Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Just a brief update: To celebrate the holiday season, I will be visiting family and friends between now and January 3. I look forward to sharing more news, stories, and analysis on immigration reform when I return! Enjoy the holiday break!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Broadening the Scope of Our Vision

This reflection was written by Mike Huber, an FCNL constituent, in response to FCNL's Annual Meeting 2009 and the approval of an epistle encouraging Quakers to engage with American Muslims:

I see a connection between FCNL's outreach to American Muslims and the work FCNL is doing on immigration reform. After September 11, our nation has become preoccupied with the story of foreigners penetrating the security of our borders. We've become increasingly fearful of the "other." Our policies have emerged from this place of fear. We need to broaden the scope of our vision. We need to hear about the experience of our Muslim neighbors. We need to hear about the experience of Mexican, Filipino, Indian and Chinese immigrants. We need to hear about children and families. Once we know these stories, we will find our way to new policies.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Book on Immigration Offers Compelling Coming-of-Age Story

Helen Thorpe, an FCNL supporter from Denver, CO, has just published a wonderful new book, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America. This compelling story is an excellent resource for local faith organizations, book clubs, and discussion groups, especially in areas where the community is struggling with cultural barriers or hate groups.

FCNL's Executive Secretary, Joe Volk, sees a lot to like in Thorpe's remarkable ability to portray the human side of the broken immigration system. By telling the story of four young women facing diverse barriers to integration and acceptance in the United States, Thorpe urges readers to reconsider the definition of who may be considered "American." Click here to read Joe Volk's blog post on Just Like Us.

Just Like Us
has been chosen as one of the Five Best Books in the West of 2009 by New West and selected for the Washington Post's Holiday Guide: Best Books of 2009. The book is available in stores and on Amazon and Borders. Enjoy and please share the word!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rep. Gutierrez Introduces Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009

Today, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) and 87 original cosponsors introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009. This progressive comprehensive immigration reform bill identifies a number of workable solutions to humanely reform the broken immigration system. It is the first comprehensive immigration reform bill to be introduced this Congress.

I attended the press conference for the introduction of the bill and, let me tell you, the room was packed. Members of Congress, Congressional staff, members of the press, immigration advocates, faith leaders, and immigrants of all backgrounds crowded into the room, cheering "Yes we can!" The energy was fantastic. While a lot of work remains for us to achieve humane and fair comprehensive immigration reform, Rep. Gutierrez's bill offers important elements of reform.

Rep. Gutierrez described his bill as pro-family, pro-jobs, and pro-security. He said, "We've waited long enough. We've turned the other cheek... Now with this bill let's end the blame game and turn our immigrants into Americans." All the members of Congress who spoke echoed the sentiment that now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform.

Rep. Velazquez, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said, "I am standing here so proudly. I have never been so proud in my eighteen years in Congress. Never." She, like Rep. Gutierrez, believes that comprehensive immigration reform is urgently needed, saying, "There's no wrong or right time. There is a moral obligation."

Rep. Crowley, who along with 110 representatives sent a letter to President Obama earlier this year calling for immigration reform, spoke strongly about the need to restore the rights and dignity of all immigrants. He said, "End illegal immigration. Secure our borders. But don't dismiss for a moment the issue of dignity, the dignity of humankind."

FCNL congratulates Representative Gutierrez and the 87 original cosponsors of CIR ASAP for advancing the conversation on comprehensive immigration reform. We look forward to working with Representative Gutierrez and other members of Congress to achieve humane and fair comprehensive immigration reform in 2010.

CIR ASAP is endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Its original cosponsors include members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. For more information on the content of CIR ASAP, check out this section-by-section summary by the Immigration Policy Center.

Monday, December 14, 2009

In Our Community: Immigration News

Here it is, your immigration news from Monday, December 7 to Monday, December 14!

Very exciting news! Tomorrow, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) will introduce his progressive comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP). In a press statement released today, Representative Gutierrez said: "We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by this Congress and our President. The time for waiting is over. This bill will be presented before Congress recesses for the holidays so that there is no excuse for inaction in the New Year. It is the product of months of collaboration with civil rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. It is an answer to too many years of pain —mothers separated from their children, workers exploited and undermined security at the border— all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system. This bill says 'enough,' and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of." FCNL congratulates Representative Gutierrez on his bill and looks forward to working with him and other members of Congress toward humane and fair comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. Read this op-ed to learn why immigration reform is the "right stuff."

The introduction of Representative Gutierrez's bill comes at an important time, on the heels of a major raid in California that serves as a reminder of the urgent need for immigration reform. Nearly 300 immigrants were detained in this three-day raid and at least 100 have already been removed from the country. Meanwhile, advocates in New Jersey have been working tirelessly to keep Indonesian Christians in their community out of detention and state employees in Arizona are struggling to provide public services under new state requirements to report undocumented immigrants to ICE.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding an important hearing on December 16, "The Law of the Land: U.S. Implementation of Human Rights Treaties." This hearing, the first of its kind, will examine how the United States can fulfill its international obligations under human rights law. FCNL has submitted a statement for the record about our concerns regarding arbitrary and indefinite detention as well as the need for due process protections for detained immigrants.

An op-ed in the New York Times calls for "Coverage Without Borders," addressing the issue of access to health care for immigrants in the United States. A key quote: "
It certainly does not help Americans as a whole to remain healthy when millions of people, including schoolchildren, cannot get basic preventive care like immunizations and medications." The Senate is expected to finish debating the health care bill by the end of the month and - hopefully - the final version of the bill will remove the 5-year bar on Medicaid for green card holders.

Undocumented students are speaking out in unison about the need for immigration reform. In this remarkable story, students who may risk deportation by identifying themselves are coming out en masse in support of the DREAM Act, a bill that would put eligible undocumented students on a fast track to legal status and eventual citizenship. Carlos Roa, from Venezuela, says: “The undocumented youth are losing our fear of being undocumented. I’m public with this. I’m not hiding anymore.”

Why do we need comprehensive immigration reform in a recession? Well, the Boston Globe says, more immigrants are leaping into business ownership now than ever. Immigrant-owned businesses create millions of jobs in the United States each year. Check out FCNL's new document, "Immigration Reform is Key to Economic Recovery," for more information.

I'll leave you with an incredible story by the Washington Post on how second-generation immigrants struggle to find their footing in communities in which they are only partially integrated. Another Washington Post article points out that the children of undocumented immigrants are twice as likely as others to live in poverty. Comprehensive immigration reform would permit families, such as those featured in this article, to fully integrate into the community and contribute more robustly to the U.S. economy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Commemoration of Human Rights Day 2009: Immigrants Have Rights Too... Right?

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ~World Health Organization, 1948

If you don't have your health, then almost nothing else matters. From the smallest of injuries to grave illnesses, poor health disrupts daily life and can threaten your livelihood or even your survival. What so many of us take for granted - a healthy body, access to health care, and an environment conducive to good health - remains inaccessible for many of today's immigrants.

This Thursday, December 10, is Human Rights Day, which commemorates the 61st anniversary of the creation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This year, as health care reform advances in Congress and immigration reform is around the corner, let's take a moment to consider whether immigrants deserve to be in good health.

This should seem like a no-brainer, right? Of course immigrants deserve to be healthy, just like everyone else. But this notion, that people have rights based on their common humanity, is actually not yet well accepted in the United States. It is time for the U.S. government to recognize that the right to health is an essential and basic human right.

Immigrants face multiple barriers to good health. Conflicts abroad can force them from their homelands, sending them on a circuitous journey across national borders with few resources. Environmental destruction can dry up wells, destroy crops, and send people out in search of a better life. Economic disparities and governmental policies can deny immigrants and other marginalized populations access to basic health care even when it is widely available to the rest of the population.

The premise of human rights like the right to health is that people deserve to live with a certain level of dignity, and if they are unable to achieve that on their own, then their government will step in and help them out. Human rights law is a way of holding governments responsible to their people.

International human rights law clearly supports health as a human right. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights both state that all peoples have the right to a standard of living that promotes physical and mental health and well-being. In addition, the United States, as a signatory to the Charter of the Organization of American States, is committed to development efforts that promote a healthful life for all.

But how do these international commitments translate on the ground?

If the state of the current health reform legislation is any indicator, then the United States has a long way to go in ensuring that all of its residents - including immigrants - have access to adequate health care. Even with the upcoming reforms, immigrants face significant and unfair restrictions. Undocumented immigrants may not be able to buy coverage in the health insurance exchange even with their own money. Immigrants with green cards, who are in the country legally, would still face a 5-year ban for Medicaid.

From a public health standpoint, it just makes sense to want as many people as possible to have good access to health care. Healthy people make for healthy and productive communities. This is a common-sense solution to a shared problem. From a human rights standpoint, immigrants deserve health care coverage just as much as anyone else.

But the broken U.S. immigration system prevents immigrants from demanding their rights. Undocumented immigrants, unable to adjust their legal status, are particularly at risk of human rights abuses.

One of the most prominent sites of human rights abuses is the immigration detention system. The Department of Homeland Security will detain more than 440,000 immigrants annually by the end of 2009. Most of these immigrants are non-criminal and are suspected only of immigration violations, yet they are detained in jail-like settings and routinely denied access to basic and timely health care. Cases have been documented in which regularly taken medication was withheld, follow-up treatment for cancer was denied, and sick call requests were ignored. At least 104 immigrants have died in detention since 2003. This is unacceptable.

Just about everyone agrees that the U.S. immigration system is broken and needs fixing. Immigrants and their families need workable solutions that make it possible to live with dignity, in a way that is consistent with this country's values of equality and opportunity. Health is an essential part of this equation.

In honor of Human Rights Day and in recognition of health as a human right, Congress should include immigrants in the final health reform bill and work toward passing humane and comprehensive immigration reform in early 2010.

In Our Community: Immigration News

Even though you may not have heard much about immigration policy in this past week's news, the broken immigration system continues to negatively affect communities across the country. Take a look at the news on immigration from Monday, November 30 to Monday, December 7.

Immigration news made it to the front page of the New York Times! Human Rights Watch and the Constitution Project have released reports on how immigrant detainees are denied their fair day in court due, in part, to frequent and unnecessary transfers to remote detention facilities. Another new report finds that the number of immigrants in detention has more than doubled since 1999. In fiscal year 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 369, 483 immigrants. Most of these immigrants are non-criminal and do not pose a risk to society - they are only held for immigration violations. Still, immigrant detainees are held for months or even years in jail-like settings with limited contact with attorneys and families.

Here's a paradox: The Department of Homeland Security is detaining refugees for failing to apply for permanent residence within a year - but the law requires refugees to wait a year before applying! As AlterNet points out, "In essence, ICE detains refugees for not doing what the law bars them from doing." Back in September, President Obama authorized the entrance of 80,000 refugees annually. Refugees, fleeing persecution abroad, have historically been welcomed into the United States. The U.S. government should take immediate steps to stop DHS from manipulating the broken immigration system as a tool with which to punish vulnerable refugees.

A border activist in Arizona is threatened with jail time for not complying with his sentence on leaving water jugs on a wildlife reserve. Walt Staton was originally convicted of littering for placing water jugs out for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He has so far refused to comply with orders to do community service, saying that humanitarian aid is not a crime.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security continues to expand border militarization. This time it's through virtual fence technology. The project, known as SBInet, would place cameras, sensors, and radar along hundreds of miles of the border. Initially plagued by delays and unforeseen costs, the project currently only exists in small segments of the border with Arizona and would not be fully implemented until 2014.

The Boston Herald reports that Pedro Tavarez, a 49-year-old Dominican immigrant who died in October while in a Massachusetts detention center, had gone into cardiac arrest and therefore died of natural causes. Tavarez's loved ones remain skeptical and hope for further investigation into the cause of death. Most immigrants held in detention centers lack access to basic health care.

Think that immigration has nothing to do with you? Think again. All residents of New Mexico may soon be required to carry passports in order to fly on a plane. These requirements come as part of the Real ID Act, an identity verification bill left over from the Bush administration. Some states have passed laws exempting them from complying with Real ID but New Mexico isn't one of them - and all its residents, including U.S. citizens, may soon face the consequences.

In the Houston Chronicle, the Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr. calls on us to follow Martin Luther King Jr.'s guidance on immigration reform. He recognizes the value of justice for all, saying, "King's vision provides a helpful tool with which to view the immigration struggle today." He points out that today's broken immigration system makes it nearly impossible for immigrants to enter the United States legally. Rather than perpetuating a broken system driven by fear, he envisions a world in which each person's humanity is valued and immigrants are welcomed into U.S. communities.

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, a known anti-immigrant group, has withdrawn its support for Lou Dobbs (who recently left CNN). ALIPAC says that it is concerned that Dobbs supports a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Dobbs has talked in the media about a possible run for president in 2012 and may be trying to soften his message and reach out to the Latino community for votes, but for the moment it looks as though neither side is interested in having him on board.

I'll leave you with an excellent video making the case for open borders, which I found on the blog I am a shadow. If you haven't read this blog yet, I recommend you do - the author is an undocumented university student sharing his daily lived experiences.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Reports on Detainee Transfers Outline Chaotic System and Due Process Challenges

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released a new report, "Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States." This report details the plight of immigrant detainees whose basic rights, including access to legal representation, are compromised due to frequent transfers to detention facilities in remote parts of the country. In HRW's press release, Alison Parker (the report's author and the organization's deputy U.S. director) says, "ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of musical chairs... And it's a game with dire consequences since it may keep them from finding an attorney or presenting evidence in their defense."

According to the report:
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has so far rejected efforts to place enforceable standards on detainee transfers.
  • Detainee transfers are becoming increasingly common, more than doubling from 2003 (122,783) to 2007 (261,941). Transfers have significant adverse effects on detainees' access to legal counsel and families, ultimately leading to wrongful deportations.
  • HRW recommends that ICE should: centralize control of its facilities, instead of continuing to rely on subcontracted facilities such as local jails; turn to alternatives to detention as often as possible; work with the Executive Office for Immigration Review to improve detainees' access to attorneys; and revise current guidelines to prohibit transfers except when necessary under specific conditions.
Research for this report was conducted in collaboration with Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which has released its own report as well. TRAC also has made public a new and highly useful resource that can generate reports on transfer records for specific immigration detention facilities.

In addition, the Constitution Project has released its own report detailing immigration detention conditions and the need to improve access to legal counsel, called "Recommendations for Reforming Our Immigration Detention System and Promoting Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings". This document offers an overview of and recommendations regarding certain aspects of detention reform.

All of these reports come at an important time: The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has also just released a report on detainee transfers. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policies and Procedures Related to Detainee Transfers" seeks to determine whether ICE detention officers properly justify detainee transfers according to ICE's standards. The report finds that ICE needs to create a national standard on detainee transfers because the current process is inconsistent causing errors, delays, and confusion.

Ultimately, detainee transfers cause hardship for immigrants caught up in the broken immigration system. Transfered to remote facilities away from their families and lawyers, with few ways to communicate with their loved ones and gather materials to argue their case, immigrant detainees face tremendous odds. Moreover, the majority of immigrant detainees are non-criminal yet they are held in jail-like settings and do not have the right to a government-paid lawyer. Comprehensive immigration reform, including detention reform, is desperately needed to restore justice to the U.S. immigration system.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

UNHCR Sees 'Positive Development' in U.S. Pursuit of Alternatives to Detention

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, commends the United States government for developing alternatives to detention for immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of whom are currently detained in jail-like settings as their cases are processed. Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller, who was briefed by ICE during her visit to the States, called the newest phase of the administration's alternatives to detention program a "positive development."

Although the current immigration enforcement system favors detention as a default, ICE has developed an alternative program known by its acronym ISAP. Earlier iterations of the program were very restrictive, requiring most participants to wear ankle bracelets with GPS tracking. The current version, known as ISAP II, is less restrictive and permits participants to remain at home while meeting regularly with staff for check-ins.

Erika Feller's visit is one piece of the early phase of efforts, on the part of UNHCR, to determine which alternative to detention program is most favorable for asylum-seekers. ICE, for its part, is in the process of working toward expanding its alternative to detention program on the national level. At FCNL, we see this as a positive step toward the ultimate goal of reducing the number of people held in immigration detention centers in the United States.

Most immigrants held in detention centers, including asylum-seekers, are non-criminal and do not present a security or flight risk. Detention is an overly restrictive measure for these populations. At FCNL, we say that there's a better way: alternatives to detention.

FCNL supports alternatives to detention, binding detention standards, and due process protections for detained immigrants. We encourage the administration to establish a presumption against detention by creating real nation-wide community-based alternatives to detention. For more information on alternatives to detention, read our blog series "Stories from Detention."