National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Immigration Fiefdoms

June 24, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


We are getting dangerously close to the point where yet another Congress will try to pass the problem of our broken immigration system off to another Congress.  An article in the June 24th Washington Post reports on the growing trend of states and localities, frustrated with federal inaction, taking matters into their own hands.  Fremont, Nebraska, earlier this week passed by referendum an ordinance requiring employers in the town to use the federal E-Verify system to screen their workers, and prohibiting landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. 

Even before the Arizona’s SB 1070 passed earlier this year, there was an explosion of state and local ordinances on immigration.  The level of frustration with federal inaction is growing, with no end in sight. 

In the wake of SB 1070, five states, according to the Post are considering “Arizona style” legislation—South Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.  The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that, by the end of the first quarter of this year, there were 1,180 bills and resolutions introduced in 45 states—a record.  NCSL tracks only state legislatures, so this does not include ordinances on the local level, such as Fremont’s. 

Viewed one way, laws like Arizona’s are a measure of the frustration people feel about federal inaction on immigration.  Even with one of the most troubled economies in the country, Arizona lawmakers decided to risk the high cost of making their own immigration policy, with all the controversy entailed.  The state now faces the prospect of boycotts, out-migration, and millions of dollars in legal fees.

Fremont, a town of just 25,000, will undoubtedly be spending a disproportionate part of its budget on legal challenges to its new law in the near future.

Ann Morse, of NCSL told the Post that legislators tell her that these actions are

“their way of signaling they want federal immigration reform to happen -- … they're working within the parameters they have and sometimes at the edge, trying to get federal attention."

Not all of the laws and resolutions introduced in the states (and localities) aim to clamp down on illegal immigration.  Since Arizona’s Governor signed SB 1070 into law, dozens of communities have passed or are considering resolutions condemning the Arizona law or calling for a boycott of Arizona.  Princeton, New Jersey, recently decided to issue community identification cards, available to all residents regardless of immigration status.

The spectrum of views incorporated in new state laws and town ordinances are reflective of the frustration of the American people.  As NDN notes in this blog post, the very same Washington Post poll that touted majority support for Arizona’s law also showed majority support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes “a program giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.”  Support for this practical solution to the immigration problem has been consistent over the last several years.

As time goes on, we are going to have hundreds of jurisdictions with their own immigration policies—until the courts step in and tell us that the proper way to act on our frustrations about the broken immigration system is to press Congress to own up its responsibility and reform the laws.  If it’s Congress that’s broken, then it’s our responsibility to fix Congress.

Image by Flickr user Claudio.Ar


Extremist Rhetoric and Violence on the Border

June 18, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



One thing that stuck with me about the movie Hotel Rwanda were the scenes in which armed Hutus scoured the countryside looking for Tutsis to slaughter, while their truck radios were tuned to a station whose DJ was urging them to "kill the cockroaches." 


Over the past several years, as each Congress has passed the problem of our dysfunctional immigration system off to the next Congress, the rhetoric of the immigration debate has gotten more inflammatory, and I am often reminded of those talk show DJs who played their part in the Rwanda slaughter.


The dehumanizing rhetoric is most abundant in the comment section after any on-line media article involving immigrants.  Melissa Del Bosque, of the Texas Observer, writes about that phenomenon here.  Among others, she cites a not untypical comment that appeared below a story about the Border Patrol shooting and killing a Mexican teenager, where the commenter praised the Border Patrol for their "good work," saying that the Border Patrol was "doing America a great service by keeping these … roaches out of this Once-great nation."


Del Bosque went on to cite other examples. 


Unfortunately, the phenomenon is not limited to anonymous cowards sitting in front of a computer with a lot of time on their hands and a lot of hate to spew.


There are plenty of talk show hosts who use their radio programs to de-humanize immigrants and Latinos.  This was discussed at length in a report that we talk about here.  An example is the Boston radio host who was removed from the air after calling Mexicans "leeches" and an assortment of other names.


Politicians have certainly gotten in to the act.


Back in 2008, Representative Steve King (R-IA) suggested in this performance on the House Floor that we build a border wall that would have electrified wire on top that would be "a discouragement for [someone] to be fooling around with it."  After all, he said, "we do that with livestock all the time.")


More recently, Tom Mullins, the Republican candidate who will run against Representative Ben Lujan in New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, suggested in a radio interview that "[w]e could put land mines along the border."


The rhetoric has more than once crossed over into violence.  Some people who are bombarded with messages that certain people are nothing but "leeches" or "livestock" (or an assortment of names pulled from the comment sections of on-line articles that I won't print here) get the idea that it is OK to kill. 


On June 6, two Latino men were found murdered in the Arizona desert south of Phoenix.  While the official story is that that the men were probably victims of drug smugglers, bloggers following this story have expressed their skepticism (for example, here and here) of the official explanation of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is an immigration hardliner and who recently appeared in a campaign ad with John McCain, posing as a border sheriff (Pinal County is not on the border).


The killings took place one day after a rally in Phoenix by supporters of Arizona's SB 1070.  At the rally, anti-immigrant activist Barbara Coe told the crowd,


“This is our turning point. The traitors have underestimated the power of Americans. No mas. … God forbid it should come to this but if it should come to this, lock and load.”


The suspicion is that the two men were killed by vigilantes.


A few days later, on June 11 in Santa Cruz County, according to the Sheriff's Office, five undocumented men came under fire by unidentified males with high-power rifles and wearing camouflage.  No demands were made by the shooters, and the group was not robbed.  The undocumented men escaped, with one suffering a gunshot wound to the forearm.


In their investigation of this incident, police found the skeletal remains of two other persons.


It is too early to say whether these particular shootings were the result of anti-immigrant extremists with guns, but it's pretty safe to say that as Washington continues to let the immigration problem fester, and extremist rhetoric flirts with calls to violence, we are going to be seeing more reports of shooting and murders.


Politicians in border states have been raising alarms with the voters about violence on the border.  Perhaps the real problem is the violence encouraged by the purveyors of hate on the internet, on the airwaves, and on the stump.

Will Prejudice about Immigrants and Crime Hamper Gulf Cleanup?

June 17, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Spill cleanup


The other night, the President addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the federal government's efforts to contain the worst oil spill in American history, which is still uncontrolled in the Gulf of Mexico.  He spoke of the magnitude of the government's mobilization to fight the spill:


"We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil.    And I’ve authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast." 


Even as this story focuses the administration and the nation, the story of our broken immigration system intrudes. 


The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office (Louisiana) put out a press release on June 10 saying that Sheriff Jack Stephens asked immigration authorities,


"to look into reports of illegal aliens among those working in the oil spill clean-up effort, which he said was part of an overall effort by the Sheriff’s Office to prevent criminals from entering under the guise of doing legitimate work."


The Sheriff said that his office is "concerned illegal aliens with criminal records represent a danger to our parish," and the Sheriff's office has set up check points throughout areas affected by the spill.


It's not clear how a check of immigration status would protect the parish from potential criminals, especially since immigrants (including undocumented immigrants) tend to be less prone to crime than the native born.


While the Sheriff cited experiences with those "with crime in mind" taking advantage of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, the real problem with crime in the wake of Katrina was from employers who were under-paying or not paying workers who were doing the back-braking cleanup work.  Immigration checks will not stop this from occurring again.  Perhaps the Sheriff should have called the Department of Labor, which is charged with enforcing labor laws that were so flagrantly violated during the Katrina cleanup.  That's not ICE's mission.


In reaction to the Sheriff's statement, Lucas Diaz, Executive Director of Puentes New Orleans (quoted in Colorlines) said,


"It’s the same kind of language you see everywhere else at the local, state and federal policy level, where they try to take a harsh position and scare the public into thinking that anyone who might lack documentation and appears to be Latino is a criminal.”


Unfortunately, as long as Congress pushes off fixing our broken immigration system, these sorts of misguided efforts will be common.  In this case, just as the federal government is engaged in an unprecedented mobilization to keep the oil spill from wrecking the environment of the Gulf states, the misplaced focus on keeping "illegal aliens" out of the area might just work against the government's efforts.


Image by Flickr User DVIDSHUB.

The Melting Cup

June 16, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

World cup

World Cup soccer is being contested in South Africa, and in this town there are a lot of TVs tuned to the games.  It is truly amazing that so much excitement is generated by so little scoring. 

The World Cup decides the best in the world in soccer, but the "world" in World Cup has another meaning.  Players, no matter what team they are on, are from all over the world. 

On the U.S. team, there are a number of players who are either immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants.  Any of them, at least in theory, could have chosen to represent the country of their birth or the country of their parents.

Benny Feilhaber is Brazilian.  His grandparents fled Austria for Brazil when Hitler's Germany took over.  His family migrated again, to California, when he was six years old.  Through his grandparents, he was able to obtain an Austrian passport in order to play for a time for a German team. 

Stuart Holden is from Scotland, and came to the U.S. when he was 10.  He gained his citizenship four years ago.

Jose Torres, a Texan of Mexican descent, gave up a chance to play in the Olympics on the U.S. team in order to play with the Pachuca, Mexico, club team.  He is now back with the U.S. team in South Africa.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard (who was key to keeping England to one goal in the opening game for the U.S.) could theoretically have represented Hungary, the country of his mother's birth.

The parents of Oguchi Onyewu came to the U.S. from Nigeria, and his father played soccer for Howard University.

Jozy Altidore's parents are from Haiti, and earlier this year he raised more than 100,000 pounds (from England, where he was playing on the Hull city team) for Haitian earthquake relief.

Other players with immigrant parents or who are dual citizens on the U.S. squad are Carlos Bocanegra (father is from Mexico); Jonathan Spector (both grandparents on his mother's side are German and he has a German passport; Maurice Edu (both parents are from Nigeria); Landon Donovan (father is from Canada); and Hercules Gomez (both parents are from Mexico).

There are a number of other American dual nationals who have chosen to represent other countries in the World Cup. 

The U.S. is certainly not alone in having immigrants and dual nationals on its roster.  As Brent Latham of ESPN notes in this story on the World Cup,

In the age of migration, dual-nationals are hardly a uniquely American issue. Rare will be the competitive team at this year's World Cup that doesn't count a number of them among its ranks.

Among the more interesting cases, according to Latham, are those of

Gonzalo Higuain, a French-born forward who debated playing for France before deciding to represent Argentina; Liedson, a naturalized Portuguese striker who didn't leave Brazil until he was 25 but now will play against that country in the World Cup; and Peter Odemwingie, a Nigerian born in the former Soviet Union who has never lived in Africa but will represent the Super Eagles at the World Cup on that continent.

And so, with soccer players at least, there is a free flow of talent, and the world's top talent is playing with those teams where they feel they can make their best contribution.  It should all make the games more interesting, perhaps will throw us a few surprises and—who knows?—perhaps there will be some scoring.

Photo by Flickr user Dundas Football Club.

What’s Happening with Immigration Reform?

June 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Since the introduction of a "framework" for immigration reform at the end of April, there has not been much to report in terms of movement in Congress towards comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, no Republican has signed on to the effort, and the Democrats have not converted their "framework" into legislation.  In the House, CIR ASAP has received more co-sponsors since its introduction in December (it now has 97), but no bill has been considered in Committee, and the House does not plan to move until a bill has been passed in the Senate.

Coming up in the Senate is consideration of a Supreme Court nominee.  The Judiciary Committee will begin hearings at the end of the month.  Also coming up are elections.  We are in the midst of primary season, and this magnifies the shyness politicians have about doing anything that might be viewed by potential voters as controversial.  Many Republicans have faced challenges to their right and, even if they had been inclined to support reasonable immigration reform in the past, they are running fast from those previous positions and saying instead that we need to "secure the border."

Meanwhile, there is a lively debate brewing in the advocacy community about what to do with legislation that has already been introduced targeting smaller populations for legalization—the DREAM Act and AgJOBS.  In part, the viability of an effort to pass these bills will depend on what will be packaged with them.  The DREAM Act or AgJOBs will still have to move through the same Senate and House, with their strong restrictionist contingents.  What are the enforcement measures that restrictionists will demand in payment?

Obviously, any enforcement measures that come with legislation that would legalize a portion of the undocumented population will have a more severe impact on the remainder of that population than enforcement measures contained in legislation that would legalize most of the undocumented population.

Enforcement Amendments Thwarted on Supplemental Appropriations

June 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Appropriations season is approaching, but we've already been treated to a teaser in the form of a supplemental appropriations bill that recently passed the Senate. The bill was drafted to provide funds for costs related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Supplemental appropriations bills have a way of becoming loaded with various politicians pet projects.  

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is better known as a critic of the "pork-barrel" projects that get tacked on to "emergency" spending bills, but this year he is in a tough primary fight against immigration hardliner J.D. Hayworth, so he has a pet project of his own: border enforcement.  He offered an amendment to have 6,000 National Guard troops deployed to the southern border.   That amendment failed in a procedural vote requiring 60 votes (51 to 46).

Senator Jon Kyl, also from Arizona, attempted to tack on spending in the amount of $200 million to beef up Operation Streamline, a federal program that has focused federal prosecutorial resources on illegal border crossers with a consequent reduction in prosecutions of more serious crime.  That amendment also lost on a procedural vote (54 to 44).  

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) completed the strikeout with an amendment that would have added more than a billion dollars to the tab for border and interior immigration enforcement personnel.  This amendment also went down in a procedural vote (54 to 43).

These amendments were all defeated thanks to the good work of advocates in Washington and around the country. 

On the positive side, the bill contains funding to cover the cost of USCIS work on Haitian TPS.  The House has yet to pass its version of the spending bill.

USCIS Proposes Fee Increase

June 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On June 11, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published a Proposed Rule to adjust the schedule of fees for immigration benefits.  After it completed its latest fee review earlier this year, USCIS proposed to increase fees, on average approximately 10%.  Some fees will go up much more, and some fees will be decreased.

Since the last fee increase in 2007, USCIS has heard from many advocates expressing concern that the fee for an application for naturalization is set too high for some low-income immigrants and is discouraging immigrants from applying for citizenship.  In the new proposed fee schedule, USCIS has decided to retain the current fee for naturalization ($595, though the cost of biometric services will be increased by $5 to $85).  The fee for naturalization will remain the same despite the finding by USICS in its latest fee review that the cost to the agency for processing naturalization applications is $655.  Had not the agency decided to keep the naturalization fee stable, the total cost to apply for naturalization, including the biometric fee, would have been $740.  (Currently, it is $675.)  The agency will make up the difference in recovering its costs by distributing that cost over other applications, adding approximately $8 to applications for other immigration benefits.

The public comment period for this proposed rule ends on July 26.  You can submit a comment by going to and typing the DHS Docket Number "USCIS–2009–0033" in the search box.

Following are links to further information:

Proposed fee rule:

Press Release (USCIS):

Fact Sheet (USCIS):

Questions and Answers (USCIS):

Press Release (National Immigration Forum):

Refugee Act Gets a Hearing

June 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The Refugee Protection Act of 2010, a bill introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Carl Levin (D-MI), received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 19.  Among other things, the bill would eliminate the one-year waiting period before refugees and asylum seekers can apply for permanent residence.  It would also attempt to fix a problem with current law where some refugees and asylum seekers are denied protection because of a broad interpretation of material support and terrorism bars.  Certain vulnerable groups will be eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees.

The Refugee Council USA has information connected to the hearing on its Web site, including a link to the Judiciary Committee Web page about the hearing, witness testimony, and testimony submitted by advocacy groups submitted in support of the act.  You can find it all on their Web site.

For Senator Leahy's press release upon introduction of the legislation, click here.

For the Forum's press release at introduction, click here.

June 20 is World Refugee Day, and there will be events in Washington on June 18th and 20th to celebrate.  

Arizona Update

June 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The Department of Justice has not yet announced whether it will file a law suit against the State of Arizona to SB 1070 from taking effect.  Meanwhile, a number of other lawsuits have been filed challenging the law.  Friendly House v. Whiting, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Immigration Law Center on May 17 on behalf of several organizations and individuals, is a class action lawsuit alleging that SB 1070 is a usurpation of federal authority to enforce immigration laws.  On April 29, another class action lawsuit was filed by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.  More information on these and other lawsuits, including links to the complaints, can be found on the Web site of the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council.

Meanwhile, the number of local jurisdictions that have passed resolutions, launched boycotts, or taken some other action to oppose the Arizona law is growing.  You can find a link to that list on this page of the Web site of Reform Immigration FOR America.

Administration weighs in against AZ worker verification law: In related news, a legal challenge to the Legal Arizona Workers Act, passed in 2007, has been making its way through the courts.  The law requires all employers operating in Arizona to verify the work authorization of their workers using the federal government's E-Verify electronic work verification system or face penalties.  In Chamber of Commerce v. Candelaria, Arizona businesses challenged the law, and last year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Arizona law.  Plaintiffs are seeking review before the Supreme Court, and the Court asked the Administration for its views.  Last month, the Acting Solicitor General submitted a brief to the Court, in which the Administration argues that the Arizona law is pre-empted by federal law, and that the Court should hear the case.

The Administration's position in this case may be an indication that the Administration will soon intervene in the most recent Arizona anti-immigrant law.  

If the Supreme Court decides to take up the case, it will do so in the next term, starting in October.

President sends National Guard to border: The President announced on May 25th that he would send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.  In this, the administration appeared to be bending to political pressure rather than reacting to facts on the ground.  According to recent statistics and press reports (documented here), crime is down in Arizona and law enforcement in border communities say the border is more secure now that it has ever been.   At the time the President made his announcement, Senators McCain and Kyl were trying to tack on an amendment to a spending bill (see above) to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.

The Forum's reaction to this development can be read here, and a release from America's Voice about this can be read here.

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