April 29, 2012 - Posted by Maurice BelangerAs Supreme Court Considers Arizona Law, Calls for Immigration Reform Increase
The Supreme Court heard arguments for and against Arizona’s SB 1070 on April 25, the last day of its session. The case before the court was that of the government, arguing that Federal law pre-empts the Arizona law. At issue were four provisions: the “papers please” provision, requiring state and local police to determine the immigration status of persons stopped arrested, or detained, if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally; the provision that makes it a state offense for immigrants not to be carrying their federal "alien registration document;" the provision making it a crime in the state to work without authorization; and the section that allows an officer to arrest someone without a warrant if the officer believes that the person has committed a crime that makes him or her removable from the U.S.
As mentioned, the government’s argument was about pre-emption, and at the beginning of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s allotted time, Chief Justice Roberts had Mr. Verrilli clarify that the government was not challenging the law based on concerns about racial profiling. With that established, Mr. Verrilli had trouble convincing the justices that the state was not within its rights to make an inquiry to the federal government regarding someone who was stopped for some other reason, as long as they are not held for longer than they otherwise would have been held.
At one point, in response to a hypothetical situation posed by Chief Justice Roberts, Verrilli articulated the problem that is of most concern to the law’s opponents:
“…the process of cooperating to enforce the Federal immigration law starts earlier, and it starts with the process of making the decisions about … who to stop, who to apprehend, who to check on.
The Justices, however, were going to stay focused on the preemption argument.
There was less discussion of other provisions of the law, but judging by the questioning, there was more skepticism about other provisions under consideration, particularly the provision making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to seek work.
You can read a transcript of the Supreme Court arguments here.
Not the Last Word
Whatever the Court decides, it will be far from the last word on the Arizona law or on laws modeled after it. There will be other court challenges to aspects of these laws not challenged in the Government’s lawsuit—including the issue of racial profiling in the Arizona and other laws, the Alabama law’s requirement to collect information on the immigration status of Alabama school children, etc. Ultimately, the fate of these laws will be decided by an electorate undergoing demographic change.
Those changes were on stark display in front of the court during the arguments. There were two sets of demonstrators imploring the court to strike down or uphold the law. Opponents of the law, about 500 strong, were Latino, African-American, white and, on balance, young. A much smaller group of supporters of the law were white and, on balance, elderly.
Within Arizona itself, we’ve already had a taste of the future when Russell Pierce, author of SB 1070, became the first Arizona legislator to lose a recall election. Regardless of whether that particular change sticks, the trend is inevitable, just as here in the northeast, we’ve witnessed wild swings this season as we get a taste of summer warmth only to be hit with more of the last throes of winter cold.
Faith Leaders Call for Immigration Reform
In the week leading up to the Supreme Court argument, a broad spectrum of faith leaders stepped up their calls on Congress to reform the immigration laws. On April 23, the National Immigration Forum issued a release with the statements of seven Evangelical leaders. Among them, Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals noted that “the place to work out [a legal immigration system with a sensible plan for those who are already here] is in the Congress and the White House, not in the courts, and certainly not in the 50 state legislatures.” Mathew Staver of Liberty University Law School echoed those sentiments, saying that our broken immigration system “is a national problem, and we need Congress to put aside partisan politics and fix it now.”
A group of 15 interfaith leaders sent letters to Congress and the President, urging them to address the issue of immigration reform as soon as possible. The authors express their concern that, because Congress and the President have been unable to forge a solution at the federal level, “we are witnessing an unprecedented transfer of authority for immigration policy from the federal government to state and local governments, to the detriment of our nation and our local communities.” Signers include, among others, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. You can find links to the letters in this release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Senate Hearing on SB 1070
On September 24, there was a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, “Examining the Constitutionality and Prudence of State and Local Governments Enforcing Immigration Law.” Witnesses included Arizona State Senator Steve Gallardo, author of a bill that would repeal SB 1070; former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070; former U.S. Senator from Arizona Dennis DeConcini; and Todd Landfried, Executive Director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.
In his testimony, Mr. Pearce defended SB 1070, saying among other things that it has brought about a drop in violent crime in Phoenix. Phoenix Police Department officials told the Arizona Republic, however, that it was impossible to say whether reduced crime rates are related to the effects of the law or to more effective policing and other factors. As the Forum has noted previously, violent crime in the state as a whole peaked in 1993—decades before the passage of SB 1070.
Former Senator DeConcini, who now practices law in Arizona, said that SB 1070 unquestionably targets persons with brown skin, and “in my state, those are my neighbors, my friends, and successful business associates.” The law was politically expedient for some of the state’s politicians, and “whenever you mix politics and law enforcement, you create a toxic environment.”
Mr. Landfried said the law hasn’t met the claims of its proponents—that SB 1070 would result in economic benefits for the state by ridding the state of undocumented immigrants who were using state benefits and by opening jobs for citizen and legal resident workers. He cited several studies that had been conducted in other states that have passed similar laws, and in all cases the economic impacts were negative. In Arizona, Mr. Landfried said, SB 1070 resulted in a reduction of Gross State Product of 9.6%.
You can find all of the witness testimony, and a video recording of the hearing, on the Judiciary Committee’s Web site.
VAWA Reauthorization Passes Senate
On April 26, the Senate passed by a vote of 68 to 31, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S 1925). The bill makes a number of minor changes to VAWA that will expand protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence. Among them:
- Minor children of VAWA self-petitioners will be included in a petition for an immigrant visa in the cases where an immigrant victim of abuse has petitioned for a visa and her abuser dies during the adjudication process.
- VAWA self-petitioners and persons with U or T visas (or who are applying for those visas) will not be barred from admission to the U.S. on public charge grounds.
- If the annual U visa cap is reached, the Secretary of DHS may use up to 5,000 U visas that were not used in previous years.
- Children of the applicants of U visas are protected from “aging out,” so they will be covered on their parent’s application for a visa even if they turn 21 while the application is being processed.
- A number of changes are made to strengthen the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, to protect potential recipients of K visas (for fiancés or fiancées) from potentially abusive marriages.
Also included in the bill is a provision, added to the original bill through an amendment by Sen. Grassley of Iowa, to make a third drunk driving conviction an aggravated felony for immigration purposes, making an immigrant drunk driver subject to removal.
On April 27, House Republicans introduced their own version of VAWA reauthorization. This bill contains several provisions that would make it more difficult for immigrant victims of domestic violence to gain protections than current law provides. That bill will be considered when Congress returns from recess the week of May 7.
Senate Holds Oversight Hearing on DHS
On April 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was the sole witness. Some immigration-related highlights:
- Secretary Napolitano said that it was the “intent” of DHS to have a fully operational biographic exit system in place by June of 2012.
- Senator Feinstein of California said that she is concerned that aggressive I-9 audits of agricultural employers in her state “are going to decimate on farm and farm-dependent jobs.”
- Senator Kyl of Arizona talked about the need for more resources at Southwest border ports of entry, and asked Secretary Napolitano to work with the Senate in requesting those resources.
- Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut asked about the protection of same sex couples from deportation, and Secretary Napolitano said that until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, the most DHS can do is administratively close the cases of those who merit an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
- Regarding prosecutorial discretion, Senator Durbin of Illinois asked about the discrepancy between the percentage of deportation cases that have been reviewed and deemed eligible for administrative closure (7.5%) and the percentage of cases that have been administratively closed (1.2%). Secretary Napolitano said that the discrepancy is primarily due to the fact that people who have been offered administrative closure of their cases are thinking over the offer, but that she expects DHS will have completed review of existing cases by the end of this calendar year, and the percentage of cases closed will rise between now and then. She also said that DHS is “exploring how best to address” concerns that individuals whose cases have been administratively closed are not being offered work authorization.
Testimony from the hearing and a video recording can be found on the Judiciary Committee’s Web site.
House Appropriations Committee Acts on Department of Justice Budget
On April 26, the House Appropriations Committee passed an appropriations bill that will fund the Department of Justice for Fiscal Year 2013. Among the immigration-related components:
- The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) received $313.4 million (as the Administration requested), $8.5 million above the 2012 allocation. (The Senate Appropriations Committee provided the same amount for EOIR.)
- Included in EOIR’s budget was more than $8.4 million for the Legal Orientation Program (as the Administration requested). This is an increase of nearly $2 million over the fiscal 2012 allocation. (The Senate provided the same amount.)
- The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program received $165 million—$95 million above the Administration’s request. (The Senate provided $255 million.) This money is to reimburse states and localities for the cost of jailing undocumented immigrants.
- The House provided $13.5 million for programs for victims of human trafficking, $3 million above the Administration’s request.
The House bill is expected to go to the floor in early May.
April 26, 2012 - Posted by Ali Noorani
The following op-ed was published April 26, 2012, in Spanish at El Diario.
By Ali Noorani
What if the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070, doesn’t matter?
No matter how the court rules, consensus is emerging that Arizona and the states that have copied its discriminatory law are engaging in bad policy and bad politics — the type that could turn neighbor against neighbor and state against state as disparate immigration approaches rattle communities.
The pushback against such policies is coming from a broad swath of American leaders: business executives concerned about such laws’ economic impacts, law enforcement officers who need the trust of the communities they serve, and religious luminaries sick of seeing families and congregations torn apart.
The latter group has communicated a particularly powerful message this week. “Evangelicals are committed to laws that allow us to minister to and love the immigrant,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. “S.B. 1070 not only fosters profiling but also stands in the way of our Christian duty.”
Hear also the words of Galen Carey, vice president of government relations with the National Association of Evangelicals: “The people of Arizona, and every state, deserve a safe and functional legal immigration system, and a sensible plan for those who are already here. The place to work out such a plan is in the Congress and the White House, not in the courts, and certainly not in the 50 state legislatures.”
These leaders recognize that immigration is not and cannot be “us vs. them,” but rather that it is simply “us.” As one nation, we must rise above laws that engender distrust and suspicion.
Residents of Arizona — led by Citizens for a Better Arizona — already have moved in that direction. Even before the Supreme Court decided to rule on S.B. 1070, the bill’s author, Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, was recalled in November by a 55-44 margin.
The same week, a statewide poll found that 78 percent of Arizona residents would support legislation giving undocumented longtime residents the opportunity to pay a fine, pass criminal background checks, get a taxpayer I.D. number, demonstrate they can speak English — and eventually become citizens.
That’s a far cry from the criminalization of undocumented immigrants woven into Arizona’s enforcement-only law. Clearly, Arizonans are ahead of some of their political leaders in realizing that S.B. 1070 goes too far.
If the court rules in Arizona’s favor regarding parts of the law, copycat laws will go into effect, and elected leaders in still other states could decide to follow suit. But they would do so at their peril, knowing that the vast majority of the electorate will not tolerate hate and prejudice.
It is up to all of us —those who remember coming here from somewhere else and those whose immigration stories have been passed down through generations — to call for the only immigration policy solution that can unite our country as a voice of liberty, equality and fairness: humane reform on the federal level.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, we must move forward with policies that unite rather than divide.
April 19, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Arizona SB 1070
Next Wednesday, April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the federal government's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's SB 1070. Four key provisions of the Arizona law will be the focus of the Court's review. The most controversial provision is known as the "papers please" provision, which requires state and local police to determine the immigration status of persons stopped, arrested, or detained, if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally. Other provisions being reviewed by the Court are: the provision that makes it a state offense for immigrants not to be carrying their federal "alien registration document;" the provision making it a crime in the state to work without authorization; and the section that allows an officer to arrest someone without a warrant if the officer believes that the person has committed a crime that makes him or her removable from the U.S.
A decision in the case is expected by June 25.
The Forum has collected a list of links to useful materials about the Arizona law, the legal issues relating to the Supreme Court case, the economic damage Arizona has suffered since passage of the law and implications of a decision one way or the other. You can find all of that information on this page of our Web site, or by clicking on the Arizona v. United States graphic on our home page, http://www.immigrationforum.org.
Rally and Virtual Vigil
There will be a lot of activity surrounding the Supreme Court arguments. On the day of the argument, April 25 at 10:30 AM, civil rights, religious, labor and community leaders are organizing a rally at the steps of the Supreme Court. For those who cannot join a rally in person in Washington, please consider joining a virtual vigil, the Vigil for Justice and the American Dream, an on-line forum that will allow you to stand in solidarity with those who believe in equal treatment and equal opportunity for all. Join with thousands across the country in lighting candles for justice at VigilforJustice.org.
Senate to Hold Hearing on SB 1070
The day before the Supreme Court argument, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security will hold a hearing, “Examining the Constitutionality and Prudence of State and Local Governments Enforcing Immigration Law.” Subcommittee Chair Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had invited Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to testify, but she declined. Instead, Russell Pearce will be one of the witnesses. He is the principle author of SB 1070 and was subsequently booted out of office in a recall election. Also testifying will be former U.S. Senator from Arizona Dennis DeConcini, co-author of the Moakley-DeConcini Act of the late 1980s (ultimately incorporated into the 1990 Immigration Act), which provided protection from deportation for Salvadorans fleeing civil war. Arizona state senator Steve Gallardo, and Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform Executive Director Todd Landfried are also on the witness list.
Citizenship Campaign Launched
Anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona's SB 1070 and Alabama's HB 56 have been good motivators for some of the 8.1 million immigrants who are eligible for naturalization to begin taking the steps to become U.S. citizens and have their voice heard in our democracy. A group of advocates and service providers have launched a new campaign to help immigrants obtain information about U.S. citizenship and to begin the application process.
Under the auspices of Reform Immigration FOR America, the campaign, Mas Respeto, Become a Citizen! will make use of a text messaging service created by CitizenshipWorks, where eligible immigrants can text “citizenship” or “ciudadania” to 877877 for the location of nearby citizenship assistance providers. There are also Web sites (www.mycitizenshipmyvote.org and www.masrespeto.org) where immigrants can go to find out more information about the citizenship process and where they will find links to resources such as CitizenshipWorks.
The National Immigration Forum held a press conference about this campaign on April 10. You can read the resulting press release here or find the recording of the press conference on this page of our Web site.
Child Tax Credit Again Under Attack
On April 18, the House Ways and Means Committee voted on a package of proposals intended to begin the process of cutting spending to comply with a Republican budget that passed the House at the end of March. That budget attempts to avert cuts to Defense scheduled to go into effect according to the budget agreement reached last summer. At the same time, it proposes to cut $5.3 trillion from the President’s budget over 10 years. According to the New York Times, much of the burden will fall on nutrition, health care and welfare programs.
The Ways and Means Committee met on April 18 to begin drafting a measure to cut $53 billion over 10 years. Included in the package is a proposal to limit the child tax credit only to tax filers using Social Security Numbers (SSNs). (Those filing with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, issued by the IRS to taxpayers without SSNs, would not be able to claim the benefit.) That proposal was approved by the Committee by a vote of 22 to 12.
This issue surfaced in January, when Republicans in the House at first insisted that cutting the child tax credit for tax filers without SSNs should help pay for extension of the Social Security tax reduction. The Senate opposed the measure, and eventually the House dropped its insistence on the measure.
The Senate is not expected to agree to the kinds of cuts the House will be proposing as it completes its budget and appropriations work.
For more information, see this fact sheet, created during the January debate on this subject by First Focus, an organization that advocates for children and families.
Racial Profiling Subject of Senate Hearing
On April 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held a hearing on "Ending Racial Profiling in America." It was the first time the Senate has held a hearing on racial profiling since June 2001, before the terrorist attacks of later that year.
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he was sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to close loopholes in the Justice Department’s racial profiling guidance. The guidance, issued in 2003, does not apply to profiling based on religion and national origin, nor does it apply to national security and border security investigations. (You can find the letter from Senator Durbin et al. attached to this press release from the Senator's office.) Another step Congress could take towards ending racial profiling, Senator Durbin suggested, is to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, S. 1670, introduced by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin (D).
Witness included a panel of Members of Congress and a panel that included the Chief of Police of East Palo Alto, California, a law professor, and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Equal Opportunity and the Fraternal Order of Police. You can obtain a video recording of the hearing, and witness testimony on this page of the Judiciary Committee's Web site, and you can find a statement from the National Immigration Forum here.
National Guard on the Border
On April 17, the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a hearing, "Boots on the Ground or Eyes in the Sky: How Best to Utilize the National Guard to Achieve Operational Control."
In December of last year, the Obama Administration announced that it would begin to withdraw the 1200 National Guard troops who had been stationed on the Southwest border along with a record number of Border Patrol agents. The Administration is maintaining 300 National Guard troops, who provide a variety of support services to the Border Patrol, until the end of this calendar year.
The hearing provided an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the Guard’s deployment and the current strategy of providing aerial surveillance. Witnesses included representatives of the Defense Department, the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine, the Texas National Guard and the Government Accountability Office. You can obtain all the witness testimony on this page of the Homeland Security Committee’s Web site.
Borders Immigration Reform Integration & Citizenship States Naturalization Smart Enforcement Priorities State&Local Enforcement
April 11, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Proposed Rule to Change Family Unity Waiver Process Published
On April 2, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published a Proposed Rule in the Federal Register seeking public comment on changes it is proposing for the process of applying for a waiver of inadmissibility based on unlawful presence.
Currently, a person is barred from re-entry into the U.S. for three years if the individual had accumulated between six and 12 months of unlawful presence in the U.S. If the total unlawful presence reached a year or more, the person must remain outside the U.S. for a minimum of 10 years. A waiver for the bar to re-entry is available if the person can show he or she is eligible for an immigrant visa and that his or her U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse or parent will suffer extreme hardship due to the lengthy separation. However, if the individual is not eligible to adjust status inside the U.S., he or she must depart the U.S. in order to obtain the immigrant visa from a U.S. State Department Consular office in his or her home country. At that point, the three- or ten-year bar to re-entry is triggered, and the person must apply for the waiver and wait outside the U.S.
What USCIS is proposing to do is to process those waiver applications before the individual has left the U.S. If approved the waiver is approved, the individual can complete the process of obtaining an immigrant visa from the U.S. Consular office in his or her home country without the long wait for adjudication of the waiver.
In the Federal Register notice, USCIS gives several reasons for proposing to change the process. The lengthy wait—over a year in some locations—itself creates the kind of lengthy family separation the waiver application seeks to avoid. The maintenance of staff outside the U.S. is expensive, and the shuffling of files back and forth between the Department of State and USCIS is inefficient.
While the spouses of Legal Permanent Residents are also eligible for this family unity waiver, USCIS is proposing to change the application process only for U.S. citizen relatives. USCIS cites the priority given by Congress to the immigration of the family members of U.S. citizens.
The new process will also be available only to those who would be subject to the unlawful presence bars to re-entry. (USCIS says that 80% of applications for waivers to inadmissibility filed abroad are filed by individuals who are subject to the three- and 10-year bards to re-entry.)
There is a 60-day public comment period; and comments should be submitted on or before June 1, 2012. The new process will not go into effect until all comments are considered and a final rule is published in the coming months.
There will be more detail about issues of concern with the proposed rule in a future update.
For more information: Here are some materials related to this proposed rule:
- Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers: Questions & Answers, from USICS.
- Proposed Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers, a summary by USCIS of what they propose to do.
- Entry without Inspection (EWI) & Family Unity Waiver in a Nutshell, by the National Immigration Forum.
Hearing on ICE Detention Mischaracterizes Administration Policy
On March 28, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing titled, “Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's New Immigration Detention Standards.” The topic of the hearing was the new standards for immigration detention that were released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in February of this year.
Opening statements by members of the Subcommittee (as well as the Chair and Ranking Member of the full Committee) presented starkly different pictures of immigration detention and the need for reform. We also learned that Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) would have made a lousy travel agent.
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Committee Chair Elton Gallegly (R-CA) suggested the new detention standards were too accommodating to immigrant detainees, and he complained that, in devising the new standards, ICE did not address the impact on the American taxpayer.
For her part, Subcommittee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) read stories of women who were raped by prison guards while in immigration detention, noting that, in part, reform of the standards were necessary to prevent these kinds of crimes against detainees.
While Ms. Lofgren noted that Rep. Gallegly expressed to her his regret about the title of the hearing, Rep. Lamar Smith felt no such remorse. In his statement, he said that “the administration’s new detention manual reads more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants,” and that, under the new guidelines “detention looks more like recess.”
The views expressed by Mr. Smith touched off a well-deserved round of op-ed ridicule. Annie Sovcik, of Human Rights First, wrote in The Hill, suggesting that if Smith really thinks imprisonment in an ICE detention facility is a holiday, he should try booking his next vacation into one of the several detention facilities she has visited in the course of her work. Edwidge Danticat wrote in the New York Times about her uncle who, after fleeing Haiti and asking for political asylum, was thrown in prison without his blood pressure medication, where he died in ICE custody.
For his part, Smith asserted that the new detention standards should not come at the expense of the American taxpayer. If Smith were truly concerned about the American taxpayer, however, he would be opposed to the profligate waste that results from locking up immigration violators in prisons built for criminals. Approximately half of the immigrants held in detention by ICE have committed no criminal offense, and jailing them costs ICE $166 per day each. Mr. Smith has played a key role in blocking reform of the immigration laws that would give these otherwise law-abiding individuals a chance to stay on the tax rolls. Mr. Smith has also introduced legislation that would allow for the indefinite detention (at taxpayer expense) of certain immigrants, and he has supported funding even more detention capacity for ICE.
The Forum’s Statement for the Record of that hearing can be found here, and a press release from the Forum about the hearing is here. A video recording and statements from the hearing can be found here.
Prosecutorial Discretion Court Review to Expand to Seven Additional Courts
On April 3, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) issued a release saying that DHS’s case-by-case prosecutorial review of immigration cases will take place in seven immigration courts in the coming four months. Cases will be reviewed in the immigration courts of Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, and Seattle from April 23 until May 4; in New York from May 7 until May 18; in San Francisco from June 4 until June 15; and in Los Angeles from July 9 until July 20. Case reviews in these courts follow reviews that have already taken place in Denver and Baltimore. The aim of these reviews is to clear the courts of cases that are low priority for prosecution by administratively closing them, and allowing the courts to focus on immigration cases that are higher on the priority list of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to information released to Congress by ICE on March 9, as of March 5, ICE had reviewed approximately 165,000 of the 300,000 deportation cases of detained and non-detained individuals. By that date, 1,583 cases had been administratively closed, and an additional 10,847 cases had been identified as provisionally eligible for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, pending background checks. (Some individuals decide to pursue their cases, and decline offers to close their case.)
Supreme Court Rules Retroactive Application of IIRIRA Cannot Be Used to Deny Reentry for Certain Immigrants
On March 28, the Supreme Court ruled that a legal permanent resident could not be denied reentry into the U.S. based on retroactive application of rules set by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Panagis Vartelas is an immigrant from Greece who has been a U.S. permanent resident since 1989. In 1994, he pled guilty to conspiring to make a counterfeit security, and served four months in prison. In 2003, returning from a trip to Greece to visit his mother, the government denied him reentry, and placed him in removal proceedings. The government claimed that Mr. Vartelas was removable based on his conviction two years prior to passage of IIRIRA. The Supreme Court disagreed.
At the time of his conviction, immigrants in Mr. Vartelas’ situation could travel abroad without jeopardizing their permanent resident status. The Court ruled that Mr. Vartelas could not be deprived of his right to travel abroad based on his conviction prior to passage of IIRIRA. For more information on this case and its implications for permanent residents in similar circumstances, see this Practice Advisory from the American Immigration Council.
Justice Department Cuts off Negotiations with Maricopa County Sheriff
The Justice Department has cut off negotiations towards settlement in a case against the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Office involving several violations of federal law. The Sheriff’s Office decided it would not accept the independent monitor the Justice Department insisted on to see that the Office ceases its violations of the law. In a press release, Sheriff Joe Arpaio defied the Justice Department’s demand, saying that the Administration was trying to “strong arm me into submission only for its political gain.”
It now appears likely that the lawsuit previously filed by the Department of Justice against the Sheriff’s Office will resume. In a related development, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was disbarred by the State Bar of Arizona, after a three-judge panel ruled that Thomas abused his powers by targeting his political enemies. When he was County Attorney, Thomas worked closely with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Syrians Get Temporary Protected Status
During the past several months, the government of Syria has been violently reacting to a rebellion in that country. On March 29, the Department of Homeland Security published a Federal Register notice designating Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), due to the ongoing violence in that country. Nationals from Syria who have been continuously physically present in the United States since March 29, 2012, may apply for TPS and work authorization.
For information about application procedure and eligibility details, see the TPS page on the Web site of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
DHS Inspector General Releases Reports on Secure Communities
On April 6, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) released two reports on Secure Communities. The first report focused on ICE communication regarding participation in Secure Communities. The OIG did not find evidence that ICE intentionally mislead communities about participation in Secure Communities, only that ICE communications were unclear and inconsistent. The OIG made three recommendations meant to ensure that communication in the future about participation in Secure Communities is clear.
In the second report, the OIG found that the program was effective in identifying criminal aliens; that in most cases ICE officers took enforcement actions according to agency enforcement policy; and that local law enforcement jurisdictions incurred little cost in implementing the program.
In a press release, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who asked for the investigation, expressed disappointment in the reports, noting that while the OIG found that Secure Communities was “effective in finding and removing immigrants with criminal convictions. That wasn't the question. Does the program also ensnare victims and others with no criminal history? Is it susceptible to racial profiling? Does it ultimately undermine community policing efforts—leaving us all less safe?”
The Forum’s release about these reports (which you can find here) echoed some of these criticisms.
IACHR Holds Hearing on Human Rights Abuses on the Border
On March 27, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing on the "Human Rights Situation of Detained and Deported Migrants along the Southern Border of the United States." Seven organizations, including the National Immigration Forum, petitioned the Commission to hold this hearing about abuses and human rights violations against migrants on the Southwest border. As noted in the Forum’s press release about the hearing, the testimony before the Commission followed six years of documentation work by No More Deaths, a humanitarian and advocacy organization based on the Arizona-Mexico border. The organization conducted 15,000 interviews over six years with deportees who experienced abusive conditions in custody.
Another issue raised at the hearing was the lack of internal oversight mechanisms at DHS to punish and correct abusive behavior.
You can find a recording of that hearing on this page of the Web site of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
DHS Now Tracking Deportation of Parents of U.S. Citizen Children
Included in the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bill that Congress passed in April of last year was direction to the Department of Homeland Security to begin keeping statistics on the number of parents of U.S. citizen children it is deporting, and whether the children remain in the U.S. after deportation of the parents. On March 26, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) submitted a report to Congress with some of the statistics Congress requested.
In the period between January 1 and June 30, 2011, ICE reported that it had removed 46,486 persons who claimed to have at least one U.S. citizen child. ICE databases have not yet been revised to track what happens to the U.S. citizen child when the parents are deported.
You can find that report here.