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National Day Laborer Organization Network and United Methodist Church Protest Deportations at White House

Earlier this month, the National Day Laborer Organization Network petitioned Obama to extend his Deferred Action for childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to “the fullest extent permissible by law.”  The petition also requested the suspension of deportations of individuals who would likely benefit from future immigration reform legislation.  Congressional Democrats have also raised the issue with Obama to extend DACA to include family members of the young people who qualify and to working immigrants to allow them to qualify to stay in the country legally under visas.

DACA, a program created a bit over a year ago by the Obama administration has made it possible for hundreds of thousands of applicants to stay in the United States legally under two-year visas.  People under the age of 30 who were brought into the United States as children, have completed or are currently enrolled in high school and/or college in the United States, and have not left the country recently or committed serious crimes currently qualify for DACA.

On President’s Day, the United Methodist Church and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network organized a protest attended by over 50 people.  Religious leaders, immigrants, and supporters gathered in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to sing songs and hold signs protesting Obama’s deportation policy which has caused 2 million people to be deported in the five years he has been in office.  By comparison, 2 million people were deported in the full eight years George Bush was in office.  After three warnings, police began to make arrests.

Obama stresses that there is only so much he can do to extend this program and enact immigration reform without congressional approval, urging members of Congress to continue to push for immigration legislation.

Source: Delmore, Erin.  “Immigration protest sparks arrest outside White House,” MSNBC.  February 17, 2014.  http://www.msnbc.com/all/activists-arrested-outside-white-house

Rep. Nancy Pelosi Differentiates “Between what is a reason and what is an excuse.”

House Republicans are internally divided on how or whether to move forward on immigration reform legislation.  While most embrace moving forward on reform step-by-step in a piecemeal process that ultimately sorts out immigration legislation, some have embraced comprehensive immigration reform while others refuse to move forward altogether.  In consequence, House Republicans have opted to attempt to delay passing legislation until 2017.

House Speaker John Boeher explained, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce out laws, and it’s going to be difficult to move on any immigration legislation until that changes.”

While the GOP claims the Obama administration cannot be trusted to enforce immigration laws, including their priority of tightening border security, deportations have hit record highs during this administration showing that he will carry out legislation even if he doesn’t agree with all of it.  Unfortunately House Republicans have omitted what President Obama could do to win back their trust and are skeptical of whether or not they’ll be able to trust the next administration in 2017 either.

“That’s not a reason to not do an immigration bill, that’s an excuse not to do it, and around here, you have to always differentiate between what is a reason and what is an excuse,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded to the House GOP’s announcement.  She explained that the United States government is built on a series of checks and balances to address issues of distrust and inability to carry out one’s duties appropriately.  “We’re the first in the Constitution–the legislative branch.  And what we’re supposed to do it legislate, and not make up excuses as to why we don’t,” said Rep. Pelosi.

Source: Siddiqui, Sabrina.  “Nancy Pelosi: If GOP Can’t Trust Obama on Immigration, Congress Should ‘Pack Up And Go Home,” Huffington Post.  February 6, 2014.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/nancy-pelosi-immigration-reform_n_4739705.html

Vague Immigration Standards put forth by House Republicans

House Republicans unveiled an immigration reform plan outlining the standards they assert must be met for them to be willing to pass immigration reform legislation.  This plan, however, is not actually a plan.  It vaguely outlines points and principles leaving much vagueness and ambiguity around what their standards actually are, and does not set forth an actual plan, or even promise of a bill.

Their outline does embrace the ideals of the DREAM Act, including citizenship opportunities for minors and young undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as children.  It also mentions creating avenues for adults living in the United States illegally to live and work in the country legally without threat of deportation.  They mention that they would support a comprehensive immigration package to provide many of the 11.7 million people living in the United States illegally pathways to stay here without fear of deportation.

However, they also insist that border security “must come first,” and that pathways to legalization cannot “happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented.”  The problem is, like many other terms and principles put forth in the House Republican outline, “specific enforcement triggers” are undefined and may be used to stave off completion of comprehensive immigration reform.  Legislation is defined by the details and the details in this outline are left vague and undefined.

The Republican immigration reform plan is a whole 858 words written on one page.  After rejecting immigration reform legislation negotiated across the isle and passed with bipartisan support, and support from religious, labor and business leaders in the Senate in 2013, House Republicans wrote up negotiated amongst themselves to outline their standards for agreeing to vote on immigration reform legislation.  In the words of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, “These standards are as far as we are willing to go.”

Unfortunately, these hard standards can only be so hard when they are vague.  Another example are the “special pathways,” to citizenship, another term left undefined in the Republican’s outline.  They write, “There will be no special pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrant adults, even though they could be eligible to legally stay in the country to live and work.

The upside to a vague and undefined outline of hard limits is that it leaves wiggle room for bipartisan negotiation.

Source: Benen, Steve.  “House GOP outlines immigration principles,” MSNBC.  January 31, 2014.  http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/house-gop-outlines-immigration-principles

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Pretests Readiness for Widespread Immigration Reform

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, authorized by President Obama in June of 2012 has turned out to be a much-needed testing grounds for what changes need to be made to carry out broader immigration reform.  Political sciences assistant professor of University of California San Diego and researcher of DACA Tom Wong explains, “DACA represents an important trial run for a larger legalization process.”

Since DACA was announced, about 75% of all applicants have been accepted to remain in the United States.  An estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants qualified for this program which is open to immigrants ages 15-30 with high school diplomas, GEDs, or are enrolled in US schools, who have not left the country since June of 2007, and have not committed any serious crimes.  As was to be expected, they came forward and applied in enormous numbers.  What wasn’t expected was where they would all come from.

States like California, Texas, New York, and Illinois have the highest number of Mexican immigrants.  However, these assumptions created hiccups in the DACA process.  While these states had the most Mexican immigrants, serving immigrants from countries besides Mexico–especially immigrants who couldn’t speak English or Spanish–needs a lot more work and a lot more resources and local organizations to support these applicants.  Also, the states with the most applicants turned out to be none of the top states populated with Mexican immigrants.  Georgia, North Carolina, and Indiana were the states with the most applicants and underestimations of the traffic they would receive caused many a hiccup.

Another important aspect of DACA that needed some streamlining was specifying which documents were acceptable for proving continuous residence.  Since employers are wary of documenting illegal workers, people were bringing forth hospital bills, social media documentation, and utility bills.  It has since been made clear that utility bills and hospital bills will be accepted.  The school systems in these states have also been flooded with transcript requests.

All of these hold-ups have created bottlenecks in the process that have lead to long turn-around times, during which applicants have gotten deported, visas have run out, and lives have been torn apart.  At the same time, these applicants are educated, responsible members of the United States’ population and loosing them due to lengthy application processing time is not in our best interest.

In the first sixty days since DACA was announced, almost 600,000 people applied.  This has not slowed down.  Hopefully we can learn how to streamline application and turn around, as well as best serving all applicants and supporting the communities that will have to scramble for transcripts and utilities bills, from the challenges, surprises, and hiccups of DACA moving forward into broader immigration reform.

Source: Wides-Munoz, Laura.  “Immigration Reform Gets Broader Lessons from Deferred Action,” Huffington Post.  November 17th, 2013.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/immigration-reform-deferred-action_n_4295563.html


Department of Justice Making Changes to Protect Mentally Impaired In Immigration Court

The Department of Justice is taking some much needed steps to protect cognitively impaired immigrants who end up in immigration court, unable to navigate legal proceedings.  Unlike in criminal court, defendants currently have no right to a free lawyer in immigration court.  This has resulted in people who have valid claims to remain in the United States but cannot comprehend immigration law or access their documents due to cognitive impairment or mental illness being deported to countries they barely remember of have never been to with no support.  Both documented and undocumented immigrants have met this fate which in effect has caused people to be wrongfully deported simply because they are cognitively impaired.

Currently, the Department of Justice is making policy changes to protect mentally impaired defendants in removal proceedings.  This includes providing cognitively impaired defendants with free lawyers once they have been identified as having mental impairments that render them unable to understand legal proceedings.  Controversy may rear its head because once identified, defendants with mental impairment do not have the right to refuse representation, but overall this new policy promises to save many people from wrongful deportation.

Unfortunately free lawyers for mentally impaired immigrants is only a band aid on the puzzle that effectively causes people to be deported for being mentally ill.  Even if a cognitively impaired immigrant is saved from wrongful deportation by representation, there are still statutes that trigger mandatory deportation for some petty crimes.  Since petty criminality and mental illness are generally accepted to be linked, it’s only a matter of time before the trigger goes off for these people.  Immigration reform on a federal level is still necessary to cure the roots of this problem, although reformed policy in the Department of Justice is definitely a step in the right direction.

Source: Murray-Tjan, Laura.  “Immigration Puzzle of the Week: Do We Deport People for Being Mentally Ill?” Huffington Post.  January 10, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-murraytjan/immigration-mentally-ill-deportation_b_4577314.html

More than “Illegal Aliens” Alienated by Georgia Representative

Georgia senatorial primaries candidate, Republican Rep. Paul Broun explained to local news reporters, “The only way Georgia is going to change is if we have all these illegal aliens in here in Georgia [and] give them the right to vote.”

This has become a popular anti-immigration reform theory in conservative circles across the country.  It is thought that if immigration reform offered the estimated 7.1 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States pathways to citizenship, they would not only all follow these pathways all the way to citizenship–which according to the proposed bill would take over a decade to complete–but also all decide to vote.  This theory pays no attention to the 17.6 million Hispanic Americans under the age of 18, 93% of which are American-born citizens and belong to a demographic who tend to vote as a Democratic bloc.  Either way, the Republican party is in trouble, especially if they decide to oppose immigration reform and are worried about being drowned out by Democratic Latino voters.

In 2011, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that about 425,000 undocumented immigrants of all ethnicities live in Georgia.  This is one of the highest rates in the nation.  Broun and others in conservative anti-immigration reform circles believe that undocumented immigrants who are currently barred from most federal benefits programs will access them and support their expansion, thus supporting democratic ideology and policies.  Broun explains to local news reporters, “It only helps the Democrats if we legalize illegal aliens in this country who the Democrats want to put on federal welfare programs.”

Combined with his fierce anti-immigration rhetoric, comments indicting evolution and the Big Bang theory as “lies straight from the pit of hell,” Representative Broun has top Republicans worried that he won’t be able to stand up to Democratic candidates in the state’s senatorial election.

Source: Sarlin, Benjy.  “Georgia Republican warns ‘illegal aliens’ will turn state blue,” MSNBC.  January 7, 2014.  http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/paul-broun-illegal-aliens-immigration-reform.

House Republicans May Support “Limited” Immigration Plan

While the national House of Representatives speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “may embrace a series of limited changers to the nation’s immigration laws,” the Senate has already passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill built on compromise.  While democrats fought for improved pathways to citizenship for immigrants, republicans fought to tighter and improved border security.

A glint of hope that immigration reform legislation might actually pass through the House comes from Boehner’s new hire, Rebecca Tallent.  She was the immigration adviser for many years to Senator John McCain, a republican senator who backs broad immigration reforms.  Boehner has also made critical comments about Tea Party opposition to Congress’s budget deal, which has been taken as indication that he may actually be serious about immigration reform.

Although there are hints that Boehner and the house republicans are willing to move forward, they are willing to move forward on “limited” changes made step-by-step and incrementally.  President Obama agrees with completing immigration reform in incremental steps as long as key provisions are not omitted, but these key provisions are exactly why the word “limited” is being used by House republicans.

Legislation that has already been approved in the Senate included both tightened border patrol and more and clearer pathways to visas and citizenship for immigrants.  The bill has garnered public support from religious, business, and labor leaders across the country as well as GOP strategists and the Latino community.  The aim of the bill is to strengthen border patrol along the periphery but also develop pathways to legalization and visas for agricultural laborers and high-tech workers, and provide opportunities for citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.  However, the bill is stalled in house and Boehner’s agreement to try to compromise on this bill to pass it through the house falls far short of effective immigration reform, compromising on a bill already built on intensive compromise.

Source: Benen, Steve.  “Boehner signals support for ‘limited’ immigration plan,” MSNBC.  January 2, 2014.  http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/boehner-eyes-limited-immigration-plan.

State Immigration Laws Create Two Americas

Due to the inability of Congress to pass immigration reform laws on a national level, states have taken matters into their own hands.  Red states have tended to tighten immigration laws and move towards making life harder for undocumented workers and ultimately removing them from their states.  Blue states have tended to open up opportunities to undocumented immigrants such as access to higher education, driver’s licenses and official identification cards, and making it harder for them to be detected and deported.  What this has ultimately caused is a country divided in two—states that accept undocumented residents and are working towards protecting their rights and integrating them into society and the economy, and states that are working towards giving undocumented immigrants the boot.

Three years ago, Republicans took many state house victories and prompted a wave of anti-immigration policies to be passed in red states across the United States.  These policies turned local police forces into border patrols, targeting traffic stops as opportunities to identify and detain undocumented immigrants.  Judicial rulings and public backlash against these laws from all sides have mitigated many of them and restricted red states from passing harsher laws, but many families have been torn apart over routine traffic stops.  Getting behind the wheel can be the scariest thing an undocumented immigrant does.  Also, not having access to drivers licenses and legal identification impedes opening bank accounts, seeking healthcare, and mobility.

On the flipside, blue states such as California—which has the highest immigrant population the country—is doing just the opposite.  States such as New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Colorado to name a few have now made it possible for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and insurance.  Many of these states have also deferred to Trust, But Verify tactics when it comes to interaction with law enforcement, which has cut drastically back on non-violent misdemeanors resulting in deportations that tear families apart.

The biggest aspect of the immigration reform debate is economics.  Red and blue states both see that illegal immigration effects economic incentives, but they disagree on whether this has a positive or a negative impact.  Blue states believe undocumented workers infuse their economies with younger workers and are overall a good thing for building a robust and stable economy.  Red states see undocumented immigrants as stealing jobs and services from American citizens.

Undocumented workers run an enormous risk of being exploited by their employers and dealing with theft and abuse in the work place.  If they come forward, they risk deportation.  This is especially prevalent in the construction industry where safety standards are overlooked and in domestic service and caretaking positions where, according to Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, “We hear of modern day slavery cases on a regular basis.”  With the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation and the tendency of people to live longer overall, this field is expanding rapidly.

In California, the Domestic Workers Bill or Rights recently passed, making these workers eligible for overtime pay.  The state also passed legislation making it more difficult to detect workers in violation of immigration law by not requiring private businesses to run new hires through a federal program the verify the legal status of workers, E-Verify.  On the other hand, red states are doing just the opposite.

In the past few years, Latino voters have helped to push immigration reform on the national level.  Alongside this, deportation have hit record levels during these same years and have just recently started to drop.  Moving forward, employment and educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and driver’s licenses and other forms of identification will be big issues for immigration policy on the national level.  Federal inaction on immigration policy had torn the United States in two, as far as immigrants are concerned.  However, immigrant communities even in red states with harsh legislation like Alabama are surviving and sustaining.  The longer it takes for the United States congress to pass national legislation, the more divided state laws will become.

Source: Sarlin, Benjy.  “New immigration laws split America in two,” MSNBC.  December 31st, 2013.  http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/new-immigration-laws-split-america-two.

President Offers Temporary Immigration Reform Solution with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Obama in June of 2012 is designed to stay the deportations of undocumented immigrants in the United States by offering two-year visas.  To qualify, immigrants must have been brought to the United States illegally as children and currently be under the age of 30.  In addition, they must have graduated high school or earned a GED, be in school, or be military veterans.  There is also a $465 application fee.  Applicants with serious convictions or at least three misdemeanors will not qualify.  According to the Immigration Policy Center, 950,000 people in the United States qualify.

Although this program has helped hundreds of thousands of young people living in the United States access greater freedom, opportunity, and mobility, it is not a permanent solution.  The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program only exists at the president’s discretion and there is no guarantee it will survive past this current administration.  In the national legislature, a federal solution passed on the Senate floor in June of 2013 and is currently stalled in the House of Representatives.  This would double the size of Boarder Patrol and enhance surveillance technology on the border with Mexico, but it would also provide a path to citizenship for roughly 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States.

Since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program went into effect over a year and a half ago, more than 565,000 undocumented immigrants in the country have received two-year visas.  At the same time, on the state level, many states have granted access to driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition for people in this age group.

Source: Krogstad, Jens Manuel.  “Temporary visa opens up world for young immigrant,” USA Today.  September 24th, 2013.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/24/temporary-visa-opportunities-young-immigrant/2859321/


Governor Christie Agrees to Compromise on DREAM Act

After New Jersey Governor Chris Christie openly opposed the democratically-controlled state legislature on their state’s version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, they reached a compromise.  Gov. Christie agreed to sign off on the bill offering in-state tuition rates for state colleges and universities to undocumented immigrants who attended New Jersey high schools for at least three years on the condition that the provision to grant financial aid to these same students be removed.

The DREAM Act was first proposed to the federal legislature in 2001 and has yet to be federally approved.  However, many states have passed their own versions of the dream act to create access to residency through educational opportunities to “Young people who are Americans in everything but on paper,” as New Jersey State Senate president Stephen Sweeney puts it.

On the federal level, the DREAM Act has carried a lot of weight in the past two presidential elections and promises to be a hot topic again in 2016.  Obama showed some support staying the deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought here under the age of 16 through an executive order.  In 2012, Mitt Romney promised to veto the DREAM Act, and John McCain’s support for the bill in 2008 became a liability for the GOP.

Immigration policy was also a hot topic in the New Jersey gubernatorial election when Christie won 51% of the Hispanic vote.  However, due to his opposition to various provisions of the DREAM Act on the state level, he was accused of misleading the Hispanic population with his campaign promise to work for tuition equality.

“What I was trying to do all along was to get what I promised, which was tuition equality.  I didn’t promise tuition assistance grants and financial aid,” explained Gov. Christie against this criticism.  During his campaign, he didn’t go into details about what tuition equality meant to him.

Adapted from: Timm, Jane C. “Christie’s DREAM: ‘This is what compromise looks like,’” MSNBC. December 20, 2013.  http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/chris-christie-dream-act