times by Julia Preston on how the business community is starting to stir to put pressure on GOP lawmakers about immigration.  Employers trying to play by the rules are being tarred with the same brush as bottom-feeding employers who exploit the illegal status of workers.  Until we find ways of allowing for sufficient legal immigration, many small business owners are suffering.

The Post story looks at how much need there is for legal counsel in immigration-related matters.

But there is a growing realization, students and professors said, that policies on issues such as asylum and due process are evolving as never before, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A growing immigrant population also means that legal status often complicates what might have once been simple criminal or labor cases.

“It’s not just that people think immigration is important, but they’re seeing that it affects everything,” said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law professor who will join UCLA in the fall.  – Karin Brulliard, “Law Students Rush to Meet Needs In Booming Field of Immigration,” Washington Post, July 7, 2008

The Times story looks at how at the state and local level, businesses are uniting to keep up the pressure for immigration reform and beat back harmful initiatives aimed at immigrants – which are having a tremendous impact on the economy and business environment.

The offensive by businesses has been spurred by the federal enforcement crackdown, by inaction in Congress on immigration legislation and by a rush of punitive state measures last year that created a checkerboard of conflicting requirements. Many employers found themselves on the political defensive as they grappled, even in an economic downturn, with shortages of low-wage labor.

Mike Gilsdorf, the owner of a 37-year-old landscaping nursery in Littleton, Colo., saw the need for action by businesses last winter when he advertised with the Labor Department, as he does every year, for 40 seasonal workers at market-rate wages to plant, prune and carry his shrubs in the summer heat. Only one local worker responded to the notice, he said, and then did not show up for the job.

Mr. Gilsdorf was able to fill his labor force with legal immigrants from Mexico through a federal guest worker program. But that program has a tight annual cap, and Mr. Gilsdorf realized that he might not be so lucky next year. His business could fail, he said, and then even his American workers would lose their jobs.

“We’re not hiring illegals, we’re not paying under the table,” Mr. Gilsdorf said. “But if we don’t get in under the cap and nobody is answering our ads, we don’t have employees.” His group, Colorado Employers for Immigration Reform, is pressing Congress for a much larger and more flexible guest worker program. – Julia Preston, “Employers Fight Tough Measures on Immigration,” New York Times, July 6, 2008

Littleton, Colorado?  Isn’t that where anti-legal-immigration firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo is from?  Boy, his agenda sure is helping the local folks!!!

For more information on what the business community is facing and how they are pushing back, visit ImmigrationWorksUSA.

NYT Edit: False Victory at the Border

July 05, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

If our goal is to have an immigration system that almost all rational intending immigrants choose to go through rather than around, then we need to do more than just focus on fencing and boots on the ground at our Southern border.  Today’s lead editorial in the New York Times makes this point superbly.

Immigration policy has mostly been directed by opponents of legal immigration for the last two decades.  They have helped bottle up legal immigration channels so that they can then shout bloody murder at the resulting illegalities in the labor market.  They direct all the focus on the fence –”The Great Wall of Chihuahua,” which the Supreme Court says can be built with no consideration for any laws, foreign or domestic — and on the Border Patrol force than cannot recruit, train, and deploy agents at nearly the rate the do-little Congress has authorized.  Add substandard detention conditions, massive and record-setting round-ups, and truncated or non-existent due process for those swept up, and you have our current approach to controlling and regulating immigration.

But how effective is it?

The National Guard is leaving the border at the end of the month. And even though the border states want them to stay, the Bush administration is declaring victory. That’s how good things are down there. 

Too bad, though, that the results that restrictionists predict from victory — an end to illegal immigration, the expulsion of illegal immigrants, the restoration of jobs to American workers, the protection of American culture and language from a Hispanic invasion — are not coming anytime soon. That’s because fixing immigration has very little to do with any of the hustle and bustle along the 2,000-mile line from San Diego to Brownsville, Tex.

According to research by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego (summarized here) more than 90% of intending immigrants from Mexico get through the gauntlet at the border somehow.

Maybe establishing law and order in our immigration system is more complicated than just focusing on the border, enforcement, and deportation alone.

This is not to argue for giving up on enforcement. The real victory will come when a repaired, well-patrolled border coincides with a repaired, well-run immigration system that requires undocumented workers to come forward and be legalized, has expanded avenues for legal workers, including would-be citizens, and cracks down on illegal hiring as staunchly as it protects workers’ rights.

There is a long list of things to do to make the immigration system correspond to American values and economic realities, and the country is doing just about none of them. We’re paying a huge price to pay for an ineffective fence and some symbolic victories on the border. — “False Victory at the Border,” New York Times editorial, July 5, 2008

Well said, Grey Lady.

Happy July 4

July 04, 2008 - Posted by Mario Moreno

Quotes about immigration to the United States…

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. – George Washington

We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they had seen before, to get rid of the things that divide and to make sure of the things that unite. – Woodrow Wilson

Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat. – Calvin Coolidge

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life. – John F. Kennedy

I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American. – Ronald Reagan

Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans—liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal—the largest voluntary migrations in recorded history. Across the Pacific, across the Atlantic, they came from every point on the compass—many passing beneath the Statue of Liberty—with fear and vision, with sorrow and adventure, fleeing tyranny or terror, seeking haven, and all seeking hope…Immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future. – George H. W. Bush

More than any other nation on Earth, America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants. In each generation, they have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people. Bearing different memories, honoring different heritages, they have strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, renewed our promise of freedom and opportunity for all…. – Bill Clinton

It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped make America the leader of the world. And our generation will ensure that America remains a beacon of liberty and the most hope fill society this world has ever known. – George W. Bush

I’m troubled by [the immigration debate]. When [my family] came from England during the war, people said, “You are welcome here. What can we do to help?” I am a beneficiary of the American people’s generosity, and I hope we can have comprehensive immigration legislation that allows this country to continue to be enriched by those who were not born here. – Madeline Albright

Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances. – Robert F. Kennedy

The United States should be “an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.” – Thomas Paine

I’ve always argued that this country has benefited immensely from the fact that we draw people from all over the world. – Alan Greenspan

Immigrant families have integrated themselves into our communities, establishing deep roots. Whenever they have settled, they have made lasting contributions to the economic vitality and diversity of our communities and our nation. Our economy depends on these hard-working, taxpaying workers. They have assisted America in its economic boom. – Senator Edward M. Kennedy

When you enlisted into the armed forces you swore to support and defend a Constitution that did not yet fully apply to you. You chose to endure the same sacrifices as your fellow comrades in arms to preserve the freedom of a land that was not yet fully yours. You accepted that you might have to pay the ultimate price on behalf of a nation to which you did not fully belong. Now, you will officially become citizens of the United States, a country to which each of you has already borne true faith and allegiance in your hearts and your deeds. – Gen. Petraeus addressing a naturalization ceremony for 161 at Camp Victory, Iraq, on Independence Day, 2007

They were willing to fight for a country that they weren’t even citizens of. I wish all Americans felt that way about their country. – Capt. Kirk Thorsteinson during a naturalization ceremony in Kuwait, June 2007

“Dear America, I am an Arab American, but a proud American just like you (…) On that dreadful day, September 11th, my duffel bag was already packed and I was waiting to answer the call of duty. Why was I ready? I also want a better and safer America just like you. When it comes to patriotism and loyalty, I am red, white and blue, just like you.” — Sergeant Mahmoud El-Yousef in an open letter to American news outlets, February 2007

 …I felt I had an obligation to serve the country that helped give my family a new life. It was my way of thanking America – U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Jamal S. Baadani, a native of Egypt and founder of the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans

I choose the citizenship because I believe what the Americans believe, their value system, their freedoms – Army Chaplain Jin Hee Chang, a native of South Korea

You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like [to] not be an American – [to] not have been an American all your life — and then, suddenly, with the words of a man in flowing robes to be one, for that moment and forever after. One moment you belong with your fathers to a million dead yesterdays — the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows – Naturalized American citizen George Magar Mardikian, a native of Armenia who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Harry S Truman for his contributions to his adopted country

I’m glad to be in America and an American at the same time, that’s happiness. A country you can express yourself, you have freedom of speech and everything you want to do, and you can do it. It’s wonderful. – Lilian Loro, Sudan refugee who is now a naturalized American citizen

I was once asked by a reporter why as a non-citizen of the United States, I volunteered to join the military and serve in Vietnam. I answered, “I was always an American in my heart. – Alfred Rascón, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient

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