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Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Economic Stimulus for New York

January 29, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Jackson Heights Market

On January 20th, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave his State of the City address at the Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens.  He spent the bulk of his talk telling New Yorkers what to expect from his Administration in the future in terms of helping New Yorkers climb out of the economic downturn. 

One focus of his Administration will be to help immigrants succeed.

So as we push for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington, we'll also do more to help struggling immigrants right here in our own backyard because all of us have an interest in seeing immigrants succeed.

A recent report by the Comptroller of New York, Thomas DiNapoli, emphasized just how important successful immigrants are to New York City.

In a short paper, The Role of Immigrants in the New York City Economy, the Comptroller lays out a wealth of statistics explaining the crucial contribution immigrants make to the New York workforce and economic life.

The arrival of immigrants between 1970 and 2008 arrested the city's population decline and more than turned it around.  The immigrant population more than doubled, to 3 million, while the native population declined by a million during the same period. 

New arrivals, the report notes, helped revitalize neighborhoods across the city.  The ten neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of immigrants had stronger economic growth than the rest of the City between 2000 and 2007—14.8 percent compared to 3.3 percent.  In those neighborhoods, the number of paid workers grew by 8.2 percent, but only by 0.9 percent in the rest of the City.  Even though immigrants tend to have lower-paying jobs than native-born residents, the report notes, the annual payroll in the 10 high-concentration immigrant neighborhoods increased by 36.3 percent, compared to 32.8 percent in the rest of the City.

Not all immigrants were in lower-paying occupations.  According to the report, foreign-born workers made up 100 percent of the City's chemical engineers, 71 percent of biomedical and agricultural engineers, 40 percent of accountants and auditors, 27 percent of chief executives and legislators, and 21 percent of elementary and middle school teachers.

Overall, immigrants make up 43 percent of New York City's workforce and they account for $215 billion in economic activity—about 32 percent the total gross city product. 

It is no wonder Mayor Bloomberg is stepping up his support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  As he noted in a press release commending Representative Luis Gutierrez and members of the New York Congressional delegation for introducing CIR ASAP in December,

New York City's greatest strength has always been its diversity, and the contributions made by New York's immigrant communities have driven America's economic engine for generations.  Today, however, our immigration laws are broken, hurting our economy and many immigrant families.  A comprehensive solution is urgently needed.

The immigration reform component of our economic recovery will also be important to New York State as a whole.  As the Immigration Policy Center notes in a recent fact sheet, New York's immigrants are responsible for nearly one quarter of the state's gross domestic product.  Should comprehensive immigration reform fail, and if undocumented immigrants were to be removed from New York, the state would suffer the loss of approximately 137,000 jobs and $12.7 billion in economic output.  That is no way to go about economic recovery.

Photo: Flickr user sayan51

The State of the Union: A Deficit of Trust

January 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

State of the Union
Photo: White House

One thread that the President wove through his State of the Union speech last night was the growing frustration of the American people with the inability of Washington to get anything done. Speaking of the millions of Americans who are struggling in the current economic climate, the President said,

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough.  Some are frustrated; some are angry.  They don't understand … why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.  They're tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness.  They know we can't afford it.  Not now. 

Later, speaking of the budget and the growing deficit, he noted,

… we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now.  We face a deficit of trust -– deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. 

Still later, he addressed the hyper-partisanship that has been the trademark of Washington in recent years:

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day.  We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win.  … [I]t's precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people.  Worse yet, it's sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.

Speaking of American values, "values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe," the President warned of growing cynicism and disappointment,

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -– our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government –- still reflect these same values.  … Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith.  The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.  No wonder there's so much cynicism out there.  No wonder there's so much disappointment.

The President used much of his speech to advocate for a change in course, for Republicans and Democrats to work together, and to tackle problems that the American people want solved.

To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue….

I know it's an election year.  …  But we still need to govern.

He directly addressed the crux of today's paralysis in Congress:

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.  And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.  Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.  We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.  So let's show the American people that we can do it together. 

Late in his speech, the President addressed his supporters directly:

I campaigned on the promise of change –- change we can believe in, the slogan went.  And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change –- or that I can deliver it.

But remember this –- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone.  Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated.  And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy.  That's just how it is.

This is very true.  The President can't do it alone, and this has been part of the narrative of the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America all along.  Immigration reform—or solutions to any of the grave problems facing America today—must have the votes of 278 members of Congress—218 in the House and 60 in the Senate.  To get those members of Congress to join the president will take the sustained effort of the thousands of activists and representatives from the faith, business, labor, civil rights, immigrant's rights, law enforcement, agricultural, and other communities that have joined the Campaign.  If Members of Congress are going to head for the hills, we have to let them know that the hills are not a safe place for them right now.

But we also need the President's commitment.

The dysfunction in our politics that the President so eloquently addressed in his speech has a corrosive effect on the electorate.  The longer these trends continue and the more they spread, the more tempting it is for the average citizen to say "What's the use?"  Disgust with politics may be especially acute with the supporters of the President who, perhaps new to campaign politics, were drawn in by the promise of change, believing they had a leader who they could work with to bring about that change.

There are many of those people, and they all had ideas of the change they sought.  Not everything can be accomplished at once, but it is important that all of those constituencies still believe that this leader who promised change is still thinking about them.

In this, the President missed an opportunity to lift the spirits of those who voted for him because they believed he would be a leader in the battle to fix our broken immigration system.  The President did mention the need to do so, but the one sentence he devoted to it near the end of his 70 minute speech did not have enough specifics to lift up those who are hurting because our immigration system is broken.

It is not just what politicians are saying that leads to disenchantment with our politics and government, it is also what they are not saying.

More Promised Change for Immigration Detention

January 27, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On January 25, John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), gave a speech at an event hosted by the Migration Policy Institute.

The bulk of his remarks were devoted to reform of the immigration detention system.  Morton reiterated that detention reform is a personal priority for him, and that ICE will engage in a sustained effort to transform the immigration detention system, an effort that will extend beyond his tenure.  This effort was first announced in August 2009, and re-announced in October 2009.  These announcements included fact sheets and media events laying out many of the reforms that Morton repeated this week.  Given the enormous scale of this announced reform, and the lengthy timeline required, we will be monitoring and periodically reporting about progress here.

He noted that ICE currently detains as many as 32,000 people a day in a vast network of more than 300 mostly penal facilities that are for the most part county, state, federal, and private prisons that ICE contracts with.

That is the crux of the problem. 

Some of the individuals ICE detains have been convicted of crimes, and the penal system is designed to incarcerate those in the criminal justice system.  However, the vast majority of those ICE has detained are being held for violations of immigration laws.  They are people who came here to work and have done so without authorization.  If they can't show they have an avenue to stay here legally, they are being detained only until they can be removed—not because they have done anything more serious than work without permission.

What ICE needs, then, is to design a system that is appropriate to hold such people for a short period of time until their immigration cases are adjudicated and they are removed (or are found to be eligible for release).

Morton's vision is to have a smaller network of facilities designed to hold suspected immigration violators, with appropriate medical care and transparent standards that are fully implemented.  These facilities will be managed by federal personnel.  That's the long-range plan.  It is a long way to there from where ICE is now.

Morton did give a preview of changes to expect in the coming months.

The agency will soon have 50 new employees to monitor detention facilities.  (These same 50 positions were announced in October, but apparently have not yet been filled.)  An overdependence on contractors and a lack of federal employees to monitor them were blamed by Morton for leading to some of the problems that have caused the detention system to come under public and Congressional scrutiny in recent months.  Morton said his long-term goal is to have a federal monitor in each facility used by ICE. 

By this summer, there will be an on-line detainee locator system, so the family members and representatives of detainees can figure out where they are being held.

ICE is developing a classification system so that when someone enters the system there will be an assessment to determine their danger to the community, flight risk, and medical status.  Everyone with a medical issue will have a case manager assigned to them to ensure they receive appropriate medical care.  What Morton didn’t say is whether this classification system will result in a greater identification of those who qualify for release or enrollment in an alternatives to detention program.

The agency is now in discussion with contractors about designing a facility model that will be appropriate for the population ICE detains. 

Morton also noted that ICE is working with groups to revise its detention standards, but implementation of new standards will take time.  The problem with the current standards, he noted, is that they came out of the penal world, and they are not appropriate for the kind of civil system that he wants ICE to move toward.  Reading between the lines, it will be difficult to fully implement the kind of detention standards advocates want as long as immigration violators are being held in prisons.

For many persons who are now routinely detained, ICE is exploring alternatives to detention.  ICE will soon begin a pilot project with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR, the immigration judges).  This initiative was promised by January 2010 in the October detention reform announcement.  He noted that widespread implementation of alternatives to detention (Morton said the agency has 16,000 or 17,000 slots funded) will require more resources for EOIR; the backlog of cases for immigrants in proceedings who are not detained (and thus have a lower priority for the immigration courts) is very long.  The agency is about to submit a report to Congress on alternatives to detention.  (Morton and Secretary Napolitano previously pledged to submit this report to Congress by Fall 2009.)

The Administration's budget, to be released on February 1st, should contain more clues as to what we can expect in the near term regarding the effort to reform the detention system.  All of this will take resources, but the reforms ICE has begun to tackle are long overdue and deserve to be funded.  Given that more than 100 people have died in immigration detention since 2003, these reforms could quite literally be lifesaving.

You can view a video of the program with Assistant Secretary Morton on the Web site of C-Span.

Assembly-Line Justice

January 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border Federal Judicial Districts

This guest post was written by Joanna Lydgate, William K. Coblentz Civil Rights Fellow with the Warren Institute in Berkeley, California.

Most Americans have never heard of Operation Streamline, a Bush-era immigration enforcement initiative that began in Del Rio, Texas, in 2005 and has since been expanded across most of the U.S.-Mexico border.  The program requires the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of every single person who crosses the border unlawfully.  (Before Operation Streamline began, most unlawful border crossers were processed in the civil immigration system.)

The vast majority of immigrants prosecuted through Operation Streamline have no prior criminal record and have come to the U.S. in search of work or to reunite with family.  Operation Streamline has caused skyrocketing caseloads in the federal district courts along the border and has put an immense strain on local resources.  Between 2002 and 2008, federal magistrate judges along the southwest border saw their misdemeanor immigration caseloads more than quadruple. 

As a fellow with the Warren Institute -- a research and policy institute at the University of California Berkeley School of Law -- I spent the past year examining Operation Streamline.  I traveled to four border cities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to see the program in action.  In each city, I watched groups of as many as 70 or 80 immigrants appear before a judge at once, sometimes with just one attorney representing the entire group.  I also interviewed judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and Border Patrol representatives about the program.  I learned through my research that this program is not nearly as popular on the ground as it is with some lawmakers in Washington, DC.  More than one judge I interviewed described Operation Streamline as "assembly-line justice." 

Last week, my research was released in the Warren Institute's report, "Assembly-Line Justice: A Review of Operation Streamline," which concludes that Operation Streamline violates the U.S. Constitution, diverts resources from fighting border violence, and fails to reduce undocumented immigration.  By requiring U.S. attorneys to spend their time prosecuting all unlawful border crossers, Operation Streamline has led to a reduction in the prosecution of more serious crimes along the border, such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Operation Streamline’s volume of prosecutions have also forced many courts to cut procedural corners.  Judges conduct en masse hearings, during which as many as 80 defendants plead guilty at a time, depriving migrants of due process.  Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that these en masse plea hearings in Tucson, Arizona violate federal law. 

While Operation Streamline’s proponents point to a recent decline in border apprehensions to argue that the program reduces undocumented immigration, there is no proof that Operation Streamline has caused that decline.  Apprehension rates have always tended to rise and fall in sync with the economy, and the most recent decline is likely due to the U.S. recession, which has greatly diminished job prospects for immigrant workers.

The report recommends that the Obama administration replace Operation Streamline with a comprehensive and effective approach to border enforcement.  Among other things, the administration should return to the longstanding practice of channeling unlawful border crossers through the civil immigration system.  That allows the Department of Homeland Security to deport first-time entrants without draining the resources of the district courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender, or the U.S. Marshals Service.

The Obama administration says it is committed to targeting the criminal enterprises responsible for rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Operation Streamline is tying up our law enforcement resources by prosecuting thousands of immigrants whose greatest crime is seeking a job.

Protecting Haitians in the U.S.

January 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Haiti Presidential Palace
Photo: AFP

The latest plague to visit Haiti is the earthquake that struck on January 12 that has destroyed much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, home to more than 20 percent of the country's population.  Hundreds of thousands may have been killed.

The U.S. government is mobilizing to help in rescue and relief efforts.  The White House is encouraging Americans to pitch in.

Once the immediate urgent tasks are completed--accounting for U.S. personnel and citizens, rescuing the remaining survivors who may still be trapped in the rubble, and seeing that those whose homes have collapsed have shelter and food--the administration must take another step: grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the U.S.

TPS can be granted to nationals from a country where "there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster…resulting in a substantial, but temporary disruption of living conditions in the area affected."  It can also be granted if "there exist extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety…"  Both certainly apply in the case of Haiti today.

TPS is granted for periods of six to 18 months to persons who are in the U.S. at the time TPS is designated.  It can be extended for additional six- to 18-month periods.  Currently, nationals of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan, and Somalia have TPS.

With TPS, an individual gets work authorization.  With work authorization, Haitians in the U.S. will be able to work and send money back to family in Haiti.  Over time, these remittances from individuals become more significant than foreign aid sent by governments.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that it has halted removals of Haitians to Haiti for the time being.  This is an important development, but a temporary halt in deportations is not equivalent to TPS; it does not give Haitians work authorization.

Advocates for Haitians in the U.S. have been pressing the Administration for months to grant Haitians TPS.  Haiti, already the poorest country in the hemisphere, has recently suffered from widespread flooding from tropical storms.  Whatever has been the Administration's hesitancy to grant TPS to Haitians from these disasters, there should be no doubt now that Haitians should be protected from deportation and given work authorization until it is safe to return. 

The administration is trying to mobilize a coordinated response from the government to this disaster.  Granting Haitians TPS and work authorization must be part of that response.

(Re)organizing for Reform

January 13, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

USCIS Org Chart

On January 11, there was a barely-noticed announcement from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that it has made some changes in its organization.  The agency has re-arranged its organizational chart, and in doing so it appears to be giving more prominence to offices that will be very much in the center of implementing comprehensive immigration reform.

The organization will go from three "Directorates" to seven.  Each of the division offices under the old Domestic Operations Directorate have been elevated to the Directorate level—Service Center Operations, Field Operations, and Customer Service.  In addition, the Division of Fraud Detection and National Security has been elevated to the Directorate level. 

These changes, along with the establishment of a Management Directorate and an Enterprise Services Directorate, have been made, according to the statement, to increase efficiency in the organization.  The changes also appear to position the agency to handle the tidal wave of work that will come with the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.

Field and Service Center Operations, along with Customer Service, will be on the front lines of providing information to and receiving applications from millions of immigrants who will benefit from reform.  The primary mission of the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) is to "detect, deter, and combat immigration benefit fraud and to strengthen USCIS’ efforts aimed at ensuring benefits are not granted" to persons who should not obtain them.  With the technology available to the agency today, FDNS is in a far better position to detect fraud than the old Immigration and Naturalization Services was during the last legalization program in the mid-1980s.

USCIS is often derided as being inefficient.  It has been making incremental improvements (with periodic setbacks) over the last several years.  We look forward to seeing what new efficiencies are wrung from the new arrangement.  However, it will take more than shuffling boxes in an organizational chart for successful implementation of comprehensive immigration reform.  The responsibilities of the new Directorates can only be successfully carried out if there are sufficient funds in the budget for them, and if Congress gives the agency the funding it will need to meet the extraordinary challenge of bringing 12 million immigrants out of the shadows and into the system.

New Poll: Voters Want Immigrants on the Tax Rolls

January 12, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

tax form

We wrote in a previous blog post about a new report that projects a positive impact on the economy of $1.5 trillion and billions of dollars in additional tax revenue if Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who are here working.  On January 11, our friends over at America’s Voice released a new poll showing that those additional taxes are just what the public would like.

America’s Voice contracted with the Benenson Strategy Group, which contacted 800 “likely” 2010 general election voters.  Voters were asked a number of questions about immigration and immigration reform.  The poll was conducted from December 19 to 21, 2009.

Voters were asked whether they think the issue of illegal immigration should be a high priority for Congress.  More than half (55%) think it should be, even with all the other issues Congress is facing.

While voters think that illegal immigration should be a high priority, the economy remains the top concern, with 62% of voters naming it as one of the top “two or three” issues Congress should focus on.  Health care was next at 60%.  A whopping 94% of Americans think that economic conditions currently are "poor" or "fair."

Nearly half of the respondents (48%), believe that undocumented immigrants don't pay taxes.  Getting those immigrants to pay taxes is very much preferred over forcing them to leave the country.  By a more than two-to-one margin (67% to 28%), survey respondents believe "We would be better off if people who are in the United States illegally became legal taxpayers so they pay their fair share" verses forcing them to leave the country "because they are taking away jobs that Americans need."

The survey also tied together the concern about the economy and the concern that undocumented immigrants are not paying their fair share of taxes.  When asked which of two statements best described their views, more than half said they supported the statement that "The economic crisis we are currently in makes it more crucial than ever that we solve our immigration problems."  The elements of comprehensive reform were described, including moving undocumented immigrants "out of the shadows and on to the tax rolls."

Public support for comprehensive immigration reform has been fairly steady for several years.  This latest poll tells us, again, that the public holds more pragmatic views on immigration reform than do some of our politicians.  When it comes to immigration reform and the economy, voters would rather see undocumented immigrants pay their taxes and join the club.

More Questions About Detention Reform

January 11, 2010 - Posted by Brittney Nystrom

Bergen County Jail

The Department of Homeland Security under the Obama Administration marked 2009 with splashy announcements of planned detention reforms intended to revamp the immigration detention system, in chief by designing a civil detention system more appropriate for holding immigration violators who should not be kept in penal institutions.

The announcements were made after a series of stories in the press and numerous reports by NGOs uncovered serious problems with the system of health care for immigrant detainees (problems that included the preventable deaths of several detainees).  Improved health care for detainees and more centralized oversight were central features of the 2009 detention reform announcements.  These announcements were encouraging. 

However, the ability of the administration to carry out the reforms was called into question in a New York Times report on January 10.

“as the administration moves to increase oversight within the agency, [newly obtained] documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.”

The Times story weakens the Administration’s stance against making legally-binding rules for immigration detention, something that detention reform advocates have long asked for.  The Administration argued that rule-making would be “laborious, time-consuming and less flexible” than its own overhaul.  In other words, in spite of its abysmal record, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants us to believe that it can police itself.

Advocates at Detention Watch Network expressed dismay and disappointment at the news,

“The Department of Homeland Security’s announced reform efforts are meaningless unless there is a fundamental shift in the way the agency operates, governed by enforceable standards and appropriate oversight of the agency’s authority which has long been unfettered.  It is unrealistic to expect that officials involved in the cover-up of previous abuses can lead a true reform effort.”

Detention reform will not be easy.  The system has grown to an unprecedented size.  Efforts at imposing good management practices are certain to take time.  In the meanwhile, individuals will linger in immigration custody in jails designed for the criminal justice system and families will continue to suffer. 

The task is made much more formidable due to Congressional failure to reform our immigration system.  The vast majority of immigrants who are jailed should be given a work permit, not a jail cell. A path to legalization would significantly reduce the number of individuals present in the United States in violation of the immigration laws, and consequently reduce the need for an immigration detention system. 

As we wait for Congress to do the right thing, DHS must do all that it can to transition to an immigration detention system in which preventable deaths are prevented and enforceable standards are enforced.  The deceptive and evasive conduct of ICE officials described by the New York Times must be replaced by transparency and accountability.  A new year and a new decade offer the opportunity for change.  We hope it’s not too late to teach an old dog a few new tricks.

What’s in it for us?

January 08, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


The Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center released a papers on the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform.  The report was authored by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The report, Raising the Floor for American Workers, gives us a very practical reason for implementing comprehensive immigration reform that includes a program to provide legal status to undocumented immigrants.  The program would have economic ripple effects that would, when compared to the alternative policy of mass deportation promoted by immigrant restrictions, have a net economic benefit of as much as $4.1 trillion for the U.S. economy over 10 years.

A scenario in which comprehensive immigration reform with a legalization program is passed would result in a positive gain of $1.5 trillion for the economy over 10 years.  The mass deportation scenario result in a $2.6 trillion loss over the same period.

The amount for the legalization scenario was derived from experience with the legalization program of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.  A number of studies have followed individuals who went through the legalization program to determine how they did once they gained legal status.

Legalization would set in motion a chain of positive circumstances that would ripple out from the immediate immigrant beneficiaries and effect the economy as a whole.

Legalization raises pay: A variety of studies have shown that legalization, even isolated from other factors, had significant positive effects on the pay of formerly undocumented workers. 

Freedom to choose: There are other factors that further hike the pay of legalized workers.  Workers with legal status have the freedom to leave jobs where they are being exploited.  They have more opportunity to find jobs that pay more.

A willingness to invest: With the threat of deportation lifted, a worker is much more likely to make investments that will improve his skills—learning English, for example.  These investments yield dividends in a timeframe that is longer than a worker might expect if he might be deported.  The dividends include opportunities for better jobs, further boosting income.

Raising the wage floor: As the fortunes of undocumented workers rise, so too do the fortunes of other workers.  In industries where there are large concentrations of undocumented workers, the availability of many workers who can be exploited by shady employers depresses wages for all workers.  When undocumented workers gain legal status, they also gain rights and the ability to walk away from a bad boss.  If the bad employers lose their exploitable workers, they have to pay more, and wages for all workers go up.

More income, more spending, more taxes: All of these workers have more money to spend, and that effects the economy as a whole.  According to the report,

The real wages of newly legalized workers increase by roughly $4,405 per year among those in less-skilled jobs during the first three years of implementation, and $6,185 per year for those in higher-skilled jobs.  … [This] translates into an increase in net personal income of $30 billion to $36 billion, which would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue …[and] consumer spending sufficient to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs.

By contrast, the mass deportation scenario, which the report defines as the government deporting over four million immigrant workers and their dependents, would depress U.S. Gross Domestic Product by 1.46 percent annually.  Over 10 years, the economy would take a $2.6 trillion hit—not including the actual cost of deporting all those people, which would add more than $200 billion to the deficit.  According to the report, the wages of low-skilled workers in the U.S. would rise a bit, but the economy would lose a large number of jobs.

So what’s in it for us?  What do we get for comprehensive immigration reform?  More jobs, more taxes, and higher wages for all workers.

When Congress returns for its 2010 session, new stimulus legislation will be on the agenda.  It will be a struggle to have the government spend additional money in the context of a deficit that is already a trillion-and-a-half dollars. If Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform, they would simultaneously be enacting a new stimulus program on the cheap.

Photo by Flickr user yomanimus.

Policy Update: The Past Year in Immigration Policy and Next Steps

January 05, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Congress is out for its end-of year recess.  The House will return the week of January 11 and the Senate will return the following week.

With the Senate having finally passed a health care reform bill, the Senate and the House will work this month to reconcile their respective versions of the bill.  The reconciled version must then go back to the House and Senate for a final vote before being sent on to the President.  The new goal is to finish before the President’s State of the Union speech.  (The date for which has not yet been set.)

Through the entire first session of the 111th Congress, the timeline for immigration reform repeatedly slipped, as the health care debate dragged on. 

Despite the partisan gridlock that has characterized this Congress so far, there were some positive developments on the legislative front, as well as with the Obama Administration.

Developments in Congress 

Shift in the key players: Even before he passed away from a brain tumor, Senator Edward Kennedy stepped down from the Immigration Subcommittee in the Senate.  Senator Kennedy had been central to every major immigration bill since 1965, and he will be sorely missed as negotiators in the Senate try to find the right rhythm to gain the necessary support for reform.  Kennedy was replaced as the Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee by New York Senator Charles Schumer, who has stated his determination to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, the issue of immigration reform continues to benefit from the support of Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who has championed a variety of measures in the first session, and from Majority Leader Harry Reid, who who has indicated reform is a Senate priority.  The new Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Hillary Clinton when she became Secretary of State, has also been helpful.  She has been a lead co-sponsor on a number of immigration bills, including an integration bill and a detention reform bill.

In the House, two new players have stepped up to push for reform: Representative Joseph Crowley of New York organized a Dear Colleague letter addressed to President Obama asking for his help to move immigration reform forward.  The letter was signed by 110 of Crowley’s colleagues in the House.  Another source of new energy on this issue in the House is Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), who is in his first term, and is Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Progressive Caucus. David Price (D-NC), Chair of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security of the Appropriations Committee, has used his position to conduct more thoughtful and effective oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.

Comprehensive Reform Bill Introduced: Just before the House adjourned for the holidays, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced a progressive immigration reform bill along with 90 of his colleagues, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus.  The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) would provide for a way for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and it would update our admissions systems to deal with untenable backlogs in the family- and employment-based immigration systems.  (We briefly summarized the bill in a recent Policy Update and you can get more information, including links to the full text and summaries, link to a current list of co-sponsors, and related information on comprehensive reform, on our Web site on this page.) 

Restrictionists Thwarted:  CIR ASAP capped off a session that was otherwise marked by the failure of immigration restrictionists to gain traction with the kind of onerous proposals and amendments that have become routine in recent years.  For example, we saw repeated attempts to bring down the health care bill with anti-immigrant amendments that mostly went nowhere.  In another example, a last-minute effort to change the 2010 Census so that it would ask about immigration status also failed handily.

Small Victories - Positive Proposals Pass: There were some legislative victories—small, but nonetheless positive.  Going back to the beginning of the year, one of the first bills to become law was the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  That bill contained a provision that allows states to waive a five-year waiting period to extend health care insurance benefits to legal immigrant children in low-income families.  It was the first piece of legislation directly related to immigrants and immigration that passed this Congress.

The annual appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security served as an example of both trends in this session.  Efforts by restrictionists to continue to expand enforcement in the absence of reform were mostly thwarted (though some questionable enforcement programs, such as Secure Communities, received increases in funding), while at the same time small improvements in the immigration system were made.  Efforts by restrictionists to tack on more money for the border fence and to make E-Verify permanent and mandatory were turned back.  Instead, the bill included, among other things, an increase in funding for alternatives to detention and extra money for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the processing of refugee applications and to fund immigrant integration programs. 

This appropriations bill also included a fix to immigration law so that widows and orphans of U.S. citizens and permanent residents would not be removed from the U.S. if their U.S. family member dies before the immigration process is complete.  In addition, three immigrant visa programs set to expire this year were extended for three years.

The appropriations bill for the Department of Justice also had some positive provisions, including more money for immigration judges and more money for Legal Orientation Programs—in which immigrants in detention are given information about their legal rights.

More Positive Bills Introduced: Aside from CIR ASAP, a number of bills were introduced (or re-introduced from previous Congresses) that show continued momentum for immigration reform.  These include the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status to certain young people who had graduated from U.S. high schools, and AgJOBS, providing legal status to certain immigrant farm workers.  The Reuniting Families Act was introduced in the Senate and the House, to update the family-based immigration system and reduce family immigration backlogs.

Other bills were introduced as well, including bills to require better treatment for immigrants in detention, a bill to protect U.S. citizens and permanent residents from being swept up in immigration enforcement actions, a bill to protect children separated from parents or caregivers during immigration enforcement activities, and a bill to promote immigrant integration.

Congress Exercises its Oversight: There were a number of hearings on various aspects of the immigration system.  For example, there were hearings on conditions of immigration detention, on electronic employment verification systems, on smart and effective border enforcement strategies, on immigration enforcement priorities, on state and local immigration enforcement, and on other topics.

Administrative Reforms

While changes in law take an act of Congress, there are many policy shifts that can be made by the administration because it already has the authority to do so.  In the past year, the Obama administration has made many policy changes that were positive.

Arriving Asylum Seekers to be Screened for Release:  In December, ICE issued a policy directive to all Detention and Removal Operations personnel regarding the consideration for release of all incoming asylum seekers who demonstrate a credible fear of persecution if returned to their country of origin.  Under the new guidance, these individuals will be automatically screened by ICE for possible release while their case is pending.  In recent years, applicants had to petition for release in writing, which in most cases would only occur if the detainee was represented by an attorney.

Detention Reforms: In August and October, DHS announced a series of detention reforms that included, among other things, increasing oversight accountability of contracted detention centers; a move toward detaining immigrants in facilities appropriate to the risk they represent (instead of jailing everyone as if they were criminals) and expanding the use of alternatives to detention; and improving the medical care system for immigrants in detention.  The most tangible change so far has been an end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility in Texas.

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 other hand, the audits now being conducted of employer immigration-related records are still leading to large-scale firing of workers.)
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 requests: In its budget submitted to Congress, the Administration 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, as mentioned above.
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 unsuccessfully attempted to suspend the Bush Administration rules (that effort was overturned in court) and has subsequently proposed new rules governing the H-2A program that will be more to the liking of pleasing to 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 by ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton indicate that 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.
Remedy for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: In June, Attorney General Eric Holder vacated a Bush Administration ruling that made it much more difficult for immigrants to appeal their removal proceedings based on ineffective assistance of counsel. 

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 the Administration’s power in the context of laws that mandate more enforcement and more spending on enforcement.

Outside these specific administrative changes, the Justice Department Civil Rights Division is being revived under the leadership of Tom Perez, and the Administration, led by DHS Secretary Napolitano, has been actively organizing to prepare for the comprehensive reform debate in Congress—meeting in inter-agency groups and meeting with stakeholders around the country.


While Congress has delayed, Reform Immigration FOR America has spent the last few months feverishly organizing an enormous coalition of people of faith, labor, civil rights, business and community organizations and leaders.  Since the launch of the Campaign in June, it has won the endorsement of more than 600 organizations. There have been thousands of campaign events across the country in nearly every state, where people of faith, law enforcement, labor unions, elected officials, and business leaders came together to demonstrate the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform.  Campaign supporters have collectively contacted their Members of Congress hundreds of thousands of times by fax, e-mail, and phone.  In November, the campaign conducted a national telephonic press conference with Representatives Gutierrez, Grijalva, and Velazquez. More than 60,000 Americans participated on the call at more than 1,000 house parties in 45 states. All of this activity by immigration reform supporters dwarfs past immigration reform efforts. On January 12-14 the campaign has planned a major escalation and organized more than a 100 events nationwide to demonstrate the broad support behind comprehensive immigration reform, push Congress to act, and enlist even more Americans in the effort.

The organizing has been noticed.  In a November speech at the Center for American Progress, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said that she had one thing that has changed since the last round of the immigration reform debate is that:

“a larger segment of the American public has embraced the need to engage this debate and arrive at a sensible solution to this problem. … There are leaders of the law enforcement community speaking out, saying that immigration reform is vital to their ability to do their jobs keeping Americans safe. Faith leaders, including the National Association of Evangelicals, have announced their support for immigration reform as a moral and practical issue. We are seeing more business leaders and more labor leaders engaged in this debate in a constructive way than we have ever seen before.

To follow the activities of the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign, sign up for Campaign updates on the Campaign’s Web site.

What’s Coming Up 

In the second session, Congress will first take care of the unfinished business of the first session—namely, finishing the health care reform bill.  There will be more brutal political fights as the right compromise between House and Senate bills takes shape, and with Republicans still angling to throw up more roadblocks as the bill approaches the finish line. 

After health care, energy and climate change legislation, and reform of the financial system, are supposed to be at the top of the agenda.  However, with unemployment still at the bottom of the arc of this recession, there is a lot of political pressure on Democrats to push through a jobs bill.

We still expect to see an immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate sometime in January or early February.  As time passes and elections approach, however, Congress is more reluctant to take up controversial issues lest their position be used by opponents.  On the other hand, leaving major problems to fester is not necessarily the ticket to re-election either.  All this is to say that immigration reform advocates will have to sustain unprecedented effort to make sure fixing the broken immigration system stays on the Congressional agenda.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano had been tasked by the President to lead the Administration’s effort to work on comprehensive reform.  For the immediate future, however, she will be focused on fixing the security breach that allowed a terrorist with explosive material on an airliner bound for the U.S. on Christmas day.

The success or failure of efforts to pass immigration reform in this Congress will depend on how much pressure Congress feels from constituents who want elected leaders to act to fix the broken immigration system.  Advocates will have to make it clear with Members of Congress that they have more to fear from inaction than from attempting to solve another tough problem.


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