Tuesday, September 29, 2009

400,000 Reasons to Care About Detention Reform

From Thursday through Saturday last week, I attended the annual meeting of the Detention Watch Network, a coalition representing more than 150 organizations and individuals working to reform the U.S. immigration detention system. This conference was eye-opening, to say the least. Through workshops, presentations, and lobby visits, we discussed how to best address the issue of detention. As it stands today, the conditions in detention facilities around the country violate basic civil and human rights.

Watch this video to see participants in the conference preparing to lobby their members of Congress on detention issues:

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of former detainees and their families, all of whom had become advocates for detention reform because of their experiences. One former detainee, who was held for five months before receiving asylum, spoke of his inability to communicate with the outside. He had extreme difficulties contacting his family and finding a lawyer to represent him because he arrived in the detention facility with no American money - and the $5 calling cards sold in the facility only gave him 4 minutes of talk time.

Another former detainee talked about how the guards would put him and other detainees into a room together just to watch them fight - he said it felt like being in a lion's den.

The mother of a former detainee described how her son had been taken away by ICE while he was working as a teacher's aide in a kindergarten classroom. In front of the students, an armed ICE unit shackled her son's hands and legs, put him in an unventilated van, and brought him to a detention facility with no windows. He spent the next two years there.

An advocate working with current detainees told the story of the experiences of some of his clients: During Ramadan, these detainees asked for a cup of hot water at the end of the day, so that they could break their fast. The guards said no, and when the detainees voiced their frustration one of the guards threatened to put them in solitary confinement.

Detainees are denied the most basic human and civil rights while in detention - access to adequate health care, food, and water. They are often held in facilities that have no windows, and some go months at a time without seeing sunlight. There are no enforceable standards to ensure that they are protected from abuse. As it stands today, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has treated detention as the default -- the consequence of this approach to immigration enforcement is that over 400,000 people will be held in detention facilities this year.

Four hundred thousand lives. Is this how the United States wants to welcome those seeking refuge?

Monday, September 28, 2009

FCNL Submits Statement on Comprehensive Immigration Reform to Subcommittee

The Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security (in the Committee on the Judiciary, in the Senate) will be holding a hearing on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives." The hearing was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but has been postponed because of the ongoing mark-ups of the health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee. No new date has yet been selected.

However, FCNL has submitted a statement to the subcommittee, which will go on the record for the hearing. This statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform is available on the FCNL website. It outlines our organization's priorities regarding immigration reform.

Senator Charles E. Schumer (NY) is the chair of the subcommittee, and it is expected that he will be the one to put forward a bill in the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform.

In Our Community: Immigration News

Wondering what's happened on immigration in the past week? Take a look here at the news on immigration from Monday, September 21 to Monday, September 28.

Time to celebrate! The Associated Press reports that, as of last week, the last families have left the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Texas. Hutto had been a medium-security prison until it was converted in 2006 into an immigration detention facility for families. This facility has been used to detain immigrant families - including pregnant women, young children, and infants - until lawsuits from ACLU and grassroots protests shut it down. Before the lawsuits, conditions in Hutto were appalling. Children were receiving no more than an hour of education a day. Toys and crayons were not allowed in the cells. Guards accustomed to dealing with adults with criminal convictions were now in charge of vulnerable children and their parents. Children reported that the guards would threaten to take away their mothers and transfer them to a different facility if they misbehaved.

To learn more about the human rights abuses at Hutto, watch this video (and see YouTube for parts 2 and 3):

According to ICE, the families held in Hutto have been deported, paroled, or released as their cases on immigration status move through the system. Families apprehended from now on will either be placed under supervision or detained at the much smaller Berks facility in Pennsylvania.

Ever since Lou Dobbs received an award two weeks ago from FAIR, a recognized anti-immigrant hate group, more people have been speaking out about whether he should be removed from CNN. This article describes the efforts of Democracia Ahora, an organization that has just launched a campaign called "Enough is Enough," to get CNN to rein in Dobbs. Democracia Ahora also released a report on Friday based on interviews with 100 Hispanic leaders. The vast majority of these leaders expressed concerns that Dobbs, through his frequent and incendiary remarks about undocumented immigrants, is creating a negative image of Hispanics in the United States.

As mark-ups on the health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee continue into this week, a number of members of Congress are still speaking out on the need to make the health care system reasonably accessible to documented and undocumented immigrants. Twenty-nine Democrats signed on to a letter that strongly urges Congressional leaders to eliminate the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants in the Medicaid program. Representative Mike Honda, the original author of the sign-on letter, also called for the elimination of a provision creating a waiting period for legal immigrants to obtain credits to buy health insurance. A quote from the letter: "The unnecessary and burdensome waiting period has increased racial and ethnic health disparities, and thwarts the goal of health care reform. It is not only fiscally shortsighted, but also arbitrary and fundamentally unfair to deny health care coverage to legal immigrants."

Representative Honda has also written a second letter, which many of the same members of Congress have signed on to, opposing a provision in the Baucus bill in the Senate that bars undocumented immigrants from purchasing non-subsidized health insurance coverage.

The Des Moines Register has printed an article stating that many ICE arrests are not of criminals. This article explains how 67 percent of the people detained this year by Iowa's new ICE unit do not have any criminal background. Instead, they are being held on immigration charges, which are civil, not criminal, offenses. The article also provides some good background information on how ICE has created new programs that give the agency unprecedented abilities to intervene in local communities.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

All the Small Things

*This post also appeared in FCNL's interns' blog, "Of Peace and Politics."*

I've been noticing recently how quickly people assume that, because I'm now living in Washington, DC, I must be involved in a powerful national organization working to change policy at the highest of levels. That may be true. It certainly seems that DC symbolizes a certain kind of power. However, I've been learning most recently that our power to effect change does not stem from the position of individual FCNL staff in DC. Our power to effect change is collective.

The small things that we do in our daily lives really do make a difference. Every conversation that you have with your neighbor, on whatever issue you're passionate about, is one instance of awareness-raising that promotes knowledge, tolerance, and action. Every time I talk to my friends about what I'm doing at work, and where the discussion on immigration stands on the Hill, I'm sharing an experience that brings everyone involved to a new level of understanding.

Dialogue is necessarily a two-way street, where in the best of circumstances each person participating in the conversation comes away better for it. This is why I am so excited to hear about all the potluck events that have been going on across the country to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. FCNL has been encouraging communities around the country to host Breaking Bread and Barriers potluck events. These events are opportunities for neighbors to come together to break bread, and break barriers - the barriers that separate us in our daily lives from connecting with one another across our differences, and the barriers that hold immigrants back from integrating fully into U.S. cultures and economies.

FCNL has a new update on the Breaking Bread and Barriers potlucks on our website. This kind of dialogue comes at a critical time, when neighbors can express their thoughts and concerns to each other and their members of Congress, in preparation for what is sure to be a greater debate on immigration reform in the next few months. If you are interested in learning more or organizing one of these events yourself, please email me (rebecca@fcnl.org) or see our website.

Enjoy the rest of the week, and keep on talking about what makes you passionate!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Center for American Progress Releases Report on Immigration Reform and Communities of Faith

The Center for American Progress released a report today entitled "Loving Thy Neighbor: Immigration Reform and Communities of Faith." The report documents the activities of faith-based communities and organizations around the nation, as people within these communities reach out to one another and to the immigrants in their midst. Communities of faith are becoming an increasingly important voice in the public discussion on immigration reform.

As the report says, the recent increase in prominence of hate groups has "dehumanize[d] the stranger in our midst." Teachings from diverse faith communities encourage people to instead welcome the strangers in their communities. The report tells the stories of six communities that took action to protect the rights of immigrants and voice their concerns to their members of Congress.

I especially recommend reading the story entitled "Pilgrimage" (starting on page 15). Following the raid in Bellingham, WA, in February 2009, members of the community in which the raid took place gathered together to march peacefully to the detention center where undocumented workers from the raid were being held. This march, which took them across 143 miles and included more than 500 participants, demonstrates well the commitment of faith-based communities to uphold the rights and dignity of all of their neighbors, regardless of legal status.

The report also mentions that more than 100 peace vigils on immigration reform took place in February. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition organized these peace vigils, and will be organizing them again in 2010.

For the full text of the report, click here. To see an interactive map, designed by the Center for American Progress, documenting where around the country faith groups have taken action for immigration reform, click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

With lots to catch up on this week, I hope you enjoy reading the news on immigration from Monday, September 14 to Monday, September 21. Here we go!

The National Council of La Raza has released an analysis stating that the number of immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship fell by 62% this year. This past year, just over 500,000 immigrants applied, each paying an application fee of $595 plus $80 for computerized fingerprinting. (Before late 2007, the application fee was only $330.) Rising application fees, combined with the economic recession, placed citizenship applications out of reach for many.

The Immigration Policy Center just released a report about the economic power of immigrants in Arizona. As business owners, consumers, workers, and taxpayers, immigrants in this border state strengthen both state and local economies. Here's an interesting fact: If all undocumented immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose $26.4 billion in expenditures, $11.7 billion in economic output, and approximately 140,324 jobs. Here, another article discusses how immigration reform would help the United States to remain on the forefront of technological innovation. Providing expanded opportunities for skilled foreign workers to create start-ups in the United States would improve the economy and create jobs.

Let's not lose sight of the big picture, however. This video with Matt Soerens, author of "Welcoming the Stranger," reminds us of the need for a broader immigration policy. Soerens talks eloquently about how Christian teachings apply to immigration reform.

Legislative time: The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the House of Representatives this week, with 91 original cosponsors. This Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which discriminates against legally married same-sex binational couples. The Respect for Marriage Act would restore to these couples their full federal rights and responsibilities. This Act is a step in the right direction toward ensuring that permanent same-sex partners are treated equally under U.S. immigration laws.

Calls for comprehensive immigration reform are coming from every angle! Speaking out on the need for immigration reform, astronaut José M. Hernández said last week that legalization would provide opportunities for undocumented immigrants to work openly and integrate into the U.S. economy.

Nonprofit Quarterly has written a special issue on nonprofits and immigration, available free to the public online. I recommend reading this article, which discusses the importance of grassroots organizing within and among immigrant communities in the United States. Too often, immigrants themselves are left out of the national debate on immigration reform. Recognizing the important role of immigrants' organizations in grassroots advocacy at the national level can only strengthen the movement toward immigration reform.

On the subject of being inclusive, I find it concerning that, once again, foreign language programs are being cut from primary and secondary schools. On the surface, this issue may not appear to apply directly to immigration issues. However, foreign language teachers encourage their students to respect the diversity of languages, cultures, and traditions around them. Teaching foreign languages is one pathway toward creating a shared spirit of openness and inclusion, in which immigrants may be accepted into local communities and valued for their contributions.

That's all for now. Enjoy the week and keep an eye out for updates on the blog! As always, I welcome your comments and contributions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interfaith Peace Vigil Counters Hate Rhetoric

Yesterday, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition organized an interfaith peace vigil on the lawn of the Capitol, to counter the hate rhetoric of FAIR (the Federation for American Immigration Reform), an anti-immigration group that was holding an advocacy day. The faith leaders who spoke included Yvette Schock from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Bishop Thomas Wenski, Archdiocese of Orlando, Dale Schwartz, Chair of the Public Policy Committee for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Bishop Price Singh, Episcopal Archdiocese of Rochester, and Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Desert SW Conference of the United Methodist Church. These faith leaders were joined by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL) and Rep. Jared Polis (CO). This peace vigil was recognized on the front page of the Washington Post! To see the photo of participants in the peace vigil on the front page, click here. For the full article, within which the peace vigil is mentioned at the end, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reflection on the Immediacy of Detention

On a more personal note than my recent posts, yesterday I had one of those small, perhaps even mundane life experiences that reminded me of how the immigration issues that we grapple with on a policy level are still so close to home. I was walking near the Capitol with a friend, who is here on a work visa from India, when I casually suggested that we cross the street during a red light. He declined, seeing the police officers on the corner and reminding me that he could face deportation over such a small violation. His legal status in the United States was not in the forefront of my mind that day, but certainly was for him.

Now, such a small experience, of such little significance at the time, certainly pales in comparison to the suffering of those who currently reside in the United States' detention centers without legal representation or adequate medical care. However, my friend and those in similar positions may be one step away from that same experience. Traffic violations are the most severe charge for a significant percentage of detainees. On that same note, I would like to recommend a poignant film, "The Visitor," that addresses these issues. I hope you enjoy the trailer.

Representative Jared Polis Writes on Detention Reform

Representative Jared Polis (Colorado) has written an important piece on the immediate need for detention reform. His article serves as a reminder that while each human being deserves to live a life of dignity, for those held in detention centers around the United States such a life is nearly an impossibility. Because he does a good job discussing possible components of detention reform, including alternatives to detention, I've copied the full text of the article here.

Detention Reform

(For the link to the article on the Huffington Post website, click here.)

"For the inaugural edition of the Denver Huffington Post, I thought I'd write about an issue that is close to my heart -- reforming our nation's immigration detention facilities, which hold tens of thousands of immigrants who were mostly picked up for trivial offenses like speeding or loitering and are now in detention at taxpayer expense for months or even years.

Imagine that one day you are home with your family, and the next day your kids return from school to find that you've been placed for an indefinite period in a detention facility with limited visitation rights.

The need for comprehensive immigration reform is felt by Americans in Colorado and across the nation, but few are aware of the high cost, deplorable conditions, and general failure that is our detention system. In this blog I hope to shine some light on what is becoming an increasingly costly embarrassment to our nation and an affront to our American values.

Just last week, I met with the National Day Laborers' Organizing Network (NDLON), their Colorado affiliate organization, Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores, and the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, who have been working on detention reform. During our meeting, we talked about abysmal conditions at the Basile detention facility in Louisiana, where dozens of immigrants were denied basic access to basic sanitation and medical assistance. Enduring humiliation and further abuse, hundreds of detainees participated in a series of hunger strikes demanding to be treated with dignity and afforded their basic human rights.

Sadly, the stories of abuse, malnutrition and lack of basic health care are altogether too common in detention facilities. The experience of New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice resonated deeply with similar groups in Colorado, seeking to support those who are struggling to gain access to basic medical assistance or regular meals.

This summer, I toured a GEO detention facility in Aurora, where I met some of the thirty thousand immigrants throughout the country being held in detention facilities due to an immigration violation. They are children, pregnant women, asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture and other vulnerable individuals. Some are undocumented, but many were not and are simply "waiting" for a decision of an immigration court.

Currently there are 400 facilities being used to house immigrants in detention at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion. Depending on the facility, the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $99 per day. Here in Colorado, it costs over $133 dollars a day to detain an immigrant at the GEO Detention Facility in Aurora. Given the absurd amount of money the government is spending on immigrant detention facilities, it is all the more ludicrous considering that most of the immigrants being held in detention pose no threat to our community. These individuals are not criminals and have no place in detention centers.

Even more disturbing is the alarming number of deaths in detention. Since 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims there have been at least 104 deaths in immigration detention. Many of these deaths have been caused by a lack of timely and thorough medical care and nearly one fifth of them have been suicides. Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) owns and operates select detention centers, the government also "buys" bed space from private facilities such as the GEO in Aurora and over 312 county and city prisons nationwide. These for-profit contractors are not directly supervised by DHS staff, creating a lack of communication and a gross lack of accountability.

Consequently, individuals have routinely experienced egregious conditions of confinement, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding and discrimination. For a hundred dollars per day, the amount of money taxpayers are spending on detention, we could afford to house immigrants at hotels across the country, but instead we place them under dangerous conditions where they are denied basic human rights.

Thankfully, effective alternatives to detention are readily available. Systems that include reporting and electronic monitoring have been found to yield an appearance rate before immigration courts of well over 90 percent. They are effective and significantly cheaper, with some programs costing as little as $12 per day compared to the $99 per day in the average detention center. Prisons should be for criminals, not honest, productive people caught up in the byzantine morass of our broken immigration system.

By the end of 2009 the U.S. government will have more than 440,000 people in immigration custody -- more than triple the number of people in detention just ten years ago. While it is not good policy to put immigrants with no criminal record and who pose no threat to our community behind bars, it is certainly not in our best interest to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on detaining a civilian population when alternatives have been proven to work.

This August, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the beginning of major detention reforms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), shutting down the deadly and infamous T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas and increasing direct government oversight of privately-run detention centers and accountability within ICE for substandard detention facilities.

While I am thrilled that the Obama Administration is beginning to address these issues, it is merely the first step toward reforming our failed immigration detention system. As Congress begins consideration of comprehensive immigration reform next year, it is crucial to continue to shine a light on the need to re-haul our current immigration detention system, which has failed to make Americans safer while undermining our values and wasting taxpayer dollars. Regardless of what internal policies are implemented at the DHS, Congress must define humane enforcement and ensure that detention standards are enforced if ICE is not able to do so. Decisions about whether vulnerable populations should be held in detention, the conditions immigrant detainees are subject to, and how much of a role alternatives to detention should play a part of a truly humane civil detention system are too important to leave up to DHS to decide internally.

With President Obama committed to enacting comprehensive immigration reform and the Congress set to consider and debate reform early next year, it is crucial that we reform our immigration detention system immediately. By strengthening accountability and oversight to of detention facilities, investigating abuses in detention and expanding cost saving and more cost saving and humane "alternatives to detention" for law-abiding immigrants we can reform our detention policies to better reflect our American values and save taxpayer money."

Let Them Know Hate Is Not OK

This opinion piece, published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on August 26, was written by Charlotte Miller, a Friends Committee on National Legislation constituent.

I was deeply saddened by the murder of security guard Stephen Johns at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes a tragic event like this to focus our attention on the very real threat of domestic terrorism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is working hard to track and expose extremists such as the anti-Semitic fanatic who lashed out. In fact, in its latest issue of the Intelligence Report, it warned about a dangerous resurgence of right-wing extremism since President Barack Obama was elected. Lately, Fort Collins, Denver and other Colorado communities have been assailed by hate-filled, extremist pamphlets. This behavior encourages more violent and personal attacks in the community, threatening the safety of us all.

It is important that our law enforcement communities have the latest intelligence on extremists as well as training to combat hate incidents, hate crimes and domestic terrorism. In addition to the Holocaust Museum shooting, there have been the murders of five police officers by extremists in recent months and the assassination of a prominent Kansas physician by an extremist tied to the anti-government militia movement.

These killers might have acted alone, but they were all influenced by the hate movement in America. What's alarming is that this movement is now being aided and abetted by far-right pundits on cable TV and talk radio, who are fanning the flames of hate with their increasingly hysterical rhetoric targeting our president, our government, our immigrant neighbors and others who are not like them. These are the same commentators who ridiculed the recent Department of Homeland Security that predicted the very kind of violent attacks we're now seeing.

We all need to speak out against hate. It is not enough to say that we support free speech. We must speak out against hateful speech and propaganda filled with untruths about people who are different in racial, ethnic, religious identity, as well as language use and political beliefs. If you hear someone saying discriminatory or derogatory things about those who differ from them, please speak up and let them know you disagree with them, and discrimination is not OK.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Legislative Update on Immigration and Health Care

James Oliphant, David G. Savage, and Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times have written an article on immigration issues and health care reform that is well worth taking a look at. You may have been wondering why I haven't mentioned the "You lie" episode during President Obama's speech on health care reform the other day. Not wanting to contribute to the viral hype across blogs on this outburst, I held back. I consider it much more important to focus on the content of Obama's address to Congress than the drama surrounding it. However, I encourage you to read this LA Times article, which addresses the question of undocumented immigrants in health care reform in a calmer manner.

As it stands right now, a public health care coverage option would not entitle undocumented immigrants to receive publicly funded health insurance. This is one of the most widespread myths that anti-immigration groups are spreading around the country. None of the current plans in Congress would permit undocumented immigrants to access public funds for health care. Undocumented immigrants can only receive some forms of emergency care (and this provision will remain unchanged during health care reform).

President Obama's statement on undocumented immigrants during his address to Congress was correct, in that Section 246 of the House bill on health care states: "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." The legislation on the table excludes undocumented immigrants from being eligible for affordability credits.

In addition, we've just heard that there is also language in the legislation that would prohibit undocumented immigrants from buying into the health care insurance exchange. Right now, anti-immigrant groups are arguing that there is no way a policy like that could be enforced, so they are urging Congress to put forward a verification system. However, as the LA Times article says, verification systems of this sort may end up hurting U.S. citizens as much or more than undocumented immigrants. Not everyone who is a U.S. citizen can readily prove their citizenship status.

In Our Community: Immigration News

Here are highlights of the news on immigration from Tuesday, September 8 to Monday, September 14. Enjoy!

If you read only one article on immigration from this week, read the story of Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese immigrant with a history of mental illness who was detained in solitary confinement, without representation by a lawyer, for a year and a half. Ms. Jiang fled China in 1995 after being forcibly sterilized. She was detained despite having no criminal record. Her hardship, as the article mentions, could have been avoided if immigration courts had the same standard protections for persons with mental disabilities as all other courts. As it stands today, there is no procedure for establishing mental competence in immigration cases, and the courts are not required to provide persons with mental disabilities with legal representation. For immigrants in detention, the experience of being detained can itself be traumatic. For those who already face mental health issues and receive little or no treatment in detention, the experience can be devastating. Read this letter asking Attorney General Holder to provide protections in immigration courts for individuals with mental disabilities.

A New York Times article on Mustafa Salih's plight puts a human face on the bureaucratic backlog which causes many immigrants to wade through the legalization process for years before gaining citizenship. As the article reports, Salih immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, became a legal permanent resident four years later in 1995, and has been waiting since then to become a citizen. He and 150 of his peers who belong to the same mosque in Falls Church, VA, are in a sort of bureaucratic limbo in which it is unclear why they have not yet been granted citizenship. The article raises questions as to whether this bureaucratic backlog unfairly prolongs the wait time for Muslim applicants, many of whom have been told that they must wait indefinitely until an unspecified "background check" has been completed. To date, Salih has waited eighteen years to become a U.S. citizen.

In the aftermath of the May 2008 raid in Postville, IA, in which 389 workers were arrested and detained, and eventually deported, a Jewish organization in Postville seeks to move forward. The organization has crafted a postcard to be sent to the meatpacking plant at which the raid took place. The message: to improve working conditions, communications, and consumer confidence in the coming year.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Haiti Action Committee are calling for support in their quest for Haitians to receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States. TPS is a temporary provision that would permit Haitians to remain in the United States for a limited time as their country rebuilds from the 2008 hurricanes that devastated its communities, infrastructure, and economy. The humanitarian crisis in Haiti would only be aggravated by the deportation of Haitians currently residing in the United States.

In terms of legislative updates, we have some new cosponsors on board! Senator Al Franken (MN) and Representative Laura Richardson (CA) have signed on as cosponsors for the Uniting American Families Act (S. 424, H.R. 1024). Representatives Steve Cohen (TN), Edolphus Towns (NY), Bobby Scott (VA), George Miller (CA), and John Lewis (GA) have each signed on as cosponsors for the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709). Even though health care reform will be the primary issue addressed in Congress this week, support for components of comprehensive immigration reform is building.

Will Coley and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center have put together a series of short documentaries on the challenges and successes for immigrants seeking to learn English. In this video, volunteer teachers speak about their passion for teaching English as a second language and their respect for the determination that they see in their students. The primary value of this video, as I see it, is its ability to demonstrate how learning English does not have to be a one-way assimilation tactic. Instead, it can be a rich cultural exchange that benefits both teachers and students alike. As one of the volunteer teachers in the video says of her students, "I value you, who you are, and what you have to teach me, and I think it can only lead to better things."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Migration Policy Institute Release Report on ICE

The Migration Policy Institute has released a report entitled "Immigrant Detention: Can ICE Meet its Legal Imperatives and Case Management Responsibilities?" (For the press release on the report, click here. For the full text, click here.) ICE recently disclosed that 10 more detainees had died in custody between 2004 and 2007 than was previously reported. ICE currently has 32,000 people in its custody, and this report examines whether ICE is capable of gathering enough data to maintain its database and track individual cases. ICE announced in August that it plans to overhaul the detention system, by centralizing management and correcting some concerns about detention conditions. This report analyzes whether ICE has the capacity to do so.

Some highlights of the report:

- The average length of detention for detainees who had not yet received a removal order was 81 days, although some had been held for over a year.

- For the 34% of detainees who had received a removal order, the average length of detention following that order was 72 days.

- 58% of detainees did not have a criminal record. More than 400 detainees without criminal records had been held for more than a year.

The report concludes that ICE needs new and different information in order to ensure that it is processing detainees in an appropriate manner. Improved detention standards and proper enforcement of those standards would ensure that people held in detention centers receive a minimum standard of care. Improved databases would ensure that detainees are processed on an individual basis. Such databases would allow ICE to check whether a person in custody has a claim to U.S. citizenship. They would also allow ICE to consider whether a detainee is eligible for release, or for a non-custodial program. If ICE is going to try to craft a "civil" detention system, this report may serve as one part of a guide for how to achieve that goal.

California Assembly Supports Uniting American Families Act

Good news! The California Assembly's Judiciary Committee passed a resolution in support of the Uniting American Families Act! This resolution was introduced by Assemblymember Kevin de León (Los Angeles) and co-sponsored by Equality California as well as Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality. The resolution constitutes a formal request to Congress and the President to pass into law the Uniting American Families Act (S.424 and H.R.1024), a bill that would recognize permanent same-sex partnerships as of equal standing as opposite-sex partnerships. If this bill becomes law, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be able to petition for a same-sex partner to immigrate to the United States. Currently, it is only possible to file a visa petition on behalf of an opposite-sex partner. The Uniting American Families Act is an important step toward eliminating discrimination in the federal immigration system. Congratulations to the California Assembly for making such a strong statement of support!

New Florida Senator Sworn In

Just a quick update on the Hill - Yesterday, Senator George LeMieux (FL) was sworn into office. He will replace Senator Mel Martinez, who stepped down. So what do we know about Senator LeMieux's record on immigration? As the former chief of staff for Governor Crist, we expect that he will adhere fairly closely to Crist's political stance. The record shows that in the past he has said that diversity is a strength. However, on the subject of comprehensive immigration reform he has also said that we must first secure our borders and then deal with immigrants. Such language is not encouraging, but a clearer picture of his priorities and concerns will likely emerge in the next few weeks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

E-Verify Program Implemented for Federal Contractors

Starting on Tuesday this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now require federal contractors to use the E-Verify program to check the legal status of all new workers hired. E-Verify is a web-based enforcement system that replaces the I-9 form and, as contractors implement it within the next 90 days, it will likely result in a number of workers being turned away from potential jobs. USCIS estimates that this requirement affects approximately 4 million workers.

News articles indicate that E-Verify is a flawed system, in that mistakes are made regarding individuals' names, marital status, and other aspects of their identity. One prominent concern is that E-Verify may permit employers to check the legal status of their entire worker population, not only newly hired workers, which would be against the rule itself. Efforts have been made to counter this program, albeit unsuccessfully. A lawsuit was filed and then lost earlier this year, and the appeal filed on September 1 failed.

As an enforcement program, E-Verify targets undocumented immigrants without addressing the deeper roots of the issue at hand. I find this quite concerning, as I'm sure many of you do. While this program may deter undocumented immigrants from finding work with federal contractors, it is neither a comprehensive nor a sustainable solution. Hurting businesses and intimidating workers benefits neither the economy nor our communities.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

News on immigration from Monday, August 31 to Tuesday, September 8. Happy reading!

The Media That Matters film festival has released a short documentary on YouTube, "Exiled in America," which received the festival's Changemaker Award. Angela Torres Camarena recounts the experiences of a legal permanent resident who was detained for a year and a half and then deported, forced to leave behind her five children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

A New York Times article from September 5 addresses constituents' concerns that health care reform would provide openings for undocumented workers to receive care at others' expense. This article also discusses whether citizenship verification may be required in the health care overhaul, a requirement which would restrict care significantly for immigrant and non-immigrant families unable to readily provide original documents proving their identity. In related news, the state-subsidized health insurance in Massachusetts will no longer cover dental, hospice, or skilled-nursing care for legal immigrants, a change in coverage which will affect at least 31,000 immigrants in that state. However, a report released by the Foundation for Child Development indicates that immigrant youth, boys in particular, are at high risk for obesity.

A study on low-wage workers across multiple states has contributed strong evidence on issues that FCNL has been calling attention to for some time now, namely that low-wage workers (including immigrants) are regularly paid less than minimum wage, discouraged from filing workers' compensation, and denied overtime pay. Wage-law violations will hopefully be addressed in comprehensive immigration reform. (See a New York Times article for a brief summary of the report.)

In a step that will benefit immigrants and non-immigrants alike, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division will be ramped up to address structural and institutional discrimination in fields such as housing, employment, and voting rights.

In more local news, a Baptist pastor in Texas has announced that he will go on a hunger strike from September 7 to September 13 to protest the expansion of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationalization Act to include Houston, TX. Section 287(g) permits local law enforcement to act as federal immigration officers, a policy which opponents say encourages racial profiling and discrimination. Here is an article on a man in New York facing deportation who has received an outpouring of support from his local community. And here, an article from the New York Times discusses a new report on anti-immigrant sentiments in Suffolk County, NY, which have led to a number of brutal attacks on Latinos in the area.

I'll leave you with a beautiful blog entry by Maira Kalman, "I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door." Her sketches on immigration and diversity are heart-warming and thought-provoking. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Starting Up Again with a New Contributor!

Hello to all!

I'm very excited to be contributing to the It's Our Community blog this year. I have just joined FCNL as the new program assistant on immigration, human rights, and civil liberties. Feel free to take a look at the "About the Contributors" link for a bit of my personal background. As Congress returns from its recess following Labor Day, the Hill will be hopping and it will be interesting to see where the conversation on immigration is headed. As the debates on health care reform press on into the fall, it is likely that congressional discussions on comprehensive immigration reform (as well as climate change policy) may be pushed back in time. However, in the interim, there are a number of bills on the table that address specific immigration and detention issues. More information on those to come! The Monday blogroll will be up again starting this next week. Look for legislative updates, analysis, and interesting tidbits during the week as well!

In peace,