National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Homeland Security on the Web: the Good and the Not-So-Good

September 30, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

 


Quadrennial Review Website


 



It was not so long ago that the INS, now USCIS, was a paper-based organization.  Records were kept on paper, got shuffled around among offices, and frequently were lost, leading to the great frustration of its customers, mostly immigrants and their families and employers.  Last week, USCIS launched their new Web site, putting more distance between the present and those paper file days of yesteryear. 


 


The new site makes it easier to find the most commonly requested information.  The home page is cleaner, with links to information on the various kinds of immigration benefits.  There are multiple ways to access information, including a new “Where to Start” search function which lets you select whether you are a citizen, green card holder, etc. and what kind of action you want to take.  (Unfortunately, in my first random test of that function, it brought me to the wrong information; it may take a while to work out some bugs.) 


 


There is now a parallel Spanish site, accessed by a link at the very top of the site.  There, the most commonly requested information about immigration benefits can all be obtained in Spanish.  There will be more in the future.


 


Applicants for immigration benefits can also get more information about what is happening with their case.  Logging on to “My Case Status” will now give more than the basic information about their case status.  An applicant can now get some important context as well, such as in what stage of the process their application is, where that step is in the entire process, and average processing times for that type of application.


 


For us immigration nerds, there are some immigration statistics available, by application type and local office, displayed in a nice graph and downloadable into a spreadsheet.  (Here, for example, is a display of trends in the processing of naturalization applications.)


 


In the future, there will be more Spanish content, more access to data, more instructional videos, and other improvements. 


 


USCIS has published a number of fact sheets explaining various aspects of their new Web site.  Among others, there is one with highlights of the Web re-design, an explanation of how “My Case Status” works, and a comparison of features of the old and new site.  You can obtain other materials explaining the new Web site here.


 


Meanwhile, over at DHS, we might have an example of where the use of the Web has perhaps gone a little overboard.  As we have noted in a previous post, DHS has greatly expanded the use of the Web to get the public’s input. One project DHS is currently in the midst of is the “Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.” (This being Washington, it has an acronym—QHSR.)  DHS has put up a Web site to allow “a broad range of opinions and ideas to inform the [review] process.


 


Anyone familiar with comments left on newspaper Web sites in response to any article on immigration knows that the discussion is not particularly illuminating. 


 


There are six aspects of the DHS mission that are being discussed on the “national dialogue” Web site—counterterrorism, borders, immigration, disasters, risk assessment, and planning.”  Each section contains a set of goals, objectives and outcomes that are the product of a study group.  The public can submit “ideas” relating to these aspects of the DHS mission.  However, in the immigration section at least, the “ideas” may not have anything to do with the goals, objectives, or outcomes that are listed.  The idea, “imagration law” (sic), for example, contains the misspellings and CAPITAL LETTERS typical of rants you see on newspaper Web sites.


 


It’s hard to see how all this feeds into a serious review process, really. 


 

DHS PASSes the Buck on REAL Solutions

September 29, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Punt Punt 2


 


Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is kicking the REAL ID can down the road – Again.  The REAL ID Act was enacted in May 2005 and it calls for the creation of a national standard for all drivers’ licenses. The card would become the only acceptable form of identification for federal purposes. Critics of the REAL ID Act, including the National Governors Association, 13 state governments, privacy advocates and immigration and civil rights advocates point to the overwhelming logistical, technological and financial burdens of the $4 billion unfunded mandate on the states.  Add to that the negative impact on U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who are among the 11-13 million currently without identification and there is resounding evidence of the need to repeal this law.


 


The original compliance date was set for May 11, 2008 but DHS continues to extend implementation of this unpopular and unrealistic piece of legislation:


 


States looking to delay their implementation of the Real ID federal driver’s license standards past the Jan. 1 deadline will have another two months to file their requests, thanks to a rule the Homeland Security Department published Monday.


Homeland Security had set Oct. 11 as the deadline for states to apply for extensions. The new deadline will be Dec. 1. The department estimates that no states are ready to come into full compliance with Real ID, even those that have made substantial progress toward meeting its requirements.


 


….Since Real ID was enacted in 2005, state governments have assailed it as expensive and invasive. More than a dozen states have actually passed legislation to block implementation.


 


DHS Secretary Napolitano has been one of the most vocal critics of the REAL ID Act since she was Governor of Arizona. Now, in her new decision-making position at DHS, she is looking for solutions to this ill-crafted legislation.  But Secretary Napolitano might be looking in the wrong place for solutions– the CQ article continues:


 


Secretary Napolitano believes that PASS ID is the solution to the current stalemate that we find ourselves in under Real ID,” [Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara] Kuban said…


“There are 13 states – over 45 million people – that are statutorily prohibited from participating in Real ID. We need to solve this problem now rather than kick the can down the road with endless extensions. Congress needs to act now.”


DHS Extends REAL ID Deadline Again, September 28, 2009


 


Advocates have been cautious about measures like the PASS ID Act because of the potential for exclusion of lawful immigrants, naturalized citizens and those properly seeking to adjust their status from being able to obtain government-issued personal or photo identification documents.


 


For example, under the PASS ID Act, some legal immigrants will be unable to obtain identification and would still encounter similar bureaucratic obstacles that exist under the REAL ID Act. The REAL ID Act left out some categories of lawfully present immigrants such as trafficking victims and other applicants for nonimmigrant visas. Given that immigration law is intricate and changes frequently, keeping up with eligible immigration statuses will prove to be confusing and quite inconsistent across the states.


 


Moreover, we cannot ignore the problems created when issuance of identification documents or verification of identity relies on flawed state and federal databases.


 


Let’s be frank, REAL ID was a political ploy to capitalize on the 9-11 tragedy to score political points a few years ago and a) it didn’t work to keep the Republicans in control of Congress and b) has created real costs and problems for states in implementation.


 


The PASS ID Act will not do away with the real concerns over the REAL ID and immigrant access to licenses.  It will certainly not solve our broken immigration system - only comprehensive immigration reform can do that.




Photo by GregKeene


Ali Noorani: The Real Health Care and Immigration Questions

September 28, 2009 - Posted by Ali Noorani


This entry is a cross-post from the Huffington Post



As we predicted, the politics of immigration have been dragged into the politics of health insurance reform.  It is now crystal clear that no issue of importance can be determined smoothly and comprehensively as long as 12,000,000 people live, work and raise children in the U.S. but float in limbo because of our broken immigration system.


 


The anti-immigration side, most of whom would oppose the President’s approach to health care reform anyway, has lied to the public.  Their claims that undocumented immigrants and their families would somehow benefit or even participate in a reformed health insurance system are patently false.  Our current systems of public health insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) already do a very, very good job of excluding ineligible immigrants. 


 


Adding additional documentation requirements would be repeating a mistake we made when documentation checks on Medicaid in 2006 prevented eligible citizens and especially children from accessing care.  Rearranging already effective methods for screening out ineligible immigrants from government programs will cause additional problems for citizens and legal residents; such as those 11-13 million Americans with no driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport who could be excluded from access to affordable health insurance under various proposals under consideration.


 


Reality is not the strong suit of anti-immigration advocates and Members of Congress whose approach to immigration is based on driving out or deporting 12,000,000 people and their families. 


 


The real questions on immigrants and health insurance reform relate to citizens, legal immigrants, and children.


 


Tax-paying legal permanent residents and other legal immigrants are also in jeopardy because of existing rules that bar them from coverage for five years and because of new restrictions being considered as part of health insurance reform.  Five years is a long time to have to rely on the emergency room for expensive coverage (that we all pay for) and it is a lifetime for a child.  It is fiscally and socially wise to include all tax-payers equally in a reformed health insurance system.


 


Finally, every child in America, regardless of the immigration status of their parents, is extremely likely to work and raise children in this country and live out the rest of their lives here.  Therefore, it is a wise investment to ensure that affordable health insurance coverage is available to children. 


 


If our goal is to make sure as many people living and working in America are covered by affordable health insurance so that the cost to tax-payers of expensive uninsured medical expenses is reduced, then ignoring immigration status makes sense.  However, at a minimum, we should make sure that all tax-payers who are legal residents or citizens have access to affordable insurance coverage and we should not bar anyone who can afford it on their own from purchasing it.


 


Health insurance reform and immigration reform are two separate but interrelated matters.  The goal of health insurance reform should be making sure every tax-payer in the system has access to affordable coverage.  Immigration reform should be about making sure that everyone who is living, working, and raising families in the U.S. is in the system and paying the full compliment of taxes.  We need solutions on both fronts.


 

This Week in Immigration – En Español

September 25, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

 


The disappointment about the President’s apparent lack of leadership on immigration within the immigrant community has been particularly palpable in the last few weeks as reflected in news and opinion columns in Spanish language media. The health insurence reform debate continues to unfold and restricitionists in Washington —armed with lies, not facts—threaten to derail meaningful action on health insurancereform by using their favorite boogeyman: Immigrants.


 


In great dismay, the Latino and immigrant community saw the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress “folding in the face of a heckler” and tightening up restrictions and expanding flawed citizenship verification programs rather than standing up against the disinformation spread by Joe Wilson & Co.  Frustration over Washington’s actions grows as immigrants and Latinos find themselves being demonized and used as scapegoats during the health insurance reform debate:


 


First, a column by North Carolina reporter Rafael Prieto Zartha titled “Cowardice Season” and published at the immigration opinion web portal: Maribelhastings.com.


 


Rafael begins with a vivid narration of the 2008 Charlotte Observer report on the maimed and deformed hands of undocumented workers working at North Carolina’s meatpacking plants. The report exposed the dozens of deaths and injuries suffered by the immigrant poultry workers and consequently brought the indignation of Members of Congress:


 


Despite of the uproar felt in Washington by the crude reality of the amputations suffered by the workers in the meatpacking plants, today, in the same halls in Congress, they firmly strive to deny healthcare coverage to workers that without a doubt urgently need it.


 


…CIS, the think tank of the anti-immigrants, is absolutely clear about its objectives and how they will use its “findings” against immigrants and healthcare.


What a stark contrast with Democratic politicians who in the last few days have been folding over the viral pressure of anti-immigrant forces. They are turning their back on the Hispanic community who voted for change during the November elections. The promises and commitment that their undocumented brothers would be treated as human beings and would be legalized is blurring away.


 


Temporada de Cobardía, September 21, 2009 (Translated by Katherine Vargas)


 


 


Maria Elena Salinas, one of the most recognized and influential Hispanic journalists in the U.S., writes in her syndicated column:


 


The immigration reform debate has begun and we haven’t even started to debate immigration reform. As Congress attempts to restructure the healthcare system, the public option – the issue that many thought would be the most explosive – has stepped to the side to give way to one of the most polarizing issues of our time: immigration


 


…while the strictest and most anti-immigrant provisions of the healthcare reform bill might be targeted to appease critics, the fundamental message seems to be: “We want immigrants out our country” and more specifically, Latino immigrants.


 


…As Janet Murguía, President of the National Council of La Raza said, this country should not allow for a person shouting to the President to dictate healthcare policy. Nor should we allowed the negative tone of the healthcare debate to risk the much needed reform of our immigration system.


        The debate begins, September 21, 2009


 


A similar theme can be seen in Los Angeles based news paper La Opinión; a column by Jorge Delgado titled “Wilson Won”


 


Everyday it is more and more evident that the anti-immigrant movement is wining battle after battle.  The last general to claim victory was Joe “You lie” Wilson. On the Obama Administration front, the first one to surrender was the Montana Senator, and chair of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus.


 


Wilson might have received a reprisal for screaming “You Lie” to the president, but its outburst gave him a more significant victory. After the scandal, the right pressured Congress and the Democratic Party – through Baucus – had to yield in the face of the Republican Party and conservative Democrats.


… the [restrictionist immigration] measures might had the goal of appease the anti-immigrant groups but they have no effect in practice, when the goal is to ensure that nobody is left behind without access to healthcare.


 


The extreme right is asking for the head of the undocumented as their war trophy in every battle they engage, and what we have seen so far is that this is a price that the current Administration is willing to pay, contrary to what they may tell us.


 


Wilson Ganó, September 23, 2009 (Translated by Katherine Vargas)               


“Week in Immigration En Español” is occasionally weekly feature of ImmPolitic.

It’s Time to Re-Think The Way Immigration Services are Funded

September 24, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

 


Out of Money


 


 


An article in the Los Angeles Times on September 24 quotes the new Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as saying that the immigration agency is facing “financial challenges.”  For the fiscal year that ends at the end of September, the agency faces a $118 million shortfall.


 


The agency is scrambling to make up the shortfall.  According to the Times article, Director Mayorkas is examining “all of the options that are available” to make up for the shortfall.  This includes raising immigration application fees. That would not be a good idea.


 


Application fees took a big jump in 2007.  After a surge of applications from immigrants trying to beat the fee increase deadline, applications for a variety of immigration benefits plummeted.  For example, naturalization application fees went up 69%.  In Los Angeles, according to the article, the number of naturalization applications in the fiscal year after the fee increase were less than one-quarter of what they were in the year of the fee increase.


 


Among the reasons for the decline is the ability of immigrants to pay the increased fees, especially given the state of the economy.  To the extent the fee increases of 2007 have discouraged immigrants from applying for immigration benefits, another fee increase might just exacerbate the problem.  Increased revenue per application will be offset by declining applications.


 


The way the agency is funded is just not working.  Congress requires the agency be (almost) completely self-funded from application fees.  However, huge swings from year to year in the number of immigrants applying for immigration benefits (and paying the fees) make it difficult to sustain any given level of operations. 


 


Over the past several years, a typical cycle goes something like this:  There is a surge in applications (prior to a fee increase, or for some other reason).  There are not enough adjudicators to handle the surge and a backlog of applications develops.  The unexpected additional revenue that comes in with the surge in applications allows for the hiring of additional staff.  There is a lag between the time the money is in hand and the time new staff can be hired and trained.  By then, a significant backlog has developed.  The newly-hired staff work through the backlog, but applications drop, and there is no longer the revenue to support the higher staffing levels. 


 


The agency now finds itself at that point in the cycle: fully-staffed for a much higher level of applications and incoming revenue.  Something has to change.


 


We will continue to explore the issue of immigration fees in future blog posts, as this latest funding crisis plays out.


 


Photo by Joshua Davis

Detention Reform Advocates Come to Washington to Add Their Voices to the Detention Policy Review

September 23, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber

By August of this year, the immigration detention system had become a public relations nightmare for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the immigration enforcement agency charged with detaining immigrants pending their removal.  Several independent reports and media investigations highlighted immigrants dying in detention. 


 


On August 6, ICE announced its plans for a detention overhaul, to be led by Dr. Dora Schriro, the administration’s appointed Special Advisor on ICE and Detention and Removal and an expert on correctional policy who had worked with DHS Secretary Napolitano (when she was Governor of Arizona) in reforming Arizona’s prison system.  Although Dr. Schriro recently announced that she was leaving the administration for a position in New York City, she had previously completed a six month review of the detention system that will help guide the restructuring process, and DHS has promised to conduct a national search to replace her in directing the Office of Detention Policy and Planning, which will lead the detention reform process.


 


Beginning September 24, advocates for detention reform will meet in Washington, taking the opportunity to give their input to the reform process.  The occasion is the Detention Watch Network’s 8th National Conference.  The DWN is a national coalition of organizations and individuals that advocates for fair and humane treatment for immigrants in detention. 


 


In addition to meeting with Assistant Secretary of ICE John Morton about the proposed detention reforms, members of the Network will also meet with members of Congress to discuss detention legislation.  Some legislation was introduced earlier this year to protect the rights of immigrant detainees.


 


At the conference, DWN members will also discuss the network’s policy priorities and develop their legal and organizing projects.  The conference should provide a chance for members to reconnect and reenergize their collaboration. 


 


For more on the conference, go to the DWN Web site here.


Business Cycle no Substitute for Working Immigration System

September 22, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

According to information released by the Census Bureau, there are indications that the U.S. has finally found an effective means for slowing down the flow of undocumented immigration to the U.S.  Is it some new ICE or Border Patrol initiative? No. It’s called recession.


 


Numbers released by the Census Bureau on September 22nd show that the foreign-born population in the U.S. actually may have decreased slightly from 2007 to 2008. 


 


Census Bureau data does not reveal the reasons for this decline, but there are a number of clues pointing to the economy as the chief reason.  According to this story in the Washington Post,


 


"The immigrant losses were particularly pronounced in California, Florida, Arizona and Michigan, all states where the recession hit early and hard."


 


The groups hardest hit were groups that tended to work in sectors of the economy—construction, for example—that felt the recession early, and where it has been particularly severe.  For example,


 


"The Census found about 325,000 fewer immigrants from Mexico last year, a fall-off of 2.8 percent."


 


While some might see the falloff in the immigrant population as the result of immigration enforcement, the slowdown in immigration in the midst of recession looks awfully familiar. 


 


In 2005, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report in which it studied immigration levels during the economic boom of the late ‘90s and during the recession following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


 


"Immigration grew sharply during the rapid economic and job expansion of the 1990s and then declined as the economy went into a downturn after 2001."


“Rise, Peak, and Decline: Trends in U.S. Immigration 1992–2004.” Pew Hispanic Center, September 27, 2005.


 


After that Pew study, immigration levels turned up again as the economy came out of recession and now the Census tells us that, in the midst of another downturn, immigration levels are plummeting.


 


As this study from the Migration Policy Institute notes, border apprehension data from the U.S. Border Patrol also shows high correlation between arrests of border crossers and the status of the economy.  The study includes a graph showing the rise and fall of employment, and the corresponding rise and fall of border apprehensions, going back to the beginning of the 1990s.


 


According to another Pew study, released earlier this year and based on national population surveys from Mexico and the U.S. and on Border Patrol apprehension data, it appears that the flow of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. has slowed, while the number who normally leave each year has held steady.


 


The flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States has declined sharply since mid-decade, but there is no evidence of an increase during this period in the number of Mexican-born migrants returning home from the U.S….


“Mexican Immigrants: How Many Come? How Many Leave?” Pew Hispanic Center, July 22, 2009.


 


In the context of our broken immigration system, when our economy is hot, the pull factor of jobs attracts many more immigrants than there are visas for them to come legally.  With no legal way in, they try to cross in the desert, and some are arrested, causing a spike in border apprehensions.  With unemployment now at nearly 10 percent, the pull factor of jobs is weak, and pressure is off the border.


 


Now is the perfect time to overhaul our immigration system so that when the economy recovers and the pull of the job market is strong again, immigrants will be able to come legally and work legally.  We should be regulating immigration to the U.S. through a functioning legal immigration system, not through the ups and downs of the business cycle.

Mr. Boehner, What was the Punto?

September 21, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

 


President Obama on Al Punto


 



Over the weekend, the President made the rounds of the talk shows.  Among others, he appeared on Univision’s Al Punto with Jorge Ramos.  On that program, the President’s pre-recorded interview appeared just before another pre-recorded interview with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).  The juxtaposition gave the large Latino audience of the popular program a chance to hear the two leaders’ positions on immigration reform.


 


The host (Jorge Ramos) focused mainly on the health care reform debate, but the questioning turned to immigration reform when the subject of the undocumented came up.  Mr. Ramos pointed out to the President that, if the undocumented were not covered, they would continue to rely on hospital emergency rooms for their medical care. The President tried to separate immigration reform from the health care debate.


 


“I'd really like to solve our immigration problem, but I can't solve every problem all at once.”


 


Mr. Ramos reminded the President that, in an earlier appearance on his show, the President made a promise that in his first year, there would be an immigration bill that he strongly supports.  Ramos asked the President if he could keep that promise.


 


“I've put Secretary Janet Napolitano, of Homeland Security, in charge of first making a whole host of administrative changes and eliminating the most negative practices that we have been seeing. And then what I've said is, start working up legislation that we think can, over time, move through Congress. Now, whether that bill gets introduced on November 15th or December 15th or January 15th, that's not really the issue. I mean, it would be easy for us to get a bill introduced. The challenge is getting the bill passed. And there I've been realistic. What I said is that this is going to be a tough fight and that we're going to have to make sure that we are working as hard as we can to do it. I am not backing off one minute from getting this done….”


 


Mr. Boehner was up next. Again, the conversation about immigration started with the issue of the undocumented and health care.  Mr. Boehner was asked what the plan would be for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who would not be covered by the health care proposals being considered.  Mr. Boehner responded,


 


“The real answer here is that we need serious immigration reform. And this has been a very thorny issue for a long time. And I don't think any one political party or the other can solve it by themselves.”


 


But Mr. Boehner’s ideas about reform are not, um, serious.  He was asked, “would you consider the legalization of twelve million undocumented immigrants?”  His response:


 


“…enforcing the law has to be the first step in this process. There is a way to allow them to continue to work in the United States for a temporary period of time. And if they want to become citizens, they need to do what everybody else in the world does, and that's apply from their home countries.”


 


That prescription is not serious because we don’t have the legal channels to give entry to the immigrants who came here illegally, so going home and applying from the home country is equivalent to self deporting. 


 


Many of the immigrants who came in the ‘90s and the earlier part of this decade did not have special skills that would qualify for higher priority in our employment-based immigration system.  They fell into a category for which there were only 5,000 visas available per year.  Yet, when the economy was hot, we were taking in several hundred thousand of these immigrants per year.  It’s easy to grasp the impracticality of “getting in line” when you understand that the “line,” or wait that would develop after one year with this number of visas available would be approximately one human lifetime.


 


Neither Mr. Boehner nor the President has in hand a bill that would purport to fix our immigration system.  Mr. Obama has instructed his Secretary of Homeland Security to “start working up legislation.”  In other venues, Mr. Obama has been clear that regarding the undocumented, we have to find a way to bring them out of the shadows.  Mr. Boehner appears to endorse something that is not realistic: asking the 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been here for many years and have built a new life here—to leave the country.


 


As Mr. Ramos said in his interview with the President, Latinos are wondering whether “la promesa de Obama” will be kept.  Mr. Boehner didn’t even have a promise to offer.


 


Photo: Univision.com

A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed

September 18, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger





On September 17, the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing, “The Secure Border Initiative: SBInet Three Years Later.”  The Secure Border Initiative is a combination of surveillance technologies and physical infrastructure meant to deter illegal border crossing. 


 


The technological element, SBInet—a system of cameras, radars and sensors—is seven years behind schedule on a three-year project.  The “tactical infrastructure” includes 661 miles of vehicle and pedestrian barriers.  In total, more than $3.5 billion have been spent on the Secure Border initiative.  The border fences and walls have cost $2.4 billion.  The tab for the construction and maintenance of the fence over the next 20 years will come to a little under $500,000 per mile per year. 


 


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, discussed in the hearing on the 17th, which was critical—to say the least—of the Secure Border Initiative.  Deployment of the technology is years behind schedule.  The fences/walls/barriers are nearly complete, but effectiveness of the border fencing has not been measured.


 


The GAO report, and news reports about the hearing, gave the impression that the Secure Border Initiative has been very effective in draining the Treasury, but its effectiveness in preventing illegal immigration is yet to be determined.


 


The reason, really, is that Congress has found it easier to throw money at symbols (mainly walls) to try to enforce broken laws rather than to fix the system itself.  If Congress would do it’s job, and update the laws so that people trying to come here to work could do so with a visa instead of a smuggler, a more rational border security plan could be incorporated into an overhaul of our immigration system, including an update of our admissions system and a path to citizenship for the undocumented. 


 


As it is, Congress would rather leave the Border Patrol with the untenable task of enforcing broken laws, and then complain when deadlines aren’t met or costs spiral out of control.

Waiting for Bipartisanship

September 18, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Watching the health care debate unfold in the Senate has been a little like being in a Samuel Beckett play.  The Finance Committee Chair has given in on a number of issues in order to attract Committee Republicans.  This has been going on for weeks.  Some of the compromises made have been in response to anti-immigrant extremists—those who, for example, have insisted that health care reform proposals being considered would give taxpayer-subsidized health insurance to undocumented immigrants.  (They are not eligible under any proposal.)  The “Chairman’s Mark” would even prohibit undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance in the proposed state insurance exchanges.  (And this appears to be in response to White House efforts to prevent undocumented immigrants from benefiting from the health care overhaul.) Individuals will be subject to identity checks to make sure they are citizens or legal residents before purchasing insurance on these exchanges. 


 


With the scramble to mollify immigration restrictionists, immigrants and Latinos have not been treated well in this debate.  Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), speaking on a panel at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute on September 16, blasted the White House for its endorsement of keeping undocumented immigrants from purchasing health insurance in the insurance exchanges—accusing the White House of giving Rep. Joe Wilson “exactly what he wants.”  (Wilson is the ill-mannered Congressman from South Carolina who accused the President of lying when Mr. Obama told a joint session of Congress that his health care reform plan would not cover undocumented immigrants.


 


The National Immigration Law Center and the National Council of La Raza, which have been spearheading the policy work to include immigrants in health care reform, have both issued statements on these developments.  See NCLR’s statement here, and NILC’s statement here.


 


For his part, the President, speaking at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala on September 16, reiterated that he does not believe that “we can extend coverage to those who are here illegally,” saying that he has made a “commitment” to exclude undocumented immigrants.  At the same time, the President reiterated his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform.  “If anything, this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all.”


 


Still, all the bending over backwards to satisfy the concerns of extremists will do the most harm to low-income citizens.  It’s been tried before, when Congress imposed new ID requirements for receiving Medicaid. 


 


Bad policy aside, what has been gained for reformers, politically, by all these compromises?  The subheading to the story in the Washington Post on September 17 sums it up: “Attempt at Compromise in Senate Draws No GOP Support.” 


 


The Chairman’s Mark (not yet in actual legislative language) will be marked up (amended) in the Finance Committee beginning next week.

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