Blog & Updates
Immigration Policy Update for May 11, 2011
May 11, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
President Travels to the Border, Talks about Immigration Reform
On May 10, the President traveled to El Paso, Texas, where he delivered a speech on the need for immigration reform. In his speech, the President touted his administration’s work on securing the border and said that, while some politicians will never be satisfied, it is time to tackle comprehensive reform of the broken immigration system.
(In advance of the President’s address, the National Immigration Forum convened a background briefing for press, with national security and border security experts. You can listen to a recording of the press briefing by clicking here (mp3 file)).
In conjunction with the President’s address on immigration, the White House posted a document on its Web site, “Building a 21st Century Immigration System.” The document reviews the Administration’s progress in enforcing immigration laws and in making improvements to the legal immigration system, discusses the economic imperative for immigration reform, and sets out a series of principles and proposals for change in the areas of border security, worksite enforcement, legal immigration, and legalization. The document ends by calling on Americans “to work together to foster a constructive national conversation on immigration reform” that leads to legislative action. There is a list of events around the country that will “bring together Administration officials and leaders from business, faith, labor, law enforcement, and immigrant communities” to discuss immigration reform. You can obtain a copy of the document and find related resources on the White House Web site here.
You can read the Forum’s reaction to the President’s remarks here.
The President’s trip to El Paso is the latest in a series of meetings with the President or remarks made by him concerning immigration. Following up on a meeting he had with business, community, faith, and other leaders on April 19, the President met in the White House with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on May 3. In that meeting, the President said that his administration would “continue to work toward improving our enforcement practices so that we are not using our limited resources on those potentially eligible for an adjustment of status….” In his commencement address for Miami Dade College on April 29, the President brought up the issue of immigration, pledging continued support for immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act.
DREAM Act Reintroduced
On May 11, 2011, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Harry Reid (D-NV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and 30 other co-sponsors, re-introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would give certain undocumented students a chance to earn legal status. Co-sponsors include the Chairs of all of the relevant Committees (Patrick Leahy (VT, Judiciary), Joseph Lieberman (CT, Homeland Security), and Carl Levin (MI, Armed Services)). All Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee are also signed on.
A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
Reuniting Families Act Re-introduced in the House
On May 6, Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and 74 co-sponsors reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 1796). Among other things, the Reuniting Families Act would reduce the backlog for family-based immigration visas by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses and children as “immediate relatives,” thus exempting them from numerical caps on family immigration.
For more information, see this release from Rep. Honda’s office.
Worksite Enforcement to Focus on Employer; Worker Victims and Witnesses to be Protected
On April 28, the Department of Labor published protocols laying out the guidelines and procedures investigators in the Department’s Wage and Hour Division will follow “to determine when and whether to complete and certify” a petition for a U Visa. The protocols lay out the implementation details for Secretary Solis’s recent announcement that the Department would help workers gain this protection if investigators from the Department encounter victims of certain crimes while they are investigating complaints of labor law violations. U Visas, available for victims of certain crimes, allow victims to remain in the U.S. if they agree to assist prosecutors as witnesses.
The announcement about the Department’s willingness to certify U Visa applications, along with a March 31 Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, marks a welcome shift in enforcement policy. Instead of a focus on arresting and deporting workers, there will be more focus on unscrupulous employers who use their workers’ immigration status to avoid observance of labor laws. The policy shift may help thousands of workers who have been abused by their employers.
For more information about this development from the Department of Labor, read this blog post from May 6.
DHS Eliminates Special Registration Requirement
On April 28, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a notice ending the requirement that nationals from certain countries follow the special registration procedures of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). NSEERS was put in place shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and required certain non-immigrant nationals from a list of mostly Middle Eastern countries to register with DHS upon entry into the U.S., periodically during their stay, and upon leaving the U.S. Failure to comply could result in detention and removal for the individuals.
The Department noted in its notice that, since the program was implemented, other programs have come on line that apply universally and make information gained from NSEERS redundant. NSEERS was essentially a nationality-based profiling policy of the kind that security experts say is generally ineffective. Immigration and civil rights advocates have been critical of the program since its inception.
In reaction to the DHS announcement, key organizations critical of the program (including the Forum) released a statement urging the Department to view its announcement “as a starting point for granting relief retroactively” for persons detained or removed as a result of NSEERS.
In the States
Revolt Brewing Over Secure Communities
On May 4th, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the state would withdraw from Secure Communities. Two days later, the Illinois House passed the Smart Enforcement Act, which will, among other things, give Illinois counties the choice to participate or decline to participate in Secure Communities and require that Secure Communities be used only to identify and deport convicted criminals.
Illinois is not alone in questioning the program. The California legislature is advancing legislation that would allow counties or local police agencies to choose not to participate in the program, and other states and localities are considering their options.
Secure Communities uses fingerprints gathered by local law enforcement agencies when they arrest someone to check for immigration status. According to various spokespersons for the Department of Homeland Security, the program is meant to ensure the deportation of persons who have committed serious crimes.
The reality is very different. In Illinois, according to a release by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 78% of persons arrested by ICE through Secure Communities have not been convicted of any crime, or have been convicted of minor crimes only. Unfortunately, the situation in Illinois is not an aberration. This blog post from the Forum’s Lena Graber analyzes ICE statistics for the program and finds that, since the program began in 2008, more than 60% of individuals arrested by ICE nationwide have no criminal history, or have been convicted of minor crimes.
The lack of focus on individuals who pose a threat to public safety, and contradictory statements given by ICE spokespersons about whether communities might decline to participate, have gotten the attention of Members of Congress. Recently, Representative Zoe Lofgren (R-CA) accused ICE of “essentially lying” about whether local governments could opt out of the program, and on May 5 Representative Charles Gonzalez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Representative Luis Gutierrez, Chair of the CHC Immigration Task Force, sent a letter to the President urging him to “freeze” Secure Communities, citing the “astonishing rate of non-criminal deportations” caused by the program.
ICE Director John Morton was in Illinois on March 6, telling officials they had no choice but to participate in the program. His will not be the last word on this subject.
States Take Action on Immigrant Students
Immigration policies being formulated in the states, a consequence of the seeming inability of Congress to fulfill its immigration policy responsibilities, are not all negative. Policies benefiting the group of young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act have recently moved forward in several states. For example, Maryland’s legislature passed a bill that would allow resident undocumented students to qualify for resident tuition in state colleges and universities. In Illinois, the legislature passed a bill that would set up the Illinois DREAM Fund, which would raise private money and award scholarships to worthy immigrant students. California is considering similar legislation. The National Immigration Law Center has a list of (good and bad) state bills dealing with immigrant students, with status information, on its Web site here.
Arizona-Style Bill Dies in Florida
Arizona-style immigration bills continue to make their way through state legislatures. One of the most hotly-contested state-level immigration battles this year has just ended, when Florida’s House and Senate could not reconcile their different versions of a bill before adjournment on May 7. Governor Rick Scott strongly favored an Arizona-style bill, but a strong coalition of business, faith, and immigration advocacy groups were able to thwart the restrictionist proposals.
Court Puts Utah Legislation on Hold
On May 10, a federal judge in Salt Lake City issued a temporary injunction against a recently-passed law in Utah that would have allowed police to check the citizenship status of anyone they arrest. The Utah law also includes a provision (not yet in effect) that creates a guestworker program. The suit was filed by the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. There will be a hearing in two months.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer has decided to appeal the injunction against Arizona’s SB 1070 to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s order putting the law on hold until a decision on the merits can be reached in the lawsuit filed against Arizona by the U.S. Department of Justice.