November 06, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber
Sunday marks the sad one year anniversary of the brutal death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who was a victim of the rising tide of hate crimes perpetrated against Latinos. One year after his death, anti-immigrant rhetoric still poisons the airwaves daily, promoting intolerance and a hostile image of Hispanics. Undocumented immigrants are still living in fear and insecurity, outside of the system and not fully protected from crimes against them.
On November 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero was walking down the street to a friend’s house when he was chased, attacked, beaten and stabbed to death by seven teenagers who were out in what they called, “beaner-hopping,” randomly targeting and attacking Latinos. His murder exacerbated the terror in the local immigrant community and illuminated the real threat of brutal violence as a result of anti-immigrant hate speech.
After Lucero’s murder, the Southern Poverty Law Center conducted research on harassment of Latinos in Suffolk County and recently released their report on the pervasive abuse of Latinos, immigrants and others. Although some Latinos are regularly harassed, insulted and attacked, few of these victims can seek adequate protection from law enforcement agents for fear of retaliation or deportation,
Last week, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) into law. The HCPA broadened the categories of hate-crime victims to include gender-based violence, and also expanded the crime to protect victims at all times, rather than only when the victims are engaging in federal activities (such as voting).
Enacting the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was a welcome and much-needed step forward in the fight against intolerance and bias-based violence against immigrants in our country. However, a hate crime law will not protect those who are afraid that in seeking protection, they will themselves be arrested and deported. Comprehensive immigration reform will allow immigrants and Latinos to gain lawful and legitimate status in this country, and they then will be more likely to fully access police protection.
In memory of the death of Marcelo Lucero and the current relationship between hate crimes and the absence of reasonable immigration policy, Long Island Wins has created an online petition calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Sign it here:
November 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
Before Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional district, we reported that the nativist extremist Minutemen PAC had predicted third-party Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman was “positioned to win a landslide victory.”
The Minutemen -- and the rest of the right-wing fringe groups that endorsed Hoffman over moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava -- grew even more confident about their chances when Scozzafava dropped out of the race the weekend before the election.
As usual, however, immigration restrictionists turned out to be out of touch with reality. Not only was the election not a “landslide,” but Hoffman’s opponent, Bill Owens, beat Hoffman 49% to 45%. Owens is the first Democrat to hold the seat in over a century -- a sign of just how badly the right wing has alienated mainstream Americans.
Immigration wasn’t a major issue in the campaign, but that didn’t stop the Minutemen from using it to try to scare up support for Hoffman. Unsurprisingly, the PAC’s claim that Hoffman was the “only candidate for Congress opposed to amnesty and government handouts for illegal aliens” failed to turn out voters -- Hoffman did worse than expected even in the parts of the district considered his “base.”
Meanwhile, Owens, the Democrat, articulated a common-sense approach to immigration when asked about it, and endorsed comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s his answer to a questionabout crackdowns on undocumented workers:
“I believe that we should enforce the laws that we have on the books, but I think it’s very important that we have comprehensive…immigration reform. Because that is going to allow us to get the job done and that’s extremely important for the North Country economy.”
This answer didn’t get a lot of attention in the press during the lead up to the election. Why not?
Because it’s not a controversial position.
As we’ve pointed out time and time again, the majority of Americans understand that the immigration system is broken and that it will take comprehensive immigration reform -- not extremist fearmongering -- to fix it.
The right-wing fringe has shown yet again that it’s out of touch with mainstream opinion -- even in conservative areas like New York’s 23rd congressional district.
So here’s a question for Republicans and conservative Democrats heading into 2010: are you going to let yourselves be bullied by the Minutemen and other out-of-touch fringe groups? Or are you going to choose the common-sense solutions voters really want, and work to get them done?
November 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
This column is crossposted from www.maribelhastings.com and is part of a series about the players involved in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.
By Maribel Hastings
WASHINGTON, D.C. - "Americans want a solution to our immigration dilemma, as do law enforcement officials across this nation. But the solution isn't turning every local police department into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
That isn't a quote from a pro-immigration activist. It's from an editorial that the former Chief of Police of Los Angeles, William J. Bratton, wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week.
Bratton isn't alone. Over the course of this year, there have been various reports and events at which law enforcement officials have come out as allies in support of immigration reform. Their reasons are obvious: instead of concentrating on efforts to guarantee the safety of the communities whose trust they must secure in order to protect them, dozens of police departments are diverting time and agents toward immigration enforcement.
Ron Miller, Chief of Police of Topeka, Kansas, summarized it this way: "We cannot police a community that will not talk to us. We need to work together as a nation to address immigration reform."
J. Thomas Manger, Chief of Police of Montgomery County, Maryland, described the consequences when the immigrant community fears law enforcement officials:
"An increase in unreported crime, reluctant victims and witnesses, and the targeting of immigrants by criminals because the bad guys know that many immigrants will not call the police."
This year, the Police Foundation issued a report detailing how tasking police with immigration enforcement is counterproductive. It diverts scarce resources, makes them more vulnerable to lawsuits, and creates distrust in the same community police are ostensibly supposed to protect.
Art Venegas, former Chief of Police of Sacramento and director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative (LEEI), lamented that national attention has focused on figures like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona and his questionable techniques in implementing the 287(g) program (which allows local police to function as immigration agents) when police across the country are calling on Congress and President Barack Obama's administration to advance broad immigration reform.
"There are police chiefs and sheriffs who aren't doing what Arpaio's doing. They're the silent majority," Venegas told America's Voice.
The Republican administration of George W. Bush interpreted the defeat of immigration-reform proposals in Congress in 2006 and 2007 as a green light to intensify enforcement efforts and demonstrate a "firm hand" against the undocumented, even though the former president had promoted immigration reform. In addition to a physical and virtual "border wall," they conducted a series of raids which terrorized entire communities. Furthermore, they intensified the enforcement of the 287(g) program (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, was first implemented as part of the disastrous 1996 immigration reforms signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton).
The results have been terrible for the immigrant community and minorities, especially Latinos. 287(g) has resulted in racial profiling and other abuses illustrated to perfection by Arpaio, who is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations.
Although more than 520 organizations defending civil rights, human rights and immigrants have asked the Obama administration to end the program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided instead to revise the guidelines, in an attempt to eliminate profiling and abuse. For example, they did not renew Arpaio's authority to conduct "sweeps" to check for immigration status on the streets of Maricopa County, but did allow him to continue identifying undocumented immigrants who had been incarcerated in the county's jails.
However, this time, it's more typical to find police officers advocating for pragmatic solutions.
"The fact that many of these programs damaged the relationship between communities and local police departments didn't seem to matter before. But now local and state police are reclaiming their territory," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice.
In the past, one of the concerns holding immigration reform back was that its opponents would frame the issue as a choice between the "rule of law" or rewarding lawbreakers.
"But the growing public support of law enforcement agents demonstrates that even from the perspective of the police themselves, the appropriate and realistic solution is comprehensive immigration reform," Tramonte added.
And in the search for Congressional support, police officials in favor of immigration reform are a persuasive ally.
Venegas admits that for many police officers, speaking out in favor of reform isn't easy. Some have even faced retaliation.
But there are more Venegases and Brattons around us all the time.
As Rick Braziel, Sacramento's Chief of Police, put it: "Without comprehensive immigration reform, we place our communities and our nation at risk."
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America's Voice. Visit her website at http://www.maribelhastings.com
November 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
This column is crossposted from MaribelHastings.com
The first part of a series about the players involved in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and what makes this time different from past attempts
By Maribel Hastings
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When people talk in the abstract about undocumented immigrants - or, as some call them disdainfully, "illegals" - they don't think about the fact that these "invisible people" are in fact present every minute of every day. The food we bring to our mouths has been picked or processed by their hands. They serve or cook our meals in restaurants, take care of our children, clean the offices where we work, or own businesses we patronize. They are our neighbors, friends, relatives…the list goes on.
Only in the world of Sheriff Joe Arpaio can you tell if someone is undocumented just by looking at him. The reality is that we're all mixed together. I don't like it when we talk about immigration reform "bringing people out of the shadows" because it makes them seem like criminals. They're not in the shadows, they're in plain sight--even though some people don't want to see them or recognize their existence, and even though they have to live plagued by uncertainty from one day to the next.
Over and over again, we've been told that immigration reform is coming, and it's beginning to seem like crying wolf. But our job now is to maintain the pressure on Washington to do something.
The last debate over immigration reform was in 2007, and a lot has happened since then. Over the next few weeks we'll publish a series of articles profiling the major players in this real-life drama to explain who they are, what changes they've undergone since the last, failed attempt at reform, and how the interactions between them have changed.
The central protagonists, clearly, are undocumented immigrants, who still haven't seen a "happy ending" to their situation. But the list of players is long. After all, a wide range of groups have immense interests at stake--which is one of the reasons it's so hard to arrive at an agreement on the issue.
The group "undocumented immigrants" includes those in a variety of situations. Two of the most painful are that of the youths brought to this country as young children, called the "DREAMers," and that of the agricultural workers who face some of the most dangerous working conditions in the country. However, we will also consider faith communities; business interests; labor groups; law enforcement; pro-immigration activists; anti-immigrant groups; Congress, with its partisan divisions and special interests; and a White House that supports reform and is held by the same party that controls Congress, but relies in large part on the divided Congress to advance its agenda.
At the moment, in fact, the battle over health-care reform has delayed any discussion of immigration reform, while the crisis of the undocumented continues.
Given the controversy generated by the 287(g) program, which allows local and state police to act as federal immigration agents, we dedicate the first article of the series to law enforcement--and how this time, unlike past years, more police chiefs are speaking out each day in favor of immigration reform that returns responsibility for enforcing immigration law where it belongs: with the federal government.
Photo by FrankBlackNoir
November 05, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Newsweek is running a little photo essay on its Web site titled “Obama’s Promises.” One of the promises they list is “provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Newsweek (via PolitiFact/St. Petersburg Times) rates this promise as “stalled.”
Stalled indeed. The one-year anniversary of the election does provide a hook for reflecting on how our expectations are being met.
One year ago, a majority of the electorate was captivated by the man who promised change; who re-invigorated the can-do spirit that used to be an American trademark.
One year later, however, we are beginning to understand that the historic election of 2008 also returned to Washington too many lawmakers who are wedded to the status quo. Change, when it means changing the law, is a matter for Congress; there is only so much a President can do.
It is not just immigration reform that is stalled.
Health care, the number one legislative priority for the President, is still weeks away from completion in the Senate. On energy and climate change, defenders of the status quo are not even showing up for work, denying the relevant Committee a working quorum. The President has always said that these two priorities are at the top of his agenda, along with reform of our financial system.
Legislation is not the only measure of change, however. There are things an administration can do to make some positive changes even within the confines of a legal system that is outdated and dysfunctional. Since the beginning of the Administration’s term, our updates and blog posts noted the following list of positive changes:
Raids: ICE shifted its worksite enforcement to prioritize the prosecution of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, de-emphasizing the para-military sweeps of worksites where guns and dogs were employed to round up workers. (On the down side: the audits of employer immigration-related records are still leading to large-scale firing of workers.)
Detention Reforms: In August (and then in more detail in October), DHS announced an initiative to reform the scandal-plagued immigration detention system.
No-Match Rule Rescinded: A regulation issued late in the Bush Administration directed employers to take certain steps if they receive a letter from the Social Security Administration saying that the SSA’s records don’t match the records the employer submitted concerning an employee. The Bush Administration would have essentially required the firing of employees with mis-matched Social Security records. The rule was rescinded.
A Shift in Border Priorities: DHS has been shifting some of its resources allocated to securing the Southwest border to focus on reducing border violence. This includes the detection and interdiction of guns and cash from the U.S. bound for Mexico’s drug cartels.
Budget asks: The Administration’s budget requested funding for a number of positive initiatives. Among them: money for the Southwest border security initiative (mentioned above); money to improve the immigration detention system; funding for an immigrant integration initiative; and funding for the processing of refugee and asylum applications (which would pave the way for a reduction of the surcharge applied to applications for other immigration benefits).
287(g): ICE re-vamped its agreements with local law enforcement agencies that want to cooperate with ICE to identify and detain removable non-citizens. The new agreements put a clearer focus on ICE priorities (to remove dangerous criminals first) and, in theory, will lead to greater accountability. (The jury is still out on whether the new agreements will be any better than the old.)
Civil Rights Investigation of Sheriff Arpaio: The Department of Justice has launched an investigation of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for allegedly violating the rights of thousands of Latinos. (On the other hand, ICE renewed an agreement with Arpaio to help ICE identify and remove undocumented immigrants in the county jails.)
Relief for Widows and Widowers: In June, Secretary Napolitano granted “deferred action” for widows and widowers of US Citizens, as well as unmarried children under 18, whose residence was conditional on the petition of the deceased citizen. (Permanent relief for widows, widowers, and related children under 18 years of age who were being sponsored by a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident was subsequently passed into law.)
H-2A Rules Rescinded: In its last days, the Bush Administration finalized rules governing the H-2A agricultural worker program that many farmworker advocates objected to. The Obama administration has proposed new rules that will be more to the liking of worker advocates.
Elimination of Arrests Quotas: The Administration ended arrest quotas imposed on ICE Fugitive Operations Teams. There had been reports of Fugitive Operations Teams breaking into homes and arresting not the targeted fugitives, but anyone who happened to be in the home. (On the other hand, statements made recently by ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton indicate ICE may still detain anyone who Fugitive Operations Teams come upon in the course of an operation—they just won't count against a quota.)
End to HIV Infection as a Bar to Entry: The Administration has removed HIV infection from a list of diseases that made a person ineligible to enter the U.S. or adjust their status.
Not all changes have been positive—requiring federal contractors to use the E-Verify electronic worker verification system comes to mind. However, there are limits to administrative actions that can be taken in the context of laws (passed by Congress) that mandate more enforcement and more spending on enforcement.
To the extent that immigration reform is stalled, it is the defenders of the status quo in Congress who are to blame. The pressure has to be maintained on Congress if immigration reform is to move forward.
Photo by Flickr user Jason Rogers
November 04, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
We have just passed the anniversary of the 2008 election—one that was marked by high expectations for change. What we have learned in the interim, on the legislative front, is that there are still too many Members of Congress who are invested in the status quo on a range of issues. Tackling the big challenges that face the country has for too long been a job for the next Congress, and it is unclear whether there are enough solutions-oriented members in this Congress to break out of the old pattern.
They are still trying, but there are only about 20 or 25 legislative days left in this session of Congress. Leaders in both the House and the Senate are still working to finalize the health care reform proposals that they will send to the floor for debate. While the House may vote on a bill as early as this weekend, there are reports that the Senate may ultimately not get the job done until next year. Senate debate will not begin until the Congressional Budget Office delivers a cost estimate of the Senate bill next week (or the week after). The Senate will then face the prospect of considering hundreds of amendments on the floor. A Senate bill that survives will have to be reconciled with the House version and gain final approval in the House and Senate before being sent to the President.
Meanwhile, there have been a few developments on the immigration front.
DHS Appropriations: Congress has passed, and the President has signed, the Department of Homeland Security Fiscal 2010 Appropriations Bill. Some of the provisions related to immigration include:
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): $5.437 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is nearly a half billion dollars more than last year, and includes $1.5 billion for identifying and removing criminal aliens. (Secure Communities gets $200 million of that amount, $50 million more than last year.) $100 million—$99 million more than last year—is allocated for combating violence on the Southwest border. Funding is provided for 33,400 detention beds. This represents no increase from last year. Regarding worksite enforcement, $135 million is provided for agents to audit employer records. $70 million is provided for alternatives to detention—$7 million more than last year and $6 million more than requested.
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP): Included in the CBP budget is $800 million for border security infrastructure on the Southwest border. No new funding was provided for the Fence to Nowhere. $3.587 billion was provided for the Border Patrol. This is $86 million above last year’s budget and provides funding for 20,163 Border Patrol agents. $72 million is provided for Southwest Border anti-drug smuggling initiatives, including more funding to detect and intercept south-bound guns and cash.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The Office of Citizenship was given $11 million to promote immigrant integration. $50 million was allocated for the processing of refugee and asylum fees, contingent on USCIS reducing the surcharge it now places on all immigration applications (for which a fee is charged) to pay for the processing of refugee and asylum applications (for which there is no fee charged).
- US-VISIT: $374 million is allocated to the US-VISIT program, which tracks the entry of visitors to the U.S., and $50 million of this is reserved to implement a system to track the exit of visitors. (When fully implemented, in theory, US-VISIT will track entry and exit, allowing the government to determine whether visitors are overstaying their visas.)
- E-Verify: $137 million is allocated to the operation of E-Verify, including efforts to improve the system’s accuracy. (The program was extended for three years by this bill as well.)
Widows/Orphans Fix: One provision of the appropriations bill, championed by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and others, offers permanent relief from removal for the widows, widowers, and orphans of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees in cases where the application for immigrant status is underway, but the U.S. relative dies before the application process is complete. Under current law, if a sponsoring relative dies, USCIS will generally deny the petition for the relatives of the deceased person, although the Department of Homeland Security announced on June 9 that it would grant temporary relief from removal for persons in that situation.
Extension of Immigration Programs: This bill also extended for three years three small immigration programs: the “Conrad 30” J visa program (which allocates visas to foreign doctors coming to practice in underserved areas); the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program; and the non-minister R visa religious workers program.
Absent: Wedge Issue Amendments: Also of note in this bill were provisions that were not included. Restrictionist members of Congress attempted to tack on their usual amendments. Among them: making E-Verify national, mandatory, and permanent, and more money for the border Fence to Nowhere. The lack of success of those attempting to use the bill to advance immigration wedge issues is a positive sign that Congress is beginning to show more interest in solving the broken immigration system rather than listening to the broken record of immigration restrictionists.
Gutierrez announces reform principles: On October 13th, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) announced a set of principles that will guide the drafting of immigration reform legislation he intends to introduce later this year. He did this in front of a crowd of thousands of immigrants and their advocates who had come to Washington to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform. The bill, which is slated to be introduced sometime in December, is expected to include reforms that many immigration reform advocates have been pushing for. While an immigration reform bill that moves through the House will ultimately be one authored by Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Gutierrez’s bill can serve as a marker to define the elements that will gain the enthusiastic support of immigrant advocates. Rep. Gutierrez has posted his immigration reform principles on his Web site.
The rally, organized by the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign, also attracted other Members of Congress. In addition to Rep. Gutierrez, nine Representatives and Delegates from California, New York, Illinois, Colorado, and Arizona plus Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey addressed the crowd.
Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations: The spending bill that includes funding for the Census Bureau is being held up by, among other things, an amendment from Senator David Vitter (R-LA) that would prohibit funds from being spent on the 2010 Census unless the Census questionnaire is changed to include a question on citizenship and immigration status. Vitter wants to exclude non-citizens from being counted for purposes of Congressional apportionment (the process by which states are apportioned Congressional representation). Vitter’s proposal runs counter to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. (For more on that, see our blog post, “One Louisiana Senator Knows the Constitution.”)
Majority Leader Reid is expected to file cloture on the appropriations bill soon (to cut off a filibuster), and if that succeeds, the Vitter amendment will not be considered.