Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hearings scheduled

Last week Republican House leadership startled the nation by announcing that they would organize hearings around the country to "listen to Americans" on immigration reform. Most commentators saw this as delay tactic that may likely result in the death of immigration reform legislation in this Congress.

This week the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations announced the specifics about the hearings they are planning for July 5 in San Diego, California and July 7 in Laredo, Texas. The set-up of the hearings in antithetical to the Republican House leader Hastert's assertion that these hearings are meant to get a pulse of what the public is thinking on immigration.

Obtaining logistical information on the hearings is not easy: it's not readily available (for example: buried on the House webpage). The San Diego meeting is being held at 9:00 a.m. the day after a major holiday in the offices of the Border Patrol and the speakers are ALL immigration enforcement folks or from 'Friends of the Border Patrol'. There are only 100 seats on a first come first serve basis. Need they say any more clearly that they don't want immigrants or pro-immigrant advocates there? At least the Laredo meeting is being held in a hotel (even though the speakers are the same ilk).

AFSC staff in San Diego are planning their own shadow hearing the same day at 5:30. Unlike the House Subcommittee, we'll post the info here to help advertise our hearing: Mountain View Recreation Center, 641 So. Boundary Street, San Diego, CA (between Ocean View and T Street). For information, call 619.233.4114.

The same day as the San Diego hearing, Senator Arlen Specter will hold a hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform at 9:30 am at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St, Independence Mall, Philadelphia. This hearing will focus on business needs and employment-based immigration. Another hearing is being planned by Specter's office (possibly for late July or early August) on earned legalization and other issues related to the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Funnily enough there is no information on Senator Specter's website and we only obtained this information from the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.

Advocates are pointing out how utterly undemocratic the immigration reform debate has been thus far. These hearings just add more fuel to this point of view. It's shocking how blatantly one-sided they are. Haven't we had enough of "P.R. Politics"? Isn't it time for REAL/TRUE/REALLY REAL/HONEST-TO-GOODNESS Comprehensive Immigration Reform rather than all this posturing?

But YOU can voice your concerns about the process!

ACTION STEP: Join us in voicing opposition to these biased hearings, by contacting members of the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation TODAY!

- Denounce these "open" hearings as a farce; obviously biased toward one side of border issues, as observed through selection of panelists and location of the hearing in San Diego.
- Exclusionary practices and lack of transparency in the planning of this hearing; the voice of human rights groups and community- based organizations in the border region has been deliberately excluded from the dialogue on the hearing, making the event inaccessible to the communities most affected by border enforcement.
- Such one-sided proceedings, masquerading as public hearings, only increase the tensions surrounding border policy and immigration reform, instead of promoting solutions to these debates.
-These so-called "public" hearings are an affront to the dignity of border communities, who have fundamentally opposed increased border enforcement measures since the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994.
-The hearing legitimizes border vigilantism, by providing an undemocratic, paramilitary organization such as the Friends of the Border Patrol with an official voice in the hearing.

Telephone numbers for the House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation

Chairman: Edward Royce (R-CA) 202.515.0524
Peter T. King (R-NY), tel: 202.225.7896, e-mail:
Brad Sherman (D-CA) tel: 202.225.5911
Thomas Tancredo (R-CO) tel: 202.225.7882
Robert Wexler (D-FL) tel: 202.225.3001
Darrel Issa (R-CA) tel: 202.225.3906
Diane Watson (D-CA) tel: 202.225.7084
Michael McCaul (R-TX) tel:202.225.4401
Adam Smith (D-WA) tel: 202.225.8901
Ted Poe (R-TX) 202.225.6565, Toll Free - 866.425.6565
Ben Chandler (D-KY) tel: 202.225.4706
Jerry Weller (R-IL) tel: 202.225.3635
Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) tel: 202.225.6131, 800-356-6424
J. Gresham Barrett (R-SC) tel: 202.225.5301
Russ Carnahan (D-MO) tel: 202.225.2671

Utah votes

Recently Republican Brian Bilbray won a seat in the House of Representatives to represent San Diego after a bitter anti-immigrant campaign. Many commentators thought the campaign was taste of what the November elections could be like and how important a tough-on-immigration stance would be.

This week, the bellwether was in Utah. U.S. Representative Chris Cannon successfully defended his candidacy for the Republican nomination for his House seat from challenger John Jacob who said Cannon was 'soft' on immigration. Cannon supports a "comprehensive" immigration reform package similar to the Senate bill and President Bush's stance. Cannon beat Jacob 56 percent to 44 percent. ''This is a big margin of victory. It says a lot about Republicans getting together and solving this problem,'' he said to the Associated Press.

Even though Cannon voted for HR 4437, the enforcement-only immigration bill in the House, he supports compromise and the proposed guest worker program. Team America, a conservative group that calls illegal immigration the most critical problem facing the nation, targeted him as a result. It spent $40,000 on radio ads criticizing him.

Cannon has represented Utah for five terms but he will face Democrat Christian Burridge, among others, in the November general election in the heavily Republican district in Utah.

What does this mean for Republicans in November? Hopefully it demonstrates that scapegoating undocumented immigrants does not pay off in the end.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New Delay Tactic: Public Hearings

It's been nearly a month since the Senate passed its version of immigration reform. The next step was supposed to be a conference committee to reconcile it with the House version. Instead Congressional leaders announced yesterday that they are considering a series of public hearings on immigration.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "The decision effectively throws the issue, on which both the Senate and House have voted, back to the debate stage rather than advancing it with intensive negotiations for the two chambers to try to bridge their cast differences. It also reduces the chance that a compromise will be reached this fall, when campaigning for re-election will become the focal point for many lawmakers."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, was reported as saying "We are going to listen to the American people, and we are going to get a bill that is right. Our No. 1 priority is to secure the border and right now I haven't heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent out a press release and said that "The Republican House wants to defeat the immigration bill. This is a stall."

A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Bush would press for legislation. "The president is undeterred in his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill," said the spokeswoman, Dana Perino, who said the White House was "committed to working with members to see if we can reach a consensus on a bill that will help solve our nation's immigration problems." Senator Harry Reid of Nevada called on Mr. Bush to prod members of his party. "He has complete domination over this Republican Congress," Mr. Reid said. "Let him tell us how much he really wants a bill." (New York Times article)

The November elections are still looming in the distance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the L.A. Times "My own view is that Republicans want to use it as a campaign issue." Maybe Republicans are looking to the example of Brian Bilbray, a Republican in San Diego County California won the House seat left by disgraced Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham by campaigning almost entirely on the need to get tough on illegal immigration. Stalling the process until closer to the election could be risky. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina admitted "The question is, Is it better to solve the issue before the election, or is it better to make people mad and do nothing?"

Whatever their purpose, the public hearings will pose many interesting questions. It's a safe bet that the Congressional representatives are counting on only U.S. citizens (and mostly incensed ones at that) coming to the hearings. How much do you want to bet that you need a US driver's license or ID card to get into one of these hearings? At the same time, why would undocumented people take the risk of attending one of these hearings? Will they be able to stand up, identify themself as undocumented, speak from their experience and not fear being nabbed? Will DOCUMENTED immigrants feel welcome to come to the hearings if they know folks like the Minute Men could be there too? What will be the scope of the hearings? Will they address globalization and the impact of NAFTA in creating migration flows?

Hopefully AFSC will have information soon about the hearings so that YOU can go and express your concern about the legislation and ask for TRUE comprehensive immigration reform.

World Refugee Day on CNN

Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper spent an unprecedented two hours talking to Angelina Jolie about "Her Mission and Motherhood". The show coincided with World Refugee Day, which the United Nations designated several years ago to recognize the struggles and perseverance of refugees around the world.

The CNN coverage highlighted refugee situations around the world including the situation faced by unaccompanied minors in the United States. Anderson Cooper seemed to be surprised that children are detained in the U.S. and often have no access to legal representation: "I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that that even happens here, that...... that a kid can go through that system without legal representation." With so much to talk about, there wasn't much opportunity to discuss how pending legislation in Congress has many hidden traps that would ensnare many refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States.

The interview also revealed that Angelina Jolie gives a THIRD of her income to refugee relief and other causes. In the her interview, Angelina Jolie recounted her first visit to a refugee camp and what happened to her afterwards, "And then, suddenly, you see these people who are really fighting something, who are really surviving, who have so much pain and loss and things that you have no idea. And you just feel like, your whole life, you have just been so sheltered and so spoiled with so much... By the time I -- I got on the plane and on the way home, I -- I didn't -- I knew that I would somehow commit to doing something with these people in my life. And I knew that would be the only way to -- to settle it in myself."

Cynics like the Los Angeles Times critic Scott Collins saw the interview as a watershed moment for CNN in shedding its image as "grandpa's video wire service". In his article, Collins notes, "Some - not me, of course - might accuse Cooper of doing a 180 on real news coverage with such a celebrity interview. Jolie's bona fides as goodwill ambassador aside, is she really the most knowledgeable expert on Africa? You can say that celebrities help raise awareness of issues, but isn't that the same thing we were told 20 years ago with "We Are the World"?"

No, Mr. Collins, it is not the same thing. Considering that your own newspaper has yet to truly cover World Refugee Day or the on-going challenges of refugees here and around the world, maybe we do need an Angelina Jolie to get out the word.

Collins sums up the interview with "..., Jolie [offered] such penetrating insights into Africa's crises as: Some of what's happening there is awful. And this: We must do more."

And what exactly is wrong with asking the world to do more?

Friday, June 16, 2006

More P.R. from D.C.: I.C.E. Raids

Congress is not the only Washington entity trying to look tough on immigration. To prove her mettle in the midst of the immigration debate, Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced more immigration raids ("enforcement measures") at Dulles Airport and other locations. It's difficult to see these actions as much more than public relations ploys considering how Secretary Myers was appointed to her job this year by the Bush Adminstration.

Julie Myers, who is 36 years old, had no experience in immigration or enforcement when she was appointed by President Bush as a 'recess appointment' at the beginning of the year, a maneuver that means she was given the job without Congressional approval (The same move was used for contraversial nominee John Bolton as United Nations Ambassador). Her uncle, General Richard Myers, is the out-going Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and her husband John F. Wood is the Chief of Staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Critics included Senators, the DHS employee union and even rabid anti-immigrant Michelle Malkin. After the post-Katrina debacle with unqualified FEMA appointee Michael Brown (Bush's "Brownie"), many think that the Bush Adminstration should have learned lessons about avoiding cronyism because it results in the appointment of unqualified individuals.

Assistant Secretary Myers has a year to prove herself since her appointment only lasts until January 3, 2007 without Congressional approval. So is it any wonder that the last few weeks have been her opportunity to show how tough she can be? (Note that it occurred in the lull between the Senate bill's passage and the up-coming conference committee.) Never mind that the raids will result in the destruction of families by deporting breadwinners and disruption of businesses. But when your bosses and role models think postering is more important than substantive change, is it any wonder she's getting in on the P.R. circuit?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Debate losing momentum?

The National Immigration Forum in Washington reports that Comprehensive Reform is losing momentum in Congress.

The Forum says anti-immigrant rabble-rousers are raising the alarm that the Senate bill is some sort of "amnesty" and Congressional offices are being inundated with ant-immigrant calls (at a rate of 400 to 1 against the Senate bill). These "enforcement first" folks have sent more than 2,000 bricks to Congressional offices as a symbol of their desire for a wall built on the U.S. Mexico border. The Forum reports that "The feeling of being under siege is eroding the morale of supporters of reform."

The Forum asserts that these calls have emboldened House Republicans to resist anything but enforcement first. "The House Republicans, who are responsible for the enforcement-only approach embodied by the Sensenbrenner bill, view the Senate bill as a broad amnesty. As they see it, if they support this approach, it will anger their base and depress turnout in the upcoming general election. On the other hand, they view opposition to comprehensive reform as a way to boost their electoral chances. That view was reinforced in the recent election in California to replace the disgraced and now jailed Duke Cunningham. The Republican candidate who won, Brian Bilbray, is a former lobbyist for the anti-immigrant group FAIR. Bilbray used his opposition to comprehensive reform to his advantage and his victory is being widely interpreted by House Republicans and political experts alike that an "enforcement only" stance may well be the more politically viable stance for Republicans going into these hotly-contested mid-term elections."

Meanwhile many immigrant rights advocates have been raising concerns about the Senate bill's flaws... but for different reasons. The chief problem is that everyone uses the word "comprehensive" differently: President Bush, Senator Bill Frist, Senator Arlen Specter, even some immigration advocates. To many in Washington, "comprehensive" means legalization WITH enforcement. AFSC and other advocates think this devalues the word "comprehensive" since it still does not address economic root causes and still-flawed immigration law. [This may be why italics are so over-used in this blog...] See more on this in an article from the Rockridge Institute on The Framing of Immigration.

So, House Republicans are taking a position of no compromise, saying that no bill would be better than one that contains "amnesty." Similarly immigrant rights advocates think that no bill is better than what would come out of a reconcilation of the Senate and House bills with the current provisions.

Stay tuned...


READ MORE: See National Immigration Resources

New Summary of Final Senate Bill.

On their Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation page, see links to other resources.


For example, Who Will be Putting the Mortar on those Bricks? Here is an idea that a private immigration law firm in Baltimore is promoting; a counter to the send-a-brick campaign. It is called "Send-a-Workglove." The idea is to send a work glove to your Senators and Representative, and ask them to recognize the need to reward the hard work of immigrants by passing immigration reform. See Send-a-Workglove

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bush's pushes continue

Stating the seemingly obvious yesterday, President Bush said "It seems like there's nothing but disagreement on immigration policy in Washington. Yet there's a growing consensus among all parties and all regions of the country that fundamental reforms are needed."

Yesterday President Bush spoke to a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in southeastern New Mexico about 100 miles from the Mexican border. According to the Washington Post, Bush continued "In other words, people are coming to the conclusion we got to do something about a system that isn't working. And while the differences grab the headlines, the similarities in approaches are striking."

Today he was in Omaha, Nebraska talking to a program for new immigrants at Metropolitan Community College: "You pay attention to all the sharp elbows being thrown and you know, the people opinionating and screaming and hollering and calling each other names. But there is a consensus emerging on this issue." (Washington Post)

President Bush is trying hard to ensure that Congress works out a bill for him to sign. He's pulling out all the stops. Nebraska is a strongly Republican state whose moderate Democratic senator Ben Nelson voted against the Senate bill. The other senator Chuck Hagel was co-author of the compromise Senate bill that passed.

[Bush's not-unrelated gambit for a constituional amendment to ban gay marriage failed in the Senate yesterday, but that may not have been the point. Bush is taking great pains to win over his conservative base and the last time he brought up gay marriage it worked in his favor. As a 'straw man', it's a very useful organizing tool to remind conservative voters why they elected him and maybe woo them to his approach to immigration. See more on this at The Gay Panic Button: Why pressing it won't work this time.]

Meanwhile in Washington, procedural questions are holding up the Congressional conference committee which would reconcile the Senate and House bills. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Senate bill would require illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and fines to gain legal status while the Constitution says that only the House can initiate bills that raise revenues. As a result, there has been no agreement on how to proceed. Read more on this by clicking here Senate Border Bill Steps on House Turf.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wants Bush to apply even more leverage on the process. "The president helped us on this issue, but he needs to help us a lot more."

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) pointed out that the main author of the House bill, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), recently spoken positively about a temporary worker program. "It's a sign that the ice is melting," Cornyn said.

Only time will tell...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bush's pushes

Today President Bush spoke to the national Chamber of Commerce in Washington about immigration reform. The crowd was eerily quiet throughout, perhaps because they weren't sure what to think. You can listen for yourself by clicking here for the CSPAN video of Bush's speech or click here to read the Text of Bush's speech.

Bush anticipates that the up-coming Congressional Conference Committee on immigration will "require compromise on both sides" and that Congress should not shy away from tackling this difficult task. "We need comprehensive immigration reform that fixes the system's problems, that provides a fair and practical way forward", he charged.

Bush used the words "comprehensive immigration reform" over and over again without giving a truly comprehensive plan. He defined "comprehensive" as a plan that addresses all elements together otherwise none will be addressed at all. Point taken. Yet, how can a plan be "comprehensive" if it fails to take into account global economic pressures that create migration flows (don't mention NAFTA at the Chamber of Commerce...) or examines whether our current immigration legal system in broken and out of date?

President Bush noted that people are "desperate to put food on the table for their families" and that in the U.S. they can get $7 an hour as opposed to 50 cents in Mexico. "Guess what," he said, "they're gonna sneak across the border [no matter what]." But instead of examining why Mexican workers might get 50 cents an hour at home, he went on to talk about immigration enforcement and the need to enforce the law.

Instead Bush steered a course into familiar enforcement-heavy proposals. He noted that the "hard-working" Border Patrol had apprehended 6 million people at the border over the last 5 years and that his administration will double the Border Patrol to 12,000 border patrol officers by 2008. He pointed out that his deployment of National guard to the border will only be to complement the Border Patrol and the U.S. is "not going to militarize our border". But what else would you call his plans for sophisticated surveillance, advanced technology and expanded detention space?

Despite this, Bush admitted that even if we put up lots of walls, nothing is going to stop people willing to take risks to do anything for their families. He remarked, "I've often said that family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." He also said that these are "decent hard-working people, vital to our economy yet living in the shadows beyond the protection of the the law". He chastised fellow Republicans who suggest that we should deport them all since this is unrealistic. He urged Congress to take the sensible middle ground.

The subtext of this speech is that Bush urging Congress to get its act together in the conference committee and send him a bill for him to sign. Failing to do so will make Washington (especially Republicans) look ineffectual as the nation enters up-coming elections. Here's a cartoon that helps illustrate the situation.

Next step: Conference Committee

The Senate bill passed last week needs to be reconciled with the House version (HR 4437) before they can send it to the White House for the President's signature making it into law. The Rights Working Group reports that the timing for the next steps for immigration reform on Capitol Hill ia unclear.

Here's a message from Keri Sherlock:

"The House has not selected conferees. The Senate conferees have not yet been officially selected, however many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the bill sponsors were designated as conferees when the Republicans and Democrats struck a deal to move the Hagel-Martinez compromise forward. The following Senators will be conferees:

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)
Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE)
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH)
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)

We really don’t know how quickly the conference process would move. Many D.C. advocates are unwilling to predict. If the White House reaches a deal with the House Republicans, then it could possibly move quickly (over the next 2 months.) The House Republicans issued a press release saying they want to move forward with border security legislation before November. My best guess would be that the conference will go forward through the summer and there could be a vote in Sept/October but we should be prepared for the process to move faster."