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.


House GOP divided on immigration but united against Senate, Obama

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

By Frank Thorp, Luke Russert and Carrie Dann, NBC News
Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:54 PM EDT
NBCNews.com

House Republicans huddled behind closed doors Wednesday in a long-awaited “special conference” to
discuss tactics, air grievances and plot the way forward – or out of – the national debate over
comprehensive immigration reform.

While the “lively” meeting didn’t yield any major breakthroughs among the deeply divided GOP
conference, Republican leaders made clear in a statement afterward that any legislation that gives
too much responsibility to the Obama administration is a non-starter in the House.

The American people “don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the
president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than
pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem,” leaders wrote after
the meeting. “The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore
significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this
administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws
as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”

Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas put it more bluntly.

“Trusting Barack Obama with border security is like trusting my daughter with Bill Clinton,” he
said. “We just don’t trust him.”

The gathering served to offer members a spectrum of options for addressing an issue that has long
split the Republican Party and some say could permanently damage its standing with the rapidly
growing bloc of Latino voters.

At the beginning of the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner reiterated that the House will not take
up the “flawed” Senate-passed bill but urged some type of action. And Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the
high-profile former vice presidential nominee who supports the reform effort, presented an economic
argument for immigration legislation and noted the nation’s declining birthrate without the influx
of new residents, sources in the room said.

“I think we got consensus that the system is broken and needs to be fixed and I feel pretty good
about where we are,” Ryan told reporters after the meeting.

But many Republicans from ruby red districts have little incentive to support a reform effort
largely opposed by their conservative constituents. Some fear that any bill could result in
“amnesty” if it is conferenced or blended with the Senate-passed measure.

And even the leaders of the House GOP argue that the Senate bill’s reliance on federal agencies to
enforce border security members won’t sit well with Americans skeptical of the Obama
administration.

California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham was one of those in the meeting who advocated for a
comprehensive reform but said the Senate bill gave too much discretion for border security to the
Department of Homeland Security.

“It’s time for action,” he said, according to a participant in the meeting. “We need comprehensive
immigration reform, but we need a guarantee in this. We need to make sure that we are able to
secure the border by using our congressional oversight – not Janet Napolitano, but the power of
this body.”

One type of immigration action could take the form of legislation to address those who were brought
to the country illegally as children – or DREAMers – who have been among the most organized and
sympathetic advocates for reform.

Rep. Darrell Issa told reporters outside the meeting that members discussed the possibility of
offering a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMer group.

That’s an idea which seems to have measurable “consensus” from the GOP, said Rep. Raul Labrador,
R-Idaho, an influential conservative voice on the immigration issue who left the House’s group of
bipartisan reform negotiators because of disagreements with their approach.
But it seems that any movement is unlikely to happen before the House adjourns for August recess.
Some members are working on individual pieces of border security and visa regulation legislation
that could theoretically be bundled into a package that could pass the GOP-dominated lower chamber but
would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate. Others, mindful of the potential political
consequences of being blamed for the slow death of a bill important to the growing Latino voting
bloc, hope that group of bipartisan negotiators can finalize a product that could find middle
ground between both parties.

And some, like immigration opponent Rep. Steve King of Iowa, have vocally opposed the passage of
any measure at all, saying the conference process in the Senate would insert a pathway to
citizenship for some undocumented immigrants into any House-passed bill.

“I’m not going to support any kind of legalization because legalization is amnesty, is eventual
citizenship, if not instantaneous citizenship,” King told reporters Tuesday, “We don’t have a moral
obligation to solve that problem, the people who came here illegally came here to live in the shadows.

Several things were clear before the GOP gathered for the meeting Wednesday afternoon.

First, House leaders won’t bring up the Senate bill – which one GOP member said almost all members
in the meeting agreed was “inherently flawed” – for an up-or-down vote.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp tweeted after the meeting that the House couldn’t take up
the Senate bill if it wanted to because legislation that raises revenues must originate in the
House, according to the Constitution.

And second, the Democratic insistence on its long-held prioritization of a path to citizenship for
most undocumented immigrants is problematic.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Christopher Guitterez, 6, who was born in Fairfax, Va., joins his Salvadoran mother, not in picture, during a rally for citizenship
on Capitol Hill in in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, coinciding with the GOP House Caucus
meeting. Gang of Eight leader and New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that must include a
pathway to citizenship in any House legislation or Democrats will kill it.

That didn’t sit well with GOP rank-and-file.
“For him to him to say basically, ‘If you can’t do my way then we’re not going anything at all,’ I
think would be very sad in the process,” said Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Labrador said earlier Wednesday on MSNBC that the ultimatum means the burden will lie on Democrats
if the legislation stalls. “If Chuck Schumer is not going to accept anything unless he gets 100 percent of what he wants, then
he’s the one who’s killing immigration reform.”


Immigration and Fear

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

The New York Times
April 20, 2013
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Much of the country was still waking up to the mayhem and confusion outside Boston on Friday morning when Senator Charles Grassley decided to link the hunt for terrorist bombers to immigration reform.

“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” asked Mr. Grassley, the Iowa Republican, at the beginning of a hearing on the Senate’s immigration bill. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.?”

The country is beginning to discuss seriously the most sweeping overhaul of immigration since 1986, with hearings in the Senate last week and this week, and a possible vote by early summer. After years of stalemate, the mood has shifted sharply, with bipartisan Congressional coalitions, business and labor leaders, law-enforcement and religious groups, and a majority of the public united behind a long-delayed overhaul of the crippled system.

Until the bombing came along, the antis were running out of arguments. They cannot rail against “illegals,” since the bill is all about making things legal and upright, with registration, fines and fees. They cannot argue seriously that reform is bad for business: turning a shadow population of anonymous, underpaid laborers into on-the-books employees and taxpayers, with papers and workplace protections, will only help the economy grow.

About all they have left is scary aliens.

There is a long tradition of raw fear fouling the immigration debate. Lou Dobbs ranted about superhighways from Mexico injecting Spanish speakers deep into the heartland. Gov. Jan Brewer told lies about headless bodies in the Arizona desert. And now Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, is warning of radical Islamists posing as Hispanics and infiltrating from the southern border.

But the Boston events have nothing to do with immigration reform. Even if we stop accepting refugees and asylum seekers, stop giving out green cards and devise a terror-profiling system that can bore into the hearts of 9-year-olds, which seems to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s age when he entered the United States, we will still face risks. And we will not have fixed immigration.

There is a better way to be safer: pass an immigration bill. If terrorists, drug traffickers and gangbangers are sharp needles in the immigrant haystack, then shrink the haystack. Get 11 million people on the books. Find out who they are.

The Senate bill includes no fewer than four separate background checks as immigrants move from the shadows to citizenship. It tightens the rules on employment verification and includes new ways to prevent misuse of Social Security numbers. It has an entry-exit visa system to monitor traffic at borders and ports.

And if we are serious about making America safer, why not divert some of the billions now lavished on the border to agencies fighting gangs, drugs, illegal guns and workplace abuse? Or to community policing and English-language classes, so immigrants can more readily cooperate with law enforcement? Why not make immigrants feel safer and invested in their neighborhoods, so they don’t fear and shun the police? Why not stop outsourcing immigration policing to local sheriffs who chase traffic offenders and janitors?

As we have seen with the failure of gun control, a determined minority wielding false arguments can kill the best ideas. The immigration debate will test the resilience of the reform coalition in Congress. Changes so ambitious require calm, thoughtful deliberation, and a fair amount of courage. They cannot be allowed to come undone with irrelevant appeals to paranoia and fear.


Through the obstacle course of immigration, many paths to citizenship

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

 

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

 

This is the first story in NBC News’ series “Immigration Nation,” an in-depth examination of immigration in America.

The talk about reforming the American immigration system has focused on getting 11 million undocumented workers on the path to citizenship. It’s a simple idea that obscures a thorny truth.

There is no single path to citizenship. There are hundreds.

Which path you take can depend on who your relatives are, whether you are safe in your homeland or how good you are at your job — in the case of one Canadian burlesque dancer, whether you can prove that you twirl your tassels in a truly unique way.

Which path you take can depend on where you come from and how you’re trying to get here, on the whims of the federal government and on the laws of supply and demand.

You can set out on a path through your family or your job, as most immigrants do — hitching your hopes to a citizen brother or sister, or to an employer willing to be a sponsor.

You can take up arms for what you hope will one day be your country. Or you can win the lottery: Up to 55,000 spots each year go to people who line up for hours in far-flung places like Bangladesh or Kazakhstan to enter a drawing and try their luck at a new life.

So what happens once you choose your path? There are at least 4.4 million people whose first-step visa petitions have been approved and are waiting for a green card that would grant them permanent residency, the vast majority trying to enter with help from relatives in the United States, according to the State Department.

But that hardly means the path to citizenship is clear. Any number of obstacles can block the way. You can fall in love with an American citizen and move to a different path. You can be kicked off the path. Or the path can shift on you.

That is what happened to Sergio Garcia of Mexico, who has been waiting 19 years.

His father, a retired California farm worker, sponsored him for an immigration visa in 1994. At that point, the father had a green card, and the son had crossed the border without documentation, in the back of a truck.

For Garcia, Nov. 18, 1994, is what is known in the system as a priority date. To would-be immigrants, it means everything. When enough of the backlog has been cleared and your date comes up, you can take the final steps toward a green card.

More than a decade ago, enough of the backlog had been cleared for Mexicans in his immigration category that the priority date was Nov. 12, 1994 — just six days from his date.

Then the line jumped back three years, as it can when immigration officials work through a glut of cases. Since then, on the 15th of each month, Garcia has logged on to a State Department website to read the latest visa bulletin, to see whether he is any closer.

Garcia said that if he had known at the beginning that it would take two decades to get his green card, not the three to five years he was told, then he would have returned to Mexico.

“It’s probably been a month or two since I last ended up crying, because sometimes this life does get to you,” he said. “It’s not living, it’s surviving.”

The United States admits up to 675,000 immigrants legally each year, including up to 480,000 who are related to American citizens but are not spouses, minor children or parents, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

That figure includes 47,250 slots for each of the countries with the highest demand, including Mexico, the Philippines and India. Demand from these places far outstrips the supply of immigration slots.

From Mexico alone, the theoretical line is 1.3 million people long. If you are emigrating from the Philippines through a brother or sister who is a U.S. citizen, and you are getting your green card today, you got “in line” about the time the Berlin Wall came down.

And the green card is only the first step, entitling you to a five-year wait for full citizenship. In the interim, you can be rejected for a variety of reasons, including bounced checks, clerical errors on your application or adultery

“The system is just way too complicated,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer from Alaska who has testified before Congress on the issue. “It’s so complicated and difficult that people can’t absorb it. They think: There’s no way I can navigate that.”

You can pay to get on a path: 10,000 visas — and ultimately green cards — are reserved for foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in an American business, though the program has never reached that number in the two decades it has existed.

Some paths are shorter than others. Qualified immigrants who have temporary visas can join the military and become naturalized citizens as soon as the end of basic training. President George W. Bush expedited the military path after the Sept. 11 attacks.

And about one in 10 people legally admitted to this country every year is granted entry because of asylum or refugee status, and a one-year path to a green card, after proving a legitimate fear of persecution at home.

That happened to Parvaneh Vahidmanesh, who was in the United States on a visa when Iran was engulfed by violent protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

In an open letter in The Wall Street Journal addressed to Iran’s supreme leader, Vahidmanesh demanded to know why a bullet was the answer to peaceful cries of opposition. The United States deemed it too dangerous for her to return home.

Vahidmanesh applied for asylum after the Journal letter was published, was granted asylum in September 2009, got a green card a year later and is waiting to become a citizen.

She said that she feels accepted in the United States, never like a foreigner or even a guest.

“Now, I have a future,” she said. “Most important thing is freedom. I just feel freedom with all of my self here in the U.S. In Iran, I never felt that I am a free person.”

The immigration reform plan being devised in Washington, chiefly by four senators from each party, is expected to provide a means for the estimated 11 million who entered the United States illegally eventually to become citizens.

Precisely how is far from clear, as is whether the plan would include an unspecified “trigger” requiring that the U.S.-Mexican border is declared secure before any citizenship program for the undocumented can begin.

It is also expected to include some kind of guest-worker program allowing low-skilled workers to remain in the United States.

Supporters of tighter immigration controls have concerns about both elements, but most acknowledge that the country needs far more clarity on who should and should not be eligible to become an American citizen.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters file Candidates wave U.S. flags during a naturalization ceremony to become citizens in Los Angeles in February.

Some advocates of a more permissive immigration system say that the central problem is that the United States does not issue nearly enough visas.

Even if the United States stopped approving new requests for family-based immigration visas today, it would take 19 years to clear the backlog of people waiting to join a relative in the United States, according to theMigration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center.

“We haven’t changed our legal immigration numbers since 1990,” said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, part of a Washington group that supports immigration. “Think about the cellphone that they were carrying in ‘The Wedding Singer.’ Now think about your iPhone today.”

As Garcia waits for his priority date, his shot at citizenship, he figures there is no turning back. As strange is it may sound, he said, he believes that his father was right to encourage him to embark on the path to citizenship.

“I still think this country is a great country, and I think it will give me, in the end, a better future than I could have had in Mexico,” he said. “I still truly believe in the American dream.”

Petra Cahill, Tracy Connor and Miranda Leitsinger of NBC News contributed to this report.


Immigration reform- Getting there

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

“EVERY major policy issue has been resolved,” declared Charles Schumer, one of eight senators seeking to draft a bipartisan bill to reform America’s immigration system. The “Gang of Eight”, he continued, would unveil their proposal in days; it would putter through the Judiciary Committee this month, and reach the Senate floor in May. “We’re on track,” he concluded, in a television interview this week. If he is right, an issue that has dogged American politics for a generation, left 11m people in limbo and steadily undermined the Republican Party’s prospects, is on the verge of resolution.

Not everyone, even within the Gang of Eight, seems quite so confident. Marco Rubio, the group’s most conservative member, says reports of success “are premature”. At least one element of the bill, a scheme to admit agricultural workers on a temporary basis, has proved especially thorny to negotiate. Many Republicans are still averse to any reprieve for America’s 11m illegal immigrants, despite the dreadful showing this stance earned them among Hispanic voters at last year’s elections. But the momentum in favour of reform is clearly building.

Mr Schumer’s crowing was prompted by a deal on visas for low-skilled workers between the two pressure groups to which the gang had delegated the subject: the AFL-CIO, America’s biggest confederation of trade unions, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, which represents business. Bickering on this topic contributed to the collapse of the last big push for immigration reform, in 2007. This time the two sides have agreed on an elaborate formula which would hand out more visas when the economy is strong and fewer when it is weaker. Businesses would benefit from the admission of as many as 200,000 workers a year when times are good (and as few as 20,000 when they are not). The unions, meanwhile, are pleased with wording intended to prevent an influx of new labour from depressing wages or undermining workers’ rights. The main beneficiaries, naturally, would be the visa recipients, who would be allowed to change jobs and apply for permanent residence after a year—as they cannot do now.

The gang’s bill is expected to boost the number of visas for skilled workers too, especially in high-tech fields, and to make it easier for foreign graduates of American universities to settle in America. The senators are also rewriting the rules on the admission of seasonal farm labourers, a job largely filled by illegal immigrants at the moment, thanks in part to the cumbersomeness of the official scheme. They had hoped to win the approval of both growers’ associations and the United Farm Workers (UFW), the biggest agricultural union. But the two sides are at an impasse. The farmers had wanted to adjust the official formula for setting the guest workers’ wages; the union complained that they were trying to suppress wages in general.

Nonetheless, the dispute is unlikely to derail the bill, because the main concern of both sides is not regulating the future flow of new farm workers, but normalising the status of those who are already in America. The country’s 11m “undocumented” immigrants represent a huge pool of recruits for the unions and new hires for business. Although most of them work, their shadowy status exposes employers to legal penalties and the immigrants themselves to exploitation. The Gang of Eight has agreed that their bill will provide these unfortunates not only with some sort of formal legal status, but also with the chance to become citizens eventually.

Just how arduous that process is will be the main point of contention when the bill is unveiled. Republicans have long resisted anything that smacks of amnesty. Democrats, meanwhile, warn against any requirements that are so onerous as to exclude large numbers of the undocumented. The Gang of Eight has already agreed that most illegal immigrants will have to prove that they have worked, pay back taxes and pass both a background check and a test of civics and English, among other requirements, before they can become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.

The path to citizenship can be long, argues Angela Kelley of the Centre for American Progress, a left-leaning think-tank, as long as it is wide. Many immigrants would struggle to prove their employment history, she notes, since those who hire them are breaking the law and thus tend to avoid much of a paper trail. By the same token, fees or fines that might seem lenient to a middle-class Republican primary voter would be unaffordable for many illegal immigrants. $10,000, for example, would represent over a third of annual household income for half of those in America illegally, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration think-tank.

Another issue bound to provoke debate in the Senate is the policing of America’s borders. The Gang of Eight has agreed that security must get tighter before any illegals can receive green cards (the document conveying permanent residence), to prevent a wave of new immigrants seeking to exploit the reforms. In fact, security on the Mexican border is already fearsome, and unauthorised crossings are at their lowest levels in decades (although the weak economy on the northern side and declining birth rates on the southern one also play a part). Moreover, it is impossible to seal such a long and rugged frontier completely. That leaves Democrats fearful that Republicans will set an unreasonable standard, and Republicans suspicious of a Democratic fudge. A possible solution, suggests Ms Kelley, is to set objective goals, in terms of miles of fencing built, numbers of border-patrol agents deployed, and so on.

Immigration advocates seem confident that these hurdles will be overcome, because the political logic in favour of a deal is so strong. They point to the many Republicans who have moderated their opposition to immigration reform since the elections. Rand Paul, a libertarian senator with a big tea-party following, recently made positive noises. Eric Cantor, the number two in the Republican hierarchy in the House of Representatives, has dropped his opposition to a scheme to give green cards to certain illegal immigrants brought to America as children. The involvement of Mr Rubio, another darling of the tea party, gives the initiative credibility on the right. It is telling that opponents of reform have taken to complaining less about the substance of the proposals and more about the haste with which they are being pursued.

The overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 53 Democrats and two independents are expected to support the reforms, leaving only a handful of Republican votes needed to reach the 60 vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. At the very least, the four Republican members of the Gang of Eight are likely to support their own bill, along with a few other moderates. The mechanics in the House are more complicated: its Republican majority includes many fierce opponents of any leniency towards illegal immigrants. But the Republican leadership, says Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO, will not want to be seen as sabotaging the reforms. In the end, he predicts, they will allow a vote on any bill the Senate produces, in the expectation that it will pass mainly with Democratic support. Shepherding an immigration bill through Congress may be a daunting task, but snuffing one out is beginning to look more daunting still.


Former INS Chief Talks Politics of Immigration Reform

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

BY: KWAME HOLMAN

The fence that stands on the United States-Mexico border in Naco, Ariz. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/ The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Doris Meissner sometimes gets accused of taking a pro-Democratic view in her current work as senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, which calls itself an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit” analyzer of migration issues worldwide.

But Meissner, a former official in the Clinton administration, ends up talking a lot about politics when the subject is potentially landmark immigration reform legislation now gathering steam in Congress — a plan she said offers more benefits than deficits for the United States.

“This is now an issue of politics. The issues have been out there for a long time. This is an issue of coming to a political meeting of the minds,” Meissner told the NewsHour this week in her office eight blocks from the White House.

The importance of politics in the effort to make fundamental changes to the nation’s immigration policy comes as no surprise to Meissner, whose job it is to understand millions of Latino legal residents and the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States who could gain a path to citizenship under the proposal.

Meissner agrees with the prevailing analysis that Latino voters swung heavily toward President Barack Obama and other Democrats in November in large part because of a perceived anti-immigrant bent of former Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

“Those of us working in this field have known for a long time the potential of the Latino vote being a pivotal election-changing vote has always been there,” she said. “But it has been one of those population groups that’s had lower voting rates.”

Polls show that Latino voters were energized by the Democrats’ support for immigration reform and the feeling that Republicans opposed it.

“We’re talking about U.S. citizens. They don’t have a stake in immigration reform in a way that people illegally in the county do, but they do have a stake in immigration reform because they are characterized as bad people in this political fracas, as people who somehow don’t have a right to be here and that has been deeply offensive to Latino voters,” Meissner said.

Meissner — who was commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Custom Enforcement) for most of President Bill Clinton’s two terms — said the actions of Latino voters suddenly turned immigration reform from “an issue that had been a complete third rail into the issue that both parties could come together on.”

And Meissner said the swing toward support for immigration reform extends to traditional Republican constituencies, notably in mid-Western and Southern states that have seen substantial increases in Latino immigrant residents in recent years.

“I think what’s going on now in the Christian right and the evangelical world is extraordinarily influential. Because evangelicals and those churches and pastors have taken up this issue of welcoming the stranger and the values in the Bible that believers should be following. They have really embraced this and they are doing very savvy and sophisticated media campaigns in states around the country that are heavily influenced by the evangelical vote, explaining why immigration reform, why citizenship for people who are in the country illegally is consistent with religious belief and the values of those churches,” said Meissner.

Meissner also notes the states immigrants have moved to have seen decreases in their own native populations, leaving many towns to rely on the new immigrants.

“Let’s look just at the pragmatic side of that, which is that the evangelical movement’s fastest-growing group are immigrants and Latino immigrants. So they’re finding this in their own churches, they’re finding in their own congregations people who do not have legal status. And they’re confronting the hardships that that creates in their church community. That’s powerful,” she said.

But even if the political stars seem to continue to align for immigration reform, Meissner can imagine at least two scenarios that could impede the legislation – governors may balk at the costs of applying legal status to millions of undocumented people, or the sheer size of the undertaking.

“It’s the quintessential devil in the details. The sweep of this kind of a bill is enormous. If a bill like this passes, this is going to be a project for our country for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. This is [a] very substantial set of changes,” she said. “So any of the particular features of it could — because it then involves so many constituencies, so many political interests — could bring it to unravel.”


Goodlatte: House Could Overhaul Immigration in ‘Pieces’

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

By David M. DruckerPosted at 4:56 p.m. on April 3

Goodlatte040313 445x292 Goodlatte: House Could Overhaul Immigration in Pieces

Goodlatte, the Judiciary chairman, is a key player in the effort to get immigration legislation passed in the House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte on Wednesday floated the possibility that the House could eschew a comprehensive approach to overhauling the nation’s immigration system in favor of a step-by-step legislative strategy.

Discussing the matter during an online telecast with Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt, the Virginia Republican appeared committed to most aspects of an immigration overhaul currently being discussed. Goodlatte said legislation must be passed to address the millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S., fill the need for more high- and low-skilled workers in the high technology and agriculture industries and to upgrade border security.

But Goodlatte, who runs the key committee of jurisdiction in the House for immigration legislation, said Republicans have “definitely left [the] option open” to addressing those and other issues through multiple bills, rather than one comprehensive piece of legislation that includes every component. He praised the bipartisan working groups in the House and Senate that are attempting to reach an agreement on comprehensive legislation.

“Whether we take pieces of this and then put them together later on, or whether we pass something that’s more broad-based remains to be seen, but it’s just going to be what the will of the House will be, this needs to come from the bottom up,” Goodlatte told Stirewalt. “It’s not how fast or slow you go; it’s getting it right.”

 

Goodlatte, who once worked as an immigration attorney, said hearings on the immigration overhaul have been ongoing, as have weekly briefings with members and staff to educate them on the issues.

There has been some speculation that GOP leaders might bypass committee hearings to avoid Democratic attempts to cause Republicans political problems during any extended debate over immigration. But knowledgeable GOP sources maintain that there is virtually no way that strategy would be adopted on an issue as sensitive and potentially explosive as immigration, particularly in light of Speaker John A. Boehner’s guarantee to switch gears from the last Congress and move major legislation through “regular order.”

It’s unclear if all three committees of jurisdiction will get a crack at the eventual immigration legislation or set of bills, but Goodlatte’s Judiciary Committee was described by one GOP sources as a “lock” to exercise oversight of the overhaul.

Goodlatte praised Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for his demand that the Senate engage in a methodical approach to considering a comprehensive immigration rewrite. Rubio, a member of the bipartisan “gang of eight” that is currently crafting a bill, has urged the majority Democrats to allow the Senate whatever time is required to fully vet and amend the legislation his group produces. Goodlatte suggested that he favors a similar process in the House.

“Marco Rubio is well to say let’s make sure we are completely and carefully examining this. They should do that over in the Senate and hold additional hearings after they have a product. We are definitely going to be doing that in the House,” Goodlatte said. “It’s my hope that we’ll be producing legislation in the House very soon.”


Four key points on why business and labor reached a deal on immigration

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

by Sandra Lilley, @sandralilley
2:56 pm on 04/01/2013
The recent agreement between labor and business groups on a guest worker program for low-skilled labor has really carved a space for the Senate to proceed with an immigration reform bill, mainly because it did what no other talks succeeded in doing in years past.
“The agreement is huge,” says Ana Avendaño, Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action for the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union, which recently reached the agreement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The momentum is unstoppable; and we have no doubt we are going to have an immigration bill,” adds Avendaño.
Here are four reasons why.
Agreement on visa number increase
“First, what is significant is the way both groups have reached an agreement on how to structure the number of visas,” says Kristian Ramos, Policy Director for the New Policy Institute’s (NPI) 21st Border Initiative. ”In 2007, one of the reasons legislation died is that business had one number and labor had another,” Ramos explained, adding, “the fact they were able to come to terms on numbers was pragmatic, clever and an indication these guys are serious.”
Under the deal proposed by the groups, a “W Visa program” could go into effect on April of 2015, and it would allow employers to petition for lesser-skilled foreign workers for jobs in construction, as well as janitorial or retail services. The program would start at 20,000 visas, then go up to 35,000 the next year, 55,000 the next, 75,000 the following and continue until 200,000.
Independent Bureau to determine immigrant labor needs
A second reason labor and business agreed to this, says AFL-CIO’s Avendaño, is because determining what sector of industry needs additional workers will be determined by a new entity, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. This is an independent, non-partisan group of experts, such as demographers and economists, who will study and determine labor needs. ”Congress on the House side is currently responsible for setting the number of visas, and the cap hasn’t changed in more than a decade,” says Ramos.
“Right now we don’t even know who is here on work visas or when people leave,” adds Avendaño. ”This will bring transparency, and it will be scientific – there is a shortage of elder care workers, you address it, same with nannies or other positions,” she adds.
Guest worker visa not limited to one employer
For workers themselves, the third reason is one of the most important. Unlike now, immigrants under this proposed guest worker visa will not be limited to one employer. “This is a huge change; as long as employers held the power, it was impossible for workers to exercise their rights to fair pay or expose worker violations,” says Avendaño. “Portability is a big deal for labor,” adds Ramos. In addition, guest worker wages must be equal to those of U.S. workers, so this will not undercut the wages of current employees.
Workers request own green cards
And last but certainly not least, a fourth component on this deal is that workers will be able to self-petition for a green card after one year, and will not be dependent on employers. ”The creation of an entire new visa system is a significant undertaking,” says Ramos.
For immigration reform advocates such as Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, this agreement between labor and business is “a historic breakthrough.”
“This breakthrough significantly increases the likelihood of reform with a new roadmap to citizenship for 11 million immigrants,” said Sharry.


Outrage after ICE officers detain undocumented immigrants bringing their kids to school

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment

by Alessandra Hickson
1:22 pm on 10/20/2012

Members of the Latino community and immigration activists are calling for the resignation of the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Detroit after officers stopped and detained two undocumented immigrants as they dropped their children off at school.
Both immigrants, from Mexico, were followed by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they left their homes in southwest Detroit on Tuesday morning. Both men had their children in their vehicles. One of the men, Jorge Hernandez, says he was pulled over by agents in unmarked cars just across the street from his four year-old daughter’s school. He claims he was threatened with arrest in front of his wife and son.
“I was very scared,” said Jorge through an interpreter to The Detroit News. “My children were saying, ‘Don’t take my dad away.’”
Hernandez and his wife went into the Manuel Reyes Vistas Nuevas Head Start Center and stayed there until members of the Alliance for Immigrations Rights & Reform Michigan were able to help them. The other man, Hector Orozco Villa, told immigrant advocates he was detained by agents near the elementary school of two of his children, Cesar Chavez Academy, a few blocks from the Head Start center. Orozco Villa remains in the agency’s custody. Parents and children in the predominantly Latino neighborhood were alarmed by the agents, according to the New York Times.
On Wednesday, more than 100 people from Latino and church groups, including Hernandez and state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, rallied outside the Cesar Chavez Academy on Waterman Street. Demonstrators called for ICE Enforcement Director Rebecca Adducci to resign.
According to The Detroit News, ICE national director John Morton pledged in October 2011 that agents would no longer patrol around schools or stop residents on their way to drop off or pick up their children. Parents and school officials feel that ICE has broken it’s promise.
“It is very alarming to me to have this happen during the rush hour of people taking their children to school,” said Rep. Tlaib to the New York Times. “We are really worried about the impact on these United States citizen children.” Many of the children of both Hernandez and Orozco Villa were born in the United States.
But ICE says they’ve done nothing wrong.
“After a thorough review of facts, the arrest of a priority target today in the Detroit metro area adhered to, and was in full compliance of, the stated policies and procedures of the agency,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the agency. “This includes ICE policy regarding enforcement actions at or near sensitive locations.”
According to immigration officials, Orozco Villa was arrested because of a criminal conviction in 2008 for driving under the influence and he had also returned to the United States after being formally deported, which is a felony.
For now, immigration activists and Latino residents continue to press for answers and dialogue.


U.S. Border-Enforcement Programs Target Immigrants Who Aren’t a Threat to Anyone Border, Customs and Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, Deportation, Detention, Enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Undocumented Immigration

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Border Enforcement, citizenship, Deportation, Immigration Law Leave a comment

U.S. Border-Enforcement Programs Target Immigrants Who Aren’t a Threat to Anyone
Border, Customs and Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, Deportation, Detention, Enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Undocumented Immigration
by Walter Ewing

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2003, its immigration-enforcement agencies—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—have been officially devoted to the protection of U.S. national security and the prevention of terrorist attacks. However, the bulk of the work done by CBP and ICE on a day-to-day basis involves apprehending and deporting non-violent immigrants who have only committed immigration offenses such as unlawful entry or re-entry into the United States. The highly punitive treatment of these immigration offenders serves no national-security purpose and is not an effective deterrent.
These are among the findings of a new report released by the University of Arizona’s Center for Latin American Studies. The report, In the Shadow of the Wall: Family Separation, Immigration Enforcement and Security, is based on data from the Migrant Border Crossing Study. During 2010, 2011, and 2012, a team of researchers from the United States and Mexico conducted survey interviews with 1,113 recent deportees about their experiences crossing the border, being apprehended by U.S. authorities, and being repatriated to Mexico. The surveys yield new insight into the conduct and consequences of U.S. immigration-enforcement programs.
The report highlights the pointlessly inhumane treatment of non-violent immigration offenders in a number of U.S. enforcement programs. But one in particular is Operation Streamline, which is basically a mass trial for border-crossers that convicts between 40 and 80 people per hearing for “illegal entry”—a misdemeanor offense. A group lawyer is provided for defendants, but limited time and the challenge of representing scores of defendants at once have raised concerns about the quality of legal counsel. The ineffectiveness of legal counsel in this setting is apparent from the survey interviews. When asked “What did your lawyer tell you about your rights?” recent deportees answered as follows:
40% said they were instructed to sign the form admitting guilt and not fight the charges against them.
40% were informed that they have legal rights.
7% were told nothing or could not understand what was said to them.
2% were asked to report any abuses against them.
1% were checked for their actual legal status.
No one mentioned the prospect of being paroled while waiting for resolution of an immigration case.
As the report emphasizes, a first offense for unlawful entry carries a maximum six-month sentence. But those who are convicted have a criminal record based solely on an immigration offense that will exclude them from legal residence or entry. If they are apprehended again, they will be charged with a felony for illegal re-entry and sentenced to a maximum two-year sentence. However, upon asking recent deportees what they understood about their sentence, only 71% mentioned that they would face some amount of jail time if they returned to the United States.
Operation Streamline accounts for much of the increase in deportations of “criminal aliens” in recent years, simply because of the rise in immigration offenders whose activities were previously considered administrative offenses. Criminal prosecutions for illegal entry increased from 3,900 cases to 43,700 between Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 and FY 2010. During the same period prosecutions for illegal re-entry increased from 7,900 to 35,800. Roughly 48% of all immigration prosecutions now come from illegal entry and 44% from illegal re-entry.
And yet, despite the harsh consequences, many of the people ensnared by Operation Streamline and other immigration-enforcement programs continue trying to return to the United States because that is where their homes are. As the New York Times noted in a recent discussion of the report:
“…about 60 percent of the respondents said they planned to try crossing the border again in the near future. The reasons were clear: of the 1,113 recently deported migrants who were interviewed at ports of entry and in shelters in six border communities in Mexico, roughly 300 of them had children under the age of 18 who were American citizens.”
The report concludes that border security cannot be achieved by programs that punish non-violent immigration offenders. The authors call for a reexamination of why we as a nation allocate so many resources to imposing criminal sentences and punishments on people with no previous criminal history or who have committed only minor legal infractions. Moreover, we must make distinctions among different categories of criminal offenses and provide relief for people who have criminal histories purely because of immigration violations. Otherwise, we are needlessly destroying the lives and families of people who call the United States home.


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