National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Updates Archives

Enough! Detainees on hunger strike call for new course on immigration detention

July 31, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


More news today about the deplorable and un-American state of our immigration detention system. On the day that the Department of Homeland Security decided to reject —after a two and a half years delay — a federal court petition calling for legally enforceable detention standards, detainees in a detention center in Basile, Louisiana declared a hunger strike to protest substandard conditions.  The Associated Press describes the situation:


"It's not fit for a human being," read a comment attributed to Fausto Gonzalez, according to the report a detainee from the Dominican Republic.


"There are rats, mosquitoes, flies, and spiders inside the cell and inside the dorm. The ventilation is terrible," he said. "We have tried to complain about all of these problems, and we haven't gotten anywhere. They tell us, 'It's a jail. This is how it is.'"

Immigrant detainees hunger strike over conditions, July 31, 2009


Although the ICE field director acknowledges that immigration detainees should be held in administrative - not punitive - custody given that immigration law violations are civil and not criminal infractions; we hear a pretty different picture from the immigrant detainees who compiled their accounts on the egregious conditions and abuses in the detention center in a report published by the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice:



Even though I was showing many symptoms, no one offered me any medical attention […] I was so sick that I was delirious, vomiting, had no appetite, a strong head ache, fever, I was very cold, and I had a cold sweat. In my cell there are more than forty people who are sick. As far as I know, no one in my cell has had a blood test or any lab testing done.

Edwin Dubon Gonzalez, Detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center


I am preparing to die here in detention. I hope my body will provide testimony that the system needs to change.

—Juan Marin Corona, Detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center

For about three weeks in May, the jail ran out of soap and toothpaste — except in the commissary. If you did not have money you had to just bathe with water and no soap.


These unsanitary conditions affect our mental and physical health. I developed a rash on my groin because of the lack of soap. When one person gets sick – a fever or cough – it spreads very quickly. We are not the strong, healthy men we were when we arrived.

Edgar Bojorge Alcantara, detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center


Detention conditions under the Obama Administration, New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, July 29, 2009


This is not the America that our forefathers envisioned, a land of liberty and justice, a bright beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Our country shouldn’t treat people this way. Detainees, including children, are often subjected to arbitrary punishment, including neglect of basic medical and hygienic needs and lack of due process.


Immigration raids have torn apart families, disrupted businesses, increased racial profiling and have done little to solve our immigration crisis.  That’s why the immigrant rights community is telling the Obama Administration Enough is enough! We need leadership that will put an end to these abuses and fix our deteriorating immigration system. 


Please join us in our call to DHS Secretary Napolitano to uphold President Obama’s promise of a new day of immigration policy for America.


Sign this petition to the Department of Homeland Security at:

Protesting Napolitano: “One event that we didn’t want to have”

July 30, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin


The Washington Times notes with a certain amount of glee that immigrants and advocates for immigration reform are growing impatient with the Obama administration and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s extension of Bush-era immigration enforcement policies.  The flagship conservative newspaper representing the wing of the GOP that opposes legal immigration and legal status for immigrants here illegally – and opposes the President and his administration on almost everything – described what one pro-immigrant advocate said is “the sense of betrayal creeping up” with regard to Secretary Napolitano and the President’s handling of immigration.


Activists marched in Los Angeles and picketed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's appearance in New York, angered over the administration's recent embrace of an electronic verification system for employers and a program that allows local police to enforce immigration laws.


The protests highlight the tough political spot Mr. Obama faces: He enjoyed strong support from Hispanics in last year's election, but activists say he's now risking their support in the future.


"I see the sense of betrayal creeping up," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which organized the protest against Ms. Napolitano.


The coalition said the administration is using the right words on immigrant rights but taking the wrong actions to boost enforcement.


"A lot of people see the actions of Secretary Napolitano going in the opposite direction of the reform President Obama promised," she said.


“President loses immigration allies,” Washington Times, July 30, 2009


It is an odd day indeed when Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Minority Member of the House Judiciary Committee and President Obama’s leading opponent on immigration reform, is defending the Obama administration on the issue.  The same article in the Washington Times reports that Rep. Smith supports a recent effort by the Obama administration to refuse to create accountability and oversight in immigration detention by establishing basic Homeland Security detention guidelines. (See related ImmPolitic post here)

There is a growing drumbeat of concern that escalating enforcement of the current system – which everyone knows must change – is the wrong priority for Secretary Napolitano who has been charged by the President with leading the comprehensive immigration reform legislative effort.  Among advocates, there is a great deal of optimism that real progress towards reform continues on Capitol Hill and behind the scenes in the Obama administration.  Legislation in the Senate is expected in September with a full scale debate to follow. 


But thousands of immigrants will be deported in the meantime, families will be split apart, businesses will shut down, and people’s lives will be forever harmed.


Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition continues in the Washington Times article:


Ms. Hong said the Obama administration is using all the right words about backing a broad immigration bill but is taking "massive enforcement actions."


She also said stepping up enforcement of "dysfunctional and unenforceable" laws is not a solution, and said the activists hope to push Mr. Obama away from enforcement and back toward his campaign promises.


"Today was the one event that we didn't want to have," she said. "We didn't want to be protesting President Obama's immigration policy and Napolitano's policy, it really pains us to be picketing."


“President loses immigration allies,” Washington Times, July 30, 2009




Deteriorating detention system: Yet another reason to fix immigration

July 30, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Death by Detention (Racial Justice and Immigrant Rights) from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

As Congress gets ready for action on immigration reform legislation —as soon as Labor Day— new reports and government actions this week underscore the urgent need to revamp the broken and highly costly immigration detention system.


Administration continues down the path of failed detention policies


Hoping to introduce oversight and accountability in the immigration detention system, immigrant advocates have petitioned the government, for more than two years, to provide legally enforceable detention rules. The lack of regulations on detention centers has resulted in countless complaints of deplorable medical care, detainee abuse and inadequate access to phones and attorneys. Now, a month after federal judge Denny Chin ordered the Obama administration to respond to the plaintiff’s petition, the government has formally refused to issue detention regulations citing that establishing new rules would be too burdensome. The New York Times reports on the disappointment felt by many advocates, who see this action as “more of the same” failed policies of the Bush administration:


The government’s decision “disregards the plight of the hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees,” said Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, one of the plaintiffs, which contends that the lack of enforceable rules is at the heart of persistent problems of mistreatment and medical neglect. “The department has demonstrated a disturbing commitment to policies that have cost dozens of lives.”


“This whole detention system that has been created is a human rights nightmare,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “The past administration created this, and now we need to dismantle it.”


U.S. Rejects Calls for Immigration Detention Rules, July 29, 2009


Report shows government doesn’t follow its own meager standards


The government decision to not issue enforceable detention regulations comes right as the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the ACLU of Southern California, and the international law firm of Holland & Knight, LLP releases the first national detention standards report. The report was based on inspection records of facilities by ICE between 2001 and 2005 and sheds light on the inadequate standards of the immigration detention system. According to the report’s press statement:


“Though the detainees are accused of civil immigration charges, there is nothing civil about our detention centers,” said Karen Tumlin, co–author of the report and a staff attorney at NILC. “These centers, where people are detained for months and often years at a time, often fail to provide people with their fundamental rights: access to loved ones, the basic materials needed to research and prepare their cases, or even a simple explanation of their rights while within the immigrant detention system.”

    Immigrant Detainee Rights Are Routinely, Systematically Violated, New Report Finds, July 28, 2009


The unsettling findings of the report were featured in the press widely including the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Color Lines, Univision and La Opinion among others. The study adds to the more than 11 reports —including observations by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights — published since January 2009, documenting the inhumane treatment and poor conditions within the immigration detention.


The dismal state of our immigration detention system highlights one of the many failures of our dysfunctional immigration system. We need a comprehensive approach that fixes the deficiencies of our current immigration mess — including adequate oversight of our immigration detention system. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security need to transform our immigration and detention system into a system that respects human and civil rights and reflects the American values of fairness and transparency.

Update: One helpful step towards reforming our immigration detention system was taken today by Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kennedy (D-MA) with the introduction of two vital pieces of legislation on immigration detention. You can read more about it here

Immigration and the States: When You’re Broke, Fix It

July 21, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin


Photo by Kerri 2009

The National Governor’s Association (NGA) annual summer meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi puts a new exclamation point on the dire financial times afflicting the economy and all levels of government.  With California $26 billion in the red and many other states facing a fiscal crisis of record proportions, half of member governors decided to forgo the NGA’s meeting altogether.


On immigration, the talk in Washington is about a looming comprehensive immigration reform debate to reduce or eliminate illegal immigration, restore the rule of law, and set a rational immigration policy at the federal level (where it belongs) moving forward.  But, almost all of what is actually being done these days makes fiscal problems worse for the country and worse for the states. 


Specifically, Washington is coming up with new ways to:


  1. Drive down tax revenues at all levels of government by driving taxpayers who are currently on-the-books and paying their fair share of taxes into the untaxed underground economy;

  2. Expand unfunded mandates to states by shifting immigration enforcement costs from the federal to the state and local level;

  3. Waste ever greater sums of tax money on ineffective or counter-productive immigration control measures;

  4. Forgo the revenues that could be reaped by a legal, orderly, and fully taxed national immigration policy.


Drive Down Tax Revenues

The Senate recently voted to extend the use of a federal employment database called E-Verify to a broader swath of the economy.  Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has stepped up the use of “I-9 audits” to reexamine the authenticity employer’s work authorization documents for their employees.


The goal of each of these efforts is to detect and terminate the employment of immigrants who are in the country illegally but who are working on company payrolls and having their full-share of taxes deducted from every pay-check.  Supporters of such enforcement measures assure us that lacking employment, undocumented immigrants will promptly deport themselves and this moves us towards their goal of removing 12,000,000 undocumented men, women, and children from the country. 


The reality is that almost all of these current taxpayers will convert themselves to off-the-books workers in America’s untaxed underground economy.  Evaluating a previous proposal to extend E-Verify throughout the U.S. economy, for example, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), found that such a measure would decrease federal tax revenues by $17.3 billion over a nine year period as work moved from on-the-books to off-the-books.


Expanding Unfunded Mandates

In the name of limiting driver’s license access to immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, Congress has previously legislated that states revamp how they issue driver’s licenses and governors are already pushing back.  At the NGA meeting, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke to the governors about softening the blow to state budgets, as the Associated Press reported:


Several governors joined Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in calling on Congress to revise requirements by this fall for secure driver's licenses that are intended to help boost national security. The governors said federal mandates for the licenses are too expensive, and 13 states have voted not to participate in the Real ID Act passed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


The cost to states of implementing the federal mandate is estimated at $4 billion.


Earlier this month, however, the same Secretary Napolitano, on behalf of the Obama Administration, announced an expansion of the 287(g) program that enlists state and local police and other law-enforcement in enforcing federal immigration law.  While she trumpeted a new regime of oversight and accountability for the program – a program that until now has been a community safety and civil rights nightmare – the bottom line is that more states and localities will be saddled with enforcing laws on behalf of the federal government. 


With resources stretched already at the breaking point in states and localities, expanding cost- and responsibility-shifting programs like 287(g) couldn’t come at a worse time.  Police chiefs and administrators with experience policing in immigrant communities understand that acting as federal migration cops drives a wedge between local police and immigrant communities and may keep witnesses and victims from coming forward.  From a purely fiscal point of view, while the 287(g) program includes some money for training local police, it still adds enforcement burdens to state and local governments already struggling to stay afloat. 


This and imposing new driver’s license mandates on states – at an estimated cost of $4 billion starting this year – threatens to make a bad situation worse.


Wasting Tax Money on Ineffective Measures

Also this month, at the request of Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of the Senate’s biggest opponents of legal immigration, the Senate voted to expand construction of the border fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and further dictate the manner in which it is to be constructed. 


Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle reported that border state Members of the House are hoping to kill the wasteful spending:


House Democrats from Texas, Arizona and California argue that requiring pedestrian, double-layered fence, instead of using vehicle barriers and technology, “represents wasteful spending that could alternatively be used for multitude of valuable security purposes.”


They are asking Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., to remove the fence funding in negotiations with the Senate.


The Chronicle reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, found that the cost of pedestrian fencing had increased from $4 million a mile to $7 million a mile in the past year.


That $7 million per mile cost is just one of the huge price tags the nation incurs along the border because we do not have a functioning legal immigration system.  A backgrounder by the National immigration Forum on existing border security operations at the Southwest border provides more detail.


Also, because there is no way for immigrants who have no criminal record and are here illegally to become legal residents, we spend nearly $1 billion detaining non-criminal immigrants.  ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, for example, houses 18,690 immigration detainees on a typical night, costing taxpayers approximately $2.6 million per day.  See a recently posted backgrounder by the Forum on detention issues and costs for more detail.


Forgoing Tax Revenues

Finally, there is the opportunity cost of inaction and failing to get 12,000,000 immigrants here illegally to become legal and fully part of our economy.  The Immigration Policy Center states


Legalizing undocumented workers would improve wages and working conditions for all workers, and increase tax revenues for cash-strapped federal, state, and local governments. Moreover, comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legalization for undocumented workers would pay for itself through the increased tax revenue it generates, in contrast to the failed and costly enforcement-only policies that have been pursued thus far.


Looking at a previous proposal to legalize the American workforce and move undocumented immigrants into the taxed, above-board economy, CBO calculated $66 billion in added federal revenues as the work of immigrants and businesses that employ them became fully tax compliant.


If the federal government is serious about helping states get back in the black, it will stop doing what it is doing – making the bad immigration situation worse – and start doing what it has up until now only talked about – fixing America’s immigration system comprehensively from top to bottom.


[See also Assessing the Financial Impact of Immigrants at the State and Local Level (Immigration Policy Center)]

Reforming Immigration: For The Economy, Stupid

July 17, 2009 - Posted by Ali Noorani

In this moment of great anxiety, we are afraid of losing our jobs, our health care, our homes.  There are some today who would blame immigrants for our economic troubles.  They suggest that if we only rid ourselves of undocumented immigrants, there would be jobs for all natives who want them. 


Let’s set aside the question of whether the laid-off Wall Street broker would want to move to California to pick broccoli.  A more relevant issue is that our economic recovery is hampered by an immigration system that forces five percent of our workforce into the shadows.


Undocumented immigrants, who out of fear of discovery are less likely to stand up for their rights on the job, are easy prey for unscrupulous employers.  These employers set the terms of pay and conditions without regard to our labor laws, thereby creating an economic trap door that serves as the entrance to an underground economy that ultimately drives down wages for all workers, that cheats the taxpayer, and that makes survival more tenuous for the employer trying to play by the rules.


It is increasingly clear that reforming our immigration system is a key component of fixing our economy.  It is an insult to the American worker to think he or she should have to compete for the $7/hour job when their training, experience and ingenuity has brought wages of $27/hour.  By bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, we close the trap door and protect American workers.  Our economic future must be one of good jobs, not cheap labor.


An intelligent solution to our immigration mess requires undocumented immigrants to come forward and register with the government.  In return for legal permission to work, they are expected to learn English, pay their taxes, and pay appropriate fines.  Only then will they embark on the long road to a green card and eventual citizenship. 


The sensible approach to the immigration problem rewards work, and results in a system that people will move through, not around.  It results in more people working on the books and more families making more money and paying more taxes. 


With the trap door closed, the floor will be more solid under the native worker as well—decades of research has shown that legalization of undocumented immigrants raises wages for all workers.


Realistic immigration reform must include intelligent border and interior law enforcement strategies that will carefully scrutinize employers who hire outside the system.  By taking undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, it will be easier to shine a light on employers who prefer to operate in those shadows. 


To continue the immigration strategy of the Bush Administration is an expensive proposition — by one estimate it will cost more than $200 billion to deport the undocumented—and it will result in the loss of the estimated $1.8 trillion in spending and $651 million in annual output of undocumented immigrants.  By comparison, the stimulus package passed in January was $789 billion.


Quite simply, we cannot afford to flush $2.5 trillion in annual spending and economic activity down the tubes of anti-immigrant hysteria.


Fortunately, this is a new day.  There is a spirit of seeking solutions that unite us.  We can achieve immigration reform for America—reform that will level the playing field for all working people, that will help the country get back on its feet economically, and that will restore integrity and trust to our nation’s process for determining who can enter our country.

Pulling the trigger on E-verify won’t deliver a magic bullet

July 17, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


Photo by DeusXFlorida

Today’s editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal point to the government’s unsettling continuation of the Bush Administration’s push to expand the flawed E-Verify program. E-Verify is an voluntary internet-based program intended to allow employers to verify worker eligibility by accessing error-prone government databases maintained by DHS and SSA. We have watched, time and time again, as restrictionist members of Congress have tried to attach E-Verify expansions and mandates to any moving piece of legislation. However, many were shocked – as was the Wall Street Journal – when the Obama administration announced last week that it won’t be breaking from Bush-era tactics and instead will make the program mandatory for all federal contractors.


So what’s wrong with E-Verify?


For starters, it forces American workers to put their job security at the hands of a government database that is filled with errors and that makes correcting these errors very difficult.  The shortcomings of the database have been highlighted not only by immigrant rights groups but by labor, business and the government itself. As reported by the Wall Street Journal,


[L]ast year Intel reported finding errors in 12% of responses to its queries. Other independent analyses have found that database error rates are 30 times higher for foreign-born workers than for natives, and nearly 100 times higher for naturalized citizens.


Other reports documenting the limitations of E-Verify include an independent study commissioned by USCIS  highlighting the high error rate of E-Verify database, a GAO report  identifying vulnerabilities to employer fraud and misuse, and a CBO report estimating a decrease in federal revenues by $17.3 billion over 10 years due to the number of workers leaving the formal economy and working in the untaxed underground economy.


E-Verify not only ensnares U.S. citizens in its database errors but it doesn’t keep undocumented workers from getting a job. This phenomenon was most widely reported in the Swift meatpacking plant raids [GM1] from several years ago.  The Journal continues,


A bigger problem with E-Verify is that it doesn't catch identify fraud. An illegal alien using legitimate documents that don't belong to him can go undetected. So in addition to mistakenly rejecting people who are authorized to work, the system also confirms workers it shouldn't. Several government raids on businesses in recent years have resulted in the arrests of thousands of illegal workers whom E-Verify had approved.


… E-Verify and national ID cards, even working as intended, can't prevent underground employment, but such policies are guaranteed to swell the ranks of those being paid off-the-books.

Blame the employers, July 16, 2009



A program that doesn’t achieve its intended purpose but instead misidentifies legally authorized workers —including U.S. citizens--  should not be expanded or made mandatory. Imposing mandatory E-verify on a nation which relies on 7 million undocumented workers without a legalization program will only funnel more revenues and bodies into the underground economy. E-Verify alone can’t solve our immigration problems, only comprehensive immigration reform can do that.

Including Immigrant Women in the National Dialogue on Immigration

July 15, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Immigrant Women: Stewards of the 21st Century Family from New America Media on Vimeo.


We know that the debate on comprehensive immigration reform is coming, and it might be coming as soon as this fall. This was confirmed last week when Sen. Schumer stated in an interview with the Associated Press that he anticipates introducing an immigration reform bill by Labor Day. As Congress prepares to discuss how to fix our failed immigration system, it is important to have an accurate understanding of today’s immigrant population.


The face of immigration is changing. A growing number of immigrants are now women and they are playing an increasingly important role as family stewards, but nonetheless, women have been notoriously absent from the national dialogue on immigration.


Polling data released on Tuesday by New America Media a consortium of more than 2,500 ethnic media outlets nationwide — document the challenges and successes of immigrant women and their new roles and responsibilities in their new country. The poll, conducted by Bendixen and Associates, paints a picture of the immigrant community that is different from conventional perception: Women comprise half or more of immigrants entering this country and many are migrating to keep the family together even if it means traveling great distances and adapting to new cultures. Other important findings include:


§         Immigrant women face serious economic barriers during their first years in the United States, but see their most important challenge as helping their children succeed.


§         The “language barrier” is a major problem for immigrant women. 79% of Latin Americans, 73% of Vietnamese, 70% of Korean and 63% of Chinese reported their English proficiency is limited. They also confront anti-immigrant discrimination, lack of access to health care and low-paying employment.


§         Immigrant women assume new roles and responsibilities in the United States, often becoming increasingly independent


§         Immigrant women successfully keep their families intact; they are often the catalysts for their families becoming citizens of the United States.


§         Immigrant women demonstrate upward professional and economic movement.


    Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century, New America Media, May 2009.


The findings of this poll demonstrate that today’s immigrants share the same traditional values as most Americans. Immigrant women are committed to the success and unity of their families and they want to pursue citizenship to ensure family stability.


As policy-makers craft legislation to overhaul our immigration system, it is important that they consider the unique challenges of immigrant women and the important role they play as drivers of immigrant integration. Policies must allow equal access to the benefits of legalization for immigrant men and women, including women caretakers and those who work in the informal sector, so that the system can protect family reunification through family backlog reductions while promoting the integration of immigrant families in our country.


U.S. citizens and legal immigrants not welcome in public housing, but guns okay.

July 13, 2009 - Posted by Grisella Martinez

Pink Gun

Photo by Wakalani


Last week, members of the House Financial Services Committee approved two little-noticed amendments to the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3045) offered by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga).[1] The first would allow gun possession in public housing projects, the second would prohibit U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from eligibility for Section 8 public housing if they were unable to show narrow forms of photo identification.


The Price amendment states that all adult members of a household, in order to demonstrate eligibility for Section 8 housing, would have to present 1 out of 4 specific types/combinations of personal identification documents:


    • A Social Security Card accompanied with a photo ID issued by Federal or State government; or

    • A REAL ID compliant driver’s license or identification card;

    • A passport issued by any country; or

    • A photo identification card issued by the Department of Homeland Security


So what’s the problem with this? To begin with, many U.S. citizens, let alone lawful immigrants, don’t have the right documentation. Since no state currently issues the REAL ID compliant drivers license because it would break the bank for most state governments, and since three out of every four U.S. citizens do not have passports, the vast majority will have to present both a Social Security card (not simply an SSN) and a government issued photo ID. 


That means that U.S. citizens will be denied public housing. A 2006 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law revealed that a large percentage of US citizens lack government-issued photo identification documents such as a driver’s license or military ID. The results suggest that six million American seniors do not possess a government-issued photo ID, 15 percent of individuals earning under $35,000 a year do not possess such ID, and fully one out every four adult African Americans do not possess this ID.[2]


In the midst of one of our nation’s most significant economic crises, impoverished families could be prevented from obtaining or keeping their homes. U.S. citizens and lawfully-residing immigrants, families that were recently homeless, victims of domestic violence and disaster victims could face barriers to providing the documentation required to obtain longer-term, short-term or temporary housing. 


Requiring every adult in a household to present such limited documents, not just the particular person or persons seeking assistance, means that U.S. citizens and legal immigrants could be denied assistance because one adult in the household is unable to provide the necessary documentation, even if that adult lacking identification documentation is not seeking assistance for him or herself.


Measures like this do nothing to move us towards fixing our broken immigration system or improving public housing programs. The Price amendment is a ridiculous attempt to use housing legislation for political posturing about immigration and immigrants, but if allowed to pass, will have a profound impact on struggling Americans who more than ever are relying on the federal government to shelter them during our nation’s economic crisis.  


[1] Gun Amendment in Public Housing Voucher Bill Gets Panel Support by Karoun Demirjian, CQ Staff July 13, 2009.

[2] Citizens without Proof: A Survey of American’s Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification” Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law (Nov. 2006)

Legislative Update for July 13, 2009

July 13, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Senate Passes Homeland Security Appropriations with More Immigration Amendments


Last week, before leaving for the weekend, the Senate passed the bill that will fund the Department of Homeland Security for the governments’ Fiscal Year 2010.  Immigration restrictionists in the Senate were able to tack on more amendments, in addition to the Sessions and DeMint amendments reported in the last update. 


SSA No Match: Senator Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment (1375), that would stop the administration from carrying out its plan announced on July 8th to rescind the Bush administration’s regulation spelling out for employers what they must do if they receive No Match letters from the Social Security Administration. The amendment prohibits the administration from spending any funds to change the regulation.  The amendment was adopted by unanimous consent. 


The Bush administration’s No Match regulation has never been implemented due to litigation in the courts.


E-“Re-Verify”:  Senator Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment (1415) that would allow employers who use E-Verify to re-verify their existing workers if they chose to do so.  Currently, E-Verify checks are only done for new hires.  The problem with this amendment is that if employers use the system for all of their current employees, they will be required to terminate even long-time employees who will not be able to present the government-issued identification they will be required to produce or who are misidentified by the database as not eligible to work.  (For example, approximately 11% of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification.)


The amendment was adopted without a recorded vote. 


Operation Streamline: Senator Kyl (R-AZ) offered an amendment (1455) that requires DHS to submit a report on “Operation Streamline” that provides details on which “additional Border Patrol sectors” should employ it and what resources are needed to expand it and make it “more effective.”  (Apparently, learning whether Operation Streamline is a good idea in the first place is not an objective for this report.  Learn more about Operation Streamline in this blog post from Lena Graber.)


The amendment was adopted without a recorded vote.


Widows and Orphans, Doctors, and Religious Workers: In the good news department, Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Menendez (D-NJ) offered an amendment (1428) that will allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to apply for immigration status even if their petitioning spouse or parent dies before the process of obtaining their status is completed.  This amendment also extends a special visa program for foreign doctors who are recruited to work in rural or inner-city areas.  The amendment extends the program (the “Conrad State 30 J-1 Visa Waiver”) to September 30, 2012.  (It otherwise is set to expire on September 30, 2009.) In addition, the amendment extends a visa program for non-minister religious workers to September 30, 2012. (This program was also set to expire on September 30, 2009.)


The amendment was agreed to by unanimous consent (no recorded vote).


Senator Schumer says Comprehensive Reform Bill to be Ready by Labor Day


In an interview with the Associated Press on July 8th, Senator Charles Schumer, who heads the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee, declared that he expects a comprehensive immigration reform bill to be ready by Labor Day, and to be done by the end of the year or early next year.  Schumer stated his belief that “the fundamental building blocks are in place to do comprehensive immigration reform.”  Such a bill, he said, would be tough on future illegal immigration, but would also include some way for people already here to gain legal status.


Schumer’s subcommittee has already conducted two hearings on comprehensive reform, and more are planned for later this month, although those hearings have not yet been scheduled.


Last week in immigration: What does it mean?


With Senator Schumer announcing a schedule for the introduction of a bill, and previous statements from the White House and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate affirming their intent to push comprehensive reform, Congress is now set on a path to consider comprehensive reform in the near future.  The early votes on immigration, on display last week in the context of the Homeland Security appropriations bill, should not be taken as an accurate snapshot of where Senators stand on comprehensive immigration reform.  On the one hand, a number of Democrats broke with their leadership and supported restrictionists amendments offered by Senator Sessions and others.  It appears that these Senators are still afraid of stirring up a restrictionists backlash, and they haven’t gotten the message that playing to the restrictionists is bad politics.


On the other hand, these votes don’t tell the whole story.  Some Senators will support comprehensive reform, but feel that the government must show it can enforce the laws now.  For example, Senator Amy Klobucher (D-MN) was quoted as saying,


“If people have worked in this country, if they pay their taxes and abide by the laws, basically they should be able to earn citizenship in this country. But I don’t believe we are going to be able to have the political will to get there until the government is able to show we have made a very good effort, and some changes here, to make it harder to come in illegally.”


The lesson is that we have to continue to pressure Members of Congress to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way, until they become more afraid of a backlash from pro-immigrant reformers than from restrictionists.  We have a ways to go, but we are making progress.


The Forum commented on events of the week in this press release.  You can also listen to a recording of our telephonic press briefing, giving reporters interpretation and analysis for the events of the week.

Another Voice Joins the Reform Chorus

July 13, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On July 8th, the Council on Foreign Relations released a report from its Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy. The report urges Congress and the administration to take up immigration reform that achieves three goals:

  • Reforms the legal immigration system so that it operates more efficiently, responds more accurately to labor market needs, and enhances U.S. competitiveness;

  • Restores the integrity of immigration laws through an enforcement regime that strongly discourages employers and employees from operating outside that legal system, secures America’s borders, and levies significant penalties against those who violate the rules;

  • Offers a fair, humane, and orderly way to allow many of the roughly twelve million migrants currently living illegally in the United States to earn the right to remain legally.


The Task Force is a bipartisan group consisting of, among other, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, and Thomas “Mack” McLarty, former White House chief of staff under President Clinton.  The Task Force also includes a number of key leaders in the immigration reform debate.


You can read more about the report and the Task Force here:


You can obtain the entire report here:

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