NDN Blog

Immigration's Sideshow

In case you didn't read it, this week's Washington Post op-ed on Immigration by Lee Hockstader:

Immigration's Sideshow

By Lee Hockstader

Sunday, July 19, 2009 

The Obama administration, moving gingerly toward what the president has said will be a far-reaching overhaul of the nation's broken immigration system, is trying to show at the outset that it is serious about enforcing existing laws. 

A glimpse of the president's strategy came earlier this month, when Department of Homeland Security officials said they would scrap a Bush administration initiative, tied up in the courts, that would have used Social Security information to force employers nationwide to fire millions of unauthorized workers. Instead, DHS said it would require federal contractors to use a separate government database to verify that their employees are authorized to work here. At about the same time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government would put new limits on local police who have been deputized by the feds to help deport undocumented immigrants. 

Immigration advocacy groups scowl at such efforts to front-load enforcement before an overarching reform effort is undertaken, one that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants and expand the supply of visas for future immigrant workers. Many Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, want much tougher enforcement measures, while opposing any strategy that smacks of what they consider amnesty for illegal immigrants. They are all gearing up for a new battle as early as this fall. 

The ingredients of the debate are familiar from the failed Bush-era attempts to fix immigration, including the rhetorical excess of all sides. And while the administration's early, tentative moves have been attacked from both sides, in fact they are modest and reasonable steps that may set the stage for the fight ahead. 

Take the employee verification program, known as E-Verify, that the Obama administration would require for federal contractors. Business and civil liberties groups dislike it, insisting that inaccuracies in the electronic data make reliance on such systems unfair. In fact, E-Verify is surprisingly accurate. Of 1.8 million E-Verify checks on workers made by employers between October and December last year, less than 0.5 percent of the system's initial responses were reversed on review, according to an outside audit commissioned by Homeland Security. And in Arizona, where businesses initially objected to the nation's broadest law requiring employers to check new hires through E-Verify, the state Chamber of Commerce, to its surprise, now acknowledges the system is working relatively smoothly and accurately. The federal government is correct that there's nothing inherently unreasonable about requiring companies to confirm that their employees are authorized to work in this country. 

Then there is the federal program to deputize local police to help deport undocumented immigrants. Advocates of immigrant rights are correct that it has led to racial profiling and deepened mistrust between police departments and immigrant communities. But the DHS move last week aims to minimize abuses by forcing police to pursue all criminal charges that prompted an arrest in the first place; that should dissuade cops from slapping handcuffs on people suspected of no more than lacking valid documents. 

It is tempting to think that the nation's economic anemia has sapped the immigration debate of its urgency. Given the pain of rising unemployment, why worry about legalizing undocumented workers, let alone clearing a path for still more immigrants to cross the border on the up and up? Why not just fine-tune enforcement, as the government is doing, and leave the rest for later? 

The answer is that the government's moves, even if they tend to rationalize and improve on Bush administration policies, are essentially a diversion. Ditto the ongoing efforts to reinforce personnel and fencing along the Mexican border. Any serious solution to the nation's immigration mess will have to do more than make employers toe the line or dissuade police from following their worst instincts. The fact remains that enforcement by itself is only part of the problem, and it will not magically make 12 million undocumented immigrants disappear, provide a realistic framework for future immigrants or settle a noxious debate that has raged in virtually every state legislature in the country. As Congress gets set to tackle the immigration mess, the administration will need deft politicking, and a broad strategic lens, to push for a comprehensive solution. 


Senate Votes Against Hate

Late last night the Senate voted to add the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill.  This bill would help bring justice to those who intentionally choose their victims based on race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It would authorize the federal government to prosecute a hate crime when a state is unwilling or unable to do so - this is an important step against the recent wave of hate crimes, many of which have gone unpunished.  Congratulations to Majority Leader Reid and to the Senate for its action!

Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor to urge the passage of Hate Crimes Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill:

“Luis Ramirez picked strawberries and cherries to support his three children and fiancée.  When he wasn’t working in the fields, he worked a second job in a local factory in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania – a coal town of 5,000 people.

“As Luis was walking home one Saturday night, six high-schoolers jumped him in a park.  They taunted and screamed racial slurs at Luis, who came to this small town in the middle of Pennsylvania from a small town in the middle of Mexico.

“The boys didn’t stop there. They punched him and kicked him.  When Luis’ friend pleaded with the teenagers to stop, one yelled back: “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be lying next to him.”

“The boys stomped on Luis so hard that an imprint of the necklace he was wearing was embedded into his chest.  They beat him so badly and so brutally that he never regained consciousness.

“On July 14, 2008 – two days after the beating and exactly one year ago yesterday – Luis Ramirez died. He was 25 years old.
“Hate crimes embody a unique brand of evil.

“A violent act may physically hurt just a single victim and cause grief for loved ones.  But hate crimes do more.  They distress entire communities, entire groups of people, and our entire country.

“Senator Kennedy has for many years so courageously fought for the legislation Sen. Leahy and I offered as an amendment today to the Defense Authorization bill.  Senator Kennedy has correctly called hate crimes a form of domestic terrorism, and it is our obligation to protect Americans from such terror. 

“The hate crimes bill will help bring justice to those who intentionally choose their victims based on race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability.

“Hate crimes are rampant and their numbers are rising.  The Department of Justice estimates that hundreds happen every day.

“But right now, state and local governments are on their own when it comes to prosecuting even the most violent crimes, and conducting the most extensive and expensive investigations.

“State and local governments will always come first.  But if those governments are unwilling or unable to prosecute hate crimes – and if the Justice Department believes that may mean justice will not be served – this law will let the federal authorities lend a hand to state and local authorities.

“This bill is named after Matthew Shepard, who was a 21-year-old college student in 1998 when he was tortured and killed for being gay.  When Wyoming police pursued justice in his murder, they needed resources they didn’t have.

“The police couldn’t call on federal law enforcement for help, and their expensive investigation devastated their small police department.  Five officers were laid off as a direct result of how much that case cost.  When this bill becomes law, that will never happen again.

“We must not be afraid to call these crimes what they are.  The American people know this is the right thing to do.  Hundreds of legal, law enforcement, civil rights and human rights groups know this is the right thing to do.  The United States Senate knows this is the right thing to do.

“This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim.
“That there is a difference between setting fire to an office building, and setting fire to a church, or a synagogue or a mosque.

“That there is a difference – as we learned so tragically just last month – between shooting a security guard, and shooting him because he works at the Holocaust Museum.

“It is a shame that we often do not discuss our responsibility to do something about horrific hate crimes until after another one has been committed.  It means that we always seem to act too late.

“But that does not mean we shouldn’t act now.  It means, in fact, the opposite – it means we must act before another one of our sons or daughters or friends or partners is attacked or killed merely because of who they are.

“We must act in the name of Thomas Lahey, who was beaten unconscious in Las Vegas for being gay.

 “We must act in the name of Jammie Ingle, who was beaten and bludgeoned to death in Laughlin, Nevada, for the same reason.

“We must act in the name of Tony Montgomery, who was shot and killed in Reno because he was African American.

 “We must act in the name of those who worship at Temple Emanu El in Reno, a synagogue that has twice been firebombed by skinheads.

“We must act in the name of Luis Ramirez, who died one year ago this week.

“And we must act in the name of Matthew Shepard, whose family has fought tirelessly in the 10 years since his brutal murder so that others may know justice.

“If their country does not stand up for them – if we do not stand up for what is right – who will?”

Overview of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, and What's Next?

Our analysis of Day 1 of the Sotomayor hearings provided some insight into the questioning that occurred as the rest of the week evolved.  As was to be expected, the Senators belonging to the party of the nominating President (except for Arlen Specter) generally highlighted the nominee’s impartiality as a judge and her other personal accomplishments, while the Senators of the opposing party used the hearings to question the nominee’s “ideology” and “impartiality” – in this case, her “empathy.”  And as usual, the very qualified nominee kept a firm stance, rooted in her expert knowledge of the law. 

In spite of the great controversy surrounding Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, a wise Latina she proved to be over this past week.  It is truly of note that until Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, the adjective paired with “Latina” was usually “fiery,” “curvy,” or some derivation thereof – but rarely “wise.”  But the “caliente” sparks that usually accompany a “Latina” in pop culture never appeared – even in the face of questioning that at times bordered on offensive.  Judge Sotomayor patiently listened to a litany of names she has been called by an “anonymous” colleague during questioning by Sen. Graham; she quietly and carefully responded to loaded “gotcha” questions by Sen. Coburn; and she remained cool and collected as Sen. Sessions continued to grill her about the implications of a “wise Latina,” and how her “empathy” affects her judgment.  Through it all she was always composed and never engaged the Senators, for example, by bringing up the fact that a past nominee, Justice Alito, had similarly highlighted that his immigrant background informed his life experience in the same way she had tried  – albeit inartfully – to explain. 

She patiently responded to every question about abortion, gun rights, privacy, the role of Congress vs. Judiciary, and same-sex marriage that was repeated, and repeated, ad nauseum.  As a result, she disarmed all Senators on the Judiciary Committee.  Even those who would want to oppose her, admitted to her dominion of the law and recognized that her record as a judge demonstrates impartiality.  Sen. Graham went so far as to hint during the hearings that he intends to vote for Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation, as did Sen. Hatch and Sen. Lugar.    

Now the big question is what’s next?  How many votes are there for Sotomayor?  First, we have the Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination scheduled for Tuesday, July 21.  It is reported that Republican members of the committee feel they “need more time,” to have some questions answered, although it is unlikely that the vote will be postponed more than one or two days – particularly because these members have had almost exactly the same number of days to review this nomination that were allotted for review of the Justice Roberts nomination.  By all accounts, the full Senate vote will most likely take place before the August recess, and Republicans have made statements against having a filibuster. 

As of today, the Republicans who have officially come out in support of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination are:  Sen. Mel Martinez (FL), Sen. Dick Lugar (IN) (Lugar Statement of Support), and Sen. Olympia Snowe.

At the end of all this, I think one of the greatest contributions of these hearings – and of Judge Sotomayor’s poise, strength, and her intellect – is this idea of the “wise” Latina, which was unknown to many in the U.S. until now.  Now they know the kind of “wise” Latina that I have known all my life, in so many different people – the “wise Latina” I see in my grandmother, when she tells her grandchildren in Spanish that “flies don’t go into open mouths” (i.e., be discreet), the “wise Latina” that my mother has been, teaching me everything from manners, to work ethic, to – you guessed it – empathy.  These women are not only judges, they are our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, our mentors; they are businesswomen, homemakers, doctors…the list is interminable.  Not that I am bothered by curves or lipstick, but I am so proud that – thanks to Judge Sotomayor – the world now knows, or better understands, in a more meaningful way what being “Latina” means to us. 

Update on the Situation in Honduras

Yesterday in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, interim leader Roberto Micheletti made comments offering to step down as long as ousted President Manuel Zelaya is not allowed to return to power.  

According to the AP, Micheletti says he is "willing to leave office if at some point that decision is needed to bring peace and tranquility to the country, but without any return, and I stress that, of former President Zelaya."

It was unclear if the U.S. government had received the proposal to end the standoff over the country's June 28 coup.

On the one hand, it is reported that pro-Zelaya walkouts planned.  Labor leader Israel Salinas, one of the main figures in the pro-Zelaya movement, said protest organizers were talking with union leaders at private companies to see if they could mount a general strike against interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has threatened to jail Zelaya if he tries to return.  In a statement that is indeed worrisome, Salinas said sympathetic unions in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador would try to block border crossings later this week "in solidarity with our struggle."

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is mediating talks aimed at resolving the impasse, but Zelaya has grown frustrated by the lack of progress.

On Monday, Zelaya announced that if the interim government did not agree to reinstate him at the next round of negotiations, "the mediation effort will be considered failed and other measures will be taken." He did not say what those measures would be.

The talks are scheduled to resume this Saturday after two earlier rounds failed to produce a breakthrough. Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending Central America's wars, has urged Zelaya to "be patient."

Micheletti's administration insists Zelaya was ousted legally because he violated the constitution by pushing for a referendum on retooling the charter. It has refused to bend on reinstating him despite international condemnation of the coup, including from the United States.

Regardless, the United States and other governments have now been put in an impossible position.  A responsible democratic government cannot, under any circumstances, stand by a government that took power by military insurrection - a degradation of all the democratic advancements that have been achieved over the past few decades in the Latin America region.  On the other hand, it is difficult to be forced to defend an individual that was similarly acting in a threatening manner to democracy, attempting to institute constitutional changes and referendums that had already been deemed unconstitutional by that country’s own judiciary and its internal system of checks and balances.  

Day 1 of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Political Theatre, A Verdict on Who Embraces the 21st Century

While Republicans are trying to figure out how to plausibly attack Judge Sonia Sotomayor for her "empathy," the Governor of Virginia and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee DNC taped this message in English and Spanish to explain the importance of this Supreme Court nominee.  

As Simon recently stated in a Washington Post article, the Democratic Party has been far more deft at capitalizing on the nation's changing demographics and he has called the Sotomayor nomination another example of the party's recognition of the fact that America will soon be a majority-minority nation.

Watching this video leads me to think several things, particularly as I watch it in conjunction with the Sotomayor hearing:  1) President Obama demonstrates once again how seriously he takes the vote of the Hispanic demographic by having named a man who speaks fluent Spanish and began his career in public service in Honduras as the Chairman of the DNC; 2) there is such a harsh, almost abrasive distinction between the ranting of Sen. Jeff Sessions and this positive message by Gov. Kaine. 

Watching Sen. Sessions, one would think that "empathy" is all of a sudden a vile thing to have - his ranting just shows him as cold and out of touch. 

Using his new code word of "empathy," by saying the judiciary is at a "dangerous crossroads," Sessions did everything but call Judge Sotomayor a "racist."  It is telling that all of the criticism of Sotomayor heard today had nothing to do with her judicial record, and everything to do with Republican "empathy" and subjectivity.  Sessions attempted to veil his attacks by throwing out an amendment here and there, claiming that Judge Sotomayor's decisions aimed to "eviscerate the 2nd amendment," making abortion "easier" and "taking private property." 

In reality, the gun-related case Sotomayor reviewed had to do with a ban in New York on a popular gang weapon known as a "nunchaku." The court upheld the state ban, judging that the the 2nd amendment entails an individual right, which has different legal implications than a "fundamental" right (but how could Sessions know).  In that case, Sotomayor and the panel affirmed the Supreme Court decision on a D.C. gun ban stating that "It is settled law . . . that the 2nd Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right," not individual state rights.

In regards to abortion, the only somewhat related case Sotomayor has ruled on was a case to review the Hyde amendment, in which her opinion upheld the ban on using federal funds to pay for abortion procedures.  Lastly, Sessions might not know of this thing called "eminent domain," which allows for the seizure of private property under very specific terms and with compensation - in that case, yet again, Sotomayor upheld the strict terms of the law. 

As Simon said, "If during the next few weeks the Republicans appear to be playing politics with race rather than raising legitimate issues about Sotomayor's judicial approach it could reinforce the deep impression that the Republican Party's anachronistic and intolerant approach to race and diversity is making them less capable of leading a very different and more racially diverse America of the early 21st century."  

Weekly Immigration Update: More Evidence of Bipartisan Support for Immigration Reform, Urgency of Reform & 287(g) Debate

More Evidence of bipartisan support for immigration reform - On yesterday’s Al Punto, Newt Gingrich expressed his support for fixing the broken immigration system and – importantly – he recognized how it is unsafe and unrealistic to either deport 12 million people or have them remain in the shadows.  He also recognized the need to take on the issue of future flow of workers.  If we do not control the flow of workers expressly, we will suffer the consequences yet again of not having realistic laws that respond to the economic need for people ranging from foreign professionals and unskilled workers.

Jorge Ramos
Now as you know President Barack Obama promised that during his first year in office he would sign a bill that would have a comprehensive immigration bill in the United States, during his first year.  Would you help him? Would you help him achieve this goal?
Newt Gingrich

Absolutely, look I believe as a matter of national security we have to control the border.  I believe it is impossible to control the border without an effective guest worker program and I believe that we should recognize the honest reality that there are millions of hardworking people who are willing to work hard, willing to pay taxes, even to become part of the American system. And we should not lock them away into illegality. So I do think it's possible to design this program, I'd be very eager to reach out and work with President Obama on developing some program like that.

More Evidence Pointing to the Urgency of Fixing the Broken Immigration System – A few stories this week that continue to prove our argument:  it is easy for policy-makers in D.C. to forget that “issues” are a living, breathing reality for many, to lose track and see them merely as “agenda items” that can be programmed and re-scheduled according to their convenience.  However, the fact is that immigrants and U.S. citizens cannot wait, they suffer the impact of our broken immigration system day in and day out.  By comprehensive reform we mean not only adjusting the status of those currently undocumented, we mean fixing the broken immigration court system, fixing the inhumane, unorganized, and unguided system of detention, and fixing the costly, bureaucratic application and naturalization processes at USCIS.   
Mentally ill immigrants have little hope for care in detention
Dallas immigration court’s backlog hits 10-year high

Congratulations to Kalamazoo! – In Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Chief of the Kalamzoo Dept. of Public Safety has issued an order prohibiting police from asking about immigration status during traffic stops or in connection with non-violent crimes under the new policy issued by DHS this week in regards to the 287(g) section of immigration law allowing local police to enforce immigration law.  It will be interesting to see how this new policy plays out.  I have been very critical of the 287(g) program as it stood in the Bush administration because of all the evidence pointing to the ways in which it was abused for racial profiling and to terrorize communities.  I appreciate DHS is attempting to improve the program, however I am very concerned by the fact that 66 new agreements were just entered into under the new rule issued by DHS.  Regardless of the good intentions of our federal agency, the reality is that minority communities do not know the minutiae of these regulations and only understand that police are now “la migra” (in their view), so I am wary of the real-world impact these agreements will have – regardless of what DHS intentions might be.

And I leave you with “A Bipartisan Blueprint For Immigration Reform” by Jeb Bush, Mack McClarty and Edward Alden:


From the Los Angeles Times
A bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform
The U.S. needs to create a system that responds to labor market needs, provides more effective enforcement and offers a fair way to deal with those living here illegally.

By Jeb Bush, Thomas F. McLarty III and Edward Alden
July 13, 2009

Our immigration system has been broken for too long, and the costs of that failure are growing. Getting immigration policy right is fundamental to our national interests -- our economic vitality, our diplomacy and our national security.

In the report of the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy released last week, we lay out what is at stake for the United States. President Obama has made it clear that reform is one of his top priorities, and that is an encouraging and welcome signal.

Immigration has long been America's secret weapon. The United States has attracted an inordinate share of talented and hardworking immigrants, who are enticed here by the world's best universities, the most innovative companies, a vibrant labor market and a welcoming culture. Many leaders in allied nations were educated in the United States, a diplomatic asset that no other country can match. And the contributions of immigrants -- 40% of the science and engineering PhDs in the U.S. are foreign-born, for example -- have helped maintain the scientific and technological leadership that is the foundation of our national security.

But the United States has been making life much tougher for many immigrants. Long processing delays and arbitrary quota backlogs keep out many would-be immigrants, or leave them in an uncertain temporary status for years. Background and other security checks are taking far too long in many cases. Other countries are taking advantage of these mistakes, competing for immigrants by opening their universities to foreign students and providing a faster track to permanent residency and citizenship.

The persistent problem of illegal immigration has also soured many Americans on the benefits of an open system. The presence of nearly 12 million illegal immigrants has diminished respect for the law, weakened labor rights, strained our relations with Mexico and other nations and unfairly burdened public education and social services in many states.

In a post-9/11 world in which the U.S. must be able to thwart terrorist plots by extremists attempting to come here from abroad, illegal migration also creates an unacceptable security risk. Illegal immigration reflects both the inadequacies in our enforcement regime and the failure to provide enough legal channels to meet, under normal economic circumstances, the demands of the U.S. labor market.

Congress and the Obama administration should move ahead on three fronts: reform the legal immigration system so that it responds more adroitly to labor market needs and enhances U.S. competitiveness; restore the integrity of immigration laws through more effective enforcement, especially at the workplace; and offer a fair and orderly way to allow many of those currently living here illegally to earn the right to remain legally.

There are two objections to pushing ahead with such measures now. First, with a deep recession and unemployment nearing 10%, encouraging more immigration seems to make little sense at the moment. That is why the U.S. needs a more flexible system that is responsive to changes in the economy. Family reunification remains a basic and valuable goal, but employment-based immigration and temporary-worker programs should be allowed to fluctuate with economic cycles, rather than being subject to rigid quotas. That means numbers should go up when the economy grows but fall during recessions.

Second, some argue that this formula repeats the mistake of the 1986 reform law, which did nothing to stop illegal immigration. But the circumstances now are very different. In 1990, the U.S. had fewer than 3,000 Border Patrol agents. Today, there are almost 20,000 agents, a near doubling in the last four years alone. The Department of Homeland Security is also investing heavily in surveillance and other technologies to increase control over the borders.

Electronic verification -- which did not exist in the 1990s -- will soon allow for quick and accurate verification that an employee is authorized to work here. Our task force recommends that employers who use these systems faithfully be rewarded, while companies that persist in hiring illegal immigrants should face tougher sanctions, including criminal penalties and the possibility of civil actions. This will substantially reduce the ability of illegal immigrants to find work in the United States.

In part because of such measures, illegal immigration to the U.S. has fallen to its lowest levels since the mid-1970s. When the economy recovers, those numbers are likely to rise. But Congress and the administration have an opportunity now to develop and put in place an immigration strategy for the recovery by offering new legal paths for immigration and temporary work, along with tough enforcement of the law.

We urge Congress not to keep reprising the stale debates over enforcement-first versus comprehensive reform. U.S. national interests will not be served unless both are priorities. Our group, which includes Democrats and Republicans, shows that a consensus is possible. It's time to get on with the job.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. McLarty III are co-chairmen and Edward Alden is director of a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy.

Another Good Argument for Conservatives on Immigration Reform: Local Law Enforcement Calls for It


As you begin the experience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., one of the first images you encounter is a photo of a Nazisoldier standing with a German police officer. Conspicuously, the identical theme exists at Yad VaShem, Israel's memorial to Holocaust victims.

The Nazi propaganda and hatred effort did not begin with imprisonment and genocide. It was instituted subtly, declaring the criminality of those deemed inferior. Laws were developed and regulations restricting movement, mandating identification and limiting human rights were also passed. Co-opting the trusted local constabulary was instrumental in enforcement of those laws.

Unfortunately, throughout history local law enforcement has been an extremely effective arm of oppression. How many individuals in the United States were lynched, under the color of authority, for violations of Jim Crow laws?

Chris Burbank, The Salt Lake Tribune

This week marked the starting date of Utah’s new “immigration strike force,” a new crime-fighting crew that will allegedly target felony-level crimes committed by undocumented residents.  The price tag for the new enforcement effort comes in just under $900,000.  Unlike most 287(g) agreements, which are unfunded mandates, the bill for this “strike force” is footed by all federal taxpayers, as it was financed with – you guessed it – stimulus funds.

Local law enforcement should diligently continue to arrest serious criminal offenders and, and certainly refer dangerous criminals to federal authorities. But civil immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and it is a well-documented fact that avoiding mixing civil immigration law with persecution of crimes is essential to the well-being of our neighborhoods.

Asking local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, as Utah's new law does, is contrary to our mission, marginalizes significant segments of the population, and complicates and ultimately harms effective community policing.  Communities suffer a series of unintended consequences, as has been emphasized by police chiefs all over the country - including Miami, Northern Virginia - as they call for federal immigration reform. In cases like Prince William County, VA, we've had time to see the hearmful effects of these laws paly out.  

Chiefs John Timoney of Miami and Art Acevedo of Austin, Texas; and former Chief Art Venegas of Sacramento, Calif., called for the federal government to fix the broken immigration system at an event hosted by America’s Voice.  

The Austin chief told the press, "economic immigrants" - people who come to the U.S. in search of employment or a better life - shouldn't be treated as criminals because, they're in violation of civil statutes, not criminal laws.

The chiefs said they wouldn't turn a blind eye to crimes committed by illegal residents but denied such crime was a major concern in their precincts.  Timoney reported that there is often less crime in the immigrant communities because of fear of deportation.

But the Chiefs report that fear also hurts law enforcement efforts.  "We cannot have a whole community of people afraid of coming forward when the time is absolutely critical to solving a case," Venegas said.

Passing immigration reform will only add to the safety of our communities and make our local police departments’ job much easier.  As most recently documented in its report on a yearlong study by the Police Foundation, the cost of participating in 287(g) and like programs far outweighs the benefits (I suppose unless you can get taxpayers from all over the country to chip in, as was the case in Utah). 

The Salt Lake Tribune article by Mr. Burbank continues: 

It is pointedly ironic that the state of Utah, founded by Mormon pioneers who immigrated to the region seeking religious freedom and escape from local governmental persecution, has chosen to assume a negative and biased position toward immigrants and all individuals different from the majority.

We have already observed a chilling effect upon victims and witnesses as well as a polarization within neighborhoods regarding immigration legislation (Senate Bill 81) that went into effect on Wednesday. Often unrecognized in the debate is the significant adverse impact upon all individuals of color. How is a police officer to determine status without detaining and questioning anyone who speaks, looks or acts as if they might be from another nation?

For many years, Washington has failed to repair a broken immigration system, and local police officers have been irresponsibly designated to pick up the slack. By increasing our role in civil immigration action, state and local officers are placed in the untenable position of potentially engaging in unconstitutional racial profiling while attempting to maintain trust within the communities we protect.


Weekly Immigration Update (con.): E-verify controversy, Al Franken, and CIR Recommended by Task Force for Economy, Security

E-VERIFY - DHS reported today that starting Sept. 8, the E-Verify system, an online tool that checks a worker's Social Security number and immigration status, will be mandatory for all  contractors and subcontractors and their employees assigned to federal contracts.  Moreover, these contractors and subcontrators now have to run all employees - not just new hires - though the system.

Soon after the announcement, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment to the FY10 Homeland Security appropriations bill offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions that would make the soon-to-expire – and increasingly criticized – E-Verify program permanent.  

A lesser-known provision was inserted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to permanently authorize the EB-5 visa program, which enables foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in the United States to obtain a green card (yes, a fact unknown to most Americans is that you CAN buy a legitimate green card…if you can afford it).  

The Senate also voted 54-44 to adopt an amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), that would require the department to build up to 700 miles of fencing along the Southwest border (because those taxpayer dollars have been SO well spent until now) – nice way for those Republicans to “cut back unnecessary spending.”  

AL FRANKEN – WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM? – Yes, with Franken in the Senate Dems now have 60 votes.  Yes, Democrats have the votes, but many are still missing the backbone to fix the broken immigration system.  While Franken is exemplary in his support of immigration reform, this is still not the case for many of his colleagues. 

The vote on the e-verify amendment presented the first break between Franken and the Senior Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar (Dem leadership and Franken voted against the amendment, Klobuchar voted in favor).  It is these kinds of New Dems who will have to be whipped into shape (figuratively) to recognize the urgency and need for immigration reform.  

HOW TO CONVINCE THEM? – Many of us who study the issue of immigration on a daily basis are fully aware of the economic and social net benefit that reform will bring to all Americans.  Luckily, today's developments coincided with the release of a bipartisan task force report that said overhauling the nation's immigration system and giving millions of undocumented workers a path to legal citizenship is critical to America's national security and economic interests.  Comprehensive legislative changes should be "a first-tier priority for the Obama administration and Congress," said the report, released by a Council on Foreign Relations task force led by former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and Thomas (Mack) McLarty, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.

The authors of the report essentially reiterated what I wrote in my Weekly Update on Monday:  "The United States, a country shaped by generations of immigrants and their descendants, is badly mishandling its immigration policy, with serious consequences for its standing in the world," the report said.

Among other things, McLarty disputed the notion that giving undocumented workers now in the country a path to citizenship would be akin to giving them amnesty. They would have to first pay fines, learn English, assimilate and wait behind current applicants, McLarty said.


Weekly Immigration Update: Fourth of July - Why Immigration Reform Is Our Patriotic Duty, Now

This Fourth of July weekend the Statue of Liberty – the most recognizable symbol of the “American Dream” – was once again made fully available to visitors.  It is now as before, "From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome," as Emma Lazarus once wrote in a poem now engraved inside the monument.  Sadly, this is not the reality faced by most immigrants today (regardless of whether they are “legal” or “illegal”) – particularly Mexican and Hispanic immigrants.  We can only hope that the spirit of the founding fathers and the spirit that led us to erect a “Statue of Liberty” prevail in Washington, D.C. in the coming months, and an entire overhaul of the U.S. immigration system is enacted.

In the same patriotic spirit, this weekend, 237 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen were sworn in to become American citizens in Iraq. They are from 59 countries, mostly Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq. As he gave the keynote remarks of the ceremony, Vice President Biden noted that caring for troops abroad and at home is the “sacred obligation” of this nation. Yet many of the soldiers dying for our country today, many of those who were sworn in this weekend, come from “mixed status” families and – in addition to the stress caused by their professional responsibility – have to worry about adjusting their own immigration status or the possible deportation of a loved one.  This added stress will continue until the passage of immigration reform legislation.  

According to the military, with this ceremony, roughly 3000 service members will have become naturalized citizens. But what of the service members who are legal residents but not yet citizens? They remain in waiting.  U.S. legal residents who are not yet citizens and happen to be of Mexican origin can take a bullet – as Americans – because of, and to defend, the American ideals that they believe in but ironically they cannot take a seat at a desk in an agency of the federal government to fight for those same freedoms in a different capacity.  I think our founding fathers would be appalled if they witnessed such a double-standard.

And what of soldiers' families? It is a sad irony that in addition to the fight these soldiers endure on the field, they must also suffer the lack of due process often afforded to their families by the country they serve; or have family that cannot come out of the shadows; and if they have family that is “doing things right” and “waiting in line” to be joined with them legally in the U.S., they must endure years of being processed through an unfairly costly and unfairly broken immigration system.   

In his speech, Vice President Biden invoked the Statue of Liberty’s famous inscription:

 “Give me your tired your poor,” very accurately adding, “to be honest I’m not so sure that its legendary inscription is applicable to this group here today, because when I look at the men and women sitting out in front of me here, I’m having a hard time because I don’t see them in terms of tired, poor or huddled.” If I had to write an inscription, he added, "I would say give me your best, your brightest and your bravest. Give me your warriors your heroes who will enhance our great nation and strive to keep her free."

The key to understanding the immigration issue is the last point - immigrants are of all colors, from all creeds and all regions, and they are everything from agricultural workers, to service employees, to some of the most talented lawyers, scientists, and entrepreneurs in the world.  To America’s great fortune, many would like to be here.  Additionally, all the polling data demonstrates that a resounding majority of American voters side with immigrants on the need to fix the broken immigration system.  Only 3% of voters polled in swing states blamed immigrants for the problems caused by the broken immigration system – while over 2/3 blamed the U.S. Congress and federal government (presumably for its inaction on this front).

At a time when our economy has shrunk over 5%, we need the best and the brightest here; we need them to create jobs here to help us through this economic crisis. 

Biden went on: “There’s always room for more Americans, always room for more Americans. It’s the lifeblood of our country.  You know, over 50 countries represented here today, men and women, black and Asian, Hispanics.”

Per the press pool:
Biden went on to recount a story from when he was in Kosovo. Milosevic had just capitulated, he said, and he had a Kosovar driver who was “very proud to drive a United States Senator around.”  They headed out over a rutted and muddy road, and they saw a lot of construction. “America, America” the driver said, pointing to all the construction activity.  Then at a checkpoint they came upon a female colonel, a black captain, a white sergeant and a Hispanic private, Biden said. “And I pointed and I said, no – there’s America, that’s America and until you understand it here, you’ll never be free.”

Unfortunately there are many in our country today and in the halls of Congress who still do not understand Vice President Biden’s point.  Just last week, 50 Democratic members of Congress voted for an amendment for greater enforcement of the overwhelmingly discredited E-verify program in appropriations legislation.  If their interest is rule of law, then we hope they recognize the need to step up and fix the broken immigration system.

As President Obama stated on July 4, the spirit of our founding fathers is one that, “we are called to show once more. We are facing an array of challenges on a scale unseen in our time.”  He went on to say that, “Meeting these extraordinary challenges will require an extraordinary effort on the part of every American. And that is an effort we cannot defer any longer.”  Unfortunately, of all the challenges he mentioned – health care, climate change, the economy, even dependence on oil – not once did he mention the broken immigration system that affects so many millions of Americans today.

I have no doubt of the President’s genuine desire and commitment to passing immigration reform, but I do hope that his calls to action and his call for an “extraordinary effort on the part of every American,” will ring again for immigration reform.  Because unlike the other reforms mentioned, immigration reform will serve as an immediate net gain to the U.S. economically, culturally, and to a great extent, the moral authority of America depends on it.  

Make no mistake – immigration reform is urgent.  The broken immigration system affects all Americans.  If there is any doubt on anyone’s mind as to the urgency of reform, I would only highlight the fact that hate crimes against Hispanics (the group the media has associated the most with “illegal immigration”) have risen 40% over the past four years.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that that the number of hate groups targeting Latinos and immigrants has increased by 54% since 2000.

These are not just statistics:
- Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old immigrant, was brutally beaten to death in July of last year by a group of teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania (several with a criminal record) who got off with a ridiculous 6 month sentence.  Friends of Ramirez have been told to get out of Shenandoah, "or you're gonna to be laying effin next to him." Ramirez was married to a native-born American and left a 1 year old daughter. 

- November 8, 2008, in Suffolk County, New York, 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was going to visit a friend to watch a movie when he was brutally attacked and beaten to death for no apparent reason.  Originally from Ecuador, he had lived in this country for 16 years. 

- Less than a month later, two Ecuadorean brothers were assaulted by three men yelling anti-Latino slurs in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. One of the brothers, a business man who had lived in the U.S. for ten years, died as a result of his injuries. 

- Most recently, a Hispanic 9 year old girl and her father were brutally gunned down in front of their wife and mother by Minutemen followers who broke into their home in the middle of the night and claimed the family was part of a “Mexican gang.”

This is not a side of America that can be tolerated, much less encouraged by mainstream media and our own community.  And inaction on our part enables this kind of intolerance.  Hate has always been present. But passage of comprehensive immigration reform will undoubtedly take much of the air out of the growing balloon of hate and some of the most shocking displays of racism that we have seen in a generation.

It is not an option; it is a necessity for all Americans - for our soldiers, for our teachers, for our families, for our scientists, for our friends.  Make no mistake about it; fixing the broken immigration system is an urgent national challenge.  And to the naysayers, I repeat the words of President Obama on Independence Day: 

These naysayers have short memories. They forget that we, as a people, did not get here by standing pat in a time of change. We did not get here by doing what was easy. That is not how a cluster of 13 colonies became the United States of America.

We got here by doing the right thing, by fighting for a legacy greater than ourselves. 

The Latest on Honduras

In the first successful military overthrow of a government in Central America in 16 years, Honduras’ military deposed the country’s President yesterday.  After the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran Congress designated Roberto Micheletti as his successor.

The New York Times writes about Hemispheric unity during this time of crisis, and others comment on talks held by regional leaders and the Latin American response in the wake of the coup.  Much attention has been placed on the U.S. reaction – below you'll find the statement issued by President Barack Obama.  For the latest news analysis on the situation in Honduras, click here.


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                                          June 28, 2009

Statement from President on the situation in Honduras

"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."



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