National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Updates Archives

The Trouble with Enforcing Broken Immigration Laws

March 30, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

ICE Web site

What happens when you go to shift paradigms, but your transmission fails?

Events of the past week have placed a spotlight on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws in the interior.  An article appearing in the Washington Post on March 27 reported on a memo sent on behalf of James Chaparro, Director of ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations on February 22 that appears to endorse arrest quotas in contradiction to stated administration enforcement priorities.

Before I get into that, a little background. 

After the failure of immigration reform legislation in the Senate in 2007, the Bush Administration decided to drop the hammer on undocumented immigrants, regardless of whether they posed a threat to communities or were merely here seeking opportunity to provide for their families.  As former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff put it at a press conference with Senate supporters of the failed legislation,

"You will continue to see heart-wrenching examples of families being pulled apart.  In order to regain credibility with the American people, we're going to have to be tough."

Part of the effort to "regain credibility" was to be able to tout large numbers of deportations, and this necessitated a focus on immigrant workers at workplaces and non-criminal immigrants in their homes.  ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams were set up to go after immigrants who had been ordered removed from the U.S., but failed to depart (the so-called "absconders").  Last year, it was revealed that each team was assigned to make at least 1,000 arrests each year.  To boost numbers, teams abandoned a focus on absconders.  The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, reported that,

An internal ICE report released earlier this year showed that agents arrested two dozen Latinos at a Maryland convenience store in 2007 after their supervisor told them to boost arrests because they were behind reaching their goal.

A report by the Migration Policy Institute last year noted that in 2007, 40% of Fugitive Operations Teams' arrests were neither criminal nor fugitives.

The new Administration stated that it would prioritize removal of immigrants who have committed crimes and posed a threat to their communities.  Indeed, Assistant Secretary John Morton, the new head of ICE told reporters in August 2007 that the agency was no longer using arrest quotas.

So, in February of this year, Mr. Chaparro writes his memo, which in part says,

"Current non-criminal removal projections put is (sic) well short of our FY10 goal. … The current non-criminal removal rate projections will result in 159,740 removals at the close of the fiscal year. Coupling this with the projections in criminal removals only gives us a total of just over 310,000 overall removals -- well under the Agency's goal of 400,000." (Emphasis in original.)

Under a section titled, "Here is What I Need You To Do," the memo goes on:

"Within 30 days we will increase our national [Average Daily Population] by 3,000 bringing our national overall ADP to approximately 32,600."

Sounds like a quota, doesn't it?

Apparently, it sounded like a quota to Mr. Chaparro's boss, John Morton, who immediately issued a statement following the appearance of the Washington Post article revealing the Chaparro memo.  That statement said in part,

"Significant portions of the memo … did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

We are strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first and we definitively do not set quotas."

The Post article noted that, even before the Morton statement was issued,

Chaparro issued a new memo stating that his earlier e-mail "signals no shift in the important steps we have taken to date to focus our priorities on the smart and effective enforcement of immigration laws, prioritizing dangerous criminal aliens…."

At times like these, it sounds a little like the old enforcement policies of the last administration have been coated with new buzzwords, and they are now "smart, effective enforcement" sort of like how coal has become "clean coal" in the past year.

While Morton's statement repudiating the Chaparro memo was unequivocal, in other contexts Mr. Morton has sounded more…equivocal.  There was an exchange in a hearing on March 18 with Hal Rogers (R-KY), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee, in which Mr. Morton seemed to suggest he plans to implement quotas.  Here are some excerpts:

ROGERS: "However, you've all but stopped apprehending and detaining non- criminal illegal aliens. As I said in my opening statement, a major, major decline in administrative arrests -- that's non-criminal arrests -- down 68 percent."

MORTON: "What I will tell you there is you are right that a number of the categories that you identified are down from the previous year. It's of concern to me. I've been talking about it the last few weeks and we are going to do better."

ROGERS (a bit later):  "I'm just saying that the unused beds are an indication that you're not apprehending and deporting the numbers that you're talking about. Otherwise you wouldn't -- you would use every bed you could. We've done it for decades."

MORTON: "… on April 1st you are going to see us move to something very close to 33,400 and run it for the rest of the year."

Until Congress acts to reform our broken immigration laws, ICE is stuck enforcing laws that don't make sense.  Mr. Chapparo alludes to the bind the agency is in in his second memo (mentioned above), when he refers to the "smart and effective" prioritization of "dangerous criminal aliens,"

"while also adhering to Congressional mandates to maintain an average daily [detention] population and meet annual performance measures."

Still, the Administration has to decide what it's priorities really are, get everyone in the Department of Homeland Security on board, and stick to the decision.  Mr. Morton only creates confusion and creates a credibility problem both outside and inside the agency when he says one thing in a press statement, and another thing to one of Congress' immigration hardliners.  Until he can provide direct and clear leadership to his subordinates, Mr. Morton will be stuck in neutral.

The Staggering Cost of Mass Deportation

March 26, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


Image: (c) iStockphoto/Abejon Photography

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has updated its estimate of the cost of the immigration policy alternative advocated by immigration hardliners inside and outside of Congress: mass deportation of the 10.8 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.  The CAP study, The Costs of Mass Deportation, makes the assumption that such a program would be conducted over a period of five years.  Using publicly available information, CAP estimates the mass deportation strategy would cost $285 billion dollars.

To put this amount in perspective, CAP notes that raising that amount would require $922 in additional taxes for every man, woman, and child in the country.  $285 billion, if put into education, would provide an extra $5,100 for the education of every elementary and secondary public and private student in the U.S. 

Putting the number of people subject to a mass deportation effort in perspective, CAP notes that the 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants is 3.5 percent of our population, or nearly the population of our New England states.

CAP breaks down the component and per-person cost of mass deportation:

  • $18,310 per person for apprehension costs

  • $3,355 per person for detention

  • $817 per person for legal processing costs

  • $1,000 per person average transportation costs

Why the estimate is probably too low

There are a number of reasons that CAP's estimate is probably unrealistically conservative.  Many of these reasons CAP acknowledges.

First, just from observing how new government programs are financed in recent years, the idea that there would be a new tax amounting to $922 per person is unrealistic.  The money would be borrowed, so we would have to add to the cost the finance charge for borrowing the money to engage in the mass deportation project.
Regarding detention, the CAP study assumes that detaining an extra 1.73 million people—a 71 percent increase over current levels—would not necessitate added construction costs, an assumption CAP admits is probably unrealistic.  If additional detention space were to be constructed, CAP notes that the average per-bed construction cost is $11,900 and approximately 144,000 beds would be needed.

Although CAP gives an estimate for legal processing costs based on current data, the report notes that immigration courts are "ill equipped to serve the current caseload.  It is difficult to fathom how the immigration legal system would handle 8.66 million new adjudications that would come from a deportation campaign."  (The report assumes that not all deportees would go through the immigration courts; the remainder would "voluntarily depart.")

The immigration detention and court systems are already strained to the breaking point with their current workload.  CAP notes that "the problems currently plaguing our detention system and immigration courts would be exacerbated in the extreme and would likely precipitate widespread human rights and due process violations" (and, I would add, attendant legal costs defending against resulting legal actions).

There are other costs that would accompany a mass deportation program, some of which CAP alludes to in their report.  CAP reminds us that most undocumented immigrants have lived here for a long time—63 percent for more than 10 years.  They are "intimately integrated into local communities," and many have U.S.-citizen children.  Seventy-three percent of the children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens.

There are a couple of ways in which these facts may indicate costs that are not calculated and impossible to predict. 

For one, most undocumented immigrants have already resisted leaving for a long time and, as CAP notes, a mass deportation strategy might just mean that "those who intend to remain would burrow in further, taking with them their wages that are now taxed, or forcing them to use more advanced false documents."

Secondly, what happens to families when one (or more) breadwinners are removed?  U.S. citizen family members who remain will be eligible for safety net benefits, and some are forced to rely on them as the family income slips below the poverty line (discussed in this blog post).

The reaction of the community is hard to predict. CAP asks, "would immigrant communities organize to help their family members and neighbors?" In the face of a massive effort that would result in the disruption of workplaces, congregations, neighborhoods, schools, and communities, it may well be that efforts to protect the targets of mass deportation will go beyond family members and neighbors.  Will people of faith organize to help their fellow congregants?  Will workers organize to help their co-workers?  Any resistance to a mass deportation program is going to increase its costs.

Any way you look at it, the cost to our government and to our society of mass deportation would be enormous.  Even so, the cost would be dwarfed by the cost to our economy—estimated to be $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years.

The CAP study is certainly worth a read, giving us another reason to ask about mass deportation, "Now, why do we want to do this again?"

The Health of Immigration Reform

March 25, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

March for America


The March 21 rally for immigration reform drew 200,000 to the National Mall in Washington.  As it turns out, this impressive show of organization took place on the same day that Congress was turning a chapter in the legislative agenda.  Sunday night, the House passed the Senate's health care reform bill, which has since become law.  Health care reform has dominated Congressional attention for most of the past year.  It's over.  (Well, except for campaign ads that will try to convince us that coverage of children under their parent's (private) health insurance plan until they are 26 years old is socialism.  But I digress.)


There is a strong case to be made that immigration reform can now be cleared for take-off.


For one thing, there is a matter of numbers (in the) USA.  Immigration reform advocates are organized in unprecedented numbers and with unprecedented energy.  The rally on the Mall on Sunday was the largest event of the day, but it wasn't the only one.  A thousand people rallied in Denver. In Omaha, a Catholic church overflowed with 600 people who came to listen to speeches supporting immigration reform.  Another hundred people gathered at a Methodist church in the same town to listen to the stories of immigrants hoping Congress will act on reform.  Another 300 people from four religious congregations marched through Grand Island in support of reform.  In Salinas, 10,000 people marched for immigration reform.  Thousands marched in Salt Lake City.  Another thousand in San Jose.  More events have taken place since Sunday.  More will be taking place in the coming weeks (like this one in Las Vegas). 


The problem's not fixed.  Calls to fix it are not going to stop.  Advocates are ready to pressure whoever needs to be pressured.


The numbers advocating for reform are impressive—and growing—but so is the breadth of the coalition supporting reform.  Let's just take a sample of the speaker lineup from the March for America.  Many faiths were represented—by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Catholic diocese of Los Angeles; the Reverend Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Reverend Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC; Reverand Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Rabbi Morris Allen, spiritual leader of the Conservative Jewish Beth Jacob Congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church.


There were leaders from the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  There were labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE, SEIU, and UFCW.  There was Arturo Venegas, former police chief of Sacramento and current project director for the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative.  There were also leaders from the Latin American, Korean American, and Irish American communities—as well as a collection of local and regional immigrant advocacy leaders.


As for the political climate in Congress: it could be better.  One school of thought says that, because of the way health care was won, Republicans will refuse to support anything else on President Obama's agenda.  For example, Senator John McCain was quoted as saying "There will be no cooperation for the rest of this year."  (I may be getting forgetful, but remind me again when cooperation started in this Congress?)  As for the Democrats, the same school of thought says that a good number of them will balk at tackling another problem before the election.  For example, former Republican Congressman Tom Davis speculates,


``Republicans aren't going to feel intimidated by this [defeat on health care]. And marginal Democrats are not going to want to take another tough vote. [President Obama's] members will say, `We gave you this vote, but no more.' They'll have given him their last ounce of breath.''


But is Congress really not going to do anything more in this session because half of the Members are going to be sulking in a corner while some others tell us that before they will even consider tackling another difficult problem, we must re-elect them?


That's the story a lot of the media wants to tell.  It is not that simple. 


As we have said so many times, immigration is not a partisan issue.  Members are going to be pressed from so many sides, that it is unlikely the immigration debate will fill the same mold as the health care debate.  Perhaps a Catholic Member will be persuaded by someone like Cardinal Mahony.  Perhaps a member representing a rural district in Wisconsin will be persuaded by his dairy farmers.  Or perhaps a decision to reach out to the fastest-growing segment of the electorate will win a vote. 


Let's see what really happens once the dust storm kicked up by the health care debate settles.

Determined to be heard

March 20, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


Since the election of President Obama, there has been a lot of attention to gatherings of what has come to be called the “tea party.”  While the motivations of tea party activists are varied, that movement came into public view in the effort to oppose Congress’ attempt to extend health care to millions of the uninsured.

Sunday, the nation will hear a very different voice—or I should say from 100,000 voices.  They will represent the millions of Americans frustrated with the lack of progress in fixing our nation’s broken immigration system and broken economy.

Organizers say many of the 100,000 expected to attend the March for America will be coming on 900 buses. One measure of the determination of these activists is the distance they are traveling on those buses from all over the country.

From the West, there is a bus on its way from San Francisco, loaded with 50 leaders of the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group.  Their cross-country journey was kicked off with press conferences on March 17 in San Francisco and Oakland.  Along the way, they are holding press events in Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, and Columbus.

From the Southwest, the human rights group Puente sent a caravan from Phoenix on March 6.  That caravan stopped for events in El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Montgomery, Atlanta, and Raleigh, among other places.

From the South, dozens of buses are coming from Florida and Georgia.  In Orlando, bus riders are gathering in the Citrus bowl, where they will be sent off by Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Orlando Catholic Diocese.

From the north, Voces de la Frontera sent a caravan from Milwaukee on March 17 that is making stops in Chicago, Toledo, and Cincinnati.  You can read about their trip on their blog.

These far-flung leaders will join many thousands of others on the National Mall tomorrow.  After a long journey by bus, plane, caravan, and even by foot, they will be tired but excited, and determined to be heard.



Schumer, Graham Publish Framework for Immigration Reform Legislation

March 19, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Just in time to answer an anticipated crowd of thousands of immigration reform advocates who will be descending on Washington this weekend, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY, head of the Senate's Immigration Subcommittee) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have published their "framework" for immigration reform.  Their collective ideas for fixing the immigration system appeared as an op-ed in the Washington Post on March 19.  The two Senators have been involved in discussions about immigration reform legislation for months.

The elements of the framework, as described in the op-ed, include a biometric social security card, to be carried by all workers, to prevent unauthorized workers from getting jobs.  There would be more personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border.  There would be expanded interior enforcement aimed at apprehending and deporting criminals.  It would require completion of the entry-exit system (US-VISIT), to determine whether visitors leave the country before their visas expire.  Regarding the future admission of workers, the framework would provide green cards for foreigners who graduate with a Master's degree or PhD in science, technology, engineering, or math.  It would also provide for a number of lower-skilled immigrants, with levels depending on what is happening in the economy.  Finally, the framework provides for legalization of undocumented immigrants, requiring them to perform community service, pay fines, pass a background check, pay any back taxes owed, be proficient in English, and go to the "back of the line" to wait for a chance to earn permanent residence.

The elements of the framework are described very broadly; it was not meant to be a detailed outline of a bill, and the op-ed leaves out important elements of reform.  We can be certain there will be spirited debate about details as the framework is translated into legislation.  Still, this bipartisan framework is a step forward in a debate that has been stuck for months.

The President reacted to the framework, issuing a statement calling it "a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward."  The release noted that "a critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal" and the President pledged "to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year…." 

Flurry of Meetings Precede Washington March

March 19, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

With time running out before a major pro-immigration reform march in Washington, there was a flurry of meetings last week with President Obama.  There was a meeting with immigrant rights leaders from grassroots, labor, and faith organizations, who reminded the President that immigration raids and other enforcement actions continue to tear apart families, workplaces, communities, and congregations.  They asked the President to be more engaged on comprehensive immigration reform this spring.  For his part, the President reiterated his "unwavering commitment" to immigration reform.

Next, he met with Senators Schumer and Graham, who shared their agreed-upon framework on comprehensive reform legislation (see above).  The Senators also asked the President to be more engaged in getting support for immigration reform.  Senator Graham released a statement about the meeting, saying that the President committed to helping resolve outstanding issues, such as 'virtual fencing' along the southern border and the creation of a temporary worker program.

Birthday for a Noble Act

March 16, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


This week marks the 30th Anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, signed into law on March 17, 1980. 

Prior to the Act, the U.S. had been admitting persons fleeing persecution, but the definition of refugee was set in the context of the Cold War.  Among other things, the Refugee Act attempted to end Cold War bias.  As Senator Edward Kennedy, author of the legislation, wrote in 1981, the new law provided,

a new definition of a refugee. The new definition no longer applies only to refugees "from communism" or certain areas of the Middle East; it now applies to all who meet the test of the United Nations Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees.

In other provisions of the Act, the annual number of refugee admission were increased, the Administration's "parole authority" was limited, a process for claiming asylum was set in law, federal programs were established to assist in the resettlement of refugees, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement was established.

Kennedy again:

The new law is intended to end years of ad hoc programs and different policies for different refugees by putting the U.S. refugee programs on a firm basis.

Cold War bias was not stamped out right away.  Through the 1980's and much of the '90s, most refugees came from the Soviet Union (and later the former Soviet Union), Southeast Asia, and Cuba.  By 1995, for example, 79% of refugees still came from these traditional Cold War sending areas.  In recent years, refugees from a broader range of countries where there is political violence and persecution benefit from refugee resettlement. 

In 2008, the top refugee nationalities were Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Iran, Cuba, Burundi, Somalia, Vietnam, and Ukraine.  The 2008 admission of more than 60,000 refugees continued an upward trend that started in 2002, when admissions reached a low of less than 27,000 due to new security procedures implemented in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11.  In the 1990s, the U.S. was admitting more than 100,000 refugees per year.

In the 1980s, the asylum system, too, was poisoned with Cold War bias.  Persons fleeing from Communist governments gained asylum at much higher rates than persons fleeing from, for example, El Salvador, where the U.S.-aligned government was slaughtering its subjects in large numbers.  Eventually, the bias was straightened out in the courts, and in 1990 the immigration service established an Asylum Corps of specially-trained officers to handle asylum cases.  In 2008, the top nationalities gaining asylum were China, Columbia, Haiti, Venezuela, and Iraq. 

There continue to be barriers in the law that prevent some deserving individuals from gaining refuge in the U.S.  Administrative and court interpretations of the law in recent years present a problem for some victims of domestic violence (discussed in detail here).  Interpretation of a provision of a 1996 law concerning "material support of terrorism" has presented problems for refugees and asylum seekers who have fought against repressive regimes. The one-year filing deadline for asylum-seekers has questionable merit and has led to documented cases of bona fide claims being denied.

These and other problems are addressed in new legislation introduced on March 15 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI). (Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) have signed on as co-sponsors.)

According to Senator Leahy in his press statement, the new legislation would

"…repeal the most harsh and unnecessary elements of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a law that had tragic consequences for asylum seekers.  It also corrects agency and court misinterpretations of law that limit access to safety in the United States for asylum seekers.  Finally, it modifies the immigration statute to ensure that innocent persons with valid claims are not unfairly barred from the United States by laws enacted after September 11, 2001, while leaving in place provisions that prevent dangerous terrorists from manipulating our immigration system.”

In the last 30 years, the U.S. has  granted protection from persecution and violence to millions of refugees and asylum seekers.  We continue to keep our doors open to such persons.  We can do more to treat those fleeing persecution more consistently.  S. 3113 will help us achieve that goal.

Photo by Flickr user: United Nations.

Game Changer?

March 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

game change

As the New York Times put it on Saturday, there is "Nothing like 100,000 angry, frustrated, impatient marchers, representing millions of voters, to focus the Congressional and presidential mind…."  The immigration march, the Times says, may be the one possible game changer to break the logjam in Congress on the issue of immigration reform.

The March for America will take place in Washington on Sunday, March 21.  Tens of thousands of people are expected to participate, pressing Congress and the President to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In anticipation of the march, there was a flurry of activity last week.

On Thursday, President Obama held a series of meetings on immigration reform.  The first was with advocates for immigration reform, who reminded the President of the heavy toll immigration raids and the enforcement of broken laws was taking on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  The advocates were there to urge the President to honor his promise to fix America's broken immigration system and to show more leadership on the issue.

Next, the President met with the two Senators who have been negotiating a start point for this round of the immigration debate in Congress—Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  The Senators shared with the President their agreed-upon framework for immigration reform legislation.  They also urged the President to show more leadership on the issue, in particular, to help gain more support in the Senate, and to help work out the differences that yet exist between business and labor.

For their part, advocates, represented by the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America, were pleased, saying in a statement that, based on the conversation with the President, "we are optimistic and expecting aggressive and urgent action from the White House on comprehensive immigration reform before March 21st."

For his part, the President said in a statement that he,

"told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort."

On the same day, the President met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and again immigration reform (as well as other issues) was on the agenda.

With the President's renewed attention, perhaps a little support for immigration reform can be rounded up in the Senate.  In particular, the effort needs more Republican support. 

As the Times noted in its editorial, it used to be that with immigration reform there was,

"…a lot for Republicans to like: conservative arguments that reform is good for business, reunites families, bolsters national security — and pleases Latino voters."

Not so long ago, immigration reform had the support of several Republicans in the Senate.  Now, however, Senator Graham is the only Republican in the Senate who is willing to lead on the issue.  The rest dare not run afoul of the ideological purity police who act as a sort of Taliban for the Republican Party. As Graham recently told Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, there comes a point when "fear stops you from acting in the best interests of the country."

If Republicans are responding to the purity police within their base, what are Democrats doing for their base?

Immigration reform is an urgent humanitarian mater for the thousands of families and hundreds of communities and faith congregations that are being torn apart as the government continues to enforce broken laws.  It is also an urgent political matter for Democrats.  Elections are approaching, the right is energized, and Democrats don't have a lot to fire up Latinos and the first-time voters who were inspired to vote in 2008 with promises that new leadership would tackle immigration reform and a range of major challenges facing the country. 

Douglas Rivlin, at, reports on a study of voting in the recently-concluded New York Mayor's race.  Just one in five voters who were first-time voters in 2008 voted in the Mayor's race. 

If that pattern is not to be repeated in November, those voters need something to validate a belief that their vote in 2008 made a difference.  For Latinos, the validation they need is immigration reform (or at the very least, a sincere attempt to pass it).

 Photo by Flickr user Hjelle.

A Separate Reality

March 11, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Separate reality 
Images: (c)iStockphoto/Simon McConico; (c)iStockphoto/helenecanada

There was a happy ending recently in the case of a man from China who was to be deported under rules set by an immigration law passed in the mid-1990s. It took a governor's pardon to protect Qing Hong Wu from the parallel universe that has developed for legal immigrants who get into trouble with the law.

In 1996, Members of Congress were still reacting to anti-immigrant sentiment that began in California and swept across the country. They enacted a pair of laws-the Illegal Immigration Control and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)-that created a reality separate from the normal criminal justice system.

Among other things, the law expanded the definition of "aggravated felony." In the universe of the American citizen, the label "aggravated felony" is reserved for serious crimes-murder, rape, violent crimes, and like offenses. In the parallel universe created by the 1996 laws, an aggravated felony for a legal immigrant might be, say, shoplifting-if it results in a sentence of a year or more. It doesn't matter whether the sentence was served or suspended.

Other features of the separate reality include mandatory jailing and removal from the U.S. Courts were stripped of their jurisdiction to hear appeals in these cases. Congress made these laws retroactive, so an immigrant's future behavior mattered little if his or her past behavior resulted in a criminal conviction. In this parallel universe, rehabilitation counts for nothing, and immigration judges have no authority to consider individual circumstances.

After the passage of these laws, the papers were filled with bizarre stories such as that of Olufolake Olaleye of Georgia who, several years before the laws were passed, was convicted of shoplifting and given a one-year suspended sentence. In 1996, by virtue of Congressional action, she became an "aggravated felon" and was placed in deportation proceedings.

In the case of Mr. Wu, he immigrated to the U.S. from China with his family when he was five. His parents led a very typical life of low-income immigrants coming to this country-they worked hard and long hours. They were not able to monitor the type of crowd their son hung out with. With his friends, he committed a series of muggings. He was 15 when he was sentenced to three to nine years in a juvenile facility. The Judge who sentenced him, Michael Corriero, promised Mr. Wu that if he turned his life around while in the reformatory, "I am here to stand behind you."

Turn around his life is what Mr. Wu did. He earned release after three years, went to work, and eventually became Vice President for IT at a real estate financial management company. He had success. What he didn't have was U.S. citizenship. It was time to apply.

That’s when Mr. Wu entered the parallel universe where Mr. Wu's good behavior doesn't count, nor do his other circumstances—he has a U.S. citizen fiancée, he financially supports his elderly mother. His long-ago criminal record came to the attention of the immigration authorities. He was jailed, and the immigration agency began proceedings to send him back to China.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the New York Times,

"This administration is committed to smart and effective immigration policies that place an emphasis on the deportation of criminal aliens. While we are not able to discuss any individual cases, ICE will enforce the law, and if an individual has been convicted of a serious or dangerous crime, we will take the appropriate action, including deportation."

Smart and effective immigration policies? One would hope that a spokesperson for our immigration enforcement agency would be able to distinguish between someone who is a threat to society and one who ceased being a threat a decade and a half ago.

The agency has to enforce some stupid laws, and it would be better for all concerned if their representatives used these sorts of incidents to educate us about that fact. What Mr. Hale should have said was something like, "Look, it is an incredible waste of agency resources and taxpayer dollars to lock up someone like Mr. Wu who learned from his mistakes 15 years ago and who has been a very productive resident of New York ever since. We need Congress to act to make the laws more rational."

Mr. Wu was lucky. Judge Corriero (now retired) kept his word, and joined Mr. Wu's boss, the Police Benevolent Association, Mr. Wu's fiancée, and dozens of others in petitioning Governor Paterson for Mr. Wu's pardon.

The pardon was granted, wiping away the criminal record that served as the basis for Mr. Wu's deportation. In his Press Release, the Governor said,

"Qing Hong Wu's case proves that an individual can, with hard work and dedication, rise above past mistakes and turn his life around."

That's just common sense. It shouldn't have to take a governor's pardon to point that out. Our immigration laws should allow for rehabilitation. Individual circumstances should be taken into account when deciding whether it makes sense to boot someone out of the country.  That would be "smart and effective" enforcement.


Immigrants – Creating the Jobs Americans Want to Do

March 05, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


The Christian Science Monitor the other day published a story, "Who's creating US jobs? Mexicans."  The story noted an increase in Mexican entrepreneurs coming to the U.S. in order to escape drug cartel violence and kidnapping.  There are special visas available to immigrant entrepreneurs willing to come to the U.S. to create jobs.  In the last decade, there has been a steady increase in the number of Mexicans who have been transferring their businesses here, buying and renovating businesses here, or starting new ones.

In the immigration debate, we hear a lot (from anti-immigrant groups) about immigrants "taking" American jobs.  Not enough is said about immigrant entrepreneurs and the jobs they create for Americans.

Each year, the Kauffman Foundation puts out an Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. The index "is a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States." 

Their latest, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2008, reveals some important "shifts in the demographic and geographic composition of new entrepreneurs across the country."  

For a number of years, researchers have found that immigrants have a greater rate of entrepreneurial activity than the native-born.  According to the latest Index, the difference between immigrant and native-born entrepreneurial activity is growing.

The immigrant rate of entrepreneurial activity increased from 0.46 percent in 2007 to 0.51 percent in 2008, further widening the gap between immigrant and native-born rates. Native-born rates increased only slightly, from 0.27 percent to 0.28 percent.

The increase in entrepreneurial activity among immigrants in 2008 from the year before, the report notes, is driven by startups in “low- and medium-income-potential” types of businesses, such as grocery stores, child care services, and restaurants.  However, the report notes that immigrants are “also more likely to start high-income-potential types of businesses than the native born.”  That list includes various types of manufacturing, wholesalers, and medical and legal services. 

Looking at ethnic groups, in 2008 Latinos (.48 percent) and Asians (.35 percent) had a higher rate of entrepreneurship than non-Latino whites (.31 percent).  The report also notes that it doesn’t take a college degree to start a business.  In fact, 

While business-creation rates increased for less-educated individuals, the college-educated experienced a decline in entrepreneurial activity rates, from 0.33 percent in 2007 to 0.31 percent in 2008.

The Kauffman report and others such as this one from the Immigration Policy Center estimating that comprehensive immigration reform will boost our economy by $1.5 trillion over ten years, make it increasingly clear that, as we grapple with ways to pull out of the current economic slump, immigration reform must be part of the solution.

Photo by Flickr user Sugi

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 > 

Get Email Updates

Updates Daily News Clips
Crossroads Campaign Solutions