Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

Since 2007, NDN has a demonstrated commitment to achieving a sensible immigration system that reflects the needs of the 21st century. NDN began to fight for reform by investing in a Spanish-language radio and television media campaign designed to counter anti-immigrant campaigns.  In addition to reaching out to media outlets, NDN has regularly hosted forums with members of Congress to discuss proposals to fix our current broken immigration system. Through research and polling, conducted most recently among voters in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico, NDN has found that a majority of Americans support a legislative overhaul to fix the broken immigration system, as opposed to passing limited enforcement measures.  

Below, please find some past highlights of our work on immigration reform:



NDN's Immigration Blog

2010 Highlights

Senator Robert Menendez's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 Summary

NDN Statement on New Immigration Framework

Immigration Reform Enters a New Phase by Simon Rosenberg

Commentary on Arizona Bill by Alicia Menendez

2009 Highlights

Presentation: Making the Case for Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform this Year

7 Reasons Why Congress Should Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this Year by Simon Rosenberg

Video: Simon Rosenberg makes his case on why congress should pass CIR

Event: Politics & Policy: What to Expect from the Immigration Debate

Video: NDN Forum on Immigration Reform

The Census and Immigration Reform by Simon Rosenberg

Senator Kennedy and CIR by Andres Ramirez

2007 - 2008 Highlights

Event: "Immigration Reform and the Next Administration" - at the DNC in Denver

Polling: Immigration Polling in battleground states

A Responsible Immigration Policy by Simon Rosenberg

Can Democrats Seize the Opportunity the Immigration Debate Offers Them? by Simon Rosenberg

Event: NDN Bicameral Event for CIR


The Presidents Speech: A Note About "Operational Control" Along The United States Mexico Border

Some of the fact checks on the Presidents speech have gotten caught up on one particular metric which the President used to show progress along the border.  ABC's Political Punch has a piece up on the border security portion of the Presidents speech. The first fact they check is on the Presidents assertion that the border fence is complete:

1)“They wanted a fence,” the president said. “Well, that fence is now basically complete.”

ABC Fact Check:The president is referring to the fact that 649 miles of fencing have been completed out of 652 miles of fencing mandated by Congress. (Out of 1,969 miles of border with Mexico.) That is factually correct, according to a February 2011 study of the border by the Government Accountability Office.

This is all good so far, but then the fact checkers assert the following:

More to the point, the border remains quite porous.

The Border Patrol, per the GAO study, has achieved “varying levels of operational control for 873 of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles at the end of fiscal year 2010…GAO’s preliminary analysis of the 873 border miles under operational control in 2010 showed that about 129 miles (15 percent) were classified as ‘controlled’ and the remaining 85 percent were classified as ‘managed.’”

Now this may get a bit wonky, but the above statement is somewhat misleading. Admittedly this is more of a nuance issue then anything else, but if you do not know what the actual definitions of "Operational Control" vs. "Managed" then the border does indeed sound porous, when it is in fact not... 

So according to that same GAO Report, Operational Control is the highest level of control a border sector can have. To be under operational control, the sector must show: Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.

Not all sectors of the border need to be under operational control, certainly it would be desirable but not necessary to produce the results borne out in the FBI Crime Statistics which show that crime rates on the border are down to all time lows.

In fact digging a bit deeper here the big story should be, and this is what the president was referencing yesterday, that 85 percent of the border is managed. In unpacking the quote referenced in the ABC article this statistic points to the broader reality along the border, while not secure it is certainly safer then it has ever been.

A "Managed Border Sector" means that the sector is: multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.

This definition is nearly exactly the same level classification as the Operational definition, but given that there are four lower classifications, and that the number of sectors under operational control have icreased both both full years President Obama has been in office, things are getting under control.

Last Year There Were More Homicides In Speaker Boehner's District Then In The Four Largest Texas border Cities Combined

Ahead of President Obama's speech on immigration Speaker of the House John Boehner said the following to Roll Call, “Our first priority must be ending the violence at the border — we really can’t deal with other issues until it is secure.”

Today Congressman Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, a Border City which is considered one of the safest cities in the country, pointed out that the murder rate in Speaker Boehner's district was higher then those in all four of Texas border cities. His full statement can be seen here, quotes and statistics can be seen below:

The Speaker's own district in Dayton, Ohio saw more homicides in 2009 and 2010 than Texas' four largest border cities combined, despite the fact that Dayton's population of 141,500 is only about one-tenth of the size by comparison. According to the most recent City Crime Rankings Survey by CQ Press, Ohio's cities have higher rates of violence and crime in every category, including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft than border communities.

The statistics dont lie, the City Crime Ratings do show that the four Texas border states have a lower crime rate then Dayton, OH the Speakers District:

What To Expect Ahead Of The Presidents Speech On Immigration

Upon hearing that President Barack Obama will be giving a key note address on immigration at the Border, one may wonder why any sane politician would combine two such highly charged political hot potatoes in a single speech.

Yet, if anyone can speak to the facts surrounding both the border and immigration in a measured and tempered way it would be the President.

The President is giving his speech on the Border so it is highly likely that he will touch on some of the steps his administration has taken to make the region safer. It is also a safe bet that there will be some discussion of enforcement of current immigration laws and how the system as a whole must be fixed.

Some of this is reflexive, as the Republican Party has continually accused his administration and Congressional Democrats as a whole of being weak on enforcement and border security.

I have argued against the idea that Democrats are weak on enforcement before, however given the Presidents upcoming speech it is important to contextualize why addressing the issues of enforcement and border security is important from both a rhetorical and process standpoint in overhauling our current immigration system.

There is broad consensus that enforcement of current immigration laws and making the border region safer is in the best interest of the country and creates a path forward for broader overhauls.

What has been lost in the debate is why:

Since 2005 the current immigration debate has always been framed as a three legged stool: enforcement, future flow, dealing with the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently here. There is no sequential order in accomplishing these tasks; in fact the best way to accomplish these goals would be in tandem. Much like a stool, if you only utilize two of these legs, then the structure of the endeavor is compromised and the entire enterprise fails.

The fact that there is a lack of consensus that the President enforces immigration laws is a curious development. Recently immigration activists have become increasingly frustrated with what they see as an enforcement agenda and conservative pundits and politicians have continued to claim that there has been not enough enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.

In a way Immigration advocates (which I consider myself) are right, since the last major immigration legislation passed in 1996 (by a Democratic President written by a Republican Congress) was almost entirely enforcement and security based.

Republican's may have a point as well, but for the wrong reason. This Administration has put unprecedented amounts of resources towards the border and enforcement. Showing real results, crime on the border is down, in Texas where the President is giving his speech from 2008 to 2009 violent crime is down 1.6%, murder is also down 3.1% and aggravated assault has dropped by 3.1%. According to the 2010 City Crime Rankings the City of El Paso, which neighbors Ciudad Juarez one of the most dangerous cities in the world, has been rated the safest large city in America. What is more the according to the same report, the two largest border cities, El Paso and San Diego, are among the five safest in the nation.

Interior enforcement is also at an all time high. The Administration is currently deporting record levels of criminal immigrants at nearly four thousand every two year. There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. We are at the highest rates of deportation in the history of the country, even at this maximum capacity rate DHS will never be able to deport enough criminal aliens to meet the expectations of the GOP. The real problem here is that enforcement alone is quite simply not the solution.

Senior level officials at the Department of Homeland Security, starting with Janet Napolitano on down have continued to note that they will continue to enforce the laws as they are written, but a real solution must come from Congress because enforcement alone is not the solution.

Going back to that three legged stool on immigration, Democrats with the help of their Republican friends along with the current administration have done a lot on enforcement and border security. The problem is not that the country needs more enforcement or less, it is that at the very least we should be having conversations about dealing with future flow and the 11 million currently here.

With the President's speech tomorrow let's hope we can put all of this narrow minded talk on border security enforcement in perspective and broaden the conversation to ways in which we can truly fix our broken immigration system.

Local Law Enforcement On The Border: Sheriff Ralph Ogden On How Unprecedented Amount Of Resources Made The Yuma Sector Safer

NDN was fortunate enough to be invited down to Arizona, to talk to local law enforcement officials who live and work along the border regarding their views on what is happening in the region between Mexico and the United States. 

Next in our series of interviews is Yuma County Sheriff Ralph E. Ogden.  Sheriff Ogden began his law enforcement career with the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in 1970 after completing four years of service in the United States Marine Corps.  His 40 year career began as a dispatcher and jailer in Parker.  He was promoted to Deputy one year later and transferred to Wellton to become the area Sergeant.  In November 1980, he became Chief Deputy for the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office and served in that position until December 1992.

As the Sheriff of Yuma, Mr. Ogden notes that 7 to 8 years ago, the Yuma sector of the border was in a similar situation to Tucson, however since then there has been an unprecedented amount of resources allocated to the border. This has resulted in an area which is safe with little traffic from drug or human smuggling.

Local Law Enforcement On The Border: Sheriff Tony Estrada On The Merits Of Making The Border Safe Vs. Trying To Seal It

NDN was fortunate enough to be invited down to Arizona, to talk to local law enforcement officials regarding their views on what is happening along the border between Mexico and the United States.

Next in our series of interview is Sheriff Tony Estrada, who was first sworn into office on January 1, 1993. Sheriff Estrada was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, immigrated with his family as an infant and grew up in Nogales, Arizona. He started his law enforcement career as a dispatcher with the Nogales Police Department and worked his way up through the ranks, retiring as a captain in 1991.

Below is his video, and it is worth watching as the Sheriff, gives a thoughtful mediation on the idea of being safer versus actually sealing the border. In particular the Sheriff notes that the border has been active and will always be active with commerce and the movement of people legally. The idea that it be sealed or shut down ignores the positive impact of the border on communities living there.

Sheriff Estrada also gives a brief overview of the changes along the border giving his four decades of being a law enforcement officer along the Border.

U.S. Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce Opposes Mandatory E-Verify In Florida Immigration Legislation

As Florida continues to grapple with passing an Arizona style immigration law which would require all state businesses to use E-Verify a federal employment verification system, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has weighed in with its opposition to the proposed legislation.

Marcos Restrepo has the full story at The Florida Independent which can be read here:

In a letter sent to Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolis, R-Merritt Island, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce voiced its opposition yesterday to the state Senate’s proposed immigration-enforcement bill, “for fear of the economic impact such legislation will have on the state of Florida.” 

Senate Bill 2040 would among other things:

  • Mandate the use of E-Verify, a federal employee eligibility-verification program,
  • Require local law enforcement to establish Section 287(g) agreements with the federal government.

Section 287(g) is a controversial immigration-enforcement program that authorizes local law officers to enforce federal immigration law. The full legislation can be read here.

The Hispanic Chamber letter agrees the immigration system is broken and that immigration policy should be developed by the federal government. It adds that Florida residents are right to be concerned about immigration, but that when a state takes on this issue, it sees unintended consequences.

The letter points out that when the Arizona passed immigration enforcement law S.B. 1070 the Hispanic Chamber did not boycott the state but took a fact-based and business response. They voiced their opposition.

The full letter can be read here.

E-Verify and Arizona Style Enforcement Law At The Center of Florida Immigration Debate

Two immigration bills, one in the state House the other in the state Senate, are causing protest from immigration activists and business leaders in Florida.

Laura Munoz of The Associated Press has the full story here:

Immigrant advocates say components of the House bill closely resemble the very ones in Arizona's new immigration law that a federal appeals court recently upheld were unconstitutional. Florida's House bill would authorize local law enforcement to check out the immigration status of anyone under investigation, even if the individual had never been arrested. And it would allow local officers to check the immigration status whenever they suspected someone is in the country illegally. The House bill also requires employers to use the federal government's E-Verify work authorization program.

Both advocates for and against stronger immigration laws are also focused on E-Verify, an employment verification system that has proven controversial for Florida Lawmakers:

The Senate bill is more limited, but it still requires local law enforcement check the immigration status of inmates, encouraging them to go beyond simply using federal criminal and immigration databases. The Senate bill would also allow businesses to let employees use a driver's license as proof they are authorized to work, instead of the E-Verify program. Supporters of stronger immigration enforcement say the Senate version of the bill is worthless because driver licenses from other states are too easy to forge and won't prove work eligibility.

Joyce Tarnow of the Floridians for a Sustainable Population was dissapointed that the Senate Bill did not require businesses in the state to use E-Verify:

Deeply disappointed with the Senate version of the bill, not because its enforcement provisions are watered down but because it doesn't make E-verify mandatory. She noted the latest review of the program by the U.S. Congress found it was accurate nearly 98 percent of the time. "E-verify is free, easy to use, highly accurate," she said, adding, "The agricultural industry and hotel industries just don't want to lose their access to cheap labor. It's the simplest, clearest way to have people self-deport."

More state legislatures are beginning to recognize that Arizona style laws may not be the best way to deal with immigration issues. The question may now become, how best to utilize the existing tools in the federal enforcement tool kit.

Making E-Verify mandatory, is coming up more often in individual states as a way for states to better enforce immigration laws. Utilizing existing federal employer verification programs is currently not mandatory nation wide.

NAVICUS an employment screening software organization that is part of the National Association of Professional Background Sreeners has a handy map up that shows which states require employment screeners and which do not, it can be seen below:

States in the Red have passed mandatory E-Verify, states in the orange recommend using E-Verify and states in the blue have no E-Verify law.

As Congress looks for ways in which the federal government can beef up enforcement nationwide, could a mandatory E-Verify be far behind?

A Conversation With Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan on The Importance of The 21st Century Border

NDN and NPI was proud to host the Ambassador of Mexico Arturo Sarukhan for a key note speech at our Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas event.

The Ambassador did an excellent job of explaining why the 21st Century Border Initiative is such a key part of the United States and Mexico's intermestic relationship.  Ambassador Sarukhan did this by first contextualizing the current relationship between the United States and Mexico in a historical way, then he highlighted the positive economic ties between the our two countries, finally concluding with the improvements in security along the border.

Ambassador Sarukhan started his speech by putting the current U.S. - Mexico relationship in a historical context:

Let me start with why the relationship is strategic and how the 21st century  border vision fits into this strategic concept.  Let me start by reminding some of you who follow US-Mexico issues or Mexican foreign policy curtly, that many, many years ago—decades ago—I’ll name the sin but not the sinner, a then-sitting Mexican president went to Singapore to meet Premier Lee Kuan Yew, on what was the first trip a Mexican president had ever made to Singapore. 

They sit down, and in the usual chit chat that accompanies formal diplomatic meetings, Premier Lee Kuan Yew asks this Mexican president—“Mr. President, remind me how many kilometers of a border does Mexico share with the United States?”  And this Mexican president responded—“Unfortunately, 3,000 kilometers.”  Lee Quan Yew kind of stayed silent for about ten seconds, scratched his head, and looked at this Mexican president and said—“Mr. President, what would Singapore give for one kilometer of a border with the United States.”

What this Mexican president said 25 plus years ago, A) would never be said by any serious, responsible Mexican public official or president or politician today (and that’s a sign of how much the relationship has changed) and B) did not take into account what precisely the 21st century border vision is trying to do, which is to understand the huge synergies that exist because of this 3,000 kilometer border that both countries share.  And if you look at how the border has played a role in the creation of this strategic relationship, you just have to look at trade and the role that trade has played in changing the face and the nature of this bilateral relationship. 

He then highlighted the mutual benefit of the North American Free Trade Agreement which not only economically benefitted both countries but strengthened ties between the United States and Mexico while also not shedding jobs in America:

Now this is too sophisticated of a crowd for me to come in and say that every single one of those 40 million jobs was the direct result of NAFTA.  But what I think we can fairly say is that the Ross Perot sucking sound of jobs never materialized because of NAFTA—40 million new, additional jobs. 

Annual trade among NAFTA partners now total $946 billion, more than triple what it was in 1993.  US exports to Mexico have risen 221.2%.  Mexican exports to the US have grown 364% and Mexican exports to Canada have grown 641.1%. 

And actually, Simon, it’s slightly different and depends on where your orientation and focus is.  If your focus is on additional trans-Atlantic ties with Western Europe, Mexico buys more US goods than the combined purchases of Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy.  If your focus is on the South, Mexico buys more goods than all of the rest of South America put together.  And if you’re focused east towards the Pacific, Mexico buys more than what Japan and China together buy from the United States.   Regardless of over all the ballyhoo over China these days, for every dollar that China is buying from the United States, Mexico and Canada together are buying nine dollars of American exports. 

We are your second largest buyer of exports on the face of the earth.  And we have become the second largest trading partner of the United States these last three trimesters because of the surge that we have seen in Mexico’s economy coming off the effects of the 2009 recession.  If you look at some of these trade numbers, there’s an impressive story to be told as to how NAFTA changed the dynamics of our bilateral relationship and why we are doing what we’re doing, which I’ll explain in a few minutes regarding the 21st century declaration and vision.

He finished by discussing the postive security gains made along the border and how the United States and Mexico must now work together to create more infrastructure to continue harnessing the positive economic benefits from our two countries:

for the first time in the history of the relationship with the United States, we have one holistic vision for border management. 

We have eliminated the old stuffed pipe system in which each one of these issues was dealt with in a separate bin, and there was connection or connectivity of the different issues that were critical to understanding the border and the dynamics on the border.  This concept and this vision and the articulation of these policies is doing, it is ensuring as we move forward on security, we’re also moving forward on trade facilitation, as we move forward on how to trigger economic growth and wellbeing on the border. 

We’re also tackling environmental degradation on the border.  How do we deal with critical issues like water?  How do we deal with migratory species going back and forth across our common border?  This is the first time in our bilateral relationship that we have a common, articulated, unified vision of dealing with challenges on the border.

Click here for the full transcript.

LA Times: Plunge in Border Crossings Leaves Agents Fighting Boredom

According to the LA Times, arrests of illegal crossers along the Southwest border dropped more than two-thirds from 2000 to 2010, from 1.6 million to 448,000.

The Department of Homeland Security gauges success in a sector along the border not by an increase in apprehensions but by a drop in the number of apprehensions.  When Customs and Border Protection identifies an area were there have been a high rate of encounters with migrant crossers they flood the area with personell, at which point you have a high rate of apprehensions. If all goes well the number of apprehensions drop because the area is secured.

Richard Morasi of The Los Angeles Times has the full story here:

Wild foot chases and dust-swirling car pursuits may be the adrenaline-pumping stuff of recruitment efforts, but agents on the U.S.-Mexico border these days have to deal with a more mundane occupational reality: the boredom of guarding a frontier where illegal crossings have dipped to record low levels.

No where is this more appearent then in Yuma, AZ were The statistics speak for themselves:

Then double and triple fencing went up. Stadium lighting was installed. Every arrested immigrant, instead of being returned to Mexico, was jailed. Outside town, workers laid steel barriers on previously wide-open borders to block drug-smuggling vehicles from driving through.

In Yuma From 2005 to 2010, apprehensions of immigrants:

  • Dropped 95%, from 138,460 to 7,116.
  • Vehicle drive-throughs fell from 2,700 to 21 during the same period.
  • Farmers are now able to plant crops in once-trampled fields.
  • Residents don't find immigrants hiding under their cars anymore.

With such stark drops in apprehensions along the border and with an increase in the number of border patrol agents in the area many who joined the border patrol are seeing little in the way of action. The reports in this story hardly sound like messages from a war torn region. Hopefully local and national politicians take notice.

This is further evidence that this administrations border strategy is working, please look at all the work we at NDN have done to highlight the positive effect of the border at our 21st Century Border page.

Also make sure to watch Secretary Napolitano's recent speech on the advances made along the border.

What The The Drug War Hitting Central America Means For The 21st Century Border

One of the guiding principals of NDN's The 21st Century Border Initiative has been that the unprecedented resources and high levels of cooperation between the United States and Mexico along the southern border has created a safer region.

The effects of this cooperation and resources are now being felt in Mexico.  The Economist has written a cover story on how many of the drug gangs who came from Columbia into Mexico are moving into Central America. The full story can be read here:

Now violence is escalating once more in Central America, for a new reason. Two decades ago the United States Coast Guard shut down the Caribbean cocaine route, so the trade shifted to Mexico. Mexico has started to fight back; and its continuing offensive against the drugs mafias has pushed them down into Central America.

The article notes that whatever the violence level felt in Mexico is nothing compared to what is now happening in Central America:

Whatever the weaknesses of the Mexican state, it is a Leviathan compared with the likes of Guatemala or Honduras. Large areas of Guatemala—including some of its prisons—are out of the government’s control; and, despite the efforts of its president, the government is infiltrated by the mafia. The countries of Central America’s northern triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are now among the most violent places on earth, deadlier even than most conventional war zones (see article). So weak are their judicial systems that in Guatemala, for example, only one murder in 20 is punished.

While this is by no means an outright victory in what has turned into a long war in Mexico, it is a sign that some progress is being made in creating a safer region along the southern border.

Below is an interactive map of Mexico's s drug system, since the creation of this map in February of this year some of the cartel members responsible for the spikes in deaths have moved out of the region:

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