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Arizona Asks for “Expedited Appeal,” but Facts Don’t Warrant Emergency Consideration

July 30, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Arizona border


On July 29, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing to overturn Wednesday's ruling by District Court Judge Susan Bolton that put on hold the most controversial parts of Arizona's "show me your papers" law.


The motion filed by Arizona claims an expedited schedule is warranted "to address the irreparable harm Arizona is suffering as a result of unchecked unlawful immigration." 


"Good cause exists to expedite this appeal … because it is an appeal of a preliminary injunction enjoining several key provisions of SB 1070 that the Arizona Legislature determined were critical to address serious criminal, environmental, and economic problems Arizona has been suffering as a consequence of illegal immigration and the lack of effective enforcement activity by the federal government."


An article in Time on July 30 was the latest to question the hysteria being promoted by Arizona's politicians about illegal immigration in Arizona and along the southwest border in general.  


"Consider Arizona itself — whose illegal-immigrant population is believed to be second only to California's. The state's overall crime rate dropped 12% last year; between 2004 and 2008 it plunged 23%. In the metro area of its largest city, Phoenix, violent crime — encompassing murder, rape, assault and robbery — fell by a third during the past decade and by 17% last year. The border city of Nogales, an area rife with illegal immigration and drug trafficking, hasn't logged a single murder in the past two years."


There is an exception to these favorable statistics on Arizona crime: In the area policed by the Maricopa County Sheriff's office, there was a 58% increase in violent crime in a period (2002 to 2009) during which the violent crime rate in the state as a whole dropped 12%, according to this analysis by America's Voice.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who heads the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, is notorious for rounding up "illegal immigrants."  With the state's politicians whipping Arizona citizens into a frenzy about illegal immigration, Sheriff Arpaio's roundups have gotten him a lot of publicity.  Judging by the crime statistics, Sheriff Arpaio and his crew have had little time to pursue actual criminals.


As for the border itself, the Time story notes that "state and local police are backed along the border by the thousands of federal agents deployed there," and despite problems on the Mexican side of the border, "the U.S. side, from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is one of the nation's safest corridors."


The Arizona law, the article concludes, "was sparked largely by unfounded fears."


So, what's the emergency?  The Time story quotes El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke, giving a hint of what is behind all the noise.


"You've got a lot of politicians exploiting this fear that the Mexicans are coming over to kill us."


As for Brewer, signing SB 1070 was "a stroke of political genius," according to the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. She had been in a tough primary fight for re-election against two immigration hard-liner opponents. Since signing the law, "both of her primary challengers dropped from the race and she is now considered a clear favorite against state Attorney General Terry Goddard (D)."


Image by Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

Immigration Enforcement’s Moving Goalposts

July 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Goal post


There was a story in the Washington Post on July 26 that was yet another reminder of how one-sided the immigration debate has become.  Under the headline "Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration," the Post notes that the 400,000 persons expected to be deported this year is 10 percent above the Bush Administration's 2008 total.


More than half of those being deported are non-criminals, despite ICE's state focus on deporting criminal aliens. 


"The effort is part of President Obama's larger project 'to make our national laws actually work,' as he put it in a speech this month at American University. Partly designed to entice Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, the mission is proving difficult and politically perilous."


How successful has the focus on immigration enforcement been at "enticing Republicans to support" comprehensive reform?  A little later on in the story, there is this,


"Rep. Hal Rogers  (R-Ky.) … believes the administration is showing 'apathy toward robust immigration enforcement.' He said at a House hearing in March that the approach is nothing more than 'selective amnesty.'


Last month, the Center for American Progress published a report written by C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., who is the former DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy.  The report compares enforcement "benchmarks" written into the failed 2007 immigration reform law with what has been accomplished since then.  These benchmarks were inserted at the insistence of Senators who were more concerned about immigration enforcement. 


As the report notes, the benchmarks have largely been met.  For example, by the end of this year, there will be 22,000 Border Patrol agents (2,000 more than the 2007 benchmark); construction of the specified physical barriers is nearly complete; millions of dollars in technology has been deployed—unmanned aerial surveillance planes, remote-controlled cameras, mobile surveillance systems, sensors, and other surveillance technology; the government has capacity to detain 33,400 immigrants (1,900 more than the benchmark set in 2007); there is increasing use of electronic worker verification (still by law a voluntary program for most businesses).  The list goes on.


The CAP report also notes other areas in which immigration enforcement has become more sophisticated in the last few years.  The US-VISIT program, for example, collects fingerprints from persons entering the U.S. at 2,600 air, sea, and land inspection lanes, allowing the government to run the fingerprints through government databases and preventing the entry of criminals and immigration violators.  A new program requires persons coming to the U.S. from visa waiver countries to submit personal information over a web-based system prior to departure in order to gain travel authorization. 


In the interior, the report notes that the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement has nearly doubled in the last five years.


Yet, for all the growth in immigration enforcement, immigration restrictionists demand more: hundreds of millions of dollars for border enforcement; thousands more Border Patrol agents; National Guard deployment on the border.  The goalposts are always moving.


The CAP report notes that,


"Some have argued that there should not be any consideration of [comprehensive immigration reform] until the southern border is secure because the drug war in Mexico has escalated and led to incidents of violence on the American side of the border.    The question for policymakers is what the best strategy is to minimize violence and illegal immigration.  The compelling need to fix our broken immigration system has only grown as enforcement has increased to robust levels."


For many of the immigrants who now cross illegally to take jobs we offer them, there is no legal option for entry. This drives them to enter illegally, and with enforcement tighter on the border, they are increasingly dependent on criminal enterprises to guide them across.  Those criminal enterprises are increasingly violent as they defend an increasingly lucrative business. 


Going forward, a strategy to minimize violence and illegal immigration will depend on a comprehensive overhaul of our laws.  A continuation of the same old enforcement-only strategies will not work to make the borders more secure.  They will also not work to gain political support for reform from individuals who are unalterably opposed to it.

Detention Reform: A Mixed Review (Part 1)

July 27, 2010 - Posted by Lena Graber



On August 6, 2009, DHS Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton announced plans for sweeping reforms of the immigration detention system. 


On the occasion of the fast-approaching one year anniversary of the announcement of major detention reforms at ICE, the agency and detention advocates have an opportunity to reflect on the progress to date.  Although there have been some accomplishments on detention reform, there is a long way to go before the system can be characterized as civil and humane.  (ICE lists its own perspective on its achievements here.)


One aspect of the promised reforms launched last week: ICE’s Online Detainee Locator System. 


For years, many immigrants taken into ICE detention have been whisked off and effectively disappeared, as family and attorneys struggled to find them in the maze of ICE’s vast detention system.  With the Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS), anyone can search for a detainee by name and country of birth, or Alien Registration Number and country of birth.  The locator will report whether the detainee is currently in ICE custody or not, and provides information about what facility the detainee is in.  If an individual has been released from ICE custody within the last 60 days, the locator provides the telephone number for the ICE field office with jurisdiction over the former detainee. 


The ODLS should result in significant improvements in detention management and transparency for the agency.  Given the huge proportion of detainees that are transferred between facilities, often multiple times, during their detention, advocates hope that the ODLS will greatly reduce the previously widespread problems of detainees functionally vanishing, leaving families desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones, and frustrating attorneys with hours of dead-end phone calls trying to locate their clients.  There are limits to the locator system.  One, for those searching by name, the spelling of the detainee’s name must exactly match ICE’s detention records.  ICE might not have entered the name correctly, especially in cases where a detainee has two last names that may or may not be hyphenated.  Hopefully, searchers will keep guessing alternative spellings if they don’t have a hit on the first try.  Secondly, ICE’s track record on the accuracy of detainee information has not instilled faith in the ability of the agency to keep track of all their detainees.  Third, the ODLS is inaccessible to anyone who lacks computer and internet access; there is no telephonic option.


Unfortunately, more people than ever before have a need to use the ODLS to locate a member of their family or community.  The Obama administration is detaining and deporting immigrants in greater numbers than ever before.  For the hundreds of thousands detained and deported in just the last two years, the ODLS comes too late to have helped their families find them in detention or try to find them a lawyer.  


A major problem with the detention system that has yet to be addressed is the incarceration of mentally disabled detainees.  Many of these individuals are held by ICE in unsafe conditions, while their cases are indefinitely continued because they are unprepared to represent themselves in immigration court.  As part of a large study on people with mental disabilities in the immigration system, Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed over 100 mentally impaired detainees, several of whom had been in detention for more than a year, although 2/3 of HRW’s interviewees did not even know when they had entered ICE detention.  Detainees with mental illness or cognitive disabilities, an estimated 15% of the entire detained population, often end up in segregation, the agency’s term for solitary confinement, as a result of their disability.


ICE recently directed its personnel against detaining individuals with medical or mental illness in some instances.   A June 30, 2010 ICE memo on civil immigration enforcement priorities stated that ICE field office directors should not “expend detention resources on aliens who are known to be suffering from serious physical or mental illness, or who are disabled, elderly, pregnant, or nursing, or demonstrate that they are primary caretakers of children or an infirm person, or whose detention is otherwise not in the public interest.”  It’s too soon to see what results this memo can bring.  We hope that de-prioritizing the confinement of nursing mothers and seriously ill immigrants will be an easily obtainable outcome.  It is long overdue.


Image by Flickr user 710928003.

“We ought to be going after the bad guys”

July 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



Last week, a letter was released to Utah media, law enforcement, and legislators by "Concerned Citizens of the United States."  Attached to the letter was a list of 1,300 names of individuals who the authors "believed" were "illegal immigrants."  It was more than just names that were released.  Also included on the list were addresses, Social Security Numbers, birth dates, the names of children, and the due dates of women who were pregnant.


Someone took it upon themselves to release the private information of people they judged to be in the country illegally.  The people on the list—here legally or not, citizen or not—now have to worry that it is open season on them for identity thieves or worse.  Release of the list is a chilling development in an immigration debate increasingly marked by hysterical rhetoric and violent xenophobia. 


While Congress seems content to allow the problem to fester, the State of Utah acted swiftly.  On July 16, Utah's Republican Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, announced that there would be an "aggressive investigation" into the release of the list, and the persons responsible would face state charges and likely would face federal charges as well.  The Utah AG is working with the U.S. Attorney's office.  On July 20, the Utah Governor's office issued a release announcing that the investigation into the matter was complete.  Two employees of the Utah Department of Workforce Services have received "intent to terminate" notices from the state, and information from the investigation has been turned over to the Attorney General's office.


In the press conference, Mr. Shurtleff sought to assure people that the state government was not going to use the list to round people up.


"People call it a black list. I see it more as a hit list, more reminiscent of what happened in Nazi Germany. … I understand the threat is real and I just hope people take comfort in knowing that that's not how we do things and that the State of Utah itself is not going to be using this list in order to start knocking on doors and rounding up people."


In his view, enforcement should focus on dangerous criminals.


"Enforcement-only… we think is counter-productive, harmful ultimately to public safety and to our efforts … and it's very important to understand that the people whose names may be on this list in the immigrant community—legal and illegal or documented and undocumented—are important to us as confidential informants all working together because we are all being victimized by the bad guys, and that's who we ought to be going after, and any effort to try and turn the people against and put the government against everybody who is in this country really harms that effort to try and root out those who are the danger…."


(You can listen to a recording of the press conference, which also featured John Wester, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Paul Mero, of the conservative Sutherland Institute, Luz Robles of the Utah State Senate, and Clarissa Martinez, of the National Council of La Raza, by going to this page of our Web site.)


The Utah response to this incident is in sharp contrast to Arizona, where SB 1070, if it is not blocked by the courts, goes into effect next week.  That law will have police "going against everybody."  Instead of going after the bad guys, Arizona police will be overwhelmed by the law’s directive to arrest persons who they believe might be in the country illegally and the subsequent paperwork.


In terms of public safety, the effects of SB 1070 can be previewed in new research by America's Voice.  In the state of Arizona, violent crime rates have been going down throughout the state—except in areas policed by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.  Under the leadership of Joe Arpaio, that office has made it a priority to go after otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. 


"From 2002 to 2009, while the violent crime rate across the state as a whole decreased by 12 percent, the area policed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office suffered a 58 percent increase in violent crime. Compare that 58 percent crime increase to other law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County who engaged in community policing, not targeting immigrants. In that same time period, Phoenix enjoyed a 14 percent decrease; Tempe, a 26 percent decrease; and Mesa, a 31 percent decrease."


Sheriff Arpaio has made the decision not to focus on "the bad guys," and public safety in Maricopa County is suffering.


At the national level, we are unfortunately getting a little of the taste of Arpaio's failures in Arizona.  On July 15, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released one of their quarterly reports showing that criminal prosecutions of immigration violators have reached the peak levels of the Bush Administration.  In other reports, TRAC has noted that immigration prosecutions now make up more than 50% of all federal prosecutions, and the most common prosecution is for illegal entry.  Federal prosecution of other, more serious, crimes is declining.


The continued escalation in the prosecution of immigration violators by this Administration may soon be reflected in the crime statistics, as it has in Maricopa County, Arizona.  Communities along the border and elsewhere will see their violent crime rates go up, they will be less safe, and their jails will be filled with people who came here to find work.


Image by Flickr user Faithful Chant.

Virtual Due Process

July 15, 2010 - Posted by Lena Graber

Video screen 

In the United States, due process is about having an adequate opportunity to present your story to an independent judge, to stand before a neutral decision maker and explain your situation to him or her.  Fundamental is the idea that the accused have the chance, in person or through their lawyer, to speak directly to a judge, respond to the evidence against them, and argue their case.


In immigration proceedings, where fundamental legal rights are determined and in some cases matters of life and death may be ruled upon, this basic principle of due process has been eroded beyond recognition.  Immigrants often testify not before a judge, but before a video camera, sign away their legal rights without translation or explanation, and are not allotted adequate time or attention for the judge to make a reasoned decision on their case.  Some of this has to do with changes made in the immigration laws in the past 15 years, as Congress has made it much more difficult for immigrants to have their day in court.  Some of the erosion of due process rights is the result of how the laws are implemented in the immigration courts.


Today, the immigration courts have notorious backlogs in their caseloads, and immigration judges hear far more cases per year than their counterpart administrative judges in other tribunals.  Another key problem is the lack of any legal representation for the majority of immigration respondents, particularly those who are detained.  (84% of immigrants who appear before the immigration courts while in Department of Homeland Security custody are not represented by a lawyer.)


In February, the ABA, in an exhaustive study of the entire immigration court system, found among other problems that resources for immigration courts are insufficient; that decisions among different immigration judges are highly inconsistent; that judges have inadequate time to sufficiently consider cases; and that DHS attorneys did not properly use discretion in weeding out less important issues or cases. 


Congress occasionally takes a look at the immigration court system.  On June 17, the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held an oversight hearing on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the office within the Department of Justice under which the immigration courts are organized.  In her remarks, Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren noted that,


“At a time when resources dedicated to the apprehension of illegal immigrants have rapidly increased, there has not been a corresponding increase in resources necessary for the immigration courts…”


One way the courts have been dealing with lack of resources is to adopt the expediency of video teleconferencing.


Aaron Haas recently described a video conference in a Harvard University publication:


“It may surprise many people to witness an immigration hearing in present-day America….  They are likely to see a small room deep within a large federal building, with two tables perpendicular to one another, connected to form a right angle. At each table sits a lawyer, one representing the government and the other the alien. A row of chairs behind these tables and against the walls seat the family and friends of the subject of these proceedings. On the other side of the room, in view of the advocates and observers, is a television screen with a camera on top. This monitor shows, on one side of the screen, the judge, who may be located in another state, and on the other side, the immigrant, who is seated in a detention center in a third location.”


Lawrence Schneider, speaking recently on a panel at the Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference organized by Georgetown University, the Migration Policy Institute, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, painted a picture of a video- conference hearing and raised questions about it,


"Videoconferencing presents fundamental conflicts to adequate representation, for the lucky immigrant detainees who do have counsel.  Picture this: the judge is in one location, speaking to a screen, and the immigration respondent is in a detention center hours away, looking back at a screen.  Where is their lawyer?  Does she go to the detention center to confer with her client, or go to the courtroom or office where the judge sits, to speak to them directly?"


Videoconference removal hearings, rather than physical appearances, were permitted by federal statute in 1996, and have increased in usage considerably in recent years.  The ABA, in its study mentioned above, found that videoconference hearings, which have become the only form of hearing for a great number of immigration detainees, can prevent the noncitizen from communicating effectively and confidentially with counsel, and impair the immigration judge’s ability to make accurate credibility determinations.  Close to 50% of the EOIR docket are detainee cases, and many immigration courts only allow detainees to appear for their hearings over videoconference.  This number will only rise as the courts search for efficiencies, and the detained docket grows as a proportion of the cases before the courts.


The ABA’s analysis of 500,000 cases found that videoconferencing doubled the likelihood that an asylum applicant is denied.  In addition, 45% of proceedings have technical problems, including lack of translation, interruption of the video feed, and lack of access to counsel. 


Videoconferencing is unquestionably cheaper than in-person hearings.  But at what cost to the integrity of our judicial system?  While modern technology has in many cases expedited and improved due process, it has also eroded that fundamental right to stand before a judge and present your case.  The ABA recommended that only procedural matters be decided by videoconference, while hearings on the merits should require in-person testimony.  It should be obvious that having one’s day in court assumes that one is actually in the courtroom.



As the Facts Come Out about Arizona, the Politicians Become More Shrill

July 12, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



The more the press examines the premise behind Arizona's SB 1070 law, the more it looks to be one of those "emperor-has-no-clothes" stories.  On Sunday, Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post devoted his column to examining the claims being made by Arizona's politicians about crime in Arizona and comparing them to a reality that can be verified. 


ImmPolitic first wrote about the verifiable reality in Arizona back on April 29th and May 5th.  Since then, the mainstream press has increasingly picked up on the fact that claims being made by supporters of SB 1070 contrast sharply with Arizona crime statistics and with the observations of border community law enforcement agencies.  In response, Arizona politicians have made more spectacular (but un-verifiable) claims.


Among others, Milbank singles out Senator John McCain, who might be excused for not bothering to check out a claim repeated in several news sources when he said that Phoenix is the "number two kidnapping capital of the world."  As this exhaustive PolitiFact article notes, kidnapping statistics aren't really kept in many other cities around the world, and kidnapping experts can only speculate where Phoenix might rank on a world list—somewhere far below number 2.


Governor Jan Brewer made the claim that "the majority" of people crossing the border illegally are "coming here and they're bringing drugs and they're terrorizing families."  Milbank notes that, since October 1st of last year, 170,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector.  In the same period, there have been 1,100 drug prosecutions filed.  Even assuming all of those prosecutions are of undocumented immigrants, six-tenths of one percent does not make a majority in the real world.


With the press persistently calling into question these and other claims, Governor Brewer has reacted by becoming more shrill. She recently told a local television station that "law enforcement agencies" have been finding people who have been beheaded in the desert, presumably by people crossing into the country illegally. 


There has been no evidence to support this claim—certainly not from "law enforcement agencies."


Milbank notes the importance of all these falsehoods:


[t]his matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.


In other words, the Arizona law, and public support for it, are predicated on the lies being told by Arizona's politicians.


While the press has been more willing to challenge the assertions of our so-called leaders on this issue, there is a story in the July 12th New York Times reporting that some Democratic governors, gathered in Boston for a meeting of the National Governors Association, would rather run from the problem.  With governors all gathered in Boston, they have an opportunity to challenge their colleague Jan Brewer for shamelessly whipping up people's fears on false pretenses.  Instead, they have expressed concern about the Obama Administration's legal challenge to the Arizona law.


Some Democratic governors complained about the timing of the government's lawsuit, coming as re-election campaigns are beginning to heat up.  Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee said of the Justice Department's lawsuit,


“Maybe you do that when you’re strong and not when there’s an election looming out there.”


Last I checked, the Constitution doesn't get suspended in an election year.  The Administration is not deliberately timing the suit for election season; the timing was determined by the fact that the Arizona law goes into effect at the end of this month, and the Administration is claiming that the state law unconstitutionally challenges federal authority on immigration maters.


In any event, even if the Justice Department had not filed suit, Democrats would be faced with a debate on immigration during this campaign season.  Republicans have decided that they will (again) take a harsh stance on immigrants and immigration, and they will point to their hard line as a weapon against their opponents.  As Frank Sharry noted in the July 11th Washington Post,


Democrats should make the inevitable election-year fight over illegal immigration about comprehensive immigration reform -- not just about the Arizona law or lawsuit. They should lean into the debate rather than run from it, calling out Republicans for blocking a solution that strengthens border security, turns off the jobs magnet and makes sure the immigrants here are legal taxpayers.


If Democrats want this issue to go away, they'd be better off doing everything they can to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  Until the immigration system is fixed and we deal realistically with immigrants who are living and working in this country illegally, immigration hardliners on the right will try to use the public's frustration with lack of Congressional action to their political advantage.  Meanwhile, immigrants, their friends, families and supporters, their pastors and rabbis, their employers, and their shop stewards will continue to press for comprehensive reform in thousands of forums across the country.


Some Democrats may want to run from this problem, but there is no way they can hide from it.

Image by Flickr user John Gevers

Policy Update for July 9, 2010

July 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Congress will be returning from recess next week after the 4th of July week holiday.  Since the last update, there have been no new policy developments from Congress.  In fact, a recent headline in the Capitol Hill paper Roll Call proclaimed, "Senate is Legislative Graveyard" [subscription required].  Some enterprising Washington souls are even offering tours for tourists, pointing out the headstones of prominent pieces of legislation that have died this year.  (OK, just kidding on that last bit.)


There have, however, been plenty of administrative developments.


Department of Justice Files Suit Against Arizona


On July 6th, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to stop the implementation of Arizona's SB 1070 law.  In a release explaining its actions, the Department asserted that the Arizona law "unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy."  While acknowledging that “Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration," the Attorney General noted that setting immigration policy is a federal responsibility.  "[D]iverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety."


The Police Chiefs of Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona's largest cities, are supporting the Justice Department's lawsuit, asserting that the Arizona law will interfere with their responsibilities to keep their communities safe.  Jack Harris, Chief of the Phoenix Police Department, said in his declaration that, once SB 1070 becomes law, he is "very concerned that victims and witnesses will be afraid to call police for fear of deportation." 


The next step is for a judge to decide whether to issue a temporary injunction, in which case the law will be prevented from being implemented while the case is in the courts.  It is now scheduled to take effect on July 29.


Related resources:


This Justice Department release contains links to the complaint and various declarations (including those of the law enforcement agents mentioned above) submitted in support of the lawsuit.


The Forum's statement on the lawsuit can be found here.


The Forum has a new resources page related to the Arizona law, with links to information regarding the law, reactions to it, boycotts, and other information and Web sites put up by colleague organizations.  You can find it here.


President Delivers Speech, Meets with Advocates


Last week, the President gave an address on comprehensive immigration reform at American University here in Washington.  In his speech, the President touched on our history of immigration and noted that "the politics of who is and who is not allowed to enter the country, and on what terms, has always been contentious."  That contentiousness is made worse, "by the failure of those of us in Washington to fix a broken system."  He described how the system is broken, and what must be done to fix it including, for undocumented immigrants, creating "a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values, and works." 


It is unlikely that the speech will rouse lawmakers to action.  The President acknowledged that the immigration issue has been "used to divide and inflame" people, and that "the natural impulse among those who run for office is to turn away and defer this question for another day, or another year, or another administration."  What the President did do, however (and he should do it more often) was to make an eloquent case for immigration reform.  To the extent that the American people were listening, hearing the President describe how the problem can be solved is something that is much needed.


You can read the entire speech here, or watch a video recording of it here.


A few days before the speech, the President met with immigration advocates, who urged him to intervene to block the implementation of the Arizona law and to press Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  You can read more about that meeting in this release from Reform Immigration FOR America and in this "readout" from the White House.


On June 29, the President met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on comprehensive immigration reform.  You can read more about that in this "readout" from the White House.


Napolitano touts accomplishments on border security, progress in application processing: DHS Secretary Napolitano has also been speaking on immigration and immigration reform.  On June 23, she delivered some remarks and answered questions at an event organized by the Center on Strategic and International Studies in Washington, "Securing the Border: A Smarter Law Enforcement Approach."  In her remarks, she reviewed the administration's efforts to increase border security.  Read the remarks here.  There was an accompanying fact sheet put out by DHS, "Fact Sheet: Southwest Border Next Steps."


On June 24th, Secretary Napolitano traveled to Denver to speak at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).  In her remarks, she reviewed administrative changes that have been made at USCIS to speed application processing and to increase opportunities for immigrants and others to get information from USCIS.  She also spoke of reforms at ICE and of the administration's continued support for comprehensive immigration reform.  A brief summary of what was covered in the Secretary's remarks can be found here.


ICE "Realignment"


On June 9, DHS Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton sent a memo to employees announcing a new reporting structure for the agency to align them around ICE's "two core operational responsibilities."  Three new directorates have been established.  Homeland Security Investigations, to be run by James Dinkins, will include the offices primarily concerned with criminal investigations.  Enforcement and Removal Operations, to be headed by James Chaparro, will include the offices primarily concerned with civil immigration enforcement.  There is also a Management and Administration directorate.  In his memo, Morton said that the "realignment" does not eliminate any of ICE's existing offices; it just changes the reporting structure.  For more details on the makeup of the new directorates, you can obtain the memo here.


Senator Robert Byrd Passes Away


Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, passed away on June 28.  Byrd began his career in the Senate in 1958, and was the Senate's longest-serving member.  As such he was the institutional memory of the Senate.  For many years, he headed the Senate's Appropriations Committee and at the time of his death chaired the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Appropriation's Committee.  West Virginia's governor, a Democrat, will appoint a replacement for Byrd.  It is unclear how long the new Senator's term will be.


Fiscal Commission Gets Deficit-Cutting Idea: Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform 


Earlier this year, the President set up the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to come up with ideas for balancing the federal budget.  On June 30, the Commission met in a public forum to hear ideas from 90 organizations and individuals.  Among the ideas delivered to the commission: the boost to the economy and resulting boost in tax revenues that would follow the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  There was testimony from our own Grisella Martinez, as well as testimony from a representative of the Immigration Policy Center, and from Marc Rosenblum of Migration Policy Institute.


Stephen Colbert Takes UFW Up on the Offer


On July 8, Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers appeared on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, to talk about UFW's campaign "Take Our Jobs," a Web site where Americans can sign up to be placed in an agricultural job.  The Web site tests the idea that undocumented workers are stealing American jobs by offering those jobs to Americans.  By the end of the interview, Colbert offers to be the fourth American to sign up so far.  You can view the video here.

Justice Department Lawsuit a Reminder that Congress Must Act

July 07, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



Yesterday, the Justice Department finally filed suit against the State of Arizona.  In doing so, the Obama Administration is taking action against a State that is trying to set its own immigration policy.  Immigration is a federal matter, and the Justice Department suit focuses on that issue.


Under the state's law, police who have "reasonable suspicion" that a person is in the country illegally can ask the person to prove legal status.  Effectively, this will result in many people being turned over to the federal government who do not fit federal priorities.  As the Justice Department release states,


"S.B. 1070 will place significant burdens on federal agencies, diverting their resources away from high-priority targets, such as aliens implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, and gang activity, and those with criminal records."


Reactions predictably divided not just along party lines, but on how politicians felt the lawsuit would play among their electorates. 


Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona released a statement saying that,


"As a direct result of failed and inconsistent federal enforcement, Arizona is under attack from violent Mexican drug and immigrant smuggling cartels."


Brewer has been making claims about the consequences of failed federal action on immigration, going so far as saying, without evidence, that undocumented immigrants were beheading Arizonans.  Her claims seem to be getting more shrill as there has been increasing press coverage about a decrease in crime in Arizona over the past several years, and the decrease in illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexican border.  (Her effort to portray Arizona as overrun with crime is creating other problems—it's not very appealing to potential tourists who are already hearing bad things about Arizona.


The Governor also says in her statement that she will "not stop fighting to protect the people of Arizona…."  If that was her intent in signing SB 1070, she might have listened to law enforcement in her state.  The police chiefs of the state's two largest cities support the Justice Department in its lawsuit.  Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, for example, says in a document filed with the lawsuit that he believes SB 1070 "will have a negative effect on … community policing efforts."


Arizona's two senators also attacked the Justice Department lawsuit, saying in a statement that the Arizona law was needed because,


"[t]he Obama Administration has not done everything it can do to protect the people of Arizona from the violence and crime illegal immigration brings to our state." 


They didn't explain what they meant by this, given that there has been a decline in Arizona's crime rates coinciding with an increase in the undocumented immigrant population in the state—as well as unprecedented enforcement resources on the border.


The statement also asks,


"…what are the people of Arizona left to do when the federal government fails in its responsibility?"


This and other comments I've seen that refer to "the federal government" seem to forget that the legislative branch is part of "the federal government."  A sole focus on border enforcement is not going to create the legal channels for immigrant workers and family members to meet current and future demands.  Nor will it deal realistically with the millions of undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in this country for many years.  Border enforcement—and immigration enforcement more broadly—is made much more difficult as long as the immigrants who have come to live and work here are treated the same as those who come to commit serious crimes.  Making the rules reasonable is the responsibility of Congress.  The people of Arizona each are represented by two Senators and one Member of the House.  These legislators need to take responsibility and pass comprehensive immigration reform, a sensible solution for our dysfunctional system that has been, and continues to be, supported by a majority of the public.


Having states make their own immigration rules to some extent enables Congress to avoid fulfilling its obligation to fix the broken immigration system.  The Justice Department lawsuit reasserts federal responsibility and, until the legislative branch of "the federal government" deals with the problem, we are all going to continue to suffer.


Photo: Department of Justice

Celebrating Citizenship

July 06, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Oath of Allegiance

July 4th is our patriotic holiday, celebrating the day 234 years ago when the founders of this country asserted their independence from a distant King who ruled over his colonies on this continent.  The holiday is a great day for new Americans to renounce their allegiance to "any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty" of whom or which they had been a subject or citizen and to declare their allegiance to the United States, its constitution, and its laws.


This year, on and around July 4th and continuing today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conducted 55 special naturalization ceremonies in 26 states, Puerto Rico, Germany, Japan, and Honduras.  Several of them took place at iconic American landmarks—Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ellis Island, the USS Constitution (Charlestown, Massachusetts), the home of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, and the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Virginia.


At Mount Vernon, 101 candidates for citizenship from 45 countries gathered on the bowling green in front of Washington's mansion under a bright, sunny sky to take the Oath of U.S. citizenship.


After being sworn in, the new citizens were treated to remarks by "General George Washington," who made the short walk from his mansion to remind us that, back when this American experiment got started, everyone else in the world was under the rule of some king, emperor, monarch, baron, potentate, or some other despot.  The American colonists wanted to try ruling themselves.


In the 234 years since General Washington led the fight against the British, America has been a beacon for millions of people escaping the despots of their era.  It is the continual infusion of these prospective Americans that has made our system the most dynamic in the world. 


The new citizens on Mt. Vernon's bowling green on July 4th may or may not have fled political or religious persecution imposed by the despots of our day.  They are more likely to have come to join family or to seek opportunities that exist here because of those who have come before them and renounced old allegiances in ceremonies similar to this one. 


Their contributions in the years ahead will ensure the U.S. continues to be a dynamic society, so that future generations will continue to see the United States as the land of opportunity.

Photo: Maurice Belanger

HELP Act Introduction– Protecting Vulnerable Children in America

July 02, 2010 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Immigrant Children


**Blog post by Daniel Ostrovsky**

A little girl is dreaming, sleeping in her bed. There is some noise. It disturbs her slightly, but she doesn’t fully awaken. She has an innate, subconscious confidence that the noise must be nothing – her parents will take care of it.  But in the morning, when she wakes, it’s eerily quiet. She goes into her parents’ bedroom and it’s empty.  Kitchen – nothing. Bathroom – they are not there. The little girl is terrified and doesn’t know what to do. What happened to her parents? How does she find them?

Unfortunately, this little girl’s story is not borrowed from a plotline of a horror movie. It describes the all-too-real experience of countless children whose parents are taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This was the experience of a seven-year old girl in Shakopee, Minnesota. In June 2007, neighbors found the little girl wandering alone through a park; she had been sleeping when her parents were taken into custody at their own home on suspected immigration violations.

In recent years, it’s become painfully clear that children are often the forgotten victims of America’s current immigration enforcement policies. A recent report by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization concluded that “over 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent are at risk of unnecessarily entering the child welfare system when a parent is detained or deported.” It is a Herculean task for immigrant parents who have come in contact with ICE to reunite with their children. Detained parents are often not permitted to arrange for the care of their children and, upon deportation, are not provided with adequate time and resources to obtain proper documents and make travel arrangements to have their children join them. Reunification is also made more difficult, because these parents are often unable to communicate with child welfare agents.

All of this results in children – many of them U.S. citizens – entering the child welfare system while risking permanent separation from their moms and dads. Even when children don’t enter the system, examples of children like the Valeriano brothers, who sold their puppies to get money for food and rummaged their apartment for bus fare, after their father was detained, abound.

Senators Al Franken (D-MN.) and Herb Kohl (D-WI.) recently introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act (S.3522 ) to prevent more innocent immigrant children from being separated from their parents. A House version of the bill (H.R.3531) has been introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)

The bill aims to require ICE to take the interests of children and the risk of separation into account in its enforcement actions. There is no reason or justification for ICE, in enforcing our immigration laws, to create a trail of broken families and parentless children. The act is certainly a step in the right direction and should be supported by all those who care about protecting children – some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

But, in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, it is unlikely to ameliorate the broader impact of America’s current immigration policies on children. Although America has a policy of providing shelter to asylum seekers and refugees facing torture or persecution abroad, our broken immigration system routinely allows  families to be permanently torn apart, and forces children into what is often an equally chaotic child welfare system. While the HELP Act is a good first step to assist and protect children who are at risk of being separated from their parents, we need a permanent solution for the broader problem of immigrant family separation — which only comprehensive immigration reform can provide.

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