National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Our Time to Fight for Immigration Reform is Now

February 25, 2010 - Posted by Ali Noorani

Democrats have become the party of "I can't" while Republicans have become the party of "I won't." But the overwhelming majority of Americans (conservatives, independents and everyone else) is saying, “Get to work on our nation's problems and fix the broken immigration system!”

While the pundits, naysayers, and quitters in Washington are telling everyone that nothing can get done, the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America is enlisting the American people in a massive effort to force the hand of the House, Senate, and President to finally fix our broken immigration system.

You can feel the rumbling in the pews, at the town halls, and at overflow auditoriums across the country.

In January the campaign organized across 40 states, more than 150 events  that could barely accommodate the overflow crowds of Americans who wanted to voice their support for immigration reform.


·                In Denver, CO, an overflow crowd of thousands cheered Senator Michael Bennett’s pledge to champion comprehensive reform in the U.S. Senate.

·                In Grand Rapids, MI, hundreds gathered with community faith leaders to call on elected leaders to get a comprehensive immigration bill done this year.

·                In Charlotte, NC, overflow crowds gathered at a meeting of African American and Latino community leaders to show overwhelming support for reform.

·                In Little Rock, AR, 1,000 gathered on a cold night  to urge Senators Lincoln and Pryor to support immigration reform.

·                And in Ohio, a series of events all over the state culminated in a rally of thousands in Cincinnati – that included leadership from the African American, labor and business communities


·                All this followed not long after more than 60,000 Americans mobilized for a single telephone call in October of 2009 with supportive leaders of reform in the U.S. Congress.

In the last month, communities of faith have exhibited courage and clarity that we wish our elected leaders would show. Religious leaders from across the theological and ideological spectrum and Members of Congress kicked off a nationwide mobilization called "Together, Not Torn: Families Can't Wait for Immigration Reform," that included the delivery of more than hundreds of thousands of postcards to Members of Congress from people of faith in their states and districts.

Over the course of the President's Day recess, local leaders from churches, small businesses, labor locals, and community organizations across the country descended on district offices. Americans in Ohio, Alaska, Arkansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states met with their Members of Congress to ask for comprehensive immigration reform to move forward in 2010. Some district offices  received a visit every hour, on the hour, for four days straight!

This is beyond a campaign.

This is America at its very core saying loud and clear we need a functioning immigration system that stops  unscrupulous employers from exploiting American and immigrant workers, but encourages honest employers to play by the rules.

Since June 1, 2009, the campaign has organized over 700,000 calls and faxes into the White House and Congress calling for reform. This is a significant number of Americans, but the decibel is nothing compared to that of entire news channels (and multiple talk radio shows) that are primed and ready to scare Congress from endorsing an immigration solution that serves our nation.

So, while our campaign is made up of over 750 faith, labor, business, progressive, African American, civil rights and immigrant organizations working to reform our immigration system in the interests of America's families, we need your help. Please:

·                Have your church, business, labor local, organization endorse the campaign;

·                Text "JUSTICE" to 69866 to plug in;

·                Join us on March 21st in Washington DC when tens of thousands will March For America, demanding immigration reform for New American families and economic justice for all American families.


Crossposted at Huffington Post



Can Washington Govern?

February 25, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Broken branch

A question on the minds of many these days is, "Can Washington govern?"

That question has been the subject of much comment in the last week since the surprise announcement by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, thought to have excellent re-election prospects, that he would not run for re-election. 

Bayh explained his reasoning in an op-ed for the New York Times on February 20.  In his piece, Bayh lists a series of ills causing the dysfunction in Congress that led to his decision.

…strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.

Certainly, advocates for policy reform on a range of issues that face the nation today are wondering whether our political system can respond to the challenges.  Rather than working to solve the nation's problems, too many lawmakers now seem to be working to prevent solutions from moving forward.

Douglas Rivlin, on News Junkie Post, proposes a test for lawmakers who always seem to say (in front of the TV Cameras, at least) that they want to work with the other side.  That test is immigration reform.

Four years ago, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill with 38 Democrats and 24 Republicans.  Not all of those Senators are still in office.  Is bipartisanship still possible?

In the past year, we have seen the rise of the "teaparty" movement.  Republicans have felt obligated to curry favor with this segment of its base.  With its strong nativist streak, the tea party effect on the immigration issue has been to make Republican support more uncertain.  For example, John McCain had been not just a supporter, but a champion of immigration reform.  In the past couple of years, he has distanced himself from the issue.  As to whether he still would vote for reform, as Rivlin notes, "with a tough [re-election] challenge from immigration hawk JD Hayworth, it is hard to tell."

As for the Democrats, all the noise coming from this small but vocal constituency seems to have made them reluctant to step out and advance solutions.  A proposed solution to a problem will inevitably become a target for political opponents.  On the other hand, the election is coming up, and I would hate to have the job of trying to motivate voters to leave their houses and vote for someone who has not made an honest effort to solve the immigration crisis (or any of a number of other problems voters expected lawmakers to work on.)

Republicans and Democrats who step up and support comprehensive immigration reform might find that they will be backed up as never before.  The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign has been channeling the energy of faith-based organizations, business groups, labor unions, progressives, law enforcement organizations, immigrants, immigrant advocates, and ordinary citizens who see the suffering caused by our broken immigration system. 

On March 21, thousands of these citizens will be coming to Washington to ask Members of Congress: Can you still govern? 

The answer to that question may determine whether millions of people have a reason to go to a voting booth in November.

Image by Flickr user brownpau.

Big Tent, Little Tent

February 24, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Little tent

An interesting pair of articles appeared in the Washington Post on February 21. 

In the first, Dana Milbank reported on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where each year Republican Presidential hopefuls attempt to woo participants of this gathering of the right and the far right. 

Glenn Beck gave a keynote speech at the end of the conference, in which he demanded that Republicans admit they are "addicted to spending and big government."

"But as of yet I haven't heard anyone say that," Beck added. "All they're talking about is: 'We need a big tent. We need a big tent. Can we get a bigger tent? How can we get a big tent?' "

"What is this, a circus?"

A couple of pages later, there was an article, "Republicans look to rebuild their traction with Hispanic voters."  In that article, the essence of the problem was summed up in this paragraph:

After back-to-back hammerings in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the GOP is trying to figure out how it slid so far behind with Hispanic voters. With their traditional white-male base shrinking, Republican strategists talk with increasing urgency about wooing Hispanics, who are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and who vote mostly Democratic.

The root of the GOP's problem, appeared a few paragraphs later.

The most vexing problem is the immigration debate, in which hard-liners and "tea party" activists have alienated many Hispanics with their harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

It is the same activists who express contempt for Republican party efforts to expand their tent that have pushed Hispanic voters to the Democrats.

The article has plenty of statistics showing the rapid rise of the Hispanic vote and the impact the immigration debate has had in swinging that vote away from Republicans.  Here's one:

Bush received 54 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote in 2000 and finished in a dead heat with Al Gore. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got 55 percent of that vote in 2008 and lost the election by seven percentage points.

America's Voice recently released a paper on the power of the Latino vote.  The paper contains polling data that helps explain why Latino voters, not just undocumented immigrants who can't vote anyway, are upset by the heated rhetoric on immigration.  It is the closeness of the immigration experience that makes immigration reform, and how politicians talk about it, a threshold issue.  This is a point the Post article makes as well.

Adrian Garcia … is a Democrat who thinks Republicans did lasting damage to their brand, particularly among young Hispanic voters who are experiencing politics -- and choosing sides -- for the first time. "Immigration has galvanized the emerging generation, and they see it very clearly," said Garcia, whose parents and siblings were born in Mexico. "This is personal. It is personal to the fastest-growing community and to the next generation of community leaders."

According to America's Voice, "82% of Latino voters said that the immigration issue is important to them and their families, and 69% said that they personally know someone who is undocumented."  When politicians show contempt for undocumented immigrants, the friends and family of those undocumented immigrants—many of whom are citizens—feel it.  America's Voice cites a national survey of Latino voters, which found that 87% of Latino voters say "they would not consider voting for a candidate who was in favor of forcing most of the undocumented population to leave the country."

People no matter who they are like being treated with a little respect.  The Republican party right now is in the midst of a tug-of-war between those who are trying to bring new constituencies into the fold and those who are looking for groups of people on whom they can unload their vitriol.  It might be great fun to watch a bunch of entertainers get the crowd worked up about THE ILLEGAL INVASION.  Trouble is, those entertainers are loyal to an idea of America that has long ceased to exist.  They will keep up their performance until there is not much of a crowd left to work up.  Politicians who are seduced by that performance might find themselves in a very small tent indeed.

Image by Flickr user basheem.

Matching Funds for Due Process

February 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Scales of Justice

Our friends at the National Immigrant Bond Fund recently posted a video recalling an immigration raid that was conducted on a printer factory in Van Nuys, California (Southern California) two years ago.  More than 100 armed ICE agents stormed the factory and arrested 150 workers.  Immigrants were required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet (and were required to have a land line phone so they could be reached).  The alternative to this virtual house arrest was release on bond.

It is often the case that immigration violators who have been arrested and detained (or, in this case, having to stay where their movements can be monitored) cannot scrape together the money to make bond even if they are offered release on bond.  If a defendant cannot make bond, chances are slim that the individual will be able to assert his or her due process rights—by, for example, pursuing avenues that may be available to stay in the U.S.  They are much more likely to be deported even if they might have had a valid claim to stay in the U.S.

Being out on bond makes it much more likely that the individual will be able to find an attorney and get other assistance.  In the case of the immigrants picked up in the Van Nuys raid, being released on bond allowed them to have their day in court.  Many of them had remedies available to them.  According to the video, after two years everyone who wants to be in the U.S. is still here. 

When an immigration raid happens, even where there is an outpouring of support in the community for the arrested immigrants, there is only so much a community can do to help.  The Bond Fund makes the community national.  It aggregates donations from people who want to help no matter where they live.  It works with local organizations in communities that have suffered an immigration enforcement action and loans money to match funds raised by the detainee’s family and friends.  This way, one community does not have to shoulder the burden of helping all of the victims of a raid come up with funds to gain their release and assert their due process rights.

A donation to the Bond Fund is one way you can help immigrants gain a little bit of justice while we all wait for Congress to act so that immigrant workers and family members no longer need fear being jailed for working without permission.

To see the video, and to make a donation to the Bond Fund, click here.

Photo by Flickr user srqpix.

After Rody Alvarado’s Victory, Obstacles Remain for Domestic Violence Victims Seeking Asylum

February 12, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Rody Alvarado Although Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan victim of domestic violence, recently won her 14-year-long battle to gain asylum in the U.S., there remain obstacles for other victims of domestic violence seeking asylum in our country.  In this guest blog post, Lisa Frydman, of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, explains the legal challenges that still must be overcome for victims of domestic violence seeking protection in the U.S.

Despite the recent victory in Rody Alvarado's 14-year fight for asylum, there continue to be impediments in our law that prevent domestic violence victims from gaining protection in the U.S.  An asylum applicant must establish that she has suffered or fears persecution on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Since the enactment of the United States Refugee Act in 1980, skeptical adjudicators have denied gender-based claims, ruling that harms such as domestic violence or rape are not acts of persecution, or that harm committed because of gender is not covered by the Act.

Domestic violence claims can arise under any of the above grounds, but are most frequently analyzed under that of a “particular social group.” The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the highest immigration court in the nation, first articulated the standard for social group cases in its 1985 decision, Matter of Acosta. It defined the term as a group of individuals who share a common characteristic that is immutable or so fundamental to identity or conscience that an individual should not be required to change. The BIA listed sex as an example of an immutable characteristic. As the BIA recognized, this approach was consistent with analysis of claims under the other grounds for asylum, because race, religion, political opinion, and nationality are immutable or fundamental characteristics. Following the Acosta decision, the BIA and federal courts ruled in favor of social groups defined by gender alone, or in combination with other characteristics.  Foreign jurisdictions also cited favorably to Acosta.

Groups recognized by the BIA as social groups over the years have included: women from a particular tribe in Northern Togo who have not undergone female genital cutting and who oppose the practice, individuals identified as homosexuals by the Cuban government, and former members of the national police of El Salvador. For over twenty years, every federal court that reviewed the Acosta test upheld it. However, in a 2008 decision, known as Matter of S-E-G-, the BIA raised the bar significantly in social group cases. In addition to group members sharing an immutable or fundamental characteristic, the BIA now required social groups to be “socially visible” and defined with “particularity.” The BIA first mentioned social visibility and particularity in a 2006 case known as In re C-A-, as “relevant factor[s]” for consideration, not requirements.

Attorneys have struggled to satisfy the new requirements because the BIA decisions explaining social visibility and particularity – and the federal decisions upholding them – are muddled, to say the least. Some decisions explain social visibility as the precondition than the applicant literally be identifiable as a group member (essentially requiring that anyone looking at the individual on the street would identify her as a member of the group), while others require societal recognition of the defined group, or evidence of distinct treatment toward group members. “Particularity” in essence is a question of whether the group is defined with enough specificity to identify who is in the group, and who is outside of the group; decisions explaining this requirement are also unclear.  In addition to being analytically confusing, BIA decisions often conflate social visibility and particularity with other elements of the refugee definition, such as whether the causal link (nexus) to a protected ground has been established and whether there is sufficient likelihood that the applicant would be targeted for future persecution. While these decisions assert that the various social groups the BIA had formerly approved would all meet the social visibility test, they fail to explain how or why.

The BIA erroneously justified its imposition of social visibility as consistent with guidelines issued in 2002 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding claims based on membership in a particular social group.  However, this is incorrect. UNHCR does not require that members of a social group be socially visible. While the guidelines advise that groups perceived as groups by society may be social groups, this approach is an alternative to the immutable or fundamental characteristics test, not in addition to it. The UNHCR has repeatedly clarified its position and has explicitly rejected the requirements of social visibility and particularity as inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, but the BIA has continued to apply them.

Social visibility and particularity are burdensome requirements that have posed further obstacles in gender-based cases and have frequently resulted in denials of refugee status. In two recent published decisions out of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the court recognized the BIA’s significant departure from Matter of Acosta and rejected the BIA’s new standard for social group claims. Writing for the court, Judge Posner criticized “social visibility” as simply making “no sense” because members of a group targeted for persecution “take pains to avoid being socially visible.” He illustrated the absurdity of the requirement by pointing to social groups the BIA had previously approved whose members would not be individually identifiable, such as homosexuals who would “pass as heterosexual” to avoid persecution in a “homophobic society” and women who have not yet undergone female genital cutting, who “do not look different from anyone else.”

In April 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a brief in a domestic violence case known as “L.R.,” in which it argued that women who have suffered domestic violence may qualify for asylum as members of a particular social group under the current BIA standard if they met certain, clearly defined criteria. The case received national media attention in July 2009; journalists reported that victims of domestic violence could now qualify for asylum in the U.S. Although the L.R. brief explains how social visibility and particularity should be understood and provides a roadmap for how to establish these requirements in a domestic violence case, it does not rectify the problems they cause. Five months after the L.R. brief became public, Rody Alvarado - whose highly publicized case had become the lead domestic violence case in the U.S. – was finally granted asylum after the parties agreed on her eligibility.

Despite the DHS brief in L.R. and the grant of asylum to Rody Alvarado, victims of domestic violence continue to face impediments to protection. The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), national experts on gender-based refugee claims, has been informed of a number of cases in which DHS attorneys have taken a position that contradicts the L.R. brief, refused to acknowledge the brief or that it represents the position of the agency, or indicated at the beginning of a case - before the submission of any evidence - that they would appeal a grant of asylum to the highest level.  In addition, decisions by immigration judges in domestic violence cases continue to be inconsistent, with some judges granting asylum based on the framework set out in the L.R. brief, and others denying protection due to the lack of binding authority in the form of a precedential decision, federal regulations, or legislation.

While the grant of asylum to Ms. Alvarado is cause for celebration, the U.S.’s position that social groups cannot be defined by immutable or fundamental criteria alone, but also require a showing of social visibility and particularity, remains troubling. These criteria have no basis in the BIA’s own precedent or in UNHCR guidance. Furthermore, they are poorly understood by adjudicators, and have proved to be an obstruction in countless claims based on social group membership.  Legislation and/or regulations are needed to eliminate these problematic requirements and ensure refugee protection to women like Rody Alvarado.

Photo (of Rody Alvarado) by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

Operation Streamline a Waste of Taxpayer Dollars Says Judge

February 11, 2010 - Posted by Lena Graber

Last week, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks decided he had had enough.  The three defendants in his Austin, Texas, courtroom, prosecuted under 8 U.S.C. § 1326 for illegal re-entry into the United States, with no other criminal history, had already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $13,000 in jail expenses, instead of having been removed to their home countries through the immigration system.  This tab did not include the costs associated with their prosecutions, such as courtroom personnel, U.S. Marshals, and lawyers.

In Judge Sparks' district, the Western District of Texas, prosecutions based on immigration crimes constitute more than 80% of the federal criminal docket.  The large majority of defendants facing petty immigration prosecutions are simply migrants who have crossed the border illegally to work or reunite with family; very few of them have any criminal history. It's no wonder the Judge was fed up.  Lambasting the U.S. Attorney's office for insisting on clogging the dockets with these low-level prosecutions, Judge Sparks ordered the prosecutors to state specific substantive reasons for all such prosecutions in his court in the future. 

How did a U.S. District Judge end up giving orders on immigration policy?  These prosecutions are a result of Operation Streamline, a multi-agency program launched in Texas in 2005, that includes federal criminal prosecution and jail time for all unlawful border crossers, rather than sending them through the immigration courts.  Because Operation Streamline sweeps in so many people, courts in Tucson and Del Rio have resorted to holding en masse hearings and sentencings, with up to 80 defendants, sometimes defended by as few as one or two attorneys, prosecuted in the space of a couple hours.  In December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the proceedings in Tucson violated federal rules, and forced the courts to slow down.  Still, total prosecutions have continued at record levels.

As a result of Operation Streamline, federal courts, prosecutors, defenders, and U.S. Marshals along the southwest border have experienced skyrocketing workloads and serious strains on their resources, as recently reported by the Warren Institute at U.C. Berkeley.  The Warren Institute report questions the constitutionality of en masse proceedings, and also challenges the claimed deterrent effects of Operation Streamline, observing that illegal entries have decreased all along the border because of the economy, even in jurisdictions where Operation Streamline is not in effect.

Immigration prosecutions now constitute more than half of all federal prosecutions nationwide.  Between 2003 and 2008, while immigration cases increased dramatically, other types of prosecutions, from drug smuggling to white-collar crime to weapons prosecutions, fell significantly.  Almost two thirds of immigration prosecutions in 2009 were of first-time illegal entry cases.  Judge Sparks remarked in his order that "The United States Attorney has been specifically requested for at least a two-year period to be more careful to screen the illegal entry or re-entry cases for prosecution and only prosecute those with meaningful criminal records."

"The expenses of prosecuting illegal entry and re-entry cases (rather than deportation) on aliens without any significant criminal record is simply mind boggling," Judge Sparks wroteAs Te-Ping Chen, a journalist who covers criminal justice issues commented, "It's a pretty bizarre system that decides to punish people for entering the United States by … making them stay in the United States, in jail -- and on the taxpayer's dime, as well."

Of course, this wasteful application of the criminal justice system would not even be an issue if Congress acted to update our immigration system so that there were more legal pathways to come to the U.S.  While we are waiting for a more fundamental change to the immigration laws, Congress should, as it considers appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011, look at cutting back on Operation Streamline and saving the taxpayers some money.

Which Way Will the Latino Vote Swing in 2010?

February 10, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


This is an election year, and one question that will be the subject of speculation between now and Election Day is what role will Latinos play in this election.

Providing a review of recent history and some updated information, our friends over at America's Voice have issued a new report, The Power of the Latino Vote in the 2010 Elections.

The Latino electorate is growing rapidly. The report notes that in 2008, nearly 4 million more Latinos voted than voted in the 2000 elections-a growth of 64% nationally. In states that have experienced recent and rapid growth of the Latino population, the percentage increase in Latino voters between 2000 and 2008 was much more dramatic-up to 392% in the case of Georgia.

While the Latino vote grew during this time period, it also swung Democratic. The AV report zooms in on one segment of the Latino vote that made the most dramatic swing between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Election: Latino immigrant voters. These voters-foreign born, naturalized U.S. citizens-barely went for Kerry in 2004 (52% - 48%), but voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 (75% - 25%). These are the voters closest to the immigration debate, being immigrants themselves.

It is the economy, not immigration, that is the top concern of Latino voters, like it is for voters as a whole. However, immigration serves as a sort of character test for a candidate. As the report notes,

"The immigration issue serves as a way to define the "good guys" and the "bad guys" for Latinos. Because of the way many Republican policymakers have handled the immigration issue in Congress and campaigns over the last several years, the GOP brand is increasingly identified with people who want to deport Latino immigrants, while Democrats are generally seen as more welcoming."

The "immigration issue," comprehensive immigration reform, is still unresolved. As we get closer to the next election, the key questions are, for the Democrats, do they push the issue off for the future, and possibly "dampen enthusiasm for Democrats among the Latino electorate?" For Republicans,

"Does the GOP continue to embrace a restrictionist agenda, ignoring the demographic and political realities of a growing electorate that is gaining stature and getting energized?"

The bulk of the report consists of analysis of forty gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House races in twelve states where Latino voters matter most, and that are identified as "close" by either the Cook or Rothenberg Political Reports, or the parties themselves. The immigration positions of the candidates are examined.

It is always fascinating to watch a contest between one party that seems to be constantly looking for new ways to alienate large segments of the electorate and another party that seems to be too terrified to act to show voters it can actually solve problems. A lot can happen between now and Election Day. As this report implies, much of the Latino vote is riding on whether the immigration issue is solved or not.

Photo by Flickr User Adria Richards.

In the Wake of a Raid, How do Families Survive?

February 08, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


Raid aftermath

What happens to family members, primarily children, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents once one or both undocumented parents are swept up in a raid?

On February 2nd, the Urban Institute released a report, Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement.  Researchers at the Urban Institute examined the consequences of parental arrest, detention, and deportation on 190 children in six locations around the country.

The undocumented immigrants who are at the center of the debate on immigration reform have, for the most part, been here a long time.  Many of them have children. There are 5.5 million children who have one or more unauthorized immigrant parent. Three-quarters of them are U.S. citizens.

The Urban Institute study follows up on families that have been affected by an immigration enforcement action, in an effort to determine short-term and longer-term effects.

Not surprisingly, children experienced widespread behavioral changes, including disrupted eating and sleeping habits, anxiety, withdrawal, aggressiveness, and other behavioral changes as a consequence of the absence of a parent after an arrest.  These behavioral changes were experienced more often if the arrest occurred during a home invasion conducted by ICE agents.

The report also examined how families survive when one or both breadwinners lose their job as the result of an immigration enforcement action. 

For most of the sites studied, there was a very strong community response to help take care of the families of those arrested.  Immigrant family victims of raids received help from relatives, friends, churches and community groups.  Though immigrants who were arrested and released were not supposed to work, many eventually made their way into the informal labor market out of economic necessity. 

The undocumented worker/mixed status family population that was the subject of the study was, as one might expect, extremely motivated to work.  Even when one or both breadwinners lost their jobs as a result of arrest, many would not consider relying on public benefits.  One woman interviewed for the study said,

“I want them to see that I’m not a burden for anybody.  I don’t want to ask for anything, I know people can give you [things] but I won’t ask even if I’m drowning, even now that I have the water coming up to here, I haven’t done it.”

Indeed, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for public benefits.  However, their U.S.-citizen children are.  Even with an extreme aversion to public assistance, economic necessity pushed some to turn to public assistance--Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (cash assistance) and food stamps—so their children could eat and have shelter.  According to the report, more than one-quarter of all families studied received TANF more than six months after arrest, and nearly half were receiving food stamps.

This is another spinoff problem of our broken immigration system.  We are taking people who are highly motivated to work, who are the breadwinners for their family, and who are doing a fine job of providing for their family while at the same time helping to keep our economy going.  We are taking these people and jailing and removing them or releasing them but forbidding them to work.  To keep their kids from starving, they are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

This is just one more example of how, if we follow the policy prescriptions of mass deportation advocates, we'd better be prepared to pay a high price.  The Urban Institute studied just 85 families.  If we multiply by a million or two, the safety net benefit costs will add up.

It would be more logical to let the family breadwinner work legally and continue to provide for the family—and in the process to provide business for other companies in our ailing economy, so those companies can continue to employ the breadwinners of more families.

Photo by Flickr user Monster Pete.


Our Time to Fight for Immigration Reform is Now

February 04, 2010 - Posted by Ali Noorani

I spent the last week meeting with people from Texas to New York to California who want our nation’s broken immigration system fixed.  Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, people of faith and people of conscience,  immigrant workers and American workers, labor and business - the people are angry.


They are angry at the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.


People want solutions, and they want Washington DC to accomplish something.


All these people that I had the opportunity to talk to, coming from all  different perspectives  know that it’s not going to be easy. They know the politicians and the media would love to do nothing by keeping alive this tired story of legal versus illegal because they think it gets them  votes or ratings.  The people know Democrats have become the party of “I Can’t” and Republicans have become the party of “I Won’t.”  We know we are running behind, but we are still very much in the game and at this moment our issue is unique in its ability to say to Democrats and Republicans “You’d better.”


Because something is happening.


Recent events in Detroit, Cincinnati, Phoenix and Raleigh saw unprecedented numbers of people come out,  as faith, labor, business and immigrant leaders are coming together to be counted and heard.


And it was impossible not to notice that the commitment and tenacity of each and every leader I met with over the past week has been growing stronger.  Whether it is fairness in the job market, equality of tax payments or justice for all, everyone’s desire to fight is intensifying with each day.


It’s as if everyone heard Congressman Gutierrez, when he said  in Los Angeles earlier this week, “You don’t go to McDonald’s and order justice at the drive through.” 


We know our path to a functioning immigration system that ensures fairness, equity and justice is long, winding, and fraught with peril.  Our nation has had to endure this path for decades and now, people want action.


So, although Washington DC may very well fail our Nation, we cannot fail our communities. Just as the failure to fix the broken system has hamstrung all of us, real immigration reform will help all communities. Native born workers can understand they will benefit from a reformed immigration system that equalizes the labor market, business owners understand they will benefit from a reformed immigration system that punishes unscrupulous employers, and families understand they will benefit from a reform immigration system that stabilizes communities.


The anger is real, the demand for a solution is urgent, and our time to fight is now.


See you on March 21st!




Ali Noorani

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