Monday, October 5, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

As the fall foliage emerges in D.C. and mark-ups on the health care bill draw to a close, immigration issues still continue to make headlines. Here's the news on immigration from Monday, September 28 to Monday, October 5.

The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, chaired by Senator Schumer (NY), has rescheduled its hearing on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives." This hearing will now take place on October 8 at 3:00 PM. To watch the hearing live on webcast, click here. There is not yet an updated list of speakers giving testimony at the hearing. When the original list of speakers was released, the majority of those selected were from an evangelical background. Here at FCNL, we appreciate Senator Schumer's willingness to include faith-based communities in the conversation on immigration reform. However, we are concerned that for this hearing to be an interfaith hearing, leaders of diverse religious backgrounds must be invited to give testimony. In order to offer our perspective, we have submitted a statement to the Subcommittee to go on the record for the hearing.

Pathways to citizenship were all over the news this week! U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) announced that, in anticipation of immigration reform, they would be preparing to process an increased number of visa applications. The bureaucratic backlogs in CIS have contributed significantly to the delays that immigrants experience in seeking green cards and, eventually, citizenship. However, for the moment, citizenship applications require such high fees that many immigrants, at least in Massachusetts as this article reports, may be discouraged from applying. According to this article, in the past twenty years, U.S. fees for citizenship have risen from $60 to $675. By giving immigrant families a stronger sense of stability, reasonable pathways to citizenship strengthen communities and promote integration.

Congratulations to Framingham, MA, and Barnstable, MA, for choosing to no longer have local police enforcing immigration laws! Two years ago, Framingham Chief Steven Carl had agreed to partner with federal immigration authorities under the 287(g) program but, just this week, he decided to withdraw his agreement. The reason? Federal officials had asked him to expand his enforcement activities by detaining immigrants, transporting them, and testifying in immigration courts. Barnstable's local enforcement program is also shutting down. We commend these police departments for recognizing that immigration enforcement activities should only be carried out by federal authorities, not local police officers. As Carl said, "It doesn't benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement."

A U.S. government task force also recommended that the Department of Homeland Security scale back the 287(g) program, which currently allows local police to enforce immigration laws. This program has frequently been used to justify racial and religious profiling.

In more sobering news, the number of undocumented immigrant deaths have increased along the Arizona-Mexico border by 20 percent this fiscal year. Humanitarian organizations regularly put water and other essential supplies on routes frequented by undocumented immigrants. However, 191 deaths have been recorded this year so far, and when accounting for unrecorded deaths, the number must be even higher.

So what's going on with immigration in the health care bill? Among hundreds of amendments considered by the Senate Finance Committee, two important ones were voted down. These amendments would have required people to present photo ID when signing up for health insurance programs. Democrats in the Committee rejected the amendments as unnecessarily stringent, saying that they would unintentionally restrict access for poor U.S. citizens, who sometimes do not have IDs. (The bill already requires people to verify their names, places of birth, and Social Security numbers.) The Committee also rejected amendments that would have required legal immigrants to wait five years before accessing health care benefits. Under current law, legal immigrants must wait five years to receive Medicaid benefits.

The Supreme Court is back this week, and it will be examining a case in which a man in U.S. immigration custody died because of insufficient medical treatment. Held in a detention center in California and suffering from cancer, Francisco Castaneda did not receive appropriate medical care even though several doctors in the detention system recommended treatment. He died in 2008. The case is being filed on the grounds of medical negligence and the violation of Castaneda's constitutional rights.

We still expect that bills on immigration reform will be introduced in Congress soon, and organizations are calling for speedy action. This article reports that local churches are holding events designed to increase public awareness about the need for immigration reform. This article tells the story of one family's experience of immigration and their commitment to ensuring dignity and fairness for all who are affected by the U.S. immigration system. And, finally, this article draws connections between the experiences of Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century and the experiences of undocumented immigrants today.

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