Monday, February 22, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Hello again and welcome to this week's edition of In Our Community: Immigration News. Here are highlights from Monday, February 15th to Monday, February 22nd. Grab a cup of coffee and happy reading!

Electoral calculations are starting already and politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking note of growing Hispanic voting power. The Hispanic population in the United States is the fastest growing voting demographic. In the upcoming 2010 elections, politicians are going to need to take seriously the demands and concerns of immigrant communities. Two articles (available here and here) indicate that, in order to win votes, conservatives may need to shift from cracking down on the border to supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Recent polling shows that 82% of Hispanics feel strongly about immigration reform.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which FCNL is a member, launched an immigration reform campaign last week by delivering hundreds of thousands of postcards to members of Congress. This article in the Miami Herald discusses why immigration reform is important to people of faith. As one faith leader says, "This is important to us Christians, not just because we are immigrants or sons or daughters of immigrants... We have been called to treat the foreigners among us justly and to love our neighbor.''

Protestors regularly gather outside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, WA, to protest the harsh treatment and unnecessary detention of immigrants at this jail-like facility. The NWDC has become one of the largest detention centers in the country. It holds about 1000 immigrant detainees at a time, the majority of which have never committed a crime and are being held for immigration violations only. FCNL supports alternatives to detention for these immigrants as they wait for their cases to be heard in immigration courts.

It is still not clear how the Department of Homeland Security defines "criminal alien," which is the term most commonly used for immigrants held in jail-like detention centers. Some say that an individual must be convicted of a crime to be considered a "criminal alien," while others say they just have to be accused of or suspected of a crime. If this is the measure by which enforcement programs are being justified, some clarity is urgently needed. In addition, reports show that the vast majority of immigrant detainees are noncriminal or have committed minor crimes, not the serious ones that you would be led to believe. For more information on how immigrants end up in detention, see two recent fact sheets - available here and here.

Think that areas with significant immigrant populations are more vulnerable to crime? Think again. This interesting article in The American Conservative sets the record straight, demonstrating that Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age. Want to share this information with others? The Immigration Policy Center has a brief fact sheet breaking down the popular myth that immigrants are dangerous criminals.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

To Tell or Not to Tell

As I was scanning the immigration blogs today, I came across this insightful and reflective piece by an immigrant student. He writes on his blog, "I am a shadow," about his experiences living in the United States without legal status. In musing over whether to stay "closeted" about his undocumented status, he wrote this piece:

I tell people about myself and my status. I tell them I am what I am. Why? Why do I do it?

I do it for two primary reasons. First up, the reason is practicality. Being undocumented isn’t an easy thing. I feel bad about this from time to time and it is clearly visible that I am upset. And it is hard for me to lie and lie about it, make up stuff about it. So, I tell my friends the truth about what I am. It just easier for me to be honest about why I feel what I feel.

Second reason, and in a way, more important, is this. When I hear people speak about immigration, there is an air of the entire issue being abstract. You are speaking about “them”. “They” are far away. We are an idea, something that most people in this debate usually don’t know any of us. So, I tell people to shatter this perception. Because you aren’t speaking about some abstract idea, you are speaking about me. And I want to let my friends know, that whenever this topic comes up, it is me that they are talking about. It isn’t something that doesn’t affect, but it is something that affects someone close to you. This is the most important thing for me. I can’t really speak for myself in the way I want, so I like it when someone else can do so.

No one is going to care about you if you don’t tell people. I respect being fearful of telling people, and not telling anyone about your status, but no one is going to care if no one thinks of you when this issue comes up. Don’t be surprised if you don’t tell people about yourself, and then don’t be surprised if anyone insults you without knowing. That’s the way it goes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth

A new film is coming to town! "Papers" tells the story of undocumented youth and the challenges they face as they turn 18 without legal status. It will be playing at the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC on March 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.

65,000 undocumented students graduate every year from high school without “papers” and the door to their future slams shut. It is against the law to work or drive. It is difficult, if not impossible in some states, to attend college. Currently, there is no path to citizenship for these young people.

Graham Street Productions produced this film in collaboration with the youth who want to tell their stories as well as community organizations around the country who are working to change immigration policy on behalf of these young people.

Screenings at the E Street Cinema start at 7:00 pm and are open to the public. Tickets are $10 each and you can buy them here.

Not in DC? Don't despair! You can host your own screening of "Papers"! Click here for details.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Hello again and welcome back to your local source for immigration news! We're still digging out after more than 40 inches of snow fell in DC last week. To catch us up a bit, here are highlights from Monday, February 8 to Tuesday, February 16. Happy reading!

The faith community continues to push for comprehensive immigration reform, delivering tens of thousands of postcards to members of Congress and coordinating prayer vigils across the country. More than 100 faith events will be held in February, from South Carolina to Washington State. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition has made available an organizing guide so that you, too, can gather your community together to raise awareness about the need for reform.

Without comprehensive immigration reform, the broken immigration system creates headaches and difficulties for employers and employees alike. Two new articles - available here and here - document the challenges facing foreign farm workers, who would benefit directly from a comprehensive reform bill. Workers, compelled out of economic necessity to immigrate without the proper documents, face poor working conditions and low wages. Employers, under pressure to increase wages and fulfill Labor Department rules, struggle to keep their businesses viable. The one thing they all agree on? The time for reform is now.

Workers aren't the only ones suffering - families divided by immigration laws face serious hardships in raising their children. This heartbreaking article from the New York Times documents the life of Elizabeth Encalada. Her husband, an immigrant from Ecuador, was ordered back to his home country. He then killed himself upon learning that he would be unable to return to the United States to reunite with his family. The family visa system is clogged with applications, compelling families who play by the rules to turn to desperate measures.

The Immigration Policy Center has released a special report, "Many Happy Returns," on how remittances can help Haiti recover and strengthen the U.S. economy. Many of this country's immigrants send a large chunk of their earnings back to their families and communities in their country of origin. On the surface, it might seem like this money is just disappearing from the U.S. economy, but really, it boosts U.S. participation in the global economy.

A federal judge asks whether it's worth the cost of prosecuting non-criminal immigrants, and a new report by TRAC indicates that the majority of immigrants held in detention centers by ICE have never been convicted of any crime. Even though ICE claims to focus on non-citizens who pose a real threat to public safety, the numbers tell a different story. ICE's director, John Morton, says, "This isn't a question of whether or not we will detain people. We will detain people, and we will detain them on a grand scale." Morton's comment leads us to ask, "But why?"

But don't let me leave you with a rhetorical question - ask the government yourself! The Department of Homeland Security has created an "Open Government" website and they want your input. From now until March 19, you can submit ideas and questions to DHS about how to increase transparency about how the agency manages the immigration detention system.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowmageddon 2010

A quick note to our readers: Due to Snowmageddon 2010 - the two major snowstorms that DC is receiving back-to-back this week - blogging for It's Our Community will be temporarily suspended until FCNL reopens. Regular blog posts should resume by the end of the week. Thanks for your understanding and, if you're in the DC area, stay warm!

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Driving While Brown" Should Not Be a Crime: Take A Stand Against Racial Profiling

"Racism and racial discrimination have profoundly and lastingly marked and structured American society."
~ U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

In 2003, the Department of Justice issued a fact sheet on racial profiling that identifies many of the concerns shared by communities around the country, whose members may find themselves subject to discrimination because of their appearance, national origin, or other identifying characteristics. Racial profiling harms not only communities but also federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, which may be distracted from their real work ensuring the safety and security of the communities under their jurisdiction.

This fact sheet, available here as a PDF, addresses guidelines on racial profiling set forth by the Department of Justice in 2003. While these guidelines are an important step in the process of eliminating racial profiling, they still have loopholes and omissions that allow for some of the very behavior that the guidance is intended to regulate.

The 2003 Department of Justice Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Law Enforcement Agencies:

  • Allows for profiling based on religion and national origin;

  • Includes loopholes that allow profiling at borders in the name of "national security;"

  • Doesn’t apply to all federal law enforcement activity;

  • Isn’t enforceable; and

  • Doesn’t consistently apply to state or local law enforcement agencies working in cooperation with federal agencies or receiving federal money.

To sign a petition urging the Department of Justice to strengthen their 2003 guidelines on racial profiling, please visit the Rights Working Group webpage, available here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

With the State of the Union and the release of the federal budget, this week has been a busy time for folks in Washington, DC. With that, take a look at the news on immigration from Monday, January 25 to Monday, February 1. Happy reading!

The State of the Union was this past Wednesday and if you stuck around until the end, you heard President Obama put in a brief word on the need to keep working to fix the broken immigration system. Here, Immigration Impact bloggers offer their own interpretation of the speech. In response, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL), the author of the CIR ASAP bill to comprehensively reform the immigration system, wrote a powerful op-ed piece calling on Congress to take action.

Here at FCNL, we're urging you to do your part to advance President Obama's vision by organizing a prayer vigil in your community this February. By standing together in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors, we can show that we still believe that immigration reform can't wait. Take a look at the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's planning guide to coordinate your own prayer vigil today!

On Monday, January 25, DHS Assistant Secretary John Morton spoke at the Migration Policy Institute about his plans to overhaul the immigration detention system. Morton is working to create a civil detention system that would replace the jail-like model that currently detains over 30,000 immigrants a day. While we welcome the administration's commitment to reform, we urge Assistant Secretary Morton and his team to work diligently to determine who really needs to be held in detention facilities and who can be released.

As Victoria Lopez writes in the Arizona Daily Star, the immigration detention system lacks transparency and accountability. Many facilities, like this one in Georgia, are run by private prison corporations, which lack the training and oversight to manage a population of civil immigrant detainees. In Colorado, protestors and our friends with the American Friends Service Committee gather regularly outside the Aurora detention facility.

Detention reforms will become all the more important as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) expands their Secure Communities program throughout the country. This program, which checks fingerprints in local jails against an immigration database, is meant to capture high-level criminals who are in violation of immigration laws. Instead, Secure Communities ends up focusing primarily on nonviolent offenders, who get caught in the net and may then be detained and deported. Nationally, Secure Communities accounts for about 40% of the immigrants held in jail-like detention centers that are known for human rights abuses.

The United States and the international community continue to respond to the disaster in Haiti by providing emergency humanitarian relief. The extreme devastation has left people across the country wondering, What more can we do? An op-ed in the Washington Post opines that the U.S. government should accelerate visa processing for Haitians who have family members in the United States. Many of these visa applicants have been waiting four years or more to reunite with their loved ones.