Monday, October 30, 2006

7 days to go: NOW an ICE press release

A sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released its annual report today on its work including information on apprehending undocumented immigrants at the border. The report claims that apprehensions are down at the border and that this somehow reflects that fewer undocumented are crossing into U.S. That's one interpretation.

Another interpretation could be that ICE is not looking in the increasingly remote areas where immigrants are crossing and putting their lives at risk. A study by the General Accounting Office, that was released in August, found that deaths at the border have doubled since 1995.

National Public Radio commented on the timing of this release, only one week before the mid-term elections. Normally these numbers are released in January. Commentators wonder if ICE wanted to make voters feel better about the ability of the Bush administration to address the situation and therefore vote Republican.

In this blog, we've reported on the questions surrounding the interim appointment of Julie Myers to head ICE when she had very little experience and her motivations in increasing workplace raids. It is interesting to note that in today's press release her name is prominently mentioned in the first sentence. Ms. Myers is up for confirmation in a few months, by the way...And there's no telling who will be on that committee is the OTHER party takes the Senate...

ACTION STEP: Call Julie Myers at 202-514-2648 and ask why she released the report three months early, right before the elections. Tell her to leave electoral politics to politicians and start instituting just policies that protect immigrant families and don't terrorize communities with raids.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Poll of Rural Voters' Views

Today National Public Radio reported on a bipartisan poll that shows rural voters are shifting to Democrats. Reversing the results in a similar poll last month, the survey detected an eight-point shift in party preference for Senate candidates. Rural voters in Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Tennessee indicated they favored Democratic candidates 47 percent to 43 percent.

Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the Center for Rural Strategies, the survey asked one question that related to immigration:

"Q.20 In deciding how to vote for Congress, which ONE of the following issues is MOST important to you? Is it....
The war in Iraq.....................38%
Medicare and Soc Sec................21%
Taxes and spending..................15%
Moral values........................16%
Health care.........................20%
Illegal immigration.................17%
Terrorism and national security.....21%
Jobs and economy....................25%
Energy and gas prices...............10%
(None of these)......................3%

8% of respondents said "illegal immigration" is their first concern and 9% said it was their second concern. Looking at the results above, immigration ranked sixth overall as the most important concern.

Does this mean that rural voters are not taking the bait of standing tough on immigration as a hot button issue? It's hard to say. But there are only 11 days left until the election...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bush signs Fence into law

Today, more than three weeks after Congress passed its only immigration legislation, President Bush signed the Secure Border Fence Act into law. There is little coincidence that this was scheduled less than two weeks before the mid-term elections. Sounding like his party colleagues in Congress, Bush stood tough and said "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility serious."

Republicans are betting that their get tough stance will pay off on November 7. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Associated Press that he voted for the fence because he wanted to help demonstrate that Congress was serious about border security. "The choice we were presented was: Are we going to vote to enhance border security, or against it?" Cornyn said. "I think that's how the vote was viewed."

At the same time, Bush also pointed out that he hoped that a guest worker program could be worked out in the near future. He argues that this would be easier to get passed if Republicans keep their majorities in the House and Senate after the Nov. 7 elections.

There are still many doubts about the fence and its effectiveness. Several Latino advocacy organizations issued a statement expressing their disappointment in the President's signing of the bill. National Public Radio reported that it is unlikely that the fence will actually be built. The new law includes no provision for paying for the fence and the exact cost is not known.

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing Border Patrol agents, told AP on Wednesday that "A fence will slow people down by a minute or two, but if you don't have the agents to stop them it does no good. We're not talking about some impenetrable barrier." Ah, but agents aren't infallible either as a recent Los Angeles Times investigation reveals. Public records show that the number of corrupt border officials has risen sharply in the last few years. The newspaper found that at least 200 public employees have been charged with helping to move narcotics or undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border since 2004.

It's still hard to say how public relations event like today's signing will influence the elections. NPR's Jennifer Ludden covered the prevalence of immigration rhetoric in electoral campaigns. Ludden wonders if both parties' tough-line enforcement stances will cost them Latino and immigrant votes in the November election and elections in the future.


Contact the White House and tell the President that you are disappointed that he signed the Border Fence Act. Since there is no way to pay for it, it is all showmanship. But also tell him that a fence is no solution since it does not recognize the human rights and contributions of immigrants. A fence also forces would-be immigrants to take even more desperate measures to enter the United States and risk death.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Update on the O.C. letter

Turns out that the intimidating letter sent to 14,000 people with Latino surnames in Orange County was sent out by the campaign headquarters of a Republican Congressional candidate who is himself a naturalized citizen.

Police have now searched the offices and home of Tan Nguyen who is running for the a seat in the House of Representatives. At a press conference this week, Tan Nguyen said "I am innocent, and there is no way in hell that I am going to withdraw. I am not going to quit this race, and I am going to win this race." The Los Angeles Times reported that Nguyen maintained that a campaign worker sent the letter without his knowledge. At the press conference, he added that, after firing the staffer he said was responsible for it, he was asking her to return because he believes the mailer was fair. California's Attorney General is considering a law suit charging the letter as voter intimidation.

Columnist Ruben Navarrette asserts that the letter "was an exercise in ethnic profiling" since it was sent to individuals with Latino names that happened to show up on a database of Democratic voters. The list included "longtime registered voters in California" and possibly even "fourth-generation Californians." The blogger for Migra Matters carefully tracks the connections between Mr. Nguyen's campaign and anti-immigrant organizations in California.

Vietnamese community leaders are embarrassed by the scandal. Phu Nguyen of the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California told the L.A. Times that "We're here legally and we've gone through great hardships, but I don't think all that gives us any right to look down upon those who got here illegally. Whether we're here legally or illegally, we all strive for the same thing. We come here for the opportunity."

What does it say about our political system that new citizens learn racist scare tactics are acceptable in campaigns? After all, our nation's leaders have demonized immigrants for much of this past year as the means to gain votes. Of course, this does not justify Mr. Nguyen's actions but this extreme example makes us question how far candidates are willing to use the 'immigration card'.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bad immigration metaphor

The political blog Wonkette cites Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), with the worst metaphor of the day.

Quoting from the Sioux City Journal: A transcript of King's comments made at a Republican fundraiser in Boulders Conference Center showed he compared "illegal immigrants" to stray cats that wind up on people's porches. King said at first stray cats help by chasing mice, so people feed them. King added that the stray cats then have kittens, which are liked for their cuteness, but eventually the strays, fed by the people, end up getting lazy, just like illegal immigrants. King would not comment on what he said on that day.


Contact Congressman Steve King and express your disapproval of this metaphor. Remind him that immigrants are human beings with unviersal human rights.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Missing in the debate: global economics

On Wednesday, the Inter-American Development Bank released a report that shows that Latin American migrants working in the United States will send around $45 billion to their home countries this year, up from some $30 billion in 2004. That's a growth of 51 percent in two years. About 12.6 million Latin American-born migrants now send an average of $300 every month that assists more than 20 million households or 80 million people in Latin America.

The Miami Herald interviewed Sergio Bendixen, of the polling firm Bendixen and Associates that conducted the survey for IDB. He warned that if the United States shuts its door to Hispanic immigrants, as Congress is attempting to do, the U.S. economy would be ''close to collapse.'' IDB officials pointed out to the Miami Herald that about 90 percent of the income received by Latin America-born migrants stays in the United States, or about $460 billion.

IDB also reported that households in Latin America receive more than $60 billion annually from remittances worldwide, a number that dwarfs what countries receive in aid from the U.S. government or such institutions as the World Bank.


Print out or send the weblink of the IDB report to your Congressional representatives and senators. Tell them that immigration has an impact on more than just Americans. Tell them that they should consider what affect cutting off these remittances would have on 20 million families or 80 million people in Latin America. International economic factors have been missing from the debate and we need true leadership that will look at the big picture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Immigration Card in Play

Candidates and their supporters are continuing to use the immigration card in the countdown to November 7 elections. Here are some examples from around the country:

The most blatant use of the immigration hot-button card must be in Arizona where there are four immigration initiatives on the ballot. Voters will be asked to consider expanding the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants and make English the state's official language. Another one of the measures would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state-funded child care assistance, attending adult education classes or getting in-state tuition and financial aid at Arizona's public colleges. The Associated Press quotes GOP state Rep. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind the package: "If you came from New Mexico or California, you would pay out-of-state tuition. You would pay the full load. Why should the taxpayer subsidize you for higher ed when you are here illegally?" Wait, English will be the official language but the state will not help you learn it? And doesn't Arizona cities have sales taxes that everyone, including immigrants, must pay every time they buy something? (And I guess we can't bring up the millions of dollars that undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security but never take out...Oops, that's federal taxes...)

Also check out the lengthy article about immigration in the Arizona elections in the New York Times magazine "The Border Dividing Arizona". The article asks: "The leading edge of a new American nativism? The big Republican divide? Or just a line that voters will ignore next month?"

Under the dirty tactics category comes a recent Spanish-language letter sent by a "Sergio Ramirez" of the previously unknown "California Commisson for Immigration Reform" to Latino community members in Orange County in Southern California. The letter(see pages 3 and 4) incorrectly alerts immigrants that they cannot vote in the up-coming election and that anti-immigrant groups will have access to their information through a voting database. Neither claim is correct. A group of Latino organizations including MALDEF (The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), wrote a sign-on letter calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to immediately investigate the matter since it amounts to voter intimidation. It's interesting to consider the motivation for this letter. Is the author worried about the impact of riled-up Latino voters on November 7? Or is he/she using typical broad strokes that erase the realities of immigration law? Does he/she not comprehend the naturalization process that allows immigrants to become citizens and vote?

The New York Times ran an interesting article this week about how many Democrats are trumpeting a conservative message on immigration in states like Tennessee, North Carolina and Nebraska. We've seen how the Democratic party has been taking the offense on border security by charging that immigration enforcement has faltered under Republican leadership. The New York Times points to the source of this tactic: Third Way, a centrist Democratic research group that has conducted polling on immigration. Third Way's vice president for policy, Jim Kessler says in the article "[Voters] think that Democrats are on the side of illegal immigrants even at the expense of citizens." Adopting a tougher message, he said, would make Democratic candidates less vulnerable in the November elections. Advocates are warning the party that they could alienate Latino voters, a growing force in the electorate. David Lubell, the director of the Tennessee immigrant rights coalition said it best: "These Democrats are trying to out-right the right."


Contact Russell Pearce and remind him that there are many ways that immigrants contribute to the state of Arizona. Ask him to stop using immigration as an election tactic and start considering what's best for EVERYONE in his state.

Send your own copy of the Latino advocates letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Contact Jim Kessler at Third Way and ask to him to advise candidates to drop the enforcement rhetoric and talk about human rights. Our nation needs true leadership on immigration right now not strategizing for electoral gains that may not result in significant change.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What next for Lame Duck?

Now that the election is premenient in the minds of Congressional representatives, immigrant rights advocates are wondering what will happen in the lame duck session when politicians return after November 7. Some are hopeful that something can be worked out but others are not so sure.

The National Immigration Forum, for example, is not optimistic. Their Director Frank Sharry writes "After all, what are the chances the House Republican leadership, after spending six months trashing comprehensive immigration reform, will come back in November and enact comprehensive immigration reform? In fact, the more likely scenario is that House leaders will return determined to attach some or all of the sweeping enforcement-only measures rebuffed in September to must-pass appropriations measures."

As an example of what Frank is talking about, one need not look further than Senator Bill Frist's "Community Protection Against International Gangs Act" (S. 3946).

Under S.3946 an immigrant who never committed any crime whatsoever can be deported and denied immigration benefits if the Attorney General asserts that he has a "reason to believe" that the person is or was either a "member of" a gang, or participated in "activities" that promote a gang. This bill would have devastating consequences on immigrant children, families, and communities across the nation, and result in deporting youth to a country where they could face detention, torture, or even death.

The Rights Working Group has drafted a joint letter to the Senate that numerous immigrant rights organizations have signed onto.

In the letter, the Rights Working Group asserts "Effective anti-gang strategies include supporting youth in their efforts to leave gangs and protecting them from the possible life threatening repercussions, not labeling and punishing them for their status and for making the decision to leave. S.3946 would punish former gang members who have chosen to leave the gang and reform their lives, refusing them admission and deporting them to countries where they may face interrogation, torture, detention and even death.

S. 3946 fails to adequately protect children by subjecting them to the same penalties as adults. Our juvenile justice system and immigration jurisprudence have also always distinguished between child and adult offenders. S.3946 represents a sharp departure from our nation's traditional concern for protection and rehabilitation of youth."

Senators are slated to vote on this bill when they return to Washington in November.

ACTION STEP: You can contact your Senator today and tell him/her the following: "Please oppose S.3946. It is another misguided bill focused solely on enforcement for short-term political gain rather than addressing this country's need for immigration reform. I urge you to reject S.3946 and to support comprehensive, realistic immigration reform."

Contact Kerri Sherlock at the Rights Working Group ( and see if you can also send a copy of the letter to your Senators.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Nopal Curtain

(Since the Border Fence Act has been the only immigration legislation that Congress managed to pass this year, we hope you will bear with us as we continue to draw attention to border issues and the shortcomings of this new law.)

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes came up with a new name for the "wall of shame". In an article published in the Mexico City daily Reforma, Fuentes called it the "Nopal" (or Cactus) Curtain.

Fuentes foresees that immigration will the the biggest headache for Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon and it will test the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Fuentes writes that "as the border closes and heats up," Mexico must find a way to "provide work to a half-million workers each year who are trapped behind a 'nopal' curtain," referring to the number of Mexicans who migrate to the United States annually. With the name, Fuentes' also alludes to the Iron Curtain from the Cold War.

A new Iron Curtain? This is NOT the immigration reform we were praying for...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Desperation & criticism at the border

Only a week after Congress passed its only piece of immigration legislation, desperation is surging at the border. Criticism and scepticism about the border fence plan is also on the rise.

On Monday, five people were trapped in a mad-made tunnel trying to enter the United States near San Diego when one of the group became wedged in a an opening. San Diego Fire and Rescue Department personnel worked to free the wold-be immigrants. The San Diego Tribune spoke to Immigration and Customs Enforcement who said in recent months, several undocumented immigrants have been found using the sewer system to illegally enter the U.S. Could this be what we can expect to see more of in the future if the fence is indeed built?

Mexico's foreign secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said Monday the country may make a formal complaint to the United Nations about the border fence. "What should be constructed is a bridge in relations between the two countries," Derbez said noting that the new law was for short-term political gain in the lead-up to midterm elections in the U.S. in November.

The Washington Post spoke to several experts who cite many potential unintended consequences of fence-building. Since in some regions along the border, the nearest main road can be 80 miles away, roads must be created to build the barrier. That could end up facilitating movement into the United States rather than blocking it. Professor Wayne Cornelius, an expert on immigration issues at the University of California at San Diego called the border fence law "the feel-good approach to immigration control. The only pain is experienced by the migrants themselves. It doesn't hurt U.S. consumers; it doesn't hurt U.S. businesses. It only hurts taxpayers if they pay attention to spending on border enforcement."

A bed and breakfast owner in Texas Jay Johnson-Castro is planning a 200-mile protest walk along the U.S.-Mexico border. "I'd like for the United States to get out of denial," he said. "Our country would collapse without Latin American labor. We complain about these folks, but they're here to work. The Mexican people are maintaining our country."

Professor Bill Hing of the University of California at Davis calls the border fence as "death trap" and asserts that "The problem is that the fence idea has been tried; it won’t work, and the result will be countless more unnecessary deaths." Hing says that a real solution would be "to address push-pull factors and the economic needs of both countries."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Election in four weeks!

Four weeks from today, voters will go to the polls to vote in Mid-term elections. For the past several months, we have seen how politicians have debated immigration reform with November 7th in mind. Both parties are hedging thier bets that voters will consider their stances on immigration reform when they enter the voting booth. The question remains, however: will immigration be an important deciding factor for voters?

For example, in Arizona, Reuters News Service reports that candidate Randy Graf who won his primary with his tough stand on border issues is now eight points behind challenger Gabrielle Giffords who is touting her comprehensive plan of "enforcenment plus". As noted earlier in this blog, Democrats are also testing out the "tough on enforcement" stance in an attempt to win voters.

Reuters quotes Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum: "The Graf and Giffords race is going to be a bellwether for how the House Republican strategy on immigration plays out. Their hard-core constituency is very loud but it's not very large and they have yet to prove that they could swing a general election."

The wild card in this election-baiting game is the Latino vote. Latinos are a fast-growing segent of the electorate that has a diversity of political opinion that crosses traditional party lines. In an interesting article on Latino voters in California, New America Media quotes Adela De la Torre, director of UC Davis' Chicano studies program: "Immigration is a bread-and-butter issue because it deals with people who have family members still in the balance. It's a basic issue for most Latino families."

The article also quotes second-generation voter Daniel Jimenez who says the Republicans want cheap labor from immigrants and Democrats want their votes. "Latinos don't understand they're being used by both parties," he said. "They'll feed them all this stuff they need to hear, but they won't say, 'You guys are keeping Social Security alive and you'll never see that money.'"

Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute notes in an editorial that "as with the general public, Hispanic opinion too can seem murky." She cites a Pew Hispanic Center survey that Latinos have immigration foremost in their minds when considering who to vote for. "When asked which party has a better position on the issue, the share of newcomers favoring the GOP has dropped to just 12 percent (down from 28 percent two years ago), with nearly three times that many favoring the Democratic stance. And when asked which of the parties is more concerned about Latinos, even the foreign-born now choose the Democrats by a margin of three-to-one."

Beyond immigration, analysts have noted strong anti-incumbent sentiment among voters across the country and a desire to see change in Washington. It's difficult to predict what will cross voters' minds inside the voting booth. But in the next few weeks, you'll see many attempts to impress immigration (among other issues) in the forefront of their minds.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Local governments continue to weigh in

After nine months of dithering, Congress' resolution to the immigration debate was dismal and disappointing for everyone on all sides of the issue. This is the best our nation's leaders can come up with: a "wall of shame" along the Mexican border? A fence to nowhere with funds from nowhere?

Having squandered the opportunity to show true leadership in creating true reform, local governments across the country are again eager to step up to the challenge.

In Long Island, New York, the Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy signed a law this week that requires companies with government contracts to verify their employees are in the United States legally. "If the federal government won't do its job, it's up to the locals," Levy said

In Escondido in San Diego County, California, the City Council passed a housing ordinance that will penalize landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants. The American Civil Liberties Union is already planning a lawsuit to challenge its constitutionality.

Is this what Congress had in mind when they stirred the pot of anti-immigrant sentiment? In a new version of the "trickle-down" effect, local governments and communities are taking steps to deny rights to their neighbors in the community.

But local governments are not the only ones taking up this crusade. Take a look at the growing number of anti-immigrant MySpace Groups to see where some young people are gathering to express their newly-approved hatred of 'illegals'.

Is this the example that our leaders in Washington should be setting? With all the grand-standing and posturing, is it any wonder that a minority has found fuel for their discrimination? Yet in their inability to create an immigration system that protects the rights of immigrants and their families, Congress has left the door for others to fill the vacuum of leadership.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Supreme Court examines legacy of '96 laws

Only a few days after Congress passed the Secure Border Fence Act, the Supreme Court started considering the impact of the immigration laws passed ten years ago. September 30 was the ten year anniversary of the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

On the impact of these law, Ira J. Kurzban writes in an OpEd that "Although IIRIRA was another piece of legislation that was supposed to stop "illegal immigration" into the United States, it unleashed, instead, a series of bad policy choices that have destroyed families, made it virtually impossible to permit illegal immigrants to become legal, and rendered our legal system impotent to stop the worst abuses by government officials who may now run amok without any judicial oversight."

The Supreme Court is considering the case of Jose Antonio Lopez of Sioux Falls, S.D. The Justices are wrestling with the question of whether convictions for minor crimes should force immigrants' deportation. Under IIRIRA, many minor convictions were recategorized as "aggravated felonies" and grounds for deportation. Jose Antonio Lopez was ordered deported for possessing cocaine.

The Associated Press reported that Justice David Souter said "The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense." AP also reported that several justices said they were troubled that immigration authorities would treat differently two people who commit the same crime in different states that hand out different penalties.

According to the reporter, Lopez is a 16-year permanent U.S. resident who has already has been deported to Mexico, but could return to his wife and two children, who are U.S. citizens, if the court rules in his favor, said Benita Jain, a staff attorney with the New York State Defenders Association.

Meanwhile Congress did not mark the anniversary of IIRIRA. It's unclear if they are even aware of the date. With their recent actions, Congress is unwilling to learn about the impact of these laws. Over 1.5 million people have been deported as a result of IIRIRA and thousands of families have been destroyed. Many Congressional representatives would like to see 12 million people deported and are unwilling to consider the situation of these left behind. Hopefully the Supreme Court will make them take notice. Stay tuned...

ACTION STEP: Call your elected representatives and remind them that they passed IIRIRA ten years ago and that our nation doesn't need more of the same measures.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The voting results are in

Thanks to your calls to your elected representatives on Capitol Hill, two nasty pieces of legislation H.R. 6094 and 6095 did not pass the Senate.

Unfortunately, the Secure Fence Act was approved late on Friday night. If signed into law by President Bush, the legislation calls for 700 miles of fence, thousands of new detention beds and Border Patrol guards. With no appropriated funding, it's questionable if the fence will be built anytime soon. Senator John Cornyn admitted this today. Reuters News Service reports that, even if the money is found, it may be difficult to build due to the physical terrain. The fence will also have limited usefulness. Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, told Reuters that the fence "may work to curtail crossings in the immediate area it has been built, but it won't stop illegal immigration. Experience has shown that traffic will shift to other parts of the border" where there is less vigilance.

Is it surprising that the fence is not a real solution? As we've seen over the past several months: the politics of immigration reform is primarily about posing for voters. But shouldn't voters be upset that after all the months of hoopla, the best Congress can come up with is a fence?

To see how your Representative and Senators voted on these bills, see the Rights Working Group's vote tally.


The National Council of La Raza wants you to call President Bush (202.456.1111) and ask him to not sign the Border Fence Bill. Click here for more information.

The Rights Working Group also is asking everyone to contact your lawmakers with a phone call or arrange a visit and thank them or explain to them the negative impact of their votes. To find your Representative's contact information, click here.

STAY TUNED: The provisions that didn't make it pass the Senate will likely reappear sometime soon in either the lame-duck session or early next year.