National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Updates Archives

It’s About Time

August 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

For the last several years, immigration advocates, including the National Immigration Forum, have raised serious concerns about the treatment of immigrants in the vast detention system used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The system includes federally-run facilities, facilities run by private contractors, and state and local jails with which ICE has entered into agreements.  ICE negotiated with the American Bar Association to develop a set of standards in 2000, which were later revised into the “Performance-Based National Detention Standards” in 2008 (yet to be implemented).


 


The standards are only worth something if they are observed.  When they are not, there have to be consequences.  As a set of standards, they do not carry the same weight as law or regulation.  The standards are inconsistently observed and, in 2007, advocates petitioned ICE to put the standards into regulation.  ICE didn’t respond immediately to the petition.


 


Meanwhile, the detention system developed into a public relations nightmare. Several media outlets ran stories of immigrants dying in immigration detention when their medical problems were neglected.  Stories appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, which ran a lengthy series exposing the immigration detention scandal.  These exposés led to an oversight hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in June of 2008 and another in the House Appropriations Committee in March of 2009.


 


So far this year, a number of reports have been released from governmental oversight agencies and non-governmental organizations documenting in some detail problems with the immigration detention system.  These reports, many of which are linked on our Detention and Enforcement page and summarized in this digest, kept a spotlight on the dysfunctional detention system.


 


Meanwhile, as the government continued to defer a decision on putting detention standards into regulation, advocates went to court.  On June 25th, a judge ordered the government to respond to the petition.  On July 24th, DHS decided it would not write detention standards into regulation, insisting that the Performance-Based National Detention Standards were “the appropriate mechanism to improve detention facility management and ensure compliance with detention standards.”


 


The next week, two bills were introduced in the Senate that would force detention changes by putting some standards into law.


 


On July 30, Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act, S. 1549.  Among other things, the bill would establish screening mechanisms so that U.S. citizens and vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, and others who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations are considered for alternatives to detention. 


 


Simultaneously, Senators Menendez and Gillibrand introduced S. 1550, the Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System Act (the “Strong STANDARDS” Act).  Among other things, this bill would require DHS to provide access to adequate medical care, establish protocols when ICE transfers immigrants away from family and counsel, ensure access to functioning telephones inside detention centers, and mandate other improvements to the immigration detention system.


 


A third bill was introduced on August 6th. Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Kennedy (D-MA) and Akaka (D-HI) introduced the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act.  The legislation would implement recommendations first made in 2005 in a Congressionally-mandated report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and improve detention standards (including limits on family detention and judicial oversight of detention decisions). 


 


With this history, we have the announcement by ICE yesterday.  The agency will be creating an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), headed by Dora Schriro, the current Special Advisor to Secretary Napolitano on Detention and Removal Operations. With the assistance of detention and health care experts, the Office will “design and plan a civil detention system tailored to addresses (sic) ICE's needs.”  (Read more in our Policy Update and Press Release.)


 


Many of the immigrants in our immigration jails have not committed any crime, except that they are here without authorization and are working without permission.  They are often thrown in jail alongside criminal inmates serving sentences or awaiting trial.  People who are working without authorization, who are accused of civil immigration violations, should not be treated like murderers and thieves.  So it certainly makes sense to “design and plan a civil detention system tailored to address ICE’s needs.” 


 


ICE will be working with two advisory groups, composed of local and national organizations interested in the detention system.  Hopefully, with the help of outside expertise, we will see improvements in the way we treat immigrants in the government’s custody. 


 


Underlying the detention crisis, though, is the crisis of our broken immigration system.  Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who spend time in our immigration jails should not be there in the first place.  They are not criminals.  They are here to work and pursue the American dream.  We should be giving them work visas, not jail time.  Until we have immigration reform, ICE will continue to be forced to deal with the consequences Congressional inaction—what to do with people who are caught here illegally making a better life for themselves.

Detention Reforms Proposed in Congress, Announced by DHS

August 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On July 30, Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act, S. 1549.  The bill would establish screening mechanisms so that U.S. citizens and vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women and others who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations, are considered for alternatives to detention. 


 


Also on July 30, Senators Menendez and Gillibrand introduced S. 1550, the Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System Act (the “Strong STANDARDS” Act).  Among other things, this bill would require DHS to provide access to adequate medical care, establish protocols when ICE transfers immigrants away from family and counsel, ensure access to functioning telephones inside detention centers, and mandate other improvements to the immigration detention system.


 


You can read more about these bills in the Forum’s Press Release.


 


On August 6th, Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Kennedy (D-MA) and Akaka (D-HI) introduced the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act.  The legislation would implement recommendations first made in 2005 in a Congressionally-mandated report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  For more information, read this Press Release from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.


 


The detention bills came in the wake of a decision by DHS to deny a petition for rulemaking on detention standards.  In 2007, advocates petitioned DHS to conduct a formal rulemaking to develop standards for immigration detention.  Regulations would be more enforceable than the existing detention standards that advocates say are often ignored.  After more than two years, DHS decided that its “performance-based standards,” a set of guidelines that were first issued in 2000 and revised most recently in 2008, adequately addressed the concerns raised in the petition. 


 


For more information on this issue, go to the Web site of the National Immigration Project.


 


In the context of bad press, unflattering reports, and proposed legislation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on August 6th that it will be making reforms to its detention system.  The agency will be creating an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), headed by Dora Schriro, the current Special Advisor to Secretary Napolitano on Detention and Removal Operations. With the assistance of detention and health care experts, the Office will “design and plan a civil detention system tailored to addresses ICE's needs.” The Office will evaluate the current detention system, focusing on population management, detention management, programs management, health care management, alternatives to detention management, special populations management, and accountability.


 


Other steps being taken include the discontinuation of family detention at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas, the formation of two advisory groups of local and national organizations interested in ICE's detention system, the appointment of 23 ICE detention managers to work in 23 facilities that together house more than 40 percent of detainees, and the establishment of an Office of Detention Oversight. 


 


More information can be found in ICE’s Press Release.


 


ICE also put out a Fact Sheet, which can be obtained here.


 


The Forum’s press release on the DHS Action can be found here.


 



 

Update on Legislation: Health Care and Immigration Reform

August 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

President Obama had asked Congress to send him a health care reform bill before the August recess.  That deadline is not close to being observed.  The three committees in the House that have jurisdiction over health care reform have completed their work, but a vote in the full House has been put off until after the recess.  In the Senate, a bill is still being negotiated. 


 


There are intense efforts going on to kill health care reform and, as one of my colleagues put it, opponents of health care reform seem to have rented out the anti-immigration movement to assist them.  In town hall meetings around the country Congressmen and women are being shouted at by attendees who assert that the Democrat’s health care reform would give health care to “illegal immigrants.”  It doesn’t, but the charge gets repeated everywhere.  Facts don’t matter with this faction of the population that we see again and again in the debates around solving the many crises being faced by our nation.  This is the faction that staunchly opposes solutions—the segment (and their Congressional champions) that Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress refers to in this blog post as the “status quo caucus.”


 


While the health care debate preoccupies Congress and the Administration, the timeline for immigration reform has slipped.  Senator Schumer was quoted in Congressional Quarterly on August 5th as saying that he now hopes to have the broad outline of a bill, rather than the complete bill he said a month ago, by Labor Day. 


 


No surprise.  It always takes Congress longer to complete consideration of any consequential legislation than the original timeline that is proposed, and this year Congress is trying to tackle a number of major reforms.


 



 

Legislative Update for August 7, 2009

August 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Hearings on employment verification: On July 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Ensuring a Legal Workforce: What Changes Should be Made to Our Current Employment Verification System?”  Testifying were Congressman Luis Guitierrez (D-IL); Michael Aytes, Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; James Ziglar, Senior Fellow, Migration Policy Institute; and Lynden Melmed, Former Chief Counsel for USCIS, Berry Appleman & Leiden, LLP.


 


You can get statements of the witnesses, statements of Committee members, and a video recording of the hearing, on the Committee’s Web site.


 


Another comprehensive immigration reform-related hearing on employment-based immigration, scheduled for August 6th, was cancelled.


 


In the House, there was a hearing, “E-Verify: Challenges and Opportunities,” on July 23 in the Government Management, Organization and Procurement Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  You can get testimony of the witness on this page of the Committee’s Web site.


 


Integration legislation: On July 21, Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Alexander (R-TN) introduced the Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act, S. 1478.  Among other things, the Act would provide more resources for English language teaching, and create incentives for business and teachers providing English language training.  A summary of the bill can be found on this press release from Senator Gillibrand’s office.


 


Text of the bill can be obtained here.


 


Representative Honda (D-CA) introduced a similar companion bill, H.R. 3249, in the House.


 


Legislation to HELP separated children: On July 31, Representative Lynn Woolsey introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act (HELP Separated Children Act), H.R. 3531.  Among other things the bill would provide nationwide protocols to help keep children with their parents or caregivers and out of the foster care system while their parent’s or caregiver’s case is pending by ensuring that vulnerable populations apprehended during immigration enforcement activities are identified and treated with dignity.  Text of the bill can be obtained here.


 


SAVE Act redux: Representative Heath Schuler (D-NC) has reintroduced the SAVE Act, H.R. 3308, which would, among other things, make E-Verify mandatory.  It was a bad idea last year; it’s still a bad idea.  Mr. Schuler still wants to quarterback the deportation-only team, but that team is not likely to take the field this year.  You can find the text here.


 



 

NDN Panel: Future of Immigration Reform Debate

August 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


 


What to expect from the Immigration Debate? That was the question asked of Tamar Jacoby from ImmigrationWorks USA and Ali Noorani from the National Immigration Forum during a panel discussion at the New Democrat Network (NDN). The two panelists represented two diverse perspectives that support a government revamp of our obsolete immigration laws.


 


Jacoby heads ImmigrationWorks USA, a national business coalition that organizes employers in support of immigration reform. She spoke about the important role of businesses advocating for an orderly and workable legal immigration system that responds to the economic and labor needs of the country, an immigration system that works for all Americans. Spanish newswire EFE was present at the event and reported on the discussion:


 


The magic number of [279] votes, needed to secure final passage for a comprehensive immigration reform bill is far from being an ideal…according to experts from diverse pro-immigration coalitions. The advocates confirmed that today’s political climate is quite different from the political environment of 2006 and 2007, when immigration reform proposals failed in Congress.


 


For Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks, the new [immigration reform] proposal would benefit firstly from the post-racial environment that our country is experiencing after President Obama’s election, and secondly from the political engagement developed by American voters.


 


“This time around, Americans are seeing this as a problem that the government has ignored and has let it escalate during the last few years, and that it needs to be fixed right away” said Jacoby.


 


According to a national survey published by Benenson Strategy Group, 64% of Americans support immigration reform, while 21% oppose it and 16% don’t know the response.


Experts hope to obtain [279] votes to pass immigration reform despite political climate, August 5, 2009. Translation by Katherine Vargas


 


On this poll, America’s Voice reported on survey back in June, detailing how support for comprehensive immigration reform significantly increased from 64% to 86% once voters where given the details of what a plan would entail: “securing the border, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and requiring illegal immigrants to register for legal immigration status, pay back taxes, and learn English in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship.”


 


Back at the NDN panel discussion, moderator Simon Rosenberg, President of NDN, spoke about the politics of immigration, warning that opposition to comprehensive immigration reform would be a missed opportunity for the GOP to prevent further damage in support from the ever-growing Hispanic electorate.


 


A similar warning was voiced by political analyst Mark Murray of NBC News’ FirstRead who commented on how the GOP’s strategy to oppose the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor would backfire and alienate Hispanic voters further, particularly as the electoral power of minorities continues to gain importance.


 


At NDN. the panelists also discussed the need for supporters of immigration reform to continue pressuring Congress to change its course on immigration policy. As quoted in EFE:


 


As Congress goes on recess this August, activists would continue their campaign for immigration reform at the local level through lobbying visits to Senators and Congressmen in their local districts. The national campaign Reform Immigration FOR America has the support of about 500 organizations nationwide.


 


… According to Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, it is necessary for President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano to clear from the latest tendency to escalate enforcement policies against illegal immigration.


Experts hope to obtain [279] votes to pass immigration reform despite political climate, August 5, 2009. Translation by Katherine Vargas


 


The Administration continues to talk tough on enforcement but this is no substitute for reform. Immigration is a complex problem that requires complete and comprehensive solutions. Support is building from broad constituencies from business to labor, faith, immigrant, ethnic, and civil rights groups that will push for a common sense approach to our immigration problems through comprehensive immigration reform.

Gallup Polling Misses Real Immigration Reform Story

August 06, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

A new Gallup poll makes the claim that Americans are taking a “tougher immigration stance” based on a declining number of people in their survey who say that immigration is a good thing for the country and an increasing number who want immigration levels decreased.  The results are helpful in terms of taking the national temperature on the desire to have immigrants here among us and not surprisingly, when the economy is bad, Americans want fewer immigrants. 


 


Gallup finds Americans less favorable toward immigration than they were a year ago. Half (50%) say immigration should be decreased, up from 39% last year. A third (32%) say immigration levels should be kept the same, down from 39%, and 14% say they should be increased, down from 18%. […]


 


A similar shift is evident when Americans are asked more broadly whether immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for the country. Currently, 58% say it is a good thing -- the lowest percentage saying so since 2003. The historical low for this measure, 52%, came in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks.


 


The anti-immigration set will no doubt trumpet this as evidence that we should close the door and deport those here, but they would be dead wrong to draw that conclusion.  American voters have consistently and strongly favored comprehensive immigration reform, despite the fact that – all things being equal – many Americans would like fewer immigrants in their country.


 


Gallup is asking whether or not people like immigrants, not the more important question at the heart of the immigration reform debate: “what should we do now?” or more precisely, “what should Congress do now?”


 


Keep the following in mind:


 


1) The immigration reform debate is not about whether we want more immigration or less immigration; the immigration reform debate is about how much of the immigration that is happening is happening through controlled legal channels. 


 


The overall level of immigration is a function of our immigration policies, plus the demand for labor in our economy, the demand for legal immigration by families, factors in countries that send immigrants, and numerous other push and pull factors.  We choose how much of that immigration is happening with visas, with background checks, and with full taxation and how much is happening in the black market, untaxed, and with smugglers.  The more our policies take into account the various push and pull factors, the more order and control we have in our immigration system.


 


2) If we really want to maintain lower levels of immigration, we have to maintain high unemployment and reduce overall economic opportunity.  The American people are decidedly opposed to that, but we are now seeing lower levels of immigration – legal and illegal – because the economy is not growing.


 


3) Within the group of Americans who would like to see immigration reduced is a core 10-15% who want to see immigration stopped altogether.  They are the tail that has been wagging the national dog. 


 


An inordinate level of passion against legal and illegal immigration combined with funding, organization, and the megaphone of talk radio and talk TV, has elevated this small slice of the electorate to a place where they have largely controlled the pitch – and often the outcome – of the immigration debate.


 


But the American people remain a pragmatic lot.  They realize that we are a nation built by and founded by immigrants; that we are a beacon of freedom to refugees; that immigrants will – and should – come here legally in the future; and that we will never deport 12 million immigrants living here illegally.  This is why we still see strong support for practical solutions to our current immigration mess that move us forward, get immigration channeled through controlled legal channels, and makes sure rules are in place and enforced.


 


That is why all of the polls we have seen continue to show strong support across all demographics, parties, and ideologies for comprehensive immigration reform.


 

Enforcement without Reform

August 05, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Prison


Photo by Stephen Mitchell

 


Newspapers across the country last week informed the American public about the failures of the immigration detention system.  From reports on the government’s failing to follow its own meager detention standards to hunger-strikers in Louisiana protesting substandard detention conditions, the issue got some of the attention it deserves. Tuesday, the New York Times reported on the continuation of misguided, Bush-era immigration policies by the Department of Homeland Security:


 


After early pledges by President Obama that he would moderate the Bush administration’s tough policy on immigration enforcement, his administration is pursuing an aggressive strategy for an illegal-immigration crackdown that relies significantly on programs started by his predecessor.


 


A recent blitz of measures has antagonized immigrant groups and many of Mr. Obama’s Hispanic supporters, who have opened a national campaign against them, including small street protests in New York and Los Angeles last week.


 


…The administration recently undertook audits of employee paperwork at hundreds of businesses, expanded a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized as flawed, bolstered a program of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies, and rejected proposals for legally binding rules governing conditions in immigration detention centers.


 


The article continues to point to the growing drumbeat of discontent by immigration advocates who believe that DHS’s escalated enforcement tactics without real reform of the system is the wrong approach to immigration:


 


“We are expanding enforcement, but I think in the right way,” Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said in an interview.


 


...But advocates for immigrants said the new agreement did not include strong protections against ethnic profiling. They were surprised, they say, that Ms. Napolitano did not terminate the cooperation agreement with the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio, who calls himself the “toughest sheriff in America.” Latino groups in Arizona have accused Mr. Arpaio of using the program to harass Hispanic residents.


 


“If they reform the 287(g) program and Arpaio doesn’t change, it won’t be reform,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a national immigrant advocacy group.


       


Firm Stance on Illegal Immigrants Remains Policy, August 4, 2009


 


The 287(g) program —the government agreement that gives local law enforcement agents the authority to enforce federal immigration laws — is the perfect example of a program that has failed to solve illegal immigration but instead has resulted in civil rights violations , widespread racial profiling and costly lawsuits to already cash-strapped localities.  Even local police chiefs and police-officers oppose the program because it diverts the limited resources of local law enforcement from the primary responsibility of providing protection and promoting public safety in the community.  It also makes witnesses and victims of crime reluctant to come forward and work with police to promote community safety.


 


Yet despite these shortcomings, the Department of Homeland Security continues to expand the program.  This led to the editorial board of the Star Ledger in Newark, NJ, to ask the question: What’s the point?


 


287(g) seems to unleash the worst anti-immigrant sentiment in many communities. In one North Carolina county participating in the program, a local citizens group found after perusing arrest records that most of the illegals processed for deportation had been picked up for traffic offenses.


 


[Morris County Prosecutor Robert] Bianchi has the better game-plan when it comes to illegal aliens and major crime. Until we get comprehensive immigration reform, 287(g) is nothing more than an ineffective half-measure, diverting police resources and providing a platform for local officials to grandstand about illegal immigrants without adding to public safety.


 


    Immigration law lacks purpose, August 3, 2009


 


There is a desperate need for broader oversight of our immigration policies. Escalating enforcement without reforming our immigration system comprehensively only exacerbates the problem and it will not render long-lasting solutions to our immigration chaos.


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