Thursday, August 31, 2006

More hearings in MT, IN & CO

The Congressional hearing roadshow is in its final week. After more than a dozen shows around the country, the stage will soon go dark...

MONDAY: In Hamilton, Montana, the hearing was convened by only two Congressman, Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole House representative and always colorfully anti-immigrant Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The hearing focused on how the lack of communication between federal and state agencies jeopardizes national border security. As in other hearings, almost all of the panelists worked in law or immigration enforcement and there was no contrary perspective. Congressman Rehberg apparently asked the House Majority leadership to hold a hearing be held in Montana. There could be many reasons for this: the state's long largely unprotected border with Canada or possibly the contentious election campaign for one of Montana's Senate seats. Senator Conrad Burns is considered the closest politician to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff because Burns accepted the most money from him. Burns is trying hard to distance himself from Abramoff and his party may think that riling up voters about immigration might just be one tactic.

TUESDAY: In Evansville, Indiana, some of the best speakers were actually outside the hearing. The Indy Star and the Courier Press reported that Dominican immigrant Freddy Peralta, who coordinates the Kentucky Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, gave out American flags and talked with people who were waiting in line to enter the hearings. He told the newspapers "The current immigration system is broken. It doesn't work, so people are forced to come to this country without documentation. What forces people to come here is actually the needs of the economy of the United States. You know, the jobs that are here. They come here because they are invited to work and they don't have the way of coming here legally." Well said...

Inside the hearing the same troupe of anti-immigrant think-tankers and enforcement folks spoke (by the way, what is the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies travel budget if they go to all of these hearings?). Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the only Democrat among the four congressmen at the hearing, said "We must roll up our sleeves and get to work on solving the problems created by the Bush administration instead of spreading fear of immigrants and driving further wedges between our citizens."

WEDNESDAY: In Aurora, Colorado, 300 people turned out for a hearing that was set up a little different (it was convened by the Senate Budget Committee). All of Colorado's elected officials seemed to have showed up, from Governor Bill Owens (who recently signed into law some of the harshest state-level immigration enforcement in the country), the Mayor of Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer and Colorado Senator Wayne Allard, who chaired the hearing. Tom Tancredo was conspicuously absent. There are three key electoral races for Colorado House seats in November and immigration looks like it will be a top issue.

Gabriela Flora of American Friends Service Committee, spoke to the Aurora Sentinel and criticized the hearing as a political stunt meant to garner votes for Republican candidates by stirring up anti-immigrant fervor. "To me, that's really an abuse of our taxpayer dollars and a power to use the immigration issues and immigrants as a way to gain political power," Flora said.

Much of the talk centered on the costs associated with immigration with little information on the benefits from immigrant workers. Irma Perez, who also attended the hearing, told the Rocky Mountain News that the hearing lacked information on what immigrants contribute to the country. "Instead of having statistics that compared what we get vs. what we give, they only brought up what we get," she said in Spanish. "If I buy a juice, I pay taxes. In my work, they take taxes."

FRIDAY: Stay tuned for highlights from the hearing in Dubuque, Iowa where Congress will hold the last hearing of the summer. Iowa is a state where there are two highly contested electoral races for seats in the House.

For more information on key Congressional races in November, see the National Public Radio Election Map 2006.

ACTION STEP: If you, your relatives or friends live in Montana, Indiana or Colorado, tell them to contact their Congressional representatives (202.224.3121) and express disappointment in the hearings. Tell them that the nation is tired of politicking and that they should get back to work on true immigration reform that protects the human rights of immigrants.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Texas takes the stage

On Monday, the El Paso (TX) County Commissioners passed a remarkably sensible Resolution on Immigration Reform. While it is largely symbolic, the resolution does express opposition to local law enforcement being involved in enforcing immigration law.

Among the many noteworthy points, the resolution covers the following:
- State resources should not be diverted to support policies and initiatives that tolerate or result in racial profiling in our communities.
- Erecting a wall would be a waste of money. The federal government should instead invest in secure, fast, and smart technology to allow fast movement of people and products.
- Support for a temporary worker program with the possibility for low-skilled immigrant workers to obtain a permanent residence status.
- Support fair and comprehensive immigration legislation that balances border security concerns with recognition of the U.S. demand for workers.
- Local law enforcement should not be given the powers to stop, interrogate, detain or otherwise participate in immigration enforcement activities.
- Path to citizenship, to immigrants who have paid taxes, and parented citizen children and grandchildren.
- Larger number of employment and family-based green cards to promote family unification, reduce backlogs in application processing, and that demands sensitive quotas.
- Look at technology solutions that offer low-cost alternatives to the interdiction efforts of local law enforcement that lead inevitably to racial profiling.
- Reject any action by civilians - individual or groups - who interfere with the duties of United States law enforcement officials in securing the border region.
- Reject legislation that criminalizes immigrants, their families, and the organizations that provide assistance to them
[Click here for the full text of the resolution.]

The El Paso Times called the measure "looking-good chest beating -- but more righteous pomp than anything else". Maybe so, but it's encouraging that there is a government entity, particulary a local government ALONG THE BORDER, that truly understands the complexity of the issue and respects the HUMAN rights of immigrants. Let's hope Washington can hear El Paso above the din.

A few days before, on the other side of the state in Austin, the Border Governors Conference issued a strongly worded letter to Washington calling on Congress to take action. Interestingly, they refer to the series of Congressional hearings as "[doing] little more than stir the pot of discontent." Texas governor Rick Perry summed up the letter for the Austin Statesman:"We're just saying, 'Do the job, and get it done in a timely fashion." Their letter carries as little force as El Paso's resolution. It is worth noting that each of the four governors of states along the Mexican border are up for reelection in November. Like the California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, they are all hoping that looking tough pays off.

ACTION STEP: Call the El Paso County Commissioners (915.546.2000) and thank them for their sensible resolution and national leadership on the issue of immigration reform.

To highlight this example of positive solutions to immigration refrom, send a copy of the El Paso Resolution to the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Texas Governor Rick Perry and tell them that El Paso has demonstrated true leadership on the issue.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sensenbrenner: Hearings meant "to get input from local people"

James Sensenbrenner, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of the draconian House immigration bill (HR 4437), was in New Hampshire last week for the latest opening of the Congressional hearing roadshow. Even though no member of the public was allowed to speak and only one of the panelists was from New Hampshire, he was quoted as saying that the hearing was mean to "to get input from local people".

Of the five Congressional representatives in attendance, two were New Hampshire Congressmen who are up for reelection: Jeb Bradley and Charlie Bass. Bass said "I have no objection to the idea that we would have the debate in Concord, New Hampshire or Concord, California or anywhere else in the United States, because it's good for America to participate in this important issue." Yet, where was the participation that he was talking about?

The other panelists were from anti-immigrant groups: the Center for Immigration Studies and 9/11 Families for a Secure America. In his testimony, Peter Gadiel, called undocumented immigrants "thieves in the night" and said that "Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime." The problem with Mr. Gadiel's analysis is that none of the 9/11 hijackers were undocumented and Mr. Sensenbrenner's proposals would only drive people further underground by making them felons.

The Associated Press (AP) took stock of all the hearings to date and noted that they have been poorly attended, not only by the public but by Congressional representatives themselves. Some of the hearings have been attended by only two or three Congressmen/Congresswomen. The national media has also had other more pressing issues to pursue (like JonBennets' killer?). AP quoted Gary Jacobson, an expert in congressional politics at the University of California, San Diego: "People don't pay attention to these things, except the C-SPAN junkies. It's not surprising that it's fizzled."

Another hearing that was scheduled for Friday in upstate New York was canceled with one week's notice. A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee told AP that logistical difficulties getting members to the meeting from a panel in Concord, NH, that took place the day before. New York immigrant rights advocates were planning on attending the hearing and were outraged at the cancellation. They held a demonstration in New York City that more than a hundred people attended. Only Spanish-language El Diario and Hoy covered the demonstration.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner considers the hearings a success and said the meetings allowed lawmakers "to hear testimony from local people, as well as to talk with them informally." It's unclear what hearings he is referencing since none of them seem to have provided this opportunity.

More hearings are scheduled this week in Montana, Indiana and Iowa. AFSC is convening a counter hearing in Aurora, Colorado.

ACTION STEPS: Contact Representative Sensenbrenner (Tel: 202.225.5101 or e-mail: and tell him that he needs to truly listen to the public about their views of immigration. Tell him the hearings were a failure because Americans who support immigrant rights and immigrants themselves were not called to testify. Tell him that you are disappointed in his leadership.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chertoff claims success but no victory yet

With the anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco looming on the horizon, Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff needed some good news. On Wednesday, Chertoff held a DHS press conference to announce the results thus far of the Secure Border Initiative.

Within the current context of the immigration reform debate, the "successes" serve to underline the seriousness of Chertoff's boss, President Bush, when many are claiming he has done little to secure the border. With an eye towards the November elections, the White House wants to be tough on border security without appearing anti-immigrant.

At the press conference, Chertoff discussed changing the policy of "catch and release". Besides being such a demeaning way to describe the treatment of human beings, the term "catch and release" in immigration terms (not fishing) refers to the policy of apprehending undocumented PEOPLE and then releasing them and requiring them to come back for a court date (which few of them do). Since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have enough detention space to house these folks, this is the only feasible solution.

Chertoff claims to have changed the policy to "catch and remove" and as a result (he claims) the number of Mexicans and non-Mexicans crossing without immigration inspection has dropped dramatically. A journalist asked Chertoff if this is the logical result of the new policies or if immigrants are just crossing in more remote (and dangerous) places along the border. Chertoff responded "...To the extent people are being pushed to areas that are more remote, that in itself is good, because those are harder to cross, fewer people want to cross them. So that in itself is a positive development." He then went on to discuss a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about the border crossing getting harsher for less fit immigrants. "People are complaining it's tough to cross the border...But I thought that was a good news story, because as it gets harder, fewer will try to come." But how many more will die in trying to make it through the desert?

Chertoff also asked for Congress help in overturning a twenty-year old court order banning the deportation of Salvadorans back to their country. Stating that the civil war in El Salvador is over, Chertoff said "The reason for these restrictions has long disappeared. It would be as if we were still keeping in effect World War II rules that had long since passed their necessity." The official civil war may be over but death squads are returning and the US just signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. More immigrants may soon be on the way.

When a journalist asked if the positive message of the press conference was aimed more at voters or at Congress, Chertoff replied "What it's aimed at is, first of all, telling the American people, you've given us resources, we've told you what we're doing... I'm being careful, though, not to say the struggle is over. I think we ought to be encouraged." (But does the 'we' refer to Americans or DHS?)

ACTION STEP: Call (202-282-8495) or e-mail the Department of Homeland Security and tell them that you do not think it is a successful policy to force desperate immigrants to cross in dangerous remote areas just to satisfy DHS statistics. Also ask Chertoff to drop the term "catch and release".

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Budgets "stick a fork in it"

Numbers can also be used as political tactics. Just take a look at the new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The report claims that if the Senate immigration bill were enacted, it would cost a whopping $126 billion over the next ten years.

The ever colorful quote source, the anti-immigrant firebrand Representative Tom Tancredo told the Washington Post: "The cost aspect of the Senate plan has never been taken into consideration. When combined with the policy implementations, this should certainly stick a fork in it."

The Washington Post goes on to report that the CBO's five-year cost estimates include $800 million to hire 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents; $2.6 billion to build detention facilities for 20,000; $3.3 billion to build and maintain 370 miles of border fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico frontier; and $1.6 billion to establish a computerized system to verify the eligibility of applicants for lawful employment.

But these numbers are misleading as some Senate bill supporters claim. For instance, the Post points out, most of the $78 billion in discretionary spending that the Senate bill authorizes through 2016 would fund law enforcement measures that conservatives are pushing for anyway. The budget does not consider the increased tax base resulting from legalizing millions of tax-payers.

No comparable information is listed on the CBO immigration webpage for the House version, HR 4437. A letter that was circulated at the end of 2005 from the former head of the CBO to James Sensenbrenner estimated the cost for HR 4437 to be $1.9 billion in the first four years. This number does not include the cost that would be transferred to employers which could be more than $123 billion. These numbers do not take into account the costs related to the increased criminal prosecutions resulting from HR 4437 such as judges, jails, government-appointed attorneys, etc. Add also to this the cost of deporting 12 million people.

But the Congressional Budget Office has not been outside the reach of partisan politics in Washington. The former CBO director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, resigned at the end of 2005 just after HR 4437 was passed. Mr. Holtz-Eakin was an appointee who turned out to be "too critical" of the budget policies of the Bush Administration and he left under a cloud. His deputy, Donald Marron, has only been at the CBO for a few months after moving from the White House's budget office.

With this in mind, it makes it even more difficult to trust the numbers provided by the CBO report (i.e. With Mr. Holtz-Eakin out of the way, how did the CBO arrive at these figures?). If anything, the CBO's next step should be a side by side comparison of the two bills (the Senate and House versions) that includes costs for local and state governments as well as members of the public such as employers. But that would not fit into the overall political strategy that is portraying the Senate bill as a Democratic bill and the House version as the Republican proposal, even when the facts show that both were bi-partisan endeavors. It's just easier to say the Senate bill costs too much even if the data might not prove this to be accurate.

Regardless of this quick-pick method of budgeting, Americans need to be aware that any immigration reform will cost money. But they also should be aware that legalization will also mean even more economic opportunity (and tax-payers) for the nation.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another week of "hearings"

Representatives from the House wrapped up another week of Congressional hearings on immigration. This week the roadshow (or circus as some have called them) rolled into Georgia with repeat performances in Texas, Arizona and California.

It is not clear if the hearings have met the goals that were designed for. Representatives claimed that they were intended to "listen to the American people" but their set-up clearly demonstrated that they were not intended for hearing a spectrum of viewpoints. The media and advocates have pointed out that the speakers at the hearings have been very one-sided and most of them spoke only to the enforcement-first concerns of the organizers.

So far, national media has not paid much attention and only local media gives them much coverage. But that may be the point. The hearings have been located in districts where there are contested Congressional seats. Riling up local communities helps promote immigration control as a hot button issue to draw out voters for the November elections.

Here's a summary of some of the hearings held this past week:

On Monday there were hearings were in Georgia and California. In Gainesville, Georgia, Congressional Representative Charlie Norwood of Georgia said "You can rest assured (the Senate's plan) will not become law" which was met with applause by the audience. Norwood also claimed that the Senate bill is the worst legislation he has seen in his 12 years in Congress.

Meanwhile in San Diego, the hearing focused on the preported costs of immigration but only two representatives showed up. Adding to the local costs of immigration, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender added the costs of policing protests to the mix. But the hearing seemed unnecessary to some. One Minuteman was quoted as saying "I think it's getting repetitive. I have enough (information) going to four of them. I'm sure something new comes out each time, but its time to get something done."

On Tuesday in Dalton, Georgia, Congressmen Nathan Deal and Charlie Norwood attacked the Senate bill. Dalton City Council member Terry Christie said he was a little surprised at how strongly Deal and Norwood criticized the Senate immigration bill. Christie told a local paper "I leaned over to (Mayor Ray Elrod) and asked, 'Don't the Republicans control the Senate, too?'" In an editorial in the Dalton Daily Citizen gave credit to Congressman Neal for his honesty because, he said up front that he was there to sell the House version of immigration reform (enforcement-first).

On Wednesday in Houston, Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee called the hearing a "roadshow" and there were unexpected comments from panelists. Police Chief Harold Hurtt called provisions requiring police to enforce immigration law are "misguided and wrong," saying immigration enforcement would draw police away from more serious crimes. Councilmanilman Adrian Garcia said immigration enforcement would turn a 15-minute traffic stop into an hourlong ordeal and add paperwork, as officers were forced to comply with laws preventing them from stopping people solely because of race or ethnicity.

On Thursday, the puppet show were in two locations along the Mexican border. In El Paso, Texas, the puppet masters (Congressional reps) lost a little control of the hearing when El Paso Police Chief Richard Wiles said local police enforcing immigration law was not a good idea. He said "We don't have the time, we don't have the resources. It's not even proper to ask. It causes dissension." The representatives also questioned the recent conviction of two Border Patrol officers for violatingconstitutionalional rights and killing an undocumented immigrant in February (also see more on this in the earlier post: More deaths at the border while Congress dithers).

Also on Thursday in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a state where there are several key election contests, the representatives posed outrageous ideas about terrorists were coming acrosss the border. Representative Rick Renzi asked panelists "Are we watching the growth of mosques in Mexico?" and "How are we monitoring the radicalization of Muslims in Mexico?" Representative Darrell Issa, R-Calif., claimed that there are "widely published reports" of Hezbollah operations in Mexico, and asked what the panel members knew of that activity. Victor Manjarrez, deputy chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol Tucson Sector was baffled by some of these questions but said he was not aware of any of this, but "added that while his agency relies on intelligence in its operations, it is not an intelligence-gathering entity".

Also this week there were a number of counter hearings put together by immigrant rights advocates. Unfortunately they got even less local press than the Congressional versions. For example, advocates held a hearing at the University of Los Angeles that was attended by Representative Grace Napolitano and more than a hundred people. An internet search for coverage unearthed no (English-language) coverage. Sadly what does get attention is that hate groups and vigilantes threatened to disrupt a community hearing held on Thursday night in Arizona.

Where does this all leave us? Going back to the man who got this whole debate started, columnist Ruben Navarrette interviewed Representative James Sensenbrenner about where the debate is now. As the author of the hard-nosed enforcement-only House bill, Sensenbrenner told Navarrette that the way out of the impasse between the House and Senate is "to start with a clean piece of paper and put together a clean bill that is neither the House bill nor the Senate bill and then make sure it passes."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More deaths at the border while Congress dithers

Last week, ten more people died at the border with Mexico.

Meanwhile Congress is gearing up for the next electoral fight in November. Immigration reform, namely border security, is at the forefront of their minds but little attention has been paid to how present border protection already causes hundreds of deaths each year.

Last week nine people died and thirteen were injured in Yuma, Arizona when the van they were traveling in flipped over trying to avoid pursuing Border Patrol agents. The passengers were apparently undocumented people trying to enter the U.S. The incident seemed to illustrate how increasingly desperate would-be undocumented immigrants are getting. This could be possibly to enter the U.S. before the much touted border wall is erected or it could be an indication of the what the future might soon look like if the House gets its way.

Also last week Spc. Kristen Fike, a 36 year old National Guard member died on her first day of being stationed at the border. Her unit was the first detachment from Pennsylvania National Guard who came to the border as part of Operation Jump Start. In May President Bush announced the operation to free up Border Patrol officers for active patrols while the guard members build fences, conduct routine surveillance and take care of administrative duties.

In a related note, two Border Patrol agents were convicted last week in the shooting of an undocumented agent in February 2006. They were convicted of "assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with serious bodily injury, discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence and willfully violating [the udocumented man's] Constitutional, Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure, as well as obstructing justice by intentionally defacing the crime scene, lying about the incident, and failing to report the truth."

This issue was discussed with outrage at the Congressional hearing in El Paso earlier this week and on Lou Dobbs' CNN show. Apparently they think these officers were doing their duty when they shot an unarmed man in the back.

ACTION STEP: Send an e-mail to your senators or representatives in the House and tell them that the recent deaths at the border should not be forgotten in the current debate. More border security is not the answer. The example of the Border Patrol officers' convictions demonstrate the danger inherent in more enforcement at the border.

Contact Lou Dobbs and tell him that he has gone too far this time in decrying the Border Patrol officers' convictions. Tell him that a jury in a court of law found these officers guilty and that if shooting people, violating the Constitution and lying are his idea "border security", you are definitely against it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Sins" of omission

"My whole focus is the first Tuesday in November."

This is what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an interview in the New York Times magazine this weekend. She also mentioned that she was holding an issues conference to discuss "the urgent issues facing our nation, such as Iraq, affordable health care and education."

Why is this important? Immigration reform is nowhere on the list. Pelosi admits in the first quote that the battle for control of Congress is her primary focus at the moment...not resolving immigration reform before the end of this Congressional session.

Sadly the rights of immigrants are not on the list of concerns of the Democratic party. If you look at the websites for the House Democrats and the Democratic Party, immigration is only mentioned in the context of border security. Democrats claim the border is a "mess" because Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have done little to secure it.

Why is this? Republicans have framed the debate and Democrats are following their lead. On the G.O.P. website, border security gets an entire page. The last round of hearings and their skewed topics get prominence on the left side.

Enforcement-first representatives in Congress are also omitting important aspects of the immigration reform debate. Nowhere do they discuss the numerous benefits that immigrants bring to the United States, the basic human rights of immigrants, the root cause of immigration or the effect of deportation on families and U.S. citizen children.

Interestingly the only discussion of "comprehensive immigration reform" (as defined these days in Washington as enforcement paired with legalization) is on the White House's website. Yet even here, Bush sees the need to follow his colleagues and talk the talk on border security.

What do these omissions mean? Election fever has taken over in Washington and "border security" talk is one of many campaign tactics. Perhaps the omissions are the death knell for immigration reform in this Congressional session.

ACTION STEP: Send an e-mail to your senators or representatives in the House and tell them to get back to the work of creating true reform. More border security is not the answer. Using this as merely a hot button issue for the campaign is not appropriate when millions of future voters are looking to Washington for true leadership.

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Study: Immigrants not hurting U.S. jobs

Yesterday the Pew Hispanic Center released an interesting study that shows that immigrants have no impact on U.S. citizen job-seekers. The study found "no apparent relationship between the growth of foreign workers with less education and the employment outcome of native workers with the same low level of education."

Now it will be interesting to see if anti-immigrant Congressional representatives will make note of this study at all. Many of them have been claiming the exact opposite (see Senator Sessions OpEd from last week). Facts, however, are not as important these days as grandstanding. So it's up to you to remind them to look at reality.

ACTION STEP: Send an e-mail to your senators or representatives in the House and send them the link for this study:
Tell them to read it and consider it when they get back to the work of reforming immigration policy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Executive Branch will not wait on Congress

If Congress isn't going to do anything about immigration reform this year, then the Executive Branch is not going to wait on them. Yesterday Attorney General Gonzales announced new reforms in the Department of Justice and the immigration courts it oversees through the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported that the Department of Justice was responding to complaints from advocates about the streamlining process that former Attorney General John Ashcroft put in place in 1999.

The announcement also comes just a few days after the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University announced the results of their study on immigration judges. In their study of requests for asylum in the United States, they found "a great disparity in the rate at which individual immigration judges declined the applications."

Up until now, Gonzales has been on the sidelines of the immigration debate. Just a few weeks ago, at the end of July, he made a speech about immigration reform in California. In much of his speech, he was speaking for President Bush and he offered reasons to support the Administration's "comprehensive plan". Gonzales started with saying, "The fact is that the federal government needs to take action."

Yet this is not what Congressional majority members are doing: instead over the past several weeks they have sponsored a number of hearings "in the field" and on the Hill. Normally hearings are held before legislation is considered and passed. Instead Congressional majority members, in their effort to push enforcement-only or enforcement-first immigration reform, organized the hearings which will essentially kill reform debate in this congressional session.

Instead Gonzales has shown both responsiveness to construcitve criticism and also initiative when the Legislative Branch is deadlocked in "do-nothing-ness".

Back in July, Gonzales said "And the answer - is that there are no easy answers. And that's all right." Truth is, we need answers and need Congress to listen to immigrants in designing truly comprehensive immigration reform.

ACTION STEP: Contact the Attorney General and thank him for taking steps to reform immigration courts but ask him to do more to ensure their fairness.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bush versus the R.N.C.?

Last week, President Bush spoke at the Texas border with Mexico about immigration reform. With only 15 legislative days left this Congressioanl session, Bush is still pushing, hoping against hope that Congress will work out some reform for him to sign into law.

Bush is still trying hard to get Congress to act: "I expect the United States Congress to do its duty and pass comprehensive immigration reform" he said in his speech. He also said "I don't like a system that's not working, and a system that forces people who want to work in the back of 18-wheelers. I don't like a system that encourages smuggling. I don't like a system that encourages people to walk across the desert to risk their life. I think we need to have a system that is orderly and fair and transparent."

Meanwhile, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee met in Minneapolis on the same day and drafted a resolution calling for border enforcement first. CNN quoted an excerpt of the resolution: "Resolved that the Republican National Committee calls for the immediate securing of our borders with all means available as well as the enforcement of existing immigration laws in the workplace." The authors of the resolution favor going beyond the president's temporary deployment of the National Guard to the border. The resolution passed by an 8-1 vote, with the only dissenting vote favoring an even stronger statement.

But with all this grandstanding and the recent round of delay-tactic hearings around the country, it is lookling unlikely that Congress will reconcile the Senate and House bills before the end of the legislative session.

As Suzanne Malveaux of CNN commented "The bottom line, Republicans may not even get their immigration bill, but President Bush wants to make sure that his party does not pay for this issue come midterm elections."

ACTION STEP: Contact your Senators and/or Representatives in the House and tell them to get back to work on truly comprehensive immigration reform.

Sessions gets his say

On CNN last week, Senator Jeff Sessions was on Lou Dobbs' show talking about his border fence amendment that was approved by the Senate. Interviewed by Kitty Pilgrim, Sessions suggested that Senators "switched" their votes to support of border enforcement after listening to their constituents (This is another example of Republican re-framing: the Senate bill contained border enforcement so this wasn't much of a 'switch' for those who voted for it).

Sessions said that senators felt the cynicism of Americans who "believe we talk the game, but we don't walk the walk. And I thought it was good that we eventually got that passed in a 94-3 vote was, I think, indicates some real change of heart among some in the Senate."

They also discussed Sessions' OpEd in the Washington Times about the Pence-Hutchinson immigration plan. Sessions said the U.S. needs comprehensive reform. "We need to throw out this system and develop a new system of immigration that serves America's national interests, our legitimate interests as a nation. And that includes accepting people who have higher skills. It includes allowing people to apply and wait in line based on merit." He said Congress should reject any plans that allows temporary workers because "they get to bring their families, they get to extend, extend, extend for 12, 15, 17 years. By then, nobody can ask those people to leave. Their children are in high school or in college."

Is anyone else bothered by the statement "Nobody can ask these people to leave"? Maybe it would have been clearer if he said "We want their labor but not them"? Has today's understanding of immigration strayed so far from its traditional meaning that a senator can't understand why immigrants should be allowed to settle in the US?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Pence-Hutchinson is its preference for immigrants from NAFTA/CAFTA countries (THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF THE PLAN). It is the only hint that anyone in Congress has been thinking about that the root causes of migration might have something to do with globalization. Sessions obviously unconcerned with how and who these international agreements have impacted. He has problems with the plan because, as he says in his OpEd, "By limiting the new program to only NAFTA and CAFTA countries, the bill would be a further and dramatic tilt to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, over every other country in the world." He says that Irish immigrants would be excluded and after all "Irish settlers helped form this nation yet, amazingly, they received only two-tenths of one percent of our green cards last year."

Besides the obvious historical inaccuracy here (What about other ethnic groups, like Latino-Americans, who helped form this nation? Were the Irish even welcome when they first arrived?), Sessions is hinting at some serious racism and classism.

Sessions also has problems with allowing low-skilled workers entering the U.S. In his OpEd, he claims that low-skilled immigrants have depressed wages. Perhaps in such a small printed space, Sessions does not have the opportunity to examine other research that actually shows that immigrants EXPAND economic opportunities for U.S. citizens. In a statement that reveals Sessions limited understanding of today's immigration law and visa categories, Sessions continues "What we have lacked in this discussion is a serious evaluation of the merit-based policies other developed nations have adopted." He also suggests that only high-skilled workers "will contribute the most to their society and take full advantage of citizenship opportunities." (huh?)

It is also interesting that Senator Sessions is stepping up in the debate at this moment. But then again, he's not up for re-election in November so he can risk taking action.

ACTION STEP: E-mail or call (202.224.4124) Jeff Sessions and tell him that you don't agree with his analysis of the immigration situation. Tell him that immigrants (both highly skilled and low skilled) contribute to our society and they should be treated as full human beings with rights.

E-mail Lou Dobbs and CNN and tell them the same thing. Make them understand that all Americans do not agree with Jeff Sessions and his enforcement-first plans.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

States/cities "will not wait" on Washington

Did you hear about U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair signing an agreement with California Governor Schwarzenegger on global warming this week? The Los Angeles Times reported that the Governator said "California will not wait for our federal government to take strong action on global warming."

Lately in multiple public policy issue areas, local and state governments are stepping up where they think the 109th "Do-Nothing" Congress is failing to act. Nowhere is this more evident than in immigration reform.

This week, another governor, this time in Colorado, signed into law one of the toughest packages of immigration-related legislation in the country. The Associated Press reported that Republican Governor Bill Owens said "This legislation will make a positive difference in the future of Colorado." Meanwhile Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff boasted to the Denver Post that "We passed more measures to tackle illegal immigration than at any point in Colorado history."

The Colorado laws will force 1 million people receiving state and federal benefits to prove they are legal U.S. residents and require that employers verify that they do not employ illegal immigrants before they can receive grants from the state Economic Development Commission. More measures are planned as ballot initiatives in the November elections.

Meanwhile in other states, like Ohio, New Jersey and Florida, counties and municipalities are getting in on the act. In Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones has paid for billboards that have a photo of him with the words "Hire an Illegal-Break the Law," and "Illegal Aliens Here" in a circle with a slash through it. The Washington Post reports that immigrants are fleeing the harassment for other locales.

The New Jersey town of Riverside recently approved an ordinance banning employers and landlords from hiring or housing illegal immigrants. The New York Times reports that the town, which has been revitalized by an influx of Brazilian immigrants, is no longer bustling and the downtown is deserted.

As one bright spot, the city of Avon Park in Florida, voted down a measure that would have made English the city's official language and imposing fines for those who offer jobs, services or housing to illegal immigrants. The law intended to stop the illegal immigration that "destroys our neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life,'' the act read. The Associated Press reported that at a public hearing, Alejandro Anaya wept as he explained why he opposes the law. Anaya is legal, but his wife is not. "All she wants is a chance,'' Anaya told the crowd. "She is not a bad person. She is not a criminal. She didn't take anyone's job. All we are asking is for a chance."

(It is interesting that local governments like Avon Park seem to understand the need to listen to the public including immigrants themselves, unlike the spate of recent Congressional hearings where politicians seem to be grandstanding for results at the ballot box.)

What does all this mean? Congress needs to get back to work in passing truly comprehensive immigration reform rather than leaving it to states, cities, counties and towns to their misguided and divisive attempts to do what they think needs to be done. This wave of local legislation also demonstrates how the ant-immigrant hateful rhetoric of anti-immigrant is in danger of catching on like a wildfire. The immediate results of the measures also shows what the economic consequences could be if enforcement-only legislation is passed in Washington.


Contact your Senators and/or Representatives in the House and tell them to get back to work on truly comprehensive immigration reform. Ask them to stop partisan politicking in these hearings and refrain from the anti-immigrant rhetoric since it is having an effect on local governments.

Also read your local news to see if your local government is planning any anti-immigrant legislation. Get involved and make sure that pro-immigrant voices are heard in the debate.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Senator Sessions gets his way

Today the Senate overwhelmingly voted to add an amendment proposed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R -AL) to an appropriations bill for the Department of Defense. Sessions amendment will "provide $1,829,100,000 for the Army National Guard for the construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing, and 461 miles of vehicle barriers along the southwest border." The Senate is expected to approve the appropriations bill (with the amendment attached) later this week.

Senator Sessions told the Washington Post that "By passing my amendment today, we are sending a signal that we are serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants over the border." (The phrase 'sending a signal' is interesting in many ways...)

Sessions has been among the most vocal members of Congress who has been calling for enforcement-only immigration reform. He was among the Republicans senators who did not vote for the Senate immigration bill back in May.

Today's action is disturbing in many ways:

1. Today's vote could herald the future of immigration reform. For months, Congressional representatives have threatened to pass other immigration enforcement provisions by attaching it to must-pass legislation if no immigration bill is passed in this Congressional session. Actions like this are more difficult to rally opposition against, especially when they are piggybacking on unrelated legislation that are likely to pass.

2. Almost all of the pro-comprehensive reform senators (both Democrat and Republican) voted for this amendment. Senators appear to think that voting for tougher enforcement is a definite vote-getter for their parties. Standing up against further militarization of the border seems too dangerous for them to consider.

3. The substance of the bill is alarming. Adding more fencing and border enforcement in no way addresses the root causes of why people take such risks to enter the United States without documents. To date, beefed up border enforcement has resulted in thousands of deaths by forcing migrants to cross in areas that are dangerous. More enforcement pushes people to even more desperate means of entering the U.S.

ACTION STEP: Call your Senators today (202.224.3121) and tell them that you do not agree with this amendment. Tell them that we need a truly comprehensive approach to immigration reform.