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Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Supreme Court rejects tactic of prosecuting immigrants for identity theft

May 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Undocumented workers who work in regular workplaces where they get a paycheck and have taxes withdrawn are usually using Social Security numbers that were not given to them by the Social Security Administration.  They obtain numbers (often with the encouragement of the employer) that are either false numbers or are the numbers given to someone else.  They do not necessarily know what a Social Security number is; they know only that they must have one to get a job.

In the last several months of the Bush administration, federal prosecutors were charging immigrant workers caught in workplace raids with “aggravated identity theft,” a crime that carries a minimum two-year sentence with a conviction.  The prospect of two years in jail was used to get immigrants to agree to deportation.  The government charged more than 300 immigrant workers with identity theft after they were swept up in the raid in Postville, Iowa.  (You can read an account of that raid, and the use of the identity theft charge here.)

On May 4th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the government in a case where an immigrant worker was charged with aggravated identity theft. The government tried to argue that in order to convict on the identity theft charge, it did not have to prove that the worker knew the Social Security number he was using belonged to someone else.  The justices disagreed.  All of them. 

You can read more about the case in this Press Release from the American Immigration Law Foundation, and you can obtain the Court’s decision here:


Setting the stage for Immigration Reform

May 07, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


Photo by TW Collins

Leaders from non-profit organizations talked to Administration officials Wednesday to get briefed on the President’s upcoming budget proposal to be publicly released Thursday. The President’s FY2010 budget includes a set of immigration-related provisions that shows the President and the Administration are more concerned with actual security than in making headlines and scaring immigrants. The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday,


President Obama will ask Congress for $27 billion for border and transportation security in the next budget year, fulfilling a promise to the Mexican government to battle the southbound flow of illegal weapons and setting the stage for immigration reform by first addressing enforcement, administration officials said Tuesday.


…The budget includes an 18% increase for the Department of Justice's Southwest Border Initiative, which targets the violence fueled by the drug cartels.


…In devoting more money to security and enforcement, Obama may be creating some political space needed to revamp the immigration system.



The President understands that it’s important to make enforcement a priority to build confidence among the American people so when we fix the immigration system, they can be sure that we will do it right this time around and we won’t need to reform our system again in the next few years.


Moreover, the budget shows a shift in policy, making enforcement more effective and adding adequate accountability and oversight— a notable departure from the scattershot approach to enforcement of the previous administration.



Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that the budget "clearly demonstrates the president's commitment to a smart and effective immigration policy."

"We are continuing to focus on tightening our borders and stronger enforcement, and this budget gives us essential new resources and tools to do just that," she said.


…The border and immigration budget underscores differences with the Bush administration, which emphasized border fence construction, increased detention space and more teams to raid work sites. Obama has already changed the game on work-site enforcement, giving immigration agents new guidelines that shift the emphasis from illegal workers to employers who break the law by hiring them.

….The emphasis on border security isn't a surprising first step by the administration, said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank.

"It's a no-brainer that he is going to want to spend a lot of resources and build muscle at the border," she said.

But she said that Obama shouldn't stop there.

Obama budget puts security first at the border, May 6, 2009


These proposals, along with the new $10 million program to promote immigrant integration and investments to improve the immigration court system, are forceful administrative steps that lay the groundwork for immigration reform but they will not provide a long lasting solution until comprehensive immigration reform legislation is approved in Congress.


What do meatpacking factory workers, Homeland Security officials, and all 9 Justices have in common?

May 06, 2009 - Posted by Brittney Nystrom

May 12 marks the inauspicious anniversary of the immigration raid by DHS on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.   Nearly 400 undocumented immigrants were arrested as helicopters swarmed and DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents stormed the plant like SWAT-teams.  The impact of the Agriprocessors raid has been dramatic, with the company filing for bankruptcy, employers convicted of criminal wrongdoing and charged with 9,000 violations of state child labor law and $10 million in fines for wage violations, hundreds of workers being prosecuted and deported, and the town facing the loss of both its biggest employer and a large part of its population.

In an egregious misapplication of identity theft laws, US attorneys used these charges to threaten immigrant workers arrested in the Postville raid with 5 and 10 year federal prison sentences and pressured them to sign away all their rights to a fair trial by jury and to appeal. The workers were in effect forced to accept immediate deportations. As described by a federal interpreter, many of the workers were from indigenous populations from Guatemala, and did not have the language skills or cultural understanding to know what they were being charged with or what they were pleading to. Most did not even know what a Social Security Number was, let alone know that it may have belonged to another person. Many of workers served reduced five-month prison sentences and were quickly deported to their countries.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on May 4th, rejecting the prosecution of immigrant workers for aggravated identity theft. ICE and the US Attorneys in their zeal, failed to establish that the workers knew the identification belonged to someone else.  Immigration law professor Steven Legomsky told the New York Times that this decision will have a major impact on how ICE prosecutes immigrants.  He predicts the court’s ruling will make it harder for ICE to push for criminal charges against immigrants who work without proper authorization.


Yesterday, the national bar association of immigration lawyers called on the Justice Department to consider dismissing the guilty pleas of the nearly 300 workers from the Agriprocessors raid. As quoted in the NY Times, "The federal prosecutors used the law as a hammer to coerce the workers," said David Leopold, a vice president of the lawyers’ association. He said Mr. Holder should dismiss the charges in cases where the threat of prosecution under the statute "was a miscarriage of justice."

With uncanny timing, DHS last week issued internal guidance that directs ICE to refine its worksite enforcement activities to focus on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers.  These new policy guidelines focus ICE raids on the pursuing criminal prosecution of unscrupulous employers, rather than indiscriminately trying to net as many unfortunate workers as can be found working for these employers.  However, DHS also made clear that ICE would continue to detain undocumented immigrants found in worksite raids.

The workers from Postville, the Supreme Court Justices, and even DHS surprisingly agree that immigration enforcement priorities are mistaken and that we urgently need to correct them. Refocusing enforcement efforts on employers who exploit the broken immigration system for their own gain is a welcome shift, but as Ali Noorani said in response to the new guidance, “tweaking enforcement policies is no substitute for reform.”

People of faith and conscience from different traditions and all walks of life will come together in Postville on May 12th to mark the one-year anniversary of the raid. As the bells at St. Bridget’s church ring at 10am EST, the echo will carry across the country with over forty other communities in 20 different states participating in simultaneous vigils and events, ringing their church bells or sounding their shofars.

As politicians and pundits divisively argue about the potential politics of reforming immigration, the communities that stand as witnesses to the realities of failed policies are united and speaking as one. There are those pols and pundits who urge the administration and the legislature to wait. On May 12th, the bells atop the small church in Iowa will ring out in response, to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.


The Business Perspective on Immigration Reform

May 04, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


Photo by Carlo Nicora

We received the following letter from a businessman in Houston, TX. The letter highlights the common frustration over the inadequacies of our immigration system, experienced by honest employers who want to be on the right side of the law but are squeezed between a failed system that does not provide access to an adequate legal workforce and keeping their business afloat:


“As the great immigration debate rages on, I am reminded that the longer Congress does nothing, the more the ‘other’ side is winning.


Yesterday, our Human Resources person called and asked if I knew of an agency that could help a long-time, 10 year employee.   I inquired as to his problem and she explained that when we renewed our hospitalization, his social security number had been questioned since someone else in their data banks had the same number.  Upon questioning he admitted that it was not his number so we had to terminate him immediately.


In tears, he left the office but returned the next day to ask for help in exploring his options.  He explained that he has been in the country illegally all this time, is now the father of four American born children —all doing very well in school. Unfortunately, his options are few.  I called my contacts at the law firm as well as the legal assistance department at Catholic Charities and the answers were all the same:  There is no way under the existing law that he can gain legal status.


He is resolved that he will find work in the underground economy, probably working for cash without benefits and not being able to pay taxes even though he wants to pay taxes. This is not much of a future.  


These occurrences infuriate me and drive me to work even harder for immigration reform.


As I talked to this man and saw his pain, I thought about his 4 kids and how this will affect them and their attitudes about ‘their’ country and it’s treatment of their parents.  Then multiply that by about 3.5 million children, the number estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center of US born kids with one or more undocumented parents.


At our immigration meeting last Tuesday, I talked with a fellow contractor who had a similar experience.  One of his best drivers, who had worked 15 years with his company, could not renew his driver’s license.  Since this was a requirement for his job, he was terminated. 


So, who is winning this war of attrition?  As the noose tightens with audits, e-verification, social security numbers to renew licenses, more and more of our immigrant community will be driven from jobs that offer benefits and pay taxes, to the underground economy. 


The ‘other side’ says: keep up the heat!  They’ll leave the country!  Well, in my opinion that won’t happen.  They have built their lives and dreams here and they’ll find a way to survive. 


The shame is that we as a country are creating an entire class of ‘sub’ citizens and we will look back some day and be ashamed that it happened.


It’s time now to demand sensible reform.  If not, we’ll just continue to hear these same types of stories.”


Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, is another businessman echoing this frustration over our immigration system. He testified before Congress last Thursday during the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform,


Our current immigration system clearly does not work; we have to find a better way. And the theory that these [undocumented] workers should somehow take their place at the back of the line and enter this country legally defies logic. Because our current system only allows for 5,000 new unskilled applicants each year, at this rate, it would take 2,400 years just to facilitate the re-entry of the estimated 12 million undocumented residents of this country. 


...The answer is not to send these workers home, but to give them recognized legal status so that their contributions to the economy can be recorded, and they can be taxed for public services like every other member of the community. 

Testimony of Jeff Moseley, April 30, 2009

As seen in these commentaries, the business community knows first-hand the urgency to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Reform is necessary to fit our immigration system to reality, to match our system to the economic needs of this country, and to restore fairness in the labor market.


This Week in Immigration En Español

May 01, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

america's voice virtual March

Photo by America's Voice- Virtual March

This Week in Immigration En Español

April 27 – May 1, 2009


This was a very eventful week for immigration news both in Spanish and English. First, President Obama stated in a press conference that  he anticipates the immigration reform process to move forward this year; then on the next day, the Senate Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform with a stellar witness list. On the same day, Secretary Napolitano announced a new set of DHS guidelines on immigration worksite enforcement, focusing on criminal employers rather than undocumented workers, and today, thousands of activists and immigrants across the country took to the street to raise their voices in support of immigration reform.


Here are notable stories from Spanish language media:


1.    El Diario/La Prensa The largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York featured an editorial recapping the week’s immigration events and how momentum is building for immigration reform. The piece was appropriately titled: “It’s time to reform immigration”


Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held hearings on immigration reform. On Wednesday, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to moving immigration reform forward. And today, millions of Americans are rallying for an overhaul of our immigration system.


Contrary to questions around the “right” political timing, there is a great urgency and clear will to tackle immigration reform. Too many people have already suffered the devastating consequences of a system that has separated families, deferred the dreams of thousands of high school graduates, and allowed for human rights violations in detention centers…

As SEIU Vice President Eliseo Medina stated in his testimony yesterday before the Senate, “The current broken system has given rise to a three-tier caste worker system in America - citizens, guest workers and undocumented workers.”

An underclass of workers remains vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. This, in turn, allows employers to put downward pressure on wages. Legalizing these workers would undercut this abuse and protect the rights and position of workers in general.


This is one of the aspects of immigration reform that must be a center piece of any reform package. But make no mistake, however challenging the task, our nation is sending every sign that it is ready, willing and able to push ahead.

Hora de reformar la inmigración, May 1, 2009,Translated by Katherine Vargas


2.    EFE (One of the largest Spanish-language newswire services in the U.S.) reported on today’s immigration reform rallies:


…Tens of thousands of activists across the country are part of a national day of mobilization in 2009 to demand the suspension of immigration raids and for Congress to pass immigration reform…


After the unsuccessful attempt to come up with a viable solution, Congress is examining yet again what to do with the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country…


Activists and organizers told EFE that the country cannot postpone any longer a solution to our immigration problem and that immigration raids have created a true humanitarian crisis. “Today’s message emphasizes that immigrants want for Congress to address their concerns and that an immigration reform is need. Immigration reform is more than a political issue is also linked to the country’s economy”, said Mario Quiroz, spokesman for CASA de Maryland


Jaime Contreras, SEIU (Service Employees International Union)

Said that immigration reform can help appease the economic recession because “a legalization program will render greater tax revenue [from new taxpayers], an even playing field for workers and a more solid economy”


En medio de epidemia de gripa porcina, movilización nacional exige una reforma, May 1, 2009. Translated by Katherine Vargas


You can read live commentaries and pictures from May 1st rallies at:


You can join the “virtual” march in support of immigration reform at:


3.    Diario San Diego: This online publication in San Diego commented on the announcement of the new DHS directives targeting bad employers as opposed to undocumented workers; Ali Noorani is featured in this article titled “Groups: New immigration enforcement focus on employers, is not enough”



Ali Noorani, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum said that “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is starting to move in a more helpful direction, but tweaking enforcement policies is no substitute for reform.” 

According to the New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security is planning to publish …these new guidelines focusing on supervisors and employers through “criminal investigations carefully planned”


Noorani considered “a good first step” to focus on employers that are” exploiting the current immigration status” but that immigrant families are still confronting face the same truncated due process, deplorable detention conditions, and drive-by deportations that plague the system now.


Michele Waslin, a policy analyst with the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) said that the current system does not offer the needed legal protections for immigrants and employers. “Instead of going through the sidelines, real reform should include an overhaul of the system to ensure that immigration enforcement is effective, just and humane”.

Grupos consideran insuficiente enfoque de inmigración a empleadores, April 30, 2009 Translated by Katherine Vargas

If there was a single message that came out of this busy week, it was that momentum is continuing to build for immigration reform, wheels are beginning to turn and the immigration reform process will begin soon.  We applaud Senator Schumer (D-NY) for organizing an insightful hearing that made the economic, moral and practical enforcement arguments in favor of immigration reform. This was an important and significant first step to begin discussing workable solutions to our dysfunctional immigration system.


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