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Senate Adopts Border Fence, E-Verify Measures on DHS Spending Bill

July 08, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

border fence

Photo by Bisayan Lady

This entry was featured on newsjunkiepost

By Douglas Rivlin, NEWS JUNKIE POST Immigration Expert

The Senate debated a bill today to fund the Department of Homeland Security and the leading opponents of immigration reform (and immigration) in the Senate used the opportunity to force votes on several immigration-related measures.

The Senate adopted an amendment (sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions) that would extend the use of a flawed federal database to check the work eligibility of employees called E-Verify. Senators also voted for an amendment (sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint) to extend the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. These measures to look ‘tough on immigrants’ for the C-SPAN cameras will probably do damage to the economy, environment, and well-being of the country when we want our Senators to be doing all they can to help in these tough economic times.

As the National Immigration Forum said in a statement today:

A border ‘fence to nowhere’ is not a serious response to an immigration system two decades out of date and in need of top-to-bottom reform. It is a sideshow to the legitimate immigration reform debate, employing a fifth century approach to a 21st century immigration and border security reality.

A huge expansion of the E-Verify program is sure to put more American citizens out of work. Since the database is so flawed and correcting data so difficult, it will no doubt hurt the economy while doing next to nothing to prevent the employment of immigrants here illegally.

The fence, famed of song, story, ladders and tunnels, was first mandated by Congress as part of a wave of anti-immigration measures enacted when the Republicans controlled the Congress and White House. Controversy has arisen because the law mandating the fence allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to override any and all laws and treaties related to environmental impact (and anything else) to get it built – unprecedented, unchecked powers that have sparked law suits and federal land grabs from private citizens.

As the Los Angeles Times reports today, the damage to the border environment is already being done:

Walls built along the U.S.-Mexico border don’t just keep human families apart.

Biologists say the barriers also threaten such wildlife species as bighorn sheep and pygmy owls, isolating populations and narrowing the gene pool. Pygmy owls, who sometimes fly low to the ground, may find their flight patterns disrupted by high fences or walls.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the fence costs approximately $3 million per mile. More hastily constructed, destructive, and expensive barriers are not the solution we need.

Only comprehensive reform of our immigration system will actually work to reduce unauthorized immigration, reestablish legal immigration channels, and get immigrants already here illegally into the system. In the mean time, symbolic, expensive, and damaging measures like the fence and E-Verify are time and money well wasted by Congress.

The votes are there for immigration reform when it is crafted and debated and these preliminary skirmishes probably don’t mean much except that some Senators still confuse looking tough with fixing the problem. With the debate on comprehensive immigration reform sure to start in a matter of months, the Senate should resist the temptation to pass piece-meal, look-tough measures likely to backfire.

More votes – including more votes related to immigration – are likely tonight and tomorrow.




Senate votes to expand E-Verify, throw more money at border fence

July 08, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

E-Verify: Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment that would make the E-Verify electronic worker verification program permanent. (Currently, E-Verify is set to expire in three years).  It would also require its use by employers that receive federal contracts.  Senator Schumer (D-NY) offered a motion to table the Sessions amendment.  The motion to table failed by a vote of 44 to 53, and the Sessions amendment was adopted.


See how your Senator voted:


The Fence to Nowhere: Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered an amendment that would require the previously-authorized 700-mile border Fence to Nowhere be completed by the end of next year.  This amendment specifies that vehicle barriers are not sufficient; that the Fence to Nowhere must “effectively restrain pedestrian traffic” (or at least make pedestrians walk around the fence). The amendment was adopted by a vote of 54 to 44.


See how your Senator voted:


What do Today’s Votes Mean for Comprehensive Reform?


While many Senators who voted for these amendments have long opposed immigration reform, not all of them will oppose a comprehensive package.  For restrictionists Senators, the writing is on the wall that comprehensive immigration reform will be taken up later this year by Congress, and they are trying to get what they can before they become less relevant.  Many Senators who will in the end support comprehensive immigration reform want to show they are going to be tough on enforcement, and will do so at every opportunity.  It is disappointing that Senators are still making these symbolic actions which amount to more money being thrown at efforts to enforce laws that are broken.  It’s time we start seeing them actually tackling the problem in a way that might fix it.


No comparable provisions are included in the House bill, which has already been passed.  There will be a chance to remove these provisions when the House and Senate negotiate a compromise in Conference Committee (though it is not a given that these provisions will be stricken).


Immigration detention system in urgent need of reform

July 07, 2009 - Posted by Ali Noorani

This post was written by Geoff Ward


Photo by Steven Fernandez

It is criminal how many immigrants are placed in some form of detention because our immigration laws are so dysfunctional and divorced from reality.  If there were legal channels for immigrants to use and a way for immigrants already here to get legal – two of the goals of comprehensive immigration reform – we would greatly reduce the cost in dollars and human lives we are wasting on detention.  We should – and will – reform our legal immigration system, but even after we put our system back on a legal footing, there will continue to be a need for immigration enforcement and therefore immigration detention.  But the U.S. immigration detention system is being poorly run at the expense of detainees and U.S. taxpayers and is in need of serious repair.


Since January 2009, at least 11 reports have been published that detail the abuses and poor conditions within the detention system and across broad spectrums of the immigrant detainee population.  These reports demonstrate that while the costs of detention are increasing, conditions are deteriorating and people are suffering.  Each dollar spent is buying less and less, resulting in a bad system perpetuated on the backs of U.S. taxpayers.  The current situation is untenable and workable solutions are needed immediately to stem such patent waste and abuse.


The U.S. detention system is operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for enforcing U.S. customs and immigration laws.  ICE currently detains more than 33,000 individuals in over 500 facilities on any given night.  The costs of maintaining such a large detention capacity are unsurprisingly significant.  U.S. taxpayers are paying approximately $4.7 million per night, over $1.7 billion per year, to detain so many individuals and families.  These costs are especially glaring when some alternatives to detention, such as electronic ankle monitoring, cost as little as $12 per day and still yield an estimated 93 percent appearance rate before the immigration courts.  Although this discrepancy could be rationalized if the system functioned properly, like so many other pieces of the immigration framework, the detention system is plagued by mismanagement, neglect, and abuse. 


A recent New York Times editorial on the immigration detention system describes the steps that advocates have taken to compel DHS and ICE to initiate detention reforms and how they have been met with serious resistance:


In January 2007, two immigrant advocacy groups and two former immigration detainees petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to take a simple but important step. They asked it to establish legally enforceable standards for the detention system, a fast-growing network of federal centers, county jails and private prisons that has been plagued by medical neglect and abuse.


The petition was ignored, even after reports of several preventable deaths. This was typical for the Bush administration, whose war on illegal immigration was notable for its slipshod cruelty. After waiting more than a year, the advocates sued.


…On June 25 [2009], a federal district judge in Manhattan declared that the now two-and-a-half-year delay in answering the petition was “unreasonable as a matter of law,” and ordered the department to respond within 30 days. The judge, Denny Chin, took note of the plaintiffs’ assertion that “detainees in D.H.S. custody are dying as a result of the substandard conditions.” He called the department’s continued silence “egregious.”

Justice Ignored, July 5, 2009


With a new administration that purports to be both more attentive to the needs of immigrant detainees and receptive to suggestions on how to reform the current detention system, there should be no better time than now to make the needed changes.  However, action is still slow to materialize.  Although Secretary Napolitano has promised a comprehensive review of the detention system, DHS has yet to announce a change of policy or respond to the 2007 petition seeking enforceable detention standards.  Hopefully, this most recent delay indicates that DHS and ICE are in the process of implementing enforceable standards in all of the jails they use to hold immigrant detainees.  In the meantime, immigrant detainees and their loved ones are still stuck in the current broken system while these agencies continue to dither.


A broad, bi-partisan consensus agrees that the U.S. immigration system is broken and in need of serious repairs.  The immigration detention system is but one glaring, dysfunctional piece of the broader U.S. immigration system.  A comprehensive approach is needed to fully address each problem.  While the Administration should be commended for its focus on improving the treatment of detainees, as well as its promises of future reform, people are suffering right now. That’s why its so important and so urgent for the Obama Administration and Congress to provide workable solutions to our deteriorating detention and immigration system.


Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police calls for Comprehensive immigration reform

July 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Police officer

Photo by Marcos Vasconcelos


The Salt Lake Tribune featured yet another law enforcement voice calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The opinion piece, authored by Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police, Chris Burbank, criticizes Utah’s new restrictive immigration law SB 81 which took effect on July 1st. Among other requirements on everyone from employers to landlords, the new law deputizes local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. As Chief Burbank strongly notes, it is unfortunate that politicians too often neglect the local law enforcement perspective in choosing politics over policy:


Immigration issues instigate some of the most heated debate in the United States today. Unfortunately, this deliberation has yet to include the voice of law enforcement, whose job and mission are drastically impacted by immigration policy. As the Police Foundation report recommends, the federal government needs to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to truly fix the problem and relieve the burden on state and local police. They also need to involve the perspective of police in this upcoming debate.


Police officers know first hand that limited resources should not be diverted from the primary responsibility of providing protection. Public safety is best served when the community trusts and has confidence in its police department:


The essential duty of modern law enforcement is to protect the civil rights of individuals while providing for the safety of all members of the communities we serve, equally, without bias. Asking local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, as Utah's new law does, is contrary to our mission, marginalizes significant segments of the population, and complicates and ultimately harms effective community policing. We function best when we are part of, not apart from, the community.


Police officers should not engage in civil immigration enforcement. However, local law enforcement should diligently continue to arrest serious criminal offenders and, as appropriate, refer dangerous criminals to federal authorities. Civil immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and it is paramount to the well-being of our neighborhoods that the federal government maintains accountability.

        New immigration laws set dangerous precedent, July 2, 2009


The simple truth is that misguided and short-sighted local laws on immigration like SB 81 have not and will not realistically solve the issue or meaningfully impact the estimated 12 million undocumented people who now call America their home. Instead, gains that have been achieved on community policing practices are set back as local police officers are forced to serve the double, and at times, conflicting duty of enforcing immigration laws and serving and protecting the community. If victims and witnesses of crime do not trust their police department because of fear of deportation of themselves or their loved ones, public safety will ultimately suffer.

Comprehensive immigration reform is the only rational solution that can feasibly bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into our legal system. True reform is the only way to ensure that police departments can return to their true and clear mandate to focus their resources on protecting the communities that they serve.

Civics Lesson

July 02, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Naturalization Ceremony
Photo: Maurice Belanger

To celebrate the historic event that launched our country, more than 6,000 candidates for citizenship will be sworn in as citizens of the United States in approximately 50 special ceremonies at courthouses, military bases, auditoriums, and other venues across the U.S.  If you have the opportunity to attend one of these events, it will be well worth your while.  There may be no marching bands, but to see immigrants from across the globe raising their hands to take the oath of citizenship can be an inspiration.


All of these candidates for citizenship have passed a test of U.S. History and Government.  The test has recently been revised.  In October, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began to implement a new test for naturalization applicants.  We are told that, so far, immigrants do not seem to be doing any worse on the new test than they did on the old.  In fact, the pass rate has been approximately 92%. 


Now, this statistic might not be entirely reliable. For reasons having to do with how the test has been phased in, we are only at the beginning of a class of citizenship candidates who do not have the choice of taking the old test.  Now that pretty much everyone has to take the new test, it’s possible the pass rate will go down somewhat.


But I guarantee you it will not get as low as 3.5%


That was the pass rate for Arizona’s high school students, according to the Goldwater Institute, which on Tuesday released the results of a survey of 1,350 Arizona high school students who were called by telephone and asked 10 question from the citizenship test that immigrants must take.  To pass, the students, like citizenship applicants, had to correctly answer six out of the ten questions.


Only 3 ½ percent answered six or more questions correctly.  More precisely, only 3 ½ percent answered six or seven questions correctly.  Zero out of the 1,350 students answered more than seven questions correctly. 


Some of the questions dealt with the basics of our legal and political system: “What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?”  77% did not know.  “What is the supreme law of the land.”  Slightly less than a third said it was the Constitution.             


In the history department, here is one popularity contest Barack Obama did not win with these young people: “Who was the first President of the United States?”  Obama was beat out by George Bush, Bill Clinton, John Kennedy, Ronald Regan and Franklin Roosevelt who, combined, were just edged out by George Washington.


There was also some basic geography. Students were asked “What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States.”  Thankfully, most answered correctly, but some of the answers made me think that when we sing about America the Beautiful running from “sea to shining sea,” we may not all be talking about the same thing—at least not for the few dozen or so students who said it was the Indian Ocean that was off the Jersey coast.


The Goldwater report was a critique of the civics education—or lack of it—that Arizona students were getting in school.  It is also a reminder that the criticism we hear from cultural conservatives—that the citizenship test is “too easy”—looks just plain silly. 


Maybe you’ll want to brush up on your history, in case you get a call from some researcher who will ask you to name one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.

Secret courts=unaccountable justice

July 01, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber

In Kangaroo Court, I described a mass criminal court proceeding typical of Operation Streamline. I noted that two women in the courtroom that day had a birth certificate to prove that one of the men in the proceedings was a U.S. citizen.  The government dropped the criminal prosecution.  However, as the criminal attorney assigned to that man explained, the man would not be released, but would have to go through a proceeding in an immigration court, most likely in Eloy, where he would have to prove he is a citizen to an immigration judge.


It’s possible that man would fare no better in immigration court. And we may never know.


Writing in The Nation on June 16th, Jaqueline Stevens, a professor of law at UC Santa Barbara, wondered about the treatment of someone who, like the man I saw in the courtroom, had to prove he was a citizen before an immigration judge.


A judge at Florence had just deported a US citizen born in Colorado. I was curious about the courtroom demeanor of someone who would credit a 17-year-old's statement renouncing a claim to citizenship signed after a Border Patrol agent had torn up a copy of his birth certificate and threatened him with arrest, and would ignore his later freely made, sworn statement stating he was a US citizen.

Secret Courts Exploit Immigrants, The Nation, June 16, 2009


Stevens describes how ICE prevented her from entering the courts. 


ICE require[s] anyone entering the immigration courts at Eloy to undergo a background check, for which one would need to submit in writing two weeks in advance one's name, date of birth, Social Security number, a home address and the particular hearing one wanted to attend.


Open judicial proceedings are a cornerstone of the American justice system.  Without public access to courtrooms, there is no assurance of accountability to the law.  The importance of due process concerns are widely understood, and yet somehow different rules seem to apply to immigrants.  The federal prosecutions en masse of Operation Streamline curtail regular procedures for evidence, testimony, and representation by a defense attorney.  And meanwhile, despite federal laws requiring most hearings to be open to the public, immigration courts are finding it expedient to block public access to immigration hearings, such as deportation proceedings. 


Reduced public attendance at immigration court means reduced attention, reduced pressure for fairness or discretion, and reduced justice.  When the legal system prosecutes migrants without due process, and closes the doors on deportation proceedings, immigrants around the country are denied the protections of law that we all count on.  As we work to establish comprehensive immigration reform, this reminds us that adequate due process rights must be part of that package, or else reform will fall before an unaccountable justice system.

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