Monday, November 2, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

Happy Halloween! Here is the news on immigration from Monday, October 26 to Monday, November 2. Grab a cup of coffee and take a look!

If you only read one article today, read the New York Times article on immigrant detainees seeking legal representation while held in the Varick Street detention center in Greenwich Village. One hundred detainees in this facility submitted a petition to New York lawyers asking for pro bono legal services. However, the lawyers are having trouble working with clients who may be arbitrarily transferred to detention centers in other states without notice. This article lays out some fundamental concerns with the U.S. immigration detention system. For additional information, take a look at our most recent post in the Stories from Detention series.

However, immigrant detainees don't only need lawyers - they also need access to adequate medical care. As this detainee's death demonstrates, immediate changes are needed to ensure that immigrant detainees receive medical treatment both for pre-existing conditions and for illnesses and disabilities that arise during their stay in detention facilities. The number of preventable deaths that occur in the immigration detention system are absolutely unreasonable.

The National Association for Evangelicals aren't the only faith-based group supporting comprehensive immigration reform - over 100 Caribbean-American pastors just visited Congress to support immigration reform and Lutheran bishops raised concerns on immigration recently as well. In a committee meeting on October 28-29, they agreed to support immigration reform and called for a suspension of raids until comprehensive immigration reform has been enacted. The bishops also expressed concerns for families separated by the immigration system, saying, "We would like comprehensive immigration reform right now. We want it to be humane -- a kind of immigration reform that protects U.S. borders but also protects family interests so that families aren't divided."

In an exciting development, police leaders have also come out in support of immigration reform. Law enforcement officials from California, Texas, Iowa, and elsewhere spoke in a telephonic press conference on how the current immigration system undermines trust between police officers and communities. They also wrote op-eds expressing their main concern: when immigrants are afraid that the police will deport them, they are less likely to report crimes and abuse. This undermines public safety and creates an adversarial relationship between communities and law enforcement officers. One sheriff made a particularly strong statement: "Law enforcement needs to stay focused on its mission of preventing and investigating crimes, not checking immigration status. Comprehensive immigration reform is overdue and needed from a law enforcement perspective."

This lack of trust between police officers and communities has a disproportionate effect on immigrant women, who too often choose not to report domestic violence for fear of being forced to leave the country. In related news, the Obama administration has given a strong signal that it supports granting asylum to women who are victims of domestic abuse. If the United States is open to recognizing domestic violence as a possible claim for asylum, this would be a tremendous step forward for women fleeing horrific abuses abroad.

Labor organizations have also recognized that immigration reform would benefit all the workers they represent - not only immigrant workers but also low-income workers across the country. The AFL-CIO, National Employment Law Project and American Rights at Work Education Fund have come together to say that the rights of all workers must be protected. They noted that ICE's workplace raids have made it harder for all workers, not just immigrant workers, to raise grievances about working conditions. Immigration reform would be an important step to reducing the exploitation of workers across the board.

Finally, Representative Joe Crowley (NY) and 110 of his colleagues have just submitted a letter to President Obama stressing the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform. The letter itself is available here. Crowley stated, "This is a moral imperative - the time is now." Even as legislation on health care reform continues to make its way through the halls of Congress, these legislators recognize the importance of keeping immigration reform at the heart of their agenda for the upcoming months.

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