Friday, October 23, 2009

Senate Leader Presented Policy Recommendations

This past Tuesday (October 20), a broad delegation comprised of representatives from civil liberties, human rights and immigrant rights advocacy organizations met with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Several organizations including AFSC and the Rights Working Group worked to invite partners throughout the nation to join as signatories to the letter's concerns and recommendations.

The 17-member delegation delivered the letter signed by more than 300 organizations. Outlined in the letter were specific areas of concern, and the urging that future national U.S. immigration and border policy be carried out in a manner that is respectful of individuals’ constitutional rights and due process.

Senator Schumer has previously issued public comments about the need to reform and repair the present immigration system. Signatories of the letter were encouraged that Senator Schumer acknowledged that the current system is not working. Indeed, enforcement-only policies have done nothing to resolve the administrative, legal and procedural problems with the outdated and broken immigration system.

Delegates asked Senator Schumer to incorporate important principles that safeguard constitutional rights and due process of individuals who are detained. The delegation also called on the Senator to ensure that family reunification is one of the fundamental components of future policy. Key concerns discussesd during the meeting included:

* Enforceable Detention Standards
* Secure, Community-Based Alternatives to Detention
* Fair Day in Court
* Access to Counsel
* Review of Federal Enforcement of Immigration Laws
* Civil Rights
* Responsible and Accountable Border Policy

"There are serious concerns over racial profiling when state and local law enforcement agents are deputized to enforce civil immigration law. Any immigration reform bill should restrict immigration enforcement to the federal government,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group.

"Too much is at stake for the nation. No one benefits from the bleak situation we now have before us. Families continue to be separated and detention is only a temporary escape valve that does not solve the structural flaws of the current immigration system. None of this is humane, practical or realistic. We believe that principled and sensible policy can be developed," added Esther Nieves director of American Friends Service Committee's Project Voice, a national immigrant and refugee rights initiative.

Afterwards, the delegation also met with the Senator's immigration policy staff.

# # #

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

Formed in the aftermath of 9/11, the Rights Working Group is a coalition of more than 250 community-based grassroots groups and national organizations working to restore civil liberties and human rights protections for all people living in the U.S.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Spinning Out of Control: Tangle of Local Agreements Dodge Immigration Coherence

"The 287(g) program is not a fundamental solution nor does it ensure community safety. It’s not just the cost factor, but the constitutional and civil liberties factors that must be subject to general public scrutiny.” Christian Ramirez, AFSC staff

State and local enforcement agencies have increasingly come under fire for cooperation agreements with federal agencies, and specifically, agreements in which local officers act as federal immigration agents. A routine traffic stop becomes the moment when a driver is questioned and subsequently asked to show proof of permanent residency or “legal” immigration status.

Known as the “287(g)” program, the initiative is a troubling remnant of the Bush era. The program has raised legal hackles and warranted concerns about racial profiling, civil liberties and public safety. AFSC has been at the forefront of the many faith-based voices calling for an end to this controversial and ill-conceived program. Over the past years, federal officials have tossed a financial carrot by using the program to provide support to cash-strapped municipalities and states.

Named for the section of the federal provision, 287(g) allows for federal agencies (e.g., US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to train and deputize local officers who can then enforce immigration laws. The program, however, has instilled fear and tension in immigrant communities and led to ongoing concerns about public safety and overall community security.

This past summer AFSC joined more than 500 organizations in an open letter, which called on President Obama to end the program. Early last week the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus also blasted the program calling on the President to terminate the 287(g) program. According to the Caucus, “... [T]he “misuse of the 287(g) program by its current participants has rendered it ineffective and dangerous to community safety.”

Initial support for the program has waned as state leaders realize that comprehensive national policy (rather than a piecemeal approach) is needed to repair the out-of-order immigration system. Concerns have been expressed about due process, legal liabilities, cost-effectiveness and the program’s efficiency.

Indeed, Massachusetts and Florida enforcement agencies have cancelled their agreements while others are debating if to accept – or reject – their agreement with federal officials. Amy Gottlieb, an attorney and AFSC staff member concludes, “The entire immigration law needs to be revamped so that we're not stuck in this system of arresting, detaining and deporting people without giving them meaningful access to a due process or real legal status."

ADD YOUR VOICE: Call for an end to the 287(g) program!
  • Contact the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111.
  • Send the President an e-mail:
  • Contact members of your Congressional delegation. Call your Senator at 202-224-3121 and your Representative at 202-225-3121.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From the Heartland of America: Iowa's Immigration Reality

Note: AFSC's Central Regional News and Views newsletter (Fall 2009) features an insightful look at immigration in the Hawkeye State. The writer, Sandra Sanchez is AFSC's program director in Iowa. The program provides referral support, legal assistance, human rights training and other services to immigrants and their families. We are grateful for the permission granted to share her community-grounded analysis with our readers.

Iowa - Editor's Note: One of the things we notice in our peace and justice work is that many people who generally share AFSC’s views on most issues still have concerns regarding the economic impact of immigration. As part of a broader interview available at, Sandra Sanchez speaks to concerns that immigrants are “taking away” from taxpayers and hurting the economy. (Photograph: Sandra Sanchez - [extreme right] and community members at AFSC "Know Your Rights training - credit: G. Camacho)

Immigrants are not receiving benefits from other taxpayers, even though they should because they are taxpayers too. I’ve heard allies and supporters say, “Yes, we support immigrant rights, but can we afford it when the economy is so bad?”

To answer this very simply, I would say that all people are consumers and producers. Immigrants are consumers and producers too. And since we are in a recession right now, you need people spending. Immigrants spend money, and they spend it now. Immigrants are also very hard working. In many cases, they’re in their most productive years. Therefore, they are mostly contributing to this economy.

Finally, typically immigrants have not been part of the formal financial system, meaning their savings were not lost. They were not investing in the stock market. They have savings to spend. Where do we want them to spend this money? Here, or somewhere else?

More importantly, in terms of production and consumption, immigrants are very active. Why get rid of them? Too many people believe the anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the fact remains that immigrants are paying taxes. There’s more than $560 billion in the Earnings Suspense File of the Social Security Administration, most of which is believed to be contributions of undocumented workers to this system alone.

Do we really want to stop that? People are afraid that if we give legal status to these undocumented workers who have been contributing to Social Security and who cannot claim one penny out of it, then immigrants will claim those benefits. But the truth is that they can’t. If they get a legal status, eventually they will be able to claim benefits, but only from the time of their legal status onward.

So immigrants represent a win-win to this country. We are winning in the sense that they have contributed already as taxpayers, they have contributed to the economy as workers, and they have contributed to the economy as consumers. Do we want to lose that? No.

I truly believe that if undocumented immigrants are given the opportunity to regularize their status, they will be able to buy homes and more cars. They will be able to send their children to institutions of higher learning. And that will definitely be a plus to the economy. It will help us turn around this recession faster than if we don’t.

Sandra Sanchez is a member of AFSC's Project Voice Network, a national grouping of AFSC staff who work in partnership with communities throughout the United States. Project Voice advocates for the fair inclusion and respect for the human rights of immigrant and refugee communities. You can contact Sandra Sanchez at and Jody Mashek at AFSC Iowa’s phone is 515-274- 4851.