June 30, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber
Photo by Natmandu
Photo by Natmandu
Since 2005, the Border Patrol has been conducting criminal prosecutions for all border-crossers who enter without inspection—even first-time offenders—under the assumption that jail time will increase deterrence. This initiative began in late 2005 under the name “Operation Streamline” in the Del Rio, Texas sector, and has been expanded to Yuma, Tucson, Laredo, El Paso, and Rio Grande Valley sectors.
Prior to Operation Streamline, undocumented border crossers, if caught, were generally detained and removed to their home country, but were not prosecuted for a crime. Now, under this program, those who are caught making a first entry are prosecuted for the misdemeanor of “illegal entry,” and sentenced to up to six months in prison. Those who reenter after deportation may be prosecuted for a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
What is “streamlined” in Operation Streamline is due process. While defendants facing criminal charges (as opposed to immigration violations) have a constitutional right to representation, there are not enough defense attorneys to serve the large numbers of arrestees. Nevertheless, these cases are being pushed through the system in two days or less. After completing their prison term, these individuals are deported, now with a criminal record.
Here is what due process looks like when prosecution is done in volume.
June 18, 2009. Tucson, Arizona. Courtroom 2A in United States District Court for the District of Arizona is full of people. About 75 immigrants sit shoulder to shoulder in rows on the left, wearing shackles and handcuffs hooked to their own chain belts. The shackles jingle almost constantly throughout the proceedings. Nearly all of them have headphones to hear the court interpreter. A dozen or so attorneys, one for every five or six defendants, sit scattered throughout the courtroom. These attorneys have likely met with each of their clients for less than 30 minutes that morning or the day before.
Two women behind me in the public seats have brought the birth certificate of one of the detainees, as well as any other documents they could find, to prove he is a U.S. Citizen. When they bring these to the attorney and he raises it with the judge, she bumps that case up to the beginning of the proceedings. The government attorney asks to dismiss the prosecution with prejudice, as the detainee has a claim to citizenship.
The attorney tells the two women that, even with the birth certificate, the man won’t be released. Instead, he will go before an immigration judge to prove his citizenship in immigration court, likely not in Tucson but in Eloy, where the detention center is, over an hour’s drive away.
I think, This U.S. Citizen is being jailed and forced to prove himself in court before he will be released to go on with his life. Why? Because he lives near the border and he is not white.
The judge proceeds with a roll call of the other 75 or so prisoners: 9 women and about 65 men, represented by about 14 attorneys. All of these people have ostensibly agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the government’s dismissal of a felony charge.
She then continues with procedural rights, addressing the entire group at once: “You each have the right to an attorney to defend you. Has anyone not had time to meet with their attorney? If you have not, please stand.”
Silence. No one stands.
Is this a question of accuracy or a test of bravery? Has any of these tired and confused immigrants ever stood up and claimed that the judge seated above them is wrong, and they haven’t had enough time?
The judge says: “Let the record show that no one is standing.”
“If you have been threatened or forced to plead guilty, please stand.”
No one stands.
“Let the record show that no one is standing.”
“This conviction will always remain on your record, and you will be formally deported. If you are found in United States again without authorization you will be charged with a felony and face years in prison. If you do not understand, please stand.”
No one stands.
“Let the record show that no one is standing.”
The judge states for the record: “Written plea agreements have been signed by all prisoners.” She explains that they have a right to a trial, with the opportunity to defend themselves and confront evidence offered against them.
One by one, the judge asks each prisoner if they understand their right to a trial and if they agree to waive it.
The second prisoner says no, he doesn’t understand. The judge repeats her previous explanation, but does not provide further elaboration in non-legal language. Eventually it is discovered that this prisoner’s headphones do not operate properly and he has not followed any of the proceedings thus far. The judge tells him to sit to the side. She will repeat the explanations with him at the end.
No other prisoners say they have not understood.
After having all the prisoners say sí, and sí, to whether they understand their right to trial and agree to waive it, the judge addresses the attorneys as a group. “Do you believe your clients are competent to waive this right and have had enough time to consider their rights.”
The attorneys say “yes” in unison.
One by one, the judge states that each prisoner is charged with unlawfully entering the United States and asks how they plead.
The judge states that all the prisoners pled knowingly, competently, and without coercion.
With legal rights conceded, the prisoners now face criminal sentencing and deportation.
Wholesale justice. These show trials are just one more way in which the failure to fix our broken immigration system is eroding other aspects of our society. With Operation Streamline, the Bush Administration decided to throw prosecutorial resources into the prosecution of migrants coming here to find work. What are the opportunity costs? Heather Williams, first assistant to the federal public defender of Arizona, put it this way: Each day her office's lawyers spend on misdemeanor border-crossing cases, she said, "they're not talking about a drug case, a sex crime, a murder, assault or any number of white-collar cases—and the same is obviously true of the prosecutors." Immigration cases now represent more than 50% of all federal prosecutions.
Congress must take up comprehensive immigration reform and get it done. We need to give people who are coming here to work a work permit, not a jail sentence. Until we do, the theater of the absurd that played out in Tucson on June 18 will be repeated, day after day, all along the Southwest border.
June 30, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
President Obama meets with Members of Congress: On June 25th, President Obama met with Members of Congress to discuss immigration reform. According to reports from the meeting, the President was clear about his desire to get comprehensive reform done. The meeting did not get in to details about what would be included in a comprehensive reform package; it was more about the politics, and the need for both parties to work on this together.
In terms of a timeline, debate on legislation should begin later this year or early next year, with both the House and the Senate working on the bill at the same time.
The meeting included Members of Congress with a broad range of views. There were members who have been very outspoken in support of comprehensive reform, such as Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, as well as vocal opponents, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Lamar Smith (who nevertheless are their party’s ranking members in the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and House). Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Zoe Lofgren were also in the room. These two are the Chairs of the immigration subcommittees in the House and Senate, and the legislative debate will start, when it does, in those subcommittees.
A complete list of meeting attendees can be found here:
The President, in his remarks after the meeting, said his administration “is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes an “effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here.” DHS Secretary Napolitano has been assigned to lead a working group, to meet with leaders in the House and the Senate to start “systematically working through” the various issues making up the elements of reform.
The full remarks by the President can be found here:
A blog post about the meeting by Ali Noorani of the Forum can be found here:
Senator Schumer delivers address on comprehensive immigration reform: The day before the White House meeting, Senator Charles Schumer, who chairs the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, gave a speech at a conference organized by the Migration Policy Institute. Mr. Schumer said that if he did not believe immigration reform could be accomplished this year, he would never have chosen to lead the immigration subcommittee.
In his remarks, Sen. Schumer laid out his “seven key principles that the American people overwhelmingly support” for immigration reform. These include the curtailing of future illegal immigration; gaining operational control of our border; the adoption of a biometric-based employer verification system; requiring undocumented immigrants to register and submit to a process of converting to legal status; creating more room for family-based and employment-based immigration by reducing illegal immigration; encouraging the world’s best and brightest to come here, while discouraging businesses from using foreigners to replace capable American workers; the creation of a manageable, controlled legal flow of unskilled immigrants who can be absorbed by our economy.
Schumer stressed that “the American people will never accept immigration reform unless they truly believe that their government is committed to ending future illegal immigration.” He also acknowledged that “our border is far more secure today than it was when we began debating comprehensive immigration reform in 2005” and so it was time “for those who reflexively parrot the ‘border first’ mantra to re-engage” in the reform debate. While the American people want immigration control, they are also “strongly against turning their country into a ‘roundup republic’.” Expelling millions of people is something the public understands to be impractical and undesirable.
Sen. Schumer noted that his subcommittee has already held two hearings on topics included in comprehensive reform, and he will hold two more hearings in July. One will vet different proposals for a biometric-based employment verification system, something Mr. Schumer has long advocated.
His entire remarks can be read here:
Senator Reid reiterates his commitment: While some White House spokespersons have expressed skepticism about the ability of Congress to pass immigration reform this year, Sen. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate, has insisted that the Senate does indeed have the votes to proceed with comprehensive reform. He has said that the main problem will be finding the Senate floor time to debate the bill before the end of the year.
In the Senate, bills can face dozens of amendments, each with Senators speaking for and against, and this can take up a lot of the Senate’s time. For example, the DHS Appropriations bill, which allocates funds to the Department of Homeland Security and has been passed by the House, may take up a week of Senate floor time when Congress returns in July.
Next steps in the Congressional arena will be to hold further hearings, such as those that will be held by Sen. Schumer’s subcommittee, and to draft a bill.
Center for American Progress releases principles for immigration reform: Another event that made last week notable for immigration was the release by the Center for American Progress (CAP) of their Principles for Immigration Reform. Over the past several months, comprehensive immigration reform has been gaining support among progressive think tanks and in the progressive blogosphere. CAP will be an important player in the months ahead as we make the case for comprehensive immigration reform.
June 30, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
DHS Appropriations: On June 24th, the House passed the annual appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Highlights relating to immigration were reported in a previous update. The House report accompanying the bill can be found on-line here:
In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has passed its own version of the DHS appropriations bill. This bill allocates $11.6 billion to Customs and Border Protection, including funding for 20,063 Border Patrol agents and $800 million for fencing, infrastructure, sensors, surveillance, and other technology on the border. $5.7 billion is allocated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including $139 million for worksite enforcement; $36.2 million for 33,400 detention beds; $230 million for Fugitive Operations teams; and $195 million for the Secure Communities program. For USCIS, $118.5 million is allocated for E-Verify. The administration requested $206 million for the processing of refugee and asylum applications and military naturalization applications, to reduce the surcharge burden on other immigration applications. The Senate allocated just $5 million for the processing of military naturalization applications. The remainder of the $206 million the administration requested was not included. (The House allocated $100 million.) The $10 million initiative for immigrant integration the administration requested was also not included. The bill is expected to go to the Senate floor the week of June 6.
You can find the Committee’s report explaining its allocations here:
DREAM Act: On June 23rd, approximately 500 DREAM Act student activists were in Washington for a mock “graduation ceremony” and lobby visits on the hill. These students had a lot of compelling stories to tell, and they had some success in bumping up the number of co-sponsors of the DREAM Act in the House. Six new members signed on to the bill on that day. As of this writing, there are now 23 co-sponsors in the Senate and 80 co-sponsors in the House.
For more on the DREAM Act ceremony, see our blog post here:
Links to more information on the DREAM Act can be found on our DREAM Act legislation page:
A Miami Herald Editorial on the DREAM Act was published on June 26th:
June 29, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
Photo by Litherland
Photo by Litherland
Last Thursday, the White House hosted a bipartisan and bicameral meeting on how to begin the immigration reform process this year.
Newspapers from around the country reported on this important meeting and President Obama’s commitment to lead the way to ensure that immigration reform becomes a legislative reality.
In the opinion section of USA Today, two opposing views discuss how to address the current immigration mess. The first perspective authored by the Editorial Board, looks at the current economic recession not as a roadblock to reform but as an opportunity to fix our current immigration system:
…the recession has been teaching some useful lessons about how to ease the [immigration] crisis. Even before rising unemployment began to affect Americans, Mexicans were reacting to the changing jobs climate. Data just out from the Mexican government show 226,000 fewer people emigrated from Mexico in the year ended August 2008 than during the prior year. That's a 25% drop.
…the recession is delivering another message: Enforcement alone won't resolve the problem. If fewer illegal immigrants are coming, there's no evidence yet that those already here are leaving. In 2008, there were still about 12 million illegal residents in the USA, only slightly down from 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington think tank.
Presumably, they sense that tough times here mean tougher times where they came from, and Pew notes that many have families here, including children who are citizens. Which means the nation should provide a way for the most qualified to become legal, productive, taxpaying citizens.
—Recession freezes immigration debate but points to answers, June 29, 2009
This piece mirrors what we have often said: On immigration, it’s the economy, stupid. Undocumented immigration responds more to economic pull factors —like the ability to find a job to feed your family — than the politics of immigration enforcement tactics. If we want to move forward on immigration, we need less politicking and more problem-solving.
Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo. Although quietly acknowledging that mass deportation of 12 million undocumented immigrants is derisible —not to mention a logistical and resource nightmare— there are some who argue that “attrition through enforcement” could be a viable alternative to broad reform of our immigration system.
Enter Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). In his opinion piece, he makes numerous false claims on reform, including how legalization would bankrupt the Social Security system, despite economic reports that document the increasingly important role that immigrants can play in overcoming the demographic crisis and shoring up not only Social Security and Medicare, but the U.S. tax base and the U.S. workforce as well. He also writes:
Granting amnesty would increase illegal immigration…
To achieve immigration reform, the choices are not just amnesty or mass deportation. A strategy of "attrition through enforcement" would dramatically reduce the number of illegal immigrants over time.
If the federal government enforced our immigration laws, especially those that target the employment of illegal workers, many illegal immigrants would simply return home because they can't get jobs. Others would never come to the USA in the first place because they would not be hired
—Opposing view: Amnesty makes no sense, June 29, 2009
Wrong. The enforcement only approach toward solving our nation’s immigration problems is unrealistic and ineffective. Despite of the last administration’s beefed up enforcement tactics, there was only a small decrease in the undocumented population. Unless restrictionists think that “attrition through economic recession” is the next big proposal, we need to come up with real practical solutions.
Immigration reform would help curtail illegal immigration. It would transform a disorderly immigration system that fosters illegality into a controlled and functioning legal immigration system that accurately responds to the economic and labor needs of our country. It would secure our borders by targeting enforcement resources to fighting crime, drugs and violence; it would restore fairness to our labor markets and it will uphold workers rights and values and traditions that unite all Americans.
June 26, 2009 - Posted by Ali Noorani
Yesterday, President Obama called key members of Congress to his office to kick off this year’s immigration reform debate. President Obama has created the environment and drawn the map to comprehensive immigration reform in the 111th congress. Based on yesterday's bicameral, bipartisan meeting, it is clear the President and Members of Congress realize America yearns for an immigration solution that serves our needs as a nation.
An American solution to our immigration system includes: effective humane border and interior enforcement that respects rights and keeps communities safe; requires the registration for legal status of those here illegally so they learn English and get on a path to citizenship; reunification of families and preservation of our family immigration system; a coherent, humane, and fair legal system that respects the value of due process; and a logical viable system for regulating legal immigration and ending illegal immigration.
The naysayers who oppose reform or are caught in the old thinking about immigration reform—that it is a contentious issue rather than a consensus issue—will be proven wrong as our coalition of faith, labor, business, and community leaders focuses and sharpens the political will of the American people for the Congress to act.
Watch this space for more updates in the coming days on the momentum building in the wake of the President’s call to action. Get more information on the Reform Immigration for America campaign and how to get involved at www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org.
June 24, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Yesterday, 500 students and activists for the DREAM Act gathered for a “graduation ceremony” on Capitol Hill. There, they heard speeches from some national advocates who have been advocating for the DREAM Act for a long time. There were new allies. Bill Kamela, from the Microsoft Corporation and Maribel Solivan, from the College Board. Both of these organizations—one, a software giant; one, the creators of the SAT—have recently endorsed the DREAM Act.
As usual with this cause, the most impressive advocates were the students themselves. Articulate, smart young men and women whose courage we can only wish would rub off some on our Members of Congress. Some of the students who spoke at yesterday’s ceremony are in deportation proceedings, and America is only weeks away from losing them—men and women who would contribute greatly to America, but won’t be allowed to because right now our dysfunctional immigration policy makes no place for them.
These young men and women could only exhort their peers to fight on. And guess what? They won’t give up. If Congress doesn’t take up the DREAM Act this year—either as part of comprehensive immigration reform or on its own—they will be back again and again and again until Congress fixes the law. Each year, their numbers grow and they become more determined.
After the graduation ceremony, the DREAM students, in their graduation gowns, fanned out to lobby their Members of Congress. They had an impact. Six more members of the House agreed to sponsor the DREAM Act. (They also impressed an editorialist for the New York Times.)
Tomorrow, the President will meet with Members of Congress to kick off the latest round of debate on comprehensive immigration reform. It might be too late for some of the students who spoke at yesterday’s ceremony. But if Congress could find some courage in the determination of these young people, and pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, we will finally be able to embrace these students and let them turn their energies to making our future here in America a better one.
Photo: Maurice Belanger
June 22, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
By David Neiwert Saturday Jun 20, 2009 11:09am
Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum was on The O'Reilly Factor last night with substitute host Laura Ingraham, talking about the coming battle over immigration.
Ingraham, predictably, dismissed the key component of immigration-reform plans -- creating a path for citizenship for those immigrants already here -- as "amnesty". Cluestick to Ingraham: Since when is paying an appropriate fine for a civil violation -- which is what having illegal-immigrant status is in under our current laws -- "amnesty"? Because that's what the current plans call for.
Ingraham, though, wants all of those illegals to go back home first before they can get back in line. Noorani, fortunately, was able to point out the utter impracticality of that idea.
So Ingraham tried yet another tack: Why should we let all these undocumented workers into the workforce when we're suffering massive unemployment right now?
But that argument is predicated on the notion that immigrants "take jobs away from Americans" -- which is indeed a fundamental flaw. As Cristina Jimenez at The American Prospect pointed out a few months back, comprehensive immigration reform in fact "is a cost-effective path to short-term stimulus and long-term recovery":
Under current law, undocumented workers are at the mercy of employers to the same extent that unprotected native-born workers were before the union victories of the 1930s. Distance from those historic triumphs makes it easy to forget that when immigrants and non-immigrants are equally empowered, job quality improves and wages rise, because the common interests of immigrants and non-immigrants become much stronger than the artificial conditions that divide them. Today, as in the past, cooperation and coalition-building would benefit all immigrants and native-born Americans trying to work their way into the middle class.
The Immigration Policy Center [PDF file] explains (in a reform plan written for members of Congress):
In this economic downturn, many may argue that immigration reform is not a priority. However, reforming our broken immigration system is an important part of improving our economy. Currently, unscrupulous employers are able to exploit undocumented workers and create unfair competition by violating labor laws and paying sub-minimal wages. This is harmful to U.S. businesses and U.S. workers. Our immigration system needs to work for all Americans, not just for those employers looking for low-cost labor. We need to recognize that it would be far better if immigrant workers were here legally and could exercise the same rights on the job as native-born workers. Leveling the playing field for both workers and employers by legalizing all workers and enforcing labor laws against bad-apple employers will eliminate unfair competition and improve the wages and working conditions of all workers. Putting immigrant workers in the formal economy and higher wages will increase tax revenues and consumption.
And there's also the reality about just what niches in the economy immigrants and native-born workers fill:
“Immigrants and natives tend to differ in their educational attainment, skill sets, and occupations, and they perform jobs that often are interdependent. As a result, immigrants do not compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs. Rather, they ‘complement’ the native-born workforce—which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of natives… During the 1990-2004 period, the 90 percent of native-born workers with at least a high-school diploma experienced wage gains from immigration that ranged from 0.7 percent to 3.4 percent depending on education.”
-- Giovanni Peri, Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, Davis
Opponents of immigration reform frequently argue that immigrants “take” jobs away from many native?born workers, especially during economic hard times. If this is true, then one would expect to find high unemployment rates in those parts of the country with large numbers of immigrants—especially immigrants who have come to the United States recently and, presumably, are more willing to work for lower wages and under worse conditions than either long?term immigrants or native?born workers. Yet an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau clearly reveals that this is not the case. In fact, there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level.
Nonetheless, in spite of these realities, there's a political reality as well: moderate Democrats are still scared waaaay too easily by the right-wing nativist mouthpieces whose flying monkeys descended upon Congress in 2007 and effectively killed immigration reform -- by calling it "amnesty". Which no doubt is why it's the first word out of the mouths of people like Laura Ingraham and Lou Dobbs when they discuss reform.
The L.A. Times has a report on how the White House is moving immigration reform forward, but with a certain amount of caution -- since it's their assessment that the votes just aren't there yet:
The biggest obstacle to speedy passage of a citizenship plan, according to interviews with lawmakers and Capitol Hill strategists, is the House. Democrats hold a wide majority there, but at least 40 members represent moderate or conservative swing districts with few Latino voters where legalization plans are unpopular and often derided as "amnesty" for lawbreakers.
"This a very, very difficult issue," said Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat elected in 2006 from rural western Pennsylvania. "The Democratic Party is doing everything they can to capture this very fast-growing community, and I understand that. But I'm not in that camp. I made it clear that I was going to take a very hard line on this, and my district takes a hard line."
The White House has downplayed expectations for next week's meeting. According to Latino lawmakers who met with Obama this spring, the president had indicated that he would host a summit with lawmakers and advocacy groups, just as he did with healthcare leaders when he kicked off the debate on that front-burner issue. Instead, the immigration event will be small and private and will include only House and Senate members involved in the immigration debate.
Moreover, the White House is careful to point out that Obama wants to merely begin the debate this year. He is not promising that a plan will be passed this year, although in his campaign he said he would make the issue "a top priority in my first year as president."
Since then, Obama has made it clear that he has two primary legislative goals for the year -- a healthcare overhaul and a global warming bill. Both proposals are already putting many swing-district Democrats in a political bind.
What should immigration reform look like? The Immigration Policy Center has a sound approach:
First and foremost, the United States needs a legal immigration system that secures our borders, strengthens our economy, and supports our communities: The most practical and realistic way to reduce undocumented immigration dramatically is to bring U.S. immigration policy in line with economic and social realities. Lawmakers should require undocumented immigrants already living in the United States to apply for legal status and devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native and foreign-born. Finally, lawmakers should address the delays and restrictions that impose unreasonably long waiting times on hardworking families seeking to join close loved ones in the U.S.
The AFL-CIO has some suggestions as well:
[I]mmigration reform must fully protect U.S. workers, reduce the exploitation of immigrant workers and reduce employers’ incentive to hire undocumented workers rather than U.S. workers. The most effective way to do that is for all workers -- immigrant and native-born -- to have full and complete access to the protection of labor, health and safety and other laws. Comprehensive immigration reform must complement a strong, well-resourced and effective labor standards enforcement initiative that prioritizes workers’ rights and workplace protections. This approach will ensure that immigration does not depress wages and working conditions or encourage marginal low-wage industries that depend heavily on substandard wages, benefits and working conditions.
This seems so sound and reasonable that, of course, we can be sure that movement conservatives and their affiliated nativists will adamantly oppose it.
June 19, 2009 - Posted by Ali Noorani
Bleary-eyed and bushy-tailed, my dog and I (you can guess which one of us was bleary-eyed or bushy-tailed) dragged each other through the neighborhood early this morning. On my mind was my rather un-Friday-like schedule of meetings and the list of tasks sent to me at 2:30 in the morning. On my dog’s mind was the protection of his territory the only way he knows how…
As we turned a corner I saw something that put a silly grin on my face.
We are just two weeks in to the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America, and already the energy and enthusiasm of our grassroots activists is humbling. For the launch of the Campaign, 800 organizers from around the country—from immigrant grassroots organizations and national organizations; from synagogues, churches, and mosques; from labor union locals and federation offices; from 40 states around the country—came to Washington to plan for the fight ahead. The summit and 44 local events for the launch of the Campaign captured press attention. The 140,000 faxes sent, 20,000 phone calls dialed, and hundreds of personal visits made to Congressional offices captured the attention of the politicians who must act.
But what captured my attention at 6:45 AM on Friday June 19, 2009, was a simple bumper sticker. For, through that bumper sticker, some random person everyday is saying, “You know, I want to Reform Immigration FOR American too…”
I was heartened today to see the willingness of my neighbor to make a statement with his bumper sticker. I was also heartened today when, just a few hours after my dog and I returned to the House, the President again spoke of his support for comprehensive immigration reform. His audience this time was Esperanza USA, the largest Hispanic Evangelical network in the country. The President told the gathered ministers and community leaders that “we must build a future where the promise of America is kept for a new generation.” Keeping that promise, he said “means upholding America's tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.” And that is why, he said, “I'm committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform as President of the United States.”
Next week, the President begins a dialogue about comprehensive immigration reform with Members of Congress who will have to draft and pass comprehensive immigration reform. We look forward to the start of that process.
Our statement on the President’s address to Esperanza can be read here.
June 17, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Rep. Lofgren at Reform Immigration FOR America Town Hall
Today, the editorial pages of the Sacramento Bee and the Tennessean in Nashville added their voices to the growing number of those calling for comprehensive immigration reform. With the President slated to meet with Congressional leaders on June 25 on immigration and how to move legislation forward this year, these papers in two very different types of immigrant gateway cities weighed in with support for reform that solves the problems we face regarding immigration.
Sacramento is an “old” immigration destination, with a nearly constant stream of immigrants flowing to its environs since at least the 1840s for jobs in the gold fields and more importantly, the agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley, the world’s most productive agricultural region. The Bee’s editorial, which was also run in the Bee’s sister paper in Merced, looks at how dysfunctional the current legal immigration system is and the role Californians will play in fixing it:
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the San Jose Democrat who chairs the House immigration subcommittee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be among the key players for California. They know that a root cause of the mess is that legal channels of immigration are few and inadequate to U.S. needs.
It is extremely difficult for the foreign-born to join family members or to turn a legal temporary job into residency. Waits are routinely seven years and as long as 22 years.
As Lofgren has pointed out, the backlog problem in California is "quite severe" and "runs the gamut from family members separated from each other to Nobel Prize winners."
Employment-based visas don't begin to fill the demand for workers – especially those in less-skilled jobs such as farming or food processing. As a result, many families and employers take matters into their own hands, evading the law due to a lack of legal options.
Tennessee, and Nashville in particular, are “new” immigration destinations, typical of many parts of the New South. Job growth has been high, immigrants have been attracted to a vibrant economy, and the region has struggled with an immigrant population that has grown significantly in the last two decades, starting almost from nothing. All sorts of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant proposals and policies have been proposed – and sometimes adopted – but by-and-large, Nashville and Tennessee have remained welcoming destinations for workers and families making a new life for themselves in the United States.
The Tennessean editorial acknowledges the growing pains, but calls on its readers to work together towards solutions on immigration and assimilation.
In what has already been a year of transition and tumult for Tennessee and the nation, the debate over immigration reform has only begun to warm up.
The biggest challenge may be to fend off a disturbing surge in fear and suspicion that threatens to derail intelligent discussion of this important issue.
It is a discussion that needs to take place, at the national, state and local levels, because immigration, legal and illegal, has a profound impact on our economy, our culture and how we function as a community. This can be seen in the dispute over the U.S.-Mexico border fence; highly controversial customs raids resulting in deportation and family separations; and the competition for jobs between immigrants and local workers, which has intensified during the recession.
The Tennessean singles out two efforts for praise, the Reform Immigration For America campaign, which is fighting for comprehensive immigration reform nationally, and the Welcoming Tennessee initiative led in part by the Tennessee Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
In a separate article Tuesday, The Tennessean profiles the Welcoming Tennessee initiative, which recently won a $50,000 grant to promote immigrant integration, assimilation, and the welcoming spirit of Tennessee.
Finally, for an excellent explanation of the need for comprehensive immigration reform and why it needs to be comprehensive, we recommend Nashville immigration attorney Mario Ramos’ op-ed article, also in Wednesday’s The Tennessean, “Reform Must Be Comprehensive.”
June 15, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
On Friday, word began leaking that the White House meeting between President Obama and a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders scheduled for his Wednesday to discuss immigration reform plans had been postponed. As of this hour, no date for rescheduling has been made public.
Reaction was mixed, but few in the pro-immigrant world saw the meeting’s postponement as a sign of flagging support from the White House.
Frank Sharry of America’s Voice told Politico.com:
While we are disappointed that the meeting has been delayed, we are confident that immigration reform will move forward this fall. The president has promised to advance the issue many times, and we believe he is a man of his word.
But Florida Republican Party mover and shaker Ana Navarro was more pointed in the same Politico.com story:
They are stringing along the immig[ation] advocates and Latino groups to whom Obama owes so much. Latinos need to stand their ground, hold his feet to the fire and demand that he deliver on repeated promises to get this done in the first year or call him out on it. This is a litmus test for Hispanics, and one which so far Obama is failing.
Over at The Hill, activist Francisco Lopez, executive director of Oregon’s largest grassroots immigrant-rights coalition and a partner said:
Patience is wearing thin in the Latino and immigrant communities and President Obama needs to follow through with the commitment he made to more than 10 million Latinos that voted in the last presidential election.
And the opponents of immigration reform used the meeting’s delay to declare immigration reform dead. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), the Chair of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (more accurately, the House Immigration Restrictionist Caucus) formed by former Rep. Tom Tancredo, told The Hill that reform was already dead because it’s bad politics and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel should know that:
Rahm is a very politically sharp Chicago politician, and he sees that this is an issue that could hurt his majority severely enough in the moderate districts. And he’s smart enough to know that even though he’s getting pressure by the open-borders crowd to do something now, he’s trying to hold it off until after the next cycle.
But since all of the polls indicate that supporting immigration reform that includes legalization is the more politically popular position, Bilbray’s comments don’t make much sense. The San Jose Mercury News cites a Pew Hispanic Center poll:
In a January survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 63 percent of the public — 5 percent higher than in 2007 — favored “providing a way for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to gain legal citizenship.”
Indeed, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie disagrees with Rep. Bilbray wholeheartedly. He sees being supportive of immigration reform as a way of correcting GOP mistakes of the past, according to the Mercury News:
We sure blew it the last time on immigration reform,” Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman, told a tech group last week. If Congress takes up the issue in a serious way this year, “that would be an opportunity to make up some lost ground.”
On the Democratic side of the aisle, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee in the House, was also quoted in the Mercury News and she put the political liability of not working on immigration reform in sharp relief:
“[President Obama] has to do more than say, ‘I’m for it.’ It’s essential for him to put some personal effort into this,” said Lofgren, who will attend the White House meeting.
If nothing gets done on immigration reform this year, “Latino voters will blame him, because the president created the expectation we will see results,” she added.
We think delaying the meeting is a mistake. Momentum is building for comprehensive immigration reform with more and more Americans demanding solutions. The President is too smart not to move on immigration reform this year. We don’t see this as a signal that President Obama is stepping back from reform.
In the end, one White House meeting does not make or break comprehensive immigration reform. It is symbolically helpful because it signals to the Hill and to country that immigration reform and the President’s desire to see it happen are serious. But ultimately, it’s up top Congress to act and, meeting or not, every indication is that Congress is planning to.