July 27, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Oversight Hearings in Congress this Week
There were several hearings in Congress this week that were immigration-related or that touched on immigration. Among them:
- On July 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security held a hearing, “Strengthening the Integrity of the Student Visa System by Preventing and Detecting Sham Educational Institutions.” This hearing was held in the wake of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). That report was summarized in the GAO testimony at the hearing. The GAO found that ICE did not adequately monitor the 10,000 SEVP certified schools for fraud. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he would introduce legislation (with Senators Grassley, Feinstein and McCaskill) that would, among other things, require ICE to visit all non-accredited schools that obtain visas for foreign students within a year of enactment of the law. (A video recording of the hearing and links to testimony are available here.)
- Also on July 24, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing on fraud by immigration attorneys. While members of the Subcommittee who were present were primarily concerned about immigrants who wrongly obtain immigration benefits through the fraudulent actions of their attorneys, a witness from the American Immigration Lawyers Association did raise the much more prevalent problem of fraud in which notarios and attorneys defraud their clients. (A recording and links to testimony can be found here.)
- On January 25, the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing, “Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape,” in which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified (as well as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen). While the hearing was primarily about terrorism threats, there was a question (from Candice Miller, R-Mich.) about Cook County (Ill.) and its non-cooperation with the Secure Communities program. As she has on other occasions, Secretary Napolitano said DHS was working with the Justice Department to “explore all options” in what the government may do about Cook County. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) raised the issue of deferred action and challenged the idea that the Administration had discretion to not prosecute certain individuals. Secretary Napolitano responded by saying that she was unaware of any prosecutor who would say he or she had no discretion, and again referred to the unprecedented number of removals during this Administration as proof of the Administration’s strong record of enforcement.
Follow-up: Which Nogales?
Despite efforts by politicians to portray the southwest border as being out of control, it has been widely reported that U.S. communities on the southwest border are among the safest in the country. (El Paso, for example, has been ranked safest large city in the U.S.) During the July 19 House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) appeared to have found an anomaly. He recited statistics about crime in Nogales, Arizona, that appeared to show a huge jump in all varieties of crime in that community. The Mayor of Nogales wrote to the Judiciary Committee to take exception to the Utah representative’s portrayal of Nogales. In fact, the Mayor said, in most categories of crime that Rep. Chaffetz claimed jumped up from 2009 to 2010, crime was down, in some cases significantly. (For example, aggravated assaults were not up an alarming 76%, as Rep. Chaffetz claimed. They were down 23% from 2009 to 2010.) Perhaps Rep. Chaffetz was referring to Nogales, Mexico (across the border from Nogales, Arizona)?
More on Deferred Action
Deferred Action get Show of Support in Congress
While immigration hardliners in Congress have been very vocal in their opposition to the Administration’s deferred action announcement of June 15, many in Congress have been supportive of the policy announcement. On July 19, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the floor of the House to release a letter signed by 104 Members of Congress praising the President for the proposed deferred action program that will help so many of their DREAM Act-eligible constituents. The letter notes that the policy “represents an important down payment toward achieving broader reforms in the future.” (A release from Rep. Gutierrez about the letter can be obtained here.)
For his part, DREAM Act sponsor Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) continues to press for the DREAM Act, and this week he launched a section of his Web site dedicated to telling the stories of individuals who would benefit from the DREAM Act. The site contains a collection of stories the Senator has featured in speeches on the Senate floor.
Based on recent comments from Secretary Napolitano during a hearing in the House last week, we are expecting more information on the implementation of the deferred action program by August 1st.
Cost of Deferred Action a (Straw) Issue
Critics of the Administration’s plans to grant deferred action to certain young people have complained that, while the Administration says it has limited resources to enforce the immigration laws, it will run a program that will cost millions of dollars to process hundreds of thousands of people who might be eligible for it. An Associated Press story that ran on July 24 played into those concerns with a headline saying that the program will cost more than $585 million. Only after reading further down in the article did it make clear that the cost of the program will be nearly (or perhaps more than) entirely offset by fees that applicants will pay. This post from the Immigration Policy Center explains that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol use taxpayer dollars to enforce immigration laws, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which adjudicates benefit applications, is funded primarily by fees collected from applicants.
Immigrants and Team USA
Millions of us will soon be tuning in to the Summer Olympics in London, due to officially begin on July 27. To get you in the mood, read this excellent blog post by Forum intern Heather Jelen on some of the immigrants who will represent the U.S. in London.
Resource: Backgrounder on Backlogs in the Family Immigrant Visa System
There is an updated backgrounder on our Web site that explains the backlogs in our immigration admissions system as it pertains to family-based immigration. With visa quotas not changed since 1990, most categories of family-sponsored immigrants face long waits (often many years) before they will obtain a visa that will allow them to join family members in the U.S. Until Congress acts to bring the number of visas more in line with demand, the situation will only worsen. The backgrounder also includes some potential remedies that have been discussed in the context of immigration reform legislation. You can obtain the background from the publications page on our Web site.
Follow-up: Sheriff Arpaio in Court
Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio is learning the down-side of being a publicity-seeker. In the class action lawsuit against him for discrimination, now underway in Phoenix, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have plenty of material to work from. The Sheriff is listening to quotes from memos, press interviews, transcripts of press conferences, press releases and excerpts from his autobiography (“Joe’s Law: America’s Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs, and Everything Else That Threatens America”)—all painting a picture of someone who was out to get Mexicans in Maricopa county, and having the authority to carry out his goals. While Arpaio is known for being full of bluster on camera, in court (according to news reports) he is attributing many of the discriminatory statements or actions of his department to subordinates. So much for “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” You can read the essence of the Sheriff’s testimony in court on July 24, as captured in this post from Lawrence Downs of the New York Times. The trial is expected to wrap up next week.
Follow-up: Prosecutorial Discretion
Nearly a year after the Administration announced it would exercise its discretion not to push forward with the removal of persons who fell outside of agency priorities, the case backlog in immigration courts around the country continues to be reviewed for cases that may be administratively closed. On July 23, the Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) released a report showing that, as of June 28, ICE had closed a total of 5,684 cases, or 1.9% of the 298,000 cases reviewed thus far. (A report from a July 26th story in La Opinion said more than 7,100 cases had been closed as of July 20.) The TRAC report breaks down administrative closure statistics by nationality and by location of the immigration court. You can obtain that report here.
Despite the effort to close cases that are low priority for prosecution, the backlog of immigration cases in the immigration courts continues to grow, according to another TRAC report. By the end of June, the backlog had reached a new record 314,000 cases. According to the report, the vast majority of individuals whose cases are in the backlog are charged with immigration violations; only 7.9 percent are being removed for criminal activity or because of national security issues. The average time a case spends waiting in the backlog is now 526 days. You can obtain that TRAC report here.
July 25, 2012 - Posted by Guest
A post by National Immigration Forum policy intern Heather Jelen.
When I was a sophomore at Bethel University, I was the top 1500-meter runner on my track team. Then, my junior year, a transfer student came, and she was really fast. She quickly took my place as the fastest miler on the team, winning multiple national championships in the process.
I’ll admit to having felt a little bit frustrated because she came in from the outside and passed me up. But training with her is one of the key reasons I was ultimately able to finish sixth at the national meet, good enough to earn All-American honors. She pushed me to become better. She gave me someone to chase. She brought more attention to our school and our team, resulting in more fast recruits. In short, she made me and our whole team better.
As the Olympics start this year, the United States counts many “transfers” — immigrants from all over the world who are now U.S. citizens — among its top athletes. Some people may feel threatened by these immigrants because they are potentially taking the place of others who were born here. But I think our immigrants make us better, just like my transfer teammate made me better. They continually push us to do better, work harder and find new ways to improve.
Leo Manzano, who will represent the United States in the 1500 meters, is among our immigrant athletes whose parents brought them here when they were young. Manzano’s father, Jesus, first came to America in search of work and a better life for him and his family. Eventually, his wife and children joined him in the United States — Leo came when he was 4.
Jesus gained legal residency under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but it would take 10 years for the rest of the family to gain legal residency. Leo became a citizen in 2004 and represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics. This year, he won the Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters for another chance to represent the country that allowed him the opportunity to pursue his dream of running professionally.
Other athletes grew up in another country, including Bernard Lagat (running the 5000 meters at the Olympics), who previously represented his native Kenya before becoming a U.S. citizen. Lagat chose to become a naturalized U.S. citizen even though it meant missing out on the 2005 World Championships because of rules governing a change of nationality.
These are just two examples of the many immigrants (38, by my count, from 30 different countries) who will be proud to represent the United States when the Olympics start next week. And I will be proud to watch Manzano, Lagat and the rest of Team USA, no matter where they were born. America continues to be a nation of immigrants, where we accept and embrace those willing to pledge allegiance to this great country — including immigrants who continually challenge, push and improve us.
Heather Jelen, a 2009 graduate of Bethel University, is a policy intern at the National Immigration Forum and a third-year law student at George Washington University.
July 20, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Bills Would Ease Visa Shortages for Some Immigrants
On July 12, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) released a letter signed by a coalition of 130 national, state, and local employer organizations and large technology companies urging Congress to act on reforms of the immigration visa system that would make it easier for employers to hire foreign-born students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields who graduate from American colleges and universities.
Rep. Smith, according to press reports, is working on legislation that would re-allocate 55,000 visas currently awarded to Diversity Visa Lottery winners and reserve them for STEM graduates.
In the Senate, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced a bill (S. 3185) that is similar. It would also re-allocate Diversity Visas and give them to STEM graduates.
The Diversity Visa Program, established in 1990, allocates visas to persons from countries that send relatively few immigrants to the U.S. The effect of the program has been to prevent the monopolization of immigrant visas by immigrants from a relatively few countries. Persons entering the Diversity Visa Lottery must have at least a high school education or equivalent or, within the past five years, have two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience.
By eliminating Diversity Visas, instead of expanding the number of visas available to eliminate backlogs in the immigration system, these bills will likely generate some controversy.
A separate bill being considered in the Senate would also ease somewhat the backlog of visas for certain immigrants. H.R. 3012 (passed in the House and now being considered in the Senate) would eliminate the per-country ceiling for immigrants coming to the U.S. through employer sponsorship. It would also raise the per-country ceiling for immigrants in the family immigration preference system from 7% to 15% of the visas available each year in the family preference system. Currently, immigrants from any one country cannot take more than approximately 25,600 (7%) of the immigrant visas available in the employment-preference and family-preference immigration categories combined. This has resulted in immigrants from countries such as India and China to have to wait longer for a visa than immigrants from elsewhere.
The bill in the Senate had been held up by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). He lifted his hold on the bill on July 11 after reaching agreement to include language in the bill that would strengthen enforcement against fraud in the H-1B temporary non-immigrant visa program. It has been reported, however, that other Senators now have holds on the bill, so it will not proceed in the Senate until the Senators that have concerns release their holds.
House DHS Oversight Hearing Focuses on Prosecutorial Discretion
On July 19, the House Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security. Much of the hearing focused on the issue of prosecutorial discretion and its implementation by the Administration in the immigration context. The Committee Chairman, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), has been a persistent critic of the Administration’s focus on public safety and national security threats. Smith and other immigration hardliners on the Committee make the claim that the Administration is not enforcing immigration laws. Indeed, in his opening statement, Smith said that “DHS is responsible for the enforcement of America's immigration laws. But under the current Administration, the Department has instead worked to undermine those laws.”
For her part, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano (the only witness for this hearing) recounted the progress the Administration has made in enforcement. On the border, she noted that the number of apprehensions of those attempting to cross illegally (an indicator of the total number of people trying to cross illegally) is at the lowest point since 1971. According to Secretary Napolitano, the Administration’s focus on public safety threats has paid off in a record number of removals of convicted criminals.
Despite these facts, several Republican hardliners on the panel continued to insist the Administration was not interested in enforcing the law. They insisted that the Administration did not have the authority to set priorities in the way it has. In particular, Republicans challenged the Administration’s policy of deferred enforcement action for certain young people brought to the U.S. as children (several of whom were in the room), and Rep. Steve King of Iowa even promised Secretary Napolitano that he would sue the Administration over the issue.
Democrats on the panel praised the Secretary for the deferred action policy, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren entered into the record numerous documents supporting the view that the Administration indeed has the authority to set prosecutorial priorities and was following long-established precedent.
Although the Department handles many issues, much of this hearing was devoted to ping-ponging between the two parallel universes: one occupied by the immigration hardliners who asserted that the deferred action policy only reinforced their view that the Administration was shirking its enforcement duties, and the other consisting of supporters of the Administration’s focus on public safety and security threats, who seemed well prepared with supporting facts.
The back and forth was perhaps best symbolized when Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) held up a poster board with a quote from the President purporting to show that he did not have the authority to use deferred action to de-prioritize enforcement toward any group: “With respect to the notion that I could suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case….” The quote, aired on Fox news, cut the President off before he went on to say (as Rep. Lofgren pointed out in responding to Forbes): “What we can do is to prioritize enforcement … and say, we’re not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who … otherwise qualify for legal status if the DREAM Act passed.” (You can see the Daily Show’s humorous treatment of the Fox News report here.)
You can obtain materials from the hearing, including a video recording, here.
A comprehensive history and assessment of the legal basis of prosecutorial discretion can be found in this Congressional Research Service report, which includes an appendix listing “Past Administrative Directives on Blanket or Categorical Deferrals of Deportation” going back to 1974.
Sheriff Joe Hauled into Court (Again)
On July 19, a class action lawsuit began against the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, alleging that the Sheriff’s Office violated the civil rights of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents caught up in the Office’s illegal immigration sweeps. Plaintiffs allege they were stopped by Sheriff Deputies based on their race. Plaintiffs are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Over the years, MCSO has been sued dozens of times while the Sheriff made a name for himself for his sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods and for his treatment of Latino immigrants that were arrested and jailed. In its search for undocumented immigrants, the Sheriff’s Office has swept up many citizens and legal residents. A lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice is pending. That suit makes some of the same claims made in the case before the Court today.
You can read more about the case, including profiles of some of the lead plaintiffs and some of the evidence that will be presented, on the Web site of the ACLU.
Follow-up: Advocates Back in Court to Block Arizona SB 1070
July 20 is the first day that the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit may decide what to do about the injunction now in place against implementation of Section 2(B) of Arizona’s SB 1070, known as the “show me your papers” provision. This was the provision that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to say was pre-empted by federal law. As of this writing, a decision has not been released by the Appeals Court, which may decide to keep the injunction in place while other challenges are heard against that provision.
On July 18, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a motion for preliminary injunction against Section 2(B) and another provision of SB 1070 in federal District Court in Arizona. Plaintiffs are alleging that Section 2(B) will result in unconstitutional detention of individuals while law enforcement officers determine their immigration status. Plaintiffs also claim Section 2(B) will be implemented in a discriminatory manner, violating 14th Amendment rights. (These issues were not before the Supreme Court, which ruled only on federal preemption issues.)
Plaintiffs are also arguing that Section 5 of SB 1070, making a state crime of “harboring” undocumented immigrants, is preempted by federal law. That section of the law was not one considered by the Supreme Court.
You can read the motion for preliminary injunction here.
Immigration Reform Interior Enforcement States Immigrant Students Smart Enforcement Priorities State&Local Enforcement
July 13, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Oversight Hearing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement
While this week the House was busy repealing the health care law for the 33rd time, Members did take time out to conduct some business. On July 10th, in the Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, there was a hearing, “Building a Secure Community: How Can DHS Better Leverage State and Local Partnerships?” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton was the only witness. A few highlights:
- As part of a response to criticism of the Secure Communities program, ICE, working with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, has been keeping statistics on persons who are run through the Secure Communities program. Director Morton said those statistics are being analyzed, and some anomalies have been found that will require further investigation. Should a county be suspected of racial profiling, ICE will work with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to pursue a remedy.
- Director Morton stated that 287(g) “Task Force” agreements, which delegate immigration authority to law enforcement agencies outside of jail settings, will not be renewed, if they haven’t already been terminated as in the case of Arizona. The agency has found them to be unproductive, and ultimately did not result in many removals. 287(g) “jail model” agreements will remain in place.
- Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) asked what the Administration is going to do about Cook County (Chicago), which has decided not to honor ICE detainers. Director Morton said that he has been discussing legal options with the Department of Justice. Options include restricting funds to Cook County for incarceration of certain immigrants under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).
The Continuing Revolt against Secure Communities
Cook County’s non-cooperation with ICE detainers is a new cause for immigration hardliners in Congress. Meanwhile, other localities are passing legislation to limit the impact of Secure Communities. This week, the District of Columbia passed legislation that will limit ICE’s use of District facilities and equipment, and limit the District’s response to ICE detainer requests to individuals who are more than 18 years of age and who have been convicted of a dangerous crime and only if ICE agrees to reimburse the District for the cost of detaining that individual. (For more information, see this article from the Rights Working Group.)
In California, the legislature has passed a measure that would do something similar on a state-wide level. The TRUST Act will limit the ability of state and local governments to hold immigrants based on ICE immigration detainers. Law enforcement officials will be able to hold an individual beyond the time they would ordinarily be released from custody only if the individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony, and only if the continued detention would not violate any state, federal, or local laws. (The bill goes back to the California assembly again, for a concurrence vote, before it is sent to the governor. More specifics about the TRUST Act can be read in this summary posted on the Southern California Public Radio Web site.)
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week announced his intention to introduce the “Welcoming City Ordinance,” which among other things will clarify that “undocumented Chicagoans will only be detained if they are wanted on a criminal warrant by local or federal authorities, if they have been convicted of a serious crime and remain in the United States illegally, or if they are otherwise a clear threat to public safety or national security.” The action by the Mayor came after pressure from advocates in the wake of an incident in which Chicago police arrested and detained a Cameroonian asylum seeker, eventually delivering her to ICE. (For more information on the Welcoming City Ordinance, see this press release from the Mayor’s office.)
In Congress, the issue of Secure Communities will likely come up again next week when the House Judiciary Committee, Chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security.
- This week, the Forum posted a set of arguments explaining how the Administration’s decision to stop deporting certain young undocumented immigrants is good for the U.S. economy. Go to our publications page to download the document.
- In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, the Forum has produced a very short roundup of the status of similar laws in other states. That can be found on our resource page on the Arizona law.
- While we wait for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to publish an application process for deferred action (for certain immigrant youth), there has been a lot of effort put in to educating communities around the country about the dangers of immigration fraud, as unscrupulous individuals take advantage of a new immigration program to get people to pay unnecessarily. We have links to anti-fraud materials produced by a variety of organizations on this page of our Web site.
Follow-Up: Arizona’s SB 1070
While the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the controversial “Show Me Your Papers” provision of Arizona’s SB 1070 is pre-empted by federal law, an injunction against that provision is still in effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will make a ruling on the injunction as early as July 20. It could lift the injunction, based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, or extend it based on other issues that have yet to be argued. For more information on those and other legal issues, see our resource page on the Arizona law.
Follow-up: Grand Jury to Hear Case in Border Patrol Beating
In a previous policy update, there was a story about excessive use of force by the Border Patrol, which was the subject of a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) investigation on their program "Need to Know." This week, a federal grand jury was called to consider evidence in a beating death at the hands of the Border Patrol that was filmed by witnesses and aired by PBS. The grand jury was convened just days after another person died after being shot by a Border Patrol agent. For more information, see this press release by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Need To Know is also scheduled to air another segment on Border Patrol on July 20.
July 06, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Since the Administration’s announcement three weeks ago that it would grant deferred action to certain young people who were brought here by their parents, two public opinion polls have measured voter reaction to the shift in policy. Both polls were taken in the wake of President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s address on immigration at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
Swing States Poll
Quinnipiac University released a survey on June 27 of voters in three states considered to be swing states in the upcoming presidential election: Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Voters were asked whether they supported or opposed the administration’s “new policy in which young illegal immigrants who came to the country as children will be able to obtain work permits and will not face deportation.” In Pennsylvania, just over half of voters—51%—said they approved of the new policy while 41% opposed. In Ohio, the gap was larger—52% to 38%—and in Florida, voters were even more favorable, 58% to 33%. Quinnipiac noted that in the wake of the announcement, Mr. Obama’s standing among Latino voters in Florida has risen markedly, with 58% saying they would back President Obama compared with 49% who said so just one week earlier.
NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and Telemundo cooperated on a national poll of adults conducted June 20 to 24. The Administration’s deferred action policy was described to those telephoned for the survey, and they were asked whether they supported or opposed the policy. Among all respondents, 68% favored the policy and among Latinos, support was 87%. According to this poll, Obama is viewed favorably by 61% of Latinos, compared to Mr. Romney’s 26% favorable rating.
The two polls reinforce the idea that, by speaking harshly about immigrants, politicians are not (at a minimum) gaining a political advantage in a general election context nationwide or—in the key swing states tested—statewide.
Representatives Launch Effort to Stop Popular Program
Meanwhile, as we reported in a previous policy update, House Republicans have introduced legislation that would prevent the President from carrying out this popular policy. Fortunately for Mr. Romney, these measures will not likely create more damage for him in the immigration arena, as they will not be taken up by the Senate.
This week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who has been the most persistent critic of the Administration’s focus on national security and public safety threats in immigration enforcement, sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton with his concerns about the potential for fraud in the deferred action program. “History has proven that amnesty is an open invitation to fraud,” Rep. Smith wrote to Director Morton. He then went on to cite problems with the 1980’s Special Agricultural Workers (SAWs) program, through which a number of undocumented immigrants gained legal status fraudulently. The implementation of that program, however, was conducted by the predecessor agency to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (the Immigration and Naturalization Service) long before the adoption of numerous security programs now in place to check on the background of individuals seeking immigration benefits. In fact, at the time the SAWs program was being implemented, the agency was largely paper-based.
In any event, it will be USCIS, not ICE, that will be implementing the deferred action program and conducting the background checks. A process for adjudicating requests for deferred action is expected to be announced on or around August 15. For information on the Administration’s deferred action policy, see our Web site.
July 02, 2012 - Posted by Guest
A post by National Immigration Forum communications intern Minola Fernando.
“Deportation is bad.”
This simple phrase and a drawing of a sad little girl and her mother watching her father walk away is the view of deportation from the eyes of Milca, a 12-year-old girl whose own father was deported in 2007.
Between 1997 and 2007 more than 100,000 children in the U.S., most of whom are American citizens, were separated from a deported parent. On June 28, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and the American Friends Service Committee presented a briefing, co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), at which children shared how being separated from a parent who had been detained or deported affected their lives.
Four children spoke of a sense of incredible loss and lack of understanding of why their hard-working, loving parents and guardians were treated like criminals and taken away from them. Bassidi watched his father being arrested and taken away at 3 a.m., for example, while Fortune took on the responsibility of caring for his younger brother as well as himself. Dozens of other children stood alongside the speakers, offering support.
The profound psychological and emotional impact on these children was clear: Parental detention and deportation leave long-lasting scars in their lives as well as in the lives of their parents.
For me, the gathering was chance to see the other side of such separation. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit a man detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. He was brought to the U.S. as a toddler, abandoned by his mother and raised by another family member.
For the majority of my one-hour visit, separated from him by a thick pane of glass, I listened through an old, crackling phone as he spoke with great love and affection about his wife and two young daughters (all U.S. citizens). He told me how he worries about his youngest daughter, who has a health condition.
With the small amount of money he earns from cleaning tables in the center, he tries to buy a calling card each week so he can speak with his family. He told me how the ten minutes a week he has to speak with them are never long enough, and about the incredible sadness he feels when his daughters tell him how much they miss him and ask when he is coming home.
“My love for my family is what keeps me strong here,” he said. “I just want to go home so I can tuck my daughters into bed, read them a story, and tell them how much I love them.”
And then, a comment that still gives me chills: “My parents abandoned me when I was young, so I always told myself that when I have children, I will be a good father to them and always be there for them. Now I can’t even do that.”
This man wanted nothing more than to be with his family so he could provide them with love and support, but instead he was stuck in a detention center a thousand miles away from them, wondering if and when he would ever see them again. I had only just met this man, but our hour together seemed much too short. I cannot even imagine the sadness and pain children and spouses must feel when they spend, at most, only one hour a week with loved ones, unable even to embrace them through that thick pane of glass after being separated for so long.
For a nation that prides itself on the importance of family values, our immigration system is greatly lacking. The love, guidance and encouragement a parent or guardian provides play a large role in the developing talents, skills and potential of a child. When children are separated from a parent or guardian, they lose a vital component of their support system, which can affect them for the rest of their lives.
Each day our broken immigration system goes unfixed, lives are shattered and families are torn apart. The children who suffer the effects of detention and deportation are part of the future of this country, and it is imperative for Congress to create a solution. Until they do, the lives of thousands of families — including children on whom our nation’s future success depends — are hanging in the balance.