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?