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DACA Renewal

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

If your previous period of deferred action expires before you receive a renewal of deferred action under DACA, you will accrue unlawful presence and will not be authorized to work for any time between the periods of deferred action.  For this reason, USCIS encourages you to submit your request for renewal 120 days before your current period of deferred action under DACA expires.


In a crowded immigration court, seven minutes to decide a family’s future

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, State and Local Immigration Rules Leave a comment
His courtroom rarely came to order, and by now the judge had decided it was a waste of time to try. Interpreters explained legalese in three languages. Adults squeezed into crowded seats while children crouched in the center aisle. A court official stood near the doorway and worried about the building’s fire code. “Por favor,” he said in halting Spanish, as another family tried to enter. “No mas.”

Judge Lawrence Burman sat quietly in front of the chaos, adjusting his reading glasses and sifting through a stack of files on his bench. He had 26 cases listed on his morning docket in Arlington Immigration Court — 26 decisions to make before lunchtime about the complicated future of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The state of U.S. immigration

See how immigration trends have shifted over the years.

“The rocket docket” is what lawyers had begun calling this schedule, warning clients that their future could be decided in the time it took to walk to the restroom and back.

“Next,” Burman announced. “Let’s go. Busy day.”

At a time when Congress and President Obama have signaled an increased willingness to reform the immigration system, they insist on urgency by repeating a series of skyrocketing numbers: 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, at least 50,000 more trying to enter every month, 21,000 agents patrolling the borders, $18 billion spent each year on enforcement and about 1,000 people deported each day.

In Burman’s courtroom, the urgent number on this January morning was smaller but just as daunting. He had an average of seven minutes per case.

While Congress and the White House make promises about the future of undocumented immigrants, this is the place where decisions must be made — day after day, case after case, in one of the 57 overwhelmed immigration courts across the country. Here, on the second floor of a high rise in Crystal City, tissue boxes are stacked near the courtroom entrance and attorneys push rolling file cabinets, because a briefcase is no longer sufficient to hold caseloads that have tripled in the past decade.

Undocumented immigrants try to prove they deserve to remain in America by bringing their versions of America with them to court: wives carrying family photo albums; babies wrapped in American flag blankets; pastors, bosses, neighbors and community soccer teams, all of whom fill the courthouse and sometimes kneel in the hallways to chant or to pray.

“Somos Americanos,” one group said. We are Americans.

Now Burman looked at his docket and called up a case: Mario Iraheta, 36, father of three, citizen of El Salvador, longtime resident of the United States. For Iraheta, the future of immigration reform was not about Congress, or Obama, or two political parties positioning for a presidential election in 2016. It was about the next seven minutes.

“Court is in session,” Burman said.

An empty seat

Iraheta’s seat in the courtroom remained empty. A clerk turned on a television near the prosecutor’s table, and up came a video feed to a detention facility in Farmville, Va. Suddenly Iraheta appeared on screen, his hair still wet from the shower, in a room 165 miles away.

This was the latest symptom of a deportation system backlogged with 350,000 cases. Since the government often lacks the time and the resources to transport detained immigrants, they often attend their hearings remotely.

“Farmville, Room 294, can you hear us?” a court interpreter asked. The screen seemed to freeze. The court took a short recess while a technician fixed the video feed. As the recess continued, Iraheta’s wife, Maria, and two sons stood up in the second row of the courtroom and walked toward the video screen. “There he is!” said Dylan, 9, an American citizen, tugging at his mother’s shirt. They stood within view of the camera so Iraheta could see them. “Oh, God,” Iraheta said, wiping his eyes as they smiled and waved. “You came. Thank you.”

He had not seen all of them together for seven months, since he got into his car to drive to his sister’s house for a Sunday barbecue and was pulled over by police for drinking and driving, a mistake that threatened to undo the life he had built in the Manassas suburbs. He had crossed into the United States illegally in 2000, and Maria had followed a year later. He worked in construction; she walked two miles each evening to wash dishes at IHOP for $8 an hour. They paid taxes, joined a church and raised three kids, now 19, 15 and 9. Two months after Iraheta was apprehended and placed into deportation proceedings, his family celebrated the birth of his first granddaughter — “an honest-to-God second-generation American,” one cousin said.

For 14 years, Iraheta and Maria had shared the same bed in a small apartment, but now they could think of little to say. He motioned for his boys to come closer to the camera so he could study their haircuts. “You look nice,” he said. “Grown up.”

Maria wondered if she should tell him about the debts they were accumulating to the thriving deportation industry: the $300 she had paid a driver to take her to visit him in Farmville; the $25 they spent on 18-minute phone calls; the $5,000 and counting in legal fees to a succession of notaries and lawyers; the work shift she was missing now, to support him in court. He wondered if he should tell her about the nightmares he’d been havinglately, in which he returned to El Salvador, got lost at the airport and was stabbed by a gang of men trying to steal his jeans.

“Today will be a new beginning for us,” he said instead. “You look beautiful. We are smiling. They will see we are a good family.”

“I hope so,” she said, now wiping her eyes, too.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, but now the recess had ended, and Iraheta’s lawyer approached the bench.

Crimes or mistakes?

“Your Honor, we would request that you set a bond in this case,” said Ricky Malik, Iraheta’s lawyer. “My client is a longtime resident. He is not a flight risk. He would like the opportunity to be reunited with his family.”

“We would contend that he is a flight risk,” the prosecutor said. He reached into his case file and pulled out two court documents, criminal convictions for hit-and-runs.

Malik looked over the charges. Both were misdemeanors for property damage of less than $1,000, one from 2003 and the other from 2004. The first time, Iraheta had hit a car in a parking lot and driven away, scared that he would be deported because he didn’t have a driver’s license. The next time he had hit a car in the rain, fled, felt guilty and went to a police station a day later to fill out a report.

If Burman decided that the crimes indicated poor character — what the law refers to as “moral turpitude” — Iraheta would not only be ineligible for bond but also much more likely to be deported to El Salvador.

“These are small property incidents,” Malik said. “We would argue that these are not crimes of moral turpitude but unfortunate decisions.”

Malik knew that his argument was a long shot, but so was everything else about his job. He represented 300 undocumented immigrants from Manassas to Richmond, mostly working-class Mexicans and Central Americans who came to him after they had been apprehended and placed in deportation proceedings. His clients were not the perfect face of undocumented immigration but the complicated heart of it — not college graduates, or victims of violent crime, or active military members, or breast-feeding mothers, or“dreamers,” or members of any one of the small groups for which Obama has created patchwork immigration solutions. His clients were people like Iraheta, whose mistakes had been compounded by fear and bad luck, and whose paths to stay in the United States were as complex as they were uncertain.

“To be honest, these odds are not good,” Malik had told Iraheta’s family during an early meeting about his case. To stay in the United States, Iraheta needed to file for his case to be reopened, win bond, file for deportation relief and then win again at trial — and even that unlikely outcome would only return him back to where he started, free but undocumented. Nonetheless, Maria had borrowed money and cashed out her savings to pay Malik for a few months of work, and here he was five months later, providing representation for free, taking on what immigration lawyers called another “case of conscience.” Unlike criminal defendants, undocumented immigrants are not guaranteed a lawyer, and the 40 percent who appear in court without representation are several times more likely to be deported. Malik didn’t want a family broken apart because it couldn’t afford his billable hours.

“Your Honor, my client is not a perfect person, but he is a good person,” Malik said now, lifting his hands.

“What if it was your car that he hit?” Burman said.

“For all we know this could have been a dent, $150 in damages,” Malik said.

“Or it could have been $850,” Burman said.

He turned away from Malik and looked at Iraheta on the monitor, studying him, searching for some impression of the man on the screen.

“I have gone back and forth on this issue,” he said. “Are these crimes of moral turpitude? This is tough.”

‘Impossibly stressful’

Tough: That was his job. Tough was hearing 1,500 cases per year while federal judges decided 440. It was sharing one law clerk with other immigration judges while each federal judge had four clerks of his own. It was being scheduled to sit on the bench for 36 hours a week and listen to asylum cases that detailed people’s escapes from gangs, rapes, beheadings, human trafficking and torture; and then having to objectively ask those people for the documents, for the scars, for the proof; and then making a judgment about the character of those people, first through a video feed and then through an interpreter; and then judging the merits of their cases in the shifting landscape of immigration law; and finally taking a deep breath, synthesizing so much information, and rendering a lawful, smart, artful, confident decision on the spot, because the schedule allowed little time for reflection or written decisions before the next case began.

“Like doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting,” one immigration judge said in testimony before Congress about the job.

Burman was known as one of the country’s best: an immigration judge since 1998, working in Los Angeles, Memphis and now Virginia, mastering the changing nuances of the law even as his caseload continued to grow. Like all immigration judges, it was his responsibility to act in some ways as a de facto lawyer for unrepresented immigrants, notifying them of possible forms of deportation relief. He was funny, kind and sometimes sarcastic. He called the rotating cast of interpreters and court security guards by their first names. Lawyers on both sides considered him fair and empathetic — a small miracle given the pressure he was under.

A group of psychiatrists surveyed immigration judges about their work in 2008 and concluded that the job was “impossibly stressful,” with burnout rates exceeding those of prison guards or physicians in busy hospitals, and since then the courtroom conditions had only worsened. The law becomes more complex each time widespread reform defaults to more piecemeal solutions. A hiring freeze has reduced 272 judges to 249, and a congressional proposal to hire 225 more stalled last year in the House. Nearly half of the judges who are left will be eligible for retirement in the next year, which means caseloads are again expected to rise.

“The volume is constant and unrelenting,” one immigration judge wrote in a survey about job satisfaction.

“Similar to a factory assembly line,” wrote another.

“The drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture.”

“Not enough time to think.”

“I can’t take this place anymore.”

“This job is supposed to be about doing justice. The conditions under which we work make it more and more challenging to ensure that justice is done.”

Now Burman looked beyond Malik into the courtroom benches, where Iraheta’s wife was praying, clasping her hands on her lap. What would constitute justice in this case? To grant bond and return a family to its life in the United States? Or to detain and eventually deport a man who had snuck into the country and then broken its laws?

Nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, and here came the same murky decision every seven minutes: Who would be allowed to stay, and who would be forced to go?

“I feel badly for the family,” Burman said, but he had made up his mind. On this day, in this court, the two car accidents counted as crimes of moral turpitude. He turned back to Malik. “Do you want to set aside a right to appeal?”

“So no bond?” Malik said.

“Yes. That is my ruling.”

‘We are out of time’

Malik looked down at his desk. The prosecutor reached for the next case file. The judge began to fill out his paperwork.

“Your Honor, I would like to simply ask for your kindness,” Iraheta said, speaking on the video screen. He had been silent until this moment, a forgotten member of his own proceeding, but now he leaned toward the camera and begged. “I need to be there to take care of my family,” he said. “Please. I know I made terrible errors and horrible mistakes. I would like to ask for your kindness.”

“I promise if given the opportunity I will do everything I can and try to change in every manner possible.”

“I think it is too late for that. I’m sorry. We are out of time.”

Iraheta tried to speak faster, and then louder, but the courtroom had already returned to motion. Lawyers huddled with their clients. More families streamed in through the crowded entrance. Malik consoled Iraheta’s family in the hallway outside, explaining that he would stay detained until another hearing unless he chose to be quickly deported. Burman stretched his back and looked back down at his docket. So many cases still to decide. Seven minutes each.

“Okay,” he said. “Next.”


Immigration Reform and the State of the Union

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

January 28, 2014


Washington D.C. - Tonight, President Barack Obama pressed the reset button and laid out his priorities for 2014—and, ultimately, the final leg of his presidency. During the State of the Union address, the President discussed the need to create jobs and greater opportunity for all. He also made it clear that immigration reform and economic recovery go hand-in-hand, and he expects the House of Representatives to make the next move on immigration reform. The President said:
“Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted.  I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.  Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
The President’s inclusion of immigration as a matter of economic necessity reinforces efforts over the last few years to redefine how we think about immigration reform. Immigrants create jobs as consumers and entrepreneurs andspend their wages in U.S. businesses—buying food, clothes, appliances, cars, etc. This builds our economy as businesses respond to the presence of these new workers and consumers by investing in new restaurants, stores, and production facilities. Also immigrants are 30 percent more likely than the native-born to start their own business. The end result is more jobs for more workers.
The President’s message on immigration extended beyond his speech. Immigrants and immigration activists attended as guests of Congress and the First Lady. Mrs. Obama invited two immigrants to attend as her guests: Cristian Avila, a DREAMer and DACA recipient who recently completed a 22-day fast on the National Mall in support of immigration reform and Carlos Arredondo, a Costa-Rican-American peace activist made famous by his heroic acts after the Boston Marathon bombing.

These guests remind us of the humanitarian nature of immigration reform that cannot, and should not be overlooked.  As we grapple with efforts to create a more just and equal system in which everyone has a fair shot at economic prosperity, we cannot forget the need for a fair and just immigration system.  Deportations that separate families, disrupt businesses, and destroy hopes and dreams help no one and ultimately do not reflect our tradition as a nation of immigrants.
Tonight, the President reiterated that he is prepared to use the authority of his office to push a range of initiatives forward. Thus, if 2014 is to truly be a year of action and opportunity, we encourage the president not only to support efforts to complete immigration reform, but to do all in his power to end needless costs—to families, to workers, and to the economy—of an immigration system that does not fulfill the promise of America.

 


Top Republicans to Call for Legal Status for Some Immigrants

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

WASHINGTON — The House Republican leadership’s broad framework for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws will call this week for a path to legal status — but not citizenship — for many of the 11 million adult immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to aides who have seen the party’s statement of principles. For immigrants brought to the United States illegally as young children, the Republicans would offer a path to citizenship.

But even before the document is unveiled later, some of the party’s leading strategists and conservative voices are urging that the immigration push be abandoned, or delayed until next year, to avoid an internal party rupture before the midterm elections.

“It’s one of the few things that could actually disrupt what looks like a strong Republican year,” said William Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, calling an immigration push “a recipe for disaster.”

“Don’t Do It,” said the headline on a National Review editorial on Monday aimed at the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio. “The last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight when it has been dealt a winning hand” — troubles with the president’s health care law — ahead of the elections, the editorial said.

GRAPHIC

Progress on an Immigration Overhaul in 5 Areas

The status of the immigration overhaul in the Senate and House.

 OPEN GRAPHIC

At the same time, Republicans have seen their support from Latinos plummet precisely because of their stance on immigration, and the “statement of principles,” barely more than a page, is intended to try to reverse that trajectory.

The statement of principles criticizes the American higher education system for educating some of the world’s best and brightest students only to lose them to their home countries because they cannot obtain green cards; insists that Republicans demand that current immigration laws be enforced before illegal immigrants are granted legal status; and mentions that some kind of triggers must be included in an immigration overhaul to ensure that borders are secured first, said Republican officials who have seen the principles.

With concern already brewing among conservatives who call any form of legal status “amnesty,” the document has the feel more of an attempt to test the waters than a blueprint for action. House Republican leaders will circulate it at a three-day retreat for their members that begins Wednesday on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Several pro-immigration organizations that have been briefed on the guidelines say they are not intended to serve as a conservative starting point for future negotiations, but as a gauge of how far to the left House Republicans are willing to move.

The principles say that Republicans do not support a “special path to citizenship,” but make an exception for the “Dreamers,” the immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, quoting a 2013 speech by Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents,” Mr. Cantor said at the time. “It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”

Even ardent proponents of an immigration-law overhaul are, at best, cautiously optimistic. In June, a broad immigration overhaul — with a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants now in the country illegally, and stricter border security provisions that would have to be in place before the immigrants could gain legal status — passed the Senate with bipartisan support. But that legislation has largely stalled in the Republican-controlled House, where Mr. Boehner has rejected any negotiations with the Senate over its comprehensive bill.

“This is obviously a long, hard road,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, who helped negotiate the Senate bill, “but I think since August, the number on the other side vehemently opposed has stayed the same, the number who think it should go forward has grown, and numbers in the wide middle are less opposed than they used to be. But that doesn’t guarantee an outcome one way or another.”

Republican Party leaders, backed strongly by business groups, have said an overhaul is critical if they are to repair their political position with Latino and other immigrant voters.

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William Kristol, a conservative editor, opposes a Republican push on immigration. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Barry Jackson, Mr. Boehner’s former chief of staff, is consulting for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports an overhaul that expands high-technology visas and guest worker programs.

But immigration is less of an issue during midterm elections, when immigrants are not as likely to vote and House members in safe districts are insulated somewhat from the wrath of more moderate swing voters. Often the biggest threats to Republicans are primary challenges from more conservative candidates who say that changing the immigration status of someone who is in the country illegally amounts to amnesty for a lawbreaker.


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.


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.


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