Friday, February 11, 2011

Halt Deportations to Haiti Now.

A month ago, I posted about ICE resuming deportations to Haiti. On January 20, 27 Haitians were sent home, and all were incarcerated, as is the common practice with deported immigrants who were incarcerated abroad. Prison conditions are "notoriously unsanitary," and wracked with cholera. Nevertheless, ICE deported 27 people, and within a week, one man, Wildrick Guerrier, died of cholera-like symptoms.

Precisely what FCNL and other activist organizations feared has happened, and it is unacceptable. The bottom line is that Haiti, still a disaster zone, is not ready to absorb hundreds more into the country. It is struggling to take care of the people that are already there. FCNL and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) wrote a letter to Secretary Napolitano, imploring her to halt the deportations. It has already resulted in one death. How many more until Homeland Security and ICE decide it's enough?

We'll keep you updated on the situation. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Two ICE Raids in January

Last month, on opposite ends of the country, two immigration raids conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency resulted in more than 100 people detained. The first, in Ellensburg, Washington, resulted in the detention of 30 individuals, and in the second, which took place Grand Rapids, Michigan, 77 were detained.

Over the past two years, raids have been largely replaced with employer audits, a method of enforcement that punishes employers for hiring undocumented immigrants, systematically removing incentives to hire undocumented immigrants in the first place. Workplace and home raids disrupt families, and devastate communities. We are very concerned for the families of those detained in the recent raids, and the human rights of all immigrants if the raids continue.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), a group or faith-based organization to which FCNL belongs, acts as a voice for just and humane immigration reform for the faith community. Our interfaith platform calls for “Border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.” Raids that leave children stranded at the bus stop, waiting for their parents, are not consistent with humanitarian values.

In a letter delivered this week
, the IIC implores President Obama to stop the raids. At one point, the letter appeals, “Mr. President, in your State of the Union Speech last Tuesday night, you rightly called on our nation to “stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation." ... There is something terribly wrong with vowing to work for immigration reform while at the same time rending parents from children and spouses from each other. Effective and humane reform can only be achieved through providing a path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants currently in the country, providing legal and safe avenues for workers and their families to migrate to this country, and eliminating the backlog for families who are separated so that they can be reunited.”

Unfortunately, Republicans in the House have stated that they are interested in conducting more raids. FCNL is strongly opposed to this change in enforcement policy. The likelihood of it changing is not probable because Republicans don't hold the majority in the Senate, but we will have to remain vigilant and block any enforcement legislation introduced that infringes on immigrants' human rights.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's Up with Immigration in the 112th Congress?

The rhetoric throughout many congressional campaigns was hot. Some of the newly elected members of the House committed to an agenda that would reduce the number of immigrants – both legal and illegal – and send packing all those who are here illegally. Will those campaign promises define the agenda of the 112th Congress?

Probably not.

Democrats and Republicans – and indeed most people around the country – seem to agree on one central fact: our immigration system is broken. Families are broken up by the multi-year waiting lines for legal immigration – employers of both skilled and unskilled workers have difficulty finding that one particular scientist to fit in a research team, or teams of seasonal workers to harvest crops and serve tourists.

Meanwhile, many employers of workers who entered or stayed in the country illegally are able to take advantage of their workers’ status by offering low pay, demanding long hours, and maintaining unsafe working conditions. The ability of these employers to undercut wage, hour, and safety laws drags down the pay and benefits of other workers on the same rung of the employment ladder, including those born in the U.S. The system is broken – it needs to be fixed.

The disagreement comes in describing the fix. Should the objective be to seal off the country, scan the documents of every person within U.S. borders, and deport all those who don’t make the cut? Should the objective be to re-examine U.S. relations with our neighbors to the South, to determine the extent to which NAFTA and other trade agreements and practices have contributed to the pressures for immigration northward? Should the objective be to address the practical problems in the immigration system itself, to repair what can be repaired?

The new Congress will probably land somewhere in that third objective – fix what needs to be fixed. Which begs the question: what needs to be fixed? FCNL has urged that the legal immigration itself be repaired, to reduce the long lines for visas, to re-unite families and to reduce the pressure for immigration outside the legal system. At the same time, FCNL has encouraged enforcement of wage, hour and safety laws in all places of employment, regardless of the legal status of the workers there. If employers are

(1) able to find workers (fix the legal system) and

(2) unable to

  • pay their workers less than minimum wage, or
  • forego paying them at all, or
  • require more than forty hours of work without overtime pay, or
  • require work in unsafe conditions

then the employers’ incentive to reach beyond available U.S. workers to find “imported labor” evaporates. Enforcement of existing “worker protection” laws levels the playing field.

Rep. Lamar Smith, the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has said that his priorities for immigration will center on job creation and job protection. He will focus on workplace enforcement, consider an expansion of the E-Verify program, and step up enforcement of requirements on employers to hire only workers with appropriate documentation. (The E-Verify program is a digital system that would permit employers to check Social Security records immediately to determine whether a job applicant has a valid Social Security number. FCNL and others have opposed broad implementation of the program because of the high incidence of errors in Social Security records, and the fact that most of those errors occur with non-European names.)

Most immigration bills – and indeed, several other bills – in the past several years have included increased and intensified border enforcement. Now that the military and detention industries have entered that arena, it is reasonable to expect that there will be continued upward pressure for more detention space (offered by contractor Corrections Corporation of America) and more military-style hardware and technology at the border (offered by the major weapons manufacturers.) Spending for border security will likely be exempted from concerns about deficit spending, as the Department of Homeland Security is usually lumped in with the Pentagon in the rhetoric about cutting all discretionary spending – except for “security spending.”

One important signal about the coming agenda is the appointment of Rep. Elton Gallegley of California as the chair of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration. Firebrand Steve King of Iowa was in line for the post and was widely rumored to be the next subcommittee chair; but Chairman Smith chose a more moderate member, one who has not been a prime champion of some of the more extreme rhetorical demands, such as ending birthright citizenship.

Can we expect anything that will actually fix the system? President Obama, meeting with the leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said he would address immigration reform in the State of the Union address. He still wants to seek reforms in the immigration system. The nation needs answers to current problems such as the millions of people living in the U.S. now without appropriate documentation. Rational solutions to that problem and others may be proposed – but they will very likely be coupled (as they have been in the past) with increased border enforcement and employer-based enforcement.

Will the Dream Act resurface? Possibly, in a modified form. Some of the modifications introduced late in the debate last year already severely limited any financial assistance that non-citizen students might receive under the act – those limitations, at least, would return. A more worrisome development would be the elimination of the education option entirely. Military recruiters still strongly support the bill, and would not be unhappy to see the education path eliminated.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ICE Resumes Deportations to Haiti

Due to the catastrophic hurricane in Haiti in January of last year, Congress voted to halt deportation of Haitian immigrants, a success that worked very hard to make happen. Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it was lifting this halt and that starting next month, Haitians with criminal records will begin to be moved back to Haiti. Approximately 350 Haitians with criminal records have been detained, though the exact number to be deported is unknown. Haitians without criminal records are still safe under their Temporary Protected Status (TPS), though this is set to expire in July.

FCNL is gravely concerned about ICE's decision to send immigrants back to Haiti. The country, devastated by an earthquake a year ago, remains a disaster zone. Violent protests erupted last month in response to election results and a cholera epidemic has infected tens of thousands and killed more than 1,500. More than one million are still homeless. Haitians who are deported to the island due to a criminal record are sometimes incarcerated, and the prison system is wracked with cholera. We fear that sending them back is a death sentence.

ICE stated that it is concerned about having people with serious criminal records at large in our communities. FCNL does not disagree with the importance of keeping our communities safe, but according to our statement of principles, we believe that our immigration policy should support those displaced by conflict, oppression, environmental change, natural disaster, and economic destitution. Moreover, "criminal records" means any conviction, including minor ones, like shoplifting. We worked very hard a year ago to ensure that the U.S. would not be responsible for sending Haitian immigrants into a disaster zone (see here, and here), and it is clear to us now that although a year has passed, the crisis has not abated and sending Haitians home now would be as unconscionable as it was when the earthquake hit.

For more information:
New York Times Topics: Haiti
Open Letter to the President from the AFSC
Opinion Piece from the Huffington Post

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Independent Commission on Immigration and Labor: What is it?

I attended a day-long conference last week at the Economic Policy Institute called Labor shortages and immigration reform: promises and pitfalls of an independent commission. A number of economists, immigration experts and labor representatives got together to discuss the idea of a commission that would figure out how immigrant workers would fit into the U.S. economy. Two representatives from Britain's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) were also there, to talk about their experience with a similar commission in the United Kingdom.

The panelists agreed the U.S. should set up an independent professional commission to research labor shortages and make recommendations to the government about how many workers the U.S. should invite in, based on current data. Its main purpose would be to make sure that occupations are filled primarily by native-born workers, and foreign workers are invited in to take jobs when there is a labor shortage and native-born workers are not taking jobs in a given occupation. In times like these, when so many people who are already legally in the U.S. and without work, a commission like this would probably recommend few, if any work-based visas.

Doris Meissner, the Former Commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, pointed out that the legal immigration system at the moment so inflexible that it can’t keep up with social changes and economic changes in the U.S. A better way to write policy, she argues, is to create a process that sets annual “quotas” that can be changed as circumstances change. The policy for recruiting immigrant workers should be flexible, not locked in. The independent commission should focus on just this one question: what kind of labor shortages are U.S. employers facing and how many immigrant workers should be invited in to meet that need.

The British commission on immigration and labor consists of economists and experts on immigration and [labor?] policy. The government asks it to research specific questions such as researching labor shortages in a specific occupation that could be filled by foreign workers. In addition to broad national research, the commission engages in meetings and visits with employers to provide "bottom up" evidence as well. The MAC then publishes reports and recommends changes in immigration policy to the government, whichmay or may not be passed.

A main theme over the course of the day was the question, "what is essential to making a commission like this work?" Panelists agreed that the commission must be independent, and non-partisan; [labor and?] immigration [are?] intensely political issues, and the facts are not easily separated from the political arguments that usually occupy the center of the debate. Martin Ruhs, a member of the MAC, said that the commission's non-partisan research has contributed to the quality of the debate on immigration. Secondly, members that are experts in policy, labor, immigration, and economics will ensure that the commission is professional. The research process and data need to be transparent in order for the commission to be accepted and seen as credible by lawmakers and the public.

Immigration commissions are a long part of our U.S. history. Panelist Susan Martin, from the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, explained that over centuries, commissions have informed immigration law in the U.S. The earliest was the 1775 Industrial Commission, to the Dillingham Commission whose recommendations led to the restrictionist laws in the Immigration Act of 1924 that established strict quotas based on nationality (Check out this blog post for more information on that era). A labor commission like the one being discussed here would focus exclusively on the need for foreign labor for jobs that aren't being filled by American workers and not on the nationality of the workers.

An independent commission fits into the comprehensive immigration reform puzzle by being part of the solution to control future immigration. Research-based empirical evidence can yield realistic and fair quotas to match up with the labor needs of the country, which can change more quickly than legislators can keep up with. The challenges are numerous, such as

  • developing reliable and valid data gathering and evaluation tools (i.e. does the research accurately reflect the needs it identifies? Are the recommendations adequately supported?),
  • the sheer number of issues that urgently need to be addressed, and
  • the risk of politicization of those results on the floor of the House and Senate after publication.

The most recent CIR bill introduced by Senators Menendez (NJ) and Leahy (VT) includes a Standing Commission on Immigration, Labor Rights, and the National Interest designed to establish employment-based immigration policy, implement a policy-focused research agenda, and make recommendations to Congress and the President on quotas for employment-based visa categories. The purpose of the commission also includes "promot[ing] America's economic growth and competitiveness while minimizing job displacement, wage depression, unauthorized employment" (To see bill text, click here). By enforcing labor laws for employers and all workers, the commission would prevent further undercutting of U.S. employment. To see FCNL's summary of the Menendez CIR bill, click here, and read the post just below this on It's Our Community!

The keyword of the day was "sensible." Accurate research that shows where we need foreign workers can lead to sensible quotas that allow workers to come and work legally in occupations that need them. Laura Reiff from the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition made the point that there are millions of visas too few for low-skill workers (ie. workers for low-skilled jobs in agriculture, construction and the service industry), which is why we have such a high number of undocumented workers. Is an independent commission the right answer? Let us know what you think.