National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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One Louisiana Senator Knows the Constitution

October 31, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger




Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

From the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S.


On October 28, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana sent a strongly-worded letter to the junior Senator from her state, David Vitter.  The letter was in response to Senator Vitter’s request to join him in his effort to filibuster the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill unless his amendment to include in the Census a question about citizenship and immigration status.


If we are to believe him, Senator Vitter, a staunch defender of the broken status quo in our immigration system, wants to exclude the count of non-citizens for the purposes of Congressional apportionment.  


Aside from the billions of wasted taxpayer dollars that would result from scrapping much of the work the Census Bureau has done in the two years since the deadline passed for Congress to comment on the content of the Census form, there is a more fundamental problem with the Vitter amendment.  As Senator Landrieu pointed out in her letter to Vitter,


“…it is a fact that the Constitution, as amended by the Fourteenth Amendment, does require that ‘the whole number of persons’ in the United States be counted, and that this data be used to apportion House seats and direct taxes among the states.  To correct this, Congress would need to pass a Constitutional Amendment and have it ratified by the prerequisite number of states.”


Senator Vitter’s amendment to an appropriations bill, Landrieu continues, would not amend the Constitution.


Although Louisiana rejected the 14th amendment in 1867, it is now a part of our Constitution, and thus the law of the land.  Senator Vitter from Louisiana should stop acting like it isn’t.


Labor groups make the case for immigration reform

October 28, 2009 - Posted by Shuya Ohno


This entry was originally posted on the Reform Immigration FOR America blog.


A report released today by the AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds that the federal government’s immigration enforcement in recent years – including a heavy reliance on raids and often inadequately trained enforcement agents – has severely undermined efforts to protect workers’ rights, to the detriment of immigrant and native-born workers alike.


The Campaign applauds American Rights at Work, the AFL-CIO, and NELP for bringing attention to the stories of immigrant workers whose basic worker protections have been harmed by immigration enforcement activities.  The report articulates just why every American needs comprehensive immigration reform, why local labor chapters like the AFL-CIO of Metropolitan Detroit passed a resolution in support of the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America, and why the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, the two major labor federations have agreed to join forces to support comprehensive immigration reform.


Without a comprehensive approach, short-sighted immigration enforcement actions create a perverse incentive for unscrupulous employers to continue to hire undocumented immigrants who can be deported if they speak out about violations of wage and hour, health and safety and collective bargaining laws.  This in turn hurts all workers and honest employers in America because of the uneven playing field created by employers that actively game the system.


 Drawing on several case studies from across the country, the report offers a compelling analysis of how the division between labor and immigration enforcement has eroded. The report offers a blueprint for how the new administration and federal agencies can restore the balance. You can download the full report here.


 One of the case studies focuses on the immigration raid in Postville, IA in May last year. The report highlights the fact that “…at the time of the ICE raid, at least three state and federal labor agencies were investigating the slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, and ICE knew this…). Incidents of severe worker abuses have been well reported. (See “After Iowa Raid, Immigrants Fuel Labor Inquiries,” Julia Preston, NY Times 7/27/08.) The new report is bolstered by the fact that several supervisors from the plant have already been indicted, and the owners of Agriprocessors are now in court facing trial today.


The Obama administration, the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Labor must all work together in concert to solve the problems as outlined in the report. However, Congress must understand what the American people know: fairness in the workplace can only be restored through a comprehensive reform of the immigration system.  Such reform will be truly comprehensive when it can address the dire need to protect all workers. Reforming immigration is necessary for Federal authorities to achieve the proper balance between enforcing adequate labor laws and updated immigration laws. 

Photo by Libertinus


You can read the Forum’s press release on this issue here.

Update: 67 287(g) Agreements Signed or Pending

October 22, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Following up on our recent post about the new Memorandums of Agreement ICE had drafted to govern the 287(g) program: On October 16, ICE announced that it had standardized 287(g) agreements with 67 state and local law enforcement entities. Not all had been signed.  As of October 19, 10 were pending approval by the local governing body. 


In the ICE Press Release to announce the agreements, Secretary Napolitano is quoted as saying that,


“These new agreements promote public safety by prioritizing the identification and removal of dangerous criminal aliens and ensure consistency and stronger federal oversight of state and local immigration law enforcement efforts across the nation.”


DHS has a certain credibility problem here.  One of the agreements they signed is an agreement with the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Office, led by Joe Arpaio, who has a pretty well publicized reputation for flagrant violation of rules laid out in his new Memorandum of Agreement.  Arpaio’s newly-signed agreement gives his officers the power to “exercise their immigration-related authorities only” while assigned to the county jails.  Despite the agreement he has signed, Arpiao has said he will continue to conduct the immigration sweeps for which his department has become notorious.  For example in this interview with talk show host Glenn Beck, Arpaio said that he believed the law allows him to go after people based on their speech and appearance.


"If local law enforcement comes across some people that have a erratic or scared or whatever... you know... that they're worried and that they have their speech, what they look like, if they just look like they came from another country, we can take care of that situation."


Oh boy.  With partners like Sheriff Joe, it is not hard to understand why more than more than 500 organizations recently signed on to a letter to the Obama administration calling for an end to the 287(g) program.


Agreements have been signed or provisionally approved in Alabama (2), Arkansas (4), Arizona (9), California (1), Colorado (2), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Georgia (5), Maryland (1), Minnesota (1), Missouri (1), Nevada (1), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (2), North Carolina (8), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (1), Rhode Island (2), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (2), Texas (3), Utah (2), Virginia (9).  All agreements for which there has been final approval can be obtained here.


Six jurisdictions that had previously enrolled in the 287(g) program decided not to sign the new agreement.


Meanwhile, there is a growing movement by law enforcement entities to resist cooperation with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.  On October 22, current and former law enforcement officers participating in the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative held a press conference to call for comprehensive immigration reform.  These officers and others are concerned that when local enforcement agencies become involved in enforcing immigration laws, public safety suffers.  Arturo Venegas, retired Chief of Police of Sacramento and now Project Director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, summed up this sentiment well:


“We can’t have an officer on every corner so that we may feel safe, but we can expect every citizen to be our eyes and ears.  When members of the community are afraid of the police, it is counterproductive to our mission of public safety and national security.  Not calling the police because of a fear of deportation allows further victimization and harms public safety.”


On the same day, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network held a protest outside of ICE headquarters to protest the new 287(g) agreements and the signing of the agreement with Arpaio.


The claim that 287(g) agreements “promote public safety by prioritizing the identification and removal of dangerous criminal aliens” is a claim that is getting harder to believe. 

This Week in Immigration En Español

October 16, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Thousands Join Forces with Members of Congress to Push for Reform


More than eight thousand family members, immigrants, clergy, veterans and community activists from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to give testimony of how our broken immigration system is threatening family unity and the urgency of passing comprehensive immigration reform. Members of Congress joined them in their plea for restoring fairness and order to our immigration system and Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) announced progressive principles of his comprehensive immigration reform bill that he plans to introduce later on this fall.


Spanish language press documented the activists’ pilgrimage to our nation’s capital and the reenergized efforts to push for immigration reform.


The Principles:

A story by Spanish newswire EFE focusing on the principles outlined by Representative Gutierrez and calls for immigration reform supporters to continue fighting for a just and workable immigration system.


Gutierrez explained that his immigration reform bill will support earned legalization for those who fulfill certain requirements, family unity, border and internal enforcement; future flow regulations that respond to economic realities and a speedy legalization for farmworkers and undocumented students.


Similar vigils and rallies took place in Los Angeles and San Jose (California), (California), Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia (Pennsilvania), Detroit (Michigan), Seattle (Washington), Minneapolis (Minnesota), and other cities with high Latino populations


In Washington, activists interviewed by EFE mentioned that the events were meant to give momentum to the [immigration reform] negotiations happening in Congress and remind Congress and President Barack Obama their campaign promise to reform our broken immigration system.


“We are here because we don’t want our community to become dormant; we want them to follow the example of the black community that year after year continued fighting for their rights. And we want Obama to remember his promises", said Father Vidal Rivas, from the St. Michael Episcopalian Church in Washington, DC.

In a sea of supporters, Luis Gutierrez delineates his “principles” for reform, October 14, 2009 (Translated by Katherine Vargas)


The Journey:

North Carolina based newspaper Mi Gente describes local send-off events for activists traveling to Washington, D.C. to spread the message that North Carolinians stand firm for immigration reform, and the broad support of local community members from church leaders and civil rights activists to local elected officials:


Their [activists] journey aimed to reach the nation’s capital to participate in the October 13 events where Congressman Luis Gutierrez would introduce the “principles” of his immigration reform bill.


They were welcomed in Greenville not only by other immigrants, but also local elected officials, Caucasian candidates to city council and African American groups that fight racism. 


“There are many ways that we can support their cause, and we can do it by supporting them as they travel from so far away so they can have lobby their legislators” said Ruben Campillo, state director with the [Reform Immigration FOR America] campaign to Mi Gente

Pro-Reform Diversity, October 13, 2009  (Translated by Katherine Vargas)


Why Reform:


Maribel Hastings reminds us in her immigration column at why the President and Congress cannot ignore the urgency for immigration reform:


The reasons [for immigration reform] are humanitarian, legislative and political.


Without reform, we will continue to live in uncertainty, families will continue to be separated and we will continue to enforce immigration laws that do not fundamentally solve our immigration problem.


The issue of illegal immigration will continue to arise in every issue that Congress debates as we have seen in the healthcare debate and in the Census.


Next year is an election year and the legislative window narrows each day.

That’s where the urgency lies. The language better understood by politicians is the language of elections. When they begin calculating their votes for the upcoming elections in 2010 and 2012, they might then understand that inaction will not benefit anyone.

That’s exactly what immigrants hope, particularly immigrant and Latino voters who put their trust in Barack Obama and continue to believe in his word.


Gutierrez explained it like this:

“If we do not introduce a clear and comprehensive immigration reform bill, a bill that the community can believe in, we will demobilize the community. They will stay in their homes. We need to give people hope. If we don’t do it, we will not mobilize our own people, they will not have faith in us and we will not win this battle”.

Immigration Reform: “Without mobilization, we will not win the battle”: Congressman Gutierrez, October 15, 2009

Immigration reform supporters are not ready to give up yet on their fight to achieve an immigration system that upholds our nation’s values, treats immigrants with dignity and responds to our nation’s economic and labor needs. Will Washington listen or will they risk apathy and distrust of an energized and newly engaged political base?


For pictures of the nationwide October 13 events please visit:


For videos of the Washington, D.C vigil please visit:

For coverage of the events on Voice of America (Spanish) please visit:

New 287(g) Agreements Mean Nothing Without Strict Oversight

October 15, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Arpaio demonstration


On July 10, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had developed a new, standardized 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), in which state and local police officers are trained to enforce immigration law.  The agency said that it would require all 66 law enforcement agencies that had signed an MOA to re-sign the new standardized agreement.  That process was supposed to have been completed by today. 


In theory, 287(g) agreements (named for the section of immigration law giving DHS the authority to enter into agreements with state and local enforcement agencies) are meant to identify and remove immigrants who represent a threat to public safety.  For example, the press release announcing the new agreement stated,


“The new MOA aligns 287(g) local operations with major ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] enforcement priorities—specifically, the identification and removal of criminal aliens.”


That sounds good, and so does another claim made in the press release.


“To address concerns that individuals may be arrested for minor offenses as a guise to initiate removal proceedings, the new agreement explains that participating local law enforcement agencies are required to pursue all criminal charges that originally caused the offender to be taken into custody.”


In other words, police would not simply be able to arrest people on some pretense and immediately turn them over to ICE if it is determined that they were not in the country legally.  Police agencies would have to first prosecute the individual for whatever was the original infraction that led to the arrest—a process that would significantly raise the cost to agencies that may be using race as the basis for stopping people in the first place.


Unfortunately, the actual language of the new agreement appears to be more flexible.


“The AGENCY is expected to pursue to completion all criminal charges that caused the alien to be taken into custody and over which the AGENCY has jurisdiction.”


“ICE will assume custody of an alien 1) who has been convicted of a State, local or Federal offense only after being informed by the alien’s custodian that such alien has concluded service of any sentence of incarceration; 2) who has prior criminal convictions and when immigration detention is required by statute; and 3) when the ICE Detention and Removal Field Office Director or his designee decides on a case-by-case basis to assume custody of an alien who does not meet the above criteria.” (Emphasis added.)


The ACLU lists in this press release other weaknesses of the new MOA.


The new MOA will not end the controversy surrounding the 287(g) program.  The controversy has been generated because there have been police agencies and individuals within police agencies who have used powers provided by 287(g) to round up Latinos, get them into the jails, and check their immigration status. 


Example number one is the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s office led by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  After review of the Maricopa County 287(g) agreement, ICE took away the Sheriff Department’s authority to use 287(g) on the streets, limiting the agreement to apply only to persons in jail.  In a recent radio interview (as reported in the Phoenix New Times), Arpaio announced that his behavior—which is now the subject of a Justice Department investigation and hundreds of lawsuits—would not change.


“I don't need the feds to do my crime suppression to opt to arrest illegals. I can do it without the federal authority, and I'm going to continue to do it. It makes no difference. It helps us. Because I don't have to do all the paperwork for the feds, number one. And number two, I won't be under their umbrella, their guidance. So I will operate the same way, nothing is going to change."


For agencies like the Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office, 287(g) enables individual law enforcement officers who are inclined to act on their prejudices to do so.  When the head of such an agency publicly says he will continue violating the plain language of the agreement, and DHS goes ahead and signs a new agreement with that agency, it will only encourage other agencies so inclined to flaunt the rules. 


Even if there comes a time when the implementation of 287(g) programs are actually subjected to some oversight and bad actors are stripped of their powers, there are other programs fostering cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement that can lead to the same problems of racial profiling and undermining of trust in the police.  (These programs are listed and explained in this Forum backgrounder.)


For example, the Secure Communities program gives local enforcement agencies the ability to check the fingerprints of arrestees against FBI and DHS databases. If the fingerprints match a database record, ICE is automatically notified.  The problem is, even if the program is applied equally to all who are in the local jail, there may be large disparities among different groups in who is arrested in the first place.  As we noted in a previous post, the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity recently released a report showing how in one town in Texas, discretionary arrests of Latinos increased dramatically once local police had 24-hour access to ICE.  (The Warren Institute studied the Criminal Alien Program, but the same sorts of problems arise in the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.) 


This racial profiling has undermined public safety in communities where state and local authorities have decided to pursue such cooperation with immigration authorities. This problem was noted in a recent Police Foundation report, which concluded that the benefits of the 287(g) program do not outweigh the costs.


“[The majority of police executives participating in the report] were concerned that public safety would suffer because of destroyed trust and cooperation with immigrant communities. Participation in the 287(g) program, or at least the media coverage and fear generated by it, would undermine years of community-policing efforts, which in turn would compromise public safety. … [P]olice leaders were concerned about racial profiling and litigation costs: if state and local law enforcement officers engage in racial profiling, violate federal civil rights laws, or violate state and local law defining the scope of police authority, 287(g) agreements will not protect them from liability.”


Some of the agencies that currently have 287(g) agreements will not renew them for a variety of reasons.  The erosion of public trust is one reason the Framingham, Massachusetts, Police Department will not renew.  As Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl told the Boston Globe,


“It doesn’t benefit the Police Department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement. … We’re done. I told them to come get the computers.’’


Photo from Flickr user Katerkate.

Brookings Report: The Product of Comprise, But Ultimately Not Practical

October 13, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The Brookings Institute and Duke University recently published a report, Breaking the Immigration Stalemate: From Deep Disagreements to Constructive Proposals.  The report is the product of the Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable, comprised primarily of academics from universities and think tanks who have long written about immigration and its impacts, and who come at the issue of immigration reform from very different perspectives.  The report tries to find common ground among the differing perspectives.  As noted in the introduction:


“We sought to create a new venue for serious and thoughtful debate across a wider spectrum of immigration views by assembling twenty individuals with divergent perspectives and orientations toward immigration policy.”


The product is thoughtful.  However, the compromises that result from agreements among the divergent views make some of the recommendations seem arbitrary, impractical, and perplexing.  Those recommendations would put us on a path to repeat some of the same mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)—they leave many immigrants ineligible for legalization, and they fail to account for a dynamic economy that requires flexibility in the admissions system.  Other recommendations would actually close legal avenues for immigration, thus increasing the pressure for illegal immigration.


The Roundtable recommendations include a legalization program.  However, applicants would have to prove they had resided continuously in the U.S. for at least five years.  A similar provision was a part of IRCA.  This time around, such a provision would leave a base of about 3 ½ million immigrants in the shadows, with all of the problems our larger undocumented immigrant population has now.  Instead of wiping the slate clean, the Brookings-Duke Roundtable would propose to make the slate somewhat less dirty.  From an operational standpoint, a five-year residency requirement will pretty much guarantee there will be more fraud than if there was a simpler requirement, as a new industry would spring up to provide the documents necessary to “prove” five years of residency.  The report does not give any explanation for leaving so many immigrants outside of the legalization program.


The Roundtable proposes to leave legal admissions at the level they are at today (about 1.1 million).  This was another big failure of IRCA—there was no mechanism to adjust admission levels so that when demand for immigrant workers and family unification increased, more immigrants would be allowed in legally.  While admissions were adjusted in 1990, they have not been since.  When the economy was hot in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands more immigrants were coming to the U.S. to work than there were legal opportunities to do so.  Meanwhile, the demand for visas for family members could not be met by a ceiling set 20 years ago, and wait times for some categories have become several years long.


While the Roundtable proposes to keep the overall levels the same, they would shift numbers within the overall limit, proposing that more numbers be allocated to high-skilled immigrants.  There have been many reports issued in the past several years that warn of the damage to U.S. competitiveness due to unrealistically low numbers allocated to high-skilled immigrants.  (Some of those reports can be found linked here.) 


It is a common mistake, however, to ignore the need to supply a growing demand for low-skilled labor as well.  In 2006, the Department of Labor was projecting that between 2006 and 2016, occupations that require only short- or moderate-term on-the-job training would account for almost half of all jobs in that period.  In the late 1990s, the U.S. economy was absorbing several hundred thousand lower-skilled immigrant workers.  During that time, we provided 5,000 visas per year for legal entry.  Unless we acknowledge the need for low-skilled immigrants before the economy recovers from its current slump, it will be very difficult to stop those immigrants from coming to fill available jobs.


In the name of “numerical discipline,” the Roundtable proposes to compensate for an increase in skilled immigration by eliminating several categories of family immigration.  U.S. Citizens would no longer be able to petition for their siblings or adult children.  Legal Permanent Residents would no longer be able to bring in their adult unmarried children.  Not only that, but the Roundtable proposes to eliminate the majority of the backlog for family visas by simply telling most of those waiting in line that they are no longer eligible for visas.  All but 600,000 of the 5 million immigrants who are in line for visas would be deprived of a legal avenue for entry.  (Without apparent irony, the report notes that some of these immigrants would still qualify for visas in the legalization program.  In other words, if you broke the rules, you’re safe.) 


Again, closing legal avenues for entry for so many people will make any enforcement regime that much more difficult to successfully implement.


There are many elements in the report that are worth considering—a new emphasis on immigrant integration, a recognition that many temporary visa programs should be replaced by permanent visas are two examples.  The Roundtable’s proposal for restructuring the admissions system while keeping the number of legal visas constant, however, would practically guarantee continued high levels of illegal immigration.


Welcoming Detention Reform, Waiting for Immigration Reform

October 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

VIDEO:  Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)’s floor speech on the ICE Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations Report released yesterday. 

Earlier this year, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a review of the immigration detention system overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  In August, ICE announced that it was undertaking reforms of its detention system, including the creation of new offices within DHS tasked with detention policy and planning.  The review was conducted by Dr. Dora Schriro, who was briefly ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning Director.  The release of the report on October 6th was accompanied by an announcement of a set of initiatives to implement some of the recommendations. 


ICE’s immigration detention system has come under much public scrutiny in recent months, after several immigrants perished while awaiting deportation.  Those deaths were made public in press accounts including an investigative report by the Washington Post that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  (Recent governmental and non-governmental watchdog reports pertaining to the immigration detention system are summarized in this document.)  Recognizing the mess that immigration detention has become, members of Congress introduced several pieces of legislation this year that would require minimum standards of care for those detained by DHS.


Many of the recommendations contained in Dr. Schriro’s review are basic.  As the New York Times editorialized on October 6th,


Tuesday’s announcement includes statements of “core principles” so fundamental that you have to wonder what they are replacing.


The Times editorial continues, citing two examples.


• “ICE will detain aliens in settings commensurate with the risk of flight and danger they present.” That means the government has finally come to understand that detainees are not all violent criminals. They include young mothers and their children, asylum seekers, upright members of communities who, but for a lapsed visa or bureaucratic snafu, would not be in trouble with the law. Those who can make no case for staying here should be deported. But it’s gratifying to hear Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton acknowledge that nonviolent noncriminals — particularly those seeking refuge — should not be warehoused behind bars. They have promised to increase alternatives to detention, and we expect them to do that — even if it means a vast effort nationwide.


• “ICE will provide sound medical care.” This fundamental government responsibility has been shamefully neglected in centers around the country. The reform plan refers vaguely to a new “medical classification system” for detainees that should improve treatment and reduce unnecessary and disruptive medical transfers. ICE should make clear what that means and how that will help those who become sick or injured only after they are admitted and classified.


In sum, the key recommendations made in the report, and the initiatives announced on October 6th by Secretary Napolitano and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton had to do with:


§         Increasing accountability: All detention contracts will be managed, monitored, and enforced out of ICE headquarters in Washington.  ICE will more than double the number of its staff dedicated to on-site oversight of the detention facilities where the majority of detainees are held.  ICE will also try to implement an on-line locator service so that families and attorneys can locate detainees.


§         Appropriate treatment of immigrants in the custody of ICE depending on risk: Immigrants will be detained in facilities appropriate to the risk they present.  Non-criminal, non-violent immigrant detainees will not be jailed as if they represent a risk to society.  The use of alternatives to detention will be expanded. ICE is developing a plan to implement a nationwide alternatives-to-detention program.


§         Increasing attention to medical care: ICE will “devise and implement a medical classification system that will improve awareness of an individual detainee's medical and mental health conditions from the time the individual first enters detention.”


Some of these changes will take time to implement.  A Fact Sheet accompanying the report and announcement set out a timeline for some of the reforms.


It was also announced that, while a national search is conducted to replace Dr. Schriro as Director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning, Phyllis Coven will serve as Acting Director.  Ms. Coven is coming to ICE from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 


While the continued attention to the detention system by this administration is encouraging, the underlying problem is yet to be addressed.  If our immigration system was not so dysfunctional and if it allowed for legal immigration in a real way, there would be no need to detain the majority of current detainees in the first place.  As long as our immigration laws are broken, the task of managing immigration detainees will be much more complicated and occur on a much greater scale than is necessary.  As the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum stated today, “Ultimately, a humane detention system will come only when Congress acts to reform our immigration laws.”

Film Explores Suburban Immigration Turmoil

October 02, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


9500 Liberty Ave.


In July of 2007, a Virginia suburb of Washington gained the national spotlight when it passed a controversial ordinance giving the police authority to arrest someone if they had “probable cause” to suspect the person was in the country illegally.  Enactment of the ordinance tore the community apart, drove Latinos out of the county, shuttered many businesses that relied on their Latino customers, and made Prince William County number one in the Washington area for housing foreclosures just as the nationwide economic downturn was kicking in.


A new movie provides a fascinating account of the story of the immigration battle in Prince William County, a story not unlike stories that have unfolded elsewhere in the country where demographic change, fear, and ignorance provide a combustible mix ignited by peddlers of hate.


The filmmakers of 9500 Liberty had good access to the leaders of both sides in the debate, and followed them through the various battles in this story. There are many threads—the use of the immigration issue to further political careers; the corrosive effect of extreme rhetoric on the democratic process, as people are (in the beginning) intimidated from speaking out; the outsized influence of extreme elements in the community aided by national anti-immigrant organizations and their supporters; the deleterious effect on law enforcement when a police chief is ordered to enforce a policy he knows will interfere with the ability of his force to protect public safety; the economic consequences of a law that makes a significant part of the community feel unwanted. 


The film also tells the story of the many heroes and heroines who step up to push back on the extremism that has tarnished the reputation of their county.  In the end, the “probable cause” ordinance is replaced by one in which the police check everyone only after they have been arrested for some other reason.


While this compromise may work in a jurisdiction such as Prince William County, where the Police Chief understands the importance of gaining the trust of the entire community, it may not work in jurisdictions with lesser leadership.    


A new report from the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity looks at the problem of racial profiling in the Criminal Alien Program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Ostensibly, the Criminal Alien Program was to target serious criminal offenders for deportation, removing them from jails after ICE determined the offenders were not in the country legally.  Even if everyone arrested and put in jails is screened through the ICE databases, authorities may still be engaging in racial profiling. 


The Warren Institute found that


“immediately after Irving, Texas law enforcement had 24-hour access (via telephone and video teleconference) to ICE in the local jail, discretionary arrests of Hispanics for petty offenses—particularly minor traffic offenses—rose dramatically.


The profiling occurred not in the screening itself, but in who was arrested in order to run them through the screening process.  The Institute’s examination of arrest data


finds strong evidence to support claims that Irving police engaged in racial profiling of Hispanics in order to filter them through the [Criminal Alien Program] screening system.


It was only after community protests over racial profiling that arrests of Latinos for petty offenses began to decrease. 


The kind of racial profiling and community division experienced by Prince William County and by Irving, Texas, will play out again and again in communities across America as long as Congress fails to act and reform our immigration laws to give undocumented immigrants a way to gain legal status.  Until then, unfortunately, there will always be a Sheriff Joe or a local politician willing to use the fear and ignorance of some to further their own careers at the expense of the undocumented and (more generally) people of color.


Photo by Flickr User Vinh Tran

“Who Benefits From A Crackdown Like This?”

October 01, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

American apparelLegalize LA

American Apparel, a U.S.-based pop clothing company, famous for its bright color garments and for its immigrant, labor and LGTB rights advocacy, has been audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and this resulted in the firing of nearly 2,000 immigrant workers who were unable to prove their legal right to work, according to a news story in the New York Times.


The firings are emblematic of a shift in worksite enforcement policy by the Obama Administration, targeting employers rather than the unauthorized workers themselves.  Or as a New York Times editorial put it: “the feds came with payroll audits rather than the guns and dogs of the Bush years.


Unlike Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa — a meatpacking company raided by ICE in 2008 — American Apparel was not an abusive employer, there were no child labor or sexual harassment charges, workers were given healthcare and paid fairly. The New York Times editorial questions how reformative these “paper raids” can really be:


The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, called it a milestone in the fight against illegal immigration: “Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door.”


The government has to enforce the law. But one has to ask who benefits from a crackdown like this.


Mr. Morton’s own boss, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, used to argue that crackdowns made no sense when workers had no shot at legalization. “To look ‘tough,’ what little enforcement we have ends up being arbitrary and unfair,” she wrote in a 2007 op-ed article in The Washington Post when she was still the governor of Arizona.


The opinion piece goes on, asserting what we here at ImmPolitic continue to repeat over and over again: we will not be able to enforce our way back to control of immigration.  When 5.4% of the American workforce is undocumented and not protected by basic labor laws, we have a problem that goes beyond raids. 


President Obama and Ms. Napolitano inherited a failed immigration policy. They have promised do better in setting priorities, hunting down abusive employers and pressing for comprehensive immigration reform that will give workers hope and a path to legalization.


A crackdown that forces 1,800 taxpaying would-be Americans into joblessness in a dismal economy is a law-enforcement victory only in the bitterest, narrowest sense. As a solution to the problem of unauthorized workers — 1,800 down, millions to go — it’s ludicrous.

        Broken in the U.S.A., October 1, 2oo9


Enforcement from ICE and DHS that respects basic rights needs to be part of any immigration system that works, but that alone will fail if it is not combined with strong enforcement of labor laws and enforceable immigration laws enacted by Congress.  Instead of driving hard-working individuals off-the-books and into the underground economy, leadership in Washington should be working to bring lasting solutions that place immigrants and employers into the system and into compliance with the law.

Photo by Informatique


Legislative Update for October 1, 2009

October 01, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Health Care: The Senate Finance Committee has been slogging through some 500 amendments on the health care bill.  As of this writing, there have been two amendments considered that relate to immigration.  Both would have required a government-issued photo ID in order to claim benefits under the bill.  Both were defeated on party-line votes.   The Finance Committee should be finished considering amendments by Friday.  Next, the bill will be “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office (which calculates the ultimate cost of the bill) and the Committee will take a final vote.  The Finance Committee bill will then be reconciled with another health care reform bill passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  Majority Leader Reid, other Senate leadership, plus members of the Finance and HELP Committees oversee this process.  The reconciled version will go to the floor of the Senate for further amendment and debate.  It is expected that three weeks of Senate floor time will be devoted to debate on health care.


The House is now in the process of reconciling versions of a health reform bill passed by different committees.  Floor debate and a vote in the House may take place around the same time as in the Senate.


Appropriations:  The House and Senate bills containing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security will imminently be considered by a conference committee to work out the differences between them. The conference committee should complete its work soon, and a final version of the bill will go back to the House and Senate for final approval.


Although September 30 is the end of the government’s fiscal year, most appropriations bills have not yet been completed by Congress.  On September 30, the Senate passed a “Continuing Appropriations Resolution” that will keep the government running until October 31.  The House passed the resolution on September 25.  The continuing resolution basically funds the government at the same level as fiscal year 2009.  It also temporarily extends several immigration-related provisions that were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, such as E-Verify, the religious worker program, the investor visa program, and a program for foreign doctors serving in underserved areas.  (These programs will be extended for longer periods of time when Congress completes the regular appropriations bills.)

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: We are still waiting for Senator Schumer to draft a bill for introduction in his Immigration Subcommittee. Two hearings that had been scheduled in the Subcommittee—one on the subject of immigration, agriculture, and food security and one on the subject of the faith community’s perspective on immigration reform—have been postponed. As noted above, the Finance Committee is working through hundreds of amendments on the health care bill. This has required the Committee to be in session all day, every day for two weeks (so far). Senator Schumer sits on the Finance Committee. Until the Finance Committee has completed its work, it is unlikely that Senator Schumer will be able to focus much attention on comprehensive immigration reform.

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