Monday, December 13, 2010

An Independent Commission on Immigration and Labor: What is it?

I attended a day-long conference last week at the Economic Policy Institute called Labor shortages and immigration reform: promises and pitfalls of an independent commission. A number of economists, immigration experts and labor representatives got together to discuss the idea of a commission that would figure out how immigrant workers would fit into the U.S. economy. Two representatives from Britain's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) were also there, to talk about their experience with a similar commission in the United Kingdom.

The panelists agreed the U.S. should set up an independent professional commission to research labor shortages and make recommendations to the government about how many workers the U.S. should invite in, based on current data. Its main purpose would be to make sure that occupations are filled primarily by native-born workers, and foreign workers are invited in to take jobs when there is a labor shortage and native-born workers are not taking jobs in a given occupation. In times like these, when so many people who are already legally in the U.S. and without work, a commission like this would probably recommend few, if any work-based visas.

Doris Meissner, the Former Commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, pointed out that the legal immigration system at the moment so inflexible that it can’t keep up with social changes and economic changes in the U.S. A better way to write policy, she argues, is to create a process that sets annual “quotas” that can be changed as circumstances change. The policy for recruiting immigrant workers should be flexible, not locked in. The independent commission should focus on just this one question: what kind of labor shortages are U.S. employers facing and how many immigrant workers should be invited in to meet that need.

The British commission on immigration and labor consists of economists and experts on immigration and [labor?] policy. The government asks it to research specific questions such as researching labor shortages in a specific occupation that could be filled by foreign workers. In addition to broad national research, the commission engages in meetings and visits with employers to provide "bottom up" evidence as well. The MAC then publishes reports and recommends changes in immigration policy to the government, whichmay or may not be passed.

A main theme over the course of the day was the question, "what is essential to making a commission like this work?" Panelists agreed that the commission must be independent, and non-partisan; [labor and?] immigration [are?] intensely political issues, and the facts are not easily separated from the political arguments that usually occupy the center of the debate. Martin Ruhs, a member of the MAC, said that the commission's non-partisan research has contributed to the quality of the debate on immigration. Secondly, members that are experts in policy, labor, immigration, and economics will ensure that the commission is professional. The research process and data need to be transparent in order for the commission to be accepted and seen as credible by lawmakers and the public.

Immigration commissions are a long part of our U.S. history. Panelist Susan Martin, from the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, explained that over centuries, commissions have informed immigration law in the U.S. The earliest was the 1775 Industrial Commission, to the Dillingham Commission whose recommendations led to the restrictionist laws in the Immigration Act of 1924 that established strict quotas based on nationality (Check out this blog post for more information on that era). A labor commission like the one being discussed here would focus exclusively on the need for foreign labor for jobs that aren't being filled by American workers and not on the nationality of the workers.

An independent commission fits into the comprehensive immigration reform puzzle by being part of the solution to control future immigration. Research-based empirical evidence can yield realistic and fair quotas to match up with the labor needs of the country, which can change more quickly than legislators can keep up with. The challenges are numerous, such as

  • developing reliable and valid data gathering and evaluation tools (i.e. does the research accurately reflect the needs it identifies? Are the recommendations adequately supported?),
  • the sheer number of issues that urgently need to be addressed, and
  • the risk of politicization of those results on the floor of the House and Senate after publication.

The most recent CIR bill introduced by Senators Menendez (NJ) and Leahy (VT) includes a Standing Commission on Immigration, Labor Rights, and the National Interest designed to establish employment-based immigration policy, implement a policy-focused research agenda, and make recommendations to Congress and the President on quotas for employment-based visa categories. The purpose of the commission also includes "promot[ing] America's economic growth and competitiveness while minimizing job displacement, wage depression, unauthorized employment" (To see bill text, click here). By enforcing labor laws for employers and all workers, the commission would prevent further undercutting of U.S. employment. To see FCNL's summary of the Menendez CIR bill, click here, and read the post just below this on It's Our Community!

The keyword of the day was "sensible." Accurate research that shows where we need foreign workers can lead to sensible quotas that allow workers to come and work legally in occupations that need them. Laura Reiff from the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition made the point that there are millions of visas too few for low-skill workers (ie. workers for low-skilled jobs in agriculture, construction and the service industry), which is why we have such a high number of undocumented workers. Is an independent commission the right answer? Let us know what you think.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010

In September, Senators Bill Menendez (NJ) and Patrick Leahy (VT) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Act of 2010 (S. 3932). As the word “comprehensive” implies, the bill proposes changing many aspects of the immigration system; it’s a complicated bill. It is important to carefully scrutinize each provision of a bill so large in order to be sure it has the rights and safety of immigrants at heart. The "enforcement-only" approach, which often comprises major parts of CIR bills, is often touted as true reform, though it does not does not stem the flow of undocumented immigrants, does not provide a solution for the millions of undocumented people already here, and has induced human and civil rights abuses. Although FCNL firmly believes that comprehensive reform is needed immediately, there are often provisions that don’t comply with our statement of principles for just and humane immigration reform, and these must be not be overlooked.

Many parts of the more-than-800 page bill are positive reforms that enable immigrants to live and work with dignity. Some of these include:

- The inclusion of important stand-alone bills such as the AgJOBS bill, the DREAM Act, and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).

- Creating a Lawful Prospective Immigrant status for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.

- Improving detention conditions and implementing secure alternatives to detention.

- Expanding labor protections under many work visa programs.

- Improving access to interpreters in state courts.

- Ending the waiting period for refugees and asylees to obtain green cards.

- Improving training and accountability for Department of Homeland Security border and immigration officers

- Coordinating local law enforcement agencies, border security and crime fighting with Canada and Mexico.

Some stipulations of the bill, however, have us deeply concerned. There are a lot of “enforcement-first” provisions that impose steep penalties instead of addressing root causes. Most significantly, the bill calls for many new border enforcement requirements that must be met before any undocumented immigrant is eligible for legal status. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • A total force of 6,410 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents investigating criminal law violations,
  • 21,000 Border Patrol agents,
  • 7 unmanned aircraft systems,
  • Remote video surveillance systems at 300 sites,
  • 200 scope trucks,
  • 56 mobile surveillance systems

Some “trigger” requirements are positive, such as implementing civil detention standards, dramatically increasing enrollment in alternatives to detention, and utilizing worksite auditors to develop cases against employers suspected of serious violations. The militarization of the border, however, is not an effective way to address the flow of undocumented immigrants.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified to a Senate Appropriations Committee in May of this year:

“Every marker and every milepost that has been laid down by the Congress in terms of number of agents, deployment of technology, construction of fencing and the like, has already either been completed or is within a hair’s breadth of being completed … One of the questions I think we need to talk about is whether securing the border is ever going to be reached, or whether that goalpost is going to keep moving.”

When is enough enough? Check out FCNL’s resources on enforcement to find out more about this flawed approached to immigration reform. Other provisions of the bill that are particularly worrisome are:

Heightened penalties for document fraud and illegal entry

Increased penalties result in a larger number of people in prisons. The prison system is already too large, and this is an expensive policy that does not actually solve the problem, and will not serve as an adequate disincentive.

Mandating the use of an employment verification system and biometric identifiers.

The proposed employment verification system depends on the Social Security database, which has an extremely high error rate, especially for individuals with foreign-sounding last names. For example, Asian names and surnames are sometimes mistakenly interchanged, and Latin American names, which are often two first names and two last names, can be improperly categorized. As a result, an employer could run the name of a potential employee through the database and result in “no match,” though this does not necessarily mean the individual is not in the system.

When analyzing a bill, it is important to consider what’s left out of it. At FCNL, we are disappointed not to see any stipulations that mandate the enforcement of wage, hour, health and safety laws in the workplace for all employees. This is essential to the fair treatment not just of immigrant workers, but of U.S.-born workers as well. Broad enforcement of these laws would make it more difficult for a U.S. employer to undercut U.S. born workers by bringing in “cheap” undocumented workers to work without protections of U.S. labor laws. Evening the playing field would allow the Labor Commission (provided for in the bill) to make a realistic and accurate assessment of the number of additional workers needed in the U.S. for various industries.

In all, this CIR bill is a mixed bag. It proposes essential reforms that are urgently needed, such as alternatives to detention and reformation of the legal system, but the enforcement provisions have us very worried. A more detailed summary on the bill can be found on our website. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Economics of Immigration

Does immigration burden or benefit the U.S. economy? This year, several reports have been released demonstrating the economic value of immigration to the United States. It's often hard to step away from the emotional and moral aspects of the debate, but factual, objective research forms the strongest foundation for fair and effective immigration reform. Check out a few reports below:

- The Hamilton Project, a research project with the Brookings Institution, released a paper called Ten Economic Facts About Immigration. The paper's main conclusions are that immigrants come from diverse backgrounds, cover a wide spectrum of skill sets, and generally pay more taxes than they receive in benefits. These might seem obvious, but anti-immigrant arguments often dispute these claims. Read more here.
- A study conducted by the Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress states that comprehensive immigration reform with a path to legal status would increase U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by at least .84 percent. Over ten years, GDP would increase by $1.5 trillion, cumulatively. Mass deportation would reduce GDP by 1.46 percent and would lead to widespread job loss for higher skill natives.
- A paper published through the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco argues that instead of competing for the same jobs, employers hire immigrant workers for low-skill jobs, which expands job opportunities for native-born workers and result in a more productive economy.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. want to be productive members of society, and the research above indicates that regardless of legal status, they are integral parts of our economy. We already believe that immigrants have human and civil rights and deserve to be treated with respect, but it appears in order to change minds about comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., that alone will not suffice. Hopefully, this research can help inform our conversations about immigration and support our work towards immigration reform.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Time to Say Goodbye!

Today is my last day as a program assistant at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, so I must say goodbye to you for now. It's been a wonderful year, and I have been so heartened to learn of all the passion and enthusiasm across the country for comprehensive immigration reform. All I can say is, keep it up!

Ruth Flower and Hannah Cole-Chu, one of FCNL's incoming program assistants, will be managing the blog from this point on. Hannah does not arrive until September, so it may be a little quiet around here in August. As for me, in September I will be moving to Zimbabwe to work with a clinic that provides medical and legal services for survivors of torture. My role will be to set up a support and referral system for clients seeking income-generating activities. I hope to be there for a year or so.

I hope that you'll stick with us through the transition and thank you for all that you do to support comprehensive immigration reform!

Injunction Granted, Just in Time!

Great news!!

A federal judge has blocked key provisions of S.B. 1070, the controversial immigration law in Arizona that was scheduled to go into effect tomorrow. The judge has blocked the requirement that police have to check the immigration status of anyone they "reasonably suspect" of being in the country without authorization.

A judge grants a preliminary injunction if he or she finds that the case is likely to suffer "irreparable harm" if the judge does not prevent the law (or part of the law) from going into effect. If police in Arizona were to start enforcing S.B. 1070 tomorrow, it would profoundly alter the context in which the lawsuits are considered.

You can read the full decision here.

Still, even though the critical components of S.B. 1070 will not go into effect tomorrow, some of the horrific effects of this discriminatory immigration law are already visible:
  • Immigrants - both those with and without papers - have been packing up and fleeing the state in search of safer territory.
  • Arizona's economy has plummeted due to a national boycott in which tourism has dropped, conferences have been rescheduled elsewhere, and cities across the country have refused to support business with Arizona.
  • U.S. citizens fear being wrongfully deported if they experience racial profiling.
  • Well-intentioned police officers in Arizona struggle to determine how to walk a fine line.
For more information, see the Detention Watch Network's website about the consequences of S.B. 1070, or see Immigration Policy Institute's new report, "A State of Confusion."

Advocates have been gathering in Arizona to participate in prayer vigils and to consider acts of civil disobedience if the law were to fully come into effect tomorrow. Meanwhile, the private prison industry stands to make a profit from increased arrests, detentions, and deportations - even if the people they detain were picked up due to racial profiling. No matter what, all eyes have been on Arizona.

At FCNL, we welcome the injunction against S.B. 1070. We hope that states considering similar proposals will rethink their positions, given the situation in Arizona at this point. Above all, we urge President Obama and members of Congress to act swiftly to comprehensively reform the broken immigration system, to reassert federal control and restore the U.S. tradition of welcoming immigrants.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Join the Call: Include All Families in Immigration Reform

You're invited to join Representative Mike Honda (CA), Bishop Minerva Carcano, and families impacted by our broken immigration system on a special grassroots call designed for advocates and concerned community members like you!

Learn about the moral imperative to move comprehensive immigration reform forward this year, and hear stories about why LGBT families need your support to make sure their immigration rights are protected.

Comprehensive immigration reform isn't truly comprehensive unless all families, gay and straight, are included. We hope you can join us for this important nationwide call!

To register and receive materials for the call, please go to You'll also have the unique opportunity to submit questions to Rep. Honda before the call.

In Our Community: Immigration News

It's been a hot, hot week in DC and immigration has been heating up around the country, with Arizona's new immigration law (S.B. 1070) so close to taking effect. Keep up with the news on immigration from Monday, July 19 to Monday, July 26.

On July 24, advocates created their own ICE checkpoint at Netroots Nation, demanding the "papers" of all white conference participants before they would be allowed to enter the cafeteria. This creative direct action drew attention to the problems of racial profiling in immigration enforcement. One of the people who got stopped said, "Even though it was a total satire, it was right on. And you can begin to get a sense of what that would be like to constantly have the fear that you will be asked to produce papers." The checkpoint was inspired by this direct action, posted on YouTube earlier in the year.

Human Rights Watch has published a new report, "Deportation by Default," which addresses the particular vulnerabilities of immigrants with mental disabilities who are held in jail-like detention centers for months or even years. These immigrants do not have the right to a lawyer and they are often unable to represent themselves. Justice is denied. As Sarah Mehta, the report's lead author, says, "Someone who doesn't know their own name or what country they're from is going through some of the most complicated legal proceedings in the United States with no right to assistance, even when everyone in the courtroom knows they need it."

One in five New York public school districts is requiring immigration papers in order for a child to enroll in school, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that all children, regardless of legal status, must be given equal access to public education. This discriminatory requirement discourages families from bringing their children to school, for fear of being deported.

The Feet in Two Worlds blog has posted an excellent story, "Listening to Both Sides in Arizona's Immigration Debate," which interviews two individuals on different sides of the immigration debate. It's an important reminder of this basic lesson: Listening to one another helps establish trust, which counters the fear that too often drives the conversation on immigration issues.

The TransAfrica Forum has released a new report assessing the conditions in Haiti, now six months after the devastating earthquake. The displacement camps continue to face "atrocious" conditions, with issues such as flooding, gender-based violence, disease, and access to food, water, and housing remaining severe. FCNL worked to secure Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians in the United States, which was granted just after the earthquake.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arguments in AZ Lawsuits Heard Today

Today, a federal court in Arizona has been hearing arguments in two challenges to S.B. 1070, Arizona's new immigration law which would require police officers to check the legal status of anyone they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant.

The first lawsuit was brought by the ACLU, MALDEF, the National Immigration Law Center, the NAACP, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. The second was brought by the Department of Justice.

These two challenges are being argued back to back, and the court will decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction to keep S.B. 1070 from going into effect on July 29.

FCNL strongly opposes the Arizona law, which opens the door to racial profiling and distracts police officers from their primary tasks of ensuring community safety. Federal immigration law should only be enforced by federal authorities, not by state or local authorities without proper oversight, training, or authorization. Stay tuned for the results of today's arguments in court...

Monday, July 19, 2010

National Guard to be Deployed August 1

The Department of Homeland Security has just published this press release. FCNL is deeply disappointed with the decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops on the US-Mexico border. We urge the administration, rather than further militarizing the border, to work toward long-term solutions to reform our broken immigration system and to address the root causes of migration.

The press release is copied in full:

Obama Administration Announces Aug. 1 National Guard Deployment to Support Federal Law Enforcement Along the Southwest Border

Release Date: July 19, 2010

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010

Washington, D.C. - Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DOD) today announced that National Guard deployments to the Southwest border will begin on Aug. 1 as part of the administration’s unprecedented efforts to combat the transnational criminal organizations that smuggle weapons, cash and people across our Southwest border.

“Over the past year and a half, this administration has pursued a new border security strategy with an unprecedented sense of urgency, making historic investments in personnel, technology and infrastructure,” said Secretary Napolitano. “These troops will provide direct support to federal law enforcement officers and agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the Southwest border.”

In May, the President authorized the deployment of up to an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border to provide support for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and counternarcotics enforcement—providing support for one year as part of the administration’s unprecedented efforts to crack down on transnational smuggling and cartel violence, as CBP continues to recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the Southwest border.

The National Guard Southwest Border deployments augment CBP and ICE resources and assets already at the border, and include:

  • 224 in California
  • 524 in Arizona
  • 72 in New Mexico
  • 250 in Texas
  • 130 serving as command and control and other support.

In deploying these personnel, the National Guard Bureau is operating under a request for assistance from DHS. Border security is a law enforcement mission, and these troops will augment the Administration's efforts to crack down on the drug cartels and transnational criminal organizations that operate along our Southwest border.

In agreement with DHS, beginning August 1, selected National Guard Members from Southwest border states will begin the necessary training and integration planning to knit them into our nation's border security operating structure,” said Gen. Craig McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard is deploying in response to DHS’ request for assistance,” he added, “and will serve in law enforcement support roles consistent with the Administration's view that border security is a law enforcement challenge.”

The President has also requested $600 million in supplemental funds for enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities, which are critical to our ongoing efforts.

Last week, Secretary Napolitano announced more than $47 million in fiscal year 2010 Operation Stonegarden grants for the Southwest border states to support law enforcement personnel, overtime, and other related costs to enhance the capabilities of state, local and tribal law enforcement to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. Nearly 80 percent of the fiscal year 2010 funding will go to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas—up from 59 percent in 2008.

For more information, visit or

In Our Community: Immigration News

Grab a cup of coffee and join us in reviewing the immigration news from Monday, July 12 to Monday, July 19:

What's happening in Arizona these days? Immigration Impact offers a closer look at the 7 lawsuits against SB 1070. Unless the court issues an injunction, the new law will go into effect on July 29, a mere ten days from now. Meanwhile, eight states (Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia) have submitted an amicus brief in support of SB 1070, despite the Justice Department's assertion that the new law is unconstitutional. In addition, Arizona's tourism industry feels the effects of the boycott and managers express uncertainty about whether the downturn in business will continue into 2011.

Grassroots Leadership has published a draft paper, "Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande." This report lays out concerns with the Operation Streamline policy, which requires all undocumented immigrants apprehended near the border to be detained and processed in the criminal justice system. Operation Streamline overloads federal criminal courts, strains taxpayers' resources, and fails to provide a practical and humane solution for undocumented immigrants seeking entry to the United States.

More on the border: A Washington Post op-ed finds that it costs about $10 billion per year to maintain operations on the US-Mexico border, but increased enforcement actually has some pretty serious unintended consequences - trapping undocumented workers in the United States. TRAC reports that immigration prosecutions are at the highest level they've been since the height of prosecutions under the Bush administration, with more than 10,000 prosecutions in April 2010 alone.

A new immigration detention center is being built in Virginia. Once completed, it will be the largest of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic, holding between 500 and 1000 immigrant detainees. The state anticipates a rapid influx in detainees as it fully implements the Secure Communities program, which scans jail databases for anyone who may be undocumented. This facility, like many across the country, is privately run. It is clear that Secure Communities, a problematic immigration enforcement initiative, will do one job very well: boosting the profit margins of many private prison contractors.

You can read more about the intersection of immigration and the private prison industry here and here.

The New York Times reports on the Obama administration's shift in worksite enforcement, from high-profile raids to so-called "silent raids" in which companies are audited for hiring undocumented workers. The raids of earlier years would detain workers en masse, tear apart families, and deny justice to those who were deported. Audits are certainly more orderly, and they focus on punishing employers rather than employees. Still, without overhauling the immigration system, the economy still requires foreign workers and even well-intentioned employers may struggle to meet those demands while remaining within the bounds of the law.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Truly Inclusive Immigration Reform Must End Discrimination against LGBT Families

Today, key members of Congress stood in unity to call on their colleagues to support passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) as part of any future immigration reform effort. Tens of thousands of LGBT binational families are counting on this critically important legislation in order to achieve the most basic equality: The freedom to be with their families, and the people they love.

FCNL joined fellow coalition members from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), immigrants’ rights, civil rights and faith communities in issuing a statement for the news conference. The statement reads, in part, "Today, leaders made clear that all future immigration legislation must be truly inclusive, and we are proud to stand with them in that call. We are committed to working, together, for this long overdue and much-needed victory and to honoring our country’s commitment to families and its rich history as a nation of immigrants."

Reps. Nadler (NY), Honda (CA), Gutierrez (IL), Polis (CO) and Quigley (IL) participated in this important news conference. For more information, read Immigration Equality's press release.

As my colleague Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society with The United Methodist Church, said recently:
“Just as Jesus did not set any preconditions on identifying himself with, and loving, the sojourner, so too does he call all who claim to follow him to love and welcome the sojourner without moral preconditions... To demand the right to prophetically challenge the nation to incorporate hospitality into our immigration policy, but then to work to exclude some people based on their sexual orientation, is to lose the moral basis for making that prophetic challenge. We want immigration reform that is just and humane, and that is truly comprehensive and truly moral.”
Immigration reform will only truly be comprehensive when all families, including LGBT families, are included. We welcome the commitment by these members of Congress to work to ensure that binational LGBT families will no longer be locked out of the U.S. immigration system.

Rep. Honda discusses his bill, the Reuniting Families Act.

Rep. Honda states, "The President has called on Congress to address immigration reform, and I stand ready to heed that call and support an effort that is inclusive of LGBT families."

Rep. Polis insists, "We must provide all domestic partners and married couples the same rights and obligations in any immigration legislation."

Rep. Quigley reminds us, "Our march in the direction of progress and justice for families across this country cedes its moral high ground unless we say to say to LGBT families that this is their movement, too."

We listen as Rep. Gutierrez says, "We should modernize our laws to facilitate legal immigration so that we keep families together and individuals do not have to twist themselves in knots to conform to our outdated laws." I had no idea Rep. Honda was right behind me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Congress has remained pretty quiet lately on the subject of immigration, but the impacts of the broken immigrations system continue to disrupt our communities. I'll share a bit of news with you from Monday, July 5 to Monday, July 12.

On July 6, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Arizona over S.B. 1070, the new immigration law that would require police officers to check the legal status of anyone they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant. You can read more about it on our "breaking news" blog post from that date. In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder has requested an injunction to prevent S.B. 1070 from going into effect at the end of the month.

In an effort to push back against hate rhetoric in our communities, FCNL has developed a Letters-to-the-Editor Toolkit for you. Letters to the editor take no more time to write than emails to Congress, and by writing for a public forum, you can potentially influence both your state and federal legislators and many of the voters who elect them.

I've been listening to podcasts from a workshop on detention in the United Kingdom, "Meaning & Practice of Immigration Detention - Perspectives from Legal, Social & Political Theory." The lectures examine the legal and political frameworks as well as the social impact of immigration detention and asylum.

Unemployed? We've got a solution for you. Stephen Colbert and the United Farm Workers have teamed up to promote a new tongue-in-cheek campaign, "Take Our Jobs." This campaign hopes to "recruit U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that frequently go to undocumented farm workers and to urge enactment of immigration reform."

I'll leave you with a wonderful thought piece from Taquiena Boston, the Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness with the Unitarian Universalist Association, who writes:

In multicultural ministry borders or “la frontera” are described as places where encounter, conflict, and transformation can occur when people of faith use our collective power to amplify the voices and concerns of the oppressed. To my mind when Unitarian Universalists voted at the Minneapolis General Assembly to act in solidarity with Puente and others to support immigrant justice, our movement waded into the turbulence of a human rights issue that puts us at odds with the majority of Americans. To paraphrase an African American spiritual, Unitarian Universalists made a commitment to “trouble the borders.”

Now that the U.S. Justice Department has challenged the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation, I hope that our movement will not think that we can relax our efforts around immigration...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Take Our Jobs

Image courtesy of Ag Worker Health Project

Are you a native-born resident of the United States? Looking for a job? Sign up today to be a farmworker! But United Farm Workers offers a cautionary note:
Job may include using hand tools such as knives, hoes, shovels, etc. Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.
On Thursday, Stephen Colbert hosted Arturo Rodriguez, the president of United Farm Workers (UFW), on his political comedy show, "The Colbert Report." The interview promotes the UFW's national “Take Our Jobs” campaign, a tongue-in-cheek effort to "recruit U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that frequently go to undocumented farm workers and to urge enactment of immigration reform."

You can watch the interview here.

About 85% of the U.S. farm worker population is foreign-born, and the vast majority of these immigrants lack work authorization. AgJOBS, as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package, would provide these workers with protections and offer a pathway to legal status.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Breaking News: Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Arizona

Photo from Alto Arizona

The Justice Department has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Arizona, regarding its new law requiring police officers to check the legal status of anyone they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the lawsuit would be filed several weeks ago, and it comes on the tail of President Obama's major speech on immigration last week.

The official press release is available on the Justice Department website. Politico also provides coverage.

As expected, the Justice Department's brief states that S.B. 1070 is unconstitutional. “[T]he Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.”

The brief also makes the point that S.B. 1070 interferes with federal immigration enforcement and distracts police officers from their regular duties.

Arizona's new law is scheduled to go into effect on July 29. Attorney General Eric Holder has requested an injunction but it has not yet been granted.

FCNL recognizes that inaction at the national level has created a vacuum into which states have stepped to create their own immigration laws. We oppose the new Arizona law, which opens the door to racial profiling and erodes trust between police officers and the communities they serve. We welcome the Department of Justice’s lawsuit, which asserts that federal immigration laws should be enforced by federal authorities. The Obama administration does not want to see a patchwork of state laws created, which would only yield a more chaotic and less humane immigration system.

The outcome of this lawsuit may influence the twenty-two other states which have proposed or introduced similar legislation. Ultimately, however, blocking state legislation will not be enough to fix the broken immigration system. We urge Congress to enact comprehensive, humane immigration reform before more states and cities decide to follow Arizona’s path toward a reactionary state in which we all have to “show our papers” to prove our legitimate status in the United States.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Not Surprising

Photo courtesy of Latin American Studies

Yesterday, President Obama delivered his first major speech on immigration reform.

A year and a half ago, when he took office, President Obama was poised to act on an agenda of change - and to make good on a promise to reform the broken immigration system within the first year. That promise has not been kept.

In fact, the situation now is worse than it was then. Deportations are on the rise, immigration courts are overburdened, and families live in constant fear of being separated. In the absence of bold leadership from President Obama and swift action by Congress, states have taken matters into their own hands with dire consequences.

This speech was notable as much for its omissions as its content. We did not hear the president setting a timetable for drafting and passing a bill. We did not hear a commitment to protecting vulnerable populations during immigration enforcement actions. We did not hear any mention of the anticipated Department of Justice lawsuit against Arizona's new law.

What did we hear? A compassionate description of the value of immigrants' contributions to U.S. society and economy, an outline of the major components of immigration reform, and accusations that the minority party has impeded the creation of a viable bill. In short, nothing new.

President Obama did call the new Arizona law "ill conceived" and "divisive," and he acknowledged that we can't "solve the problem only with fences and border patrols." Still, at the moment the administration is doing just that. At FCNL, we are deeply disappointed with the president's decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border.

As the New York Times editorializes, "Mr. Obama appealed to middle of the debate, to Americans who crave lawfulness but reject the cruelty symbolized by Arizona’s new law." If lawfulness is the goal, then we need Congress to provide a federal solution - and soon.

Missed the speech? You can watch the video here or read the transcript here.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both offer coverage of the speech.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Obama's Speech on Immigration: Why Now?

Today, President Obama will deliver a major speech on comprehensive immigration reform. But the lackluster effort by Congress to create a bipartisan bill, and the ever-rising rate of deportations, leads us to ask: Mr. President, why now?

The Daily Beast's Bryan Curtis offers an incisive assessment of the timing of the president's speech in this article. Bottom line: When the Obama administration took office, we expected bold leadership on humane immigration reform but that promise has not yet been fulfilled. The humanitarian crisis stemming from the broken immigration system has become increasingly severe.

Stay tuned for an analysis of the speech later today.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Bill in House Secures 100 Cosponsors

Families attend the immigration march in DC in March 2010.

Today, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) held a press conference to announce that his bill, CIR ASAP (Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity), has secured 100 cosponsors.

FCNL welcomed the introduction of CIR ASAP in December 2009, and we have worked to promote cosponsorship of the bill. Thank you to the thousands of constituents who wrote letters to their representatives urging them to join this comprehensive immigration reform bill. As Rep. Gutierrez said today, the achievement of gaining 100 cosponsors is a "milestone."

The immigration system is broken, and the consequences of inaction are becoming increasingly severe. More than 22 states are considering or have introduced legislation that mimics Arizona's new law, S.B. 1070, against which the Department of Justice will be filing a lawsuit. Families are torn apart on a daily basis and the number of detentions and deportations is skyrocketing.

I'll leave you with a quote from Rep. Gutierrez's press release this morning:
We know the legislative clock is ticking. We know people are getting deported at the highest rate in modern history. We know that the inter-related problems of illegal immigration, clogged and unattainable legal immigration, border security, deportation, detention, and a two-tiered labor market that hurts all workers will not solve themselves... We need a rational solution. We need a practical solution. We need a fair solution.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Senator Franken Introduces HELP Separated Children Act

Today, Senators Al Franken (MN) and Herb Kohl (WI) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act. FCNL is proud to support this legislation. Here is Senator Franken's press release:

Franken, Kohl Introduce HELP Separated Children Act
Legislation Would Ensure Children’s Safety During Immigration Raids

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/22/10] – Today, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act to keep kids safe, informed, and accounted for during Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.

According to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, 108,434 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the past 10 years.

On December 12, 2006, ICE carried out enforcement actions on Swift & Company meatpacking plants in six states, including a plant in Worthington, Minnesota. The raids left numerous children – most of them citizens and legal residents – without their parents and with no way of finding them. One second-grader in Worthington came home that night to find his two-year old brother alone and his mother and father missing. For the next week, the second-grader stayed home to care for his brother while his grandmother traveled to Worthington to meet them.

“Four million U.S. citizen children in our country have at least one undocumented immigrant parent,” said Sen. Franken. “Forty-thousand of those children live in Minnesota. They should not have to live in fear that one day their parents will simply not come home. They deserve much better than being abandoned without explanation.”

“Under no circumstances should children have to fend for themselves. Child welfare is one of my highest priorities and it is essential that children are protected and cared for when their parents are detained,” Sen. Kohl said. “This legislation offers safeguards for children whose parents are placed in federal custody so they are not left on their own.”

On June 22, 2007, ICE agents staged a raid in the Jackson Heights Manufactured Home Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Early that Friday morning, around 6:00 am, federal agents seized a husband and his wife for suspected immigration violations. They didn’t notice the couple’s daughter, who was sleeping. Later that morning, the seven year-old girl was found wandering the park, looking for her parents. It wasn’t until some neighbors saw her and called the authorities, that she learned what had happened to her mom and dad.

The HELP Separated Children Act strengthens humanitarian protections enacted by the Bush and Obama administrations and extends them to any enforcement action. Specifically, it:

· Keeps state and local authorities in the know. It’s state schools and child welfare agencies that address the aftermath of immigration enforcement actions. Building on existing standards, this bill makes sure that state authorities are notified before or soon after enforcement actions.

· Effectively identifies at-risk kids. Detainees are afraid to tell ICE that they have kids at home. This bill permits child welfare agencies and local NGOs to screen detainees to identify parents and locate at-risk children.

· Allows parents to arrange for care of their children. Detained parents must receive free, confidential calls to arrange for their kids’ care. They should not be transferred unless they know how to contact their kids – and what will happen to them. No matter where they are, parents must be allowed daily calls and regular visits with their children.

· Protects kids during interrogations. Kids should not be forced to witness their parents’ interrogations or translate for ICE agents.

· Allows parents to participate in family court proceedings – and alert authorities to abuse. This bill requires authorities to help detained parents participate in family court proceedings affecting their children. It also gives parents free calls to report child abuse.

· Protects the best interests of children. This bill requires ICE to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.

The HELP Separated Children Act is also co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.). Related legislation was introduced in the House by Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Hello again and welcome back to this week's immigration news. I hope you'll understand why I've been absent from the blog for a week or so when you see this photo. I've been traveling in New Mexico for FCNL - and you can read all about my trip right here. To get back in the swing of things, here is your immigration news from Monday, June 14 to Monday, June 21.

We finally have the extremely important news we've all been waiting for - although not, perhaps, announced in the way we would have anticipated. The Department of Justice will file a lawsuit against Arizona's anti-immigrant law. This news was announced by Secretary Clinton, not Attorney General Holder, but administration officials have confirmed the upcoming lawsuit and said that the details are in the works. Arizona SB 1070 is scheduled to go into effect on July 29, and similar bills have been introduced or considered in many states.

The Supreme Court ruled on June 14 that immigrants will not be automatically deported for minor drug offenses. This is a significant step toward ensuring due process protections for immigrants. Stringent anti-immigrant laws passed in 1996 expanded the definition of "aggravated felony" to include minor crimes such as drug possession and shoplifting, and required mandatory deportation for these crimes. Since then, immigrants have been unduly criminalized and deported without adequate judicial review. Now, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder will protect immigrants from being automatically deported for minor drug offenses.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is overhauling its immigration detention system, and one of its contractors is getting out there early. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) will modify its nine detention facilities to "soften the conditions of detention" and allow immigrant detainees to wear their own clothes, have lengthy contact visits with their families, and enjoy freer movement within the facility. You can read more about it here, here, and here. But this doesn't mean it's all good - these changes come on the heels of a serious incident in which a CCA guard sexually assaulted several female detainees in Texas.

Border Patrol is taking its operations to new heights - literally. CBP has received authorization to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on the border in Texas. These drones will provide surveillance for border agents to intercept smugglers and migrants. Let's not lose sight of the fact that drones are also conducting attacks in Pakistan with serious civilian casualties. The use of drones on the U.S.-Mexico line is one more step in the direction of militarization of the border.

I'll leave you with a story. Many people say immigrants should just "get in line" to come to the United States legally, but for those who try to do so, it can be near impossible. Shari Feldman and Inderjit Singh, as the New York Times reports, have spent nearly 17 years in immigration limbo as they try to prove the veracity of their marriage to immigration authorities. USCIS's efforts to prevent marriage fraud can go too far - home inspections, invasive questioning, and tricky documentation requirements often keep legitimate couples from getting green cards.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Photo from Alto Arizona.

It's been a big week for immigration, with significant highs and lows. The news on immigration from Monday, May 24 to Tuesday, June 1:

On Tuesday, May 25, President Obama announced the decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. He also requested an additional $500 million to enhance border enforcement activities. In 2006, the Bush administration sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border during Operation Jump Start and, while this current deployment is at a smaller scale, it is still the same enforcement-only approach that hasn't worked in the past.

FCNL strongly opposes the use of the National Guard on the border. Our colleagues on the border have released a powerful statement of opposition as well. Law enforcement, not military personnel, should focus on stopping drug smuggling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. To deal most effectively with migrants crossing the border, President Obama and Congress should act swiftly to enact comprehensive immigration reform. We've seen that border-only strategies don't work, so why would President Obama keep trying that same tired routine?

We had a big success here on the Hill this week - on Thursday, the Senate voted against three amendments to the emergency war supplemental which would have drastically expanded border enforcement initiatives. Senators McCain (AZ), Kyl (AZ), and Cornyn (TX) had introduced amendments that would have added 6,000 National Guard troops, 6 more drones for surveillance, 3000 new detention beds, and thrown millions of dollars at unworkable deterrence programs. FCNL and our partners acted swiftly to contact members of Congress and our networks generated tens of thousands of grassroots calls. In the end, the Senate rejected all three amendments - but we are still working for decisive action on immigration reform.

On Saturday, May 29, over 100,000 people gathered in Arizona and around the country to oppose the new Arizona law and copy-cat bills in other states. You can see photos and videos here. The message of the people is clear: NO to racial profiling and YES to immigration reform.

Police chiefs from Los Angeles, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Houston, Maryland, and Arizona met with Attorney General Eric Holder on May 26 to voice their concerns about the new Arizona law and similar proposals from other states. The chiefs stated that these laws, which virtually require racial profiling, would erode trust between police and their communities and distract officers from their primary tasks. Holder is expected to make a decision soon about whether to challenge the Arizona law in court.

Other highlights from the news:

Detained immigrants are being counted for the census without their knowledge and then deported, while the cities and towns hosting detention facilities are rewarded by receiving more federal money than they would otherwise.

The number of immigration cases in federal courts reached a new all-time high of 242,776 at the end of March and this backlog continues to extend wait times - immigrants now wait, on average, 443 days for their case to be resolved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

On Wednesday, I attended the arrival ceremony at the White House for President Calderon of Mexico - you can see him pictured above with President Obama. For more on that and other updates, here it is, your immigration news from Monday, May 17 to Monday, May 24.

During a joint session of Congress, President Calderon spoke strongly against the new Arizona law which, as he said, "introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement." His remarks on this subject were greeted with a standing ovation. Also during his visit, the United States and Mexico announced the creation of a joint committee on border-related activities.

In the pop culture world, immigration also got a shout-out: The new Miss USA is Rima Fakih, an Arab-American immigrant. She was born in Lebanon and came to the United States as a young child, eventually settling in Michigan. She is believed to be the first Arab American and Muslim to win the contest.

San Francisco is trying to opt out of Secure Communities, a Homeland Security program run by ICE in which fingerprints taken at local jails are run through a national database to check arrestees' immigration status. The city's sheriff has said that Secure Communities conflicts with the city's policy of only reporting foreign-born persons who are booked for felonies. Secure Communities doesn't align with ICE's objective of going after the "most dangerous criminals" - instead it casts a wide net regardless of individual circumstances - and we need cities like San Francisco (and DC) to push ICE to clarify the program's purpose.

As I was perusing the immigration blogs this past week, I came across this concerning clip: South Carolina has introduced a bill copying the Arizona law. The Wall Street Journal has an article on how immigrants are often reluctant to report domestic abuse, if going to the police means risking deportation. This problem, of states taking federal law into their own hands, is clearly going to get worse before it gets better.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL) recently endorsed a plan to include LGBT partners in immigration reform. Currently, LGBT Americans are unable to petition for their foreign-born partners. The inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act in immigration reform would end this long-standing denial of civil rights and equality.

Michelle Obama's visit to an elementary school in Maryland catapulted the question of family unity onto the national stage, when a second-grader expressed fears that her mother would be deported. You can watch the video here. According to the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, families can't wait any longer for a just, humane immigration reform bill.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

President of Mexico Opposes AZ Law, Calls on Congress to Find a Better Solution

Today, addressing a joint session of Congress, President Calderon of Mexico stated his strong opposition to the new law in Arizona. Mexico has issued a travel warning to its citizens in the United States and has terminated a student exchange program with Arizona.

In his speech, Calderon recognized that each country has the right to enact and enforce its own laws, but he simultaneously stressed the urgent need to fix the "broken and inefficient" immigration system. He favors the creation of a "legal, orderly, and secure flow" of migrants, and pointed out that the border would not be secure without comprehensive immigration reform.

Calling for a "responsible" solution, Calderon said, "I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona." Using racial profiling as the basis of law performance is a "terrible idea." He emphasized that the new law "carries a great amount of risk when core values are being breached." He called on President Obama and the Congress to "find a better way together to face and fix this problem."

While Mexico has a lot on its plate - stamping out bureaucratic corruption and bribery, boosting the economy and creating new jobs, halting organized crime, and more - it is clear that President Calderon will not stand idly by as the United States pursues dangerous enforcement policies. From both a moral and practical standpoint, racial profiling and other forms of discrimination cannot be tolerated as legitimate enforcement strategies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Major Lawsuit Filed Against Outrageous Arizona Law, National Day of Action on May 29

Never seen the Grand Canyon? Here's your chance. Alto Arizona, with immigrant, faith, labor, law enforcement, and civil rights organizations across the country, are planning a national day of action on May 29th to showcase our powerful opposition to the new Arizona law.

If you are able to, please consider traveling to Arizona to join the brave organizers in marching to the State Capitol. To plan your trip and learn about more ways to get involved, click here. Or, coordinate a march in your own state.

The national day of action comes at a critical moment - major civil rights organizations have just filed a lawsuit against the new Arizona law. This lawsuit is intended to stop racial profiling in its tracks and ensure that what happens in Arizona STOPS in Arizona.

The authors of the lawsuit include: the ACLU, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ACLU of Arizona, National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Welcome back for another week of immigration news, from Monday, May 10 to Monday, May 17. Happy reading!

Arizona's new immigration law, which requires racial profiling, goes into effect on July 28. However, some people just aren't that patient. We've heard scattered reports that Arizona police officers are already "enforcing" the new law. What's more, twelve states - including Minnesota, Michigan, and more - are introducing copy-cat legislation. These outrageous proposals should be a wake-up call for Congress - urge your representatives to take swift action to enact immigration reform this year.

Boycotting Arizona? Yup, me too. So is Austin, along with many other cities across the country. We're also waiting for MALDEF, ACLU, and NILC to introduce their lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional and discriminatory Arizona law. The Department of Justice may take action as well, but we are concerned to learn that Attorney General Eric Holder hasn't even read the Arizona law yet. We know he's busy, but it's less than twenty pages.

Mexico has issued a travel warning to its citizens about the Arizona law. In addition, the President of Mexico will be arriving in the United States on Wednesday. We anticipate that he and President Obama will have a lot to discuss when it comes to immigration.

Even the United Nations is taking note of the new Arizona law. A group of independent UN rights experts expressed serious concerns about whether this law violates the United States' obligations under international human rights treaties.

Believe it or not, Arizona keeps coming up with new, innovative ways to take away residents' rights, and now state lawmakers are focusing on education. AZ Governor Jan Brewer just signed into law a bill prohibiting any classes that "advocate for ethnic solidarity" or "promote resentment toward a race or class of people." This bill seeks to eradicate ethnic studies programs, such as those that teach Mexican-American history. I see this as a nativist impulse favoring revisionist history, which seeks to mask oppression and deny students the opportunity to study civil rights. We can do better.

However, the Department of Homeland Security seems to be deporting immigrants at an exceptionally rapid pace this year even without Arizona's assistance. ICE director John Morton has said that he plans to deport people at a "massive scale," and he has set the goal of 400,000 deportations in 2010. He seems to be outdoing himself. Time has reported this astonishing figure:
Thus far this year, some 185,887 people have been deported, a record pace that, if maintained, will nearly double the number of deportations in 2010 to 604,133.
One last note: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has an announcement - the new "green cards" for legal permanent residents will actually be green! Not only that, but they'll incorporate new security measures to avoid fraud.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

The heat from Arizona continues to radiate, so check out the news on immigration from Monday, May 3 to Monday, May 10:

At FCNL, we see the outrageous Arizona law as a wake-up call to Washington. On April 29, five senators introduced a framework for immigration reform, which was met with mixed reactions from advocates. The framework, intended to prompt bipartisan talks, has yet to yield such cooperation. We can't afford to have politicians use immigration reform as a political football to score points against one another. Write to your senators today to urge them to support humane, comprehensive immigration reform.

As Congress remains bound by hyper-partisan politics, states mimicking Arizona continue to take immigration law into their own hands. Minnesota just introduced legislation modeled exactly on the Arizona law. Eleven other states are considering similar legislation: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pensylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Recent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans think the immigration system should be overhauled, but without decisive federal action to build a realistic legal immigration system, our civil rights will continue to be trampled.

However, in two cases, officials are standing up to say NO. In New York, Governor Paterson announced that the state would consider pardons for people subject to "embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible" immigration laws. In DC, the City Council unanimously supports a boycott of Arizona and opposes the District's participation in misguided immigration enforcement programs - for more, see my blog post on the resolutions.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, best known for his courageous efforts to promote reconciliation following South Africa's apartheid, has a message for you: Arizona is not the solution. I strongly encourage you to read his entire article, excerpted here:
Abominations such as apartheid do not start with an entire population suddenly becoming inhumane. They start here. They start with generalizing unwanted characteristics across an entire segment of a population. They start with trying to solve a problem by asserting superior force over a population. They start with stripping people of rights and dignity - such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty - that you yourself enjoy. Not because it is right, but because you can. And because somehow, you think this is going to solve a problem.
I'll leave you with an exciting tidbit - Arizona rappers have collaborated to protest the new law requiring racial profiling. Props to these brave artists for reminding us all that hip hop can still break through commercial ties and speak truth to power. Check out their music video here:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

But Didn't They Break the Law?

One of the most common questions I hear is, "But didn't they break the law? Why should we reward immigrants for coming to the United States illegally?"

FCNL's work on immigration is guided by the call for right relationships among all people. We recognize that it is neither feasible nor humane to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Instead of lining up the buses, we need to find a workable solution.

First of all, the U.S. immigration system is broken. Sometimes I get asked, "Why don't they just get in line?" For many people seeking to enter the United States so that they can work hard, support their families, and contribute to the U.S. economy - there is no line to get into.

Work visas
The national economy depends on both high- and lower-skilled foreign workers, even though that fact can sometimes be hard for us to acknowledge. As Senator Feinstein (CA) described in a press conference last week, even in a recession certain industries - like agriculture - still can't find enough native-born workers to get the job done. But visas for lower-skilled immigrant workers just aren't readily available. Moreover, the current system creates incentives for disingenuous employers to hire undocumented immigrants, keep them in poor work conditions, and pay them well below minimum wage. This drives down wages for all. The broken system hurts law-abiding employers, native-born workers, and immigrants alike. The "wink wink, come on in" system facilitates exploitation and is no longer sustainable.

Family visas
Families are the fundamental unit of society. But immigrants seeking to be reunited with their families have to wait between four and twenty-two years to be reunited with their close loved ones. It is immoral to keep a young girl apart from her father or mother for up to seven years. These wait times exist because of backlogs of pending applications and bureaucratic delays. Reforming the family visa system wouldn't allow for "chain migration" (you can't bring in your aunts, cousins, or other extended relatives anyway), but it would allow parents and children to reunite in a timely manner. Plus, family reunification does contribute to the U.S. economy. Immigrant workers will be more likely to stay in the country and integrate if they can bring their immediate relatives with them, and most family members come to the United States intending to work hard to provide their children with opportunities to succeed.

So, neither the work-based nor family-based visa systems are working properly right now. As a result, immigrants are faced with impossible choices.

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants come to the United States to work hard and rejoin their families, not to cause our communities harm. But those who would utilize the legal system are prevented from doing so, because the current system is inefficient and outdated. Then, immigrants - and not the broken laws - are perceived as the problem and punished.

When the United States was founded, one of the core principles woven into the fabric of the national identity was this: Where the law is unjust, it should be changed.

FCNL does not advocate for rewarding illegal immigration. Rather, we support a reasonable and inclusive path for undocumented immigrants to regularize their status and eventually earn citizenship. Such a program should be workable and not hindered by overly punitive criteria.

Components of a pathway to legal status

We need a solution that allows undocumented immigrants to meet a reasonable set of criteria so that they can be integrated into the legal system. Over the past several years, a number of constructive proposals have been put forward. An earned pathway to legal status would include requirements such as:
  • Paying any unpaid back taxes
  • Learning English
  • Providing biographic and biometric information
  • Completing a criminal background check
  • Paying a reasonable fee or fine
  • Performing community service
At FCNL, we maintain that this set of criteria should not be overly punitive. In the past, Congress proposed exorbitant fees and other measures that would have prevented large swaths of people from participating and thus defeated the primary purpose of the program.

In addition, this kind of pathway to legal status would be fair - undocumented immigrants would go to the "back of the line." As mentioned earlier, there is a backlog of family visa applications. Undocumented immigrants wouldn't get to "cut in line" ahead of individuals who have been waiting since the mid-1990s (or even earlier) to reunite with their loved ones. Instead, they would be registered, receive a transitional visa, and then wait seven or eight years for the family backlog to clear. Only then could eligible undocumented immigrants adjust to become legal permanent residents and eventually apply for citizenship.

Some special cases need additional consideration. One of FCNL's principles is that the pathway to legal status should be inclusive. This means that refugees, asylum-seekers, and multi-status families (in which some family members have papers while others do not) should be included. In addition, undocumented students (who came to this country as children, not of their own will) should be encouraged to stay and pursue their education in the United States via the DREAM Act.

At this point, I occasionally hear concerns expressed that this kind of pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship would create incentives for more people to attempt to immigrate to the United States without proper authorization. Rest assured: any immigration reform bill enacted by Congress would almost certainly only allow undocumented immigrants to earn legal status if they could prove that they have been in the country since the date of enactment of the bill. If an individual had arrived in the country after the date of enactment, they would not be eligible.

Ultimately, a reasonable earned pathway to legal status would deal squarely with the current reality without rewarding illegal immigration.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the new Arizona law, "A solution that fails to distinguish between a young child coming over the border in search of his mother and a drug smuggler is not a solution."

We need solutions that actually work. Migration has been a part of human existence since its inception. With careful consideration and open dialogue, our nation can create an immigration system that protects public safety and national security without sacrificing the principles upon which the United States was built - fairness, opportunity, and compassion.