National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Grateful for Those Who Came in Pursuit of the American Dream

December 23, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Keepers of the American Dream Logo

During the holiday season, we are reminded in countless ways that we have many reasons to be grateful.  Among them: we live in the greatest country in the world—the land of opportunity that has drawn millions of people from all parts of the globe who have come in search of the American Dream.

Each year, the National Immigration Forum celebrates the heroes who embody the spirit of the American Dream in our Keepers of the American Dream Awards Event.  Our next event will be held in May 2010. 

You can show your support for the Forum by visiting our new Web site, There, you are invited to share your story of the American Dream or you can tell us about your family members who first came to America in search of it.

With your contribution, we will have one more thing to be grateful for by this time next year: comprehensive immigration reform and justice for the millions of immigrants who came like my ancestors did—in search of opportunity and the American Dream.

To get started, go to  Here is one example of a story you will find on the site:

Katie Shankle
In the early 1900s, my great-grandfather fled Ireland because his life was in danger.  The British found out that he was a providing aid for the Irish nationalists during the Irish War of Independence against the British government.  To escape further violence, he came to the United States looking for the American Dream.

For him, that Dream was freedom and the opportunity to support his family without living under the tyranny of others. 

For the rest of this story and to share your story, go to the Keepers of the American Dream Web site.

Gutierrez Throws the First Pitch

December 16, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

CIR ASAP Press Conference


Representative Luis Gutierrez has begun the first inning in the effort to get Congress to act to fix our broken immigration system.  Tuesday, there was a press conference to announce the introduction of his Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP). 


The bill represents a progressive vision for immigration reform, and is the result of thousands of conversations with people of faith, labor leaders and workers, civil rights advocates, and members of Congress.  Provisions of the bill would: update our family- and employment-based immigration admissions systems to speed family unification and provide for the workers essential to economic recovery; provide for the legalization of undocumented immigrants; provide for more worker protections; create more accountability for enforcement and border security; restore some due process rights that have been stripped from the law in recent years; and provide resources for immigrant integration.  For a very general summary of the bill’s contents, see our policy update, posted here.


At the press conference, it was announced that there are already 88 co-sponsors to the legislation.  Many of those co-sponsors were in the room and made the case for reform from their perspective.  An impressive coalition was present, representing the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus.  There were also dozens of immigrants and advocates in the room, cheering the Members of Congress as they entered the room.


Introduction of the bill kicks off the Congressional debate that will continue next year, and comes at a time when officials in the Obama administration have been gearing up for making their case for reform.  It is the Senate’s turn to act, and Senator Schumer is expected to introduce a bill in January.


Immigration restrictionists will say that now is the wrong time for immigration reform, because of the economy.  At Tuesday’s press conference, Lydia Velasquez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, reflecting on the recent death of a constituent in a hate crime, put it best when she said that


"There is no wrong or right time. There is a moral obligation."


You can urge your representative to support this progressive vision of immigration reform—or thank your Member if he or she is already signed on—by using this letter on our Web site.


Photo by Maurice Belanger

Gutierrez Proposal Sets a Marker for Reform

December 16, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On December 15, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced legislation to reform our immigration laws.  The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) represents an important step in getting Congress to act to fix our broken immigration system next year.  Below is a thumbnail sketch of the contents of the bill.


Legalization:  The bill would legalize undocumented immigrants, provided they register with the government, pass a criminal background check, pay a fine, show they’ve paid their taxes, and learn English and U.S. civics.  They would be allowed to adjust to permanent status after the current immigration visa backlog clears (estimated to be six years).  Immigrants who would be covered by the DREAM Act and AgJOBS would be covered.


Admissions Reforms: Spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents would be treated the same as the spouses and children of citizens, exempting them from the annual immigration cap.  Unused visas from previous years would be “re-captured” to reduce backlogs, and per-country ceilings would be increased.  The Affidavit of Support would be revised to require a sponsor to promise support at a level of 100% of the poverty level or more, not 125% as is currently the case.


Employment-based visas would be increased, and for certain categories of highly-skilled immigrants, there would be no cap.  Skilled temporary immigrants for whom an employer has petitioned for a permanent employment-based visa will  be able to adjust regardless of visa availability.  The investor visa category, now set to expire in three years, would be made permanent.  A Commission on Labor Markets and Immigration would be created to set employment-based immigration policies and study immigration impacts. 


Low-skilled immigrants for whom there have been no legal visas available (and who therefore have come primarily without authorization) would get up to 100,000 visas per year (allocated by lottery) for the first three years.  After that time, the labor commission will make its recommendations regarding employment-based immigration admissions.  There would be greater protections for H1B and H2B workers.


Border Security: The bill would focus more resources at border ports of entry to combat drug, arms and people smuggling, and it contains provisions to increase the accountability of border enforcement.


Detention: The bill includes standards for detention, governing access to medical care and telephones, a complaint process, and transfers.  It promotes greater use of alternatives to detention and offers more protection for asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations including families.


Enforcement:  Among other things, the bill repeals INA section 287(g), a provision of immigration law relating to cooperation between state and local enforcement agencies and ICE (and misused by some agencies bent on harassing immigrants or Latinos).  It makes clear that the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, and the federal responsibility pre-empts state and local laws that have been passed to enforce immigration laws.  An Ombudsman’s office would be established within ICE.  The bill would end the one-year deadline for applying for asylum.


Judicial Review:  The bill would restore provisions providing for judicial review of immigration proceedings that were stripped from the law by 1996 legislation.


Electronic Employment Verification: The bill will make an Electronic Employment Verification System mandatory, but it would be rolled out over three years, conditioned upon the system’s accuracy and ability to protect the privacy of individuals.  Employers would face stiffer penalties for evading or misusing the system, and there would be due process protections for workers denied work due to erroneous records.  It prohibits the creation of a national ID card.


Integration and Citizenship:  Among other things, the bill provides for a grants program for organizations that help immigrants apply for immigration benefits and prepare for citizenship.  It waives the English and civics naturalization requirements for permanent residents who have graduated from a U.S. high school, and for certain older persons.  It provides incentives for employers and others who help immigrants learn English.


What’s Next?  More comprehensive summaries of the legislation are forthcoming.  We will post updates on this page of our Web site.


Representative Gutierrez is seeking more co-sponsors for his bill.  You can urge your representative to co-sponsor the legislation (or thank your Member if he or she has already signed on) by using this letter on our Web site. 


The House will recess this week until early January.  The Senate is expected to continue debating health care legislation at least until shortly before Christmas.


You can sign up for updates from the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign, by going to the Campaign’s Web site.

A Civil Detention System: Would Immigrants Have “Special” Rights?

December 11, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger




Yesterday, the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing on the U.S. immigration detention system titled, “Moving Toward More Effective Immigration Detention Management.”  As is usually the case in a Congressional hearing, the question and answer session after the prepared statements of the witnesses provided an opportunity for Members of Congress to blur the facts (or, assuming a less sinister motive, to merely show that they have been poorly briefed on the issues).


To briefly review where we are on the issue of immigration detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has embarked on an effort to reform its immigration detention system to reflect the fact that many of the individuals in its custody have committed only civil immigration violations.  Immigrants in ICE custody will be sorted out and released, placed in alternatives to detention programs where their appearance for legal proceedings can be ensured, or 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.  In other words, it is not appropriate to house someone who is being detained because their immigration papers aren’t in order in the same kind of facility used to house murderers and rapists. 


At the hearing, Representative Mark Souder (R-IN) translated this news into a concern that we would be treating non-citizens “better” than citizens who are detained.


“Non-citizens held in detention centers have broken the law. They should not be held in detention centers that are better than we give U.S. citizens.”


Let’s compare apples to apples.  Unlawful presence is a civil violation.  How do we treat citizens who have committed civil violations?  Generally, we don’t put someone who speeds (for example) in a jail with murderers and rapists; we don’t put them in jail at all.  In general, someone caught speeding will get a warning or a ticket and then be sent on their way.  (Someone may go to jail if they are exceedingly reckless, but that is rare.) 


Another category of detainees have entered the country illegally.  That is a crime—a misdemeanor.  A comparable misdemeanor for a citizen is something like loitering.  Again, this is not something for which we generally throw people in jail.


So the argument that non-citizens who may end up in low-security facilities will be getting a “better deal” than citizens is simply not true.  Citizens who have committed similar civil or low level criminal violations are not usually jailed at all.


ICE would continue to detain in secure facilities those who represent a threat to others.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, 11 percent of individuals in immigration detention with criminal records had committed violent offenses.  More than half of immigrants in detention have no criminal record. 


Another fallacy that came up in the hearing about non-citizens in detention was Mr. Souder’s assertion that “American taxpayers pay for their lawyers.”  False.  Non-citizens in removal proceedings are allowed to be represented by an attorney at their own expense, but most immigrants can’t afford one.  (This article from the Migration Policy Institute makes the case that immigrants in removal proceedings should have the right to government-provided representation, given the very serious consequences of removal proceedings, including banishment from the U.S., family separation, and the loss of a job or business.)  Immigrants who are not represented by an attorney are much less likely to be awarded whatever relief from removal they may be entitled to.


One of the witnesses, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (an anti-immigrant group), raised another issue that requires correction.  He said that “virtual all illegal aliens have committed multiple federal crimes” such as “crossing the border illegally” “using false documents” etc.  Therefore, he said, “a very large portion of the illegal population [would not be eligible for legalization].”


Wrong again.  Any comprehensive immigration reform legislation would, of course, contain provisions that would waive bars to admission that are based on violations of immigration provisions having to do with an applicant’s illegal entry, loss of legal status, or working without permission.  Obviously, it would make no sense to create a legalization program and then make nearly everyone ineligible for that program.


Side note: The Forum's Senior Legal Advisor, Brittney Nystrom, testified at yesterday's hearing.  Her testimony can be found here.


Photo by Flickr user Still Burning.

A Promise Not Yet Kept

December 10, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border wall 


This post is by Forum intern Danielle Alvarado


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In "recognition of the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all members of the human family," the body's members “pledged themselves to achieve the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


The drafters went on to let us know exactly what they had in mind: protection from arbitrary detention, equal protection under the law, fair and safe working conditions, and the right to education are just a few of the provisions they laid out. They are all admirable goals on the best of days; unfortunately for many immigrants who find themselves in the United States 61 years later, these are not the best of days.


Amidst political grandstanding, vindictive enforcement measures reliant on racial profiling, and discrimination at work, and on the street, immigrants are under siege. Instead of protection, refugees and asylum seekers are now more likely to join the 400,000 individuals held annually by our sprawling immigration detention system that is rife with poor management and abuse. Unscrupulous employers who profit from undocumented labor call in immigration agents when those workers attempt to unionize. More than 5,600 migrants have died in the deserts of the Southwest as a result of a border enforcement strategy that aims to keep out the immigrant workers for whom no legal avenue exists in our broken immigration system.


We need consider only one recently-departed CNN host to gauge how well we are meeting another one of the declaration's goals: "act[ing] towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”


Broken families, rampant abuse of workers, and the all-too-frequent affronts to dignity. I can't help but think that this was not the kind of existence the Declaration's authors had it mind, especially not for those of us living in a country that so often served as a global moral compass of sorts. We can, and must do better. Passing long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform is an important first step.


Across the country immigrant communities and their allies are commemorating Human Rights Day with a simple message: we are here to help the United States keep the promise it made 61 years ago.  Here are a few examples:


  • In Portland, CAUSA is holding a candlelight vigil at the Edith Green Federal Building at 4:30 pm.


  • The Council on American Islamic Relations (Chicago) and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs are holding an interfaith event at First United Methodist Church.


  • In Arizona, Border Action Network members march for human rights and immigration reform in Tucson, Nogales, and Douglas.


  • Over 70 people representing 25 groups from throughout New Jersey will march six and half miles from the Federal Immigration Building in Newark to the Elizabeth Detention Center.


  • In Washington DC, Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) hosts a public screening of "The 800 Mile Wall."  The film chronicles the efforts of humanitarians along the border.


By this time next year, Congress will have passed comprehensive immigration reform. By this time next year, for the many victims of our broken immigration system, we will have started to make good on the promise we made in 1948.


Photo: Gatekeeper Productions 

Are You a Keeper of the American Dream?

December 08, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Keepers logo


With all the nastiness of the immigration debate in Washington, it’s easy to forget that, in our nation of immigrants, there are millions of uplifting stories where the grit, determination, and sacrifice of those who came to America from other lands was rewarded with a piece of the American Dream.


Since 2000, the National Immigration Forum has held a Keepers of the American Dream Awards Event to celebrate the heroes who embody the spirit of the American Dream.  Leading up to the Keepers event in the spring of 2010, we are pleased to invite you to share your inspiring story on how you have achieved the American Dream, or how those in your family who first came to this country paved the way for you to achieve the Dream. 


With the American Dream mosaic, you can show your support for the National Immigration Forum and post your story to share.  To get started, go to Here is one example of a story you will find on the site:


Grisella Martinez (Country of Origin: Mexico)

“I am a Keeper of the American Dream because as the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, I am living proof of the possibility of better opportunities that brought my family here in the early 20th century. My grandparents contributed to the success of this nation by their occupational and domestic contributions. My grandfathers worked hard to provide for their families: one as a sulfur miner, the other as an automotive mechanic. My grandmothers were early innovators, contributing to the local economy through small entrepreneurial ventures and to the safety and well-being of their families whether at home or in church. My family has had a member serve in the armed forces since World War II when my grandmother watched her only 3 sons go off to war. My father and his brother served proudly in Vietnam. My cousin recently served as an Army surgeon in Iraq.”


For the rest of this story, go to the Keepers of the American Dream Web site.

People of Faith Strengthen the Fight for Immigration Reform

December 03, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


This post was first featured in the Reform Immigration FOR America blog


On November 13, when Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano addressed advocates and the media at the Center for American Progress, she pointed to the “fundamental changes” from 2007 that have shifted the debate on comprehensive immigration reform making it more attainable this time around.


She cited the greater involvement of key constituencies like law enforcement and faith communities as evidence that a larger and more diverse coalition is deeply involved in the fight for a workable solution to our current broken immigration system.


Last week, people of faith at events nationwide demonstrated their strong commitment to immigration reform. Faith leaders agree: immigration reform is a moral issue, and we must craft a new system that is fair, humane, and the right thing to do.


Breaking Bread and Barrier


The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a partnership of faith-based organizations that advocates for immigration reform, hosted the Breaking Bread and Barrier Events during the Thanksgiving week. In cities all over the country, people of faith organized prayer vigils, potlucks and townhalls, and met with their members of Congress to push for immigration reform.


The events highlighted the stories of immigrants in local communities, the work of faith communities in welcoming immigrants, and the urgent need to fix the immigration system now.



A Prayer for Immigration Reform in Riverside


The New Jersey Immigration Policy Network and faith-based organizations and coalitions from throughout the state, including the New Jersey Catholic Conference, hosted an interfaith gathering in support of immigration reform in Riverside, New Jersey on November 23.


The town of Riverside has experienced first hand the negative impact of a broken immigration system. Because of Congress’s inaction on immigration reform,, Riverside decided to take immigration enforcement into their own hands and embraced restrictive local immigration policies. An anti-immigrant ordinance enacted in 2006 led to a chain of events that had devastating economic consequences for the town. In addition to expensive and exhaustive legal disputes due to this ordinance, immigrants —who had been attributed prior to the ordinance to the revitalization of Riverside — left the town taking their entrepreneurship and purchasing power with them.


The New Jersey’s Trenton Monitor reported on the Riverside’s interfaith vigil:


Situated in a community that has had more than its share immigration related concerns in recent years, St. Peter’s Church in Riverside … provided a most appropriate setting to host an interfaith gathering Nov. 23 where people of all faith traditions came together to pray and show their support of humane immigration reform.

Marlene Lao-Collins, director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said she viewed the interfaith gathering as a way of bringing a diverse group of religious leaders, lay people and immigrants together to demonstrate a common ground for just, humane and comprehensive immigration reform regardless of their status and to bring attention to the “positive contributions that [immigrants] make to our society.


Evangelical Church of America: We Need Comprehensive Immigration Reform


The Evangelical Church of America, the largest Lutheran organization in America, approved a resolution titled, “Toward Compassionate, Just and Wise Immigration Reform.” The resolution provides guidance to its congregation on issues related to immigration reform and the protection of immigrant families and workers. The ELCA resolution declares that “now is the time…to pursue comprehensive immigration reform through the establishment of laws better aligned with America’s historic values…and more responsive to the needs of immigrants, society, and the economy.”


People of faith are joining forces and raising their voices in strong support for a humane solution to our broken immigration system. Their voices reaffirm the moral urgency for reform and the need to have an immigration system that reflects our American values of fairness, justice and shared responsibility and keeps American families together.

Editorials: Washington, Roll up your sleeves and get to work on immigration reform

December 01, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas



Last week, editorials around the country made the case for why Washington shouldn’t wait to pass comprehensive immigration reform. A series of editorials endorsing comprehensive immigration reform in some of the nation’s major dailies followed remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Center for American Progress where she emphasized the need for an immigration system that truly works so that her agency can keep America safe.


We first call your attention to an editorial from a newspaper that has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of a broken immigration system: the Des Moines Register in Iowa. The editorial’s title instantly set the tone: “Immigration reform is shamefully overdue”.  The piece notes that reform will be difficult, but nonetheless, the push must happen now because further delay will worsen our immigration crisis.  


The nation can no longer ignore this human crisis…


Passing immigration reform will require more than the sympathetic appeal that most undocumented immigrants - like those arrested at the packing plant in Postville - want only to earn a decent living.


It will require assurance on three fronts:


- Stepped-up enforcement at the border will continue.


- Employers who hire undocumented immigrants will face harsher penalties to provide genuine deterrence.


- Quotas for legal immigration will be flexible to meet the needs of employers who cannot find Americans to fill jobs. This need must be met both for positions that require highly educated employees and work that pays low wages. Temporary guest-worker programs should be part of reform, too, with safeguards against employer abuse.

Immigration Reform is Shamefully Overdue, November 23, 2009


In Minnesota, the focus was on the economics of a workable immigration system. Here’s an excerpt from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:


In the shallow, often misinformed rhetoric over immigration, we too seldom hear the case for reform made in economic terms.


That may be changing -- at least in Minnesota. A new report from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute and the Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition pulls together compelling evidence that even in this mostly homogeneous state -- where the immigrant population is small but growing -- immigrants are playing an increasingly important role in the economy, and we will depend more on their contributions as boomers leave the workforce.

The Economic Case For Immigration Reform, November 20, 2009


And an excerpt from the south central Minnesota’s Mankatto Free Press:


In Minnesota, immigration will play a key role in the state's economic future, according to the [University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute’ report. Immigrants add not only economic activity such as starting businesses, getting jobs, spending money and paying taxes, they also add to cultural diversity.

We hope legislators at state and national level can act on those facts and boost the economy with sensible and reasonable immigration policies.

        Immigration Key to Business Growth, November 20, 2009


The San Francisco Chronicle tool a more pragmatic approach. The country cannot continue waiting for the stars to align and bring about an ideal political climate for immigration reform. They asserted that immigration would continue to be a controversial issue but we still need to move forward from rhetoric into realistic solutions, and legalization is the only practical way to deal with the 12 million of undocumented immigrants already in the country.


Reform would also give Congress the opportunity to make some badly needed changes to our legal immigration system. One of the major reasons people continue to stay in this country illegally is that the legal process for immigration is so difficult and time-consuming. Simplifying and streamlining the system we already have would be an easy way to reduce illegal immigration going into the future.


There's never going to be a good time for immigration reform in a political sense. It will always encounter disruptive resistance from Americans opposed to anything - no matter how humane or practical - that offers a reprieve to people who entered this country illegally. But it is clearly in this nation's interest to align immigration laws with both reality and its economic and national security interests. The Obama administration is right to push for reform in 2010.

        The Right Time for Immigration Reform, November 22, 2009


Arizona has often been described as “ground zero” in the immigration debate; not only because it’s a border state but also because it has become the testing ground for state and local immigration policies. Within this context, the Arizona Republic examined the state’s former governor and - current Secretary of Homeland Security - Janet Napolitano’s efforts to make the case for immigration reform.


Napolitano is correct to note the advantage of enacting reform now, when illegal immigration is down, rather than waiting until the economy improves and immigrants flood back to meet renewed demand for their labor.


She calls for a "three-legged stool" of reform that includes effective enforcement, improved legal flow to meet labor demands and a fair way to deal with the current illegal population.


…Fixing immigration laws remains crucial to the nation's security, its prosperity and its moral fiber.


… Reform efforts were smothered in 2007 by the anger of a relatively small group of anti-reform zealots. The status quo stalemate that followed demonstrates the folly of the do-nothing approach.


In addition to our senators, Arizona's delegation includes a wealth of expertise on this subject - from Rep. Jeff Flake on the right to Rep. Raul Grijalva on the left.


This time, Congress needs to get this done.

Congress Should Act Now, not Wait, November 19, 2009



Opinion leaders agree; the recession and the longer-than-expected healthcare debate create challenges to the immigration reform debate but that does not give Congress a free pass on immigration. Washington’s inaction has resulted in a serious immigration crisis that threatens our economic recovery, jeopardizes lives, and prevents our government and first responders from ensuring our security. We need action from our elected leaders, not further delay. The message is clear, Congress needs to act soon and show the American “can-do” attitude to resolve the country’s greatest challenges.


Here is a list of other editorials on immigration reform:


Miami Herald: Immigration reform, on again


Fresno Bee: Administration must reform immigration


Dallas Morning News: Obama's bold step on immigration reform


Denver Post: Will immigration push be different this time?


La Opinion: Fight for immigration reform


La Opinion: Sanctions without reform


San Diego Union Tribune: Presidential backbone / Obama failing to lead on immigration reform


Photo by aopho 


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