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Immigration Debate: What’s More Important, Border Security Or Protecting Immigrant Workers?

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Deportation, immigration bill, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

As billions of dollars of legal goods, as well as shipments of drugs and groups of undocumented immigrants continue to cross the U.S. border, immigration reform and border security have become a major topic of discussion. Photo by N. Parish Flannery @LatAmLENS

The immigration debate is under way in the United States. While several prominent Republicans are calling for more focus on border security, Democrats are pushing for a legal pathway to citizenship and a focus on the current reality of the U.S. labor market. In 1970 there were fewer than one million people in the U.S. from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Now the U.S. is home to more than 14 million people from these countries. In recent decades undocumented immigrants have shifted away from specialization in temporary jobs in agriculture in southwest border states and are settling in a diverse array of cities throughout the country and finding work in a variety of economic sectors. At the same time, in recent years drug cartel related violence has spiked in many northern Mexican cities and illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants continue to pass over the border undetected. The reform debate focuses on updating U.S. legislation to account for the current economic and geopolitical reality.

In 2013 construction, manufacturing, meatpacking, food service, and maintenance are major sectors in the U.S. economy and also important employers of immigrant laborers. In 2012 construction spending in the U.S.totaled $857 billion. Builder Jacobs Engineering reported nearly $11 billion in revenue in 2012 and is poised for strong growth in 2013. Construction and maintenance giant Fluor Corporation reported revenues of $27.6 billion in 2012. Meat producer Tyson Foods reported $33 billion in revenue in fiscal 2012. In the U.S. major businesses have a stake in promoting immigration reform as an economic priority.

Doug Oberhelman, Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, Inc, an Illinois based company that earned $65.9 billion in revenues in 2012, has emerged as a pro-reform advocate. “Providing consistent, reliable access to both high-skilled and low-skilled talent is critical to sustain our nation’s global competitiveness in many industries including healthcare, technology, manufacturing, hospitality, and tourism. We need reform that will provide opportunities for immigrants and foreign students to enter the U.S. and our workforce legally, attracting and keeping the best, the brightest, and the hard working,” heannounced during a recent public event.

In a recent blog, Univision correspondent Fernando Espuelas explains “The Senate bill is a legislative solution that will help grow our economy, create more jobs and bring 11 million people out of the shadows. The bill not only enjoys broad, bipartisan consensus in the Senate, but also has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the largest employee unions, while businesses from Silicon Valley to the industrial heartland are clamoring for an immigration system that satisfies the real-world needs of an America with aging demographics and anemic economic growth.”

Facebook empresario Mark Zuckerburg, whose company earned $5.1 billion in revenues in 2012 and donates to both Republicans and Democrats, has emerged as a proponent for immigration reform. “This is something that we believe is really important for the future of our country — and for us to do what’s right,” he said.

The proposed bill, to be successful, will need to balance demands from business owners and economic analysts who argue for new channels for legal immigration with the concerns of voters who are worried about border security. The Senate bill calls for the deployment 20,000 border patrol agents and the construction of 700 miles of fencing, at a cost to taxpayers of around $46 billion.

Raul Labrador, a conservative Puerto Rican Republican congressman from Idaho, has voiced his opinion that “You see all the money we’re spending at the border, and the great job these men and women are doing…and they’re still not stopping all the people coming in.”

Political opponents have called Labrador’s security-focused stance a gimmick designed to derail the debate.

Fernando Mejia, immigrant rights director of the Idaho Communicty Action Network, said “Republican Congressmen are slowly but surely backing a pathway to citizenship – not Rep. Labrador’s extreme political gimmick – for good reason: Citizenship is the only real solution that lives up to our country’s values. Mr. Labrador would do well to visit his own state’s immigrant communities, acknowledge their contributions to society and the economy, and join with his Republican colleagues supporting family unity through a pathway to citizenship.”

President Barack Obama recently explained that ”[he is] absolutely confident that if that [Senate] bill was on the floor of the House, it would pass.”

“The challenge right now is not that there aren’t a majority of House members, just like a majority of Senate members, who [are] prepared to support this bill, the problem is internal Republican caucus politics,” headded.

Although a handful of Republicans continue to call for more fencing and patrolmen, some politicians in Texas wish that people involved in the immigration debate would pay more attention to their views on cross-border commerce and border security issues.

U.S. Congressman Pete Gallego, a Democrat who represents the 23rd district of Texas explained, “Those of us who live along the border want to be just as safe and secure in our beds as anyone else does, but we want a solution that works.”

“We don’t want a political solution, we want a practical solution,” he added.

For many border residents, immigration reform needs to balance security issues with economic reality.

“One of the frustrations that people along the border have is so many people who are trying to drive the debate on border policy and border security are people who don’t live on the border, who’ve never been to the border, and yet they’re trying to dictate the terms by which we do border security,” Gallegosaid.

In an excellent article for The National Journal politics writer Elahe Izadi explains that “In 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended 21,720 illegal immigrants in the Del Rio sector, the highest number in the sector since 2007 and much higher than the El Paso sector’s 9,678 apprehensions.”

According to some residents, while illegal border crossings are a fact of life, fears about cartel violence spilling over the border have been overblown in the media. Proposals for heavy militarization along the Rio Grande look overzealous to some residents. While many residents might welcome an influx of federal spending, they are skeptical of the claims about security risks.

Galllego explained, “If you’re telling me you’re going to [hire more patrolmen and] double the number of government jobs in my community and if you’re going to allow these people to contribute to the economy, they’re going to eat out at restaurants and shop at stores and buy homes—from an economic development perspective, I’m for that. But that’s not a border-security perspective.”

Texas State Representative Poncho Nevarez, a Democrat whose house abuts the Rio Grande river, said that on the national stage, politicians “use the border, they see the area as a sword and a shield in politics, but we’re human beings, we live down here.”

“We shouldn’t be pawns in this game to see who can get themselves elected because they can beat their chest more about how they secured the border,” Nevarez added.

Laura Allen, the Republican county judge in Val Verde County Texasexplained, ”Ask me when was the last time we had to shut down our bridge because violence spilled over from Mexico. It’s not happening.”

Shawn Moran, the vice president of National Border Patrol Council, a union representing Border Patrol agents explained that most “people coming here, even if they’re coming here illegally, they’re coming here to work in agriculture or construction. But there is a large group that is coming here to sell drugs or be part of criminal gangs and commit crimes. We shouldn’t overlook that in any sort of immigration reform.”

But, many observers think that security goals and economic goals can be addressed at the same time by expanding investment in infrastructure along the border. More than one billion dollars worth of goods cross the U.S.-Mexico border every day. Current infrastructure shortfalls have led long delays at many border crossings.

According to Ramsey English Cantu, the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas “We continue to see ports of entries where people are smuggling drugs across because there isn’t the necessary infrastructure. These are the things that need to be ultimately addressed.”

Residents are especially skeptical of spending on fencing. “The fence was not a good thing,” Allen said. “We would have liked to see that money put to use for other things because, like I said, I can very easily show you where people walk around it, so why did we spend all that money?” she added.

In her article for The National Journal Izadi explains “Between 2006 and 2009, the federal government allocated $2.4 billion for construction of 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicular fences, with costs ranging between $400,000 and $15.1 million per mile.”

But, according to border patrol rep Moran, “no fence is going to stop people who are determined to get into this country. You can’t have a fence with gaps if you want it to be effective.”

Many residents in border towns feel that a security-focused approach to immigration ignores their cultural and economic ties with cities across the border in Mexico.

“If we take this militia approach to our border, what kind of message are we sending to our sister country? I don’t like that message,” Allen explained.

“Would we do that on the border with Canada? I really don’t feel like we would,” she said.


Republican Ideas on Immigration Could Legalize Up to 6.5 Million, Study Says

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment
By JULIA PRESTON
A Dream Action Coalition demonstration last month.Win McNamee/Getty ImagesA Dream Action Coalition demonstration last month.

Between 4.4 million and 6.5 million immigrants illegally in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under proposals being discussed by Republicans in the House of Representatives, according to an estimate published Tuesday by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

The estimate is based on policy ideas that have been put forward by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, a Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Goodlatte has said he would not support legislation with a “special” or direct pathway to citizenship for 11.5 million immigrants in the country without legal papers, such as the 13-year pathway in a broad bill the Senate passed last June.

House Republicans have rejected the sweeping approach of that bill and said they would handle immigration in smaller pieces. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has said that Mr. Goodlatte is preparing principles that will guide House action on this issue this year.

 

Mr. Goodlatte has said he would instead offer a provisional legal status to illegal immigrants, then allow those who can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency — a document known as a green card — through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer. Obtaining a green card is the crucial step toward American citizenship.

The foundation’s report, prepared by Stuart Anderson, its executive director, finds that even without major changes to current immigration law, 3.1 million to 4.4 million immigrants now illegally in the United States would be eligible for green cards because they are parents of American citizens. As many as 600,000 could gain green cards as spouses of citizens and legal residents, and up to 45,000 could receive green cards within two decades as low-skilled workers.

The estimate assumes the House would pass legislation creating new green cards for young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, who call themselves Dreamers. Mr. Anderson calculates that 800,000 to 1.5 million of those immigrants would gain a pathway to citizenship.

Mr. Anderson’s calculation, based on figures from the Department of Homeland Security among other sources, is the first effort to put numbers on proposals emerging from House Republicans. On a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Mr. Anderson stressed that the estimates were imprecise because no Republican has so far offered a specific legalization bill.

Under the foundation’s projection, at least two million immigrants would have to wait a long time — as much as two decades — before they could apply for naturalization. As many as five million immigrants would remain here with legal status but no prospect of becoming citizens.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that eight million illegal immigrants would gain a pathway to citizenship under the Senate bill. Many Democrats and immigrant advocates have rejected any legislation that excludes large groups of residents from citizenship.

Tamar Jacoby, a Republican who is president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a small-business organization that supports an overhaul of immigration laws, said on Tuesday that proposals for a bill with no separate path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants were gaining ground among House Republicans, as the basis for negotiations with the Senate. She said Mr. Anderson’s estimates were higher than many immigration analysts have predicted.

“The half a loaf is more substantial than many people would have thought,” she said.


House Republicans Preparing Plan for Immigration Overhaul

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

WASHINGTON — The House speaker, John A. Boehner, and his Republican leadership team are preparing to release their principles for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws later this month, the speaker told his members at a closed-door conference on Wednesday.

Though the “standards or principles document,” as Mr. Boehner of Ohio referred to the white paper in the meeting, has long been in the works, its imminent release reflects a broader push within the Republican conference to put forth its own proposals as a counterpoint to legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

House Republicans hope to release their principles near the end of the month before President Obama’s State of the Union address, as well as before their annual retreat. Republican aides had previously said that their leadership team was unlikely to make any strategic decisions on immigration before the retreat.

In June, the Senate passed a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws — including a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally — with bipartisan support. But the legislation has faced more hurdles in the Republican-controlled House, where some lawmakers are opposed to any form of legalization, which they call amnesty. House Republicans instead prefer a piecemeal approach, with several smaller bills instead of one large one.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Boehner assured his leadership team that he was not planning to enter into conference negotiations with the Senate using the upper chamber’s broad bill as a framework.

“Speaker Boehner has consistently been clear for some time now that he supports step-by-step, common-sense reforms to fix our broken immigration system,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman.

Rebecca Tallent, a longtime immigration adviser to Senator John McCain of Arizona whom Mr. Boehner recently hired, has been spearheading the effort out of the speaker’s office, working with other key Republican lawmakers: Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader; Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who has been pushing for a broad immigration overhaul; Representative Bob W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, his party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The goal of the principles is to gauge the Republican conference’s willingness to tackle immigration this year, as well as to receive feedback from lawmakers before embarking on a legislative strategy.

Immigration advocates and Democrats will be watching closely to see how strict the border security and enforcement language is, as well as if the guidelines include any mention of a path to legalization. Some House Republicans, including Mr. Cantor and Mr. Goodlatte, have shown a willingness to offer legalization that could lead to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers — those young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children.

“Things continue to look better and better for immigration reform, and we hope to work with Republicans to get something real done,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and one of the architects of the Senate’s immigration bill.

House Republicans who have long been pushing for broad immigration overhaul are also hopeful that the document will cover all areas of immigration said an aide who has been working on the issue.

Mr. Boehner’s announcement comes as congressional Republicans grapple with how to handle the specter of a broad immigration overhaul this year. Although many top Republicans believe that the party needs to pass some form of immigration legislation before the 2016 presidential elections, the party’s rank-and-file members are reluctant to tackle the issue — which is opposed by many in the conservative base — in the run-up to the midterm elections.

But they are facing increasing pressure from outside groups. In his annual address on Wednesday, Thomas J. Donohue, the president and chief executive of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber will “pull out all the stops,” working with unions, faith-based organizations and law enforcement groups to urge House Republicans to act on the Senate-passed bill.

“Now the pundits will tell you that it’ll be very, very hard to accomplish much of anything this year, after all, don’t you remember, it’s an election year,” he said. “We hope to turn that assumption on its ear by turning the upcoming elections into a motivation for change. It’s based on a simple theory: If you can’t make them see the light then at least make them feel the heat.”

Mr. Donohue called immigration reform an important part of expanding jobs and careers in the 21st century. “Why? Because throughout history immigrants have brought innovation, ideas and investments to American enterprise, and in terms of demographics, we need immigration,” he said.

Mr. Donohue also pointed out that, while politically difficult, an immigration overhaul seems to be one area where the largely stalled 113th Congress might actually be able to reach some form of compromise and pass legislation.

“I think Democrats and Republicans alike would like to go home and run for office with something they got done that’s significant,” he said. “I believe we’re two thirds of the way there.”


Eight Immigration Wins In 2013

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Despite a landmark comprehensive immigration reform bill that cleared the Senate in June, a corresponding bill that addresses the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has yet to come to a vote in the House. In fact, the only immigration-related bill that House members brought to a floor vote was a measure to pave the way for deporting undocumented immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31. But although the year ended without a victory on the greatest potential avenue for reform through a bill in Congress, the immigration reform movement achieved other crucial victories in 2013. Here are eight:
drivers license

1. Driver’s licenses and state tuition: In 2012, only three states granted driver’s licenses to the undocumented. Now, 11 states — California, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado, and Connecticut — and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that allows the undocumented to legally drive. Studies show that giving driver’s licenses to unlicensed drivers, a category that includes many undocumented immigrants, would vastly improve public safety because drivers would have to pass a test before they obtain a license and buy auto insurance. This year, Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon also passed laws that permit in-state tuition for undocumented students.

2. Key anti-immigrant research discredited: The Heritage Foundation published a report in April that reform opponents hoped to use against the Senate bill. The paper, which argued that immigration reform would be a $6.3 trillion burden on the economy, was immediately slammed by Republicans, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, American Action Forum, and the libertarian CATO Institute for its dishonest methodology. Soon after, co-author Jason Richwine resigned from Heritage over his controversial Harvard University thesis that argued Hispanics are less intelligent. A report that once was the opponents’ powerful weapon during debates on reform was now seen as widely discredited.
hb56

3. Local and state anti-immigrant laws blocked: In Arizona, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals upheld a district court’s preliminary injunction on a key provision of the state’s controversial anti-immigrant law which would have made it illegal to give rides or provide shelter to undocumented immigrants. The opinion called the statute “incomprehensible to a person of ordinary intelligence and is therefore void for vagueness.”
Alabama passed the nation’s strictest immigration law in 2011, modeled after ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” Key provisions of HB 56 designed to encourage racial profiling and make immigrants’ daily lives difficult to impossible, have been permanently blocked. The final legal settlement this fall with the Justice Department, civil rights groups, and plaintiffs prevents the worst of the law, which barred school enrollment, business, and daily interaction with undocumented immigrants.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down a Texas town’s ordinance that prohibited landlords from renting to undocumented residents. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia also ruled that anti-immigration city ordinances in Hazleton, PA infringed on federal immigration policies and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals similarly issued decisions against an anti-immigration South Carolina law that would have among other violations of federal immigration policies, criminalized undocumented immigrants seeking “shelter.”
October 8 Rally Pictures 142

4. Obama used administrative measures to ease restrictions on undocumented immigrants: One year after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was implemented, at least 455,455 undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 got a taste of what it would feel like to have legal status, when they were granted work authorization and temporary relief from deportation. The President also issued a few “prosecutorial discretion” memos, advising federal immigration officials to avoid deporting people who are parents of U.S. citizens or if they are immediate family members of military personnel. Still, neither the work authorization nor the temporary deportation reprieve is permanent and many immigrants who would otherwise qualify for discretion are still flagged for deportation.
5. CA and CT limited deportations of non-violent immigrants: The TRUST Act rebukes federal policy by limiting local law enforcement’s compliance in screening and detaining undocumented nonviolent immigrants. The new law in California, a state with 2.45 million undocumented immigrants, should ease community fears of reporting crime because of deportation threats.

6. Republicans joined the call for citizenship: Within the span of one week in November, three House Republicans — Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and David Valadao (R-CA) — signed onto a comprehensive immigration bill introduced by House Democrats. They pressed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to allow the bill to come to a vote on the House floor before the end of the Congressional year. That plan never transpired, but Boehner’s choice to hire Rebecca Tallent to lead immigration efforts renewed hope that House Republican would act on the issue in 2014.

7. People are limiting their use of the term “illegal immigrant”: A Pew research study released in June found that the use of the phrase “illegal alien” declined in 2013 and that the term “undocumented immigrant” rose (especially among immigrant advocates). Not coincidentally, immigration advocates have campaigned hard to make people understand that the phrase is derogatory because “no human is illegal.” Newspapers like the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times have all limited their use of the phrase “illegal immigrant.” And after a college conservative group was set to hold a “Catch An Illegal Immigrant” game on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the event sparked a protest held by hundreds of solidarity activists and the actress America Ferrera.
nuns on bus

8. Majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a citizenship provision: The final g”immigration win” involves the strong backing of the American public. A November 2013 poll found that 63 percent of American voters support allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens as long as they meet certain requirements (like paying back taxes and fines, learning English, and passing a background check). Even voters living in 17 key Congressional districts represented by House Republicans opposed to immigration reform similarly support reform legislation when the details of the bill are fleshed out.


U.S. citizens ditch passports in record numbers

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

If the recent quarter’s pace continues, 2013 will become a landmark year for saying goodbye to America, tax-wise.

By Lynnley Browning

Mahmood Karzai

Mahmood Karzai, no longer a U.S. citizen.

FORTUNE — Americans are ditching their U.S. passports in record numbers, a sign of growing frustration with a system that taxes U.S. citizens on their global wealth whether they live in Montana or Mongolia.

The latest bold-faced names to relinquish their U.S. citizenship include Mahmood Karzai, a brother of Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, according to federal data released Wednesday. Also on the list, published quarterly by the Internal Revenue Service, is Isabel Getty, the daughter of jet-setting socialite Pia Getty and Getty oil heir Christopher Getty.

In total, more than 670 U.S. passport holders gave up their citizenship — and with it, their U.S. tax bills — in the first three months of this year. That is the most in any quarter since the I.R.S. began publishing figures in 1998. And it is nearly three-quarters of the total number for all of 2012, a year in which the wealthy songwriter-socialite Denise Rich (christened “Lady Gatsby” by Yachtingmagazine) and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin joined more than 932 other Americans in tossing their passports.

If the recent quarter’s pace continues, 2013 will become a landmark year for saying goodbye to America, tax-wise.

MORE: Offshore account holders win a victory in government tax case

“It’s the cumulative effect of the I.R.S. ‘jihad’ against foreign bank accounts,” said Phil Hodgen, an international tax lawyer in Pasadena, Calif. He said growing numbers of Middle Eastern investors were ordering their dual-citizen children to dump their U.S. passports if they wanted to inherit family-owned companies without onerous U.S. estate taxes.

While dumping citizenship may seem unpatriotic or smack of tax avoidance to some critics, tax lawyers blame the byzantine complexity of American tax regulations.

The rules “are confusing, complex, and so complicated that even Americans with good intentions can easily find themselves running afoul of the law,” said Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor who was involved in the government’s offshore banking probe and is now in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “This very well may explain why we are seeing a record number of Americans renouncing their United States citizenship.”

The trend has swelled amid a widening crackdown by the U.S. Justice Department on offshore private banking services sold by Swiss and Swiss-style banks to wealthy Americans in recent years. Nearly a dozen foreign banks, include Israel’s Bank Leumi, HSBC, Credit Suisse (CS), Julius Baer and Swiss cantonal, or regional, banks are under criminal scrutiny; last year, Wegelin & Co, Switzerland’s oldest bank, was indicted and put out of business. More than four dozen wealthy Americans and their foreign bankers have been indicted or charged in recent years.

More than 39,000 Americans have come forward in recent years to declare their secret accounts to the I.R.S. in exchange for reduced fines and penalties, but officials suspect that is a fraction of the total number of people either deliberately hiding or unwittingly not reporting their foreign accounts. I.R.S. data for 2012 shows just over two million tax returns filed in 2012 by overseas Americans, compared with an estimated six million Americans living or working abroad. Only a fraction of Americans with foreign bank accounts are also filing required disclosures known as Fbars, according to federal data.

MORE: Cracks in objections to Internet sales taxes

Expatriations first picked up pace in 2010, when more than 1,530 Americans dumped their passports. Sparking that uptick, tax lawyers say, was a deal by UBS (UBS), the Swiss bank giant, the year before to disclose more than 4,000 American client names to the I.R.S. and pay a record $780 million for selling offshore services that violated U.S. tax laws.

In January, Karzai told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Free Afghanistan that “the reason I gave up my U.S. passport and citizenship is that I have been working in Afghanistan for the past 12 years,” according to a transcript. He added that “I might become politically active, therefore I decided to give up my [U.S.] passport.” Karzai could not immediately be reached for comment.

Karzai is a shareholder of the scandal-plagued Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest bank that nearly collapsed due to fraud, according to global media reports in March. Getty, a student at New York University, according to her Facebook page, could not be immediately reached, and emails to her mother, a filmmaker in London, were not immediately returned.

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the IRS began reporting this information in 2008. It began reporting it in 1998.


Immigration Problems Only Get Worse

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends Leave a comment

By Peter Muller

As the first session of the 113th Congress winds to a close, it is clear the House of Representatives will not vote on immigration legislation before 2014. But the practical need to fix our broken immigration system remains, the political imperative for reform is stronger than ever, and a window of opportunity exists for Congress to finalize a reform package next year.

One year ago the results of the 2012 election prompted leaders in both major political parties to take a fresh look at immigration reform.

President Obama and the Democrats discovered a renewed commitment to the issue in part because Hispanic and Asian-American voters made up a significant portion of the Democratic electorate, and immigration reform was high on their agenda. At the same time, Republicans attributed Mitt Romney’s loss in part to his failure to attract minority voters and viewed immigration reform as an opportunity to build support with that constituency.

Electoral results in 2013 have produced similar evidence that immigration reform can be a potent factor in elections.  Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an immigration reform backer, was overwhelmingly reelected in New Jersey and carried nearly half the Hispanic vote in his state. But Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was viewed as an opponent of immigration reform, lost his race for governor of Virginia in part because he failed to attract a significant percentage of the Latino vote.

Meanwhile, a poll jointly released this fall by the Partnership for a New American EconomyRepublicans for Immigration Reform, and Compete America shows that 71 percent of the American people favor immigration reform, and 54 percent say they are less likely to support a candidate who opposes reform.

While we have seen significant progress this year toward immigration reform, including passage of a comprehensive bill in the Senate, it has yet to get across the finish line.

And while we wait for reform our immigration problems only get worse.

The last major overhaul of U.S. immigration system occurred in 1986, and the laws enacted then have failed to pass the test of time. The number of people living here without documentation has grown, employers have struggled to find the workforce necessary to perform both lower- and higher-skilled jobs, and the American people lack confidence that our borders are secure.

Meanwhile, in the high-skilled arena, our ability to compete in the global marketplace is compromised. The information-technology industry struggles to find enough qualified U.S. workers to fill the key jobs necessary for continued innovation. Employees who obtain temporary visas must wait years before they can get a green card to allow them to live and work here permanently. Employers are already preparing for an expected H-1B visa lottery in April that will distribute too few visas to meet demand.

The challenge for Congress is clear: Address these problems now or maintain a broken system that fails to meet the needs of anyone.

In June, the Senate passed legislation that would make holistic reforms to the immigration systemfrom legal visas to illegal entry to enhanced border security measures—with the votes of two-thirds of the senators.

Intel and other employers of high-skilled workers strongly supported the legislation because it addressed our three key needs: to hire foreign-born workers when we can’t find qualified U.S. workers; access to additional visas to make those talented employees long-term members of our company and our country; and to build the pipeline of U.S. workers with specialized skills through additional funding for STEM education.

The strong support for the bill in the Senate was encouraging, but it didn’t mask legitimate concerns many people, particularly in the House of Representatives, have about parts of the legislation. The House pledged to pursue a different path toward reform and consider a series of piecemeal bills addressing discreet problems with the system. Five individual bills have been reported out of committees in the House, but none has yet to reach the House floor.

But that doesn’t mean immigration reform is dead. House Speaker John Boehner recently hired a senior staffer to coordinate immigration policy. Rank-and-file Republican House members are increasingly expressing their view that they are ready to tackle immigration reform. And the president has expressed a willingness to work with Republicans on a piecemeal approach to reform. Even the recent budget agreement points to the possibility of bipartisan efforts moving forward.

The politics of immigration reform are always challenging, and rarely are people from different sides of the issue ready to come together to address the problem. This is one of those times. However, for the hope of immigration reform to be achieved, the House of Representatives must be ready to act when members return from their holiday break.


Deportations Drop as Obama Pushes for New Immigration Law

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Deportation, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends Leave a comment
By Michael C. Bender December 17, 2013

The Obama administration has cut back on deporting undocumented immigrants, with forced departures on track to drop more than 10 percent, the first annual decline in more than a decade.

In his first term, President Barack Obama highlighted record deportations to show he was getting tough on immigration enforcement, which Republicans and even some Democrats have demanded as a condition for overhauling existing laws.

The last fiscal year was different. The government deported 343,020 people in the U.S. illegally from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 7, 2013, the most recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show. If that pace continued through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, removals would reach a six-year low.

The drop, which comes as Obama faces growing criticism from Hispanics over deportations, is a result of a new policy of focusing limited enforcement resources “on public safety, national security and border security,” ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said. “ICE has been vocal about the shift in our immigration-enforcement strategy,” she said. “Our removal numbers illustrate this.”

Legislation to revamp the U.S. immigration system is stalled because of resistance from Republicans in the House of Representatives. Republican lawmakers opposed to changes backed by both Obama and former President George W. Bush, including offering a path to citizenship to the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, have demanded tougher enforcement before considering new legislation.

Pushing Back

Yet as deportations climbed to a record 409,900 in fiscal 2012, Obama has faced pushback from the Democratic Party’s Hispanic backers, who helped provide his victory margin in two elections. There have also been protests from immigration activists, most recently at a speech he gave last month in San Francisco.

“He’s going to continue to be confronted,” Representative Luis Gutierrez said of Obama, a fellow Illinois Democrat. “You can’t say you’re going to protect the undocumented and give them a pathway to citizenship, and then deport them in unprecedented numbers.”

Even with the recent decline, about 1.93 million people have been deported during Obama’s five years in office. That approaches Bush’s eight-year total and is almost as many as in the 108 years between the administrations of Presidents Benjamin Harrison, when Department of Homeland Security records begin, and Bill Clinton.

Contractors Benefit

What’s more, a decline in deportations doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people will be locked up.

In 2009, a Democratic-controlled Congress set a minimum on how many undocumented immigrants should be detained each day pending hearings. It’s now 34,000, up from about 20,000 in 2005.

Even a broad immigration bill approved by the Senate this year — which creates a road to citizenship for undocumented workers — would “increase the prison population by about 14,000 inmates annually by 2018” due to more spending on enforcement, a congressional cost-estimate projected.

That may have a positive effect on companies that the government increasingly relies on to detain those being held for deportation hearings, if it becomes law, said Kevin Campbell, who tracks private prison companies for Avondale Partners, a Nashville-based financial-services company.

“You think about immigration reform and you intuitively think that means less people prosecuted for immigration offenses, but it seems like it will be just the opposite,” Campbell said.

Policy Changes

The surge in deportations has benefited companies such as Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO Group Inc. (GEO:US), which runs prisons in five countries. ICE accounted for 17 percent of the company’s $1.48 billion in revenue (GEO:US) last year, up from 11 percent of $1.04 billion in revenue in 2008, according to company filings (GEO:US).

Campbell and ICE officials said the drop in deportations stems from changes the administration started making in 2011.

In a departure from Bush’s policies, which emphasized raids on businesses suspected of hiring undocumented immigrants, then-ICE Director John Morton said deportations should focus on “national security, public safety and border security.”

Morton discouraged agents from detaining young immigrants, crime victims and “individuals pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints.”

This “prosecutorial discretion” accounted for 16,300 immigration court cases being closed in 2013, according to data compiled for Bloomberg by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. That’s up from 9,700 last year.

About 58 percent of deportations in 2013 were of “criminals,” ICE data show. In 2008, it was 31 percent.

More Exemptions

The list of exemptions has continued to grow.

In June 2012, five months before his re-election, Obama exempted from deportation certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security halted deportations for families of U.S. military members because of the “stress and anxiety” that possible forced removals puts on those in the Armed Services.

The change has provoked administration critics.

“These are policies that severely restrict ICE agents from arresting and charging illegal aliens,” said Jessica Vaughn, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which opposes increased immigration.

Beyond Limits

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said during a Dec. 3 hearing that the changes “push executive power beyond all limits.”

“President Obama is the first president since Richard Nixon to ignore a duly enacted law simply because he disagrees with it,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she wants to “see action from the president” to halt deportations.

“If somebody is here without sufficient documentation, that is not reason for deportation,” Pelosi said in an interview with Telemundo, according to a transcript provided by her office.

The president isn’t ignoring the law, White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday.

“We have to enforce the law,” he said. “There is prosecutorial discretion, and that is applied. The focus is on those who’ve committed felonies.”

That approach, he said, is “not a replacement for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Do More

Advocates for the Senate bill want Obama to do more. This month, 29 House Democrats, including Gutierrez, signed a letter calling on Obama to suspend deportations.

That has backing from the AFL-CIO. The federation of labor unions with 13 million members spent at least $6.4 million supporting Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The president has the authority and the ability to ease this crisis,” said Ana Avendano, director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO.

Obama was interrupted at an immigration rally on Nov. 25 in San Francisco when Ju Hong, a college student standing on the riser behind him, yelled that the president has “power to stop deportations for all.”

“Actually, I don’t,” Obama replied. “If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws.”

Stalled Legislation

The bill that the Senate passed in June with bipartisan support has stalled in the House, where Republican Speaker John Boehner said on Nov. 13 that he has “no intention” of considering it.

That doesn’t mean attempts to change the law are dead. Boehner said he prefers passing parts of the legislation separately, and Obama has said he’s willing to support that approach.

Boehner this month hired Rebecca Tallent, who as the Bipartisan Policy Center’s director of immigration policy helped on immigration bills as a staff member for Senator John McCain and former Representative Jim Kolbe. The two Republicans supported easing immigration laws.

With an average of about 1,000 deportations a day this year, that means more than 165,000 immigrants have been removed from the country since the Senate bill passed.

“We just want the chance to be able to work,” said Rebeca Nolasco, a 21-year-old who received deferred action and whose mother, Diana Ramos, is in an Arizona detention center facing deportation. “It doesn’t harm anyone.”


Can immigration reform transform the housing market?

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

As Congress restarts conversations about the federal budget and deficit reduction, the immigration reform debate is still front and center for many. As that debate unfolds, it is important to put some hard facts on the table.  What are the costs and benefits of reform?  What impact will reform have on economic growth and wages?  How will immigration reform affect the federal budget?

A new study by the Bipartisan Policy Center Immigration Task Force found the evidence suggests that immigration reform can produce significant economic dividends for our country.

 

Unlike other efforts, this study was not a political exercise seeking to justify a pre-determined outcome.  Instead, it was a serious, scholarly attempt to understand the true economic implications of immigration reform.

The first step in any modeling exercise is to develop a “reference case” against which alternative scenarios, or “sensitivity analyses,” can be compared. This assessment chose to utilize the Senate-passed immigration bill as the “reference case,” not because we endorse it, but because it is the most recent reform package to have moved through either chamber of Congress, not because the study or its authors support the Senate bill.

Under the reference case, the study concludes that, over the next 20 years, immigration reform would cause the U.S. economy to grow an additional 4.8 percent, expand the labor force by 8.3 million people, contribute to higher average overall wages, and reduce the federal budget deficit by nearly $1.2 trillion.

Notably, the study shows that immigration reform would jump-start the housing market by increasing spending on residential construction by an average of $68 billion annually over the 20-year period. To put this $68 billion figure in perspective, as of August 2013, the annual rate of spending on residential construction was $340 billion.  So immigration reform would provide a substantial and immediate boost to investment in new single-family and multifamily homes..

During the past four decades, the contribution of housing to national GDP through both residential fixed investment and consumption of housing-related services has averaged between 17 and 19 percent.  Today, housing’s contribution stands at just 15.6 percent, largely because of a significant decline in home construction and remodeling.  This decline is a major reason why the recession and its damaging effects have lingered for so long.  Immigration reform can play a significant role in helping to restore the housing sector to its traditional position as an engine of economic growth.

A major finding of the study is that immigration reform would inject vitality into the nation’s workforce.  While enactment of reform would add an estimated 13.7 million people to the U.S. population over the next twenty years, only six percent of these individuals would be aged 65 or older.  Most would be very young compared to the rest of the U.S. population.

The addition of millions of new, younger workers would increase the ratio of workers to retirees and help our country respond to the fiscal challenges associated with an aging population.  It would also spur demand for new housing as these workers form their own households and start families.

To verify these positive results, the study also examines five alternative reform scenarios.  The first four scenarios change key assumptions in the reference case – for example, by making adjustments in the expected level of future unauthorized immigration and the utilization of family-based and employment-based green cards once immigration reform was enacted.  The fifth scenario takes the most restrictive approach by assuming that all current unauthorized immigrants would be deported and there would be no future unauthorized immigration into the United States in a post-reform setting.

Under the first four scenarios, immigration reform has a positive impact on the overall economy, including the housing market.  The fifth scenario, reflecting the most restrictive approach, would have devastating effects by, among other things, significantly reducing GDP growth and dramatically reducing residential construction spending.

The bottom line is that immigration reform can be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization.  It can inject new, much-needed demand into a housing market that has been slow to recover.  To get our economy back on track, it’s time for Congress to make passing immigration reform an immediate priority.

Brady is the president of Brady Homes and a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force and Housing Commission.  Cisneros was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. Martinez served in the Senate from 2005 to 2009, and was HUD secretary under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. Cisneros and Martinez co-chair BPC’s Immigration Task Force and Housing Commission.


Boehner hire signals new hope for migrant reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

House Speaker John Boehner’s hiring of a former top aide to Sen. John McCain to advise him on immigration issues has renewed hopes that House Republican leaders are planning to move forward on reform legislation next year.

Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Tallent as assistant to the speaker for policy handling immigration issues comes amid intensifying pro-reform activism on Capitol Hill as time runs out on the 2013 legislative calendar.

STORY: New activists continue fast for immigration reform

STORY: Advocates redouble efforts on immigration reform

Tallent, most recently director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., worked for McCain, R-Ariz., for years, including a stint as his chief of staff. Before that, she was an aide to then-Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who, like McCain, was a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.

“I’ll be focusing on trying to get this sticky immigration situation worked out,” Tallent wrote in an e-mail announcing her final day at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Reform supporters and opponents alike say the move by Boehner, R-Ohio, is the clearest signal yet House GOP leaders are sincere when they say they want to act on a series of immigration-reform bills.

“This is a sign that Speaker Boehner is very serious about doing something on immigration,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California and an expert on how Congress works. “The big question is: What does that something consist of?”

McCain was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that wrote the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in June. In her role at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Tallent voiced support for McCain’s approach to reform, but also reflected a sophisticated understanding of the internal House GOP dynamics at play.

Boehner has said the House won’t take up the Senate’s sweeping package, which balanced a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11million undocumented immigrants who have settled in the country with a massive investment in border security and new visa programs for future foreign workers.

Boehner and other top House Republicans have expressed a preference to break up the immigration issue and address the various aspects, such as potential legalization for the young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers,” one at a time rather than in one far-reaching piece of legislation.

The speaker has said individual bills must win support of a majority of House Republicans. That poses a challenge because a faction of House Republicans view attempts to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants as “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

Keeping conversation alive

Activists attempting to build support for immigration reform with their “Fast for Families” continued to pick up steam Tuesday.

Eight new fasters, including Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, relieved the group of four activists who for 22 days had been fasting on the National Mall to call attention to the moral implications of inaction on immigration reform. The original group, which included Cristian Avila of Arizona, previously attracted visits from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“This fast has literally kept the conversation about immigration reform alive,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and one of the new fasters. “Across the street is one kind of power (in the U.S. Capitol). In this tent is another.”

Another group of 40 activists from Arizona also was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, praying outside Boehner’s home, holding a vigil outside his office and singing Christmas carols.

“The speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms — the kind of reforms the American people understand and support,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday in a statement e-mailed toThe Arizona Republic. “Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort.”

‘A slap in the face’

Boehner’s hiring of Tallent, an Arizona native, drew praise from reform supporters but also put “amnesty” opponents on alert because of her long association with McCain and her record of supporting immigration reform. Many reform foes had been quietly confident that House action on immigration was unlikely in 2014, a year expected to be dominated by congressional midterm-election politics.

As a former McCain and Kolbe staff member, Tallent brings “strong Republican credentials” but also can work with all sides on the complex immigration issue, said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who served as national Hispanic co-chair for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and who knows Tallent well.

“Becky has an exemplary reputation: She is smart, she is hardworking, she is effective, and she is a serious person who seeks pragmatic solutions,” Navarro said. “It tells me that Boehner genuinely wants to get something done. … It’s a very smart move by Boehner.”

One reform critic called the Tallent hire “a slap in the face” to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and an indication that Boehner is planning “an end run around the Judiciary Committee,” which has oversight over immigration issues.

“It confirms what we always knew: that the Republican leadership in the House is pro-amnesty, but they just don’t know how to get it past their members,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the anti-reform Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. “I assume the point is for her to try to cook up a way to get a majority of the Republican caucus to vote for something.”

But Pitney said that it is common for a House speaker to devote a staff member to a big policy topic, and Steel confirmed that Tallent is filling an existing position.

“On the vast majority of issues, speakers defer to the committee system, but they do take certain issues to heart and put a leadership stamp on some positions,” Pitney said.

If Tallent’s role is to help the House GOP find consensus on immigration issues, it is appropriate that she work out of the speaker’s office, he added.

“If you are concerned about building a majority within the entire conference, you don’t do that simply within a committee,” Pitney said. “That’s really the role of leadership. This is a sign that Boehner is hoping he can get something to the floor.”

A window for action

Other observers called Boehner’s decision to add Tallent to his staff, even at this late date, a positive sign for immigration reform’s prospects. Some believe there remains a window for action in early to mid-2014, before Capitol Hill is paralyzed by election-year partisanship.

“It’s a signal that despite the fact that Speaker Boehner really hasn’t been able to move his caucus forward all year, that he’s not giving up,” said Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science and Latino/Chicano studies at the University of California-Irvine.

Pro-reform activists are not giving up, either, at trying to persuade Boehner and other House Republicans to act.

Maria Castro, a 20-year-old Phoenix resident whose mother is in the United States without authorization, was part of a group of five Arizonans who recited the rosary on the sidewalk outside Boehner’s home on Tuesday morning. She said Boehner came out and waved. Later, the activists caught up to Boehner but were unable to engage him in a serious conversation, she said.

“We told him, ‘We’ve been praying for you,'” Castro said. “And he said, ‘Oh, I know.’ That was the only response we got out of him.”

Contributing: Gannett Washington Bureau reporter Erin Kelly


Immigration reform Fasters begin “National Days to Act, Fast and Pray”

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

By: Maria Camila Bernal

After more than three weeks of fasting, immigration activists in Washington D.C. will be joined by many around the nation as they begin the “National Days to Act, Fast and Pray,” three days of no food in hopes that Congress brings an immigration reform bill to a vote.

Three people, Eliseo Medina of Service Employees International Union; Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Dae Joong Yoon of National Korean American & Education Association, have been fasting near the U.S. Capitol and vowed to fast until they can no longer sustain.

A fourth faster, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, committed to a 40-day fast.

But beginning Sunday, activists hope the fasting goes beyond Washington D.C. in order to “create a moral force that will convince Congress that the time to act is now,” Medina, a veteran of the farmworker rights protests of the 1960s, said.

The group’s goal is to get the attention of House Speaker John Boehner and urge him to call a vote on immigration reform by year’s end.

Ben Monterroso, Mi Familia Vota’s Executive Director, said his organization will have various solidarity events and actions throughout the country on Dec. 1-3. Events have been organized in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.

“We will not stop our efforts until this moral crisis that breaks apart families finally ends and our country has an immigration system that works for citizens, aspiring Americans and their families,” Monterroso said.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited the group fasting in Washington D.C. Friday, reiterating that there is still time this year for the House to pass legislation, The Associated Press reported.

Previous visitors have included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and feminist Gloria Steinem.

Sunday marks the 20th day of fasting for the group in the National Mall.

“Understanding the struggle that my family and other families in my community face, I have the moral responsibility to do everything in my hands to make a change. If that means my body, my body it is. Anything less would mean I have failed my community, and that is a luxury I don’t have,” said Avila, Mi Familia Vota’s Arizona Coordinator.


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