National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Action and Reaction

October 31, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The vitriol unleashed towards immigrants during the debate on immigration reform planted the seed for reaction by the immigrant community and by Latinos, who felt that much of the vitriol was directed at them.  For a couple of years, a collaboration of groups have teamed up with Spanish-language media outlets to promote naturalization, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote efforts in the Ya es Hora campaign. 

The results of the collective efforts, combined with the incentive to beat the recent fee increase of naturalization, have been impressive.  Immigrants who have naturalized in the past two years have increased the pool of naturalized immigrants by ten percent.  The We Are America Alliance, a component of the Ya es Hora campaign, claims to have registered nearly 500,000 new voters, according to their Web site.

The Immigration Policy Center has just published a report that looks at what they call New American voters—immigrants who are naturalized citizens plus their U.S.-born children who were raised in the post-1965 era, when immigration from Latin America and Asia became predominant.  These immigrants and their children have a personal connection to the immigrant experience that becomes a factor in how they evaluate candidates for office.  In this election, it is expected that approximately one in ten voters will come from this group.

These new American and ethnic voters, as they turn out on November 4, will have an unprecedented impact on the 2008 elections.  There may be more than nine million Latino voters on November 4, including two and a half million new voters.  Immigrant and ethnic voters make up a significant percentage of the electorate in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada.  A recent NALEO Educational Fund poll found that nearly 90% of Latino registered voters in those states said they were almost certain to vote in November.  The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that, nationwide, 75% of Latino registered voters view the immigration issue as “extremely” or “very” important. 

Pew reports that 65% of Latino registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, and 26% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party—the largest percentage gap seen in the past decade.  The Republican Party is showing similar appeal with Asian American voters—just 14% of whom identify themselves as Republicans.  With this group, however, there is a very large percentage who self-identify as independent or non-partisan, according to the National Asian American Survey released earlier this month.

Whether all of this translates into sufficient political power to put to rest, once and for all, the tactic of using immigration as a wedge issue remains to be seen.  You can follow the story of how the issue of immigration plays out in the elections by logging on to, which will post articles related to this story, as well as commentary from a group of polling experts and political strategists who have been following this story.

Immigration as a Wedge Issue Fades

October 31, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

This year, the Republican leadership did not use immigration as a wedge issue as it did in 2006 and as a result, there were fewer candidates using immigrants to stoke people’s fears. 

To understand why that might be, we can look at the context in which this election is taking place.  First, the use of immigration as a wedge issue in the last couple of election cycles has not particularly impressed voters.  Second, the attack on immigrants has lead to a backlash, with immigrants becoming naturalized and registered to vote in unprecedented numbers.  More on that below.  Third, the U.S. is slipping into an economic crisis that is now the number one concern of voters.  Finally, as a recent public opinion poll by NDN reports, voters in the key battleground states of Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada continue to have a positive view of undocumented immigrants and favor comprehensive immigration reform.

Even before the general election season was underway, anti-immigrant initiatives were failing in state legislatures.  This year, while a few draconian measures were passed around the country, many more failed.  In fact, the Progressive States Network  published a report noting that positive, integration-focused policies outweigh punitive anti-immigrant policies in the states.  According to the group, some punitive, laws were enacted in states controlled by very conservative legislators.  However, “in states where moderates or progressives had any significant influence, the momentum for anti-immigration legislation stalled and almost all anti-immigrant legislation failed to pass.”  Their report goes on to note that the states in which most undocumented immigrants actually live have enacted policies aimed at welcoming and integrating immigrants.

You are doing a heck of a job, Mike!

October 24, 2008 - Posted by Ali Noorani

During a period of time where the electorate (which includes a whole bunch of new citizens, by the way) is worried about a severe credit crisis, the lack of health insurance, and a looming recession, the Department of Homeland Security decides to throw a little fuel on an immigration debate that everyone seems to have forgotten about.

Thursday’s release of a final administrative rule regarding “no-match” letters is opposed from all corners of our economy. The so called “no-match” rule turns an advisory letter issued by the Social Security Administration – designed to ensure that individuals paying into the Social Security system are properly credited for their work – into a tool for tracking down undocumented workers.

Inaccurate databases, human error, and failure to report name changes can all contribute to the “no-match” problem, but this new rule is likely to turn all no-match letters into scarlet letters, leading to unnecessary dismissals and possible discriminatory hiring practices.

Given our country’s rapidly unraveling economy, measures that further weaken businesses and threaten the economic security of our nation and of legitimate workers – native and immigrant worker alike – are bizarre.

The Administration was under no legal obligation to issue these regulations. In fact, the initial rules were contested in court.

Recent news reports and Congressional hearings have uncovered scandals in the immigration enforcement agency’s handling of its charges, pointing to the need for greater accountability. Instead, both Congress and the administration are loosening the reins—Congress, by giving ICE buckets and buckets of new taxpayer dollars, and now the administration, by finalizing a policy that will be hazardous to our economic health and by dragging the Social Security Administration into the fray.

It is clear the Bush administration is determined to continue tightening the screws on immigrants with new deportation-only initiatives, using its last few months in office to put regulations in place that will make it that much more difficult for a new administration to tackle immigration in a straightforward and reasonable way.

The next administration and Congress should move quickly to help America get back on its feet by enacting immigration reform that is fiscally responsible, creates genuine security for communities, and leads to rational regulation of immigration. The no-match rule makes no contribution to those objectives and should be overturned before it disrupts the economy even further.

In the meantime, someone over at DHS needs to read a newspaper and see what is happening in the real world.

Immigration and the 2008 Election

October 17, 2008 - Posted by Ali Noorani

Less than 3 weeks to go till Election Day and mum is the word when it comes to immigration.

Yet, looking at the mathematics of the likely voter, it is increasingly clear that Hispanic, Asian and other new immigrant voters will play a significant role in the race to the White House. In 2006, more than 15 million naturalized immigrants were eligible to vote – this will be their first presidential election. Record interest in attaining citizenship will increase that population by more than ten percent by November 4th.

Immigrant voters, magnified by Hispanics for whom the immigration debate influence their ballot box decision, are likely to determine the presidential election in four of the six states President Bush carried by five percentage points or less in 2004: New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and Colorado. These voters will also influence the outcome in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan—all vital states for winning the presidency.

President Bush realized the importance of the immigrant vote, and the issue of immigration reform. Over the course of the past 8 years, President Bush delivered primetime speeches on four topics: The War, The Economy, Hurricane Katrina and Immigration Reform.

The war in Iraq and the spiraling economy deserve top tier discussion and debate, and they have received it in the current contest for the White House. Disaster relief – and the treatment of the poor by our government – has been addressed (although, I would argue, not enough).

However, for the candidates and the media to brush under the carpet of nationally televised debates an issue that underlies nearly every domestic policy issue is irresponsible. Quite simply, the candidates and the media have ghettoized the immigrant community and the issue of immigration, which, in English at least, has been ignored.

Recent history has proven that special interests will use anti-immigrant arguments to attack policy proposals aiding the middle class and American workers. Broaden health care coverage? Opponents will argue citizen children of immigrant families don’t deserve to be included. Help workers keep more of their income? They’ll say immigrants are stealing low-wage jobs. Make sure our schools educate the leaders of tomorrow? Immigrant children don’t deserve a public education, some argue. Crisis on Wall Street? Must be the fault of the immigrant homeowner. Energy independence and the environment? Immigrants drain our resources.

And so on.

The same vocal minority that opposes meaningful immigration reform will use the lack of it to block anything they don’t like.

Barack Obama and John McCain have both spoken repeatedly to immigrant groups (and are buying Spanish language attack ads) in a sterile effort to woo the immigrant voter. Both have promised to fix the immigration system; both have promised to secure the border (sometimes in reverse order). Both realize that without a modernized immigration system, our culture of family first will be fractured and the vitality of our economy will be further drained.

Yet, neither candidate prioritizes immigration as they offer their agenda to help the middle class and heal our economy.

To win the election and move a domestic policy agenda, the winning candidate needs the immigrant vote firmly in their camp. For the millions of first-time immigrant voters, the candidate and the party that demonstrates a commitment to fix our dysfunctional immigration system will get their vote.

Stalemate: The 110th Congress

October 15, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

It ain’t over until the new Congress comes in, but the 110th Congress has recessed until after the election.  The House is not scheduled to convene again until January, but it may convene in a lame duck session after the election.  The Senate will come back after the election to deal with some public land bills.

In the immigration policy arena, this Congress had little to show for its efforts.  It could have been worse.

At the beginning of this session in January, restrictionist members of Congress were coming off their victory of last year, having blocked immigration reform.  In the House, there was the SAVE Act, introduced by Democrat Heath Shuler (NC).  The bill would have mandated the nation-wide use of what is now called E-Verify—the government’s electronic worker verification system.  Republicans filed a discharge petition early this year.  The signatures of 217 Members of the House would have forced the bill to bypass committee consideration and go directly to the floor for a vote.

Forcing a vote on this enforcement-only measure would have been a problem for the Democratic contenders for President, all of whom supported comprehensive immigration reform.  House leadership saw the problem, and began the normal order consideration of the issue of electronic worker verification and the SAVE Act.  They held hearings, which provided an opportunity for opponents of mandatory worker verification to raise a lot of questions about the verification systems being contemplated.  The hearings also provided an opportunity for new allies to join the opposition.  Advocates for Social Security, for one, raised their concerns about the additional burden that implementation of a nationwide worker verification system would place on the already over-burdened Social Security Administration.

Although it picked up 186 signatures in its first month, the discharge petition for the SAVE act gained only 4 additional signatures by the end of the session.

The rest of the session was marked by continued pressure for reform coming from various constituencies, and a slow realization that constituencies will have to work together on a broader agenda if they want to advance their own goals.

For example, there were efforts to raise the cap on H-1B temporary work visas for high-skilled immigrants.  The cap is now so inadequate to meet the demand that applications are chosen by lottery.  However, members of Congress advocating for broader reforms vowed to block movement on business-related visas unless there were also provisions for the undocumented and family members.

The need for reform was reinforced in a number of hearings held by the House Immigration Subcommittee.  Most recently, on September 23, there was a hearing on the Executive Office of Immigration Review.  Committee members considered the issue of ideological bias in the hiring of immigration judges during Attorney General Gonzalez’s tenure; inconsistency between judges in asylum decisions; criticism of the immigration courts by federal appellate judges; a shortage of immigration judges and the escalating workload resulting from increased immigration enforcement actions.

There were a number of positive bills introduced in this session of Congress, mainly bills that would provide modest patches to the broken immigration system.

Positive measures in the House and Senate

October 15, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


The scandal that developed regarding medical care for immigrant detainees in detention prompted Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren to introduce the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act, H.R. 5950, which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish procedures for the delivery of medical and mental health care to immigration detainees, and specifies what the procedures include.

H.R. 5882, a bill to re-capture visas allocated by law in previous years but unused due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, passed the Immigration Subcommittee and made it to the schedule of the full Judiciary Committee.  That Committee ran out of time, although it did manage to mark up the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act in the same meeting.  (On a positive note, immigrants were not being blamed for equine cruelty.)  Business interests and advocates for more family visas worked together on this proposal to re-gain lost business and family visas.

One bill that did get through the Judiciary Committee was H.R. 6020, aimed at immigrant soldiers and their families.  The bill would streamline naturalization procedures, simplify procedures for family members to become permanent residents, and protect some family members from deportation.  Even this narrow bill aimed at providing benefits for immigrants who are putting their lives on the line for the U.S. was attacked by restrictionist members of the Judiciary Committee.  Steve King (R-IA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), in particular, offered amendment after amendment to make the bill much more restrictive.  (See the Forum’s press release here.)

On the last day of the session, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced H.R. 7255, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act. This bill is aimed at reining in some of the abuses of immigrants jailed by the Department of Homeland Security and its subcontractors.  It would improve ICE’s detention standards by legislating some of them and subjecting others to formal rulemaking. (The standards do not currently exist in legislation or regulation.)  It would also expand alternatives to detention and provide for better treatment for unaccompanied minors.


Senators Menendez and Kennedy also introduced a bill to reign in some of ICE’s abuses during raids and in detention that have come to light in the press and in Congressional hearings.  S. 3594, the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act, would offer protections against unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents; place a number of requirements on ICE in carrying out immigration raids; place restraints on ICE regarding the removal of immigrants caught in a raid at sites where there is a labor dispute or violations of labor law; offer protections for certain vulnerable individuals caught in a raid; and create an ICE Ombudsman office.

Senator Menendez is emerging as a leader on the issue of immigration.  In mid-September, he introduced S. 3514, the Reuniting Families Act, which would have (among other things): re-captured lost visas (see above); re-classified the spouses and children of permanent residents as immediate relatives; raised per-country ceilings on immigrant visas; and made it easier to obtain certain waivers.

Positive measures enacted

October 15, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Yeah, there were some.  Among them:

  • The Supplemental Security Income Extension and Disabled Refugees Act, H.R. 2608, extends through Fiscal Year 2011 the supplemental security income (SSI) benefits eligibility for certain non-citizens with pending naturalization applications—refugees, asylees, elderly non-citizens, and victims of trafficking.

  • S. 3606, the Special Immigrant Non-minister Religious Worker Program Act, extends the Religious Worker Program through March 6, 2009.

  • H.R. 5571 extends until March 6, 2009, a program that allows for a waiver of the two year foreign-residence requirement (after graduating) for eligible physicians, if they are coming to work in a medically underserved area.

  • S. 2840 establishes a timeframe on citizenship applications filed by members of the armed forces and their dependents and will smooth the naturalization process for some members of the military and their spouses by setting up a liaison between the FBI and USCIS to expedite communications between the two agencies.

  • H.R. 5501, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act, included a provision that repealed the statutory ban on entry for HIV-positive tourists and immigrants.  It will now be up to the Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether HIV infection is a “communicable disease of public health significance,” that would lead to a bar to admission for persons with HIV.


Enforcement Spending on Autopilot

October 15, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

So, there have been efforts to chip away at the very large task of overhauling the immigration system. However, this is all taking place in the context of a fear on the part of Members of Congress to not appear weak on enforcement.  Despite the fact that the laws are broken, there has been no slack in enthusiasm to pour money into enforcing those laws.

Just before it left town, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund most government agencies at last year’s levels until March 2009, when a new Congress and a new President can make decisions on spending priorities.  One of the few agencies that were funded for the full year, however, was the Department of Homeland Security, which got $40 billion for its budget in the year beginning October 1 (an increase of $6 billion from the previous year).  Some of the immigration-related spending in that budget includes:

  • An increase in the budget for ICE of $254 million, for a total of $5 billion.  This includes an additional $71 million for 1,400 additional detention beds, bringing the total to 33,400.  The total for detention and removal operations is nearly $2.5 billion. $5.4 million is allocated for the 287(g) program (training local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws).

  • Customs and Border Protection gets $7.6 billion, including funding for 4,361 new hires.

  • Appropriated funds for USCIS total $101.7 million, but $100 million of that is for the E-verify electronic worker verification program.  (Most of the budget for USCIS comes from fees paid by applicants for immigration benefits, not Congressional appropriations.)

Congress also re-authorized E-verify, which was set to expire this year, but did so for the bare minimum of time necessary to get past the start up of a new Administration.  Because the program technically expires on March 6, 2009, we anticipate  that worker verification will yet again be on the minds of restrictionists and reformers alike.  One major difference between this year and last, however, is the greater skepticism and opposition to many aspects of electronic verification in its current form and in proposals such as the SAVE Act.

There were a few positive stipulations in the spending bill for DHS—among others that detention contractors who don’t abide by ICE’s detention standards will not have their contracts renewed, and that funding for alternatives to detention was increased.

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