Monday, May 18, 2009

Last Week (and the last few weeks): In Our Community

So after a few weeks absence, I'm finally back in town and ready to give you all an immigration news update. A lot has been going on over the last few weeks, so rather than keep it just at last week, I'm going to cover the major points of the weeks I was gone as well. We'll go in reverse chronological order, though this may actually take two entries to complete.

Last week, major immigration news revolved around the one-year anniversary of the immigration raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. As I've already blogged, groups around the country held commemorative events, linking the destruction of Postville to the current need for comprehensive immigration reform. Following that, twenty former workers of the Agriprocessors Inc. plant received U visas, or visas which offer legal status to immigrants who are/have been victims of crime. The government finally ruled that many of the Agriprocessor workers were being exploited and humiliated by their employer. The U visa will allow these individuals to live and work in the United States for four years; they can apply for permanent status on the third.

Attorney General Holder has also announced that he will soon be issuing a new decision on immigrants' legal rights and their ability to challenge adverse decisions made due to faulty lawyers. This announcement follows the previous AG Mukasey's decision to say that immigration judges to not have to reverse an order of detention or deportation, even when the decision was made due to mistakes by the immigrant's lawyer.

The AgJOBS bill was reintroduced last week by Senator Feinstein. And according to the most recent census data, the growth of the hispanic and asian population has unexpectedly declined, causing the government to re-estimate when minorities will become the majority. Debate is also growing on a proposed immigrant detention facility that would be built on tribal lands.

Going back two weeks, Representative Luis Gutierrez remains strong on pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, speaking passionately before crowds of over 700 people. As he ended his Familias Unidas Tour in Chicago on Mother's Day, he pointed to Obama's nomination speech where he said: "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers."

Obama's budget nixed aid for jailing undocumented immigrants, a cut which would save around $400 million. The cut is an odd turn of events, given that he voted for the funding while serving in the Senate. In DHS Secretary Napolitano's unveiling of the Department's $55.1 billion budget request, she highlighted five priorities--counterterrorism, border security, enforcement of immigration laws, disaster preparedness, response, and recover, and Department unification.

Overall, Obama's budget put security first by sending more agents to the border and pouring money into upgrading points of entry. But the focus is seen by many as more of a political manuveur to give him leverage when seeking a path to legal status for the undocumented population. His budget also gives new money for immigrant integration, including money for grants for community organizations doing civics, language, naturalization, and integration related work.

As I've already posted, two weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled in the favor of immigrants being charged with identity theft, and the ABA is now moving to dismiss the guilty pleas made by the 300 immigrants apprehended in the Postville raid.

More information is coming out about the struggles of the mentally ill caught in immigration limbo, while protesters in Minnesota have taken matters into their own hands by engaging in civil disobedience in front of ICE offices to protest raids and unlawful detention. Similarly, there is a growing movement of ecumenical leaders dedicated to passing immigration reform. wonder I'm always busy at the office. I'll continue with this update tomorrow....

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