Latino Leaders Defend DHS’s Announcement to Focus on High Priority Immigration Cases

Governor Jerry Brown

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What’s the Value of Keeping Undocumented Youth in the Shadows?

Youth Protesting for the Right to be American

The real life psychological ramifications of young immigrants struggling with their unauthorized status are often glossed over in the larger immigration debate. In a recent journal article, Learning to Be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood, University of Chicago professor Roberto G. Gonzales uses 150 interviews with young Latino adults to examine how unauthorized youth deal with their legal status as they come of age. Gonzales finds that as unauthorized immigrant children transition into adulthood, many “learn to be illegal,” figuring out how to exist in a society that was once welcoming, but now prohibits their participation.

Under U.S. law, all children have the legal right to a K-12 education, regardless of their immigration status. After graduation, however, unauthorized youth quickly learn that they cannot legally work, vote, receive financial aid for college or drive in most states. In addition, they have the added fear of deportation. Throughout his research, Gonzales found that unauthorized youth “uniformly noted a jolting shift at around age 16, when they attempted to move through rites of passage associated with their age…as respondents tried to take these steps into adult life, they were blocked by their lack of a Social Security number.” One student noted:

I never actually felt like I wasn’t born here. Because when I came I was like 10 and a half. I went to school. I learned the language. I first felt like I was really out of place when I tried to get a job. I didn’t have a Social Security number. Well, I didn’t even know what it meant. You know Social Security, legal, illegal. I didn’t even know what that was.

Gonzales found that nearly 60 percent of the unauthorized youth interviewed discovered they were unauthorized when applying for college. Most of those who did not attend college discovered their immigration status when attempting to work. Sadly, the end result for both groups was universal disappointment—their chances of finding a good job or attending an esteemed university severely diminished by their immigration status as were their chances of contributing to society.

These youth, however, have not given up on pursuing their educational aspirations. Many are working on the passage of federal legislation known as the DREAM Act, legislation which would solve many of the issues facing these youngsters. The DREAM act would allow unauthorized youth to eventually gain citizenship by going to college or joining the military after high school. While passage of the DREAM Act is currently an unlikely political reality, the Obama Administration has the ability defer the deportations of certain unauthorized youth who would likely have qualified for the DREAM Act.

So what can we do about America’s unauthorized youth? While Congress remains gridlocked on legislation that would enable unauthorized youth to fully participate in society, Gonazles asks the larger question—what is lost when we keep unauthorized youth—many of whom will remain in the U.S., regardless of their status—in the shadows?

Whether they become a disenfranchised underclass or contributing members to our society, their fate rests largely in the hands of the state.

We must ask ourselves if it is good for the health and wealth of this country to keep such a large number of U.S.-raised young adults in the shadows. We must ask what is lost when they learn to be illegal.

Sadly, the answer to that question is “too much.” While Congress continues to play politics with reform efforts, America loses out on the raw potential these unauthorized youth bring to the table.

Photo by j valas images.

DHS Terminates Secure Communities Agreements with States, Continues to Implement Program

Ripping up an Agreement

Late Friday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provoked outrage from immigration groups when it announced the termination of Secure Communities Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) with state and local governments. DHS initially entered into MOAs with state officials as a way to encourage voluntary participation in Secure Communities, an enforcement program which runs the fingerprints of individuals booked in local jails through federal databases. Last October, however, following attempts by local jurisdictions to terminate their MOAs, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Secure Communities was not a voluntary program after all. DHS’s latest about-face this week has only further angered immigration activists, many of whom are calling on DHS to end the program.

Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, issued a letter Friday to 40 local officials who previously signed up Secure Communities announcing the termination of their MOAs. According to ICE, this announcement was meant to clear up any confusion over whether the MOAs gave localities a choice in participating in the program.

In a letter to Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware on Friday, Mr. Morton said that his agency was canceling the agreements because it had determined that they were “not required to activate or operate Secure Communities.”

“We are going to bring to an end any questions about whether or not we are requiring any state involvement in immigration enforcement,” a senior official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an interview on Friday.

To date, governors in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois have tried, without success, to terminate their MOAs, citing the program’s failure to target serious criminals. Law enforcement leaders and city officials across the U.S. have also openly criticized the program for casting too wide a net and for eroding trust between police and community members. And the criticism doesn’t stop there.

California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has called for an investigation into the actions of federal immigration officials whom she believes initially lied about whether states and localities had the right to opt-out of the program. DHS plans to make Secure Communities, which is currently activated in 1,508 jurisdictions in 44 states, active in every state by 2013.

Immigration advocacy groups are now outraged over DHS’s announcement on Friday, charging that the government has consistently dismissed the concerns of community, ensnared immigrants in a “virtual dragnet” and put them in a “deportation pipeline.” Other groups, like Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), called DHS “just plain wrong”:

“This program has contributed to the record number of detentions and deportations in 2010 that failed to take into account whether a person was innocent or guilty, and encourages racial profiling,” said FIRM spokesperson Marissa Graciosa. “This program has created fear within immigrant communities that any contact with police could lead to deportation.  And to now say the program is mandatory is just plain wrong.”

While immigration groups continue to express their anger and distrust over DHS’s controversial Secure Communities program, one thing remains clear: when it comes to immigration enforcement, DHS has a long way to go to prove to immigration advocates that it can be trusted. While that should concern DHS officials, Friday’s actions only add to the agency’s problems with state and local law enforcement officials—officials who were once treated as partners but are now being told that they have no say in whether or when Secure Communities comes to their town.

Photo by pzAxe.

Immigration Restrictionists Take SB 1070 to Supreme Court

United States Supreme Court

More than a year after SB 1070 was initially enjoined in federal court, the immigration restrictionists behind Arizona’s misguided immigration law have brought their case to the Supreme Court. Proponents of SB 1070 are likely to hail the state’s petition, filed yesterday, as not only the first step toward reversing the injunction against the law’s most punitive provisions, but toward cementing states’ role as the primary enforcers of federal immigration law. While we won’t know whether the Justices will even hear the case until at least October, the petition already foretells an uphill climb for Paul Clement, the attorney representing Arizona and former Solicitor General under President Bush, to persuade the Court to overturn long established principles.

Even at the Supreme Court, supporters of SB 1070 continue to use fear-mongering and misleading policy assertions to justify passage of the law. For example, Arizona’s petition makes numerous and irrelevant references to “Mexican drug cartels” as well as news stories about National Park rangers carrying machine guns along the border. It also misleadingly states that “federal immigration laws are not adequately enforced,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that more than one million deportations have already occurred since President Obama took office—or six times more than were carried out during the entire Reagan Administration.

The petition is also riddled with weak and contradictory assertions. For example, Arizona defends the legality of SB 1070 by saying its provisions “consciously parallel” those in federal immigration law. Yet other sections maintain that local police have “inherent authority” to arrest individuals for lacking valid immigration status, notwithstanding federal laws establishing very few circumstances in which they may do so.

In addition to being contradictory, these arguments are wrong. Far from mirroring federal law, SB 1070 makes it a misdemeanor for undocumented immigrants to seek or perform work in the state, even though Congress has never imposed criminal sanctions on foreign nationals for working without authorization. Moreover, if state officers truly possessed inherent authority to investigate people on suspicion of unlawful presence, Congress would not have needed to create the 287(g) program, which, as the petition itself acknowledges, permits “state officials to perform the functions of federal immigration officers.”

Finally, the petition should put to rest claims that the Court’s recent decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting—which upheld a separate law targeting employers of undocumented workers—makes the legality of SB 1070 a fait accompli. Tellingly, Arizona’s attorneys don’t discuss the case until the end of the petition, overlook significant distinctions between SB 1070 and the Legal Arizona Workers Act, and don’t even raise the possibility that the Ninth Circuit should hold a new round of arguments to consider its impact—as the Justices recently ordered in a challenge to a law from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, that the Third Circuit had previously found to be unconstitutional.

As we noted last month, SB 1070 and its various copycat laws have thus far been blocked by every federal court to consider their legality. Of course, the national anti-immigration groups that drafted the laws hoped all along that the issue would one day reach the Supreme Court. But if Arizona’s plea to the Supreme Court is any indication, the state may stand on shakier legal ground than the creators of SB 1070 initially believed.

Photo by kjd.

Time to Tackle Immigration Now that the Border is More “Secure” Than Ever, Report Says

United States fence at Mexican Border

The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t what it used to be. That is the over-arching theme of a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), entitled Safer than Ever. The report describes the immense buildup in enforcement resources which has occurred along the U.S.-Mexico border since 1993. This buildup has created “a border where the vast majority of attempted entries are identified and a far larger percentage of entrants are apprehended than ever before.” Moreover, the increase in border enforcement has coincided with falling rates of violent crime along the border, and—over the past few years—a dramatic decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants attempting to cross into the United States. In other words, border enforcement is at an historic high and unauthorized immigration is at an historic low. This creates, as the CAP report puts it, “a unique opportunity” to redesign the broken U.S. immigration system and finally confront the fact that 11 million unauthorized immigrants now call the United States home.

The CAP report points out that enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border is worlds away from what it was in the early 1990s. For instance:

  • In just the five-year period from Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 to FY 2012, the number of Border Patrol agents has grown from 14,923 to 21,370. Most are stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In Arizona, where most unauthorized border crossings now take place, there are 5,200 Border Patrol agents, more than 900 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, and more than 130 Air and Marine agents.
  • President Obama dispatched 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help spot unauthorized border crossings.
  • There are now 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Arizona has roughly 60 remote surveillance systems deployed along its border with Mexico.

However, these heightened enforcement measures have been implemented in the absence of reforms that would fix the broken U.S. immigration system which spurs most unauthorized immigration. As a result, the border buildup has had two unintended consequences that have proven to be very deadly:

  • As migrants cross the border in more remote (and dangerous) locations, away from heavily fortified areas, more of them are dying. The Border Patrol puts the death toll at 4,375 between 1998 and 2009.
  • Since crossing the border is so difficult now, the services of a smuggler are essential in making the journey. This has driven up the fees that smugglers charge and the profits that they make. Profits are so high, in fact, that the Mexican drug cartels—infamous for their violence and ruthlessness—have gotten into the smuggling business and now dominate it.

These unintended consequences notwithstanding, the immense buildup of personnel and resources at the border has undoubtedly contributed to the large decline in apprehensions over the past few years. However, as the CAP report notes, that there are other factors which must be taken into account:

  • The severe economic downturn in the United States that began in 2008, which effectively dried up the job market that has long drawn unauthorized immigrants to this country.
  • The recent expansion of economic and educational opportunities in Mexico.
  • Demographic changes within Mexico; namely, a declining birth rate.

Regardless of which factors have played the biggest role in reducing unauthorized immigration to the United States from Mexico, the fact remains that unauthorized immigration is way down, border enforcement is way up, and now is the time to deal with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants who already live and work here.  The CAP report sensibly recommends a legalization program for the unauthorized, as well as more flexible limits on both employment-based and family-based immigration in the future—so that we don’t find ourselves in the same position again 20 years from now.

Photo by jonathan mcintosh.

Washington Farmers Fear Economic Impact of National E-Verify Bill

Washington Apples

Much like farmers in Georgia who are experiencing labor shortages due to HB 87—the state’s new immigration law which mandates use of E-Verify—growers in Washington state fear that a similar, national E-Verify bill will have a devastating economic impact on the state’s agricultural workforce. This week, the Washington Growers League said that a national E-Verify law would prohibit many of the state’s current farm workers from harvesting crops, which would in turn devastate the industry, slashing production and forcing consumers to buy produce out of state. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the mandatory E-Verify bill (the Legal Workforce Act or H.R. 2164) back in June.

According to Mike Gempler, executive director the Washington Growers League, only a quarter (2,300 out of 100,000) of the state’s farmhands “have proper paperwork to remain employed under E-Verify,” leaving open thousands of jobs not likely to be filled by unemployed Americans:

“If we were to have the E-Verify bill go into effect without anything else changing, it would be very, very destructive to our industry,” Gempler says. “The domestic workforce is just not interested in these jobs. And if we can’t replace that workforce, with the vast majority of our crops, particularly tree fruit, we’ll lose production. We would lose market share, and consumers in the U.S. would begin buying their produce from places outside the U.S.”

Washington’s not the only state where farmers are upset. The Washington Growers League joins the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association in concerns over how E-Verify will impact the state’s agricultural industry. According to the Association, nearly $300 million worth of crops are at risk if Georgia’s 11,000 agricultural jobs remain empty. Farmers in Georgia have already noted a 30-50% dip in migrant labor since late May, a month after HB 87 passed. Similarly, members of Georgia $14.1 billion restaurant industry—particularly the Georgia Restaurant Association—are reporting labor shortages due to the tough new immigration law.

On a national level, farmers estimate that a mandatory E-Verify program would cripple the country’s $390 billion agricultural industry as well as put a dent in federal coffers. According to president of the American Farm Bureau, Bob Stallman, denying farmers adequate labor supply would “cost farmers $5 billion to $9 billion annually.” And according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, mandatory E-Verify without a legalization program would cost the federal government $17.3 billion in lost tax revenue over a decade because immigrants would work “off the books.”

In response, Rep. Lamar Smith (the bill’s sponsor) invites farmers to use the existing H-2A guest worker program—a program many describe as “hopelessly bureaucratic” and an “unworkable joke.”

Clearly, Smith’s enforcement-only mandatory E-Verify program—a program that stands to take a large economic bite out of the country’s agricultural industry—is not the answer. Congress must take into consideration the needs of our entire labor market by looking beyond the narrow scope of immigration enforcement toward lasting solutions that benefit our entire economy.

Photo by henry alva.

DHS Acknowledges that U.S. Immigration Policy Needs to Spark Economy and Attract Entrepreneurs

Department of Homeland Security

By PAUL ZULKIE, PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced a series of policy initiatives designed to “fuel the nation’s economy and stimulate investment” by attracting foreign entrepreneurs who can invest in fields of high unemployment, create jobs, and form startup companies. It is encouraging that USCIS recognizes that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators are a key to continued growth and to maintaining America’s competitive edge into the 21st century.  It’s important that the agency keep this recognition in mind as it adjudicates visa petitions and applications.

The release of the USCIS guidelines coincided with a meeting in Palo Alto, CA, of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The meeting, which included a number of Silicon Valley CEOs—including Facebook—highlighted the need for reforms in both educational and immigration policies. As the participants in the meeting explained, the struggling U.S. economy needs more entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers who can help to create jobs. For this to happen, the U.S. educational system must draw more students into high-tech fields, while the U.S. immigration system must attract (and retain) more foreign talent.

The importance of immigrant entrepreneurs in fueling U.S. economic growth and job creation was the subject of a June report by the Partnership for a New American Economy. The report, entitled The “New American” Fortune 500, finds that immigrants founded 18 percent of all Fortune 500 companies. These companies generate $1.7 trillion in annual revenue and employ 3.7 million workers worldwide. The report argues that this is evidence of how immigrants “create American jobs and drive our economy.” However, notes the report, the U.S. immigration system often forces immigrant entrepreneurs away, rather than welcoming them.

And if the United States drives them away, there are other places they can go.  As an April report from the Kauffman Foundation describes, many highly educated and skilled immigrants are opting to return to their home countries and start successful businesses there. The authors of the report, entitled The Grass is Indeed Greener in India and China for Returnee Entrepreneurs, interviewed nearly 300 returnees in India and China who had started their own businesses. Some interviewees cited the difficulty in getting a U.S. “green card” as a reason for returning home, but the biggest reasons had to do with family ties and with improved quality of life and career opportunities in India and China. In other words, China and India are becoming increasingly competitive in the global market for highly skilled professionals and the United States risks falling behind. According to the report’s lead author, Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University, “Innovation that would otherwise be happening here is going abroad. Without realizing it, we are exporting our prosperity and strengthening our competitors.”

Yesterday’s announcement is significant because DHS is acknowledging that the way it has applied existing immigration laws has hurt rather than helped the economy and job creation.  The announcement sends a clear message to the rank and file employees of DHS that the agency needs to be more business friendly. Hopefully, yesterday’s announcement will be the first of many areas where the administration can change the way it interprets and applies existing immigration laws to facilitate economic and jobs growth in the US.

Department of Justice Seeks Injunction Against Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law

Department of Justice

Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed yet another lawsuit against extreme state-level immigration laws—this time against Alabama’s HB 56. Already the subject of a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and other immigrants’ rights groups, Alabama’s HB 56 would require local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of those stopped for traffic violations, public schools to determine the immigration status of students, employers to use E-Verify and makes it a crime to knowingly rent to, transport or harbor undocumented immigrants. In its motion for a preliminary injunction, however, the DOJ argues that Alabama’s law, much like Arizona’s, interferes with the federal enforcement of immigration laws and places undue burdens on local schools and federal agencies. Alabama’s law was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley in June and slated to take effect September 1.

According to the DOJ, HB 56, in addition to interfering with federal enforcement efforts, could also result in the “harassment and detention” of U.S. citizens, visiting foreigners and legal immigrants who may not be able to readily prove their citizenship. The law would also burden federal agencies by vital diverting resources away from the pursuit of dangerous criminals as well as unnecessarily burden children by making students prove their lawful presence.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder:

…setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws. The department is committed to evaluating each state immigration law and making decisions based on the facts and the law. To the extent we find state laws that interfere with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration law, we are prepared to bring suit, as we did in Arizona.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, echoed Holder’s statement:

Legislation like this diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve. We continue to support comprehensive reform of our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.

In a separate lawsuit filed Monday, Alabama faith leaders charged that HB 56 would hinder faith groups’ ability to “provide things such as food clothing, shelter and transportation to those in need.”

Last year, the DOJ filed a similar suit against Arizona’s SB1070, resulting in a ruling that enjoined key provisions of Arizona’s law. Earlier this year, the federal court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a ruling that the federal government has primary authority over making and enforcing immigration law, and that while states have limited authority in this arena, they cannot interfere with federal enforcement or undermine federal priorities.

To date, federal judges have blocked key provisions of restrictive state immigration laws in four (Arizona, Utah, Georgia and Indiana) of the six states that have passed them, citing a violation of the Constitution’s due process and search and seizure provisions, and the interference with the federal government’s authority over immigration matters. A federal judge is expected to hear arguments against Alabama’s immigration law on August 24.

Meanwhile, costs to the states resulting from restrictive immigration laws—such as costs to defend these laws, loss of convention and tourism revenue and economic consequences of immigrant labor shortages on whole industries, such as agriculture industry in Georgia—continue to grow.

Photo by Maitri.

Governor Brown Signs Only Half of California DREAM Act

Governor Jerry Brown

BY CAITLIN PATLER, DOCTORAL STUDENT AT UCLA’S DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 130. This new law allows undocumented students enrolled in California’s public colleges and universities to receive privately-funded university scholarships from non-state funds.. While AB 130 is a significant step for the Golden State, it is only one of two bills known collectively as the California DREAM Act. Without its companion bill, AB 131, the legislation does little to address the systemic inequality facing undocumented students in California.

Currently, undocumented students are ineligible for state-sponsored financial aid. AB 131 builds on AB 130 by allowing undocumented students to apply for and receive Board of Governors Fee Waivers at community colleges, Cal Grants at universities (only after such grants are awarded to eligible documented students), and some types of financial aid administered at the university or college level (such as UC Grants). It would also expand eligibility for California in-state tuition to those who graduate from California adult schools and vocational schools, as long as the student also attended a California high school for at least one year.

Unfortunately, AB 131 has been stuck in the California Senate Appropriations Committee since early July. While opponents argue that AB 131 would negatively impact California’s economy, a recent study by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (and co-written by this author) shows that passing AB 131 is a critical step to improving California’s economy over time by reducing barriers to higher education for some of the state’s lowest income residents:

The California DREAM Act [both AB 130 and 131] would make higher education significantly more affordable for undocumented students in California, likely increasing their post-secondary enrollment.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that by 2025, California will have 1 million fewer college grads than are demanded by its economy. Therefore, providing access to affordable education for all our state’s students will become even more critical over the coming decades. And importantly, according to the California Assembly Committee on Appropriations, AB 131 would not increase overall spending on institutional aid in the state of California. The Golden State simply cannot afford not to educate its immigrant students.”

The UCLA report also points out that the average annual income for an undocumented family in California in 2003 was only $29,700 (compared to $54,600 for U.S.- born families): “this low socioeconomic status, combined with the ever-increasing cost of college attendance, keeps higher education elusive for many undocumented students, even if they qualify for in-state tuition.” The California DREAM Act has the potential to help make higher education much more accessible for undocumented children, estimated to number more than 430,000 in California alone.

Efforts are under way to ensure that AB 131 becomes law this year. Thousands of immigrant students across California are fighting hard for their well-earned piece of the pie. While simultaneously juggling full-time jobs and course loads, they have also been long-term advocates for equal access to higher education as well as for legalization programs such as those included in recent versions of the federal DREAM Act. Organizations like the California Dream Network and the California Dream Team Alliance have called upon the California Senate to follow the lead of the State Assembly and move AB 131 out of Appropriations.

Passing the entire California DREAM Act is simply what’s right for our state’s economy and for the hard-working immigrant students who call California home.

Photo by Randy Bayne.

Microsoft, Experts Stress Need for High-Skilled Immigration in Senate Committee Hearing

Microsoft

While the House Judiciary Committee focused on a very different part of immigration yesterday, its Senate counterpart held a hearing on “The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform.” In the hearing, witnesses testified that immigration reform that makes it easier for high-skilled immigrants to come work in the U.S. is not only good policy, but an economic necessity. Brad Smith, General Counsel and Senior VP for Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft testified that smart immigration reform could create more jobs for American workers, something the economy needs as our nation struggles to recover from the recession.

David Skorton, President of Cornell University, outlined the problems currently plaguing high-skilled immigration, telling the committee that times have changed, and that:

The U.S. is not always the top choice of students from Asia who are applying to graduate school in science and engineering. ..If our immigration policy causes the number and quality of international students who matriculate in STEM disciplines at U.S. universities to decline significantly, it will reduce our capacity for research, innovation, and ultimately economic growth.

Skorton went on to explain that there are not enough qualified or interested American students to fill the slots in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) undergraduate and graduate programs and recommended streamlining the green card process for international students with STEM degrees from U.S. universities. Skorton also recommended reducing the backlog for skilled legal immigrants, enacting policies that keep families together, and passing the DREAM Act.

Federal inaction isn’t the only danger to the U.S. economy. During the hearing, Paul Bridges, Mayor of Uvalda, GA, testified about the economic repercussions of the anti-immigrant law recently passed in Georgia.

The reality is this law won’t solve the immigration problem in the state. It will only devastate local economies…We grow many different crops year round [which are] harvested by skilled migrant farm laborers who have harvesting down to a fine art…

These workers are a critical part of Georgia’s economy. Their work helps agriculture to inject $6.85 billion into Georgia’s economy. These workers also contribute to local economies as consumers, too. Every time they buy a good or service, they pay the same taxes that I pay. Many own their homes and pay property taxes. Their taxes are co-mingled with my taxes and are used to pay for schools and public service.

The loss of their tax revenue will be felt in Georgia…Now that migrant workers are fleeing Georgia, perfectly healthy crops have been left rotting in the field. The Georgia Agribusiness Council has already reported that farms have lost $300 million due to a lack of workers. The economic toll could reach $1 billion.

Both the patch work of restrictive state laws and federal inaction are putting the U.S. behind its global competition. In an editorial for The Hill, Sen. Schumer pointed out that “our competitors are enacting immigration policies that offer scientists and engineers from around the world up to $250,000 to emigrate, in order to deploy their talents and skills in for the good of our competitors’ economies.”

If Congress fails to come together and pass immigration reform, the potential effect on the U.S. economy could be devastating, wasting economic opportunities that would benefit all Americans and leaving the U.S. to fall behind other nations in attracting foreign talent which, by the way, supplements not supplants American workers.

Sen. Schumer stated that our economic supremacy arose because we “successfully attracted the world’s best minds.” The U.S., however, is no longer doing that, which puts us in jeopardy of losing the global competitive edge we once had.

Photo by PNNL.

Lamar Smith’s HALT Act Would Limit Administration’s Ability to Administer Humanitarian Relief

Shanty Towns

Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act” (HALT Act), introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). The bill, which some are calling a political response to recent ICE memos, would suspend the Administration’s ability to exercise certain discretionary forms of immigration protections and relief until January 21, 2013—the day after the first Obama administration comes to an end.

In his opening statement, Rep. Smith stated that the HALT Act was introduced because “the current administration now wants to grant a ‘backdoor amnesty’ to illegal immigrants.” However, as Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress points out, “the president can’t ‘legalize’ undocumented immigrants. The most he can do is delay their removal from the country for compelling reasons.” The HALT Act would, in devastating fashion, remove the power of the Administration to delay removal for certain immigrants in dire need. A far cry from the “amnesty” that Rep. Smith fears, this relief is often provided on a temporary basis to ensure the safety of the immigrants or their immediate family.

In the hearing, Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and retired Lieutenant Colonel, stated that this discretionary relief is important for a number of reasons. If the HALT Act were passed, a number of forms of discretionary relief would be unavailable. For example:

  • The Administration would be prevented from granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for countries suffering disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis or countries experiencing civil war or other armed conflict.
  • The Administration would be unable to grant deferred action to domestic abuse survivors seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
  • An immigration judge would not longer have the authority to cancel a deportation on the grounds that a non-citizen’s deportation would result in “exceptional and extremely unusual” hardship to a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member.

The bill seemingly comes as a response to ICE’s prosecutorial discretion memos, which Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) characterized as ICE’s attempt to prioritize the removal of dangerous criminals, given that “like every other law enforcement agency on the planet, ICE has limited resources.” Rep. Pierluisi berated ICE Council President Chris Crane, who testified in support of the bill, stating that the Obama Administration has already focused more resources on the border and deported more immigrants per year than any previous administration.

In the end, the policies of the HALT Act are misguided and overbroad. While Rep. Smith stated that the purpose of the bill is to prevent the President from granting a “mass amnesty,” the reality is that the bill suspends a number of tools that the Administration may use on a case-by-case basis for the most extreme humanitarian cases, tools that Smith himself advocated for in 1999.

Passage of the HALT Act would result in the loss of some of the few protections we have left for immigrants in this country, and would sacrifice many of the values that form the foundation of United States.

Photo by United Nations Photo.

President Obama Promises to Keep Promising Immigration Reform at Latino Conference

President Obama at the Latino Conference

Amid frustrated shouts of “Yes, You Can!” from advocates in the audience, President Obama again deferred the power to fix our broken immigration system to Congress today during a speech at the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) annual conference. After highlighting his administration’s bona fides on issues important to the Latino community—appointing Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, naming Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to his cabinet and delivering health care to millions of Latino families—the President turned to the thorny issue of our broken immigration system—a system many advocates believe the President should fix using the power of executive authority.

In his address to NCLR, the President began by highlighting the many promises his administration has made and kept to the nation, particularly the Latino community, as well as the economic and moral imperative of a functioning immigration system. But when it came to actually fixing our broken immigration system, the President could only promise to enforce the laws on the books “in the most humane and best way possible,” then shifted responsibility for an immigration overhaul back to Congress:

Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own.  And believe me, right now dealing with Congress… Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting.  I promise you. Not just on immigration reform.  But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions.  That’s not how our Constitution is written. So let’s be honest.  I need a dance partner here — and the floor is empty.

The President also reminded the audience that Republicans have repeatedly walked away from immigration reform efforts, mostly recently the DREAM Act, and urged them to build a movement that bridges party lines.

So, yes, feel free to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on Democrats.  But here’s the only thing you should know.  The Democrats and your President are with you.  Don’t get confused about that.  Remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws. So I need you to keep building a movement for change outside of Washington, one that they can’t stop.  One that’s greater than this community.

But to many advocates, the President’s continued promises were simply not enough. Felipe Matos of Presente.org, who called the President’s speech “predictable,” said that it was “inconceivable that [President Obama] keeps giving political speeches to win the Latino vote for 2012 while dividing the Latino community with his inhumane immigration policies.” According to Matos, the President has deported more than one million immigrants, including DREAM Act eligible students, since he took office. Another group referred to the President as “Deporter-in-Chief.”

And tomorrow, congressional leaders—including Reps. Raul Grijalva (AZ), Luis Gutierrez (IL), Mike Honda (CA) and John Lewis (GA)—as well as faith, union, civil rights and community leaders, will rally outside the White House to protest the record number of deportations and demand that the President use executive authority to “alleviate the suffering experienced in the Latino and immigrant communities.”

While it’s true that the whole of our complex immigration system cannot be fixed by a stroke of the President’s pen, there are some things the President can do now using executive authority to alleviate some of the pressure points. At some point, simply acknowledging that our immigration system is flawed and pointing to Congress to fix it will not be enough for the President, who some critics say is dangerously close to falling into the Latino/immigration credibility gap.

Photo by theobamadiary.com.

Report Reveals Basic Misunderstanding of Deportation Process

Long Lines at the Immigration office

As readers of this blog know, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) often issues studies that make us cringe. Earlier this week, however, the DC-based restrictionist organization issued a report that made us laugh. Pseudonymously written by a retired government employee, the report purports to explain the “basics” of the deportation process. At more than 10,000 words, the report contains too many false analogies, misleading statistics, and non sequiturs to individually refute. But a few of the more outlandish arguments are too good not to pass up.

  • The report states that immigrants facing deportation receive too many of the protections given criminal defendants. Yet as anyone with passing familiarity of the removal process knows, immigrants have long been denied the very rights that Americans expect from a civilized justice system. Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants facing deportation have no right to a jury, Miranda warnings, or counsel provided by the government; can be deported on the basis of hearsay and other evidence not admissible in criminal trials; and are often transferred far from the site of arrest, making it difficult to retain an attorney and collect evidence needed to bolster their case. In the end, our justice system should provide protections not because of who receives them, but because of who we are and the values we cherish as a nation.
  • The report also laments the number of immigrants allowed to appear before an immigration judge at all, rather than face summary deportation by officers in the field. The report recommends greater use of “expedited removal” and “stipulated removal orders,” procedures by which immigrants never see a judge and either don’t have or give up their right to appeal. Implementing this proposal would not only trample the minimal rights that immigrants now enjoy and further encourage manipulation and abuse by immigration officers, but would likely provoke legal challenges that would tie up the courts for years.
  • The report criticizes ICE for not detaining enough people and suggests that the government should drastically increase the number of immigrants it holds in jails. Already, ICE detains nearly 400,000 immigrants per year at a cost of nearly $1.8 billion. Detaining even more immigrants—including those with no criminal records and who pose no threat to the community, as the author suggests—is unpalatable both from a fiscal and a humanitarian perspective.
  • Finally, the report frets that ICE officers could be subjected to lawsuits if an immigrant they decline to deport for policy reasons later commits a violent crime. Yet in ginning up fears about frivolous lawsuits, the report itself makes a frivolous argument. The author cites not one example of such a suit being filed, much less a law that would permit immigration officers to be sued for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the first place.

Amusing as some of the report’s assertions may be, its true intent is no laughing matter. The expansion of Secure Communities and other programs that rely on local police to identify undocumented residents has created crushing backlogs in our nation’s immigration courts. Rather than seek the hiring of more immigration judges, or giving them the tools necessary to manage their docket, restrictionsists are pushing for immigrants to be deprived of hearings in the first place.

While the problems plaguing our immigration courts are a prominent symptom of our broken immigration system, the solution is not to mean-spiritedly detain more people or deport them outside the existing process. Instead, it is to provide immigrants more of the rights available to criminal defendants, and to use enforcement resources wisely. This means setting priorities and exercising prosecutorial discretion in appropriate cases, something the Obama Administration has expressed its commitment to do. Just as criminal prosecutors routinely dismiss charges against minor criminal suspects, the federal government need not deport every undocumented immigrant they happen to encounter. In that respect, the truth could hardly be more basic.

Photo by Icars.