Friday, December 29, 2006

Senate to Introduce Immigration Bill in Early '07

The U.S. Senate plans to introduce an immigration bill in January, according to the New York Times. The plans follow a meeting in early December between Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) to discuss an immigration strategy. The Senate plans to pass the bill in the spring with a House version to follow.

The last session's Senate bill (S. 6211) created a 3-tiered system that required undocumented workers who were in U.S. less than 5 but more than 2 years to leave the U.S. in order to be eligible for any immigrant or non-immigrant visa for which they may later qualify. The New York Times reported that proposals under consideration include removing the requirement for undocumented immigrants to leave the United States in order to apply for permanent residency and subsequently citizenship. According to CongressDaily, however, no decision has been reached.

While AFSC supports a fair and humane adjustment that will bring the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States out of a shadow existence, AFSC also strongly advocates for the full recognition and protection of the human rights and labor rights of all people, regardless of their migrant status. Click here for AFSC's perspective on a path to permanent residency and citizenship.

The Senate may also consider denying appropriations for the U.S.-Mexico border fence signed into law in October 2006. Denying funds for the border fence would recognize that building a fence fails to provide an effective solution to this complex issue. Since 1994, at least 4,000 men, women and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the southern border.

Challenges in forthcoming legislation may include increased border enforcement measures, increased employer sanctions, and the guest worker (temporary worker) program. The Secure Fence Act and recent workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and two other states indicate a failed enforcement-only approach which promotes fear and the ongoing vilification of immigrants, destroys family unity, and fails to address the root causes of migration. Future immigration reform policies must be based on the human rights of immigrants and non-immigrants and respect for the labor rights of all of the nation's workers.

In the coming month, members of AFSC's Project Voice Network will be send letters, partner with sister organizations, and visit Congressional offices to press for the inclusion of humane and fair immigration legislation and policies in forthcoming Congressional meetings and debates. Please continue to visit this blog for timely updates and further information on ways to get involved in this critical human and civil rights issue.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Senators Propose Changes to REAL ID Act

Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Sununu (R-NH) introduced a bill, the Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2006 (S. 4117), to repeal Title II of the REAL ID Act of 2005 and reinstitute section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

"There is nothing realistic about REAL ID," said Senator Akaka. "My two primary concerns with REAL ID are that the law places an unrealistic and unfunded burden on state governments; and erodes Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights," he stated during his introductory remarks on the bill. Akaka hopes the Department of Homeland Security will create guidelines that will make the bill unnecessary.

Title II of REAL ID Act repeals the provisions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which required consultation between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and the states to establish federal standards for driver's licenses and instead mandated federal driver's license standards.

Under Title II, applicants for new or renewed driver's licenses must provide documentation of their U.S. citizenship or immigration status. Individuals with pending applications for asylum, temporary protected status or adjustment of status can only be issued temporary driver's licenses or identification cards.

States which decide to issue licenses to individuals found ineligible for a full or temporary license must mark the license with a design or color that indicates that the license cannot be used as federal identification. This system creates a discriminatory system, which clearly marks licenses and identification cards.

Title II also requires states to provide electronic access to all other states to the information contained in its motor vehicle license databases, which raises privacy concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the privacy provisions proposed by the legislation. Changes include the requirement that the Act not preempt state privacy laws, which may provide greater protections and the prohibition of the use of information contained on or in the licenses by private entities. The legislation also requires due process for individuals to challenge errors in data records contained within databases under the REAL ID Act.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and National Governors Association also expressed support for the bill. S. 4117 proposes allocating $30 million for the implementation of the REAL ID Act and extending the compliance deadline for states.

Although the privacy provisions come as a welcome change more government funding for the implementation of a misguided and discriminatory program will not fix our broken immigration system. "The 110th Congress must take affirmative actions to better protect the privacy and freedoms of all Americans. This bipartisan bill is a welcome first step, but more must be done to remedy the problems with the Real ID Act," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Congressional Leaders Begin to Meet: Focus on Future Immigration Strategy

Respect for Basic Rights is Key to Progress

U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) met with Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to discuss immigration reform legislation strategy this past week. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Representative Flake, has indicate that Congress plans to introduce legislation in the "late winter." President Bush also met with members of the Blue Dog Coalition comprised of conservative Democrats and the New Democrat Coalition last week. According to Representative Mike Ross (D-AK), who is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, President Bush has indicated that he could work with these groups on immigration reform, Congressional Quarterly reports.

Issues in the upcoming debate include a path to permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, guest worker programs, employer sanctions, and border enforcement. A group opposed to comprehensive immigration measures recently launched an anti-immigration radio ad in California. AFSC Area Director Pedro Rios in San Diego said the ad "borders on racist notions of who is valuable to be in this country and who isn't."

AFSC has repeatedly reinterated that lasting immigration reform laws and policies must recognize the humanity of all persons and the contributions of immigrants to this country. Future immigration reform policies must be based on the human rights of immigrants and non-immigrants and respect for the labor rights of the nation's workers. AFSC and the Project Voice Network policy team will continue to provide timely updates on this critical issue, and continue to press for the inclusion of humane principles on immigration reform in forthcoming Congressional meetings and debates.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Local Governments' Actions Diminish Justice For All

A report released by The Century Foundation this month, concludes that failed federal immigration policy led to ineffective and increasingly combative policies by inexperienced states and localities to address new immigrant flows.

A "pre-emptive" ordinance passed in October 2006 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a town with few immigrants, indicates that nativism, opposition to federal policy, and national organizations opposed to comprehensive immigration measures may identify the catalyst behind local ordinances -- fear. Some organizations seeking a moratorium on almost all immigration into the United States have assisted towns (including Altoona) in drafting anti-immigrant ordinances. Anti-immigrant ordinances diminish justice for all community members by promoting division, the denial of civil liberties, and discrimination. The Altoona ordinance "promotes bigotry," said Reverend Luke Robertson, executive director of Catholic Charities in Altoona.

According to the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), since May 2006 city councils in 13 states passed 28 anti-immigrant ordinances. Furthermore, 44 Anti-immigrant local ordinances in 17 states are now pending.

The recent trend of anti-immigrant ordinances began in San Bernardino, California, by a local organization, which discusses "fear" of an "invasion" by undocumented immigrants on its website, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Community leaders and national organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) advocated against the ordinance, which included regulation of day labor agencies, requiring all official city business occur only in English, fines on businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants, and denial of permits, contracts, or grants to businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants.

Despite a 4-3 vote by the San Bernardino Mayor and City Council against the ordinance, city councils in other local towns -- including Hazelton, Pennsylvania -- modeled anti-immigrant ordinances after the failed San Bernardino ordinance.

Lawsuits remain pending over the legality of the anti-immigrant ordinances in Hazelton, Escondido, California, and Farmers Branch, Texas. Plaintiffs in the Hazelton and Escondido cases contend that the ordinances violate federal and state immigration, housing, and anti-discrimination laws. In June 2006, the Congressional Research Service, analyzed the Hazelton ordinance and concluded that federal and state courts would be precluded from enforcing some of its provisions due to preemption by federal immigration law. The analysis also found that the proposed ordinance could conflict with federal housing assistance laws and federal anti-discrimination laws. As a result, the city council passed a new ordinances subsequently challenged in federal court. In addition to these troubling local ordinances, states such as Arizona and Colorado passed anti-immigrant ballot initiatives.

In response to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, city councils in 8 states passed 18 pro-immigration ordinances. For example, in March the City of Chicago an Executive Order forbidding the Chicago Police Department from cooperating with federal immigration officials. This recent action also affirms Executive Order 85-1 issued by the city's late Mayor Harold Washington more than two decades ago. Executive Order 85-1 barred Chicago's police and city agencies from cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Recently elected Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III said that he would oppose any proposal by outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for state troopers to detain persons for alleged immigration law offenses. "Enforcing immigration on a local level would compromise the relationships that police must create and maintain with all of the communities in which they serve," he said.

For summaries and maps of the pro and anti-immigrant ordinances by FIRM click here. For steps that you can take to oppose anti-immigrant ordinances in your community click here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Does New Citizenship Test Pass on Fairness?

On November 29, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) released a new pilot naturalization exam with 144 revised questions. The pilot exam includes more conceptual questions on U.S. history, the Constitution, and civics. USCIS plans to pilot the test early 2007 in 10 cities, narrow the test to 100 questions, and release the redesigned exam in 2008. On the exam, applicants must answer 6 out of 10 oral questions correctly in order to pass. The current passage rates for the exam are 84 percent for first-time takers and 95 percent for second-time takers.

Organizations including the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) have raised concerns that the exam changes, potential application fee increases, and a proposed electronic pre-application system, could disproportionately create a barrier to citizenship to low-income and less formally educated immigrants. ICIRR Policy Director Fred Tsao said "the questions certainly needed to be revised...Our main concern is the level of difficulty." For example, the new question, "why do we have three branches of government?" is vague according to Tsao.

According to Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the UCIS Office of Citizenship the changes are linked to the "Americanization movement" that occurred with the wave of immigrants at the turn of last century. The proposal for new questions on U.S. history, civics, and English came during the 1990s from the Commission on Immigration Reform chaired by late Representative Barbara Jordan. According to the Commission, the "Americanization" movement derived from two sources, settlement house workers aiding immigrants and protectionist organizations. Debate over the naturalization exam, however, dates back to as early as 1906, when U.S. naturalization law first required knowledge of spoken English. The government added the English literacy requirement under the Internal Security Act of 1950. The current exam is required by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The testing sites for the pilot exam include Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Charleston, SC; Denver, CO; El Paso, TX; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; San Antonio, TX; Tucson, AZ; and Yakima, WA. Applicants who participate in the pilot exam and fail may immediately take the current exam. Unsuccessful applicants who fail part of the pilot exam may immediately retake on that part of the current exam, according to USCIS.

The Mercury News identified a mistake in the pilot exam. The correct answer to the pilot question "What is the longest river in the United States?" is the Missouri River and not the Mississippi River, as published by USCIS. The redesigned pilot test also includes the following questions:

What does the Constitution do?
Why do we have three branches of government?
What does it mean that the U.S. Constitution is a constitution of limited powers?
Name one famous battle in the Revolutionary War
What is the current minimum wage in the US?
What is the tallest mountain in the United States?
Where is the Grand Canyon?
Which U.S. World War II general later became President?
What alliance of North America and European countries was created during the Cold War?
What is the "rule of law"?

Would you pass?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Travel Rules Raise Privacy & Economic Concerns

New Department of Homeland Security and Department of State travel requirements have raised concerns among members of Congress, border communities, and civil liberties organizations about privacy rights, economic hardship, commerce, and travel. Starting as early as January 1, 2008, DHS plans to require all travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea to show their passport or an alternative security identification card, the Associate Press reports. The requirements are a part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) passed under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004. Under the WHTI, all persons traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea will be required to present a passport of other documents as required by DHS.

Congress amended the deadline for the implementation of the WHTI from January 1, 2008 to June 1, 2009, however, the U.S. has "every intention of implementing the land rule more rapidly than June 2009," according to Paul Rosenzweig, Acting Assistant for International Affairs.

The passport requirement has raised concerns of economic hardship due to the high cost of passports for families. Passports cost $97 for first-time applicants and $82 for persons under 16 years old, which could economically burden families.

In October 2006, the Department of State proposed an alternative passport card known as the People Access Security Service (PASS) Card. The PASS cards for first-time applicants would cost a total of $35 for minors and $45 for adults including application and execution fees. The proposed cards include an embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. Organizations including the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have raised concerns that information on the cards could be skimmed by identity thieves. According the Department of State proposal (DOS-2006-0329-0001) published in the Federal Register, the cards would be delivered in a thin protective sleeve designed to protect the card from unauthorized access. According a DHS Privacy Impact Assessment of the WHTI, individuals would have no right to decline whether or not to provide information under the WHTI.

Members of Congress, including Senator Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter have called for a cost-benefit analysis of the WHTI. According to Senator Clinton, "the WHTI not only has far-reaching economic consequences, but also widespread social ramifications for our communities along the northern border" including the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne who live in territories bordering Canada.

In early November, the Department of Homeland Security also released plans to screen all people seeking to enter or exit the United States "by automobile or by foot." DHS issued a notice (DHS-2006-0060) published in the Federal Register stating agency plans to expand use of the Automated Targeting System. The system, originally created to screen shipping cargo, could retain individuals' travel information for up to forty years. According to the Washington Post, the system conducts an individual "risk assessment" based on information from government databases including travel itineraries, credit card information, and law enforcement data. Exemptions from certain provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 prohibit individual access to system records for the purpose of contesting record contents. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee askedDHS to brief staff members on the program.

For more information on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative click here.

Send the Department of State Comments on the Proposed Passport Card: The passport card proposal (DOS-2006-0329-0001) is open for public comment until December 18, 2006. Please note that all comments submitted may be made public. To send comments visit the Federal Rule-making Portal www.regulations.gov, type in the keyword "DOS-2006-0329-0001" and click "Submit". Select the "Comments" link on the right side and follow the instructions. Please include the agency name (DOS) and Docket number (DOS-2006-0329-0001) in your comments. Let the Department of State know that 1) You are concerned with the affect of the PASS card system on privacy rights; 2) The DOS should analyze the affects of the proposal on border commmunities.

Send DHS Comments on the expansion of the Automated Targeting System for All Travelers: The DHS notice on the expanded use of the Automated Targeting System is open for public comment until by December 4, 2006. Please note that all comments submitted may be made public. To send comments visit the Federal Rule-making Portal www.regulations.gov, type in the keyword "DHS-2006-0060" and click "Submit". Select the "Comments" link on the right side and follow the instructions. Please include the agency name (DHS) and Docket number (DHS-2006-0060) in your comments. Let DHS know that 1) You are concerned with the expanded use of the Automated Targeting System (ATS) to screen all travelers and the impact on individuals' rights, 2) DHS should provide public information on the uses of ATS and the affect on travelers, and 3) DHS should not exempt ATS from any requirement of the Privacy Act of 1974.

Share Your Concerns at the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee meeting: Share your concerns about the new requirements with DHS. The meeting will be held on December 6, 2006 from 8am to 11:15pm and 12:15pm to 2:30pm in Eden Roc Hotel, 4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida, 33140. The meeting will be open to the public except for a one-hour administrative session. If you are unable to attend, you can send comments using the Federal Rule-making Portal www.regulations.gov and type in keyword "DHS-2006-0070." Please include the Docket number (DHS-2006-0070) in comments.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Immigration Law Affects Child Rights

Universal Children's Day on November 20th marked the the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly. The U.S. and Solmalia are the only countries that have not ratified the Convention. The U.S. signed the Convention in 1995 indicating its intention to ratify, however, the President has not presented the Convention to the Senate. U.S. Ambassador E. Michael Southwick stated that the U.S. believes "the text goes too far when it asserts entitlements based on the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Convention and other instruments." The Convention requires that the "best interests of the child" be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

"There is an absolute void in immigration law in terms of the best interest of the child," according to Maria Woltjen, of the Immigrant Children's Advocacy Project. Recent international and national news highlight the issues faced by both immigrant and U.S. citizen children affected by immigration law.

The International Detention Coalition marked Universal Children's Day by calling on countries to respect the rights of children under the Convention including the obligation to seek alternatives to detention. In 2005, the United States held 7,787 unaccompanied children in custody under the Department of Health and Human Services. Approximately ninety percent of immigrant children in custody lack legal representation. The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act would require the appointment of an advocate for unaccompanied minors.

The rights of U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants face a challenge in Texas from a new legislative proposal. Representative Leo Berman (R-Tyler) of the Texas House of Representatives filed House Bill 28, which would deny U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants access to food stamps, public housing, government pensions, disability checks, as well as the right to government employment. The bill would also deny the children the right to public education and state-funded health care, but Berman stated that he plans to remove those prohibitions due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

State Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), the chairman of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus said that the proposal and similar bills have "tinges of racism," are unconstitutional, and will not pass, according to the Brownsville Herald. Legal experts and immigrant rights advocates predict that the bill will not survive a constitutional challenge. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 3.1 million U.S. citizen children have parents who are undocumented immigrants.

Last week New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson asked President Bush to consider parole for Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church following a deportation order. Her seven-year old son, Saul Arellano, a U.S. citizen, recently visited Mexico and successfully urged the 500-member Mexican Chamber of Deputies to assist in preventing his mother's deportation. In a unanimous resolution, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies asked President Bush and the U.S. Congress not to deport Elvira Arellano.

The Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 5035) introduced in March 2006 by Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) would provide partial discretionary authority to an immigration judge to determine that a non-citizen parent of a U.S. citizen child should not be ordered removed from the U.S. if such removal is clearly against the best interests of child.

We urge you to join the American Friends Service Committee and call on the nation's elected officials to protect the fundamental human rights of the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Join use by taking the following steps NOW:

Oppose Texas House Bill 28: Contact Representative Berman's Office and express your opinion in opposition to House Bill 28. To e-mail Representative Berman click here or call (903) 939-2400. If you are from Texas, contact your state representative and urge them to oppose House Bill 28. Oppose any actions that use children as scapegoats in the state's immigration debates.

Contact Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi: Let them know that keeping immigrant familites together must be one of the family values reflected in future immigration reform actions. To e-mail Senator Reid click here or call (202)224-3542. To e-mail Representative Pelosi click here, e-mail sf.nancy@mail.house.gov or call (202) 225-4965.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Border Policy Debate Continues

Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) may "revisit" the authorization of a fence along the U.S. - Mexico border when he becomes Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in the 110th Congress. House Democrats plan to hold leadership elections for the next session on November 16th. Representative Thompson said that the next session of Congress could "do away" with the fence or consider the technology-based Secure Border Initiative (SBI Net) of the Department of Homeland Security.

Last week mayors from U.S. and Mexican border cities signed a document in opposition to the construction of a border fence. "From El Paso to Brownsville, Texas, we're against building the wall," said Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, Texas. The document, signed by Mayor Flores, Mayor Foster, and Mayor Evaristo Perez of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, declared the U.S. - Mexico border a place of solidarity. The text called for U.S. leaders to "reflect on the consequences of this disgraceful plan not only for people of the border but also for humanity." Since 1994, following the launch of Operation Gatekeeper, at least 4,000 individuals have lost their lives attempting to cross the U.S. - Mexico border.

Take actions to expose the situation at the border

Raise Awareness: Learn more about border issues in San Diego and Arizona. Watch a clip of the documentary Rights on Line.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mapping the Current Immigration Landscape

Candidates proposing anti-immigrant policies failed to win mid-term election seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to analysts. The scapegoating of immigrants especially drew Hispanic voters away from candidates. According to The Hill, "enforcement-first as a cure-all election strategy" failed. Election analysis echoes criticisms of the summer 2006 House "hearings" on immigration, which focused on enforcement and excluded immigrant communities and rights advocates. Although the six-point legislative agenda identified by the House Democrats does not include immigration, some analysts anticipate that Congress could move on immigration reform.

However, newly elected members in the House may not agree with measures in the latest version of the Senate bill on immigration reform. In a press conference following the elections, President Bush stated that he thinks there is a "good chance" of immigration reform, which must include a guest worker provision. Several anti-immigrant ballot initiatives passed in Arizona and Colorado. According to Denver-based AFSC Project Voice Regional Organizer Gabriela Flora, the Colorado initiatives were "based on the assumption that undocumented immigrants are here to harm our communities rather than recognizing the humanity and contributions of immigrants."

Despite these misguided initiatives, AFSC's Colorado team worked in coalitions to successfully prevent a ballot amendment denying public services to undocumented immigrants from reaching the ballot. In the absence of federal immigration reform measures, ballot initiatives and local ordinances in cities such as Hazelton, PA and Escondido, CA continue to target immigrant communites across the country. The "hearings" held this past summer and election campaign period failed to listen to or include immigrant voices seeking comprehensive solutions. Rather than building a fence around the issue, immigrant voices must be brought into the conversation for change. Let's ensure that the new Congressional composition - and the Bush administration - move in this direction and create immigration policies that are fair and based on reality and not on rhetoric or coded hatred.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reading the Tea Leaves

Unless you've been under a rock for the past few weeks, you're bound to have heard about today's election and possible shake-up in Congress. What's unclear, however, is just how much immigration will be on voters' minds as they cast their ballots. Congress spent nearly a year trying to groom immigration reform as a wedge issue. Strategists seem to have been hoping that concern over undocumented immigration would compel more voters to come out to express their support for candidates who promised to get tough on the issue. Both parties took this line, although one of them went one step further and threatened to turn 12 million undocumented immigrants into "criminals".

Yet, if we read the tea leaves (a phrase heard from many a commentator in the last few days), it looks as though immigration policy will not be a deciding factor in the elections. It's too far down on the list of voter concerns.

A Republican polling organization, The Tarrance Group released a memorandum today that showed that immigration is not a key issue in this election. Of the people they surveyed, "Just 11% of likely voters select immigration as the most important issue in deciding their vote for Congress, putting it behind the War in Iraq (29%), terrorism and homeland security (15%), and the economy and jobs (11%)."

The experts at immigration2006.org are predicting the same as the Tarrance Group but also point out that "Whatever modest short-term gains made by using immigration as a wedge issue in this election cycle (and we expect the success rate to be mixed, at best), the long-run negative consequences of alienating moderate, immigrant, and Latino voters will be felt by candidates and parties for a long time to come."

To further support this last point, today the National Council of La Raza released the results of a poll that showed Latino voters are showing strong enthusiasm for voting as response to the immigration rhetoric of the past year. Janet MurguĂ­a, NCLR President and CEO, said “From all indications, Latinos are clearly fired up about the 2006 election. And this poll bears out what previous elections have demonstrated – that while immigration is not the Latino community’s greatest concern, the issue continues to be its greatest motivator."

What does this all mean for the future of the immigrant rights movement and the real possibility of pro-immigrant reform? The Nation asserts that the immigrant-rights movement is in the midst of regrouping. Perhaps once the impact of the Latino vote is measured, the movement will be even further energized. Only time will tell (have you heard that phrase here before?).

Check out immigration2006.org more more information on immigration in today's election.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Young voters plan to turn out

From National Public Radio: "A Harvard Institute of Politics study concludes that nearly one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds plan on voting in the upcoming midterm elections. That could mean the highest turnout for the age group in any midterm election in the last 20 years."

In the survey, immigration comes up in Question 14, where the researchers ask the respondents to grade the Bush Administration's work on different issue areas. On undocumented immigration, less than 22% of respondents gave the Administration an A or B while more than 29% gave it an F. Its overall GPA (Grade Point Average) on immigration was 1.47. (Comparatively, 43% of the respondents gave the Bush Administration an F for its performance in Iraq and an overall GPA of 1.29).

The survey is interesting but perhaps slightly misleading in suggesting that the President alone has the responsibility of fixing the immigration system. Yet then again, Congress huffed and puffed about immigration for the past 11 months, and only came up with an unfunded fence. The survey does show, however, the young voters will be considering a number of issues beyond immigration when they enter the voting booth on Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New resource on Immigration & Elections

A coalition of political pollsters, commentators, and pundits launched a new website about the immigration issue in next week's election: Immigration2006.org

Launched by long-time Washington political and media advisors Christopher Dorval and Andrea LaRue, the website was created to track how immigration is playing out in election races around the country.

Dorval and LaRue cite Democratic pollster Celinda Lake who predicted that immigration - particularly a hard-line, enforcement-only approach to [undocumented] immigration - would be the key wedge issue strategy of the 2006 mid-term elections: "Tough-sounding anti-immigration rhetoric will be to 2006 what gay marriage bashing was to 2004."

The coalition also includes individuals from firms like Benenson Strategy Group, Center for American Progress, Lake Research Partners and the New Democrat Network.

Monday, October 30, 2006

7 days to go: NOW an ICE press release

A sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released its annual report today on its work including information on apprehending undocumented immigrants at the border. The report claims that apprehensions are down at the border and that this somehow reflects that fewer undocumented are crossing into U.S. That's one interpretation.

Another interpretation could be that ICE is not looking in the increasingly remote areas where immigrants are crossing and putting their lives at risk. A study by the General Accounting Office, that was released in August, found that deaths at the border have doubled since 1995.

National Public Radio commented on the timing of this release, only one week before the mid-term elections. Normally these numbers are released in January. Commentators wonder if ICE wanted to make voters feel better about the ability of the Bush administration to address the situation and therefore vote Republican.

In this blog, we've reported on the questions surrounding the interim appointment of Julie Myers to head ICE when she had very little experience and her motivations in increasing workplace raids. It is interesting to note that in today's press release her name is prominently mentioned in the first sentence. Ms. Myers is up for confirmation in a few months, by the way...And there's no telling who will be on that committee is the OTHER party takes the Senate...

ACTION STEP: Call Julie Myers at 202-514-2648 and ask why she released the report three months early, right before the elections. Tell her to leave electoral politics to politicians and start instituting just policies that protect immigrant families and don't terrorize communities with raids.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Poll of Rural Voters' Views

Today National Public Radio reported on a bipartisan poll that shows rural voters are shifting to Democrats. Reversing the results in a similar poll last month, the survey detected an eight-point shift in party preference for Senate candidates. Rural voters in Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Tennessee indicated they favored Democratic candidates 47 percent to 43 percent.

Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the Center for Rural Strategies, the survey asked one question that related to immigration:

"Q.20 In deciding how to vote for Congress, which ONE of the following issues is MOST important to you? Is it....
The war in Iraq.....................38%
Medicare and Soc Sec................21%
Taxes and spending..................15%
Moral values........................16%
Health care.........................20%
Illegal immigration.................17%
Terrorism and national security.....21%
Jobs and economy....................25%
Energy and gas prices...............10%
(None of these)......................3%
(DK/Ref).............................6%"

8% of respondents said "illegal immigration" is their first concern and 9% said it was their second concern. Looking at the results above, immigration ranked sixth overall as the most important concern.

Does this mean that rural voters are not taking the bait of standing tough on immigration as a hot button issue? It's hard to say. But there are only 11 days left until the election...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bush signs Fence into law

Today, more than three weeks after Congress passed its only immigration legislation, President Bush signed the Secure Border Fence Act into law. There is little coincidence that this was scheduled less than two weeks before the mid-term elections. Sounding like his party colleagues in Congress, Bush stood tough and said "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility serious."

Republicans are betting that their get tough stance will pay off on November 7. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Associated Press that he voted for the fence because he wanted to help demonstrate that Congress was serious about border security. "The choice we were presented was: Are we going to vote to enhance border security, or against it?" Cornyn said. "I think that's how the vote was viewed."

At the same time, Bush also pointed out that he hoped that a guest worker program could be worked out in the near future. He argues that this would be easier to get passed if Republicans keep their majorities in the House and Senate after the Nov. 7 elections.

There are still many doubts about the fence and its effectiveness. Several Latino advocacy organizations issued a statement expressing their disappointment in the President's signing of the bill. National Public Radio reported that it is unlikely that the fence will actually be built. The new law includes no provision for paying for the fence and the exact cost is not known.

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing Border Patrol agents, told AP on Wednesday that "A fence will slow people down by a minute or two, but if you don't have the agents to stop them it does no good. We're not talking about some impenetrable barrier." Ah, but agents aren't infallible either as a recent Los Angeles Times investigation reveals. Public records show that the number of corrupt border officials has risen sharply in the last few years. The newspaper found that at least 200 public employees have been charged with helping to move narcotics or undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border since 2004.

It's still hard to say how public relations event like today's signing will influence the elections. NPR's Jennifer Ludden covered the prevalence of immigration rhetoric in electoral campaigns. Ludden wonders if both parties' tough-line enforcement stances will cost them Latino and immigrant votes in the November election and elections in the future.

ACTION STEP:

Contact the White House and tell the President that you are disappointed that he signed the Border Fence Act. Since there is no way to pay for it, it is all showmanship. But also tell him that a fence is no solution since it does not recognize the human rights and contributions of immigrants. A fence also forces would-be immigrants to take even more desperate measures to enter the United States and risk death.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Update on the O.C. letter

Turns out that the intimidating letter sent to 14,000 people with Latino surnames in Orange County was sent out by the campaign headquarters of a Republican Congressional candidate who is himself a naturalized citizen.

Police have now searched the offices and home of Tan Nguyen who is running for the a seat in the House of Representatives. At a press conference this week, Tan Nguyen said "I am innocent, and there is no way in hell that I am going to withdraw. I am not going to quit this race, and I am going to win this race." The Los Angeles Times reported that Nguyen maintained that a campaign worker sent the letter without his knowledge. At the press conference, he added that, after firing the staffer he said was responsible for it, he was asking her to return because he believes the mailer was fair. California's Attorney General is considering a law suit charging the letter as voter intimidation.

Columnist Ruben Navarrette asserts that the letter "was an exercise in ethnic profiling" since it was sent to individuals with Latino names that happened to show up on a database of Democratic voters. The list included "longtime registered voters in California" and possibly even "fourth-generation Californians." The blogger for Migra Matters carefully tracks the connections between Mr. Nguyen's campaign and anti-immigrant organizations in California.

Vietnamese community leaders are embarrassed by the scandal. Phu Nguyen of the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California told the L.A. Times that "We're here legally and we've gone through great hardships, but I don't think all that gives us any right to look down upon those who got here illegally. Whether we're here legally or illegally, we all strive for the same thing. We come here for the opportunity."

What does it say about our political system that new citizens learn racist scare tactics are acceptable in campaigns? After all, our nation's leaders have demonized immigrants for much of this past year as the means to gain votes. Of course, this does not justify Mr. Nguyen's actions but this extreme example makes us question how far candidates are willing to use the 'immigration card'.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bad immigration metaphor

The political blog Wonkette cites Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), with the worst metaphor of the day.

Quoting from the Sioux City Journal: A transcript of King's comments made at a Republican fundraiser in Boulders Conference Center showed he compared "illegal immigrants" to stray cats that wind up on people's porches. King said at first stray cats help by chasing mice, so people feed them. King added that the stray cats then have kittens, which are liked for their cuteness, but eventually the strays, fed by the people, end up getting lazy, just like illegal immigrants. King would not comment on what he said on that day.

ACTION STEP:

Contact Congressman Steve King and express your disapproval of this metaphor. Remind him that immigrants are human beings with unviersal human rights.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Missing in the debate: global economics

On Wednesday, the Inter-American Development Bank released a report that shows that Latin American migrants working in the United States will send around $45 billion to their home countries this year, up from some $30 billion in 2004. That's a growth of 51 percent in two years. About 12.6 million Latin American-born migrants now send an average of $300 every month that assists more than 20 million households or 80 million people in Latin America.

The Miami Herald interviewed Sergio Bendixen, of the polling firm Bendixen and Associates that conducted the survey for IDB. He warned that if the United States shuts its door to Hispanic immigrants, as Congress is attempting to do, the U.S. economy would be ''close to collapse.'' IDB officials pointed out to the Miami Herald that about 90 percent of the income received by Latin America-born migrants stays in the United States, or about $460 billion.

IDB also reported that households in Latin America receive more than $60 billion annually from remittances worldwide, a number that dwarfs what countries receive in aid from the U.S. government or such institutions as the World Bank.

ACTION STEP:

Print out or send the weblink of the IDB report to your Congressional representatives and senators. Tell them that immigration has an impact on more than just Americans. Tell them that they should consider what affect cutting off these remittances would have on 20 million families or 80 million people in Latin America. International economic factors have been missing from the debate and we need true leadership that will look at the big picture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Immigration Card in Play

Candidates and their supporters are continuing to use the immigration card in the countdown to November 7 elections. Here are some examples from around the country:

The most blatant use of the immigration hot-button card must be in Arizona where there are four immigration initiatives on the ballot. Voters will be asked to consider expanding the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants and make English the state's official language. Another one of the measures would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state-funded child care assistance, attending adult education classes or getting in-state tuition and financial aid at Arizona's public colleges. The Associated Press quotes GOP state Rep. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind the package: "If you came from New Mexico or California, you would pay out-of-state tuition. You would pay the full load. Why should the taxpayer subsidize you for higher ed when you are here illegally?" Wait, English will be the official language but the state will not help you learn it? And doesn't Arizona cities have sales taxes that everyone, including immigrants, must pay every time they buy something? (And I guess we can't bring up the millions of dollars that undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security but never take out...Oops, that's federal taxes...)

Also check out the lengthy article about immigration in the Arizona elections in the New York Times magazine "The Border Dividing Arizona". The article asks: "The leading edge of a new American nativism? The big Republican divide? Or just a line that voters will ignore next month?"

Under the dirty tactics category comes a recent Spanish-language letter sent by a "Sergio Ramirez" of the previously unknown "California Commisson for Immigration Reform" to Latino community members in Orange County in Southern California. The letter(see pages 3 and 4) incorrectly alerts immigrants that they cannot vote in the up-coming election and that anti-immigrant groups will have access to their information through a voting database. Neither claim is correct. A group of Latino organizations including MALDEF (The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), wrote a sign-on letter calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to immediately investigate the matter since it amounts to voter intimidation. It's interesting to consider the motivation for this letter. Is the author worried about the impact of riled-up Latino voters on November 7? Or is he/she using typical broad strokes that erase the realities of immigration law? Does he/she not comprehend the naturalization process that allows immigrants to become citizens and vote?

The New York Times ran an interesting article this week about how many Democrats are trumpeting a conservative message on immigration in states like Tennessee, North Carolina and Nebraska. We've seen how the Democratic party has been taking the offense on border security by charging that immigration enforcement has faltered under Republican leadership. The New York Times points to the source of this tactic: Third Way, a centrist Democratic research group that has conducted polling on immigration. Third Way's vice president for policy, Jim Kessler says in the article "[Voters] think that Democrats are on the side of illegal immigrants even at the expense of citizens." Adopting a tougher message, he said, would make Democratic candidates less vulnerable in the November elections. Advocates are warning the party that they could alienate Latino voters, a growing force in the electorate. David Lubell, the director of the Tennessee immigrant rights coalition said it best: "These Democrats are trying to out-right the right."

ACTION STEPS:

Contact Russell Pearce and remind him that there are many ways that immigrants contribute to the state of Arizona. Ask him to stop using immigration as an election tactic and start considering what's best for EVERYONE in his state.

Send your own copy of the Latino advocates letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Contact Jim Kessler at Third Way and ask to him to advise candidates to drop the enforcement rhetoric and talk about human rights. Our nation needs true leadership on immigration right now not strategizing for electoral gains that may not result in significant change.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What next for Lame Duck?

Now that the election is premenient in the minds of Congressional representatives, immigrant rights advocates are wondering what will happen in the lame duck session when politicians return after November 7. Some are hopeful that something can be worked out but others are not so sure.

The National Immigration Forum, for example, is not optimistic. Their Director Frank Sharry writes "After all, what are the chances the House Republican leadership, after spending six months trashing comprehensive immigration reform, will come back in November and enact comprehensive immigration reform? In fact, the more likely scenario is that House leaders will return determined to attach some or all of the sweeping enforcement-only measures rebuffed in September to must-pass appropriations measures."

As an example of what Frank is talking about, one need not look further than Senator Bill Frist's "Community Protection Against International Gangs Act" (S. 3946).

Under S.3946 an immigrant who never committed any crime whatsoever can be deported and denied immigration benefits if the Attorney General asserts that he has a "reason to believe" that the person is or was either a "member of" a gang, or participated in "activities" that promote a gang. This bill would have devastating consequences on immigrant children, families, and communities across the nation, and result in deporting youth to a country where they could face detention, torture, or even death.

The Rights Working Group has drafted a joint letter to the Senate that numerous immigrant rights organizations have signed onto.

In the letter, the Rights Working Group asserts "Effective anti-gang strategies include supporting youth in their efforts to leave gangs and protecting them from the possible life threatening repercussions, not labeling and punishing them for their status and for making the decision to leave. S.3946 would punish former gang members who have chosen to leave the gang and reform their lives, refusing them admission and deporting them to countries where they may face interrogation, torture, detention and even death.

S. 3946 fails to adequately protect children by subjecting them to the same penalties as adults. Our juvenile justice system and immigration jurisprudence have also always distinguished between child and adult offenders. S.3946 represents a sharp departure from our nation's traditional concern for protection and rehabilitation of youth."

Senators are slated to vote on this bill when they return to Washington in November.

ACTION STEP: You can contact your Senator today and tell him/her the following: "Please oppose S.3946. It is another misguided bill focused solely on enforcement for short-term political gain rather than addressing this country's need for immigration reform. I urge you to reject S.3946 and to support comprehensive, realistic immigration reform."

Contact Kerri Sherlock at the Rights Working Group (KSherlock@rightsworkinggroup.org) and see if you can also send a copy of the letter to your Senators.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Nopal Curtain

(Since the Border Fence Act has been the only immigration legislation that Congress managed to pass this year, we hope you will bear with us as we continue to draw attention to border issues and the shortcomings of this new law.)

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes came up with a new name for the "wall of shame". In an article published in the Mexico City daily Reforma, Fuentes called it the "Nopal" (or Cactus) Curtain.

Fuentes foresees that immigration will the the biggest headache for Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon and it will test the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Fuentes writes that "as the border closes and heats up," Mexico must find a way to "provide work to a half-million workers each year who are trapped behind a 'nopal' curtain," referring to the number of Mexicans who migrate to the United States annually. With the name, Fuentes' also alludes to the Iron Curtain from the Cold War.

A new Iron Curtain? This is NOT the immigration reform we were praying for...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Desperation & criticism at the border

Only a week after Congress passed its only piece of immigration legislation, desperation is surging at the border. Criticism and scepticism about the border fence plan is also on the rise.

On Monday, five people were trapped in a mad-made tunnel trying to enter the United States near San Diego when one of the group became wedged in a an opening. San Diego Fire and Rescue Department personnel worked to free the wold-be immigrants. The San Diego Tribune spoke to Immigration and Customs Enforcement who said in recent months, several undocumented immigrants have been found using the sewer system to illegally enter the U.S. Could this be what we can expect to see more of in the future if the fence is indeed built?

Mexico's foreign secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said Monday the country may make a formal complaint to the United Nations about the border fence. "What should be constructed is a bridge in relations between the two countries," Derbez said noting that the new law was for short-term political gain in the lead-up to midterm elections in the U.S. in November.

The Washington Post spoke to several experts who cite many potential unintended consequences of fence-building. Since in some regions along the border, the nearest main road can be 80 miles away, roads must be created to build the barrier. That could end up facilitating movement into the United States rather than blocking it. Professor Wayne Cornelius, an expert on immigration issues at the University of California at San Diego called the border fence law "the feel-good approach to immigration control. The only pain is experienced by the migrants themselves. It doesn't hurt U.S. consumers; it doesn't hurt U.S. businesses. It only hurts taxpayers if they pay attention to spending on border enforcement."

A bed and breakfast owner in Texas Jay Johnson-Castro is planning a 200-mile protest walk along the U.S.-Mexico border. "I'd like for the United States to get out of denial," he said. "Our country would collapse without Latin American labor. We complain about these folks, but they're here to work. The Mexican people are maintaining our country."

Professor Bill Hing of the University of California at Davis calls the border fence as "death trap" and asserts that "The problem is that the fence idea has been tried; it won’t work, and the result will be countless more unnecessary deaths." Hing says that a real solution would be "to address push-pull factors and the economic needs of both countries."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Election in four weeks!

Four weeks from today, voters will go to the polls to vote in Mid-term elections. For the past several months, we have seen how politicians have debated immigration reform with November 7th in mind. Both parties are hedging thier bets that voters will consider their stances on immigration reform when they enter the voting booth. The question remains, however: will immigration be an important deciding factor for voters?

For example, in Arizona, Reuters News Service reports that candidate Randy Graf who won his primary with his tough stand on border issues is now eight points behind challenger Gabrielle Giffords who is touting her comprehensive plan of "enforcenment plus". As noted earlier in this blog, Democrats are also testing out the "tough on enforcement" stance in an attempt to win voters.

Reuters quotes Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum: "The Graf and Giffords race is going to be a bellwether for how the House Republican strategy on immigration plays out. Their hard-core constituency is very loud but it's not very large and they have yet to prove that they could swing a general election."

The wild card in this election-baiting game is the Latino vote. Latinos are a fast-growing segent of the electorate that has a diversity of political opinion that crosses traditional party lines. In an interesting article on Latino voters in California, New America Media quotes Adela De la Torre, director of UC Davis' Chicano studies program: "Immigration is a bread-and-butter issue because it deals with people who have family members still in the balance. It's a basic issue for most Latino families."

The article also quotes second-generation voter Daniel Jimenez who says the Republicans want cheap labor from immigrants and Democrats want their votes. "Latinos don't understand they're being used by both parties," he said. "They'll feed them all this stuff they need to hear, but they won't say, 'You guys are keeping Social Security alive and you'll never see that money.'"

Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute notes in an editorial that "as with the general public, Hispanic opinion too can seem murky." She cites a Pew Hispanic Center survey that Latinos have immigration foremost in their minds when considering who to vote for. "When asked which party has a better position on the issue, the share of newcomers favoring the GOP has dropped to just 12 percent (down from 28 percent two years ago), with nearly three times that many favoring the Democratic stance. And when asked which of the parties is more concerned about Latinos, even the foreign-born now choose the Democrats by a margin of three-to-one."

Beyond immigration, analysts have noted strong anti-incumbent sentiment among voters across the country and a desire to see change in Washington. It's difficult to predict what will cross voters' minds inside the voting booth. But in the next few weeks, you'll see many attempts to impress immigration (among other issues) in the forefront of their minds.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Local governments continue to weigh in

After nine months of dithering, Congress' resolution to the immigration debate was dismal and disappointing for everyone on all sides of the issue. This is the best our nation's leaders can come up with: a "wall of shame" along the Mexican border? A fence to nowhere with funds from nowhere?

Having squandered the opportunity to show true leadership in creating true reform, local governments across the country are again eager to step up to the challenge.

In Long Island, New York, the Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy signed a law this week that requires companies with government contracts to verify their employees are in the United States legally. "If the federal government won't do its job, it's up to the locals," Levy said

In Escondido in San Diego County, California, the City Council passed a housing ordinance that will penalize landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants. The American Civil Liberties Union is already planning a lawsuit to challenge its constitutionality.

Is this what Congress had in mind when they stirred the pot of anti-immigrant sentiment? In a new version of the "trickle-down" effect, local governments and communities are taking steps to deny rights to their neighbors in the community.

But local governments are not the only ones taking up this crusade. Take a look at the growing number of anti-immigrant MySpace Groups to see where some young people are gathering to express their newly-approved hatred of 'illegals'.

Is this the example that our leaders in Washington should be setting? With all the grand-standing and posturing, is it any wonder that a minority has found fuel for their discrimination? Yet in their inability to create an immigration system that protects the rights of immigrants and their families, Congress has left the door for others to fill the vacuum of leadership.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Supreme Court examines legacy of '96 laws

Only a few days after Congress passed the Secure Border Fence Act, the Supreme Court started considering the impact of the immigration laws passed ten years ago. September 30 was the ten year anniversary of the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

On the impact of these law, Ira J. Kurzban writes in an OpEd that "Although IIRIRA was another piece of legislation that was supposed to stop "illegal immigration" into the United States, it unleashed, instead, a series of bad policy choices that have destroyed families, made it virtually impossible to permit illegal immigrants to become legal, and rendered our legal system impotent to stop the worst abuses by government officials who may now run amok without any judicial oversight."

The Supreme Court is considering the case of Jose Antonio Lopez of Sioux Falls, S.D. The Justices are wrestling with the question of whether convictions for minor crimes should force immigrants' deportation. Under IIRIRA, many minor convictions were recategorized as "aggravated felonies" and grounds for deportation. Jose Antonio Lopez was ordered deported for possessing cocaine.

The Associated Press reported that Justice David Souter said "The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense." AP also reported that several justices said they were troubled that immigration authorities would treat differently two people who commit the same crime in different states that hand out different penalties.

According to the reporter, Lopez is a 16-year permanent U.S. resident who has already has been deported to Mexico, but could return to his wife and two children, who are U.S. citizens, if the court rules in his favor, said Benita Jain, a staff attorney with the New York State Defenders Association.

Meanwhile Congress did not mark the anniversary of IIRIRA. It's unclear if they are even aware of the date. With their recent actions, Congress is unwilling to learn about the impact of these laws. Over 1.5 million people have been deported as a result of IIRIRA and thousands of families have been destroyed. Many Congressional representatives would like to see 12 million people deported and are unwilling to consider the situation of these left behind. Hopefully the Supreme Court will make them take notice. Stay tuned...

ACTION STEP: Call your elected representatives and remind them that they passed IIRIRA ten years ago and that our nation doesn't need more of the same measures.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The voting results are in

Thanks to your calls to your elected representatives on Capitol Hill, two nasty pieces of legislation H.R. 6094 and 6095 did not pass the Senate.

Unfortunately, the Secure Fence Act was approved late on Friday night. If signed into law by President Bush, the legislation calls for 700 miles of fence, thousands of new detention beds and Border Patrol guards. With no appropriated funding, it's questionable if the fence will be built anytime soon. Senator John Cornyn admitted this today. Reuters News Service reports that, even if the money is found, it may be difficult to build due to the physical terrain. The fence will also have limited usefulness. Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, told Reuters that the fence "may work to curtail crossings in the immediate area it has been built, but it won't stop illegal immigration. Experience has shown that traffic will shift to other parts of the border" where there is less vigilance.

Is it surprising that the fence is not a real solution? As we've seen over the past several months: the politics of immigration reform is primarily about posing for voters. But shouldn't voters be upset that after all the months of hoopla, the best Congress can come up with is a fence?

To see how your Representative and Senators voted on these bills, see the Rights Working Group's vote tally.

ACTION STEP:

The National Council of La Raza wants you to call President Bush (202.456.1111) and ask him to not sign the Border Fence Bill. Click here for more information.

The Rights Working Group also is asking everyone to contact your lawmakers with a phone call or arrange a visit and thank them or explain to them the negative impact of their votes. To find your Representative's contact information, click here.

STAY TUNED: The provisions that didn't make it pass the Senate will likely reappear sometime soon in either the lame-duck session or early next year.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Down to the wire

Ever pulled a "all-nighter" to finish some homework or a school assignment? Congress' procrastination may lead them to do one tonight. This is the last week before their recess before the November elections.

With only hours left in this session of Congress, your elected officials are working feverishly to actually get some work done on immigration reform. It's debatable, however, whether or not their actions will result in true immigration reform that recognizes the human rights of immigrants.

The Border Fence bill is barreling through Congress. It passed the House and then the Senate was set to debate it. Senator Bill Frist moved to stop all debate on the bill ("filed for cloture") and in a vote on the issue of continuing debate, his side narrowly won on wasting no more time before voting. A few senators wanted to add ammendments that would have added flexibility to the implementation but Senator Bill Frist also took the parliamentary step of filling all the slots for possible amendments so that nothing could be added to the bill.

With all the congressional maneuvering to achieve something,/anything to show voters, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) blasted the fencing measure. He told the Los Angeles Times: "They think this simple bumper sticker will work, but it won't. It's a crass political effort by those more interested in saving their seats than securing the border."

On a related note, you may have heard about the negotiations over President Bush's treatment of "enemy combatants" during the past few days. The Senate passed the legislation today. There are many immigrant rights advocates concerned that last-minute changes could mean that provisions could also apply to immigrants inside the U.S. The concern stems from the vague language in the legislation about who is an individual who done hostile acts as well as the suspension of habeas corpus.

Dennis Hastert's attempt to add a gang-suspicion amendment to the Defense spending bill failed. Congress is slated to vote on the Defense appropriations bill tonight at 3:00 a.m. but it looks likely that they'll vote on it first thing Saturday morning.

ACTION STEPS:

It looks like Congress will be open for business on Saturday so try calling your Senator (202.224.3121) and ask them to vote "no" on the Secure Border Fence bill. Tell your Senators that the enforcement-only approach taken by the House of Representatives will only make the immigration situation worse. Ask them to support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

Also call Arlen Specter (202.224.4254) and THANK him for opposing efforts to tack enforcement-only ammendments onto the DHS appropriations bill.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Praying for comprehensive reform

On Tuesday, Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ken Salazar (D-CO) held a press conference on the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform legislationin this Congress.

An array of remarkable speakers from varios faiths called on Congress to take action in the remaining days of the session.

But it may be too late...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A victory of sorts but still more concerns

In their rush to ram enforcement-only legislation through Congress before the recess, House Representatives re-passed three bills on issues that they already approved in HR 4437 nearly nine months ago (yes, you heard right). On Monday they were hoping to add these bills on to a Senate appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security. But fortunately the Senate stood up to them and said "no".

Was this the result of your phone calls and e-mails asking Senators to step up for real reform and block this maneuver? Let's hope so.

It might also be what happens when Republican House Representatives spend their summer vilifying the Senate for its vision of immigration reform. Even though Republican Senators were key authors of the Senate bill, Republicans in the House have labeled it a Democratic bill. Maybe the authors weren't too happy about this... Take for example one of the Senate bill's original authors, Arlen Specter. He heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight on immigration, and the Los Angeles Times reports that he was key to blocking the House attempts to push a variety of immigration measures onto the Homeland Security spending bill. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire told the LA Times that "Sen. Specter has been very specific that he wants to do a comprehensive bill [on immigration]"

The House and Senate negotiators did agree on spending a whopping $34.8 billion on the Department of Homeland Security in 2007 (H.R. 5441) and $21.3 billion of this will go towards border protection, immigration enforcement, and related activities. (On a related note: check out the Arizona Daily Star's series of acrticles "Sealing our Border: Why it Won't Work").

We're not out of the woods yet, however. Senators are now saying that they'll be able to work out a deal in a "lame duck" session - the time between lawmakers' return to Washington after November's elections and the start of the next Congress in January. Senator Gregg said that a comprehensive overhaul "is more doable in the lame duck session than it is" now because compromise is more likely after the elections. This is both promising and scary...

The New American Opportunity Campaign also points out three looming issues:

1. Senate Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) made a procedural move (filed for cloture) that ties the Secure Fence Act and the military tribunals bill together. The SENATE VOTE on the Secure Fence Act could take place this Thursday, September 28th. (See AILA's summary of the Secure Fence Act.)

2. Speaker Hastert (R-IL) is insisting that the Community Protection Act (the "Gang Bill") be attached to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill. It is unclear at this point if the Senate will go along with this proposal.

3. Funding for border security is still included in the DHS appropriations conference report.

ACTION STEP:

The New American Opportunity Campaign suggests that you can call your Senators (tel: 202.224.3121) and

-- Ask your Senators to vote NO on the Secure Fence Act, H.R. 6061.

-- Tell your Senators that the enforcement-only approach taken by the House of Representatives will only make the immigration situation worse. Ask them to support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

-- Tell your Senators that enforcement-only provisions should not be attached to unrelated bills, such as spending bills or the Defense Department Authorization.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Senate considers the House's recent work

The Senate is also getting in on the just-for-show enforcement-only politicking this week.

After the House passed the Secure Fence Act last week, the Senate is considering the bill for approval this week. Can this be the same Congress that for months has dithered on holding a conference committee? Yep, but now November 7 is just around the corner.

The Senate already passed a bill with appropriated money to build a fence on the border. The new House bill has no means to pay for it. As the National Immigration Forum reflects on this development: "The fact that the Senate would again take up a fence authorization bill, when they have already voted on one, is politics, not an effort to bring [reform] to our immigration system."

Columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. points out in an excellent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Fencing sounds good, but it doesn't work. At best, it might redirect human traffic, as it did in the 1990s when cracking down in San Diego and El Paso squeezed more illegal immigrants through Arizona. Besides, as any Border Patrol agent will tell you, there's no fence long enough, high enough or deep enough for the desperate not to go around, over or under it."

But of even more concern, is that Senators who are negotiating spending bills (the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill and the Defense Department Appropriations Bill) may take the House bills mentioned in yesterday's blog post and tack them on to the spending bills without debate. Since these bills fund the operations of Defense and Homeland Security, it will be very difficult for advocates to stop them.

As Rubin Navarrette asserts "Republicans have cobbled together a slate of just-for-show enforcement measures intended to make voters think the illegal immigration problem can be fixed with a little spit and glue." This is NOT the action that the thousands of demonstrators were asking Congress to take: far from it.

ACTION STEP: The National Immigration Forum and other advocates in DC are calling on everyone to call your Senators immediately (202.224.3121) and say the following to their staff:

"Tell your Senator to vote no on the Fence bill, H.R. 6061, and to vote against any other enforcement-only immigration bill that may be considered.

Tell your Senator that he or she should not allow enforcement-only legislation to be attached to spending bills.

Also tell your Senator that enforcement-only will only make matters worse, and that only comprehensive immigration reform will fix our broken immigration system."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The House stands tough

Things are moving rapidly on Capitol Hill this week. After months of delay and the November elections not far ahead, the House is seeking quick action on two new bills on issues they already covered in HR 4437. There's been some last minute shuffling that have changed the bill number but here's the latest both bills (Special thanks to the National Immigration Forum):

H.R. 6095, Immigration Law Enforcement Act would mandate that local and state police to enforce immigration laws. This majorly bad idea has been floating around Washington for a while as the CLEAR ACT. The National Immigration Forum has more information here.

This bill would also make it possible to detain someone INDEFINITELY if they can't be deported, even though the Supreme Court found this unconstitutional.

This bill would also shield government employees from accountability from misdeeds while enforcing the law (Remember the recent deaths at the border and the lawsuit?)

H.R. 6094, Community Protection Act would further tie the hands of immigration judges in considering deportation for cases for individuals who may have committed a crime in the past but are now turning their lives around. Similar provisions were enacted 10 years ago with disastrous effect (1 million people deported and families destroyed). This bill would give Homeland Security UNCHECKED POWER to deport people it sees fit to remove from the country. This bill also would deport anyone SUSPECTED of being in a gang even if they have never committed a crime or are actually a gang member.

ACTION STEP:

Contact your Representative TODAY and tell them to vote against H.R. 6094 and 6095.

Here's what the National Immigration Forum suggests you should say "They will not work to fix our broken immigration system. Congress should stop playing politics with immigration and pass comprehensive immigration reform. Any law that does not take into account the reality that immigrants come here to work and to be with their families is a waste of resources and time. Giving the government unchecked powers to punish immigrants, and making local police chase after immigrants will only drive undocumented immigrants further underground. It will not fix the problem; it will make matters worse."

Here are some other links to alerts released by other immigrants rights coalitions:

Alert from the Rights Working Group

Alert from the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Alert from the New American Opportunity Campaign

Monday, September 18, 2006

"I think we missed the boat with this one"

There was an excellent article by the Associate Press on Friday ( Immigration Raid Makes a Ghost Town) that illustrates what the future could be like if enforcement-only immigration measures are passed in Congress.

In the small town of Stillmore, Georgia, more than 120 illegal immigrants have been rounded up and detained for deportation and the community has been made a virtual ghost town.

The article included telling quotes from U.S. citizens in the community, statements that Congressional representatives should listen to.

"These people come over here to make a better way of life, not to blow us up," complained Keith Slater, who keeps a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall. "I'm a die-hard Republican, but I think we missed the boat with this one."

Trailer park operator David Robinson told AP "These people might not have American rights, but they've damn sure got human rights," Robinson said. "There ain't no reason to treat them like animals."

ACTION STEP: Copy and paste the article above and e-mail it to your representative in the House. Tell him/her that this is not what you want your country to turn into.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The House takes action (or so it seems)

On Thursday, the House approved the Secure Fence Act of 2006 with 283 votes for and 138 votes against (You can see how your representative voted here.) The bill mandates the erection of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the 2,000-mile border that now has about 75 miles of fencing.

The bill passed Thursday doesn't include money for the fence and it's not clear how it will be paid for. The majority party said it will cost more than $2 billion and it will be included in a later appropriations bill. The minority party estimated it will cost $7 billion. But in the recent months of political showmanship, does it matter if the thing actually gets built? One of the original sponsors of the bill, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. says the bill was needed to show Americans "we can take meaningful action to secure the border." Showing is more important than doing after all... Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. said as much: "This is nothing more than political gamesmanship in the run-up to the midterm elections. Sounds good. Does nothing."

At a press conference, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) added "Republicans believe we can have a no-penetration border. If we build [the fence], they will no longer come illegally." Instead of coming illegally, would-be immigrants will die trying. A recent Government Accountability Office report showed that governmental efforts have not prevented deaths of immigrants who are now crossing in more dangerous regions along the border. More fencing will only push desperate border crossers to more desperate measures.

Another interesting aspect of the bill pertains to Border Enforcement Officers authority to stop fleeing vehicles at the border. Could this be in direct response to the recent deaths in Arizona? Could the House be anticipating possible lawsuits similar to the recent conviction of two officers who shot a Mexican man in the back in February?

Republican party members in the Senate weren't sure what to think of the Secure Fence Act. Senator Mel Martinez who co-wrote the Senate bill said "I'm not going to take a position against it. [The House bill is] not comprehensive immigration reform: it's just security."

Critics of the bill see it as political strategy. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) said "I think it's sad when House leadership has sought to take an important issue and turn it into a political platform." Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) accused House Republicans of using immigration as a scare tactic, confusing terrorists with immigrants so that Americans would think that "Osama bin Laden is heading north in a sombrero."

On Thursday, House leaders also unveiled other border security bills addressing immigrant gangs, speedier deportations and other issues they plan to consider.

ACTION STEP: E-mail your representative and tell him/her to stop making a show in Washington and do something about real immigration reform that creates a path for the 12 million undocumented people in this country to come out of the shadows and gain a legal status.