Thursday, April 27, 2006

April 24: Families Converged in Nationwide Mobilization Against Deportation

From AFSC partner, Aarti Shahani of Familes for Freedom

On April 24th, the first day that the Senate returned to the heated immigration debate that has galvanized America, hundreds of families from across the country who have been devastated by deportation gathered on the West Lawn of the US Capitol at 2:30pm to protest immigration laws passed exactly ten years ago. AFSC was among the organizations that participated.

On April 24, 1996, one year after Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, Congress passed the Anti-terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) – a sweeping anti-immigrant bill that radically transformed the US immigration system, subjecting whole classes of immigrants and their families to a system of mandatory detention and mandatory deportation. Since AEDPA was passed, nearly 1.5 million immigrants have been deported and immigrants have become the fastest growing segment of the domestic prison population.

“We’re here to tell Congress that if they really believe in family values, they should not support laws that make it easier to tear families apart,” said Carol McDonald, a member of New York-based Families for Freedom. Like others in the crowd, McDonald is a US citizen and is now struggling as a single mother since her husband’s detention. Her husband Linden has been in mandatory detention since October 2003. Even though he served less than two weeks in jail for smoking marijuana, the 1996 laws denied him the right to a bond hearing before a judge.

Rally participants – who came from California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Washington – cautioned Congress to not repeat past mistakes. The Senate and House bills are consistently pro-deportation bills. The House bill proposes to turn unlawful presence from a civil violation into a federal felony, instantaneously criminalizing millions of people. The Senate bill, widely hailed as compromise legislation, would increase the number of immigrants subject to deportation. For example, mere suspicion that a non-citizen has ever been involved in “gang activity” could subject him or her to deportation.

Maura Ortiz, a member of California-based Homies Unidos, said, “Deportation is double jeopardy—any mistake an immigrant has ever made could later end up destroying years spent building a life and thriving as a valuable community member.”

The families who converged in the Capitol are seeking not just to prevent the laws from worsening, but also to fix the current immigration system. Their only glimmer of hope came on March 28th when, one day after the Senate Judiciary passed its proposal, US Representative Jose Serrano introduced HR 5035, “The Child Citizen Protection Act” in the House of Representatives. Serrano described the bill as “common sense legislation” to restore limited discretion to immigration judges where the exile of an immigrant parent is clearly against the best interests of a United States citizen child.

One child who would benefit from the act is Bronx teenager Julio Beltre. “I saw immigration agents come to my home with guns to take my dad away at dawn. I want him back. And I want us to stop deportation now.”

Also see:
FAMILIES VALUES: Brief on Detention, Deportation and Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Available at

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Georgia's Immigration Reform (or PR?)

The big news in immigration reform today did not happen in Washington but in Atlanta.

Governor Sunny Perdue of Georgia signed into law a bill that cracks down on undocumented immigrants in the state. It's unclear what the bill actually does that federal doesn't already deal with, such as requiring identity documents for state-administered benefits, employer sanctions for those who hire undocumented immigrants, etc. In this respect, the law seems more like posturing than substance.

The only cutting edge part of the law is requiring police to check the immigration status of people they encounter. While this is already common practice in some parts of the country, it is no mandated by state or federal law (until now). Similar provisions exist in HR 4437 and the Senate bills (which are still not law).

Although many of its provisions will not take effect until July 1, 2007, the Governor is already anticipating a public relations problem. At the signing, according to the New york Times, he said "I want to make this clear — we are not, Georgia's government is not, and this bill is not, anti-immigrant. We simply believe that everyone who lives in our state needs to abide by our laws."

Now with Georgia as a case study, let's hope the rest of the nation can learn from this mistake. Perhaps future statistics will show how detrimental this law was for Georgia and its economy. Hopefully we'll be able to measure how immigrant communities in Georgia wil no longer cooperate with the police, more domestic violence incidents and community dangers may go unreported, etc. If undocumented immigrants are unwelcome in Georgia, will ALL immigrants now choose other states to relocate too? What will this mean for the economy in Georgia?

The future will tell...

ACTION STEP: Contact Governor Perdue and express your outrage at this new law. Tel: 404-656-1776 or use on-line form at

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Finger-pointing continues

President Bush is not letting up this week on the Senate's failure to come up with an immigration bill last week.

According to the New York Times, on Thursday, Mr. Bush accused Senator Reid of "single-handedly thwarting the will of the American people and impeding bipartisan efforts to secure this border, and make this immigration system of ours more humane and rational." (Senator Reid fired back with something about Bush having as much credibility on immigration issues as he does on security and war in Iraq...).

Reid is standing by his actions last week to twart conservative Republicans from adding radical amendments to the legislation.

The talk in the Senate now is that will try again after the recess and take a compromise bill (probably the Hagel-Martinez bill) direct to the Senate floor, bypassing any more work by the Judiciary Committee.

Sceptics in Washington think that Comprehensive Immigration Reform is dead at this point but that we'll see many of the enforcement provisions again.

Senator Bill Frist is threatening to add the enforcement provisions to up-coming must-pass appropriations this fall, right before the November elections. Along with House Representative Hastert, Frist is backing off the "criminalization" aspects of HR 4437, saying that the Democrats fought to keep it in for strategic reasons.

There's still another week of the recess to go. Sit tight for more finger-pointing.

P.S. For a good synopsis of how we got to this point, check out this article by Jean Butterfield, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers' Asscociation:

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The "Blame Game" (and April 10 rallies)

Over the weekend, President Bush used his radio address to lay blame for the failure of the immigration reform at the feet of the Democrats, especially Senator Henry Reid of Nevada. Apparently Seantor Reid was concerned about a number of radical amendments that were out there that some Republicans were threatening to add to the bill.

According to Traci Hong of the Asian American Justice Center, Reid was opposed to amendments that would have undermined the earned adjustment and temporary worker provisions (ex. - Kyl amendment that would have barred people with removal or voluntary departure orders from participating in the earned adjustment program or the Isakson amendment that would have prevented earned adjustment or temporary worker programs from starting until DHS certified that the borders were "secure"), which would have undermined the compromise that they were trying to reach.

Senator Specter said the Judiciary Committee will try again after the recess on April 27 and hope to have something together by May 4. So this ain't over yet...

On Sunday, jouranlist Chris Mattews said on NBC that the Senate needs a bill with “teeth and heart”. Mattews and his panel of 13 “experts” (that included wall-builder and yellow journalist par excellance Lou Dobbs) are prediciting that nothing will be passed on immigration this year.

On the same show, Lou Dobbs said that working men and women will be giving their senators an earful over the Congressional recess about putting the concerns of "illegals" before their constituents.


Taking this cue from Lou, pro-immigrant folks should contact their senators over the next two weeks in their home offices. and express their concern about the legislation, namely its punitive and limited nature.

** Join one of the many rallies and marches being planned for Monday April 10. Check out for info about a rally in your community!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Senate bill looking doubtful

The Senate voted this morning for 'cloture' on the Hagel-Martinez compromise bill (to see if there was enough support to move forward). The move would have also protected it from ugly anti-immigrant amendments.

Well the vote failed. They got only 38 of the necessary 60 votes. Apparently some Democrats did not support the new bill. Bill Frist's bill was also considered but it got even less support: 32 votes in favor.

Now the partisan bickering has started, each side blaming the other for failing to work something out before the Congressional recess. It's looking doubtful that anything will be worked out today. That means over the two week recess the proposals could "die on the vine " since it's getting too close to the mid-term elections.

The media (AP and Reuters) don't quite get the complexity of the situation or what the public thinks of it all. Today they reported that "Demonstrations IN SUPPORT OF (emphasis added) the compromise were planned for Monday across the nation." The message on Monday needs to be that we don't support legislation with the nasty hidden traps in it that the media refuses to cover.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Senators discussing "process" for new bill

Things are moving fast in the Senate. All the buzz is about the new "magic formula" Hagel-Martinez compromise bill. Apparently the Specter bill didn't have the 60 votes so it could be considered for a full vote so it died. Democrats like Ted Kennedy were worried that Frist's enforcement-only bill would be the substitute so they decided to get behind the Hagel-Martinez compromise bill.

Advocates haven't yet seen "any paper" (the actual bill) but we do know a little about parts of it. The new bill has a revised plan for the 12 million udocumented immigrants depending on when they arrived in the US. Title 2, which contains all of the draconian enforcement measures, is still in the new bill. We understand that the DREAM Act is still in there too.

According to Cecilia Munoz of NCLR the discussion right now focuses on is the process ahead for the bill. There are two concerns.

1. Senators are discussing rules for how the bill will be considered. There are lots of ugly anti-immigrant amendments out there that some senators want to add once the bill is introduced. To maintain the compromise, the Senate leadership wants to ensure that nothing is added to make the bill worse for immigrants. They're trying to figure out a way to keep these bad amendments from being added.

2. Senators are also discussing what will happen if the bill is passed and then goes to a Conference Committee where it will be reconciled with HR 4437, the Sensenbrenner bill. Senators want to protect the bill from radical changes that might happen if the Conference Committee tries to make it fit with HR 4437. They are seeking an agreement that the integrity of the Senate bill will be maintained in conference.

Friday is the last day before the Congressional two-week vacation so senators want to get this out of the way. It's not clear that the process concerns above will be resolved yet so it could still fall apart. Friday will tell...

ACTION STEP: Call your Senators at 202.224.3121 and tell their staffer that "I oppose the enforcement provisions of the Hagel-Martinez bill. No bill that contains draconian enforcement provisions can truthfully be a “pro-immigrant".

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Republicans propose THIRD bill as alternative

Late breaking news announced that President Bush met with Republican senators in the White House on Wednesday and encouraged them to come up with a compromise. So Republican Senators Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel presented their "magic formula" as a compromise THIRD bill that they hope more Republican senators will support.

Bill Frist has filed for 'cloture' to force a referendum on the bill so that the entire Senate can vote on it.

What's in the bill? All we know now is what the Associated Press tells us:

"The Republican alternative would separate the population into three groups depending on how long they lived in the United States as of January 2004. Those in the country longer than five years would be eligible for citizenship along the lines contained in the Judiciary Committee bill, aides said. Those who have lived two to five years in the United States would have six months to register and three years to apply for a temporary work visa or some other visa, aides said. They could live in the country legally during that time but would have to return to a U.S. port of entry to get the visa. Illegal immigrants in the country less than two years would not be eligible for special treatment and would have to leave, aides said."

Democrats are going to look at it and see if it's something they can support.

Senator John McCain told CNN that "I haven't seen an issue in recent years that has so much emotion associated with it."

More soon...

ACTION STEP: Call your Senators and tell them that you oppose any bill that contains the heavy-handed enforcement and "hidden traps" and that they should take more time on such an important issue. See the DWN press kit materials for more info:

Associated Press "US Senate Republicans offer immigration compromise: Recasts with Republican alternative, updates throughout" by Donna Smith, Wed Apr 5, 2006 9:59 PM ET

CNN " GOP senators offer immigration plan: Bush says he wants guest-worker plan without amnesty, Wednesday, April 5, 2006; Posted: 11:35 p.m. EDT]

Thursday 4/6 is the big day!

Apparently efforts to find a "third way" compromise bill (Martinez' "magic formula") failed last night.

Yesterday Senator Reid of Nevada filed for 'cloture' on the Judiciary Committee bill. That means that he wants to see where the bill is at right now and sort of hold a referendum on it.

So on Thursday 4/6, if there are 60 votes in favor of the Judiciary Committee bill, the Senate will move quickly to vote on it on the floor. If there aren't 60 votes (which many DC advocates predict), everything falls apart and they go back to committee to try to work out some sort of compromise.

Bill Frist's enforcement bill, that has already been introduced, is out there hanging because no one thinks there are 60 votes to get 'cloture'. But Frist is threatening to add the provisions as a rider to a "must-pass" appropriations bill in the fall (the same way that the REAL ID Act passed).

Also tomorrow, there could be discussion about the more than 120 amendments filed to either ameliorate or toughen the Senate legislation. To get an amendment added, they need consent from both parties. There are some really scary amendments and Republicans are complaining that Democrats are holding up this process.

Among these amendments is the Lieberman-Brownback bill pertaining to asylum seekers (see earlier post). A vote on whether to add this bill will happen tomorrow (Thursday), so advocates are asking folks to call their Senators to support it. There is a chance it could be voted on and passed separately from any bill (which would be the best case scenario).

The Senate is going on vacation from this Saturday April 8 and won't be back until Monday April 24 (when the united family visits come to DC. See

[A big thanks to Keri Sherlock of the Rights Working Group in helping us sort through these complicated procedures!]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"We're still looking to find a magic formula."

This is what Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida said today as quoted in the NY Times about the current immigration debate in the Senate. Did he mean the 'magic formula' that would offer real solutions for the broken U.S. immigration system? Did he mean proposals that would help 11 million undocumented people come out of the shadows to become true members of our society? Did he mean a new plan rather than more of the same enforcement that hasn't worked in the past ten years?

Nope. He was talking about a magic formula for a third compromise bill that would be please the majority of Republicans (and possibly Democrats) in the Senate and win them favor with their constituents in up-coming mid-term elections. In the NY Times, Martinez goes on: "We're going to have to find a place where we can all land. What we're all trying to find is something that is common ground enough to get the majority of Republicans on board."

Many hard-nosed Republicans on immigration are not happy with the guest worker provisions that have been (inaccurately) described as an "amnesty" (Never mind that under the plan the vast majority of the 11 million would have scant chance of meeting all the requirements to wait years and years for the mere possibility of a green card...). Some members of the Judiciary Committee want to preserve whatever bi-partisan nature of the mark-up is left.

Meanwhile Bill Frist is still the task master and wants to vote this week on the most ambitious reform of immigration law in a century. He wants to limit discussion on the topic as if the matter doesn't take very serious examination.

So these Senators are trying to decide which bill will ultimately go the Senate floor for a vote: the Judiciary Committee Bill ("Specter's Markup"), Frist's enforcement-only bill or a "third way" compromise between the other two.

Arlen Specter, the chair of the Judiciary Committee is sounding glum. He said to the Times: "It's getting very late in the week to salvage the bill. It's a power struggle now. It's a struggle of wills."

...and politics.


Call the Senate switchboard (202.224.3121) and ask to be connected to your Senators' offices.Tell them that immigration reform is too important to rush and that they should take their time in considering such important legislation.

Call Senator Bill Frist (202.224.3344) and tell him to stop imposing artificial deadlines on the immigration reform legislation and to stop limiting debate. This is too important to rush. You could also mention that you don't support the enforcement provisions and that there is no 'consensus' on this issue.

April 3 Press Conferences in Six Cities!

The debate is not only happening in Washington. Yesterday in six cities, members of the national Detention Watch Network (including AFSC) held press conferences on the 'hidden traps' in the current proposals in Washington that would radically expand enforcement and detention. The events were well attended by local TV stations, print media and the ethnic press. Stay tuned for some samples. You can see the press release at .

If you'd like copies of the press kit, visit the website of the National Immigration Project:

Article from Spanish language 'La Opinion' in Los Angeles.

ACTION STEP: Print out the press kit materials, read them and share them with others. Call your Senator and express your concern about these provisions.

The Lieberman-Brownback Amendment

Pro-immigrant advocates are working hard in Washington to get amendments added to the legislation in order to ameliorate it as much as possible.

From Kerri Sherlock of the Rights Working Group:
Thanks to the hard work of many advocates we have great news. The asylum detention amendment was filed last night by Senator Lieberman and Senator Brownback has agreed to cosponsor. Advocates suggest that if you can reach out to other Senators to garner support for the amendment that would be helpful.

The Lieberman--Brownback amendment closely tracks the key recommendations of the bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a critical report last year on the disturbing treatment of asylum seekers held in detention. All of the provisions in the amendment would benefit asylum seekers, but several would benefit other immigration detainees as well. The amendment expands the affected population for two reasons: 1) in many cases, the procedures, policies and conditions that need to be improved harm different populations at the same time and in the same way; 2) as a result of new DHS policies, and provisions in both Senate bills, the population of non-criminal aliens being detained with criminals in maximum security facilities will increase rapidly.

Sections of the Amendment
  • Recording interviews ensures persecuted aliens aren't turned back
  • Mandating hearings on release determinations prevents unjust detentions
  • Legal Orientation Programs improve aliens' understanding and reduces costs
  • Provide humane treatment for all and tailored standards for non-criminals
  • An Office of Detention Oversight will facilitate meaningful supervision
  • Rely more on humane alternatives to prisons and jails

ACTION STEP: Today call your Senator and ask him/her to support this important amendment. Call the Senate switchboard at

MySpace and the Immigration Debate

Last week, National Public Radio reported on how MySpace is being used by students to organize against HR 4437. Listen to "Text Message, MySpace Roots of Student Protests"

The Detention Watch Network, a national coalition which AFSC belongs to, set up a profile on MySpace to reach out to the hundreds of students who are stepping up to voice their concerns about immigration reform proposals. Over the weekend, the profile was viewed by 95 people. DWN now has 64 friends in several states and belong to over 31 groups. Check it out at


1. Join MySpace (if you haven't already) for free. Add DWN as a friend and tell your friends to join.

2. Share the DWN MySpace profile web address with students you know who are interested in immigration reform and need information sources.

Inaugural blog message about recent happenings in DC

AFSC Project Voice staff decided that things are moving so quickly in Washington these days on immigration reform, that maybe a daily blog would help folks keep up to date. So here goes...


In keeping with his threats to the Judiciary Committee about meeting his self-imposed March 27 deadline, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced his own enforcement-only bill two weeks ago but has not withdrawn it as he promised (something to do with Republican support for the Judiciary Committee's bill). The proposals in his bill mirror many of the enforcement measures in the version from the House of Representatives (HR 4437).

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee met the March 27 deadline imposed by Senator Frist and delivered a bill to the Senate for consideration. As you probably have heard, the bill contained components from the McCain-Kennedy guest worker program as well as the DREAM Act, a plan that would help many undocumented students gain immigration status. Senator Durbin added an ammendment that struck all the sections that would have criminalized undocumented people and individuals who offer them humanitarian aid.

BUT, most of the detention and enforcement provisions of Title II still remain in the bill including:

The addition of 10,000 detention beds
The use of closed military bases as detention centers
Expanded expedited removal both for undocumented immigrants and immigrants with certain criminal convictions
Expansion of the definition of “aggravated felony”
Expansion of mandatory detention
Indefinite detention
Expansion of border militarization
Authorization of local law enforcement to enforce immigration law

They did not, however, decide, what to do about the 'judicial review' provisions and decided to wait and discuss that today April 2.

Some analysts are suggesting that this is all a power play between Presidential candidates: Frist is trying to appeal to the conservative base of voters to strenghten his run for the White House and John McCain is wooing more moderate Republicans with his guest worker proposal.


Today the Senate Judiciary discussed the 'judicial review' proposals that were not included in their final mark-up. You can watch the hearing yourself at . It's mid-way down the page under Video/Audio. You'll need Realplayer to see it.

Only two senators were at the hearing (Specter and Sessions) and they listened to two panels of experts talk about the proposals to change the legal process for immigration cases. Basically the proposals under consideration would move all apeals to the Federal District Court in Washington, DC, a court that has not experience in immigration matters and usually only deals with issues like patents and tax law. They also are considering allowing the Attorney General to decide if an immigrant can receive 'certification' or permission to appeal his case.

Today a number of circuit court judges, a professor and a Department of Justice deputy discussed this propsal. The judge in charge of the DC court pointed out that this proposed plan would triple their work load and require them to build a second building to just do the job. He further broke it down to the figure that each judge would have one hour and a half to consider each case, not nearly enough time to consider the ins and outs of each case. His stats were staggering. Several circuit judges also chimed in and agreed that this was a bad plan. They admitted that there has been a flood of new cases in the circuit courts but everyone tip-toed around the fact that the current situation is the result of the 'streamlining' that former Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed. When asked by Senator Specter what the judges thought would be a better system, they suggested more resources for the BIA and a return to panels of judges to consider each case (Ashcroft slashed their budget and let only one judge consider each case). A deputy from the Department of Justice repeatedly suggested that the flood of cases are mainly frivolous and are simply delay tactics so the immigrant can stay in the country longer (I kept thinking, and what about those waiting it out in detention? like they want to prolong that?).

Arlen Specter made a comment that this was all very complex and that this 'speed track' and not simply fast track legislation was imposed on him and he didn't like it.


We've heard that the Judiciary Committee's bill could be folded into the Frist bill. or they could both go to the floor for a vote. Bill Frist says he wants to vote this week. He's moving for 'cloture' which would limit debate on the bill and the number of ammendments that could be added. Many Senators are proposing ammendments that would either toughen or ameliorate many of the provisions of the bill.