Posts Tagged ‘immigration reform’

Administration Promises Fixes to Immigration System in Lieu of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Monday, November 17th, 2014

The Obama Administration has conceded that comprehensive immigration reform will not be enacted in the foreseeable future and thus has promised to use executive authority through regulatory reform and other mechanisms to address some of the urgent problems facing our immigration system. While the President announced that such measures would be initiated by the end of August, more recently the Administration decided that any executive actions will have to wait until after the November 6 mid-term elections for fear that pro-immigration candidates as well as Democrats in general would be penalized at the polls for his actions.

Under already-existing authority, the President can pursue a number of actions that could help families and businesses that rely on foreign personnel. Some of these measures could include (1) extending DACA relief to parents of those young adults who have already received DACA relief; (2) granting work authorization and “Deferred Action” to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children; and (3) counting only principal visa applicants against visa quotas (rather than counting both principals and their derivative family members) in an effort to clear up extreme backlogs for green cards that stretch into decades for certain categories.

In a new study released by the American Immigration Council, the authors of Executive Grants of Temporary Immigration Relief, 1956–Present, found that since at least 1956, every U.S. president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance. The publication includes a chart of 39 examples that span actions large and small, taken over many years, sometimes by multiple administrations. Some presidents announced programs while legislation was pending. Other presidents responded to humanitarian crises. Still others made compelling choices to assist individuals in need when the law failed to address their needs or changes in circumstance.

Stay tuned.

Unaccompanied Minors from Central America: What’s Happening on the Ground and Why This is Not a Border Security Crisis But a Crisis Demanding Humanitarian Relief

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

For much of the summer, the immigration news has been dominated by the recent surge of some 60,000 unaccompanied minors and young children with their mothers fleeing the violence and lawlessness in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Central American humanitarian crisis has resulted in a national debate about how to treat this vulnerable population: send them back to their home countries or grant them humanitarian relief in the United States.  Below is a very brief overview of what the federal government’s response has been thus far, a depiction of conditions on the ground, and a historical perspective on the numbers.

Shortly after the crisis emerged, the Obama Administration marshaled the resources of the numerous federal agencies involved in the apprehension, processing, housing, and repatriation of unaccompanied minor children, and sought emergency funding from Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate and the House of Representatives could not agree before their August 4 recess, and will have to resume negotiations and deliberations when Congress returns after Labor Day. In the meantime, the immigration courts have been instructed to expedite the hearings these immigrants are afforded to determine if their fears are credible, if they are eligible for asylum status, or if they should be deported.

While many of the children have been reunited with other family members who already live in the United States or have been released to sponsors, many others are being detained in detention centers awaiting hearings. One such center is the federal detention center at Artesia, a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico. Artesia has been thrown into the national spotlight because the federal training center located there was turned into a make-shift detention center for women and children fleeing violence in Central America.

In the wake of the crisis, the immigration bar mounted a massive pro bono effort to ensure that detainees are afforded due process. Teams of experienced immigration lawyers, many of whom are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, are volunteering their time and experience to help these mothers and children. The following dispatches from lawyers who have spent a week at Artesia sheds some light on the conditions in these detention centers:

“I spent last week at the Artesia ‘family detention’ center, a 4-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso. We had a group of roughly ten volunteers (attorneys, translators, and administrative staff) trying to stop the rapid deportations and see that the women and their children get some modicum of due process. This was the first week there has been a full time volunteer attorney presence on site during the month it has been open.

“The first impression you get . . . is that all the children are sick, with coughs at minimum. They are dehydrated and listless. They are cold — there were two mornings where the temperature was around 60, and there were no jackets or blankets, so mothers and kids walked around with towels wrapped around their shoulders for warmth. Nearly all of them have valid claims for asylum — the majority based on domestic violence or gang issues. An unfortunate number were already deported without the opportunity to even consult with an attorney. Some mothers are giving up and asking to be deported because their kids are so sick.” [Editor’s Note:  Individuals are giving up even though the conditions in their home countries are dire.  For example, five recent Honduran deportees were murdered by gangs upon their arrival in Honduras. NPR, 8/21/2014.]

One pro bono lawyer from Oregon describes her experience in Artesia in this way:

“The lack of justice, due process, and the gross infringement on basic human rights at Artesia is truly staggering. . . . We need to send our members here to see and experience what is happening firsthand, so that they can shed light on this very dark place. . . . These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and our government is using them to send the message that America’s southern border is closed. As advocates, we can’t sit by and allow this voice of hate to be the loudest.”

A third volunteer lawyer reports:

“Women and children detained at length, being refused a chance for a fair hearing and access to counsel, and ultimately being sent back to the danger from which they fled. That’s what we’re seeing at Artesia . . . .

It shouldn’t be like this. But this is what we’ve come to. We need to help these families, to offer them due process and humane conditions, and ultimately address the root cause of this crisis: the conditions in Central America and the smugglers and traffickers who are making money off the misery of others.”

A recent op-ed article, “Children Deserve Protected Status,” written by noted immigration lawyer and author Ira J. Kurzban and published in the July 16 issue of the Miami Herald, sums up the current crisis and our moral imperative to provide relief:

The presence of more than 50,000 children who have crossed the U.S. border in the past two years hardly evokes the hysteria and predictions of chaos and ruin touted by politicians and the anti-immigration lot. That the United States is being overrun by children and that their numbers will create some cataclysmic event is not only morally abhorrent, it is factually erroneous.

To begin, let us put the numbers in perspective. Today the world has more than 50 million refugees and displaced persons. The government of Lebanon currently has over 856,500 refugees in a population of 4.4 million, representing 19.4 percent of its population. Jordan, 641,000 refugees in a population of 7.3 million representing 8.79 percent of its population.

Accepting 60,000 children in a population of 317.2 million — less than two hundred-tenths of 1 percent (.02 percent) of our population — would hardly be straining our resources.

Despite the vast differences in wealth and resources between our country and those of Lebanon, Jordan and even Iran, which currently has one of the world’s largest refugee populations, the end-of-the-world scenarios proffered by some ring of hyperbole.

At a time when we were a more generous, caring nation, we brought 14,000 children into the United States from Cuba under Operation Peter Pan. In 1966, we flew 266,000 Cuban men, women and children into the United States from the Port of Camarioca. At the time, those 266,000 Cubans represented .14 percent of our population, seven times the number of migrants we are talking about today.

The way to tackle this problem is not to deprive children of their right to a fair hearing regarding their fear of returning to their countries of gang violence and poverty.

The proposals to call up retired immigration judges and have “expedited” hearings for these children is nothing more than an offer of sham proceedings in the same way that U.S immigration authorities offered Haitian refugees “expedited hearings” in Miami in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Those expedited hearings were described by U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King as “a systematic program designed to deport [Haitians] irrespective of the merits of their asylum claims.”

Nothing short of that will occur here, and public-spirited lawyers dedicated to treating children fairly will use our legal system to expose the sham. Worse, we will spend billions of dollars creating this unfair system. Such expedited hearings were unfair then and made a mockery of our country’s pledge to be a country of asylum — and will be now.

The president wisely sent Vice President Joe Biden to Guatemala when the issue arose. If we want to address this issue properly, address it at the source of the violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. As a powerful northern ally, the United States has the ability, if it has the will, to address these problems in their countries of origin.

At the same time, recognize these helpless children for who they are — victims of violence — and grant them Temporary Protective Status.

Granting TPS has several benefits. The billions of dollars in savings, by canceling sham hearings, can be used to address the root causes of smuggling and gang violence in their countries.

This is not an issue of border security. The children are not being smuggled into the country; they are brought to the border. We need to address the smugglers and the causes that allow the smugglers to thrive. Grant TPS, and go after the smugglers and causes of gang violence.

We could not agree more. This is not a border security crisis that demands deporting kids to deadly conditions back home; it is a humanitarian crisis that demands due process and temporary relief.

Immigration Reform: What’s Happened and Where are We?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Across America, millions of immigrants and their families, businesses, and communities are waiting for – and calling for – immigration reform, and yet Congress continues to fail to act. With some 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, most of whom already have deep roots in this country including strong family ties, and agreement that wholesale deportation makes no sense, public opinion is now firmly in favor of legalizing the undocumented. Poll after poll show that two out of three American voters support legalization and a way for these immigrants to become citizens.  Meanwhile, businesses continue to struggle to obtain visas for needed foreign national employees, with tens of thousands of applications for potentially job-creating immigrants thrown out just this month because insufficient visas are available for professional workers. And, global entrepreneurship in this country languishes because there are few work-related avenues under the current system to accommodate the world’s most talented. In the last 10 months since the Senate passed sweeping reform of America’s immigration system, nothing much has happened.

 

A Recap of What’s Happened

 

On June 27, 2013, the Senate voted 68-32 in favor of S.744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration and border control laws in nearly 30 years.  All eyes then turned to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which had been deliberating on a series of piecemeal reform measures, eschewing the comprehensive approach adopted by the Senate and favored by the Administration. Indeed, House committees passed four reform bills. At that time, advocates hoped that agreement between the Senate and House on process and content could be reached at least informally before the 2013 August recess.  It did not.

Soon after the recess, however, Congress returned to Washington and was embroiled with the Administration and consumed by the budget and the government shut down. Nevertheless, in early October in an effort to jumpstart stalled comprehensive immigration reform deliberations, the House Democratic leadership introduced its version of a comprehensive reform (CIR) bill modeled after S.744. The introduction of the bill was part of an orchestrated series of events that took place across the country to remind the public that immigration reform remained unfinished. Its introduction was more symbolic than realistic given the Republican House members’ preference for piecemeal legislation and a refusal to vote for any measure that included a pathway for citizenship for the undocumented. The stalemate on immigration continued and by mid-October the chance of CIR becoming law became about zero percent.

By early 2014, CIR advocates on both sides of the aisle began to moderate their positions on a “pathway for citizenship” and started discussions about other ways to regularize the undocumented population without a pathway for citizenship, and at the same time ensuring that whatever scheme was enacted did not create a second-class immigrant system. One solution advocated was to add more slots in the business and family visas categories for those who legalize, rather than create a new visa or path.

Meanwhile, in light of record levels of deportations under his Administration – some 400,000 people a year and far more than under President Bush – President Obama ordered a review of deportations. House Republicans then latched onto the idea that President Obama could not be trusted to carry out the law. Criticizing him for reviewing his deportation policies and for implementing through executive orders certain limited forms of administrative relief, including DACA, “parole in place” for certain immediate family members of military personnel, and prosecutorial discretion, House Republicans balked at further discussions on CIR and have essentially frozen in place a dysfunctional system.  The stalemate continues.

 

Where We Are 

 

With a bit more than three months left before the summer congressional recess and then fall midterm elections, Congress has little time left in its congressional calendar to enact immigration reform.  First, most of the contested primaries – where pro-immigration reform positions are most controversial especially for conservative Republicans – must be concluded so that victors can feel free to take locally unpopular positions on immigration without fear of reprisals. Second, agreement must be reached at least in principle by the leaders in both chambers.  Even the most optimistic among us are beginning to become realists on the prospects of immigration reform and are turning again to the White House to explore further forms of administrative relief.

There are indeed numerous steps the Obama Administration can take by executive order or regulation to temporarily alleviate inhumane policies for the undocumented or create opportunities for the highly skilled. For example, the Administration is being urged to exempt other immigrants from deportation beyond the “DREAMer” youth and to extend work authorization to the spouses of certain high skilled workers. And, the Administration can take a number of steps to increase the opportunities for entrepreneurs, both foreign- and native-born, in an effort to accelerate expansion of the US economy and creating jobs. However, the President is currently resisting administrative changes and has said that only Congress can fix the broken system.

One way or another, there must be some changes to the immigration system, either Band-aids or a cure. Regrettably, this optimist expects some Band-aids but continues to hope for a cure.

Remaining an Optimist on CIR – It’s Becoming Harder and Harder Even After House Democrats Introduce a Comprehensive Reform Measure

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

In an effort to jumpstart stalled comprehensive immigration reform deliberations, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives introduced their version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill on October 2. “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” is modeled after S.744, the Senate bill that passed that chamber in late June. The introduction of the H.R.15 was part of an orchestrated series of events, including marches and vigils that took place across the country to remind the public that immigration reform is among the many pieces of business that remain unfinished while Congress is in fiscal lockdown. While perhaps more symbolic than realistic – the bill is unlikely go anywhere given the Republican House members’ preference for piecemeal legislation and a refusal to vote for any measure that includes a pathway for citizenship for the undocumented – it is at least an important step toward keeping immigration reform in the conversation. Nevertheless, the stalemate on immigration continues, as does other important legislative matters.

To recap where we are on immigration reform: In late June, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, a sweeping and long overdue overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. For months since its passage, the House of Representatives dragged its collective feet to consider the bill.  Instead, four piecemeal bills were approved by House committees, but have yet to be sent to the full House of Representatives for a floor vote, and none addresses legalization. Then, in mid September, two House Republicans who had been trying to draft a comprehensive immigration package dropped out of bipartisan negotiations. Texas Republican Representatives John Carter and Sam Johnson said that they had “reached a tipping point” in the talks and could no longer continue working on a broad approach to rewrite the country’s immigration laws. Their leaving basically dismantled the so-called Gang of Seven bipartisan group in the House that has struggled to draft legislation.   H.R. 15 has no Republican sponsors.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,  has promised action on immigration reform legislation and has been working on four separate bills in addition to the four already approved by the committee.  Optimists note that a piecemeal approach could result in House approval of a series of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromise immigration reform bill.  Pessimists, on the other hand, point to the remarks of House Speaker John Boehner, who has expressed reluctance to bring the bill to a vote.  The refusal appears to be an acknowledgment of the so-called “Hastert Rule,” a principle used to limit voting to only those bills supported by a majority of the majority party. This is the same rule that has prevented a vote in the full House of Representatives on a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government open from going forward.

Finding congressional common ground on the various immigration reform bills seems formidable – it always is – but a bigger obstacle may be the full agenda still awaiting lawmakers, including the budget and debt ceiling. According to one insider, the chance of CIR becoming law in 2013 is zero percent; the chance of enactment in 2014 is greater than zero.

Optimist or Pessimist?

Senate Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform; House Committees Deliberate on Piecemeal Legislation

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

On June 27, the Senate took a momentous step forward with a vote of 68-32 in favor of final passage of S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” The bill represents the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration and border control laws in nearly 30 years, and moves the U.S. one step closer to its enactment.

The most publicized provisions of the legislation focus on legalization — and a path of citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living and residing in the United States — as well as increased border security and enforcement. There are, however, many fundamental and significant changes to the current system that will, if the bill is ultimately enacted, affect the future flow of immigrants as well as those currently in the United States in status. Some of the most significant changes were detailed in our update in June.

Now, all eyes are on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Over the last several weeks, much speculation about the prospects of success for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has focused on GOP leaders who face a series of difficult policy and political dilemmas. For starters, CIR is popular with Hispanics (whose support is critical to win the White House in 2016) but not with the GOP’s base. Its approach thus far has been to deliberate on a series of piecemeal immigration reform measures, eschewing the comprehensive approach adopted by the Senate and favored by the Administration.

Those House committees that have jurisdiction over immigration already have passed several bills. These include: (1) the Agricultural Guestworker Act; (2) the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act; (3) the Legal Workforce Act (mandatory E-Verify); (4) the Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas (SKILLS) Act; and (5) the Border Security Results Act. Hearings have also taken place on the DREAM Act. A key reform element missing in the House is provision for other undocumented immigrants.

The full House must still vote on these proposals, and whatever is finally enacted in the House must be reconciled with what was passed in the Senate. Reconciliation — even of key issues and provisions including legalization — can and is likely to take place during joint House-Senate conference committee negotiations. Clearly, advocates for CIR have stressed that all key elements of reform must be covered in the final iteration of the bill.

With Congress adjourning for the summer in early August and not returning until after Labor Day, it is clear that the debate and discussion over comprehensive immigration reform will continue well into the fall. At this point, it seems that the earliest we can expect final legislation for the President’s signature is November or December.

Senate Expected to Introduce Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill on April 16

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The gang of eight senators working on comprehensive immigration reform have announced that they are almost finished with their work on the Senate’s legislative package and expect to introduce a comprehensive overhaul bill on April 16. Legalizing the status of the 11 million undocumented foreign nationals currently in the United States will be a centerpiece of the proposal. Also to be included are measures to eliminate, over 10 years, a backlog of some 4.7 million immigrants who are waiting for their green cards; eliminating siblings of U.S. citizens as a category of foreigners who are eligible for green cards; and removing the annual limitations on the number of green cards for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents (LPRs). The proposal is also reported to create, at the end of 10 years, a program offering 138,000 merit-based visas each year to foreigners based on their work skills, but also on other considerations including family ties. Permanent residency will be offered to workers in three categories: high-skilled foreigners in technology and science, employees with a middle range of white-collar skills, and low-wage workers. Farm workers are not included, as they will come under a separate program. Until the bill is introduced, these provisions can and may be changed as the Senate working group finishes its drafting.

After the bill is introduced, supporters will undertake a very public “sales” campaign as the bill moves through the normal legislative process. Proponents of immigration reform must hold together an uncommon coalition of labor, business, conservatives, and liberals. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the immigration reform after the full Senate has debated the bill; it is not expected to introduce its own legislation.

More details are likely to emerge over the next few days.

 

Comprehensive Immigration Reform on the Fast Track: Concrete Bill Expected in March; VAWA and Other Legislation

Friday, March 1st, 2013

For the last two months, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has dominated the airwaves — from President Obama’s inauguration address and State of the Union, to hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives, to almost daily news articles in major national and ethnic newspapers — on the immediate need to overhaul our country’s immigration laws, for the benefit of our country and for the more than 11 million undocumented currently living here. So far, the Administration and leading senators have issued two independent proposals to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive and common-sense approach, and their quick action demonstrates a real commitment to getting reform done in 2013.
While the precise legislative provisions of a immigration reform bill are not yet certain, the key points outlined by President Obama and the bipartisan group of senators working on a bill are similar. Overall, the Senate plan outlined the following key points:
• Creating a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S. that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
• Reforming our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
• Creating an effective, and probable, mandatory employment-verification system that prevents identity theft, ends the hiring of future unauthorized workers, and includes stiff penalties for egregious offenses;
• Establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers;
• Reducing backlogs in the family and employment visa categories;
• Providing permanent resident status to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM fields) from a U.S. university;
• Establishing a new agricultural worker program.
Where are we now? Leaders in the Senate have given themselves a deadline of March 1 to produce legislative language that embodies the principles they released. The Administration, which has privately drafted an immigration bill so that it can “be ready” if the Senate fails to continue to move forward, has made it clear that the President will take a back seat to lawmakers, but also wants to see real progress by March. Once a bill is introduced by the Senate, it will go through normal Senate procedure, including hearings and a markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Debate will follow, then a vote on the Senate floor. To overcome a potential filibuster – currently viewed as probable – the bill will need to receive at least 60 votes. Once passed by the full Senate, the bill would move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Already, a couple of congressional hearings have been held and more are to come. On February 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on immigration reform, featuring DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other witnesses. On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee kicked off its first immigration-focused hearing in the 113th Congress.

 

Meanwhile, the White House website has devoted a special section to President Obama’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform proposal, with basic resources for the public and as a way to help advance the legislation.

 

It’s hard not to be extremely encouraged by the lightening-fast pace taken by Congress and the Administration to enact CIR. And, while the fight for a fair and balanced immigration system will continue over the next several months, the momentum for change is breathtaking.

 

We will keep you posted.

What President Obama’s 71% of the Latino Vote Means for Immigration: Immediate Prospects for Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Almost immediately after President Obama’s re-election on November 6, 2012, the issue of immigration and the Latino vote dominated the news, and the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform rekindled.

National Journal Editorial Director Ron Brownstein recently described the election results and the politics of immigration this way:

“President Obama’s reelection doesn’t guarantee a breakthrough in the long stalemate over immigration reform. But it did instantly invert the debate.  Since the collapse of a bipartisan immigration-reform effort in 2007, Democrats have divided over the issue while Republicans have remained in lockstep, particularly in opposition to any plan that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. Now it’s the reverse.”

He added:  “Democrats are talking confidently about forcing the issue in 2013, while Republicans are fracturing. For the first time since George W. Bush’s presidency, a genuine debate over immigration is emerging within the GOP, with advocates of comprehensive reform regaining their voices. . . .”

While some who dominate the GOP still say the party should oppose any proposal that includes legalizing undocumented immigrants and that reform efforts should start by taking only very small steps, now other voices in the GOP are arguing for comprehensive change.

It is against this election backdrop that in early December a national coalition of leaders from across the political spectrum and representing dozens of religious, law enforcement, and business leaders (including the likes of AOL founder Steve Case) gathered in Washington to tell the Administration and Congress that there is a new consensus on immigrants and America. Their message is: common sense immigration reform must be a priority for 2013, our broken immigration system must be fixed, and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million foreign nationals who contribute to our communities and our economy must be included in the debate. The gathering, “Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America,” was organized by the pro-immigration National Immigration Forum.

Members of Congress are heeding the call. A bipartisan group of eight leading members of the Senate, four Democrats and four Republicans, have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss common ground on immigration. The working group members are Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). (Flake is moving to the Senate from the House of Representatives.)

At least one religious coalition is urging the introduction of comprehensive immigration legislation within 92 days of the start of Obama’s second term, choosing that number because a biblical word for immigrants, or “strangers,” appears 92 times in the Old Testament and 92 symbolizes the importance of protecting the stranger.

According to insiders, however, a framework for immigration reform is expected in January. The framework is expected to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented foreign nationals and additional work enforcement provisions, as well as a whole host of other provisions, ranging from increasing nonimmigrant and immigrant visa numbers to eliminating the “three- and ten-year” bars. A bill is expected to be introduced in the Democrat-led Senate in the spring of 2013, followed by hearings. Legislation that is introduced in the Senate will need at least a handful of Republican votes to advance to the House, which could happen in the fall.

Some conservatives who favor comprehensive immigration reform argue that a Republican partnership with President Obama means politically that they can claim a share of the authorship just as the Republican Congress did when it joined with President Clinton to restructure welfare. Conversely, they say, letting the Democrats and President Obama complete reform without real Republican support helps the Democrats further label the GOP as the anti-immigrant party to its longer-term detriment.

While supporting a pathway to citizenship will not guarantee Hispanic votes for Republicans next election, many believe that if the Republicans block comprehensive reform, they risk alienating Hispanics further. And, by embracing reform they can take immigration off the table and engage Latinos – and Asians too – on other issues.  In any event, the 2012 presidential election results have forced the GOP to question their message to newer Americans, many of whom heard Mitt Romney’s call for “self-deportation” as extremely offensive and synonymous with a call for them to start packing their bags.

Immigration reform alone probably will not be sufficient to significantly improve the GOP’s standing with Hispanics. But, it is an important and necessary first step.  More importantly, it is good for America.

Stay tuned. . . .

Comprehensive Immigration Reform – Remember That?

Friday, July 20th, 2012

It’s almost shocking how little positive immigration reform makes the news these days. Yet the plight of those residing in the United States without papers continues, unabated.  A banner, front-page article in the June 11 Washington Post poignantly described yet another heartbreaking story of an undocumented National Honor Society student, Heydi Mejia, who just graduated from high school in suburban Richmond. Mejia did not expect to go to college because in a few days she was to be deported back to Guatemala. Fortunately for her, a last minute, one-year reprieve was issued, but each year there are 65,000 high school graduates just like her who don’t get their stories in the Washington Post. While last year at this time all conceded that the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform remained dim until after the presidential election, Congressional attempts at least to keep some issues alive were underway and President Obama still spoke about immigration as being the bedrock of economic competitiveness and the DREAM Act as an important measure to allow hard-working, high-achieving immigrants to stay in this country. Neither Congress nor the President have uttered much about immigration reform lately.

In fact, of late, the Administration’s only real attempt to address the reality of 10 million undocumented foreign nationals living in the United States was its much publicized policy of reviewing over 400,000 cases of people in the “system” and implementing guidelines for exercising “prosecutorial discretion.” Prosecutorial discretion is an administrative decision not to deport an individual which provides very temporary relief and no status. But, figures just released by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) reveal that implementation of prosecutorial discretion has been far less effective or widespread than the Administration and its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) led the public to expect. While over 288,000 cases have been reviewed, less than 1.5 percent of those cases were actually granted prosecutorial discretion. Of over 56,000 detained foreign nationals, only 40 where granted this temporary reprieve.

In the absence of discussion on immigration reform, misconceptions about the system can only abound. The most recent comes from Senator Grassley, this time addressed to the Government Accounting Office, asking for an investigation into the alleged and unspecified “reports” of abuses of Optional Practical Training (OPT), the program under which foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities may work in the U.S. in their fields for a period during or after completion of their degree programs. Much of the hostility that comes out of Senator Grassley’s office toward high-skilled immigration programs seems to be premised upon a perception that these programs are rife with fraud and abuse even though USCIS’s own statistics report that the incidence of fraud is relatively low. Previously, Senator Grassley targeted the H-1B program for fraud, and expressed public concern about the misuse of B-1 business visa in lieu of H-1Bs and specialized knowledge intracompany transferees. Senator Grassley’s inquiries seem to make more headlines than the various legislative proposals that have been introduced this year to improve our country’s attractiveness to the highly educated.

Too bad we can’t have some honest debate in Congress about these issues.  After all, it is Congress’ job to tackle immigration.

Prospects for Immigration Reform Remain Dim

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Despite several recent high-profile speeches by President Obama on immigration, congressional action to fix our nation’s broken immigration system appears unlikely for the foreseeable future. The President recently spoke about immigration in El Paso where he cited an effective and efficient immigration system as being the bedrock of economic competitiveness in the 21st Century. This speech came on the heels of a commencement speech to the graduates of Miami Dade College in Florida where Obama stressed the need to pass the DREAM Act and other measures that allow hard-working, high-achieving immigrants to stay in this country.

But Obama’s words are unlikely to translate into action because Congress is stalemated on the issue. Split down party lines – with conservatives pushing an enforcement-first approach and liberals urging broader, comprehensive reform – lawmakers are struggling to find any common ground at all. Several stand-alone pieces of legislation have been introduced that address issues on the periphery. While many are restrictive, enforcement-minded (greater visa security, the stripping away of important due process protections by increasing the government’s already broad authority to detain noncitizens), other “benefits” bills also were reintroduced, including the DREAM Act and the Military Families Act, legislation that would grant permanent resident status to the immigrant relatives of active-duty military personnel.  Despite these attempts to keep some issues alive, it is very unclear whether these bills will muster sufficient support to work their way through Congress. Many key supporters of immigration reform in Congress have expressed their reluctance to take up piecemeal immigration legislation, at least not at this point in the legislative session.