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Immigration Policy Update for November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Backlash in Arizona
Russell Pearce, the Arizona Senate President known as the father of SB 1070 and other harsh immigration enforcement laws, became known for something else on November 8: He is the very first Arizona legislator to face a recall election and lose. He was beat by political newcomer Jerry Lewis. Lewis, a conservative Republican and charter school administer, beat Pearce by a commanding margin of 12 percent in a district that is strongly Republican. It was Pearce’s stance on immigration and the enactment of SB 1070 that sparked the recall movement.

Lewis’ views on immigration are more reasonable, and those views were part of his campaign. Lewis told the Reuters news service that Arizona needed to tackle the immigration issue in a manner free of “fear mongering and political rhetoric,” and needed to work with the Federal Government on a comprehensive approach rather than on one that would be tied up in the courts for years.

On a press conference organized by the National Immigration Forum to mark the one-year anniversary of the Utah Compact, Lewis said that the Utah Compact has had a “tremendous influence on the State of Arizona,” by giving people a set of principles to guide their approach to the immigration issue. He noted that a recently-conducted public opinion poll in Arizona found that 78% of Arizonans “want real solutions [on immigration]—they don’t want a focus on law enforcement only.”

The press conference marking the anniversary of the Utah Compact also featured: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff; Paul Bridges, Mayor of Uvalda, Georgia (speaking about the damage to his community attributed to Georgia’s anti-immigrant law); former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard; and Jason Mathis, Executive Vice President of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce. You can hear a recording of the press conference on the Forum's Web site.

Mountain West Leaders Gather to Discuss Alternate Approach to Immigration
Speaking of the Utah Compact: On October 26, leaders from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the “Mountain West Summit: Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America.” Attendees met to discuss and develop a pragmatic approach to immigration challenges—an approach distinct from that taken recently by Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Kicking off the conference was Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R), who has been working to get other states to take up the model of the Utah Compact on immigration. Among the other speakers at the Summit were University of Idaho Demographer Priscilla Salant, who talked about the changing demographics of the Mountain West, and Uvalda, Georgia Mayor Paul Bridges (R), who detailed the economic damage cause by Georgia’s harsh anti-immigrant law.

Mountain West business owners and representatives of business associations addressed the positive impact of immigrants on the regional economy, and a panel of faith leaders discussing the subject of immigrants and faith communities.  Attorney General Shurtleff appeared with Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank on a panel titled, “Keeping our Communities Safe.”

For more information about the Summit, please see this press release from the National Immigration Forum and this television clip from KSL in Salt Lake City.

Attacks on Administration Prosecution Priorities Continue in Congress
On October 26, the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) held an oversight hearing of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS Secretary Napolitano testified before the Committee.

Chairman Smith opened with two complaints. First, he claimed that the Administration wasn’t doing enough to secure the border. Second, he complained that the Administration had de-emphasized immigration raids, making the unsupported claim that, “Each time DHS arrests, detains or deports an illegal worker, it creates a job opportunity for an American worker.”

Smith and several of his Republican colleagues on the panel also criticized the Administration’s recent announcement that it would prioritize enforcement resources on public safety and national security threats.

Posing a contrasting view, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said in his opening statement:

"Who would say that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, that their time and resources are better spent raiding kitchens and fields to deport bus boys and farm workers who've been working here for years to support their families … rather than targeting those convicted of serious crimes or repeat offenders?"

Apparently Lamar Smith would. He complained that the Administration has reduced its reliance on workplace raids. In response, Secretary Napolitano pointed out that, from 2008 to 2011, workers apprehended during workplace raids went from approximately 5,000 to approximately 1,500. In the same period, there was an increase in “criminal alien” removals of almost 100,000.

Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), speaking in defense of a security focus for immigration enforcement, noted that Congress has repeatedly directed the Department of Homeland Security to “prioritize the removal of serious criminal aliens.” She also noted that, with immigration courts now dealing with a 300,000 case backlog, it made sense to temporarily set aside less serious cases and expedite the removal of persons who have committed crimes.

In response to Rep. Smith's comment that the Administration is not serious about securing the border, Secretary Napolitano repeated the well-known (except to Rep. Smith, apparently) statistics about illegal crossings being at historic lows, low crime rates in border communities, etc. (See, for example, this Forum blog post from last year.)

Subpoena Issued for DHS Records
At the same hearing, Rep. Smith asked about his previous request for the names of individuals held in local jails and identified by the Secure Communities program but who ICE declined to detain. The Secretary did not have that information at the hearing, and the Immigration Subcommittee on November 2 issued a subpoena for it.

Civics Lesson: The President Really Can't do it By Himself
With deportations continuing at a record pace while Congress kicks immigration reform down the road yet again, advocates are asking why President Obama continues to deport people we all know shouldn’t be deported. Among some, there seems to be a belief that the President can stop deportations altogether if he decides to do so.

He can’t. While it is perfectly legitimate to expect the Administration to do more to mitigate the harsh consequences of our broken immigration system, it is not realistic to expect the President to stop enforcing the law altogether.

From our school-days U.S. government lessons, we should have learned that Congress passes laws; the President carries them out. We happen to have a situation where the law is broken, and there is no immediate prospect of Congress doing its job and fixing the law. Nevertheless, the President is still stuck with enforcing the law.

Part of the problem is that Congress is delivering truckloads of money to the Department of Homeland Security for immigration enforcement. Enforcement remains very popular with those who control the purse strings—and spending for enforcement continues to increase.

For example, the House version of the appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012 allocates $26.7 million more than the President requested for immigration detention—enough to increase the number of detention beds from 33,400 to 34,000. Included in the discussion of the money allocated to detention, the Appropriations Committee wrote the following: “[T]he Committee directs ICE to intensify its enforcement efforts and fully utilize these resources.”

There are things the President can do to mitigate the harm all this money pays for. The Administration’s recent announcement to sort through deportation cases with the aim of prioritizing cases is an excellent step in the right direction.

More can be done. There is a difference, however, between pressuring the Administration to do more and blaming the Administration for the current state of affairs. In fact, that is the strategy of restrictionists in Congress—to blame the Administration for not accomplishing immigration reform (after they’ve successfully filibustered all efforts at change).

The Administration should be pressured to do what it can. Without a change in law, however, the Administration can only go so far. It is Congress that deserves the blame for the current state of affairs. It is their job to fix the laws.

Developments with the Administration
USCIS Issues New Guidance on NTAs: On November 7, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a Policy Memorandum, “Revised Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Removable Aliens.” The memo updates guidance to USCIS officers regarding the circumstances under which they should issue Notices to Appear and refer cases to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new guidance conforms USCIS practice to the recent Administration policy to prioritize the use of enforcement resources by using prosecutorial discretion. The memo can be found on the USCIS Web site.

South Carolina’s Anti-Immigrant Law Latest Target of DOJ: On October 31, the Justice Department filed suit against the State of South Carolina to stop implementation of that state’s recently-passed anti-immigrant law, Act No. 69. The Justice Department alleges that parts of the law are “unconstitutional and interfere with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy.” The law is similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 and other recently-enacted state laws that would, among other things, require police officers to make a “reasonable effort” to determine the immigration status of a persons who the officer “lawfully stops, detains, investigates, or arrests.” The law is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2012, and DOJ will seek a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. For more information, see this press release from the Department of Justice.

DOJ Seeks Alabama School Enrollment Records: On November 1, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division sent a letter to Alabama school superintendents seeking information about the enrollment practices of Alabama school districts in order to determine whether the school districts are complying with federal law that entitles all children to free public education regardless of immigration status. The Justice Department has a law suit pending against Alabama for its recently-passed immigration law, one provision of which requires schools to determine the immigration status of enrolling students. You can find the Justice Department’s letter on the Department’s Web site.

Indiscriminate Transportation Sweeps Halted on Northern Border: News reports have indicated that Customs and Border Protection has halted random immigration sweeps on buses and trains on the northern border. Instead, agents will act only if there is intelligence indicating a threat. Prior to this change in policy, Border Patrol agents would board buses and trains far from the border and ask people for their papers. This change in policy would bring Border Patrol policy more in line with the Administration’s enforcement priorities.

The de-emphasis of non-border Border Patrol activity was implemented just prior to the release of a report by the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Families for Freedom, and NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Justice Derailed: What Raids on New York’s Trains and Buses Reveal about Border Patrol’s Interior Enforcement Practices. The report examines in depth a practice that has been the focus of complaints over several years from immigrants’ rights activists as well as visitors to the U.S. who were subjected to the random sweeps. For more information, you can obtain a copy of the report from the ACLU Web site.



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