Thursday, June 24, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Bill in House Secures 100 Cosponsors

Families attend the immigration march in DC in March 2010.

Today, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) held a press conference to announce that his bill, CIR ASAP (Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity), has secured 100 cosponsors.

FCNL welcomed the introduction of CIR ASAP in December 2009, and we have worked to promote cosponsorship of the bill. Thank you to the thousands of constituents who wrote letters to their representatives urging them to join this comprehensive immigration reform bill. As Rep. Gutierrez said today, the achievement of gaining 100 cosponsors is a "milestone."

The immigration system is broken, and the consequences of inaction are becoming increasingly severe. More than 22 states are considering or have introduced legislation that mimics Arizona's new law, S.B. 1070, against which the Department of Justice will be filing a lawsuit. Families are torn apart on a daily basis and the number of detentions and deportations is skyrocketing.

I'll leave you with a quote from Rep. Gutierrez's press release this morning:
We know the legislative clock is ticking. We know people are getting deported at the highest rate in modern history. We know that the inter-related problems of illegal immigration, clogged and unattainable legal immigration, border security, deportation, detention, and a two-tiered labor market that hurts all workers will not solve themselves... We need a rational solution. We need a practical solution. We need a fair solution.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Senator Franken Introduces HELP Separated Children Act

Today, Senators Al Franken (MN) and Herb Kohl (WI) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act. FCNL is proud to support this legislation. Here is Senator Franken's press release:

Franken, Kohl Introduce HELP Separated Children Act
Legislation Would Ensure Children’s Safety During Immigration Raids

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/22/10] – Today, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act to keep kids safe, informed, and accounted for during Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.

According to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, 108,434 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the past 10 years.

On December 12, 2006, ICE carried out enforcement actions on Swift & Company meatpacking plants in six states, including a plant in Worthington, Minnesota. The raids left numerous children – most of them citizens and legal residents – without their parents and with no way of finding them. One second-grader in Worthington came home that night to find his two-year old brother alone and his mother and father missing. For the next week, the second-grader stayed home to care for his brother while his grandmother traveled to Worthington to meet them.

“Four million U.S. citizen children in our country have at least one undocumented immigrant parent,” said Sen. Franken. “Forty-thousand of those children live in Minnesota. They should not have to live in fear that one day their parents will simply not come home. They deserve much better than being abandoned without explanation.”

“Under no circumstances should children have to fend for themselves. Child welfare is one of my highest priorities and it is essential that children are protected and cared for when their parents are detained,” Sen. Kohl said. “This legislation offers safeguards for children whose parents are placed in federal custody so they are not left on their own.”

On June 22, 2007, ICE agents staged a raid in the Jackson Heights Manufactured Home Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Early that Friday morning, around 6:00 am, federal agents seized a husband and his wife for suspected immigration violations. They didn’t notice the couple’s daughter, who was sleeping. Later that morning, the seven year-old girl was found wandering the park, looking for her parents. It wasn’t until some neighbors saw her and called the authorities, that she learned what had happened to her mom and dad.

The HELP Separated Children Act strengthens humanitarian protections enacted by the Bush and Obama administrations and extends them to any enforcement action. Specifically, it:

· Keeps state and local authorities in the know. It’s state schools and child welfare agencies that address the aftermath of immigration enforcement actions. Building on existing standards, this bill makes sure that state authorities are notified before or soon after enforcement actions.

· Effectively identifies at-risk kids. Detainees are afraid to tell ICE that they have kids at home. This bill permits child welfare agencies and local NGOs to screen detainees to identify parents and locate at-risk children.

· Allows parents to arrange for care of their children. Detained parents must receive free, confidential calls to arrange for their kids’ care. They should not be transferred unless they know how to contact their kids – and what will happen to them. No matter where they are, parents must be allowed daily calls and regular visits with their children.

· Protects kids during interrogations. Kids should not be forced to witness their parents’ interrogations or translate for ICE agents.

· Allows parents to participate in family court proceedings – and alert authorities to abuse. This bill requires authorities to help detained parents participate in family court proceedings affecting their children. It also gives parents free calls to report child abuse.

· Protects the best interests of children. This bill requires ICE to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.

The HELP Separated Children Act is also co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.). Related legislation was introduced in the House by Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Hello again and welcome back to this week's immigration news. I hope you'll understand why I've been absent from the blog for a week or so when you see this photo. I've been traveling in New Mexico for FCNL - and you can read all about my trip right here. To get back in the swing of things, here is your immigration news from Monday, June 14 to Monday, June 21.

We finally have the extremely important news we've all been waiting for - although not, perhaps, announced in the way we would have anticipated. The Department of Justice will file a lawsuit against Arizona's anti-immigrant law. This news was announced by Secretary Clinton, not Attorney General Holder, but administration officials have confirmed the upcoming lawsuit and said that the details are in the works. Arizona SB 1070 is scheduled to go into effect on July 29, and similar bills have been introduced or considered in many states.

The Supreme Court ruled on June 14 that immigrants will not be automatically deported for minor drug offenses. This is a significant step toward ensuring due process protections for immigrants. Stringent anti-immigrant laws passed in 1996 expanded the definition of "aggravated felony" to include minor crimes such as drug possession and shoplifting, and required mandatory deportation for these crimes. Since then, immigrants have been unduly criminalized and deported without adequate judicial review. Now, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder will protect immigrants from being automatically deported for minor drug offenses.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is overhauling its immigration detention system, and one of its contractors is getting out there early. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) will modify its nine detention facilities to "soften the conditions of detention" and allow immigrant detainees to wear their own clothes, have lengthy contact visits with their families, and enjoy freer movement within the facility. You can read more about it here, here, and here. But this doesn't mean it's all good - these changes come on the heels of a serious incident in which a CCA guard sexually assaulted several female detainees in Texas.

Border Patrol is taking its operations to new heights - literally. CBP has received authorization to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on the border in Texas. These drones will provide surveillance for border agents to intercept smugglers and migrants. Let's not lose sight of the fact that drones are also conducting attacks in Pakistan with serious civilian casualties. The use of drones on the U.S.-Mexico line is one more step in the direction of militarization of the border.

I'll leave you with a story. Many people say immigrants should just "get in line" to come to the United States legally, but for those who try to do so, it can be near impossible. Shari Feldman and Inderjit Singh, as the New York Times reports, have spent nearly 17 years in immigration limbo as they try to prove the veracity of their marriage to immigration authorities. USCIS's efforts to prevent marriage fraud can go too far - home inspections, invasive questioning, and tricky documentation requirements often keep legitimate couples from getting green cards.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Our Community: Immigration News

Photo from Alto Arizona.

It's been a big week for immigration, with significant highs and lows. The news on immigration from Monday, May 24 to Tuesday, June 1:

On Tuesday, May 25, President Obama announced the decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. He also requested an additional $500 million to enhance border enforcement activities. In 2006, the Bush administration sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border during Operation Jump Start and, while this current deployment is at a smaller scale, it is still the same enforcement-only approach that hasn't worked in the past.

FCNL strongly opposes the use of the National Guard on the border. Our colleagues on the border have released a powerful statement of opposition as well. Law enforcement, not military personnel, should focus on stopping drug smuggling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. To deal most effectively with migrants crossing the border, President Obama and Congress should act swiftly to enact comprehensive immigration reform. We've seen that border-only strategies don't work, so why would President Obama keep trying that same tired routine?

We had a big success here on the Hill this week - on Thursday, the Senate voted against three amendments to the emergency war supplemental which would have drastically expanded border enforcement initiatives. Senators McCain (AZ), Kyl (AZ), and Cornyn (TX) had introduced amendments that would have added 6,000 National Guard troops, 6 more drones for surveillance, 3000 new detention beds, and thrown millions of dollars at unworkable deterrence programs. FCNL and our partners acted swiftly to contact members of Congress and our networks generated tens of thousands of grassroots calls. In the end, the Senate rejected all three amendments - but we are still working for decisive action on immigration reform.

On Saturday, May 29, over 100,000 people gathered in Arizona and around the country to oppose the new Arizona law and copy-cat bills in other states. You can see photos and videos here. The message of the people is clear: NO to racial profiling and YES to immigration reform.

Police chiefs from Los Angeles, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Houston, Maryland, and Arizona met with Attorney General Eric Holder on May 26 to voice their concerns about the new Arizona law and similar proposals from other states. The chiefs stated that these laws, which virtually require racial profiling, would erode trust between police and their communities and distract officers from their primary tasks. Holder is expected to make a decision soon about whether to challenge the Arizona law in court.

Other highlights from the news:

Detained immigrants are being counted for the census without their knowledge and then deported, while the cities and towns hosting detention facilities are rewarded by receiving more federal money than they would otherwise.

The number of immigration cases in federal courts reached a new all-time high of 242,776 at the end of March and this backlog continues to extend wait times - immigrants now wait, on average, 443 days for their case to be resolved.