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.

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