Friday, April 30, 2010

Senators Introduce Proposal for Immigration Reform, Call for Bipartisan Negotiations

On Thursday evening, Senators Reid (NV), Schumer (NY), Menendez (NJ), Durbin (IL), and Feinstein (CA) introduced a draft framework for immigration reform. The five senators appealed to their Republican colleagues to join them in negotiations to craft a bipartisan bill that could be brought to the floor for a vote.

I'd like to share with you one clip of the eloquent words spoken by Senator Menendez:
"We understand the history of not only this country, but the history of the world. When one group of people become a suspect class, when one group of people are blamed for all the ills of the nation, history has taught us that that has a sad ending. We cannot let that happen here in the greatest country on the face of the earth. It is not who we are as a people. It is not who we are as a nation... That's what is at stake here. This is not a partisan question. This is about the national security of the United States. It is about the national economy of this country. And it is ultimately the preservation of the Constitution - because when I can become a second-class citizen, there is a road in which you can become a second-class citizen. And that is not something we can accept."
You can watch the introduction of the framework on C-SPAN here.

In response, President Obama released a statement highlighting the urgent need for reform:
"What has become increasingly clear is that we can no longer wait to fix our broken immigration system, which Democrats and Republicans alike agree doesn’t work. It’s unacceptable to have 11 million people in the United States who are living here illegally and outside of the system... The next critical step is to iron out the details of a bill. We welcome that discussion, and my Administration will play an active role in engaging partners on both sides of the aisle to work toward a bipartisan solution that is based on the fundamental concept of accountability that the American people expect and deserve."
Senator Leahy (VT), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered a comment on the proposal:
"I remain committed to meaningful comprehensive immigration reform... I hope the outline released today will encourage discussions across the aisle, and that they will lead to a bipartisan legislative proposal. All Americans are concerned with updating our immigration laws, fulfilling our labor needs, and addressing the escalating violence along our southern border. I hope we can come together to address these pressing matters."
Senator Graham (SC), who recently halted his efforts to work with Senator Schumer on draft legislation, released a statement with Senator Kyl (AZ) in opposition to the framework:
"Since 2007, threats have increased, some border technology has failed, and the American people have lost confidence in the federal government's ability to secure our borders. So it is our belief that Congress should focus on border security first and that will eventually allow Congress to seriously consider bipartisan immigration reform, instead of politically-motivated ‘conceptual papers.'"
FCNL's statement on the framework is forthcoming.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Appalled by Arizona? 5 Ways to Show It.

Arizona's new law, S.B. 1070, is the harshest anti-immigration law in decades. Although the law doesn't go into effect for 90 days (and will be challenged in court), here are five steps that you can take now to protest this blatant violation of civil rights.

1. Tell your friends.

Start a conversation at the dinner table, out for coffee, or on the bus. Talk with your friends about how this bill starts the United States on a slippery slope toward widespread racial profiling. Hear their thoughts. Get emotional. Talk it out. Stay informed.

2. Tell the president.

Detention Watch Network is compiling action alerts to stop the implementation of the new Arizona law. Click here to participate.

3. Take your money and run.

Reps. Grijalva (AZ), Gutierrez (IL), and Polis (CO) have called for economic sanctions against Arizona. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has already canceled their national conference in Arizona and relocated it to another state. While this action is debatable - should the entire state be punished for the lawmakers' actions? - you can participate, if you choose, by boycotting Arizona products and tourism.

4. Take to the streets.

Immigration may very well be THE the civil rights issue of the 21st century. In 90 days, when this new law is scheduled to go into effect, join Rev. Al Sharpton's "freedom walkers" in Arizona to challenge racial profiling and stand in solidarity with the Hispanic community.

5. Stand up and be counted.
Follow this innovative suggestion from Linda Greenhouse:
So what to do in the meantime? Here’s a modest proposal. Everyone remembers the wartime Danish king who drove through Copenhagen wearing a Star of David in support of his Jewish subjects. It’s an apocryphal story, actually, but an inspiring one. Let the good people of Arizona — and anyone passing through — walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Immigration has become a front-burner issue this week with the signing of an anti-immigrant bill in Arizona and turmoil in Congress over whether to take up immigration reform or climate legislation. Grab a cup of coffee, take a break, and join us to learn about the immigration news from Monday, April 19 to Monday, April 26.

On Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law S.B. 1070, a bill that requires police officers to check the legal status of anyone who they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant. This is the most anti-immigration legislation passed in decades. Critics have expressed grave concerns regarding racial profiling. To read our blog post on the bill, click here.

But don't take my word for it, watch Stephen Colbert's commentary on the Arizona law.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL), among others, also spoke out strongly against the Arizona law:
The lunacy of rounding up people because they look a certain way or are suspected of being in violation of immigration statutes can only lead to one thing: profiling. I am Puerto Rican, I was born in Chicago, and my family has been U.S. citizens for generations, but look at my face, listen to my voice: I could get picked up. Is this what we want in America?
His bill, H.R. 4321, would provide a workable legalization program for the undocumented, protect workers, and uphold immigrants' civil rights.

In response to heightened concerns about drug cartels on the U.S./Mexico border, Senators John McCain (AZ) and Jon Kyl (AZ) have introduced a ten-point plan to expand border security. The highlights of this plan include deploying 3,000 National Guard troops, adding more unmanned drones to the border for surveillance, and building additional double- and triple-layer fencing. At FCNL, we are very concerned about the militarization of the border - read our blog post for more.

A high-profile murder case in Long Island has been resolved - a white teenager accused of killing an Ecuadorean immigrant was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime. Marcelo Lucero had been attacked by seven teenagers seeking to beat up Hispanics. Immigrants in Long Island, spurred by the killing, came forward to share stories of harassment and violence.

This week, Congress will determine which will go first - a bill on energy and the environment, or immigration reform. President Obama has been calling senators to drum up support for immigration, while Majority Leader Reid said on Saturday that both issues are important to national security and the economy. We'll have more news for you as new developments emerge during the week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Do You Know What an Illegal Immigrant Looks Like?

"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Today, the U.S. Constitution has been trampled upon. Civil rights have been violated.

Today, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill, S.B. 1070, which requires police officers to check the papers of anyone who they "reasonably suspect" could be undocumented. This bill also allows individuals to sue law enforcement agencies in Arizona for not taking sufficient steps to enforce federal immigration laws.

No details of what constitutes "reasonable suspicion" are given in the bill. In today's press conference, Governor Brewer acknowledged that racial profiling is illegal but insisted that this bill "represents what's best for Arizona" as the state works to solve a "crisis" that the federal government "refuses to fix."

Under this law, well-intentioned police will find themselves in a bind, since they will be required to engage in racial profiling and threatened with lawsuits if they do not. (The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill.) Rogue police officers will have free rein to terrorize communities.

In response to a reporter's question, Governor Brewer said, "I do not know. I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like."

Across Arizona, individuals are asking themselves: Do I look like an illegal immigrant to you? We should all be asking ourselves the same question. This bill doesn't just violate the basic civil rights of all the residents of Arizona -- it threatens our rights. Each of us.

When this bill goes into effect in 90 days (unless a lawsuit impedes its implementation), parents will be terrified to drop their children off at school in case an officer sees their skin tone and decides they could be "illegal." Victims of domestic violence will refuse to call the police for fear of being wrongly arrested and deported. Residents, acting out of fear or malicious intent, could turn each other in to the police. Anyone with an accent or who "appears" to be foreign-born could be forced to stay in their homes rather than risking a trip to the grocery store.

This isn't who we are. This isn't what we stand for. But the more we tolerate this sort of disregard for the rights of others, the sooner we will see our own rights crumbling as well.

President Obama called this bill "misguided" and instructed his staff to "monitor the situation," but he did not take any direct action to urge Governor Brewer to veto the bill. In this video, he says the bill "threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between the police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."

As Congress and the Obama administration still have not yet made good on their promise to reform the immigration system, states are taking matters into their own hands.

We find ourselves in a dangerous situation, because those who speak out against reactive and dangerous anti-immigration legislation may put themselves in harm's way. In Arizona, Rep. Raul Grijalva, who opposes S. B. 1070, had to close his Yuma and Tuscon offices because of death threats and threats of violence.

This is out of control.

We desperately need immigration reform. If Congress cannot deliver a humane bipartisan bill this year, Arizona may only be the start.

For the full text of S.B. 1070, click here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arizona: Becoming a Police State?

The Arizona House and Senate have passed a bill, S.B. 1070, which would require police officers to check the papers of anyone who looks like they could be undocumented. Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign this bill into law sometime this week, turning Arizona into the closest thing that this country's seen to a police state in many years.

Picture it: Parents terrified to drop their children off at school in case an officer sees their skin tone and decides they could be "illegal." Victims of domestic violence refusing to call the police for risk of being wrongly arrested and deported. Residents, acting out of fear or malicious intent, turning each other in to the police. Anyone with an accent or who "appears" to be foreign-born staying in their homes rather than risking a trip to the grocery store.

This isn't who we are. This isn't what we stand for.

But if we don't stand up now, this could become our reality.

Critics - including members of Congress, police, faith leaders, civil rights groups, immigrant advocacy groups, and more - have been fiercely vocal in urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill. ACLU and others are preparing a lawsuit. Petitions have been circulating and gathering more signatures every hour, vigils have continued around the clock, and countless messages have been sent opposing this horrific bill.

LA Cardinal Mahoney said in the Huffington Post:
"I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation," the cardinal said. "Are children supposed to call 911 because one parent does not have proper papers? Are family members and neighbors now supposed to spy on one another, create total distrust across neighborhoods and communities, and report people because of suspicions based upon appearance?"
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL) also weighed in:
"It is open season on the Latino community in Arizona... It is a horrifying glimpse at what our future holds across the country if we continue down the path the Obama administration is leading us on immigration... I'm afraid we have turned a very dangerous corner in the war on immigrants. And we have heard nothing from the President."
Nine young adults in Arizona have stepped up their advocacy to include acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, by chaining themselves to the Capitol in protest of S.B. 1070.

The situation in Arizona should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and for the members of Congress who have promised to deliver immigration reform, but have been badly sidetracked by partisan political calculations. President Obama and Congress need to act swiftly to fix the broken immigration system, or else Arizona may only be the start. We don't want to go down that road.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is the US at War with Mexico?

It's a reasonable question.

20,000 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents roam the border looking for economic migrants, smugglers, and traffickers. Those who are picked up - including children - are often held for hours or days without food, water, or blankets. The border fence disrupts livelihoods for border communities and destroys the environment. Individuals endure racial profiling, wrongful arrest, and other abuses. Immigration prosecutions are at an all-time high and federal courts are overwhelmed. But it's getting worse........

Most recently, the Department of Homeland Security has wasted more than $700 million dollars to create new surveillance technology (a "virtual fence"). What do they have to show for it? A faulty pilot project along 23 miles of the border near Tuscon. That's it.

An SBInet tower. Source: Boeing

Earlier today, I attended a hearing on border security. Senator Lieberman (CT) raised questions on increased cross-border violence due to "narco-terrorism" while Senator McCain (AZ) insisted that "we must move immediately to fully secure our border." Their witnesses - the head of CBP, a US attorney for Arizona, the sheriff of Cochise County, and the mayor of Nogales - offered their assessments of the situation and made recommendations on how to expand border security initiatives.

While I would not seek to diminish the severity of the cartels' violence (and over 22,000 Mexican residents have been killed in the past three years), I was deeply concerned to hear some of the suggestions being put forward, without critique, at the hearing.

All of the witnesses supported Senator McCain's proposal to deploy 3,000 National Guard troops on the border. One claimed that the presence of the military "creates a whole new level of deterrence." Other suggestions which were lofted include:
  • Building double and triple fences in urban areas, or across the entire border
  • Deploying technologies from SBInet (the virtual border fence) and elsewhere to track incursions on the border
  • Expanding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Securing funding for additional CBP agents
  • Looking to the Minutemen as a model for how to successfully secure the border
Many of these suggestions mirror the 10-point plan for border security that Senators McCain (AZ) and Kyl (AZ) released today.

What's missing: Any serious consideration of the negative impact that border militarization has on border communities. Recognition of the human rights abuses caused by reactive, unfocused security efforts. Indications that the border will not be "secure" until the broken immigration system is fixed so that people can come to the US in a legal, orderly manner.

It is nearly impossible to seal a 2,000-mile border, and most of us wouldn't want to live in a country that did. But until the U.S. government decides that enough is enough, that taxpayer dollars are better spent on workable solutions than impractical displays of force, then the out-of-control militarization of the border is likely to continue.

When will it be enough?

In the hearing today, the mayor of Nogales said, "It is a full-blown war." What will we sacrifice - our country's values, the lives of our people, the trust in our law enforcement agencies - in order to fulfill a dream of ever-expanding military engagement?

Members of the National Guard survey the border during Operation Jumpstart in 2007. Source: LIFE

Monday, April 19, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Here it is, your news on immigration from Monday, April 12 to Monday, April 19.

This week, the Arizona legislature passed a bill that would allow police to check the legal status of anyone they encounter who they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant. It also allows people to sue local police agencies if they feel that the agency is failing to enforce immigration laws. This bill is one of the most anti-immigrant proposals in recent history. Immigration advocacy groups, faith leaders, and civil rights organizations strongly oppose its passage but it is expected that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer will sign it into law when it lands on her desk. Bottom line: This bill would terrorize immigrant communities.

As Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema said, "This legislation would do nothing to solve the problems Arizona faces as a border state, would enshrine racial profiling, would be prohibitively expensive, and will create a permanent culture of fear and panic in innocent communities. The Governor should veto the bill."

Also in Arizona, a massive ICE raid focusing on shuttle companies suspected of transporting migrants across the border has caused widespread panic. More than 800 agents and officers mobilized for the raid, which resulted in 47 arrests. John Morton, the director of ICE, said he intended for the raid to give "such a shock to individuals that they won’t recover as they have in the past." Well, he has certainly done so. Social service organizations reported that the disproportionate show of force - which included helicopters circling overhead - has caused hotlines to ring off the hook and led droves of people to seek refuge in local churches. FCNL strongly opposes raids and encourages the Obama adminstration to align enforcement with humanitarian values.

In brighter news, Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) introduced the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act. This bill would protect immigrants' labor rights and would also protect immigrant workers from retaliation if they submit complaints about dangerous working conditions. FCNL supports strict enforcement of employment and labor laws, in order to ensure that all workers' rights are protected regardless of their legal status.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

As Congress returns from recess, immigration advocates across the country are demanding real, practical solutions to the broken immigration system. Here is the news on immigration from Monday, April 5 to Monday, April 12. Enjoy!

Here at FCNL, we are keeping a close eye on the draft immigration bill in the Senate, co-written by Senators Schumer (NY) and Graham (SC). No legislative text has been released yet, but if Majority Leader Reid's recent statement is any indicator, this comprehensive bill will see the light of day soon. At a rally in Nevada that drew over 6,000 supporters, Senator Reid said, "We're going to come back, we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform now... We need to do this this year. We cannot wait."

The Supreme Court just made a landmark ruling on immigration. Lawyers are now required to tell their immigrant clients whether a guilty plea could lead to possible deportation. This should seem fairly obvious, but - under overly harsh immigration laws - pleading guilty to even a minor crime can trigger mandatory detention and deportation. We congratulate the Supreme Court's decision to uphold real justice and protect immigrants' rights.

The nation's broadest coalition of immigration advocates, the Reform Immigration for America campaign, finally took a public position opposing the fundamentally flawed 287(g) program. This program, which was condemned in a recent Homeland Security investigative report, allows local police to arrest anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant. The New York Times calls the 287(g) program "too broken to fix" and America's Voice has created this excellent video on how immigration enforcement is tearing families apart:

Monday, April 5, 2010

383,524 and Counting

Last year, 383,524 immigrants were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws. That's over a third of a million people.

For the sake of comparison, the number of Quakers worldwide is about 360,000.

Immigration detention has drastically expanded in the past fifteen years. The number of immigrants held annually in jail-like detention facilities has tripled since 1996. Even under the Obama administration, these numbers keep on rising.

To justify this dramatic increase, ICE officials have repeatedly stated that the agency focuses on arresting, detaining, and deporting "dangerous criminal aliens" who pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Now, a recent ICE memo leaked to the press indicates that ICE is trying to arrest and detain as many people as possible - not just dangerous criminals - in order to meet quotas. According to the memo, ICE has set a goal of detaining at least 400,000 immigrants in 2010. To meet this goal, the memo continues, ICE plans to ramp up efforts to catch undocumented immigrants who had never committed a violent crime - because they can be deported more quickly than those with criminal backgrounds. (ICE later withdrew the memo but declined to offer a public explanation for why it had originally been issued.)

To catch more non-criminal immigrants, ICE relies on controversial local enforcement programs. These programs authorize police officers to enforce immigration laws. As a recent governmental report indicates, local enforcement programs lack oversight and have resulted in the widespread use of racial profiling.

As a result, more people get trapped in the broken immigration system every year. Immigration prosecutions have skyrocketed in recent years, overwhelming the courts. Immigration judges lack the resources to process immigration cases in a timely manner. Tens of thousands of immigrants languish in detention facilities as they wait for their cases to be heard, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Yet ICE continues to insist that its methods are justified.

This is backwards reasoning. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on expensive and ineffective enforcement programs. You can't deport your way into a workable immigration system.

We've tried the enforcement-only approach, and it doesn't work. We urgently need immigration reform in order to create a legal immigration system that works for everyone.

Urge your members of Congress to support immigration reform. FCNL has created a new set of talking points for you to use when you contact your senators and representatives. Write a letter to your representative or schedule a lobby visit with your senator today!

To learn more about immigration reform, read FCNL's Statement of Principles on Immigration Reform. Stay up to date by signing up for our Immigration Network list serve, which distributes monthly updates about FCNL's work on immigration.

In Our Community: Immigration News

Welcome back to your local source of up-to-date immigration news. Here is the news on immigration from Monday, March 29 to Monday, April 5. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Did you know that 383,000 people were detained in immigration jails in 2009? And that ICE plans to detain more than 400,000 people in 2010? The Washington Post leaked a memo from high-ranking officials within ICE, indicating that ICE is trying to arrest and detain as many people as possible - not just dangerous criminals - in order to meet quotas. This memo caused an uproar in the civil rights advocacy community. ICE has a serious and urgent question to answer: Who does the agency focus on - "dangerous criminals" or simply people who look "foreign"?

ICE's enforcement programs cast an extremely wide net, dragging in not only undocumented immigrants who have not committed any crimes but also green card holders and even US citizens. These programs, often implemented by police officers, lack critical oversight measures and often lead to discrimination. The DHS Inspector General just released a report revealing the fundamental flaws of the 287(g) program, which deputizes state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws. Federal immigration law should only be enforced by federal agents, so that the police can focus on protecting their communities. FCNL maintains that the 287(g) program should be immediately terminated.

Immigration detention facilities are terrifying places to be detained, and all the more so if you are coping with a disability or a history of trauma. A recent report from the New York Times reveals that immigrants with disabilities are routinely mistreated - denied medication, transferred to detention facilities far away from their families, and deported without proper arrangements for care. In other news, we recently learned that 30 Haitian survivors of the earthquake were shuffled onto planes, taken to the US, then detained in Florida even though deportations to Haiti have been suspended indefinitely. Advocates rushed to the cause and half of this group has been released; the fate of the others remains to be seen.

But enough about detention - what's happening on the border? Even though DHS Secretary Napolitano recently halted any further construction of a virtual fence on the border, some politicians still think that militarizing the border is the right answer. On March 29, Senator McCain (AZ) called for the National Guard to be sent to the border to protect US citizens. Such a deployment would set a dangerous precedent. The US is not at war with Mexico and militarizing the border is no substitute for the creation of a workable immigration policy that allows people to migrate in a legal, orderly manner. Senator McCain should push for immigration reform, not troops.

The search continues for a second Republican to introduce an immigration reform bill in the Senate, with Senators Schumer (NY) and Graham (SC). Meanwhile, FCNL has created new talking points and a revised statement of principles on immigration reform. You can share these with your members of Congress and urge them to support just, humane immigration reform.