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Obama: ‘This is the moment’ to get immigration reform done

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

Obama: ‘This is the moment’ to get immigration reform done

By Carrie Dann, NBC News

President Barack Obama tried to refocus attention on the incomplete comprehensive immigration reform push Thursday, saying that “this is the moment we should be able to finally get the job done.”

“Let’s not wait,” Obama said during a statement at the White House. “It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.”

Charles Dharapak / AP

Vice President Joe Biden applauds as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

The president’s remarks come as the rocky rollout of Obamacare’s online health insurance exchanges continues to dominate headlines. Earlier this month, major immigration protests were largely drowned out by the government shutdown and the ongoing fiscal crisis.

Thanking pro-reform activists who have maintained pressure on Congress despite waning chances for action this year, Obama dipped into campaign-like rhetoric to urge another salvo.

“You don’t look like folks who are going to give up,” he said. “You look fired up to make the next push.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner reiterated after the speech that the House GOP will not pursue one sweeping comprehensive immigration reform bill but will concentrate instead on the House’s “step by step” legislation. That’s an approach most Democrats reject.

“The Speaker agrees that America has a broken immigration system and we need reform that would boost our economy,” said spokesman Brendan Buck. “He’s also been clear that the House will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands. Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way.”

Acknowledging “disagreements” between the parties on major fiscal issues, Obama said he’s not giving up on the bill he has called the top domestic priority of his second term, even as the number of legislative days left in the year dwindles.

Immigration advocates are hoping that House Republican leaders, alarmed at falling approval ratings and fearful of diminishing appeal to Hispanic voters, will take up legislation that would offer a path to citizenship – or at least legal status – for the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

Movement on the reform push has stalled since the House declined to take up a Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this summer. Now, several House Republicans have proposed separate legislation that would address the undocumented population, but it’s unclear if Democrats in the House will back legislation that stops well short of the Senate bill’s promise of the possibility for citizenship for most immigrants in the country illegally.

Obama did not specifically mention those separate Republican proposals, instead touting the Senate-passed legislation and a measure introduced by House Democrats that closely mirrors the upper chamber’s bill.

Proponents were optimistic Wednesday, when Boehner indicated that he is “hopeful” that the immigration issue will be taken up.

“I still think that immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I am hopeful,” he told reporters when asked if he will bring reform legislation up before the end of the year.

But Democrats are wary of GOP piecemeal efforts, which would stop short of the Senate bill’s promise of the possibility for citizenship for most undocumented immigrants at the end of a long probationary period.

And conservative Republicans in the House warn that if any legislation passes the House, it could be melded with the Senate bill and injected with more Democratic priorities.

This story was originally published on Thu Oct 24, 2013 10:55 AM EDT


Update from the NBC on Provisional Waivers – October 1, 2013

Posted on by Ruby Powers in I-601A Waivers Leave a comment

As the NBC staff soon realized, this broad application of the “reason to believe” standard has led to a high denial rate.  Given this development, Mr. Blackwood announced that, as of six weeks ago, NBC stopped issuing any “reason to believe” denials and is suspending adjudication of cases where this issue is present while USCIS and DOS reconsider the current policy and decide how to proceed in the future.  During this time, cases that involve a potential “reason to believe” issue are being held in abeyance, with no action taken on the case; currently about 1,300 pending applications are affected by this issue and will not be adjudicated until there is further guidance on the reason to believe policy.

Stay tuned for a formal decision from the USCIS on whether the NBC will modify the way it adjudicates I-601As with respect to the reason to believe standard.  Expect the NBC’s current approval rate (approximately 60%, including reason to believe denials) to increase.

 

Update from the NBC on Provisional Waivers – October 1, 2013
By Susan Schreiber and Charles Wheeler

On September 26-27, 2013, CLINIC conducted a two-day training in Kansas City on provisional adjudication of unlawful presence waivers.  The training included a presentation by Robert Blackwood, Assistant Section Director for Adjudications at the National Benefits Center (NBC), who gave an update on the waiver adjudication process at the NBC and answered questions from training participants.  A summary of the information he provided appears below.

NBC Background

The NBC serves mainly as a pre-processing center for applications adjudicated at USCIS field offices, including I-485 adjustment applications and N-400 naturalization applications. In addition, the NBC adjudicates certain applications and petitions to completion, including I-90s, immediate relative I-130 petitions, interview-waivable adjustment applications and, since March 4, 2013, I-601A applications for provisional waivers.  In addition to its facility at Lee Summit, MO, the NBC has expanded to include a new facility in Overland Park, KS.   Approximately 500 government employees and 800 contract workers staff the Lee Summit site. Currently, the NBC facility in Lee Summit employs approximately 550 government workers, and 800 contract workers.  A new NBC facility in Overland Park, KS is expected to employ 400-500 government workers and a similar number of contract workers.

I-601A Adjudication

The NBC is divided into eight divisions.  Division 1 is responsible for I-601A adjudications and   is staffed with between 45-50 adjudicators and 5 supervisors.  When fully staffed, the division will have 6 supervisors, who in turn report to 2 section chiefs.

All I-601As are filed at the Chicago Lockbox, which reviews submissions under its own business rules that address document sufficiency.  If rejected, an application should be accompanied by an explanation of deficiency.  If accepted, the Lockbox creates a case receipt file and forwards it to the NBC, where it goes through its own initial processing checklist.  NBC contract staff goes through their checklist to determine if the application is complete.  If staff determines there are missing documents, it issues a Request for Evidence (RFE); otherwise, it will schedule the applicant for a biometrics appointment. When the biometrics and the name check results come back, the application is transferred to the “JIT” (“Just in Time”) shelves and is considered ready to be adjudicated.

Supervisors assign cases to adjudicators when they are ready to be adjudicated. When they receive a file, the adjudicator first looks for basic eligibility – name check and biometrics response, national security issues – and if there is a “hit,” the file is forwarded to a security clearance team for resolution.  For cases that pass security clearance or do not have “hits,” the adjudicators follow a “processing checklist” sheet, which guides them through the process of determining statutory eligibility (e.g., USC qualifying relative) and whether the applicant has satisfied the extreme hardship standard.  The adjudicator makes notes on the processing checklist, which is helpful in making the decision and for later supervisor review. If the case is denied, the file is sent to the National Records Center, where it will be stored.  If it is approved, the file will be sent to the Texas Service Center.  The TSC holds on to the case files so they can be matched up later after the applicant immigrates.  The NBC sends the applicant and the representative the written approval or denial decision.

The NBC sends the National Visa Center (NVC) an electronic data report on I-601A receipts on a daily basis, so that the NVC can stop processing the immigrant visa application until there is a decision on the waiver application. A “decisions” report is then sent to the NVC every week, to inform the NVC of waiver application outcomes so that the NVC can then proceed with IV processing. The NBC does not send the actual I-601A decision to the NVC; it only sends notification of whether the I-601A was approved or denied. If the NBC denies the application because it has a “reason to believe” the applicant might be inadmissible under another ground, it only informs the NVC that the waiver application was denied.

For the first two months of provisional waiver adjudication, all applications were reviewed by division supervisors to ensure that the appropriate decisions were being made. Now, all denials are reviewed by the supervisor and approvals only spot-checked.  If a supervisor has questions or concerns about a particular decision, the supervisor is not supposed to tell the adjudicator how to rule in a particular case.  Instead, the supervisor should encourage a dialogue with the adjudicator to find out more about the decision recommendation.  If there is still disagreement as to whether the application should have been approved or denied, the supervisor may go to one of the section chiefs for further guidance.

Every week a report is generated indicating how many applications were adjudicated.  Based on those reports, the process is becoming more efficient.  The NBC is in communication and is sharing data with the State Department to determine whether I-601A applicants who were denied were later approved by the consulate through an I-601 waiver.  It is looking specifically to see if applicants denied based on the “reason to believe” standard were found by the consulate to be inadmissible only for unlawful presence and later approved through an I-601. It is also seeking the opposite type of statistics: whether applicants whose I-601As were approved were later denied by the consulate due to a finding of inadmissibility on a ground other than unlawful presence.  After only six months of provisional waiver adjudication, the statistical evidence is not yet meaningful to draw any conclusions on these issues.

If an I-601A applicant who is denied elects to re-file, the NBC will pull the original application and check it against the new application.

Both ICE and EOIR seem supportive of the provisional waiver process because it allows them to clear cases off their active docket where the respondent is likely to receive an immigrant visa.

Statistics

The NBC has provided the following numbers based on I-601A applications received or adjudicated from March 4 – September 14, 2013:

23, 949 applications sent to Lockbox

17,996 applications accepted by Lockbox

5,953 application rejected by the Lockbox

The reasons for rejection could include no applicant signature, no proof of I-130 approval, no proof of NIV fee paid, or applicant is under 17.  The number of applications received may include re-filings by applicants whose cases were initially rejected at the Lockbox.

The NBC has 12,098 applications in the pipeline, with approximately 2,300 ready for processing. It is averaging approximately 600 applications/week, so it has about four weeks of applications to adjudicate.  With 45 adjudicators currently working these cases, this averages out to each adjudicator handling about 13 applications per week, or about 2.6 per day.  Mr. Blackwood noted that adjudicators have other work responsibilities, including time spent in trainings and at meetings.

The NBC has issued the following decisions:

3,497 approvals (59%)

2,292 denials (39%)

103 admin closures (application returned for various reasons, e.g., filed I-601 instead of I-601A) (2%)

Although applications have been denied for various reasons, the highest number of denials – 1,093, or 48% of all denials – is for “reason to believe.”  The second highest number – 937, or 41% of all denials – is for failure to establish extreme hardship.  Other reasons for denial include abandonment, applicant in proceedings, pending adjustment of status application, lack of qualifying relative, pre-2013 consular interview scheduled, and applicant subject to existing or final order of removal.

At present, the average time between receipt of an application at the Lockbox and decision issuance is 103 days.  The goal is to reduce the adjudication time to 90 days. The NBC adjudicators were working at that pace initially until the “reason to believe” denials became a controversial issue.

Reason to Believe

Mr. Blackwood explained that the provisional waivers working group developing the I-601A regulations and procedures for processing wanted to keep inadmissibility determinations a function of the Department of State, so that USCIS officers would limit their consideration to waiver adjudication. This is because the USCIS has no authority to determine admissibility in a case to be decided by the consulate after the applicant has left the United States and appeared for the interview. In other words, the USCIS did not want its adjudicators analyzing whether the applicant was inadmissible on grounds other than unlawful presence. At the same time, the USCIS did not want to approve I-601As and have the applicant be denied at the consulate for another ground of inadmissibility.

That was the rationale for developing the “reason to believe” standard, where the adjudicators would make a very quick assessment based on the name check and biometrics results as to whether the applicant might be inadmissible on another ground. Under this standard, adjudicators are instructed to deny all applications involving a criminal conviction, regardless of what the conviction is for, when it occurred, or whether it falls within a recognized exception to inadmissibility, like a petty offense.  If  the fingerprint check resulted in a “hit” during an IDENT database search, and it revealed a conviction, then the application was denied under the “reason to believe” standard.  Similarly, if there was an inconsistency in the name or date of birth of the applicant and that provided during CBP processing for voluntary departure after an arrest at the border, the applicant was denied for “reason to believe.”

As the NBC staff soon realized, this broad application of the “reason to believe” standard has led to a high denial rate.  Given this development, Mr. Blackwood announced that, as of six weeks ago, NBC stopped issuing any “reason to believe” denials and is suspending adjudication of cases where this issue is present while USCIS and DOS reconsider the current policy and decide how to proceed in the future.  During this time, cases that involve a potential “reason to believe” issue are being held in abeyance, with no action taken on the case; currently about 1,300 pending applications are affected by this issue and will not be adjudicated until there is further guidance on the reason to believe policy.

Mr. Blackwood noted that if the reason to believe standard is changed so that not all of the denied cases would warrant denial under revised interpretation, the NBC will also consider whether to apply any new policy retroactively and reopen denied cases sua sponte.

While there is no mechanism to appeal a denial or seek reconsideration, the NBC can reopen a case on its own if it believes a denial was made incorrectly. Mr. Blackwood indicated during his presentation that denials under the reason to believe standard that seem clearly wrong could be brought to his attention and he would pull the file to see if the agency made a mistake.  The examples he gave where the standard might have been misapplied include cases where the applicant’s name and date of birth appear inconsistently in DHS data files, but the inconsistency appears to be a clerical error or insignificant.  It would not include cases containing criminal convictions, since the agency is waiting for further instruction before reviewing those.  To bring those cases to his attention, send an e-mail to the authors at sschreiber@cliniclegal.org or cwheeler@cliniclegal.org.  Include the name of the applicant, the waiver receipt number, and the “A” number, as well as a brief description of the issue (e.g., month and day of applicant’s date of birth were transposed; applicant’s name recorded incorrectly).

Adjudication of Extreme Hardship and RFEs

Current policy does not mandate that the agency issue an Request for Evidence (RFE) before issuing a denial.  NBC adjudicators will typically issue an RFE if they believe additional documentation will help them reach a decision in a case.  For example, if an applicant claims a health-related hardship, but only submits financial evidence, the adjudicator will issue an RFE.  Or if the applicant claims multiple hardships but submits only evidence supporting one claimed hardship, or weak evidence of hardship, the adjudicator will issue an RFE for the additional evidence.  But if the applicant claims hardship and the officer believes sufficient evidence was presented but that the extreme hardship standard was not met, then the adjudicator can simply issue a denial without issuing an RFE.  In other words, if additional documentation would not add any value to the hardship claim, the NBC will forego issuance of an RFE.  Mr. Blackwood noted that quality control measures are in place because all denials are reviewed by a supervisor.

Mr. Blackwood explained that RFE response times are set at 30 days so that consular processing is not delayed.  A request for an extension may be considered if there are compelling reasons warranting additional time to respond to the RFE

Comparison with NSC Adjudications of I-601

NBC staff made adjustments to their standards for evaluating extreme hardship that has resulted in more provisional waiver approvals. These adjustments came in the wake of exchanging information and statistical data with the NSC regarding its adjudication of I-601 waivers, as well as reviewing AAO waiver denial reversals.  Mr. Blackwood explained that adjudicators are now assessing extreme hardship to the qualifying relative as impacted by hardships to other family members. As a result, the denial rate has come down and the NBC is approving more applications.  Mr. Blackwood anticipates that the denial rate will continue to go down as adjudicators gain more experience.

Mr. Blackwood also noted that the provisional waiver is more challenging for the applicant, because the hardship to the qualifying relative is prospective, as opposed to the I-601 applicant who has left the United States and whose qualifying relative is already experiencing the hardship.  For this reason, the denial rates will not necessarily be comparable.

Waiver Submission Format 

Mr. Blackwood encourages applicants to submit a cover letter or brief that summarizes the hardships and helps the adjudicator understand the theory of the case. Submit all supporting evidence that is pertinent, such as a doctor’s letter summarizing medical conditions.  Since the Lockbox removes all tabs and bindings, use some kind of pagination system to help identify and segregate supporting documentation.  Even though the application is scanned at the Lockbox, the original submission is still sent to the NBC; any highlighting of important documentation or color dividers separating exhibits will be retained.  If submitting supplemental information after the application has already been submitted, make sure to include the receipt number and the A#.   Avoid sending multiple pages from the Internet on a specific medical condition (e.g., definition of diabetes) or DOS country conditions reports.

Conclusion

Stay tuned for a formal decision from the USCIS on whether the NBC will modify the way it adjudicates I-601As with respect to the reason to believe standard.  Expect the NBC’s current approval rate (approximately 60%, including reason to believe denials) to increase.


Notes from American Immigration Lawyers Association September 27, 2013 Conference in Austin, Texas

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Hot Topics from American Immigration Lawyers Association Fall  Conference in Austin, Texas, September 27, 2013

by Immigration Attorney, Ruby L. Powers, Houston, Texas

– We are all working and hoping for comprehensive immigration reform this Fall 2013 because if we get much beyond Spring 2014, our window for reform might be over. AILA and local chapters are organizing advocacy efforts.

– Reason to Believe denials for Provisional Waivers – AILA will discuss with NBC via a liaison committee meeting in late October 2013 and we are hoping for some more guidance and improvements in the situations.

– Many people are waiting for comprehensive immigration reform and have not flooded Ciudad Juarez like expected. Other attorneys have noted less cases due to suspected anticipation of reform.

– If no other ineligibilities, processing at Consulate in Ciudad Juarez for I-601A waivers will take 2-3 days (this doesn’t take into account biometrics and medical exam)

– Only 50 applications have been adjudicated in Ciudad Juarez for the I-601A provisional waiver as per Consulate General David J. Jendrisak with the Department of State Ciudad Juarez, Mexico post.

– CBP will unveil an online FOIA tracking system on Monday, September 30, 2013.

– New Fiscal year for US Government starts October 1, 2013 and if Congress doesn’t act, funding will be cut for many Government operations related to many aspects to visas and immigration functions.

– Online system for I-94s (paperless) do have issues and AILA and CBP have been working on improving the issues.

– Tactics to challenge mid-wife birth passport application challenges


Immigration advocates claim ” resounding win” in quiet August

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

Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.

With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.

Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009. 

Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.

“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”

The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”

At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.

Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.

“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.

Snyder and Robbins said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that they always viewed the recess as a potential challenge, citing concerns that Republicans would return to Washington hardened against reform because of opposition from vocal constituents. “Recess is something that panders to the extreme,” Robbins said.

The advocates said they remained optimistic about the chances for final legislation despite the uncertain outlook in the House, where Republicans are likely to focus on fiscal fights until at least October and potentially the entire fall.

A bipartisan proposal from a group of seven negotiators is stalled because Republicans in the group say it lacks support from the majority required by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on immigration legislation.

While lawmakers in both parties have said they want to get a final bill signed by the end of the year in advance of the 2014 midterm elections, advocates said there would still be a window of opportunity early next year before the campaigns begin in earnest.

Boehner has said he wants to get reform done, and backers of the effort said their optimism stemmed in large part because of the electoral imperative that many Republican leaders see in winning over Hispanic voters in future national elections.

“The House Republicans either get it done, or they get blamed for blocking it. It’s as simple as that,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Sharry and others have made clear that while they want to help Republicans succeed, they are threatening serious political consequences in 2014 and 2016 if reform dies.

“We would love to be patting the Republicans on the back for finding a way forward,” Sharry said. “But if they don’t, we will be kicking their ass.”


Growing Number of Republicans for Immigration Change

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: September 2, 2013, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As Congress wrestles with immigration legislation, a central question is whether the 11 million immigrants already in the United States illegally should get a path to citizenship.

The answer from a small but growing number of House Republicans is “yes,” just as long as it’s not the “special” path advocated by Democrats and passed by the Senate.

“There should be a pathway to citizenship — not a special pathway and not no pathway,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told ABC 4 Utah after speaking at a recent town hall meeting in his district. “But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”

Many House Republicans said people who illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas should not be rewarded with a special, tailor-made solution that awards them a prize of American citizenship, especially when millions are waiting in line to attempt the process through current legal channels.

It’s far from clear, however, what a path to citizenship that’s not a special path to citizenship might look like, or how many people it might help.

The phrase means different things to different people, and a large number of House Republicans oppose any approach that results in citizenship for people now in the country illegally. Some lawmakers said such immigrants should be permitted to attain legal-worker status, but stop there and never progress to citizenship. That’s a solution Democrats reject.

Nonetheless, advocates searching for a way ahead on one of President Barack Obama’s second-term priorities see in the “no special path to citizenship” formulation the potential for compromise.

“I think there’s a lot of space there,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. “And that’s why I’m optimistic that once they start grappling more with details, that’s when things start getting more real.”

Once Congress returns from its summer break the week of Sept. 9, the focus will be on the GOP-led House. The Democratic-controlled Senate in June passed a far-reaching bill that includes a big, new investment in border security and remakes the system for legal immigration system, in addition to creating a 13-year path to citizenship for those already here illegally.

House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach, promising to proceed instead with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security. No action is expected on the House floor until late fall, at earliest, because of pressing fiscal deadlines that must be dealt with first.

The timing crunch, along with the significant policy and process disagreements, has left some supporters pessimistic about the future of immigration legislation. They find hope, however, in some recent comments from House Republicans around the country suggesting they could support a solution that ends in citizenship at least for some who now lack legal status.

Democrats, some Republicans and most outside immigration advocates are pushing for a relatively straightforward path to citizenship like the one in the Senate.

It imposes certain restrictions, seeks payment of fees, fines and taxes, and requires that prospective immigrants attempting the process legally are dealt with first. Once those criteria are met, most people here illegally could get permanent resident green cards in 10 years, and citizenship in three more. Agriculture workers and immigrants brought to this country as children would have a quicker path.

That approach is rejected by most House Republicans as a “special” path to citizenship.

“It’s not a bill I can support,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said at a Verona, Va., town hall meeting recently. “We think a legal status in the United States, but not a special pathway to citizenship, might be appropriate.”

Goodlatte has said that after attaining legal status, immigrants could potentially use the existing avenues toward naturalization, such as family or employment ties.

He and others also argue that many immigrants would be satisfied with legalization alone, without getting citizenship. That’s something many advocates dispute, though studies show that a significant number of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven’t taken that step — about 40 percent in a Pew Hispanic Center study in February.

Goodlatte has not provided much detail on how he foresees immigrants moving through existing channels from legalization to citizenship. Depending on its design, such an approach could touch anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of the 11 million people here illegally. So if House Republicans end up taking that approach, how they craft it would help determine whether Democrats and the advocacy groups could go along.

For now, advocates said that making immigrants here illegally go through the existing system would help relatively few of them.

Current law says that if you’ve been in the country illegally for more than a year, you have to return to your home country for 10 years before you can re-enter legally, which would likely dissuade many people.

Moreover, existing family sponsorship channels are badly backlogged, and many are capped. People applying for citizenship through their siblings face waits of more than 20 years in some cases, for example. On the employment side, existing visa programs are difficult to use and inadequate to meet demand, and also face long backlogs.

Waiving the requirement for people to exit the country and adding visas to reduce backlogs could take in a substantial number of the 11 million here illegally, arguably without being a “special” pathway, advocates said.

It’s a long shot, but the result could be an immigration deal between the House and the Senate, and a bill for Obama to sign.

“If the House wants to dis the Senate bill and come up with their own approach to the 11 million that has no special pathway to citizenship, we would be happy to work with them on a way that would meet with our bottom line, which is an inclusive, immediate path to legal status for the 11 million, and an achievable and clear path to eventual citizenship,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group. “They can preserve the sound bite and we can have the policies that we want.”


Immigration Advocates vow big Washington rallies to press reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published, The Hill, September 2, 2013

The shift in tactics comes as some leaders in the movement are voicing frustration that the more narrowly tailored activities used during the August recess have failed to maximize pressure on House Republican leaders to take up immigration legislation.

“I say that one of the problems we have is that Congress isn’t hearing enough from the American people, that we’re using too many sophisticated methods of communication,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier this week. “We’re buying ads there, and radio ads there, and hiring this lobbyist there. We need people power, and we need to concentrate.”

A series of demonstrations and rallies are planned for major cities on Oct. 5, ahead of a march in Washington on Oct. 8, Gutiérrez said. He said organizers hoped to attract 15,000 people in the capital to pressure Congress.

With budget and debt-ceiling debates expected to dominate an abbreviated legislative calendar in September, immigration reform isn’t likely to come to the House floor until October, lawmakers and aides have said.

Even then, advocates may have difficulty sustaining momentum for the issue, particularly if the fiscal fights drag out through the fall.

Immigration reform advocates defended their strategy for August, saying their goal was to “outgun” the movement’s opponents and generate headlines in local rather than national press.

“It’s been not huge marches on Washington, but those have been happening on Main Street, in key districts around the country,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, the group pushing for immigration reform backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And that’s something we’re very proud and optimistic with how that’s gone.”

“You do have to lobby,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The August plan, Snyder said in an interview, was for a “massive number of events in Republican districts, not necessarily huge rallies.”

“We’re planning to escalate the pressure in September, October and November,” he said. “We’re executing a plan that we made some time ago.”

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform said the relative lack of major activity in August was due to the slim chance that the House would actually consider legislation similar to the bill that passed the Senate in June. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House won’t vote on that measure and that any immigration proposal must gain the support of a majority of the Republican conference.

“As long as that’s the case, there’s not this great sense of looming danger out there,” said Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Beck voiced doubt that any plans for large rallies by reform advocates would alter the political dynamic. “I thought that was what they were planning for August. It sounds like more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see how more political theater is going to make a difference.”

 


Path Toward Citizenship or Legalization

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

Originally Published: The Hill’s Congress Blog, August 30, 2013

Controversy over a path toward citizenship is the most important roadblock to immigration reform.

Many conservatives oppose a path to citizenship because it’s unfair to reward law breakers with citizenship.  Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) said, “People that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.”  On the political left, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez  (D-ll.) said he, “is opposed to proposals that bar citizenship or create a permanent non-citizen underclass.”

To Labrador’s point, the heavy fines, fees and bureaucratic abuses that would prod every legalized immigrant on a path toward citizenship are hardly an award for legal behavior.  And to Gutierrez, a legalization status less than citizenship is no more an underclass than the millions of green card or visa holders that currently happily live without becoming citizens.

There is a simple solution to this impasse that could satisfy both camps: Create two paths.

The first path should be toward a permanent work visa where the immigrant cannot apply for citizenship unless he or she serves in the armed forces or marries an American.  This visa should be very cheap – hundreds of dollars – and granted quickly after national security, criminal, and health checks.

The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship. This path should be more difficult and expensive, something similar to the Senate’s path to citizenship. Those legalized unauthorized immigrants who want to become citizens should be able to do so.

For unauthorized immigrants uninterested in citizenship, who just want to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, a simple and low-cost path toward a permanent work permit would save them headaches, uncertainty, and cash.

This would definitely be consistent with conservatives like Labrador who say that unauthorized immigrants do not want citizenship.  “They’re not clamoring for it,” he said earlier this year. “It’s only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it.”

If Labrador is right, most unauthorized immigrants would choose a more affordable and easier path toward legalization rather than a more expensive and difficult path toward citizenship – if they were given a choice.

A look at the polls, however, indicates that unauthorized immigrants do want citizenship. In fact, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 87 percent want to become citizens. But if history is any guide, many of those respondents would choose a cheaper and easier form of legalization if it was offered.

The 1986 Reagan amnesty bill created an affordable and straightforward path to a green card and citizenship.  But almost a generation later, only 45 percent of former unauthorized immigrants have naturalized.  The 2013 bill would likely produce an even lower rate of naturalization, as the path to citizenship is much more arduous than the Reagan-era bill.

As a general rule, one-size fits all reforms rarely work well.  A path to citizenship is not likely to be an exception, although it’s better than the status quo.  Allowing a second, simpler path toward a permanent work permit that won’t lead to citizenship will allow otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, those who will be affected most, to choose their own level of legal status.

Conservatives can say that millions of unauthorized immigrants will be legalized and most won’t choose citizenship, while leftists can say they created a path toward citizenship.  Most importantly, the deportations can stop and immigration can be liberalized.  All of these sides win.

Left-wing interest groups claim to know what’s best for unauthorized immigrants, which is why many of them are pushing for a path toward citizenship.  Conservatives claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t want citizenship, so it shouldn’t even be offered.  Instead, there should be at least two paths toward legal status, one with citizenship and one without, and the immigrants themselves should choose which one they want to individually follow.


Labor Day Celebrations Should Also Pay Tribute to Immigrant Workers

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Trends Leave a comment

Originally Published: Immigration Impact, August 30, 2013

Americans are observing Labor Day, which pays tribute to the many contributions and achievements of American workers. As celebrations are underway, the holiday offers an opportune moment to reflect on the very concept of American workers. In other words, who is an American worker? Where do immigrants—who contribute their talents and labor to the production of goods and services in the United States—fit into the picture?

Numerous studies have shown that the effect of immigration on native-born American wages is positive when taking the long view.

Since the formation of the United States, immigration has helped fill labor supply needs to enable the country to emerge as—and remain—the world’s economic superpower. In fact, the United States’ most prosperous periods coincide with waves of immigration, and to this day, immigrant workers continue to be a key component of the U.S. economy.

Currently, foreign-born workers comprise 16 percent of the country’s workforce, and their contributions to the U.S. economy and society take many shapes. The U.S. economy benefits from the valuable skills and talents provided by foreign-born high-skilled scientists and engineers and medical doctors, but it also relies on the work of immigrants of differing skill levels in a variety of industries, many of which experience labor shortages. In some key industries, such as agriculture, food processingconstruction, or eldercare, the role of immigrants is vital. Because less skilled immigrant workers are frequently paid lower wages than their American counterparts, translating into lower prices for goods and services, moreover, American’s living standards are also greatly enhanced by immigration.

In spite of their many contributions, however, immigrant workers are continually portrayed by anti-immigrant voices as a threat to American workers. These fears are often overstated and fueled by prejudice rather than hard evidence. Research has repeatedly shown that, as a whole, foreign-born workers do not affect U.S. employment. Furthermore, both immigrants with advanced degrees and temporary workers boost the employment of native born Americans. To a large extent, this is due to the fact that immigrants possess complementary skills to the existing native-born workforce. Various studies have shown that foreign-born and native-born workers tend to have differentiated sets of skills and new immigrant labor creates new opportunities for the native-born labor force to specialize. In other words, the inflow of immigrant workers encourages native-born workers to pursue more complex occupations, thereby also enhancing wage outcomes.

At the same time, numerous studies have shown that the effect of immigration on native-born American wages is indeed positive when taking the long view. As economist Giovanni Peri states, “in the long run, immigrants do not reduce native employment rates, but they do increase productivity and average income.”

In spite of their many contributions, however, a considerable segment of immigrant workers does not enjoy the benefits that are attached to being contributing members of the country they call home. Because of their undocumented status, many immigrant workers have no option other than to work in the underground economy and be frequently subjected to multiple forms of exploitation. This situation is not only detrimental for immigrant workers’ themselves, but also for the country’s economy.

In an historic vote on June 27, the U.S. Senate passed an unprecedented bill to overhaul the immigration system. This bill includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, and if it became law it would improve the lives of millions of immigrant workers who are already living in the country, contributing to the economy and raising families. It would also lead to undeniable economic and fiscal gains.  As the House of Representatives weighs its decision on the undocumented population, House members must recognize the value of immigrant workers and the urgent need to bring them out of the shadows. As numerous researchers have indicated, a solution that falls short of offering a path to citizenship for the undocumented would be not only harmful for many immigrant workers, it would also be damaging for the U.S. economy and, therefore, for the American people.

 

 


Speaking Up for the Voiceless Among Us – Texas Civil Rights Project

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published by James C Harrington, TCRP Director

For Americans, Labor Day is that end-of-summer holiday which wraps up vacation time and ushers in the school year. We don’t remind ourselves that unions originated Labor Day in 1882 to pay tribute to workers, mostly immigrants, who were in the throes of organizing against an economic structure that grotesquely exploited men, women and children in factories, mines and sweat shops and on docks, railroads and ranches.

It is shameful we rarely recall and honor the brave struggle of these workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to better their families’ lives — and our lives. We have a collective amnesia about the nearly half-century of their suffering, jailings, beatings and sometimes death that brought about better wages, increased workplace safety, curtailed child labor, provided retirement and sick leave, and promoted the common good. It eventually gave us the 40-hour work week and eight-hour work day, and it passed minimum wage and overtime pay laws.

The battle goes on

We now take these hard-won rights as a given and rarely recall the immense sacrifice that made our lives better and these rights real. But the struggle is far from over.

The U.S. Economic Policy Institute reports that one percent of this nation holds 35 percent of its wealth. The top 10 percent receive 45 percent of the income, while the other 90 percent split up the remaining 55 percent.

About 46.2 million people live in poverty, a steadily rising number and the largest in the 52 years for which estimates have been published.

Texas has one of the country’s highest poverty rates with nearly four million people at or below the poverty line, pushing 20 percent, well above the national average of about 15 percent. Child poverty is significantly higher in Texas than across the country.

Join TCRP for our 23rd Annual
Bill of Rights Dinner

Featuring Keynote Speaker

Damien Echols
of the “West Memphis Three”

Saturday, November 9th, 2013
University of Texas Alumni Center (Austin)

Info and Tickets Online

Non-college-educated women, working full time, earn 77 percent of what similar male workers make, for which they suffer a detrimental cumulative effect over their lifetime. For African-American workers overall, the comparison with white workers is in the low 70s; and for Hispanic workers, in the low 60 percentile.

This all is partly tied to the demise of full-time jobs with benefits. Ever more common are lower-paying part-time jobs, which require a family to hold two or three to survive. And there are fewer benefits, meaning more out-of-pocket medical costs. Nor is the minimum wage any longer a living wage.

Workers’ rights are based on the inherent dignity of a person. Workers are not simply a means of production like raw materials and capital. They bring unique talents to their jobs. In return, they are entitled to work in conditions that enhance their dignity rather than detract from it.

Solidarity is the key

Martin Luther King Jr. always tied civil rights and economic rights together. In fact, the march we mark for its 50th anniversary was named the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

We belong to one human family — a family that crosses boundaries of race, class and country in an economy that is more globalized and interdependent every day. Our ultimate focus must be the common good, not short-term self-interest. We all must look beyond our boundaries and comfort levels to speak for the voiceless, promote human rights and dignity, and seek the good of all — and future generations. Solidarity is the key.

This is how we can best honor those who brought us Labor Day and made our lives better.


White House Official Says Immigration Reform Vote Not Likely Until October

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published: Fox News, August 28, 2013

The Obama administration’s domestic policy director urged supporters of comprehensive immigration reform on Wednesday to do as the civil rights leaders of the 1960s did – not let opponents defeat them.

Cecilia Muñoz, one of the most senior Latino officials in the White House, linked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with today’s fight for immigration reform in an interview with Fox News Latino.

“Today is about celebrating how far we’ve come and recommitting to the work that is ahead,” Muñoz said, adding that just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s addressed jobs, so does immigration reform.

“Immigration reform is just one piece of the agenda,” she said, “we can now quantify what it means for creating jobs, not just for immigrants, but for the rest of us.”

Muñoz, who has been a point person for Obama on immigration policy, said that significant movement on an immigration reform measure, or measures, was unlikely to happen before October. She said there are few legislative days in September, when members of Congress are to return from summer recess, and that their focus will be the debt ceiling and the budget.

That is later than the August deadline that President Obama had hoped for earlier this year, expressing concern that delays could hurt the chances of an immigration reform bill passing by December.

And in an interview with Fox News Latino a few weeks ago, Muñoz had said she hoped there would be a vote on a reform bill before October.  But on Monday Treasury Secretary Jack Lew set a mid-October debt-ceiling deadline, and some Republicans in the House are saying that it makes major action on immigration bills unlikely in that month, according to Politico.com

Muñoz said there’s no valid reason for more delays on House action on immigration.

The Senate, which passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, showed that “it’s possible to get this job done well and it’s possible to get it done in a bipartisan bill,” she said.

House Republican leaders have said they will not vote on the Senate’s sweeping immigration bill, and that they prefer to address the issue in a piecemeal fashion, through several separate measures.

“It looks like the House will bring [for a vote] some portion of five bills that have been ready since July,” she said.

“They’ve already been through the committee.”

Muñoz said the president is not trying to rush reform legislation.

“We would like a debate” on the House floor, she said. “We think there’s bipartisan support for a reform bill.”

Some Republican leaders who are key to what happens to immigration bills in the House have been particularly vocal in recent weeks about their opposition to the general concept of allowing some undocumented immigrants to legalize their status.

As recently as Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, assailed Obama for issuing a directive that calls on immigration officials to use discretion when considering detaining immigrants who have minor children.

Goodlatte said the directive undermines the efforts in Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the flawed immigration system. Many conservative members of Congress have criticized efforts by the Obama administration to loosen penalties for certain undocumented immigrants, including a 2012 directive suspending deportation for those who were brought to the United States as minors.

Muñoz balked at the criticism.

She said such directives are part of  “a series of building blocks” that were laid out a few years ago in a memo by John Morton, the then-director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling for prosecutorial discretion in the case of undocumented immigrants who were not criminals or tied to terrorism.

“We’re maximizing the law enforcement impact of what we do,” she said, by prioritizing enforcement actions according to categories of undocumented immigrants.

As for Goodlatte, she said, “You could argue with the congressman, or anyone else, who is dissatisfied with our broken immigration system, that is a great argument for fixing it. It’s now abundantly clear. . .the depth and breadth of the constituents who support immigration reform is [now] greater than anyone has ever seen.”

 

 

Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2013/08/28/white-house-domestic-policy-official-says-immigration-reform-vote-not-likely/#ixzz2dqMAqIJB


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