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.