Blog & Updates
Immigration Policy Update for March 12, 2012
March 12, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Two More Provisions of Alabama Law Enjoined
On March 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, heard arguments against the anti-immigrant laws passed in Alabama and Georgia. A three-judge panel heard arguments against the Alabama law brought by the government and by advocates, and another lawsuit brought by advocates against the Georgia law.
Regarding the Alabama law, HB 56, the judges focused much of their questioning on the provisions relating to entering into contracts with undocumented immigrants. Although the judges said they would not issue a ruling until after the Supreme Court rules on Arizona’s SB 1070 (oral arguments are scheduled for April 25 in that case), on March 8, the Court issued a temporary injunction on two provisions of the Alabama law: a provision that forbids the state from enforcing a business contract between any party and an undocumented immigrant, and a provision which prohibits any “business transaction” between a state or local agency and an undocumented immigrant. (This last provision has been interpreted to include such transactions as, for example, purchase of municipally-supplied water.) This latest court action brings the number of provisions of the Alabama law that have been blocked to 11.
G92 Summit Focuses on Christianity and Immigration
On February 23, a group of evangelical students and pastors came together at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss a Christian response to immigration. The G92 Immigration Conference derived its name from the number of times the word “ger” (Hebrew for stranger) appears in the Old Testament.
Immigration is responsible for much of the growth in evangelical churches, and the problems associated with our broken immigration system are increasingly becoming problems for those who minister to the faithful.
The one-day conference brought together evangelical pastors and students, and included key evangelical leaders such as Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. It was the second in a series of conferences to be held in evangelical communities around the country.
More information on the G92 conference at Samford University can be found here.
Head of ICE Testifies on Funding
On March 8, Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton appeared before the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee to discuss the Administration’s budget for ICE.
Some testimony highlights:
- Secure Communities: Mr. Morton said that ICE will be releasing within a month a response to the recommendations of the DHS Task Force on Secure Communities. He also said that the program will be implemented nationwide by March 2013, and there will be no option to opt out of the program.
- Prosecutorial Discretion: ICE has reviewed 150,000 of the 300,000 backlogged immigration court cases and administratively closed approximately 1,500 of them (1%). [Subsequently, Morton told La Opinión that an additional 11,500 are being considered for administrative closure, for a total of 9%. He said that he “expects” review of the 300,000 cases will be completed by sometime this summer.]
- 287(g): The “task force models” (in which local enforcement officers in the field are deputized to determine a person’s immigration status) are being phased out, but the “jail models” (in which officers in local jails are trained to determine immigration status) will continue. Mr. Morton stated that two new jail model 287(g) agreements have been preliminarily approved.
- Detention: ICE will soon be issuing nationwide risk assessment guidance, and is asking for more funding for alternatives to detention.
A video recording of the hearing can be found here.
House Hearing on Visa Overstays
On March 6, the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, held a hearing, “From the 9/11 Hijackers to Amine el-Khalifi: Terrorists and the Visa Overstay Problem.” The hearing focused on persons who overstay their visas, with Republicans on the Committee wanting to connect this problem with terrorism (thus the title of the hearing).
The major theme from the hearing witnesses (from the Departments of Homeland Security and State) was that, in the intervening two decades since Amine el-Khalifi (referenced in the hearing title) tried to blow up the World Trade Center, government officials across agencies now have quick access to several government databases that store records about non-citizens. These databases include information about visa violators, persons on terrorist watch lists, persons who have committed crimes, etc. It is much more difficult for such a person to get a visa and gain entry into the U.S. in the first place. These systems were not in operation in 1991.
Witness testimony can be accessed from the Homeland Security Committee Web site here.
Tax Cheating Now an Aggravated Felony
Last month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld a decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport a Japanese couple who had under-reported income from their restaurant in 1991. Although they fully paid the $245,000 they owed, including penalties assessed by IRS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (ICE’s predecessor agency) decided to deport the couple on the grounds they had committed an “aggravated felony.”
A 1996 immigration law gave “aggravated felony” a much more expansive meaning than it has in criminal law. The law made legal permanent resident immigrants deportable under the expanded definition, and the definition applied to offenses committed in the past—thus, the couple found themselves deportable for an offense committed in 1991.
With this decision, cheating on taxes is now ranked with other crimes considered aggravated felonies, such as murder, assault, shoplifting, and many, many others. For more on this case, see this Los Angeles Times article.
ICE Releases Revised Detention Standards
Last month, ICE posted on its Web site updated standards for immigration detention. Eventually, facilities holding immigrants in detention for immigration violations will have to meet these standards. The Forum recently commented on those detention standards on our Web site. Among other things, the new detention standards address concerns about medical care and sexual assault. However, the standards are not yet being implemented. To implement these standards will take renegotiating agreements ICE has with the detention facilities ICE uses. Some of these facilities are still operating on standards set prior to 2008, the last time the standards were revised. Even if the standards are eventually implemented, the problem remains that facilities that were built for the criminal justice system are being used for detaining civil immigration violators.
Nevertheless, the new standards were criticized as being too generous by House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX). In a statement, Mr. Smith said that the new standards are “like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants,” and complains that the Administration treats detained immigrants “better than citizens in federal custody.” (Of course, citizens in federal custody are usually there for reasons more serious than an immigration violation or working without permission.) For Smith, the problem is that the Administration doesn’t want to spend even more taxpayer money to hold even more immigrants in detention. (The American Immigration Lawyers Association penned this reply to Smith’s statement, asserting that “immigration detention is no hospitality suite.” Smith announced his intention to hold a detention oversight hearing later this month.
Hearing on Bill to Make DWI’s an ICE Priority
On March 7, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing, “H.R. 3808, the ‘Scott Gardner Act’.” The bill is sponsored by Rep. Sue Myrick (R), of North Carolina. The bill would require local law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of anyone arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) if the officer had reasonable grounds to suspect the individual was in the country illegally. It would authorize the local officer to bring the individual to a location where the individual can be transferred to federal custody, and would require the federal government to reimburse the local jurisdiction for the cost of transporting the individual. It would also require ICE to prioritize these cases.
The person would merely have to be arrested, not convicted. Ms. Myrick has proposed variations of this legislation in previous Congresses. No schedule for considering the bill for amendment has been announced. Several members raised concerns about the Constitutionality of a law that would require local officers to carry out federal information checks.