National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Enforcement Fantasies: Raids Will Not Solve Our Problems

February 17, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

This post was written by Forum intern Charles Gillig


It is telling that one of the first acts of the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), was to change the name of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law to the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. This change reflects a shift away from a focus on achieving comprehensive reform to one that pushes enforcement as the solution to our immigration woes, including what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 

The Subcommittee held its initial hearing on January 26, titled, “ICE’s Workplace Enforcement: Up to the Job?”  In the hearing, Republican subcommittee members criticized ICE’s current workplace enforcement strategy, which focuses on conducting so-called “I-9 audits,” and hinted at the need for more arrests of undocumented migrants.  With the I-9 audit, ICE agents investigate businesses to see if the employers have properly determined whether all their employees can work legally in the U.S. Employers who hire undocumented workers and who fail to keep adequate I-9 records, face government fines anywhere between $100-1,000 for each unauthorized employee. Republicans do not belief that the focus on employers is a sufficient deterrent to illegal immigration.

In an attempt to defend the efficacy of the audits, ICE Deputy Director Kumar Kibble emphasized that ICE was “aggressively pursuing” employers who hired undocumented immigrants and that ICE had “record-breaking results” in the past fiscal year. In FY 2010 ICE set news marks for worksite enforcement investigations (2,746, up from the previous high of 1,191 in FY2008), arrests of employers for work-site violations (196, up from the previous high of 135 in 2008), and they shattered their marks for fines handed out to employers ($7 million up from $1 million in FY2009).  Still, Kibble’s comments and numbers did not satisfy Republican members.  Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegy (R-CA)—perhaps not having paid attention to the testimony—said that ICE was “failing to enforce U.S. laws” and admonished the organization for allowing illegal immigrants to take American jobs. The solution professed by the Republican members: restart workplace immigrant raids.  One Republican witness said that raids should be part of what he called “full spectrum enforcement”—a new name for the same old failed strategy of enforcement-only.

The fact is, raids are an expensive and inhumane way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. They terrify undocumented and authorized workers alike, and can be devastating to a community.  Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) echoed this sentiment at the hearing, stating in reference to raids under the Bush administration that, "I was appalled at the raids.” She later underscored the point that raids do not solve the underlying fact that comprehensive immigration reform is ultimately necessary for optimal worksite enforcement.

Another problem with raids is that, particularly in industries heavily dependent on undocumented workers, they can have ripple effects that ultimately put more Americans out of work. For example, between 50% and 75% of the agricultural workforce is undocumented.  Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) mentioned a Department of Agriculture report concluding that every farm worker provides three jobs to Americans in related support businesses. This is just one example demonstrating that immigrants are critical sparkplugs to our economy. Why would the U.S. want these workers to live in daily fear of being torn away from their families in the middle of night in hostile and sometime violent raids?

Republicans want to use raids to get more undocumented workers out of the U.S., despite ICE having set a record for deportations in 2010, with over 393,000 people being removed from the country. This is not cheap. Deputy Director Kibble said these deportations cost ICE about $12,500 per person, but when all costs are tallied, deportation costs per person total approximately $23,000.

The new House Judiciary Subcommittee has the power and influence to make positive and necessary changes in our immigration policies. Unfortunately, Republican members appeared to use the Subcommittee’s first hearing to challenge ICE and the Obama Administration’s current worksite enforcement strategy as insufficient. In doing so, they forget that under previous administrations, a focus on raids got us nowhere closer to a solution to the nation’s immigration problems. As Rep. Lee stated well near the end of the hearing, ICE is simply doing the best it can with the resources provided by Congress. It is this nation’s lawmakers that must provide the overarching solution.


Interior Enforcement Worksite Enforcement

E-Verify without Reform: What it would Really Mean

February 11, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



On February 10, the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing on the E-Verify electronic work authorization verification system.  The title of the hearing was “E-Verify- Preserving Jobs for American Workers,” and Republican members of the Subcommittee tried to portray the use of E-Verify as resulting in a simple equation: one unauthorized worker denied a job by E-Verify equals one job for an American worker.


It’s not that simple.


Some form of electronic work authorization verification system, if done right, might make sense in the context of broader reforms to the immigration system.  That is not what the Subcommittee was considering yesterday.  E-Verify is still in a pilot phase with approximately 3% of employers now using the system.  Republicans on the Subcommittee want to see the mandatory use of the system nationwide.


The problem is that approximately 5% of the U.S. workforce is unauthorized to work legally.  Without broader immigration reforms that include giving that large segment of the workforce the ability to work legally, the national implementation of E-Verify would lead to some perverse results.


While 5% of the U.S. workforce overall may be unauthorized to work, the distribution of unauthorized workers is by no means evenly distributed.  According to the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, the percentage of the agricultural workforce that is not authorized to work is not 5%, but more like 75%.  In a letter submitted for the hearing record, the Coalition stated that there is no rational basis for believing that American workers will fill the slots of all of those unauthorized workers.


“Demographic trends mean fewer and fewer Americans seek the work…. The American workforce has become older, better educated, and more urban. It has chosen lifestyle and employment options other than field work on farms.”


Failure to fill farm work positions with American workers has not been for lack of effort.  The statement gives several examples where government agencies, employer associations, and labor unions attempted to recruit U.S. workers to fill labor shortages on farms.  In one example, from the late 1990’s,


“a multi-county welfare-to-farm-work program was launched in California’s Central Valley. Regional unemployment ran nine to 12 percent; in some localities, unemployment exceeded 20%. State and county agencies and grower associations collaborated to identify cropping patterns, labor needs, training, transportation, and other impediments. Out of over 100,000 prospective “welfare to work” placements, three individuals were successfully placed.”


So, if the agricultural sector were to suddenly lose 75% of its workforce, the reality would be the acceleration of a trend that, the Coalition notes, is already taking place: more of our food will be produced in other countries.


“Congress must understand that mandating enforcement without reform is to accept that other countries will control the very food supply that the latest dietary guidelines suggest should occupy half of our dinner plates.”


Of course, picking up and moving to another country will not be an option for all businesses so reliant on an undocumented workforce.  Another consequence of a mandatory nationwide implementation of e-verify would likely be that more employers would pay workers off the books.


In 2008, the Congressional Budget Office prepared a cost estimate of the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2007 (SAVE Act).  CBO estimated that the Act would,


“[d]ecrease federal revenues by $17.3 billion over the 2009-2018 period. The decrease largely reflects the judgment that mandatory verification of employment eligibility through the E-Verify system would result in an increase in the number of undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system.”


The reality is, if we want to use E-Verify, or something like it, as an enforcement tool in our immigration system, that system will have to be overhauled first.  Otherwise, what we will get is a greater dependence on an underground economy and on imports.


Immigration Reform Interior Enforcement Worksite Enforcement

America at Its Best is Open to the World

February 04, 2011 - Posted by Ali Noorani

What connects Chicago’s bid for the Olympics and the drama unfolding in Egypt?


The United States’ reputation as a welcoming nation.


In October 2009, President and First Lady Obama traveled to Copenhagen to make a personal pitch for the Games to come to their hometown, the Windy City.  During the question and answer session, an International Olympic Committee representative asked the President about United States’ ability to welcome foreigners, pointing out that entering the country can be “a rather harrowing experience.”


To his credit, the President responded, “One of the legacies I want to see is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world.”


Granted, the issue raised here was one of tourist visas and passport control, but the way the United States is seen as treating foreigners was, without question, a reason why the 2016 games will be in Rio de Janeiro, not Chicago. 


The majority of foreigners visit America to see family and go to Disneyland.  Reasonable security is one thing, but the rules must be applied in a way that does not make us look hostile to outsiders.  We are certainly not at our best when we make arriving visitors feel like criminals.  It just doesn’t make sense.


Another aspect of our immigration system that doesn’t make sense is how we treat foreign students.  In his 2011 State of the Union address, the President spoke of our higher educational institutions as a magnet to the world, “Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.”  However, once we train the world’s students, we reverse the polarity and send them home, as Obama went on to say, “But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.”


The Administration sees our higher education system as more than a magnet for future innovators: it is a magnet for the world’s young who flee the stunted economies – and dangerous environments – of their homes to seek the American Dream.


In a National Journal article from February 1, 2011, Marc Ambinder described how the President asked his advisors, “What do Yemenis, Qataris and Egyptians like about the U.S.?”


The answer, in the case of Egypt, was the American education system. The competition for visas to study inside the U.S., particularly among those with a bent toward the hard sciences, was fierce. And it was considered a point of pride for a family member to brag about his brother studying overseas. The National Security Council and the State Department turned this nugget of insight into policy: Obama would expand the number of educational visas available to qualified Egyptian students. The State Department would increase its direct outreach to Egyptians; it would hold entrepreneurship and science summits, and would convene gatherings of Egyptians to meet with visiting American scientists. As the White House’s focus turned to Egypt late last week, the aspirations of young Egyptians were very much on the president’s mind.


Our higher education system creates the innovators of tomorrow, and weakens the extremist of today. 


It is overly simplistic to consider these only as examples of tourism or education, wholly separate from immigration policy.  While pure immigration policy lies within the Department of Homeland Security, it is clearly intertwined with the mission, goals and operations of the Departments of State and Commerce. 


Unfortunately, our immigration system does not serve our nation’s security, commerce or foreign policy interests.  It is within our power to reform our immigration system so, once again, we control our destiny as a nation:


  • Put in place security measures to ensure foreign students attend and graduate from their matriculating institutions, and grant them green cards upon graduation;

  • Update the work visa system so that it meets the needs of our workforce and our economy;

  • Create a path to citizenship that requires undocumented immigrants to get right with the law;

  • Shift our border security strategy so that it focuses on ports of entry, rather than funneling money to expensive boondoggles in the desert;

  • Value the sanctity of the family by making sure family immigration remains the core of who we are; and,

  • Treat people with the respect we all deserve.

This is not an impossible task.  It is a political task that requires leadership from our politicians. Will they deliver?



Immigration Reform

Mississippi Economic Recovery Threatened by Anti-Immigrant Legislation

February 02, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

This post was written by Forum intern Charles Gillig


In a tough economy, the people of Mississippi need solutions to the state’s pressing needs. Aiming state resources at removing immigrants will not fix Mississippi’s problems. On January 18th, the Mississippi State Senate tried to do just that by passing SB 2179, a bill based on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 legislation that is meant to crack down on undocumented immigrants. 


Enactment of this bill would be a financial disaster for Mississippi’s economy. Like much of the country, Mississippi currently faces a large deficit and high unemployment. The recovery has been slow and people want change. Enacting anti-immigrant legislation will derail the economic recovery by taking away a critical portion of the workforce: immigrant labor.


In the last instance of major economic decline, the period following Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi relied on immigrants to help reignite the economy. In a recent interview, Governor Haley Barbour acknowledged the importance of immigrants to the state economy by stating,


"I don't know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn't been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there's no doubt in my mind that some of them weren't here legally… if they hadn't come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now."


It is difficult to imagine how Mississippi might pay for a law like SB 2179.  Arizona’s implementation of SB 1070 has been prohibitively expensive and, simply put, Mississippi cannot afford to enact this kind of anti-immigrant legislation.  In addition to their inherent constitutional and social flaws, policies like those enshrined in SB 2179 risk further exacerbating budgets woes, and divert attention away from more pressing issues facing Mississippi, like the economy, jobs and education. It therefore is critical to Mississippi’s economic recovery that immigrants are embraced by the state, not pushed away through destructive legislation.


To read more about the Mississippi budget cuts, the economic power of immigrants in Mississippi, and the potential impact of an SB 1070-style law, please see the links below.



Conundrums, Omissions, and Obstructions: The Immigration Debate with Sen. John Cornyn

February 02, 2011 - Posted by Ali Noorani


Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) posits in his recent Op-Ed for the San Antonio Express-News that President Obama is guilty by “omission [of a] credible commitment to border security and immigration reform.” Even as he points to the President’s State of the Union remarks on immigration as evidence that the President isn’t serious about border security or reform, he asks the people of Texas to look to the President’s actions, instead of his words.

Herein lies the Cornyn immigration conundrum:  which position is it? Is it what gets said, or doesn’t get said?  Is it what is voted for, or voted against?  Is it immigration reform process or product? 


The astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Senator Cornyn, like many of his peers, has made a career out of extraordinary claims about the state of immigration and border security in our country and the proper response. These extraordinary claims distort the facts and diminish the debate.  Senator Cornyn needs to play it straight if he is serious about a comprehensive solution.

Senator Cornyn wrote in his Op-ed, “Border violence is unacceptably high. Rivalries among drug cartels have claimed more than 30,000 lives in Mexico during recent years.” [emphasis added]


Violence on the Texas side of the border exists, but is it unacceptably high? Is it even on the border?  El Paso, which sits across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was just named the safest city of its size in the United States.  ABC News analyzed crime and crossing data in 2010 and found that both violence in U.S. border communities and the flow of migrants illegally crossing the border is declining.  And Politifact found that claims by congressional members citing a high number of border deaths often omit evidence about when and where deaths occurred: in Mexico and over a period of at least 6 years.  Whoops.

Senator Cornyn also wrote, “Texans in the Rio Grande Valley can attest that many individuals crossing the border come from much farther away than Mexico. In the last fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection saw an increase in apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen.”


It is true that Mexicans are not alone in illegally entering the U.S. through the southern border. But these immigrants are largely from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. The Senator’s statement regarding FY10 apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, implies that they came across the southern border. However, evidence shows that apprehensions overall have plummeted to a low not seen since 1972 and that undocumented immigrants from these countries are more likely to enter through our ports of entry, not between them.


Side note: We agree with Senator Cornyn that border ports of entry need to be enhanced.  The National Immigration Forum is in support of smart security measures that actually address a problem.


Immigration reform is indeed, and as Senator Cornyn put it, “a federal responsibility and a national imperative.”


But we’ve seen time and time again, how the Senator and other members of the Texas congressional delegation, such as Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, have by obstruction of federal action encouraged state legislatures to take immigration into their own hands. By committing themselves to obstructionism rather than working on bipartisan solutions, Cornyn, Hutchison and Smith have encouraged the growing patchwork of state laws that are harming local economies and communities.


It is always commendable when our elected leaders talk about committing themselves to the issues of our times, and even more so when those words are backed with action. The President, much to our chagrin, has gone beyond the pale in terms of deporting immigrants.  And it is clear Secretary Napolitano is pouring any and all available resources into border security.

But last Congress the President fought for the DREAM Act, while Senator Cornyn stood in the way.  Then Senator Cornyn went to the Hispanic Leadership Network and performed a “rhetorical pirouette” trying to explain his vote.


So, yes, the President needs to lead.  But Senator Cornyn cannot have it both ways.  Either he puts a concrete, practical solution on the table to end illegal immigration, or he comes clean that he is not committed to immigration reform.  The citizens of Texas will be watching for evidence.





Immigration Reform

Something strange is afoot

February 02, 2011 - Posted by Ali Noorani

Below the radar screen of the tumult in Egypt, the Affordable Care Act, and the economy, GOP presidential kingmakers are starting to frame themselves as pro-immigration.  Who’da thunk it?


On ABC News Top Line, Senator Norm Coleman, Chair of the American Action Network said:


“Let me be very clear: It's not just a tone issue it's a substance issue. We have to be very clear in rejecting [former Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate] Tom Tancredo, saying he’s not the voice of the Republican Party, on issues dealing with Hispanics, immigration. What we have to do is simply have a pro-active agenda.”


All this after Senator John Cornyn performed rhetorical pirouettes at a recent Action Network-organized Hispanic Leadership Network meeting, trying to explain to a conservative Latino audience that he was for the DREAM Act, even though he voted against allowing it to be debated in the Senate.  This was also the gathering where Jeb Bush said it would be “incredibly stupid” for Republicans to ignore Hispanic voters.  (Maybe Cornyn read a different memo.)


Meanwhile, Ambassador John Huntsman—former Governor of Utah—is resigning to rumors he may enter the presidential fray.  Curiously, DC press consistently describes him as a moderate on immigration—making him an unlikely, but competitive candidate.


While it is well before the crazy comes out in the GOP primary, it is interesting to see Republicans starting now by leaning to the nation’s fastest growing electorate while the Administration continues to pursue expensive, discriminatory enforcement programs like 287g.  As our friends at America’s Voice put it,


“Just as the Administration expects Latino voters to deliver for the President’s re-election, so do Latino voters expect the President and his Administration to deliver on their promises—to focus enforcement resources on those committing serious crimes and to spend political capital fighting for immigration reform.”  


All to say that it seems one of the first signs of presidential politicking is budding competition for Latino, Asian and immigrant voters. 


To the victor who places a comprehensive immigration solution on the table should go the spoils. 

Immigration Reform

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