Monday, May 24, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

On Wednesday, I attended the arrival ceremony at the White House for President Calderon of Mexico - you can see him pictured above with President Obama. For more on that and other updates, here it is, your immigration news from Monday, May 17 to Monday, May 24.

During a joint session of Congress, President Calderon spoke strongly against the new Arizona law which, as he said, "introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement." His remarks on this subject were greeted with a standing ovation. Also during his visit, the United States and Mexico announced the creation of a joint committee on border-related activities.

In the pop culture world, immigration also got a shout-out: The new Miss USA is Rima Fakih, an Arab-American immigrant. She was born in Lebanon and came to the United States as a young child, eventually settling in Michigan. She is believed to be the first Arab American and Muslim to win the contest.

San Francisco is trying to opt out of Secure Communities, a Homeland Security program run by ICE in which fingerprints taken at local jails are run through a national database to check arrestees' immigration status. The city's sheriff has said that Secure Communities conflicts with the city's policy of only reporting foreign-born persons who are booked for felonies. Secure Communities doesn't align with ICE's objective of going after the "most dangerous criminals" - instead it casts a wide net regardless of individual circumstances - and we need cities like San Francisco (and DC) to push ICE to clarify the program's purpose.

As I was perusing the immigration blogs this past week, I came across this concerning clip: South Carolina has introduced a bill copying the Arizona law. The Wall Street Journal has an article on how immigrants are often reluctant to report domestic abuse, if going to the police means risking deportation. This problem, of states taking federal law into their own hands, is clearly going to get worse before it gets better.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL) recently endorsed a plan to include LGBT partners in immigration reform. Currently, LGBT Americans are unable to petition for their foreign-born partners. The inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act in immigration reform would end this long-standing denial of civil rights and equality.

Michelle Obama's visit to an elementary school in Maryland catapulted the question of family unity onto the national stage, when a second-grader expressed fears that her mother would be deported. You can watch the video here. According to the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, families can't wait any longer for a just, humane immigration reform bill.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

President of Mexico Opposes AZ Law, Calls on Congress to Find a Better Solution

Today, addressing a joint session of Congress, President Calderon of Mexico stated his strong opposition to the new law in Arizona. Mexico has issued a travel warning to its citizens in the United States and has terminated a student exchange program with Arizona.

In his speech, Calderon recognized that each country has the right to enact and enforce its own laws, but he simultaneously stressed the urgent need to fix the "broken and inefficient" immigration system. He favors the creation of a "legal, orderly, and secure flow" of migrants, and pointed out that the border would not be secure without comprehensive immigration reform.

Calling for a "responsible" solution, Calderon said, "I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona." Using racial profiling as the basis of law performance is a "terrible idea." He emphasized that the new law "carries a great amount of risk when core values are being breached." He called on President Obama and the Congress to "find a better way together to face and fix this problem."

While Mexico has a lot on its plate - stamping out bureaucratic corruption and bribery, boosting the economy and creating new jobs, halting organized crime, and more - it is clear that President Calderon will not stand idly by as the United States pursues dangerous enforcement policies. From both a moral and practical standpoint, racial profiling and other forms of discrimination cannot be tolerated as legitimate enforcement strategies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Major Lawsuit Filed Against Outrageous Arizona Law, National Day of Action on May 29

Never seen the Grand Canyon? Here's your chance. Alto Arizona, with immigrant, faith, labor, law enforcement, and civil rights organizations across the country, are planning a national day of action on May 29th to showcase our powerful opposition to the new Arizona law.

If you are able to, please consider traveling to Arizona to join the brave organizers in marching to the State Capitol. To plan your trip and learn about more ways to get involved, click here. Or, coordinate a march in your own state.

The national day of action comes at a critical moment - major civil rights organizations have just filed a lawsuit against the new Arizona law. This lawsuit is intended to stop racial profiling in its tracks and ensure that what happens in Arizona STOPS in Arizona.

The authors of the lawsuit include: the ACLU, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ACLU of Arizona, National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Welcome back for another week of immigration news, from Monday, May 10 to Monday, May 17. Happy reading!

Arizona's new immigration law, which requires racial profiling, goes into effect on July 28. However, some people just aren't that patient. We've heard scattered reports that Arizona police officers are already "enforcing" the new law. What's more, twelve states - including Minnesota, Michigan, and more - are introducing copy-cat legislation. These outrageous proposals should be a wake-up call for Congress - urge your representatives to take swift action to enact immigration reform this year.

Boycotting Arizona? Yup, me too. So is Austin, along with many other cities across the country. We're also waiting for MALDEF, ACLU, and NILC to introduce their lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional and discriminatory Arizona law. The Department of Justice may take action as well, but we are concerned to learn that Attorney General Eric Holder hasn't even read the Arizona law yet. We know he's busy, but it's less than twenty pages.

Mexico has issued a travel warning to its citizens about the Arizona law. In addition, the President of Mexico will be arriving in the United States on Wednesday. We anticipate that he and President Obama will have a lot to discuss when it comes to immigration.

Even the United Nations is taking note of the new Arizona law. A group of independent UN rights experts expressed serious concerns about whether this law violates the United States' obligations under international human rights treaties.

Believe it or not, Arizona keeps coming up with new, innovative ways to take away residents' rights, and now state lawmakers are focusing on education. AZ Governor Jan Brewer just signed into law a bill prohibiting any classes that "advocate for ethnic solidarity" or "promote resentment toward a race or class of people." This bill seeks to eradicate ethnic studies programs, such as those that teach Mexican-American history. I see this as a nativist impulse favoring revisionist history, which seeks to mask oppression and deny students the opportunity to study civil rights. We can do better.

However, the Department of Homeland Security seems to be deporting immigrants at an exceptionally rapid pace this year even without Arizona's assistance. ICE director John Morton has said that he plans to deport people at a "massive scale," and he has set the goal of 400,000 deportations in 2010. He seems to be outdoing himself. Time has reported this astonishing figure:
Thus far this year, some 185,887 people have been deported, a record pace that, if maintained, will nearly double the number of deportations in 2010 to 604,133.
One last note: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has an announcement - the new "green cards" for legal permanent residents will actually be green! Not only that, but they'll incorporate new security measures to avoid fraud.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

The heat from Arizona continues to radiate, so check out the news on immigration from Monday, May 3 to Monday, May 10:

At FCNL, we see the outrageous Arizona law as a wake-up call to Washington. On April 29, five senators introduced a framework for immigration reform, which was met with mixed reactions from advocates. The framework, intended to prompt bipartisan talks, has yet to yield such cooperation. We can't afford to have politicians use immigration reform as a political football to score points against one another. Write to your senators today to urge them to support humane, comprehensive immigration reform.

As Congress remains bound by hyper-partisan politics, states mimicking Arizona continue to take immigration law into their own hands. Minnesota just introduced legislation modeled exactly on the Arizona law. Eleven other states are considering similar legislation: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pensylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Recent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans think the immigration system should be overhauled, but without decisive federal action to build a realistic legal immigration system, our civil rights will continue to be trampled.

However, in two cases, officials are standing up to say NO. In New York, Governor Paterson announced that the state would consider pardons for people subject to "embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible" immigration laws. In DC, the City Council unanimously supports a boycott of Arizona and opposes the District's participation in misguided immigration enforcement programs - for more, see my blog post on the resolutions.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, best known for his courageous efforts to promote reconciliation following South Africa's apartheid, has a message for you: Arizona is not the solution. I strongly encourage you to read his entire article, excerpted here:
Abominations such as apartheid do not start with an entire population suddenly becoming inhumane. They start here. They start with generalizing unwanted characteristics across an entire segment of a population. They start with trying to solve a problem by asserting superior force over a population. They start with stripping people of rights and dignity - such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty - that you yourself enjoy. Not because it is right, but because you can. And because somehow, you think this is going to solve a problem.
I'll leave you with an exciting tidbit - Arizona rappers have collaborated to protest the new law requiring racial profiling. Props to these brave artists for reminding us all that hip hop can still break through commercial ties and speak truth to power. Check out their music video here:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

But Didn't They Break the Law?

One of the most common questions I hear is, "But didn't they break the law? Why should we reward immigrants for coming to the United States illegally?"

FCNL's work on immigration is guided by the call for right relationships among all people. We recognize that it is neither feasible nor humane to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Instead of lining up the buses, we need to find a workable solution.

First of all, the U.S. immigration system is broken. Sometimes I get asked, "Why don't they just get in line?" For many people seeking to enter the United States so that they can work hard, support their families, and contribute to the U.S. economy - there is no line to get into.

Work visas
The national economy depends on both high- and lower-skilled foreign workers, even though that fact can sometimes be hard for us to acknowledge. As Senator Feinstein (CA) described in a press conference last week, even in a recession certain industries - like agriculture - still can't find enough native-born workers to get the job done. But visas for lower-skilled immigrant workers just aren't readily available. Moreover, the current system creates incentives for disingenuous employers to hire undocumented immigrants, keep them in poor work conditions, and pay them well below minimum wage. This drives down wages for all. The broken system hurts law-abiding employers, native-born workers, and immigrants alike. The "wink wink, come on in" system facilitates exploitation and is no longer sustainable.

Family visas
Families are the fundamental unit of society. But immigrants seeking to be reunited with their families have to wait between four and twenty-two years to be reunited with their close loved ones. It is immoral to keep a young girl apart from her father or mother for up to seven years. These wait times exist because of backlogs of pending applications and bureaucratic delays. Reforming the family visa system wouldn't allow for "chain migration" (you can't bring in your aunts, cousins, or other extended relatives anyway), but it would allow parents and children to reunite in a timely manner. Plus, family reunification does contribute to the U.S. economy. Immigrant workers will be more likely to stay in the country and integrate if they can bring their immediate relatives with them, and most family members come to the United States intending to work hard to provide their children with opportunities to succeed.

So, neither the work-based nor family-based visa systems are working properly right now. As a result, immigrants are faced with impossible choices.

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants come to the United States to work hard and rejoin their families, not to cause our communities harm. But those who would utilize the legal system are prevented from doing so, because the current system is inefficient and outdated. Then, immigrants - and not the broken laws - are perceived as the problem and punished.

When the United States was founded, one of the core principles woven into the fabric of the national identity was this: Where the law is unjust, it should be changed.

FCNL does not advocate for rewarding illegal immigration. Rather, we support a reasonable and inclusive path for undocumented immigrants to regularize their status and eventually earn citizenship. Such a program should be workable and not hindered by overly punitive criteria.

Components of a pathway to legal status

We need a solution that allows undocumented immigrants to meet a reasonable set of criteria so that they can be integrated into the legal system. Over the past several years, a number of constructive proposals have been put forward. An earned pathway to legal status would include requirements such as:
  • Paying any unpaid back taxes
  • Learning English
  • Providing biographic and biometric information
  • Completing a criminal background check
  • Paying a reasonable fee or fine
  • Performing community service
At FCNL, we maintain that this set of criteria should not be overly punitive. In the past, Congress proposed exorbitant fees and other measures that would have prevented large swaths of people from participating and thus defeated the primary purpose of the program.

In addition, this kind of pathway to legal status would be fair - undocumented immigrants would go to the "back of the line." As mentioned earlier, there is a backlog of family visa applications. Undocumented immigrants wouldn't get to "cut in line" ahead of individuals who have been waiting since the mid-1990s (or even earlier) to reunite with their loved ones. Instead, they would be registered, receive a transitional visa, and then wait seven or eight years for the family backlog to clear. Only then could eligible undocumented immigrants adjust to become legal permanent residents and eventually apply for citizenship.

Some special cases need additional consideration. One of FCNL's principles is that the pathway to legal status should be inclusive. This means that refugees, asylum-seekers, and multi-status families (in which some family members have papers while others do not) should be included. In addition, undocumented students (who came to this country as children, not of their own will) should be encouraged to stay and pursue their education in the United States via the DREAM Act.

At this point, I occasionally hear concerns expressed that this kind of pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship would create incentives for more people to attempt to immigrate to the United States without proper authorization. Rest assured: any immigration reform bill enacted by Congress would almost certainly only allow undocumented immigrants to earn legal status if they could prove that they have been in the country since the date of enactment of the bill. If an individual had arrived in the country after the date of enactment, they would not be eligible.

Ultimately, a reasonable earned pathway to legal status would deal squarely with the current reality without rewarding illegal immigration.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the new Arizona law, "A solution that fails to distinguish between a young child coming over the border in search of his mother and a drug smuggler is not a solution."

We need solutions that actually work. Migration has been a part of human existence since its inception. With careful consideration and open dialogue, our nation can create an immigration system that protects public safety and national security without sacrificing the principles upon which the United States was built - fairness, opportunity, and compassion.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Proud to Live in the District

The D.C. Council took a momentous step on Tuesday to stand up for immigrants' rights.

Council member Phil Mendelson introduced a bill that would block Washington, D.C. from participating in the Secure Communities program. He was met with unanimous support from the rest of the D.C. Council.

Secure Communities is a local immigration enforcement program requires police officers to check the fingerprints of anyone they're booking into jail against a national database to confirm their legal status. Of course, this opens the way for racial profiling because Secure Communities checks people's status at the point of arrest, not the point of conviction. So, the program creates incentives for pretextual arrests (for minor violations like a broken tail light - the quintissential "driving while brown" violation).

As part of ICE's efforts to detain at least 400,000 people annually, the agency has been rolling out Secure Communities and plans to go nationwide in the next few years. The D.C. Council's move to block implementation in the District constitutes the first time that a city has stood up and refused to participate.

As Mendelson said, "The Metropolitan Police Department has its hands full dealing with violent crimes in the District, and the issue of immigration is not the MPD's responsibility."

Another first: The D.C. Council also announced its unanimous support for divesting from Arizona and banning city workers from traveling to the state on official business.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quakers Welcome Next Steps on Immigration Reform, Call for Humane Enforcement

On Thursday, April 29, Senators Reid (NV), Schumer (NY), Menendez (NJ), Durbin (IL) and Feinstein (CA) introduced a 26-page proposal for bipartisan legislation on immigration reform. Their hope is to start a conversation with key Republicans to craft a viable bill that could be brought to a vote this year.

FCNL has released a statement in response to the proposal. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to enact bipartisan legislation that would restore integrity to the U.S. tradition of welcoming immigrants.

Monday, May 3, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

The new Arizona law, and the corresponding need for decisive federal action on immigration reform legislation, continue to make headlines across the nation. So, grab a seat, buckle up, and get ready for key updates from Monday, April 26 to Monday, May 3.

The new Arizona law, which requires police officers to stop anyone who they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant, has been broadly criticized for permitting racial profiling. Its opponents include President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, members of Congress, the Arizona association of chiefs of police, the mayor of Phoenix, the sheriff of Pima County, many American Indians, many religious groups, immigrants rights organizations, civil liberties advocates, and more. Al Sharpton says that he is organizing "freedom walkers" to march on Arizona. Click here to learn how you can take action to oppose rampant racial profiling in Arizona.

Critics of the new Arizona law are calling for economic boycotts of the state. This means avoiding traveling to Arizona and choosing not to purchase products from companies based in Arizona. Several cities have already chosen to divest from Arizona while others - including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC - are considering doing so. You can do your part: See this website for easy ways to participate in the boycott.

Please note: Arizona will likely face a number of lawsuits to stop the implementation of the new law - but some recent changes to the new law may make it harder to litigate. Meanwhile, seven states are considering similar legislation.

While all eyes are on Arizona, let's not forget that immigration enforcement is out-of-control on the federal level too. Bill Quigley, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, has an excellent op-ed on the "Secure Communities" program which also leaves the door open for racial profiling. In addition, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has released a new report on immigration detention in New Jersey - and the New York Times is shocked at their findings.

Finally, last Thursday, Senators Reid, Schumer, Menendez, Durbin, and Feinstein introduced a draft framework for an immigration reform bill. Senator Menendez, in particular, spoke eloquently about the need for Congress to take action. You can watch the video clip of his speech at the press conference here. FCNL's statement on the framework is available here.