Friday, October 30, 2009

Searching for Justice: Mandatory Detention

Stories from Detention - Week 3

In the last post in this series, we discussed how immigration violations are civil, not criminal offenses. If that is so, then how has it been possible for the number of immigrant detainees to skyrocket in recent years?

Recent immigration laws have deprived immigrants of their dignity and their rights. By denying immigrants the right to a fair day in court, these laws have greatly expanded the number of people detained and deported each year.

In 1996, laws on expedited removal and mandatory detention created some of the most severe failures to uphold justice within the U.S. immigration system. Expedited removal is a procedure that allows immigration agencies to deport certain immigrants without a hearing in front of an independent court. Detention is mandatory during the time it takes to deport these people from the United States.

It is common knowledge that the U.S. government was set up as a system of checks and balances - without the judicial branch, that system would be severely weakened. However, the U.S. immigration system currently lacks this same measure of justice.

Before we get into the history of how expedited removal and mandatory detention were put into place and which immigrant populations are affected by these policies, let's take a look at how this denial of justice affected Warren Joseph, an immigrant from Trinidad. As Joseph's story will demonstrate, mandatory detention can last months, or even years.

Joseph was fortunate that his case was processed and he was eventually able to reunite with his son and remain in the United States. Many are not as fortunate - they are deported, without ever having had an opportunity to argue their case before a judge.

So, who is affected by expedited removal and mandatory detention?

As Joseph's story indicates, immigrants who have been convicted of a crime are subject to mandatory detention. The offenses for which immigrants are detained and deported include minor misdemeanors, such as shoplifting or petty drug possession. These minor misdemeanors may not have required any jail time, but they are still grounds for deportation under current immigration laws.

This policy affects all non-citizens, including green card holders with strong ties to the United States who have previously been convicted of a crime, even if the conviction is for a minor offense and even if - like Joseph - they have already paid their debt to society. They are punished retroactively for crimes they committed years, even decades ago, even for crimes that were not deportable offenses at the time that they were committed.

Mandatory detention also applies to arriving immigrants who do not have the proper documentation and who are unable to establish a "credible fear" of returning to their country of origin.

As I mentioned earlier, immigration laws were passed in 1996 that expanded the scope of mandatory detention and expedited removal. At the same time, the budget for the Department of Homeland Security increased significantly. As a result, the number of immigrant detainees has increased dramatically in the past fifteen years. According to the Detention Watch Network, the U.S. detained approximately 95,000 individuals in 2001. By 2007, over 300,000 people were being detained annually under immigration laws. By the end of 2009, that number will have increased yet again to more than 440,000 immigrant detainees.

Mandatory detention and expedited removal, policies that affect thousands of people's lives each year, are actually illegal under international law because they do not grant detainees a fair day in court. According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, detention is arbitrary if it fails to consider individuals' personal circumstances. Mandatory detention therefore violates international law. The United States has signed onto international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibit arbitrary detention.

The vast majority of people who are subject to mandatory detention and expedited removal do not have access to a lawyer. Overall, 84% of immigrant detainees do not have legal representation. In addition, mandatory detention does not allow detainees to appear before an impartial judge. People are routinely deported under mandatory detention without any consideration of their personal situation, such as whether they have young children in the United States or whether they would be in danger if returned to their country of origin.

Here at FCNL, we maintain that mandatory detention and expedited removal must be ended, in order to restore justice to the U.S. immigration system.

In order to restore fairness to the immigration system, we urge Congress to pass a bill that ends these fundamentally unjust policies. Such a bill should give immigration judges discretion to make case-by-case decisions on whether individuals should be detained. Alternatives to detention should be put into place on a national level. In addition, it is important to push back against bills that would expand the criteria for mandatory detention even further.

We also urge the Department of Homeland Security to take immediate steps to ensure that immigrant detainees have access to lawyers and law libraries. Detainees currently face huge obstacles in finding legal assistance because they are held in isolated areas, often without interpreter or translator services, and have limited access to telephones. The next post in this series will address our concerns regarding detention conditions in greater detail.

Justice is denied to immigrants under the mandatory detention and expedited removal policies. There is no place for this kind of injustice in a fair immigration system.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rep. Gutierrez Speaks on NPR

If you haven't had a chance yet, I definitely recommend that you listen to Representative Gutierrez speak on NPR about the need for immigration reform. Yesterday, Rep. Gutierrez discussed the need for family reunification, humane enforcement, legalization, and regulation of future flows of migrant workers -- all components of immigration reform that will be addressed in his upcoming bill.

A few quotes of note:

"Well, I don't think people are buying a kinder, gentler enforcement. When you wake up in the morning without your dad or without your mom and key members of your family and you see the kind of fear and trepidation that exists in the community, there's no way to be kinder and gentler about this."

(In response to the question: Is it possible to have a civilized debate on immigration?) "That's a great question. Is it possible? I think it's necessary. It appears that sometime in February, early March, there'll be a debate on the Senate floor. Is it going to be nasty and mean? Sure, there'll be a lot of people who will use this as a wedge issue once again and bring bigotry and hatred back to the debate. But, you know, what? We have done it before and I think the health care debate is going to help us prepare for this one actually."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Border Communities Seek Solidarity through Student Art Exhibit

With all the enforcement activities in the news (from Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mass arrests and tent cities to higher rates of kidnappings on the border), it is easy to lose perspective of the real daily experiences of people living on the border themselves. Border communities are caught in the middle of an immigration enforcement system that violates human and civil rights, desecrates sacred religious sites, and too often harms the environment.

At FCNL, we advocate for immigration enforcement to be realigned with humanitarian values. Part of this realignment must be a recognition of how border communities are affected by immigration enforcement -- only then can protections be put in place that meet these communities' needs and respect their space.

Take a look at a new traveling exhibit, the Border Project, a mixed media art installation highlighting the perspectives of high school students living along cultural and political present-day borders. The exhibit examines the border of Arizona and Mexico, the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation and the nearest town of Ajo, through the eyes of students living in these communities.

Border enforcement affects people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse stories and cultures and goals, but each of these communities has a stake in what happens at the border. By finding commonalities -- as this exhibit has done, through art -- it is possible to bring these communities together and create a stronger sense of solidarity.

As the discussion in Washington, DC on comprehensive immigration reform moves forward, it is important to remember that these intersections can be a source of strength rather than a source of tension or disagreement.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

From Monday, October 19th to Monday, October 26th, here is your one-stop-shop for summaries of immigration stories in the news. Happy reading!

First of all, let's celebrate, because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill just passed with even more money allocated for alternatives to detention than originally requested. The alternatives to detention program received $70 million, $6 million above the initial request. This money will permit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take vulnerable people - asylum-seekers, torture survivors, families, and others - out of immigration detention centers. Alternatives to detention are an effective, cost-efficient, and humane way to treat people going through immigration proceedings.

However, ICE is getting shaken up a bit - this week, a second high-ranking official left the agency. Cree Zischke has just left her job at the ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning, only a few weeks after her boss, Dora Schriro, also left the agency. Schriro's report on U.S. immigration detention facilities, which was released on October 6, called for significant and immediate reforms to the detention system. It is concerning that Schriro and Zischke have left ICE at this critical moment when these reforms need to be implemented.

Another reason to celebrate: The DHS appropriations bill also included a provision that ends the "widow penalty." Before this bill passed, immigrants married to U.S. citizens faced an awful legal problem: If their U.S. citizen spouse died before they received their green card, they and their children would automatically be deported. Now, the DHS appropriations bill fixes that problem and permits grieving immigrant families to stay in the United States as they continue to petition for a green card.

Faith communities around the country continue to speak out in support of comprehensive immigration reform. In preparation for the introduction of Rep. Luis Gutierrez's (IL) upcoming bill on immigration reform, people of all faiths are speaking out about the need to fix the broken immigration system in order to welcome immigrants into U.S. communities. Police leaders from across the country have also called for fair and humane immigration reform, saying that these reforms would restore public trust in police enforcement and promote public safety.

Recognizing that undocumented children need to be supported in the public education system, the National Education Association and National School Boards Association jointly produced a report offering advice to schools with undocumented students. Undocumented children grew up in the United States and often don't even remember their countries of origin. This important guide will help schools meet the needs of undocumented students who are trying to integrate into U.S. education systems and communities.

The 2010 Census is around the corner, and Senator David Vitter (LA) has introduced an amendment in the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill that would seriously disrupt the Census process. He's trying to cut off financing to the Census unless it includes a question on whether the respondent is a U.S. citizen or not. Now, questions for the 2010 Census had to be finalized in March 2008, so Sen. Vitter is a little late on this one. However, if the Vitter amendment passes, it would cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. New studies on the questionnaire would have to be run, all the Census forms would have to be reprinted, trainings would have to be redone, and all the technology set up to process the Census would have to be altered. Not only would this cost the United States billions of dollars that could be better used elsewhere, but it would significantly delay the 2010 Census process and discourage immigrants from participating in the Census. Rep. Joe Baca (CA) introduced a bill to counter the Vitter amendment, and the New York Times put out an editorial called "How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census." Latino pastors in California have also come out against the amendment. Please join FCNL and others to encourage your Senators to oppose the Vitter amendment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Human Being is Illegal: Civil Offenses

Stories from Detention - Week 2

In conversations on immigration issues, people on many sides of the debate use the term "illegal immigrants." Some choose instead to say "illegal aliens." Even the mainstream media uses these phrases. This choice of language reflects the widely-held notion in the United States that not having proper documentation is a crime.

Get ready for this one: Being an "illegal immigrant" is not a crime.

Violations of immigration laws are civil, not criminal offenses. Let's look at a couple other examples of civil offenses. These include paying for damages in a car accident, going to court for a property dispute, or settling a disagreement about someone's will. These are not criminal offenses, and neither are immigration violations.

What is the punishment for most civil offenses? A fine. What is the punishment for immigrating to the United States without documentation, which is also a civil offense? Arrest, detention, and deportation.

When undocumented immigrants are found to be in violation of immigration laws, they go through a process to see whether they have a right to stay in the United States. Immigrants detained during this process are in non-criminal custody. However, it's easy to get confused on this point, because more than half of the immigrants in detention are held in private prisons or county jails. Some of them are even mixed in with the criminal prison population.

In this video clip, a woman who was detained in an immigration raid on a New Bedford factory gives testimony about her experience. She was separated from her daughter and refused access to a lawyer. Traumatized from the humiliation she experienced, as well as the verbal and physical abuse that she witnessed, she still chooses to share her story.

This woman's experience in the immigration detention system caused her a great deal of pain. Her story raises an important question: What should be the appropriate governmental response to people who enter the U.S. without documentation?

Since most immigration violations are civil rather than criminal offenses, the U.S. government should treat detention as a last resort. Right now, almost all the people accused of violating immigration laws are held in detention centers - no matter what their individual circumstances are. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security should develop community-based alternatives to detention for people, like the woman in this video, who are not a risk to public safety. That way, they could stay together with their families and children as their cases are processed. In addition, Congress should pass a bill on immigration reform that protects people from being treated unfairly in detention.

I will talk in much more detail about these possibilities for reform in the upcoming post, "There's a Better Way: Alternatives to Detention." But these reforms aren't going to happen tomorrow - although they could certainly happen in the next few months. In the meantime, you can help to raise awareness about the immigration detention system.

Language can be a powerful tool. The way that people talk about immigration reflects how they think about immigration. The words that frame these issues actually serve a political purpose - they shape how the discussion on immigration reform advances.

By making a conscious choice not to say "illegal immigrants" and instead to say "undocumented immigrants," you can help to educate your friends, family, and community about how violating immigration laws is not a criminal offense.

Other posts in this series:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rep. Jared Polis Speaks Out Against 287(g) Program for Creating "Sweep of Terror"

In a floor speech today, Representative Jared Polis (CO) spoke out against the federal 287(g) program, which deputizes local police officers to enforce immigration laws. This program has caused widespread racial and religious profiling -- as Rep. Polis acknowledged, it has caused a "sweep of terror" in communities around the country.

Rep. Polis spoke in reaction to the announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of signing 67 agreements with local law enforcement agencies for this program. The text of his speech is as follows:

M. Speaker – I rise today in strong opposition to the Federal 287(g) program. This unconscionable program authorizes local governments to carry out immigration law compliance, threatening law enforcement and our constitutional protections.

We’ve seen Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona despicably racially profile and round up Latinos in front of TV cameras as he has enforced his 287(g) power. We’ve watched in horror as he and others—a disgrace to the uniforms that they wear—have detained people based solely upon the color of their skin.

Arpaio is now thankfully under investigation for civil rights violations for his discriminatory, unconstitutional searches and seizures. Nevertheless, I’m sad to announce that last Friday afternoon ICE announced 287(g) agreements with sixty-seven state and local law enforcement agencies across the country.

287(g) scares victims and witnesses of crimes to avoid contacting police for fear of being mistreated. 287(g) invites exploitation by those who know that they won’t be reported to police, because it combines the contradictory duties into the same police force.

What is the result? A sweep of terror that has frightened legal and undocumented immigrants into hiding, undermining both law enforcement efforts across our country. 287(g) programs undermine the spirit and text of the U.S. Constitution, and I encourage Congress to repeal 287 (g). Thank you.

Here at FCNL, we applaud Rep. Polis for speaking out on this important issue. We urge Congress to terminate the 287(g) program.

Undocumented Children Face Barriers to Integration

In the debate on immigration reform, you don't often hear about the 2,000,000 undocumented children in the United States. Every year, 65,000 of these children graduate from high school but, because they do not have the proper documentation, they face tremendous challenges in trying to go to college or find a job. These children grew up in the United States, attended school here, developed their friends and communities here. They may not even remember their country of origin. However, there is currently no path to citizenship for them.

Graham Street Productions, in partnership with Film Action Oregon and in coordination with El Grupo Juvenil, has just produced an important new film called "Papers." This film tells the story of undocumented children seeking to live legally in the United States.

As bills on comprehensive immigration reform are introduced in Congress in the next few months, let's work together to ensure that these children are granted pathways to legal status and, eventually, citizenship, so that they can live as fully productive and integrated members of society.

"Papers" has screenings scheduled all across the country - to see the calendar, click here. Enjoy the trailer!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

FCNL Responds to Rep. Gutierrez's Principles on Immigration Reform

Here at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, we have just published a statement on the core principles that Representative Gutierrez outlined on October 13th for his new bill on reforming the U.S. immigration system.

Now is the time to fix the broken immigration system which separates families, criminalizes immigrants, and fails to protect the rights of low-income and immigrant workers. We look forward to the introduction of Representative Gutierrez's new bill.

Please take a look at our response to Representative Gutierrez by clicking here. Feel free to circulate this statement to your friends, colleagues, and community members who may be interested in learning more about immigration reform.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

Immigration was all over the headlines last week! Enjoy these snippets of the news from Monday, October 12 to Monday, October 19. If you have the time, you can also take a look at the post just below, which is the first installment of Stories from Detention, a six-week series that I'll put up every Friday between now and Thanksgiving.

If you only read one item this week, be sure to read Representative Luis Gutierrez's (IL) principles on comprehensive immigration reform that he just released on October 13th. These principles outline the progressive bill that he is expected to introduce sometime in the next few weeks. Click here for my original post about how these principles match up with our priorities, and check back soon for FCNL's statement in response to the principles. I'm looking forward very much to the introduction of this bill.

So if you thought Halloween was all fun and games, think again. This week, Target, Walgreens, and Amazon were selling "Illegal Alien" costumes, complete with an orange jumpsuit, a space alien mask, and a fake green card. The jumpsuits have the words "Illegal Alien" stamped across the chest. I am shocked and surprised - it is irresponsible of these corporations to offer such offensive costumes. Congratulations to CHIRLA (the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) and other pro-migrant organizations for petitioning these companies to stop selling this costume. Please speak out if you see these costumes for sale in your local stores.

There was a significant achievement for the border this week: members of the House removed a provision in the DHS Appropriations bill that would have allocated federal money to build 300 miles of pedestrian fencing on the US-Mexico border. Lawmakers claimed that the provision would be "wasteful spending." Also on the border, kidnappings of migrants have become more frequent, a concerning trend for those seeking economic security and a better life in the United States.

However, there's another amendment to watch out for: Senator David Vitter (LA) has introduced an amendment in the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill that would add a question to the Census about immigration status. FCNL opposes this amendment. The Census was intended to count everyone, not just citizens. If this amendment passes, it would discourage participation in the Census, resulting in a less accurate count of the U.S. population, and it would cost billions of taxpayer dollars to change the Census questions now. We urge the Senate to vote down this amendment.

At the Port Isabel detention center in Texas, 49 immigrant detainees have begun a hunger strike to protest the slow processing of their cases. The United States will detain more than 440,000 immigrants by the end of the year, and 84% of them will not have legal representation. Check out next week's post of Stories from Detention to learn more about how immigrants in detention are denied their right to a fair day in court.

Immigrants seeking to reunite with their loved ones often have to wait years, or even decades, to bring their spouses and children to the United States. Now, a federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that children waiting to join their parents have to re-apply for visas all over again if they turn 21 before their original visa application is processed. So, if I were to apply for my child to join me when she was 15 years old, and she then waited in line for 6 years and turned 21, she would have to go to the end of the line and start all over again. Families who are separated for this long experience severe emotional and financial hardship. The solution lies not in forcing people to wait in line for years on end, but in adjusting the family-based immigration system so people seeking to immigrate legally to the United States can do so in a reasonable time frame.

October 15th was the last day for counties to re-sign their agreements with DHS, under the 287(g) program, which allows local police officers to enforce immigration laws. This program has caused widespread racial and religious profiling, most visibly in the case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. When police officers focus their efforts on harassing immigrants, they do not spend enough time dealing with real safety and security concerns in their communities. In addition, immigrants (particularly women) in unsafe situations may hesitate to call the police if they think they could be deported for reporting domestic violence, for instance. Unfortunately, as the National Immigration Forum blogged, these renewed agreements do not create enough oversight to prevent discrimination from occuring.

I'll leave you with some good news. The National Association for Evangelicals has come out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Their resolution lends strength to the faith-based perspective on the need for reform now. A couple of different media sources are also musing on the need for reform. For The Hill's perspective, click here.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming Gutierrez bill!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rights and Dignity Denied: One Woman’s Story

Stories from Detention - Week 1

"Our nation's soul is at risk. Families are being torn apart. Human rights are being denied. Comprehensive immigration reform is needed now. We recognize an urgent duty and challenge to stand in solidarity with immigrants, refugees, and trafficked persons seeking fullness of life, and to act as a voice for those whose needs get lost in the political debate."
~ Sister Eileen Campbell

The use of detention as a tool of enforcement has skyrocketed in recent years. In 1996, immigration authorities had the capacity to detain less than 10,000 people on a daily basis. Today that number has tripled - more than 30,000 immigrants are detained each day. More than 440,000 people will be detained by immigration authorities this year.

Immigrants in the detention system spend anywhere from a few days to months or even years in confinement, with little access to family or lawyers on the outside. They are caught in a system that has weak guidelines and little oversight.

More than 104 individuals have died while in immigration custody since 2004, including 11 previously unreported deaths that were revealed in August 2009. Detainees being held on immigration charges are routinely denied adequate medical care, including access to medications treating pre-existing conditions.

Those in detention include immigrants who have never committed a crime, survivors of torture, asylum-seekers searching for protection from persecution, and the parents of U.S. citizen children. None of these populations receive the support and protections they need.

Moreover, until recently, families - including young children - were held in the T. Don Hutto detention facility, a former medium-security prison, in Texas. Families are still detained in the less restrictive Berks facility.

Two agencies within the Department of Homeland Security are in charge of enforcing immigration laws. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for enforcement within the United States, while Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for enforcement on the borders. People whose legal status is in question are detained in a mix of facilities run by ICE, privately contracted facilities, and county jails.

One of the people directly affected by the detention system is Juana Villegas, a Mexican woman who was stopped for careless driving and then detained in substandard conditions while nine months pregnant. Take a look at this video, in which she describes her experiences while in detention:

Juana Villegas's experiences raise questions about what place a detention system like this has in a society committed to equality, justice, and rights. Her story, which took a lot of courage to tell, sheds light on how the immigration detention system disregards the humanity of too many detainees.

While the government has the right to control its borders, it also has obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people in its territory. This does not just apply to citizens - it includes everyone, no matter their immigration status. The United States has signed and ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that:
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person (Article 3)
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9)
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state (Article 13.1)
The public debate on immigration, particularly in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, has created the impression that immigration is an issue of national security. From this debate, hate rhetoric has emerged which contributes to the widely-held impression that immigrants do not deserve any rights. This is not true. Every immigrant, whether undocumented or not, deserves to be treated with dignity and to enjoy the rights listed above.

Today, the U.S. immigration detention system violates these rights, which are protected by international law. When mandatory detention is enforced, these rights are violated. When immigrants are denied a fair day in court, these rights are violated. When ICE does not ensure that detention facilities have appropriate living conditions, these rights are violated. And when people who are particularly vulnerable to trauma and abuse are not protected, these rights are violated. The subsequent posts in this blog series will address each of these issues in turn.

When both legal and undocumented immigrants are held in detention centers for months or even years, their confinement erodes the United States' commitment to upholding justice for all. When people like Juana Villegas are treated inhumanely in the U.S. detention system, their experiences tarnish the United States' reputation as a protector and defender of human and civil rights.

In order to restore justice and respect for the rights of all, Congress and the Obama administration must take bold steps to reform the U.S. immigration detention system. The Department of Homeland Security must make good on its promise to overhaul its detention facilities. The current legislation on humane detention reform must be included in upcoming bills on broader immigration reforms. These steps would ensure that this country's immigration system works for everyone and still respects the basic rights and dignity of all immigrants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Time to Come Together

The blogs are all buzzing with chatter about yesterday's rally and Rep. Gutierrez's introduction of principles for his bill on comprehensive immigration reform. Yes, the principles are more vague than some of us had hoped. No, this appears not to be yet another enforcement-heavy bill like those we have seen in the past few years. So, let's take this moment to recognize this opportunity for what it is - a real opportunity to advance immigration reform this Congress - and come together.

Rather than making divisive statements, or threatening not to support Gutierrez's bill if it does not include certain provisions, let's rally as pro-migrant advocates around the country to show strong support for immigration reform. With the combined efforts of organizations, communities, and individuals, it will be possible to work together to ensure that provisions are included that protect all families and preserve the dignity of all immigrants.

Supporters of humane immigrant reform can't afford not to support a progressive bill. Let's come together to take advantage of this window of opportunity to pass a bill this Congress.

And let's not forget the urgency of these reforms. The network of jails and prisons detaining immigrants is still expanding. Families are still waiting in decade-long backlogs to be reunited with their loved ones. Workers are still denied the opportunity to bring grievances against employers for exploitation.

As a reminder of this urgency, Georgia Detention Watch just produced an excellent short video on the expansion of detention facilities in Georgia. Take a look:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gutierrez Outlines Core Principles for New Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

Today, at a rally of thousands of people cheering for immigrants' rights, Representative Luis Gutierrez outlined the core principles of his new comprehensive immigration reform bill. Here at FCNL, we have been anxiously awaiting the introduction of these principles, and we are very excited that Rep. Gutierrez is taking the bold step of crafting a progressive bill that will advance the conversation on immigration reform.

So what are the principles for this progressive bill?

On a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers: Rep. Gutierrez says that immigrants should have the opportunity to earn citizenship by going through background checks, paying their fair share of taxes, and learning English. (At FCNL, we hope that this pathway will be reasonable and not hindered by overly punitive criteria.)

On border enforcement: Rep. Gutierrez says that we need professional and effective border enforcement, using strategies that strengthen security while staying true to our nation's values. He calls for real working partnerships between the federal government, border communities, and other stakeholders. (At FCNL, we hope that enforcement strategies under this plan will be aligned with humanitarian values. Border enforcement should not violate environmental laws, desecrate religious sites, or induce human or civil rights abuses.)

On interior enforcement: Rep. Gutierrez says that his plan will promote fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees, and policies that respect the tenets of community policing. (At FCNL, we hope that due process will be accorded to all detainees and that detention standards will be codified.)

On protecting workers: Rep. Gutierrez says that the labor rights of workers must be expanded and that dishonest employers who exploit immigrants must be punished. (At FCNL, we hope that laws on wages, hours, health, and safety will be enforced; the ability to organized will be protected; and that all workers will have access to remedies to redress workplace grievances.)

On verification systems: Rep. Gutierrez says that the current employment eligibility verification system must be fixed, not only to protect people who are denied the right to work because of errors in the databases, but also to prevent employers from exploiting the system and undermining workers' rights. (At FCNL, we hope that there will be clear provisions protecting people who are denied the right to work due to system errors.)

On family unity: Rep. Gutierrez says that immigration reform must support strong, united families and treat all immigrant families fairly and equally. (At FCNL, we hope that this plan will be inclusive of LGBT families in order to end a long history of discrimination in the U.S. immigration system. We hope that family preference categories and per-country caps will be revised; that backlogs will be reduced; and bars to re-entry and ajustment of status will be removed.)

On future flows of workers: Rep. Gutierrez says that many guest worker programs undermine workers' rights. He says he will create an employment-based visa system that is fair to workers and employers, and he will create a commission to align visa numbers with labor market demands and economic needs. (At FCNL, we hope that this plan will expand the legal avenues for all workers, including low-skilled workers, to migrate to the United States. All immigrant workers should have their rights protected, including the ability to bring their family with them, to change their place of employment, and to apply for lawful permanent status and eventual citizenship.)

On AgJOBS: Rep. Gutierrez says that there must be an agreement between labor and agribusinesses that allows farm workers to access legal protections and immigration status while enabling employers to ensure a legal workforce and stabilize their businesses.

On DREAM Act: Rep. Gutierrez says that he will strengthen the DREAM Act to allow students who grew up in the United States to be fully integrated into U.S. society.

On immigrant integration: Rep. Gutierrez says that he will recommit federal resources to promoting and assisting immigrant integration. (At FCNL, we hope that these resources will be used to provide multi-lingual and civics education, outreach, and naturalization assistance.)

For the full text of Rep. Gutierrez's principles, click here.

To read the New York Times article on the rally and the principles, click here. To read the Latin American Herald Tribune article on the principles, click here.

Spouses of Iraq Vets Face Deportation

Immigrants contribute to the United States in diverse ways. Some arrive as entrepreneurs and start small- and medium-size businesses that provide jobs to their communities. Others are joined by their families and, by supporting them, invest in education and the economy. And yet others contribute to the United States by supporting their families while their partners serve in the U.S. army.

This population of immigrants whose spouses serve in the military is often overlooked. Brave New Foundation has just released a documentary series, "In Their Boots," highlighting the challenges that service members and their families face coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Episode 5 of this series, "Second Battle," tells the stories of the wives of two U.S. service members who are facing deportation despite their husbands' contributions. Check out the trailer for the episode:

It is hard to believe that these women could face deportation after making such sacrifices. To learn more about the system that would deport these women, check back here on Friday for the next post in the blog series "Stories from Detention."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Detention Visitation Manual Available

An important new resource has just become available for people who are concerned about immigrants held in detention facilities around the country. The Detention Watch Network (DWN) has put together the Visiting Immigrants in U.S. Detention Facilities Manual. (For additional information on the Network's efforts on visitation, click here.)

This manual represents the hard work and careful consideration of numerous DWN members, and reflects their combined experience of years of visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers and jails across the United States. Anyone can use it. By visiting immigrants in detention, you can offer friendship, assist in advocacy, enable detainees to tell their stories, and create partnerships between those who are detained and lawyers, social workers, human rights organizations, and others on the outside.

If you are interested in building a visitation program in your community, this manual will provide you with information and guidance on how to do so. For more information, go to the Detention Watch Network's website.

In Our Community: Immigration News

Here we go: The news on immigration from Monday, October 5 to Monday, October 12. Happy reading!

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in Arizona, has made the news again. Deputized under the 287(g) agreement to enforce immigration laws, Sheriff Arpaio has used his expanded powers to engage in widespread racial profiling, terrorize communities, and make mass arrests. As the New York Times editorializes, "Sheriff Arpaio has a long, ugly record of abusing and humiliating inmates." He says that he has already arrested more than 32,000 people on immigration charges, based almost entirely on racial profiling in Hispanic communities. Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has cut back their agreement with Sheriff Arpaio's office. Under the new agreement, Sheriff Arpaio will not be able to enforce immigration laws on the streets, but he will still be able to do so in jails in his county. We at FCNL maintain that federal immigration law should only be enforced by federal agents. The 287(g) program should be dismantled. As a first step, we urge DHS to cancel, in full, their agreement with Sheriff Arpaio.

In other communities around the country, including in Los Angeles, new agreements under the 287(g) program are being created, amidst much criticism. (In that vein, we encourage Mayor Bill White of Houston, TX, to choose not to participate in the 287(g) program.) When local police officers enforce federal immigration law, there is a trade-off. As more of their time is spent arresting, processing, transporting, and detaining people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, less of their time is spent attending to the legitimate safety and security concerns of their communities. This trade-off weakens communities and discourages crime reporting. See this article by Irasema Garza, of Legal Momentum, about how the 287(g) agreement discourages immigrant women from reporting domestic violence, sexual abuse, and workplace exploitation.

The costs of the 287(g) program are simply too high to be sustained.

In brighter news, Thomas E. Perez was just confirmed as the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Perez will hold the country's top civil rights post. His confirmation is long overdue - President Obama nominated him in March - but we look forward to his efforts to combat discrimination against immigrants, communities of color, and other vulnerable populations.

Back to the legislative side of things: How's comprehensive immigration reform looking? Stay tuned, because tomorrow, on October 13th, Representative Luis Gutierrez will be releasing the principles for his progressive bill on immigration reform. It is our sincere hope that this bill contains strong provisions to promote family unity, create reasonable pathways to citizenship and legal status, ensure rights and protections for all workers, and reform the detention system.

Now that health care reform is moving forward in the Senate, a number of media outlets are also looking at what's ahead. Click here for Newsweek's assessment of the push for comprehensive immigration reform. This is what Roll Call is saying about the timeline for the Senate bill.

Speaking of health care, the Migration Policy Institute has just released a report, "Immigrants and Health Care Reform: What's Really at Stake?" This report finds that excluding green card holders from accessing benefits goes against the core priority of the health care reforms: making sure that this country's uninsured population is covered. If legal immigrants are not insured for basic and preventative care, they may be forced to rely primarily on emergency care, which stresses the health care system. In addition, imposing costly verification requirements would negatively affect U.S. citizens who are not readily able to prove their legal status. Take a look at the report for additional findings based on Census data.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stories from Detention: A Six-Week Series

Welcome to "Stories from Detention," a six-week blog series examining the U.S. immigration detention system and exploring possibilities for humane reforms.

Detention is an aspect of the U.S. immigration system that, for all the attention it receives in the media, is not well understood. Anti-immigrant rhetoric creates the impression that detention is less problematic than it really is. Detention facilities themselves are often located in rural areas, away from the public eye. Immigrants held in detention facilities are often unable to tell their own stories because of the conditions of their confinement.

However, since the United States will detain over 440,000 people in 2009, it's worth a closer look.

In this series, every Friday I will post a short video in which a former detainee tells his or her story of experiencing detention. Each video will be accompanied by information about different aspects of the U.S. immigration detention system. At the end of each post, I will offer concrete steps that Congress and the Obama administration could take to reform each component of the detention system.

As you read these posts and watch the videos, keep in mind that these detainees' stories are not exceptional. Rather, they are indicative of system-wide injustices that must be corrected in order to restore the U.S. traditions of justice and equality.

Solutions to the current situation could be at hand in the near future. Members of Congress will soon be introducing legislation to reform how immigration works in the United States. Bills specifically on detention reform are already making their way through the House and Senate. The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it intends to overhaul the detention system. Will all these changes become a reality?

Your participation in this process is key. This is an issue that affects everyone -- not just immigrants and their families. Once you willingly put up with someone else's rights being taken away, you expose yourself to the possibility that one day soon, yours will be restricted as well.

Listen to these immigrants' stories, share this series with your loved ones and people in your community committed to immigration reform, and let's work together to create a future with dignity and fairness for all people, regardless of immigration status.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Faith-Based Perspectives on Immigration Reform

The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security just held a hearing this afternoon on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives." Senator Schumer invited witnesses from the evangelical faith community to speak on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Prior to the hearing, we at FCNL and our colleagues at other faith-based advocacy organizations were concerned that this panel did not represent a diversity of faith leaders, and thus was not a truly interfaith panel. However, I am pretty satisfied with what I heard expressed at the hearing today. Let me share some of the remarks of the witnesses with you:

Michael Gerson, a senior research fellow at the Center on Faith and International Affairs in Washington, DC, said that a relatively open immigration system is good for the economy. He sees bigotry in current arguments against immigration reform and sees a need for unity, saying, "No one is illegal. They are human beings with stories and struggles. Every alien is a neighbor."

Leith Anderson, the senior pastor of the Wooddale Church in Minnesota, said of immigrants that "they are us," meaning that many Christian evangelical denominations are growing largely due to immigrants. He also said that it is important to prioritize family reunification in immigration reform. His priorities for reform include: ensuring fair and humane treatment of immigrants, creating strong borders, promoting family unity, and creating a reasonable path to legal status and eventual citizenship.

Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus Theodore E. McCarrick recognized the need to welcome the stranger, a teaching that is common to many faith traditions. He said - and this is a great quote - that immigration reform is ultimately a humanitarian issue, and this issue is "the axis around which other aspects [of reform] should revolve." He is also committed to creating pathways to citizenship and family unity. In his remarks, he mentioned the need to reduce the number of deaths on the border; to protect asylum-seekers and refugees; to ensure due process so that each individual immigrant has his or her fair day in court; and to restore the rule of law. Most importantly (in my view), he said that the United States must be willing to work with its international partners to address the root causes of immigration, including trade issues.

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that this is an issue of "moral and spiritual imperative, an issue of justice." Similarly to the other witnesses, he supports an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

James Tolle, the senior pastor of the Church on the Way, called on Americans to love thy neighbor as thy self. He recognizes that undocumented students are caught in a paradox, in that once they have degrees in higher education they are unable to get jobs to implement their skills. He also spoke about how his community was personally affected by raids, in which Hispanic citizens were detained as they waited to prove their legal status. He sees undocumented immigrants as exploited, when they should be able to enjoy equality and human rights. He reminded the subcommittee that the overwhelming majority of the undocumented population are not criminals -- undocumented immigrants are seeking safety and want to obey the law.

I am very heartened to hear these faith leaders speak strongly about the need to see immigrants as people who deserve to be treated with dignity, regardless of their legal status. I am still concerned that immigration reform must include reasonable pathways to legal status and eventual citizenship -- there was some concerning talk at the hearing about the extent to which undocumented immigrants should be required to "pay their debt to society." However, I am glad that Senator Schumer and the subcommittee have recognized the voice of the faith community in advocacy on immigration reform, and I hope that this hearing indicates that Senator Schumer will be introducing a humane bill on comprehensive immigration reform in the near future.

United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination in the United States

I hope that you'll take a moment to read this press release from the ACLU on a letter by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calling for an end to racial profiling in the U.S. immigration system.

U.N. Human Rights Body Issues Decisive Observations On Racial Discrimination In U.S.

Committee On The Elimination Of Racial Discrimination Finds Progress Lacking And Calls For Legislation

NEW YORK – In a letter to the Obama administration made public by the American Civil Liberties Union today, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns over a lack of progress to end racial discrimination in the United States. The letter urged the Obama administration and Congress to do more to end racial profiling, strengthen efforts to provide adequate and affordable housing to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, end the practice of sentencing juveniles – most of whom are persons of color – to life sentences without parole and address the deprivation of Western Shoshone American Indians of their ancestral lands.

"The message from the committee is a stark reminder of how much remains to be done to achieve racial equality. Full implementation and enforcement of human rights treaty obligations are critical for making real progress at home and for U.S. leadership on human rights abroad," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The Obama administration must change gears and prioritize human rights at home. The committee's recommendations offer a blueprint to end racial discrimination and promote equal opportunity."

The committee's observations came after reviewing a one-year follow-up report submitted by the U.S. government to the committee in January 2009, days before the end of the Bush administration. That report aimed to demonstrate compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which the U.S. ratified in 1994. Based on shadow reports from nongovernmental organizations – including an ACLU and Rights Working Group (RWG) report on racial profiling – the committee, in its letter to the Obama administration, urged the U.S. to "make all efforts to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)" and to review the 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, "with a view to avoiding any ambiguous language that may provide a loophole allowing for actions to constitute racial profiling."

In its letter, the CERD committee also urged the U.S. government "to review the National Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS), with the view of avoiding racial profiling in migration policies," and to reconsider a program – known as 287(g) – that allows certain state and local law enforcement agencies to engage in federal immigration enforcement activities and has been widely criticized as fostering racial profiling and draining local police resources.

"After 9/11, the U.S. government has increasingly used immigration enforcement as a proxy to target Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities," said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of the Rights Working Group. "The conflation of immigration law with 'national security' concerns has resulted in immigration enforcement programs that foster illegal racial profiling for immigrant communities across the board. The United States government should implement the committee's recommendations and should work to end programs like NSEERS and 287(g) which have been applied discriminatorily, resulting in racial and religious profiling and numerous human rights violations."

"The best way to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations is to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)," said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "ERPA would ban the practice of racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal funding to state and local police departments if they adopt policies to prohibit the practice. Passing this act would demonstrate that the U.S. is committed to meeting the standards set by the CERD."

The committee is an independent group of 18 human rights experts that oversee compliance with CERD. In March 2008, the committee issued a strongly worded critique of the U.S. record on racial discrimination and recommendations for U.S. compliance with the CERD treaty. The Bush administration report submitted in January to demonstrate compliance was criticized by many human rights groups as a last-minute whitewash report and full of omissions.

The CERD letter to the U.S. Government is available online at:

The Bush administration's January submission to CERD is available online at:

The ACLU and RWG's report to CERD is available online at:

The CERD 2008 concluding recommendations are available online at:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Enforcement Activities Rob Immigrants of Dignity

In contrast to my post yesterday about a concerning report from the Brookings Institute, I'd like to direct your attention to some more thoughtful and humane research and advocacy by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR).

NNIRR just published a report, "Guilty By Immigration Status: A Report on U.S. Violations of the Rights of Immigrant Families, Workers, and Communities in 2008." This report examines how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration enforcement activities have, not infrequently, violated the human and civil rights of immigrants, their families, and their communities. People swept up in this system are not afforded due process, and those who perpetuate this system are not held accountable for their actions.

This report is accompanied by NNIRR's "2008 Chronology of ICE Raids," which documents the indiscriminate raids that ICE has carried out in worksites and homes over the past year. NNIRR has also put out an excellent resource called the "100 Stories Project," a collection of personal stories of individuals directly affected by ICE raids and other enforcement activities. This project sheds light on an issue that is too often overlooked or dismissed in the broader conversation on comprehensive immigration reform.

One of the stories that I was most struck by:

Annapolis, MD-- Over 100 ICE and county police raid painting company and residences, including U.S. citizens and children (June 30, 2008)
75 heavily armed ICE agents, along with 50 county police officers, raided the company offices of Annapolis Painting Services, Inc and fifteen single-family homes, resulting in the arrest of 51 workers on administrative immigration violations. Agents seized five bank accounts, eleven vehicles and homes as part of a “criminal investigation” into the hiring and harboring of undocumented immigrant workers. However, the company's owners were not arrested. Families of detainees testified to the damage caused by ICE agents who raided their homes, including broken doors and furniture. Veronica Ramos sobbed and her three young children hid under their beds in fear as ICE agents handcuffed and arrested their father, Eduardo Delgado. In another home, ICE agents handcuffed a U.S. citizen and forced him to kneel in front of his four-year-old daughter, while they searched for two others who allegedly worked at the painting.

The fundamental point is this: Immigration violations are civil offenses, not criminal offenses. The current DHS enforcement system wrongly criminalizes immigrants and terrorizes communities of color. In addition, this is an issue that affects everyone -- not just immigrants. Once you willingly put up with someone else's rights being taken away, you expose yourself to the possibility that one day soon, yours will be restricted as well.

The United States needs to shift away from the current system and toward a new system that prioritizes keeping communities safe and restoring dignity to all persons, regardless of immigration status.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Brookings Institute Releases Report Calling for Restrictions of Family-Based Immigration

Today, the Brookings Institute released a report titled "Breaking the Immigration Stalemate." The Institute claims that this report brings together people from both sides of the debate on immigration reform. Their website claims that the report identifies areas of agreement where policies could be advanced. However, in reality, the report calls for a nearly complete elimination of family-based immigration. I hope that you find this as concerning as I do.

Recommendations in the report include changing the family immigration system so that only the spouses and children under 21 of green card holders could legally immigrate. Millions of unmarried adult children of green card holders, and adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens, would no longer be eligible for visas.

The report also perpetuates incorrect myths about immigration, including the myth of chain immigration. One quote: "These are difficult and contentious policy choices which directly address critical linkages in the chain migration that results in ever-expanding family-sponsored immigrant networks." This is simply incorrect. It takes so long (between 5 and 22 years) for family members to reunite with their loved ones that it is simply not feasible for chain migration to take place on the scale described by Brookings.

It is neither good policy nor good ethics to separate families. Families are the fundamental unit of this country. Strong families make for stable communities and dynamic local economies. Strong families create support systems for individuals. The solution to the current backlogs in family-based immigration is not to cut out entire populations, making them ineligible for legal immigration -- instead, the solution lies in reforming the visa system for families in order to align it with demand. Legal immigrants in the US should be able to bring their loved ones here to join them, and including the Reuniting Families Act in comprehensive immigration reform would achieve just that.

Schriro's Report Finally Released

Exciting news! Dora Schriro's report, a comprehensive review of the ICE detention system, has finally been released. To see the full text of the report, click here. To see ICE's press release, click here, and for ICE's fact sheet, click here. To see a New York Times article on the report, click here.

So what's in the report? Here's a key quote: "The Report describes the policy, human capital, informational, and management challenges associated with the rapid expansion of ICE’s detention capacity from fewer than 7,500 beds in 1995 to over 30,000 today, without the benefit of tools for population forecasting, management, on-site monitoring, and central procurement."

Schriro recognizes that the immigration detention system is supposed to be administrative, not punitive. However, as she says, currently the system relies almost completely on jails and prisons and therefore needs to be realigned with its administrative purposes. The report includes recommendations on seven components of detention that ICE must address: Population Management, Alternatives to Detention, Detention Management, Programs Management, Medical Care, Special Populations, and Accountability.

I am very glad to see this report made available to the public, and its recommendations are quite good overall. The recommendations may not go as far as we would like. We would like to be sure that detainees receive due process. We would like to see the creation of real community-based alternative to detention programs. We would like to see gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons included in the definition of vulnerable populations. And we would like to see codification of detention standards to ensure that they are enforceable. Still, this is an important document that - if fully implemented in a timely manner - could ensure that some of the most severe human and civil rights violations in the detention system are corrected.

The real question is on implementation. Unfortunately, Schriro is no longer with ICE. The ICE fact sheet gives a brief timeline for the implementation of different components of the reforms. Starting now, Napolitano and Morton need to make good on their release of the Schriro report by carrying out immediate steps to prove their commitment to implement these reforms.

Napolitano and Morton Outline ICE Reforms

Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano and Assistant Secretary John Morton met with the press to reveal their plans to overhaul the U.S. immigration detention system. These plans include intentions to renovate motels and nursing homes to serve as detention facilities. These facilities would, Napolitano says, be less restrictive than current detention facilities. The agency also plans to build two new ICE detention facilities to serve as models for others.

As Napolitano and Morton have expressed, these reforms are meant to centralize the detention system, which is currently decentralized and lacking oversight. As it stands now, detainees are held in a mix of ICE detention centers, privately managed facilities, and county jails. ICE reforms are also intended to improve efficiency and cut costs.

I hold mixed feelings about these details of the ICE reforms - on one hand, I am heartened to learn that Morton intends to improve oversight and create less-restrictive detention facilities for detainees who do not pose a risk to themselves or others. I also hope that these reforms will help to deconstruct the profit-oriented prison-industrial complex that exists today. However, on the other hand, I have not yet heard any viable plans on the part of ICE to pursue true community-based alternatives to detention.

Having detainees wear ankle bracelets is not an alternative to detention - it is merely another form of custody. Vulnerable populations and other detainees who do not pose a risk to themselves or others should be enrolled in community-based alternatives to detention programs or released as their cases are processed. Detention should be a last resort, not a default.

A good first step in this direction would be for ICE to conduct a comprehensive risk and needs assessment of its detainee population. Such an assessment would give ICE a clearer picture of which detainees could be eligible for less restrictive forms of custody, alternatives to detention, or release.

In addition, ICE needs to make a stronger commitment to immediately providing needed medical treatment for all detainees. It is unconscionable for detainees to die or experience permanent disability because recommended medical treatment was withheld.

See this New York Times editorial for some more thoughts on yesterday's announcement.

A bit of background: John Morton had assigned Dora Schriro, a corrections expert, to do a thorough review of the detention system. After eight months, Schriro submitted her report to Morton, but then left the agency to become the commissioner of correction in New York City. In August, following Schriro's report, Morton announced ambitions plans to reform ICE to shift from a penal system to a truly civil detention system. At that point, Schriro's report had not been made public and the details of the ICE reforms were unclear. Now, Secretary Napolitano's meeting with the press yields some clarity. The 35-page Schriro report will be made available to the public online this afternoon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Looking for Something To Do Next Weekend?

Visit a museum! Thirteen museums around the country have launched a program that connects the current challenges facing those seeking immigration reform with people throughout history who have engaged in similar struggles.

The program is called "Face to Face: Immigration Then and Now." These exhibits will promote civil dialogues on immigration, offering opportunities to hear personal stories of immigrants, learn about deportation, study labor organizing, and more. The program's director, Liz Sevcenko, is quoted as saying that, with these exhibits, "people are able to look at this issue in a much more informed and measured way."

The participating museums are members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

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.