National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Policy Update for April 30, 2012

April 29, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

As 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.Hilary Shelton of the NAACP speaks to a group of opponents of SB 1070 in front of the Supreme Court

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.

Crossroads Campaign Solutions