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Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Legislative Update for September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Gutierrez signals intent to introduce reform legislation: At a gathering of advocates in Washington for the Unity in Motion Citizenship Day activities coordinated by the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) and the Center for Community Change/Fair Immigration Reform Movement (CCC/FIRM), Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) announced his intention to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House.  At the rally, the Congressman said that, while bipartisanship has its place, there must be a bill that says what advocates want in an immigration reform bill—a progressive bill that incorporates the DREAM Act, reunites families, and includes a generous legalization program.  Enforcement must be accomplished in a fair way that respects the rights and dignity of people.  Rep. Gutierrez pledged to introduce “principles” by October 13.


 


The Forum’s statement about this development can be obtained here.


 


Hearings:  On September 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held a hearing, "Human Rights at Home: Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons and Jails."  You can obtain testimony, statements of Subcommittee members, and a video recording of the hearing on this page of the Judiciary Committee’s Web site.


 


The House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Terrorism held a hearing, "The Secure Border Initiative: SBInet Three Years Later."  You can obtain testimony and see a recording of the hearing on this page of the Homeland Security Committee’s Web site.

On Citizenship Day, Rep. Gutierrez Promises To Kick Off Immigration Reform Push

September 18, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


 



Today, in celebration of Citizenship Day, hundreds of immigrants and new citizens gathered together in our nation’s capital to exercise their civic duty to petition their government for social change. Members of Congress joined them for an open community dialogue on immigration reform and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) promised to get the ball rolling on immigration by pledging to introduce a progressive comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next several weeks.


 


You can read the National Immigration Forum’s statement on the Congressman’s announcement here and the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign reaction here.


 


Our Communications Director was present at the event and wrote the following notes on Rep. Gutierrez’ statement:


 


Representative Gutierrez made his remarks at a gathering of 275 or more advocates in town for the Unity in Motion Citizenship Day Lobby Day coordinated by NAKASEC and CCC/FIRM.  The event was a "community dialogue" where delegates offered their concerns and experiences on the need for immigration reform and asked for specific commitments from the Members of Congress in attendance.  In addition to Rep. Gutierrez, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and staff members representing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were in attendance.


 


When Juan Soto, Exec. Dir of the Gamaliel Foundation, asked if Rep. Gutierrez will lead the charge and introduce a progressive immigration bill this year to push the process along towards passage of a bill, Rep. Luis Gutierrez answered a resounding yes.


 


Your question is right and timely, because the debate has been moving in the wrong direction.  Yes Juan I want to work with you to introduce a progressive bill that lives up to our ideals.


 


Bipartisanship has its place but we need to be aggressive and say what we want and need in an immigration reform bill.  It will be a progressive bill that incorporates the DREAM Act for young people and reunites families, legalizes the undocumented, and moves us forward.  I pledge to you that we will write it together.We understand that enforcement is important and that it must be part of our bill, but let's do it in a humane way, a fair way that respects the rights and dignity of people.


 


And let's be clear; if you are a criminal preying on our community, we won't raise our voices to defend you.  But we will raise our voice for all who work hard and sweat and toil for a better life so that that they can move towards legal status.



Our bill won't have a "touch-back," no reporting for deportation.  Our bill will not criminalize undocumented immigrants.  If it criminalizes them, then you'll have the same result as the Sensenbrenner bill.



We need a generous legalization program that actually works.  If we are going to be successful, people have to feel that it is real and that it is something they can believe in.  If not, they will not volunteer to come forward, they will not volunteer their cooperation and it will not work.



Our bill will bring people together and I pledge to work with you on the most comprehensive, caring, and compassionate bill we can craft.  And we have got to unite families and keep them together, we have got to address the needs of DREAM students, and we have to work with our brothers and sisters in labor so that the AFL-CIO, SEIU, UNITE HERE, and the United Food and Commercial Workers and others are with us and fighting along our side.



We have to keep all members of our army together because that is really what we are forming, an army who will work together towards our goal.  That will allow us to be successful.


 


I want to work on this now, over the next few weeks and introduce principles by October 13 when I understand a lot of you are coming back to Washington.  But regardless of how long it takes, we will make progress and keep pushing for reform.


 



 



 


Photo by jvoves

AFL-CIO Delegates Pass Resolution to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform

September 16, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

AFL-CIO Convention 2009


 


The nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, made its support of immigration reform official on September 15 when delegates to its national Convention in Pittsburgh ratified Resolution 11: The Labor Movement’s Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.


 


The bulk of the resolution is devoted to the “five major interconnected pieces” of immigration reform.  The AFL position is, of course, worker-centered, but they do not ignore family immigration, the core of our current immigration system:


 


“Family reunification is an important goal of immigration policy and it is in the national interest for it to remain that way.”


 


The resolution notes that comprehensive immigration reform


 


“must complement a strong, well-resourced and effective labor standards enforcement initiative…”


 


Both are necessary to prevent the kind of abuses that were documented in a recent survey of low-wage workers that we highlighted in a previous post.


 


The first of the five interconnected pieces of immigration reform listed in the resolution has to do with the future flow of immigrant workers.


 


“One of the great failures of our current employment-based immigration system is that the level of legal work-based immigration is set arbitrarily by Congress as a product of political compromise—without regard to real labor market needs—and it is rarely updated to reflect changing circumstances or conditions.”


 


In fact, the last time our admissions levels were adjusted was in 1990.  The AFL advocates for a de-politicization of future flow determinations, giving the job to an independent commission.


 


The second piece of the of reform addressed by the AFL resolution concerns a worker authorization mechanism.


 


“A secure and effective worker authorization mechanism is one that determines employment authorization accurately while providing maximum protection for workers, contains sufficient due process and privacy protections and prevents discrimination.”


 


The third element is “rational operational control of the border.”  The resolution acknowledges that border control alone cannot control unauthorized migration.


 


“Border security is clearly very important, but not sufficient, since 40 percent to 45 percent of unauthorized immigrants did not cross the border unlawfully, but overstayed visas.”


 


Rational border enforcement,


 


“…should respect the dignity and rights of our visitors, as well as residents in border communities. … Border enforcement is likely to be most effective when it focuses on criminal elements and engages immigrants and border community residents in the enforcement effort.”


 


The fourth element is “Adjustment of Status for the Current Undocumented Population.”


 


“…if these immigrants are not given adequate incentive to “come out of the shadows” to adjust their status, we will continue to have a large pool of unauthorized workers whom employers will continue to exploit in order to drive down wages and other standards, to the detriment of all workers. … An inclusive, practical and swift adjustment of status program will raise labor standards for all workers.”


 


The final element of comprehensive immigration reform endorsed in the AFL resolution is “Improvement, not Expansion, of Temporary Worker Programs.”  These programs should be “limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.”


 


There has been some controversy about the independent commission that the AFL-CIO endorses.  Business doesn’t like it.  Bottom line, though is that labor and business both see the need for the reform of our admissions system to adjust for our need for workers.  A legalization program alone will not be sufficient to control unauthorized immigration—nor will enforcement.  Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which included just legalization and enforcement, the driving force of illegal immigration has been our failure to update the legal channels through which people come here to work.  There is broad agreement now that there must be a better future flow program.  Now it’s just a matter of coming to agreement on the details.


 


The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign commented on the AFL’s historic decision here.


 


Photo by Flickr user Steve Dietz/Sharp Image in aflcio2008’s (sic) photostream

Despite Obstacles, Immigrants Continue to Call America Home

September 15, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

New Citizen


 



September 17 is Citizenship Day, a time to take stock of the commitment immigrants make to their adopted country.  It is also a time to reflect on how we encourage (or don’t encourage) immigrants to become fully American.


 


On September 9, Public Agenda released a new survey to gauge how immigrants feel about their life in the U.S.  The new survey, A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Now Say About Life in America, asked 1,138 immigrants about (among other things) their attitude towards becoming citizens.  Of those who were not already citizens and are legal residents, 87 percent say they are either in the process of becoming citizens or that they plan to become citizens in the future.  The top reasons that immigrants gave on this survey for becoming citizens were: to have equal rights and responsibilities (80 percent) to have the right to vote (78 percent); to have better legal rights and protections (78 percent); to show a commitment and pride in being American (71 percent).


 


Public Agenda did a similar survey in 2002, and they note that since then, there has been an increase in immigrants who say that they want to become citizens in order to make it easier to bring other family members to the U.S.  This could be seen as a consequence of the increasingly long visa backlogs that have developed for the family members of permanent legal residents in an immigration system that has not been updated in two decades.


 


While immigrants in the 2009 survey (and others before it) show their eagerness to join our civic life, they face increasing barriers.  On September 11, the National Council of La Raza released a paper highlighting a sharp decrease in naturalization applications in recent months.  This decrease in citizenship applications is occurring in the context of the current economic crisis and a sharp increase in naturalization application fees.  From 2006-2007, the median income for non-citizens had dropped 7.3 percent and has not recovered.  In 2007, the fee for the naturalization application went from $330 to $595, on top of which there is an additional $80 charge for fingerprinting.


 


The concern is that, for low-income applicants, citizenship is being priced out of reach.  It is time to re-think how the immigration service agency is funded.  Currently, immigrants pay not just for the processing of their own application, but also for infrastructure improvements at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, the immigration service agency), some immigration enforcement functions, and the processing of the applications of other immigrants who are not charged a fee.


 


Piling all those costs on to individual applicants is a problem for the agency as well.  It derives almost all of its revenue from fees, and when immigrants can’t pay, USCIS must scramble to make adjustments to its budget.  According to the Associated Press, USCIS is expecting a shortfall of almost $300 million by the end of its Fiscal Year on September 30 due to the drop in naturalization and other immigration applications. 


 


The agency may be in another cycle of catching up with its work after a surge in fee revenue and then falling behind when fee revenue falls short.  It is time for a change in the way USCIS is funded.  (You can read more on the history of recent naturalization backlogs and efforts to catch up in this report.)


 


The Administration, in its budget request for next year, has begun to recognize the problem, and has asked Congress for appropriations to cover the cost of some of the expenses that immigrants now pay for, but that are not related to their applications.  The outcome of that request is still uncertain.  The House is willing to give the Administration much of what it asked for; the Senate very little.


 


Despite the increasing hardships, immigrants continue to overcome the obstacles and become Americans.  If you haven’t seen a ceremony where immigrants are sworn in as U.S. citizens, you might have your chance on September 17.  In honor of Citizenship Day, USCIS will conduct 73 special ceremonies from Camden, New Jersey, to Yosemite National Park, California.  On that day, 8,328 immigrants will take the Oath of Allegiance and join us in this great American experiment.



 


Phot by Flickr user Craig Martell.

On Health Care, Bending to Anti-Immigration Extremists Will Hurt Citizens

September 11, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Money up in smoke


 





In the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9, the President was confronted by
a Congressman who called the President a liar when the President said that the health care proposals now making their way through Congress would not cover undocumented immigrants.  The myth that heath care reform is a giveaway to undocumented immigrants has been addressed in numerous venues.  (Even Consumer Reports weighs in on this lie, giving it a bad rating.  Here is what FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, has to say about the President’s speech.)


 


Where the lie gets dangerous is when it is combined with the Congressional propensity to mollify liars—in this case by piling on documentation hoops that everyone will have to jump through to qualify for health care.


 


It’s been done before, and the results have been disastrous for American citizens. 


 


In 2006, in an effort to keep undocumented immigrants from getting Medicaid, Congress added a requirement that all Medicaid recipient, and persons applying for Medicaid, be required to prove their U.S. citizenship by showing a birth certificate, a passport, or certain other documents.  Prior to this requirement, Medicaid recipients were able to attest to their citizenship under penalty of perjury.  


 


Many recipients of Medicaid did not have the required documents.  Before the law went into effect, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington commissioned a survey that found,


 


[a]bout one in every twelve (8 percent) U.S.-born adults age 18 or older who have incomes below $25,000 report they do not have a U.S. passport or U.S. birth certificate in their possession. Applying this percentage to the number of adult citizens covered by Medicaid over


the course of a year indicates that approximately 1.7 million U.S.-born adults who are covered by Medicaid could lose their health insurance because of the new requirement or experience delays in obtaining coverage as they attempt to secure these documents.


 


More than one tenth of U.S.-born adults with children who have incomes below $25,000 reported they did not have a birth certificate or passport for at least one of their children. This indicates that between 1.4 and 2.9 million children enrolled in Medicaid appear not to have the paperwork required.


 


Shortly after the law went into effect, in July 2006, states around the country began reporting large numbers of persons being dropped from their Medicaid roles.  Was the new law filtering out undocumented immigrants?  No. In Iowa, for example,


 


“The largest adverse effect of this policy has been on people who are American citizens,” said Kevin W. Concannon, director of the Department of Human Services in Iowa, where the number of Medicaid recipients dropped by 5,700 in the second half of 2006, to 92,880, after rising for five years. “We have not turned up many undocumented immigrants receiving Medicaid in Waterloo, Dubuque or anywhere else in Iowa,” Mr. Concannon said.


Lacking Papers, Citizens Are Cut From Medicaid,” New York Times, March 12, 2007


 


This phenomenon was seen in state after state, as documented by, among others, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Government Accountability Office.  A year after the provision went into effect, a Congressional survey found that, for six states that could document the cost of implementing the new provision verses the number of undocumented immigrants discovered, the new documentation requirements resulted in the removal of eight undocumented immigrants in total.  Implementing the provision resulted in approximately $25 million in state and federal costs.  For these states, for every $100 spent implementing the new documentation requirement, there were 14 cents saved.


 


This experience should be a lesson to Congress.  Trying to satisfy anti-immigrant extremists by mandating burdensome documentation requirements as a condition for obtaining health care will mostly hurt U.S. citizens.  Such requirements will greatly reduce the impact of any legislation designed to help Americans who are now hurting so badly because of lack of affordable health insurance.  In any event, such a concession is not likely to gain the support of people who are using lies to try to preserve the status quo.  


 


You can find more information related to this topic in our Research Center.




 


Photo from flickr user purpleslog

Reform Immigration…for Workers

September 09, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

 Cleaning service


 


Labor Day has come and gone, marking the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of the fall Congressional session.  For most of us, Labor Day caps a three-day weekend.  For many of the workers on the bottom rungs of our economic system, Labor Day was just another day to get ripped off by an employer without scruples. 


 


A new report jointly published by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project, and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment documents the plight of low-wage workers based on a survey of 4,387 workers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.  The report paints a picture of a broken worker protection system.  As the New York Times editorialized, the report


 


found abuses everywhere: in factories, grocery stores, retail shops, construction sites, offices, warehouses and private homes. The word sweatshop clearly is not big enough anymore to capture the extent and severity of the rot in the low-wage workplace.


Workers in America, Cheated,” September 2, 2009


 


Wages are low, but these workers do not even get the wages due to them.  As The Washington Post noted in their editorial on the study,


 


Two-thirds of those surveyed had suffered some form of wage violation. Some had been paid significantly less than the prevailing minimum wage; many had worked overtime without being paid at the required overtime rate. Others were simply not paid at all for hours worked outside of their regular shifts. Those who were seriously hurt on the job often were given no recourse….


Down and Out,” September 8, 2009


 


In part, this state of affairs is enabled by the lack of commitment of the government to enforce the rules in recent years.  As the report notes,


 


Between 1980 and 2007, the number of inspectors enforcing federal minimum wage and overtime laws declined by 31 percent, even as the labor force grew by 52 percent.  Similarly, the budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been cut by $25 million in real dollar terms between 2001 and 2007….


 


Currently, penalties for many workplace violations are so modest that they fail to deter many employers. For example, the savings to employers from paying their workers less than the minimum wage often outweigh the costs, even for those few who are apprehended.


Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers


 


There is another problem that is inextricably linked to the appalling state of worker protections in this country: the broken immigration system.  As the Post editorial notes,


 


Almost 70 percent of the so-called front-line workers surveyed in the study were foreign born, and more than half of those were undocumented immigrants. Their status invites exploitation from unprincipled employers….


Down and Out,” September 8, 2009


 


Without immigration reform, with a program to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into the legal regime of labor laws that are supposed to protect all workers, there will always be opportunity for employers seeking to rip off a vulnerable workforce and undercut an honest competitor.


 


Workplace abuses are flourishing in the absence of a working immigration system, where illegal immigrants are vital to the economy but helpless to assert their rights.


 


The report upends the argument that the way to help American workers is to make illegal immigrants ever more frightened and exploitable. Only by protecting all workers will the country begin to rebuild a workplace matching its ideals of decency and fair play.


Workers in America, Cheated,” September 2, 2009


 


In the coming Congressional session, we will undoubtedly see some members of Congress justify their fantasy of mass deportation as something that we must have to protect American workers.  The real champions of workers, however, will be those who advocate comprehensive immigration reform to get all workers into the system.  This is the only way to ensure that a worker born in the United States will be protected by the labor laws of the land.


 


Photo by Flickr user Frederick Md Publicity

Homeland Security 2.0: DHS on the Web

September 02, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber

DHS 



 


In DHS’s attempts to balance “getting tough” on immigration enforcement with showing that the Administration’s policies aren’t also “more of the same”, a new and curious trend has emerged—an effort to engage the American populace on DHS issues through social networking sites and other online media communications. The question of whether this is a genuine new form of outreach or a public relations ploy has yet to be answered.


 


The Obama Administration in general has certainly placed an emphasis on the role of technology in government, especially through use of online media. A quick look at the White House and OMB websites makes clear that every effort has been made to give people expanded access to executive information, blog posts by Executive staff abound, and let’s not forget the President’s use of his beloved Blackberry. But to what end is the Department of Homeland Security looking towards with its web-based initiatives such as the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QSHR) and the Our Border site?


 


The QSHR is DHS’s project to assess and revise its goals and priorities as an agency, and as part of this, DHS created an online forum for National Public Dialogues on its four main substantive areas of work: Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management; Securing Our Borders; Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws; Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters.  There is also opportunity to weigh in on the processes for national risk assessment and planning and capabilities.


 


The First National Dialogue was open for comments for one week earlier in August, and the second iteration is currently open for public comment this week until September 6.  A final dialogue will open between September 28 and October 4. 


 


While in the first dialogue comments adhered to discussion of the proposed priorities and mission statements in each area that the QSHR had provided, the second dialogue is degenerating into clamors for securing the southern border with land mines (although unlike many other hostile comments, that one has been fairly roundly rejected).  However, there are a handful of pro-immigrant advocates and people focusing on the policy issues, and they are in need of support.  You can register to join the dialogue, but hurry to comment before the end of the week!


 


In addition, DHS has another immigration-related website: OurBorder.ning.com, the Southwest Border Civic Network.  This seems like an improvement on the nearly unabated tide of militarization that has been launched on border communities in recent years.  As Melissa del Bosque at the Texas Observer commented: “Civic and “border” were never used in the same sentence under George W’s reign. 


 


That said, the purpose of the website is not entirely clear.  It’s designed as a social networking site, where you can invite friends and create your own page and blog.  There are also forums where people are discussing border and immigration, as well as groups created for comprehensive immigration reform, ICE, CBP, and CIS. 


 


What is DHS’ goal with these websites?  There is policy commentary to make: the QSHR involves study groups that purportedly have a role in developing DHS policy, and may be looking to the National Dialogues for ideas and input.  The policy link from the OurBorder to DHS activities is less evident.  But it seems that the Obama administration’s message is that even the government itself can be a forum for public organizing and networking, and that DHS supports that process.


 


Check out the sites and discussions for yourself:


http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org/dialogue2/immigration


http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org/dialogue2/borders


http://ourborder.ning.com/


 

E-Verify: Could Make Social Security Problems Worse

September 01, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

papers


 


The government is forging ahead with its plans for expansion of the deeply flawed E-Verify program without addressing our immigration problems through real, comprehensive immigration reform. E-Verify has been a voluntary program whose purpose is to allow employers to electronically verify the information that workers present to prove their employment eligibility by accessing information in databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).


 


Numerous reports have documented the shortcomings of E-Verify - including the high error rate of E-Verify databases and the vulnerabilities to employer fraud and misuse. Moreover, E-Verify would place the sole responsibility to administer the massive new program on the Social Security Administration, an agency that already has its plate full preparing for the pending retirement of the baby boomers and with pending disability claims.  National Public Radio (NPR) reported on Monday on how SSA is already overburdened by its primary mission of administering critical benefits to the public:


 


The Social Security Administration has struggled with growing waiting lists of people seeking disability benefits. As the baby boom generation got older, more people got sick and disabled — and applied for benefits…


 


One and a half million Americans are now waiting for a decision [on disability benefits]. The backlog hit a peak late last year — and then started to drop.


 


Social Security Struggles With Disability Backlog, August 31, 2009


 


Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said it best in a letter to their colleague Members of Congress:


 


The current proposals for employment verification are unworkable for the Social Security Administration and they threaten progress in reducing the disability claims backlog. 


Letter to House Democratic colleagues, Washington, DC. March 27, 2008


 


Moreover, expanding a flawed program that would further hurt the economy while doing next to nothing to prevent the employment of unauthorized workers, does not make economic sense.


 


After federal court litigation and four implementation delays, the government will begin enforcing the mandatory E-Verify employment verification rule for federal contractors beginning September 8. NPR reports on the reaction by both business and labor who believe that E-Verify is not ready for prime time and that workers and businesses would pay a high price for the E-Verify database errors.


 


Employers say they'll comply but insist the law leaves them vulnerable to legal action if someone were denied employment because of an electronic mistake.


 


…Gerry Fritz is spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors. He says E-verify is a cumbersome computer program that requires new hires to be checked against more than 425 million records in the Social Security Administration's databases and more than 60 million records at the Department of Homeland Security. “Somewhere along the line, I suspect there will be a glitch” said Fritz.


 


Unions are also critical of E-Verify. Ana Avendaño, Director of the Immigrant Worker Program of the AFL-CIO, says the law doesn't address a larger problem - the vulnerability of undocumented workers. “It is not sustainable for our economy to have 12 to 20 million people without rights as working people. We have to have legalization” said Avendaño.


 


Ruling Makes Federal Contractors Responsible For Immigration Status, August 31, 2009


 


In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, expanding the flawed E-Verify program will only make a bad situation worse. It would overwhelm the Social Security Administration at a time when it has a backlog of over half-a-million cases and it would further increase the cost of doing business in a tough economic time.




Photo by Kongharald


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