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.