Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rep. Gutierrez Responds to State of the Union

Today, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL), author of the CIR ASAP bill introduced in December in the House, wrote a powerful op-ed piece in the Huffington Post.

Rep. Gutierrez expressed concern that President Obama "did not go far enough for the four million American citizen children whose parents face deportation; the millions of Americans waiting to be reunited with loved ones overseas; hardworking Americans whose security is undermined in the workplace; women who are physically and sexually exploited on the floors of meatpacking plants; or the $1.5 trillion lacking from our Gross Domestic Product, all in the absence of real reform."

He argues, "Congress cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform." His bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, would fix the broken immigration system by keeping families together, allowing immigrants to integrate more fully into society, and protecting immigrants from detention.

To show to Congress that you support comprehensive immigration reform, urge your representative to co-sponsor CIR ASAP.

I'll leave you with one other quote from Rep. Gutierrez's article. He writes:

"They care that we do the job we've been elected to do. But if we walk away from the tough fights --like immigration reform-- because it's hard or because it's politically risky, we're not just writing our own political eulogy; we're sentencing millions of families to a life of injustice."

In State of the Union, President Cites Need to Fix Broken Immigration System

In his first State of the Union address, President Obama focused on the economy, job creation, financial regulatory reform, and health care reform. He called for an end to hyper-partisanship in Congress and, toward the end of his speech, identified domestic priorities including the need to "continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system." FCNL continues to work with Congress to advance immigration reform legislation.

The president also spoke more broadly of the need to value diversity. He stated, "Abroad, America's greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution, the notion that we're all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law, you should be protected by it, if you adhere to our common values, you should be treated no different than anyone else." We hope that President Obama carries forward this commitment by resisting the temptation to resort to racial profiling in the name of national security.

In one of the last lines of the speech, he said: "I never suggested that change would be easy or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is." As we've worked on immigration reform over the past year, we've tried to counter impassioned, hateful rhetoric with civil dialogue and quiet witness. We saw that in our Breaking Bread and Barriers potlucks in the fall, and now we're asking you to join us again this February by organizing prayer vigils in your community.

These prayer vigils, in solidarity with our country's immigrants, send a clear message to Congress that we remain committed to immigration reform. In order to fix the broken system and restore dignity and rights for all, we need to stand together. Take a look at the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's prayer vigil organizing guide to start planning yours today.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

With the State of the Union coming up this Wednesday, people across the country are reflecting on President Obama's first year in office. While health care and the economy are understandably the first issues on everyone's mind, let's not lose sight of the ongoing injustices against our neighbors. Immigrant families' burdens may be less visible, but they are no less significant. With that in mind, here is the news on immigration from Monday, January 18 to Monday, January 25.

Having granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian immigrants on January 15, the Obama administration has now started the registration process. Haitians who are already in the United States can now apply to stay and work here for the next 18 months as Haiti recovers from the earthquake. The U.S. government is also offering humanitarian relief for Haitian orphans who are already in adoption proceedings, allowing them an accelerated path to come to the United States from Haiti.

However, most Haitians are unable to enter the United States. Advocates and certain members of Congress are now urging the Obama administration to allow two groups of Haitians to immigrate: individuals with family members legally in the United States, and children in need of emergency medical care. While it is unlikely that Congress or the Department of Homeland Security will act on these recommendations, the international community continues to provide emergency humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti.

On the state level, undocumented immigrants in Nebraska received an unwelcome surprise -- the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced that around 1,000 pregnant women who are undocumented will no longer receive prenatal services through the federal-state Medicaid program. These individuals will lose their benefits starting in March. At that point, Medicaid in Nebraska will only cover the cost of the delivery and the cost of treating emergency complications of pregnancy for undocumented women.

As for news on the U.S.-Mexico border, the New York Times has just published an article highlighting the damaging effects of the so-called "border war" on Indian reservations. The Tohono O'odham Nation spans the border and has become host to a number of unwelcome visitors, including Border Patrol agents and drug smugglers. Residents report even being afraid to walk in the desert during daylight for fear of running into members of the drug cartel or being caught in the middle of border security operations. The border militarization has caused residents to live in a perpetual state of fear -- as a result, residents recently agreed to create a "virtual fence" along the border, which they had previously been able to cross without disruption.

The immigration detention system continues to play host to a variety of abuses. On Tuesday, ICE agents clad in riot gear forcibly disrupted a detainee hunger strike at the Varick Street detention facility in Manhattan. About 100 immigrant detainees had gone on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices. ICE responded with force, using pepper spray on detainees, taking many to solitary confinement cells as punishment, and transferring about 17 to immigration detention centers in other states. This unwarranted use of force against unarmed detainees engaging in nonviolent protest should not be tolerated.

This episode comes on the tail of a recent article in the New York Times revealing that immigration officials have strenuously tried to cover up the broken immigration system -- most shockingly, by covering up the deaths of immigrants held in jail-like detention centers. Rigorous studies have shown that detention alone puts immigrants at higher risk of mental illness. What's more, as NPR reported, most detainees are non-violent yet cannot afford to make bail -- and most immigrant detainees can't even afford a lawyer. The poor standards, lack of oversight and transparency, and tolerance of mistreatment in immigration jails should no longer be treated as business-as-usual.

For those of you concerned about immigrant families being separated because of the broken immigration system, the Immigration Policy Center has put out a new report for you. This short report outlines the key principles for family immigration within the context of comprehensive immigration reform.

Finally, the Center for American Progress reports on a new poll showing that the public still continues to support comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, 87% of respondents supported a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they completed non-punitive requirements like paying taxes and learning English. This kind of legalization program would put an end to today's two-tier society which treats undocumented immigrants as second-class contributors to society.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Rare Glimpse Into Life in Jail: Visiting an Immigration Detention Center

On any given day, about 30,000 immigrants are held in jail-like detention centers across the United States. Most of them have never committed a crime yet they are treated like criminals, isolated from their families, and often unable to get lawyers to represent them. These are the real victims of the broken immigration system.

Detained immigrants are unable to tell their own stories because of the conditions of their confinement. In Minnesota, a group of concerned citizens is taking it upon themselves to work to ease their suffering.

These individuals have created the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration Ramsey County Jail Immigrant Detainee Visitation Project. They are in the process of launching a visitation program in which local residents would go to the jail and meet with immigrants there, to provide some human comfort and solidarity.

The core members of the coalition toured the jail on Wednesday. Their experience offers us a rare opportunity to peek into the world of immigration detention. I'd like to share with you some of their reflections:

Ramsey Jail Visitation Project Update

On Wednesday, January 20, four core group members had a tour of the Ramsey County Jail. We met the three primary administrators and the two programming personnel. All were gracious, welcoming, and clearly dedicated and committed to their work. Before scheduling the tour we were told it usually takes one hour; our tour took two hours and included a long pre-meeting. We were never rushed; there was ample time for questions and conversation. Our tour included a brief conversation with one of the facility's nurses who overheard one of our questions and gave a response.

Our group was taken into the 'A' area where new criminal detainees are held and where we got a sense of what it meant to be in jail: it was lunch time, but while we were there, all were locked in their cells (which are typically two bunk cells with a thin mattress, a small table, and stainless steel toilet; the cells appeared to be about 6 X 10 feet ['guesstimate,' but it seemed smaller than the small 8 X 12 feet home study where I prepare this report!) where they were kept, their lunch stacked and waiting on the cart.

PERSONAL NOTE: I was uncomfortable in this situation and conscious of my privilege and, I guess, my power. They were in their cells so we could wander around. It was an accident of timing, perhaps, but in an already difficult situation, it was unfortunate that even this small experience was added to their troubles. For those waiting to eat, this must have seemed arbitrary, which might also be the feeling experienced by ICE detainees and their families: the subjects of 'arbitrary' power who are experiencing a complete loss of control of their lives and have become 'objects' in a deportation system that has taken charge of their future. This was also a reminder that when we get visiting privileges (I am optimistic) we must be careful to not intrude on meals and normal visiting and recreation times.

MEDICAL CONCERNS - Tour Observations
1. Our guides made repeated reference to the ICE mandated 14-day physical-medical assessment that all civil immigrant detainees get. They want us to know they both know about and are in compliance with this standard, which has not always been the case (as reported in an ICE Inspector General report, June, 2008, available on-line).

2. New medical request cards are being prepared that will state the ICE detainees do not have to make a co-pay. They are not in place yet: existing stocks without this notation are to be used first. All jail leadership personnel also made a point of telling us that they know ICE detainees do not have to make a medical co-pay.

3. Since the death of Maria Inamagua from a parasite originating in her country of origin and which is not common in the United States, there have been investigative reports stating the importance of ICE medical evaluations including screening for such exotic diseases (diseases or medical conditions originating in a person's country of origin) or that responses to health issues arising during detention include such screening, especially when the diagnosis proves difficult. The response to a question about this did not seem to reflect an awareness of this issue nor a specific knowledge of medical screenings.

HEAT - Personal testimony
I wore a short sleeve shirt. We were often moving and walking. My attention was usually directed to the speakers. Under these conditions, I was never cold. HOWEVER, as we were leaving, I observed someone in a holding cell just outside of the 'A' pod area. He was wearing the jail's mandatory orange short-sleeve coveralls. He was cold, his sleeves empty, both of his arms having been drawn upside his jump suit where he held them against his torso for warmth.
(Related note: no action or decision has been made per issuing long-john shirts to detainees. Pending that and the new requirement that all laundry be processed at the Ramsey County Workhouse, the option of purchasing a long-john shirt has been suspended; clothes cannot be brought into the jail.)

VENDING MACHINES - Personal observation
There are vending machines in the 'pods.' Prices are roughly $1.50 to $1.75 for snacks and soda (what I call 'motel' or 'airport' prices). I noticed that the same vending machines in areas serving only jail personnel were less expensive.

TOUR PARTICIPANT REPORT (I have not asked permission to share this person's name, hence it is not included; these are brief excerpts from a longer report)

It comes as no surprise that a jail is not a happy place. While I believe the staff “manage” (their word) the inmate population with the best intent, the conditions of a jail must be unnecessarily traumatic for an otherwise innocent immigrant.

Throughout my experience at the jail, despite being flanked by two or more official tour guides and 3 other tour participants, my awareness was heightened and I was on edge. I cannot imagine being placed in this facility when my only crime is trying to keep my family together or trying to find work that will sustain my children. I believe that the visitation program could be beneficial in easing the trauma of being placed in such a facility. However, for the long-term, I would like to see policies changed to eliminate jailing detainees without criminal offenses.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aftershocks: A Haitian Message of Resilience

I'd like to share with you a beautiful op-ed piece written by Evelyne Trouillot and published today in the New York Times. While her message does not directly address the plight of Haitian immigrants, their future - and ours - are bound together.


THE family has set up camp in my brother’s house. I live just next door, but it makes us feel better to be all in the same house. My brother, a novelist, is writing his articles; I am writing mine. From time to time a tremor will make us pause and run back outside, just in case, to be safe. I wonder how long we will have to be so cautious, and I long for normalcy.

We sleep; we listen to the radio; we exchange information. Mostly, we have been trying to stay alive and sane since that Tuesday afternoon a week ago when the earthquake changed our lives forever. It doesn’t help that the earth continues to convulse. Just this morning, we felt another tremor, the most violent since the earthquake itself. Let us hope it did not cause more deaths and damage.

I do not recognize the streets of Port-au-Prince. In front of what used to be a school, three corpses are covered demurely by a blue sheet. Feet and eyes carefully avoid the small cadavers.

A few miles down, the Sacré-Coeur church, where the upper-middle class used to be baptized, married and buried, is a big pile of rubbish.

Under the broken glass and bricks of the five-story Caribbean Supermarket — which carried the most varied imported products and where foreigners were most likely to meet one another — women, men and children lie trapped, given up for dead. On Monday, rescuers managed to free from the site a young woman who was still alive. That same day, a grief-stricken family identified the body of a 27-year-old mother of a 6-month-old girl, who was not so lucky.

In the evening, the digging for bodies ceases, as does the search for drinking water and food, for news about missing parents and friends. Tired; terrified of the dark and its dreams of tremors, of the morning and its bad news; secretly — or not — relieved to be alive, we try to sleep.

In the background, the few radio stations that can still broadcast convey the messages of agonized families and friends. A father comes all the way from a little village in the south of Haiti looking for his two daughters. Although his voice is breaking, he manages to enunciate their names and please could somebody, anybody tell him if they are alive? The newscaster quickly repeats the message and introduces someone else. There are so many of them, a litany of desperate voices.

Night settles. The stars provide the only light; the electricity has not been restored. We save the energy from our Inverter generator system to run the Internet, so we can stay in contact with friends and family. The telephone lines are unreliable.

But we Haitians are nevertheless connected — regardless of our social conditions, our economic status, our religious beliefs, if only because we share the same uncertainties, the same fears about the monstrous size of the task at hand.

Although the earthquake does remind us of our common and fragile destiny, the fact that the earth trembles and destroys with equal brutality luxurious and shabby houses, small and huge enterprises, does not obscure the inequalities that divide Haiti. Social and economic disparities, the unjust distribution of our resources and the dire poverty of the majority of the population cannot magically evaporate with the dust. But maybe this disaster will constitute a new beginning. Maybe the reconstruction effort that is now so urgent will also work to narrow the gaps between us.

It is with a sense of warmth that I think of all the messages of solidarity I have received from around the world. Like most Haitians, I marvel at the signs of humanity — fund-raisers, simple letters of sympathy, offers of help: “Just tell me what you need!” But it is our government’s responsibility to help those most in need.

I am focusing now on what is essential in life: love and friendship. Like most people here, I am not watching the news. We have limited power, and anyway it seems futile and even absurd to be a spectator of my own life, especially when the TV images highlight only the misery of our country. Many of us Haitians are offended by the coverage of the earthquake. Once more, a natural disaster serves as an occasion to showcase the impoverishment, to exaggerate the scenes of violence that are common to any catastrophe of this type.

No, I am not watching the news. I am too busy trying to find a way to keep my hope alive because the work in front of us is humongous. I am busy rejoicing in the laughter of the children in the camp near our house, smiling at the comical reactions of a passer-by after a recent aftershock. I am busy shedding tears at the news of a miraculous rescue of six students from the wreckage of a university building. I am busy collecting the fragments of life that reflect the enormous courage and resilience among us.

I am busy loving life and my country.

Évelyne Trouillot is a novelist whose short stories have appeared in English in the collection “Words Without Borders.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thank You for Lobbying to Protect Haitian Immigrants

FCNL would like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who participated in last week's action alert to stop the deportation of Haitian immigrants. On the evening of Friday, January 15, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will be granted to Haitian immigrants for the next 18 months, while Haiti recovers from the earthquake. This success may seem small, in light of the challenges still facing Haiti, but it is still extremely important.

Your successful lobbying efforts have helped to protect tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States from being returned to an unsafe situation in Haiti. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that between 100,000 and 200,000 Haitian immigrants are eligible for TPS, about 30,000 of whom are currently scheduled for deportation. TPS will allow these immigrants to stay and work in the United States for now.

In this way, Haitian immigrants will be empowered to contribute directly to the country's recovery. As they receive their work permits through TPS, they will be able to send their earnings back to support their families and communities in Haiti. Even before this crisis, the Haitian economy relied significantly on remittances. Now, the need for remittances is even greater and TPS will help to meet that need.

Thousands of Haitians still lack access to basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. Displaced people need to be protected, families need to be reunited, and broken infrastructure needs to be restored. As the international community seeks to supply aid, Haiti faces the threat of an impending public health disaster. For Haiti to successfully recover from this devastating crisis, the country will require not only short-term relief work or an international military presence, but an international commitment to sustainable long-term development.

For Haiti to become less vulnerable to natural disasters, the U.S. government and international aid organizations will need to coordinate their efforts with the Haitian government and Haitian nonprofit organizations. Haiti has the potential to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient, but only if today's efforts focus on strengthening Haitian institutions, infrastructure, and expertise.

We encourage you to hold the people of Haiti in your hearts and minds, even after the news cameras leave. For more information on TPS, please see the interfaith letter of support that FCNL coordinated last week. To keep up with our work on immigration, please visit our website, read our immigration blog, and email me (at to sign up for regular updates to learn about how you can get more involved in promoting immigration reform.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

As Martin Luther King Day reminds us all of Dr. King's call for equality and justice, our thoughts and prayers remain with the people of Haiti as they strive to recover from last week's earthquake. Here is the news on immigration from Monday, January 11 to Monday, January 18.

On Friday, January 15, the Obama administration granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States. Thank you to everyone who participated in FCNL's action alert and signed FCNL's interfaith letter of support for TPS. Because of your actions, Haitian immigrants will not be deported and will instead be allowed to stay in the United States and work here for at least 18 months while Haiti stabilizes from Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

The Haitian economy depends significantly on remittances. TPS will enable Haitian immigrants to contribute to the country's recovery by sending their earnings to support their families and communities in Haiti. However, Haiti still has a long way to go, and the recovery will involve not only short-term relief work or U.S. military presence, but an international commitment to long-term development.

The Department of Homeland Security also instituted a humanitarian parole policy for certain Haitian orphans. This policy will allow certain orphans to temporarily enter the United States to receive medical care. While individuals will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the only eligible orphans are those in the process of being adopted by U.S. citizens.

While this is another small but welcome step, it stands in stark contrast to the broader message that the U.S. government is sending to the people of Haiti, which is: Don't try to come to the United States. Every day, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane has been flying over Haiti for five hours transmitting this message from Haiti's ambassador in Washington. Officials say they fear that Haitians will take to boats and cause a refugee crisis in Florida. However, with fuel prices in Haiti rising to astronomical levels and all efforts desperately needed for aid distribution, these daily five-hour flights are not the best use of U.S. personnel and resources at this critical time.

In other news, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that it will close the Varick St detention center in Manhattan and transfer immigrant detainees to another facility with outdoor recreation and visitation services. The agency is portraying this move as part of its broader overhaul of the U.S. immigration detention system. However, immigration attorneys and activists have significant concerns. Detainees will be moved to the Hudson County Correctional Facility, a county jail an hour away from Manhattan. These transfers will make it much more challenging for families and lawyers to visit detainees. In addition, attorneys and activists have recently drawn attention to misconduct and poor conditions at Varick St. Instead of fixing these problems, the administration has decided to transfer the detainees to a more remote location. Constant transfers and an ongoing reliance on county jails are no substitute for case-by-case reviews of whether immigrants need to be detained in the first place.

Finally, I'll leave you with a brief update on comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday, Politico ran an article describing how legislation on immigration and climate change are competing for space this spring. Senator Schumer (NY), who is writing a bipartisan bill on immigration reform, and Senator Kerry (MA), who is the lead negotiator on climate change, are both trying to push forward their issues. Both are in conversation with Senator Graham (SC) to try to gain his support. While both of these issues are hard to take up in an election year, the immigration advocacy community continues to insist that the time of waiting is over -- the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed so that immigrants can live with dignity.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wonderful News! U.S. Grants Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in United States

Wonderful news! Just a few moments ago, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Haiti has been designated for Temporary Protected Status! Haitians already in the United States will be able to stay and work in this country while Haiti recovers from Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

We don't have an official press release yet, but the Washington Post announced the following:

The Obama administration announced Friday that it will allow an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians living in the United States illegally to stay and work in the country for 18 months as part of its response to Tuesday's earthquake, but warned Haitians that leaving the country now "will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation."

Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the decision to grant Temporary Protected Status to illegal immigrants from Haiti who were living in the United States as of January 12 was a gesture of compassion and an attempt to ensure that the flow of remittances and economic support to their devastated homeland continue.

"This is a disaster of historic proportions," Napolitano said in a 5 p.m. conference call, "Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be ended by returning to Haiti as part of this administration continue effort to support Haiti's recovery."

However, Napolitano coupled that message with a caution to Haitians now seeking refuge outside their country. While she declined to specify the consequences for those caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally, she said, "At this moment of tragedy in Haiti, it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere, but attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation."

Today, FCNL, working with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, submitted an interfaith letter to President Obama and Secretary Napolitano urging the administration to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the United States. We are thrilled to learn that the administration has done so and we hope that every effort will be made to streamline the registration process for Haitian immigrants as they apply for TPS.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Update on Haiti: ICE Halts Deportations of Haitians For Now, TPS Still Not Granted

The United States and the international community continue to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake that struck on Tuesday evening. As a complement to the comprehensive relief and development efforts, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has announced that it will temporarily halt all deportations to Haiti. While this announcement comes as welcome news, it does not mean that the Obama administration has granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants.

By granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States, the U.S. government would not only halt all deportations of Haitians from the United States to Haiti, but would also allow Haitian immigrants to obtain work permits. TPS would enable Haitian immigrants to better support their families and communities as they anxiously wait for the situation in Haiti to stabilize.

TPS is a temporary immigration status that does not allow its recipients to remain in the United States permanently. Rather, it protects people who cannot safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflicts, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary circumstances. For more on TPS, see the USCIS website. There are currently 30,000 Haitians in the United States facing deportation to Haiti, who would immediately benefit from TPS.

In order to protect Haitians already in the United States and allow the Haitian government to focus its limited resources on providing emergency care to its suffering people, the Obama administration should act immediately to grant TPS to Haitians. Contact President Obama to urge the U.S. government to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Take Action on Haiti: Stop Deportations

The United States and the world community are mobilizing to respond to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday. That quake reportedly has killed upwards of 100,000 people and destroyed large parts of the country. All of us will be looking for ways to support those organizations working on the ground in Haiti to respond to this tragedy. Work in Haiti will not be enough, though.

Here in the United States, the administration should also immediately act to halt its deportation of Haitians, release those Haitians currently in detention centers, and give them a way to survive temporarily in this country. The administration can do this by granting Haitians in this country Temporary Protected Status, which would halt deportations and permit Haitians already in the United States to live and work here.

Because of the economic crisis in Haiti, FCNL has been lobbying for nearly a year for Temporary Protected Status for Haitians here in the United States. Now the need is even more urgent.

Take Action

Please send a letter to President Obama and send copies to your representative urging the U.S. government to immediately act to grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants. Encourage three friends to take action as well.

More Resources

Find out more and see updates here, on our immigration blog.

FCNL's Program Assistant Stephen Donahoe has posted links to groups providing on-the-ground assistance to people in Haiti.

Devastating Quake Strikes Haiti, Time To Grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status

There is no better time than now for the Obama administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States. On Tuesday just before 5 pm, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, leaving thousands dead and many more without basic resources. The epicenter of the earthquake was only 10 miles from the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, where buildings and shantytowns collapsed and the ground continues to shake from aftershocks. An estimated 3 million people are in need of relief, yet international relief efforts are hampered by blocked roads, a lack of electricity, and damage to communications infrastructure.

Now is not the time to deport Haitians from the United States.

Haiti, which had recently suffered the blows of four hurricanes and was still working to rebuild from those storms, has not seen an earthquake of this magnitude in two hundred years. As international aid flows in, the country will begin efforts to stabilize from this environmental disaster and provide basic support to its population. Deporting Haitians from the United States now would only deepen an already dire humanitarian crisis.

The Obama administration should act swiftly to designate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, which would halt deportations and permit Haitians already in the United States to live and work here as Haiti responds to this devastating earthquake. Granting TPS would allow the Haitian government to invest its limited resources into rebuilding damaged infrastructure and offering emergency relief to its suffering people.

FCNL has been advocating for nearly a year for Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, as part of our ongoing efforts to fix the broken immigration system. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 would allow Haitians, along with other undocumented immigrants, to step out of the shadows and legalize their status. Humane immigration reform would enable Haitians in the United States to better support their families and communities in this time of need.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Welcome back to your local source for immigration news and updates! Since the holiday break, there's been a lot to report so grab your cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy. Here is your news from Monday, January 4 to Monday, January 11. Happy reading!

It's been a mixed bag this week for the Department of Homeland Security. Starting on January 4, 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) changed its policies on asylum-seekers. People who enter the United States and demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture will now be automatically considered for parole, instead of detention. Holding asylum-seekers for months or even years in jail-like detention facilities has been proven to aggravate post-traumatic stress disorder, so this policy change is an important step in the direction of reducing our nation's dependence on detention.

However, the New York Times and ACLU have revealed a shocking story in which immigration officials had actively tried to cover up details about some of the 107 deaths in immigration detention since October 2003. Records show that one detainee was held in isolation for 13 hours with a head injury before treatment was sought, and another was deprived of prescription painkillers for a broken leg. Both died, yet the agency's main concern was apparently not how to prevent their deaths but how to avoid unwanted publicity. See this video from the New York Times for details.

The inhumane treatment of immigrant detainees indicates the real and urgent need for immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez's has introduced the CIR ASAP Act of 2009, a bill that would reform the immigration system to keep families together, protect workers' rights, and promote immigrants' human and civil rights. FCNL urges you to contact your representative and ask them to cosponsor this bill. This bill offers practical solutions for the broken immigration system, which will hopefully be incorporated into the final immigration bill passed by Congress.

The Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress have introduced a new report, which finds that legalizing undocumented immigrants through comprehensive immigration reform would yield $1.5 trillion for the U.S. economy over the next 10 years. While some are understandably hesitant about reforming the immigration system during a recession, this report indicates that immigration reform would actually help promote economic growth. Immigrant workers would be better positioned to contribute to the economy, and the U.S. government could direct resources away from enforcement and towards the public's urgent needs. For more information, check out the Immigration Policy Center's top 10 resources of 2009.

In fiscal year 2009, the number of federal prosecutions reached an all-time high, due in large part to a flood of immigration prosecutions. Immigration prosecutions started climbing after the 1996 immigration laws were passed, and then prosecutions skyrocketed under the Bush administration. Now, immigration prosecutions make up 54% of federal filings. If immigrants had reasonable legal avenues to come to the United States and integrate into their communities, then the government wouldn't have to devote so many resources to these prosecutions.

Four immigrant students are taking a bold step - several thousands of bold steps, as a matter of fact. These students have embarked on the Trail of Dreams, a 1,500-mile walk from Florida to Washington, DC. Their goal is to promote the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students who came to the United States as children to pursue an accelerated path to legal status and eventual citizenship. To support them on their journey, visit the Trail of Dreams website.

I'll leave you with a surprising tidbit: a clip of Lou Dobbs on the Bill O'Reilly show. If you listen carefully and brush past their anti-immigration rhetoric, you'll find that they're actually stating their support for a workable, non-punitive legalization program. They also support family members joining their loved ones in the United States through the legal visa system. Who knew these two could be so liberal?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Immigrant Students, Risking Detention, Boldly Set Out on Trail of Dreams

Sometimes, when the world will not listen, when the insistent voices calling out for immigration reform go unheard, a few brave souls must take it upon themselves to lay out the path toward justice and equality. Enduring personal suffering for the sake of what's right, these individuals urge us all to be our best selves and reach out to one another in solidarity.

Felipe, Gaby, Juan, and Carlos
are today's brave souls. These four immigrant students have taken it upon themselves to march from Florida to Washington, DC, in support of the DREAM Act. Following the Trail of Dreams will take them four months and 1,500 miles in search of justice and equality for America's immigrants.

Their mission: To empower Americans to unite in solidarity for the passage of just and humane immigration reform.

Sleeping in churches and immigration centers, these students risk more than blisters and sore feet during their journey. Three of the four are undocumented and could be detained and deported for stepping out of the shadows. However, as Juan says, "I'm tired of coming back to school each semester and hearing about another friend who was picked up and deported." For these students, it's time to hit the pavement and march for reform.

Yet they are not alone: Supporters are welcome to join the walkers on the trail, shelter them or organize events, and sponsor them as they seek to reach DC. The media, including the Associated Press, has already picked up on their ambitious actions. The Reform Immigration FOR America campaign will join the students on May 1, when they plan to arrive in DC, to hold a rally for comprehensive immigration reform.

Many of today's undocumented youth, including the walkers, were brought to the United States as young children. Their memories are of growing up in the United States, going to school here, building a life here. Yet every day they face invisible barriers - they cannot get drivers licenses, in-state tuition, or meaningful employment. The DREAM Act would offer an accelerated path to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented youth who pursue higher education or military service.

How can you embark on the Trail of Dreams? Follow the walkers' blog and spread the word. Support them on the trail. Plan to be in Washington, DC, on May 1 to be one of the 100,000 people at the rally. Finally, show your support for the DREAM Act by urging your members of Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Monday, January 4, 2010

TAKE ACTION: Urge Your Rep. To Support Humane and Fair Immigration Reform

Happy New Year! The turn of the year carries with it a new reason for hope - the chance for Congress to make good on its promise to humanely reform the broken immigration system. With the new year comes new opportunities for us to recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice.

On December 15, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) and 91 original cosponsors unveiled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (H.R. 4321), which proposes reforms for the broken immigration system. The bill would promote family unity, bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, and uphold immigrants' human and civil rights.

Now it's your turn to act. Send a message to Congress urging your representative to support humane and fair immigration reform. Together we can make 2010 the year that Congress reforms the broken immigration system that disrupts the lives of so many each day.

Looking for more information? Take a look at FCNL's easy-to-read table outlining our position on the bill, or read our press release and blog post about the press conference announcing the bill. For the full text of the bill, click here. And don't forget to contact one or two friends and ask them to send their own letters of support!