Wednesday, October 31, 2007

UN Expert Finds Rising Violence against Migrants

Jorge Bustamante, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, reported to a UN committee this week that his field visits during the past year have confirmed rising attacks on migrants (See UN News Centre). Bustamante noted that the increasing trend to conduct raids in migrant neighborhoods had led to "to separation of children from their arrested parents, including children born in such countries." (UN News Centre).

He also highlighted concerns about the conditions of migrants in detention. "A number of detained migrants suffer from ill-treatment, lack of medical attention, and abuse. Often, they lack access to justice, as many detained migrants are not granted access to lawyers for their defense," he stated to the committee.

Bustamante found a trend towards viewing migrants as commodities, rather than as people with rights. Countries should include a human rights perspective into their discussions, he urged.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

DREAM Act Update: Immigration Advocates Determined to Stay the Course after Senate Fails to Vote on Bill

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

On October 18th, Majority Whip Richard (Dick) Durbin (D-IL), Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced a new version of the DREAM Act (S. 2205). The three Senators held hopes that the Senate would be ready to resume the immigration debate and move forward this proposed legislation designed to help children who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 by their parents but have not become permanent legal residents or U.S. citizens. These children, now teenagers and students, have become long-term residents of the U.S. They face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in fear of detection and deportation by immigration authorities. However, in spite of Senator Durbin's leadership and the efforts of other Senate colleagues, the DREAM Act failed to win approval and was again defeated.

While AFSC has consistently called for the fair and equal access to education for undocumented children and youth, and for consideration of the substance of the DREAM Act, AFSC does not support actions that include military service or active duty as part of the DREAM Act legislation.
>To see a link of AFSC Analysis of the DREAM Act as included in the STRIVE Act, click here.

On Wednesday October 24, the Senate convened to proceed with a cloture vote (link to Senate dictionary definition of cloture vote) which would allow the Senators to close debate on S. 2205, and vote on the legislation. The resulting vote, 52 in favor of cloture and 44 against, was 8 votes short to closing debate on S. 2205 and proceeding to vote on the legislation. The fate of this piece of legislation reflects a resistance in the Senate to pass DREAM Act, whether as a stand-alone bill or a part of other bills. The DREAM act is also a provision in the STRIVE Act (H.R. 1645), which has not moved from the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law since this past August. In addition, although the original version of the DREAM Act (S. 774) is still a standalone bill, in September Senator Durbin was unable to attach it to the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bill. AFSC has continued to express its concern about attaching the legislation to military or defense-related bills.

Minor but Important Differences Between Two Versions of DREAM

Many opponents of the older version of DREAM Act (S. 774) argued that it would let undocumented students benefit from in-state tuition because it repealed part of the law (Section 505 of the IIRAIRA Act of 1996), which discourages states from allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition. In reality, this version of the DREAM Act would have simply allowed states to determine for themselves whether or not they would allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Ultimately, this provision was dropped from the DREAM Act amendment that was offered in the defense authorization bill. Although S. 774 continues to have this provision, it was not included in the newer version (S. 2205). In addition, a new provision in S. 2205 clarified that only those who are 30 years of age or younger on the day on the enactment would qualify under the DREAM Act. It also eliminated the expedited processing for DREAM Act applications and the guarantee that no extra fees would be charged. Finally, it incorporated additional grounds for ineligibility including misrepresentation or false claim of citizenship or document fraud if committed after the age of 16 and failure to attend removal proceedings.

Differing Perspectives on Senate Floor

During the Senate floor debate on Wednesday October 24, various senators spoke on the legislation (S. 2205) and on the debate on immigration as a whole. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Durbin emphasized the need to pass this bill in order to offer a compassionate, humane solution to those children that were brought here at a young age, and have lived in the U.S. in an undocumented status. Senator Durbin stressed the need to understand the special circumstances of those who would qualify under the DREAM Act. He stated, "What crime did these children commit? They obeyed their parents."

Senator Durbin also spoke about the number of individuals that he encountered in his state who were exceptional students and diligent members of the community, yet whose hopes and ambitions were thwarted by their status as undocumented persons.

Members of the Senate who opposed S. 2205 expressed concerns that the DREAM Act was a specialized piece of legislation that would not address the issue of immigration in a more comprehensive manner. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), for example, recognized that the children in question are in a state of limbo, but mentioned the need for a bi-partisan bill that also addresses the question of immigration enforcement. Senator Jeff Sessions expressed his opposition to the DREAM Act by stating that was not a part of comprehensive immigration reform. Senator John McCain left the chamber before the procedural vote on the DREAM Act, stating that the issue would most likely not be resolved until 2009, and objecting to the passage of the DREAM Act by itself, with no other amendments.

Inaccuracies Continue to Taint the Immigration Debate

A number of misconceptions regarding the DREAM Act have prevailed throughout the struggle to pass legislation that could help address the difficult circumstances of those who might benefit from the legislation. Some of these misconceptions surfaced during the Senate debate. For example, although only a limited number of individuals would be eligible under the DREAM Act, according to the Congressional Quarterly most Republicans and some Democrats continue to oppose measure that they believe will offer "amnesty" to any of the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

In addition, soon before the cloture roll-call vote took place, the White House issued a "Statement of Administration Policy" opposing S. 2205. This policy announcement noted that S. 2205 "created a path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants." At the same time, it contains a number of inaccuracies that distort the DREAM Act. For example, the policy statement claims that the legal status granted in the bill would allow beneficiaries to petition "almost instantly" for family members. However, according to the Immigration Policy Center "the age and physical presence requirements of the DREAM Act, as well as the lengthy and limited process that involved sponsoring family members, will serve to limit opportunities to sponsor family members."
>To see "The DREAM Act of 2007: FAQS" compiled by the Immigration Policy Center click here

In addition, the Administration Policy Statement claimed that S. 2205 "includes loopholes that would authorize permanent status for certain aliens convicted of multiple misdemeanors and even felonies." However, the new version of the DREAM Act clearly specifies additional grounds for ineligibility, such as misrepresentation, false claim of citizenship, or document fraud if committed after the age of 16. Persons who are inadmissible or deportable on criminal related-grounds (INA section 212(a)(2) and 237(a)(2)) are ineligible for the DREAM Act program and the Secretary of Homeland Security cannot waive ineligibility on those grounds.

DREAM Discussion May Continue

The failure of the Senate to close debate on S. 2205 poses yet another challenge to passing immigration reform this year, and some fear it may reflect the fate of more narrow immigration pieces, such as AgJOBS (S. 340). According to articles written by Congressional Quarterly (CQ) staff, some Senators feel that the immigration issue in general will not be resolved until after the presidential elections. In addition, CQ states that Senator Menendez (D-NJ) is fearful that those who opposed the DREAM Act for its legalization provisions may also oppose AgJOBS, which would provide a potential path to eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have worked in farm jobs for a specified number of days per year.

On the other hand, Senators such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) feel that legislation pieces such as AgJOBS may have a better chance of passing Congress because of their importance to the country's agriculture. Other organizations such as the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have indicated "there is still a chance that the DREAM Act could be resurrected and enacted this year." According to NILC, the DREAM Act continues to enjoy bi-partisan support, including a majority of the Senate. In its recent statement AILA observes, "There will be a number of additional opportunities over the next few months to pursue narrow, targeted immigration policy reforms."

AFSC will continue to urge Congressional leaders to remove the punitive components of the Dream Act, support equal access to education for children and youth who might benefit from the legislation, and strongly urge for the removal of military service as part of the language in the current DREAM Act proposal.

Friday, October 26, 2007

AFSC Activates Emergency Response for California Fires

Crisis Funds Sought to Help Threatened Families, Especially Immigrant Workers

"Some migrant farm workers live in makeshift homes along the mountainside and in canyons ... When the fire is contained, these forgotten communities will need blankets and warm clothing, along with medical, housing and other services not yet identified." - Pedro Rios, coordinator of the AFSC San Diego regional office

In its time-honored tradition of helping relieve suffering through immediate aid and long-term reconstruction and development, AFSC will earmark contributions to its crisis fund to help assuage the growing crisis resulting from the Southern California wild fires.

Staff on-the-ground in San Diego are assessing critical needs. Preliminary staff reports show the devastation is widespread around many of the eastern communities throughout San Diego County. Some communities were completely evacuated. Many areas are completely inaccessible by roads because of the fires.

The Service Committee will primarily focus on helping neglected immigrant communities in the area. Because English may not be their primary language, those communities may not receive life-saving information about the critical situation.

"We immediately began contacting farm worker communities," states Christian Ramirez, the American Friends Service Committee national immigrant rights advocate. "Some were still working out in the fields, even in the mandatory evacuation zones, afraid to leave for fear of losing their jobs. We intervened by negotiating with employers to allow them to leave."

Support AFSC's work by giving to the Crisis Fund>

"Working with Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales and other partners, we helped to set up a safe evacuation center for those without papers," Ramierz explains. "We are reaching out to farm workers still in the canyons, providing water, goggles, eye drops, flashlights, and other crucial supplies."

Many migrants are too afraid to go to the officially designated evacuation centers and instead seek cover along the treacherous and potentially deadly walls of brush-covered canyons.

"Some migrant farm workers live in makeshift homes along the mountainside and in canyons," said Pedro Rios, coordinator of the AFSC San Diego regional office. "When the fire is contained, these forgotten communities will need blankets and warm clothing, along with medical, housing and other services not yet identified."

"In the months ahead, as part of our ongoing work in San Diego County, we will work with this community to ensure that their voices are heard so that the next time there is a disaster, their safety and security will be also assured," Rios adds.

The American Friends Service Committee has been a witness for human rights along the U.S. Mexico Border for more than 30 years.

Help Families Displaced by the Fires Near San Diego: Donations should be sent to the AFSC Crisis Fund/San Diego Fires, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102. To contribute via Visa or MasterCard, call 1-888-588-2372, ext. 1, or through the AFSC website at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chertoff Waives Environmental Laws to Build Border Fence

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff decided this week to waive environmental laws and build 6.9 miles of fence in Arizona's San Pedro Riparian National Conversation Area. The decision to resume construction of fencing in the area, which is home to numerous species of animals and ancient archaeological sites, drew strong criticism from both southern Arizona Congressional representatives.

Representatives Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva emphatically challenged Secretary Chertoff's disregard for the concerns border communities have expressed. Representative Giffords whose Congressional district includes the San Pedro, said "the Department of Homeland Security must listen to the environmentalists and border residents of southern Arizona before resuming fence construction."

"It is implement a policy that affects communities and the environment several thousand miles away, ignoring the residents, culture, and landscape. But, this wall does not protect our communities; it separates our history, culture, wildlife and natural habitats," said Representative Grijalva.

On Oct. 10, in a suit brought by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the federal court for the District of Columbia ordered the delay of portion of the fence construction on the grounds that the government failed to carry out the required environmental assessment.

Secretary Chertoff's ability to waive environmental and other laws is the result of the REAL ID Act passed in 2005. This is the third time Secretary Chertoff has used the waiver provision.

"The REAL ID Act, which allows the Secretary of Homeland Security... to waive all laws for fence and road construction along the border, was never intended to be used along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, the waiver was intended only for use on a small section of fencing in San Diego." said Representative Grijalva. As such, Representative Grijalva introduced the Borderlands Security and Conservation Act of 2007 (H.R. 2593) which would amend existing laws, including REAL ID, to help alleviate the enivornmental damage of border enforcement activities on Federal and tribal lands.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Commission to Investigate Detention of Children

"The U.S. prides itself on family values. Shutting up families in prison is in direct contradiction of these values." - Michelle Brane, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a body of the Organization of American States, said last week that it plans to investigate allegations of mistreatment of people held in U.S. immigration detention centers, the Miami Herald reports. The plan follows the first hearing held by the Commission on the practice of immigration detention. >To watch the testimony click here.

Commission Asks to Tour Centers Detaining Children

Commission Chairman Florentine Melendez said that the human rights body asked the State Department for permission to tour facilities detaining children. "Perhaps no country in the world devotes more resources to the rights of children than the US, but I've been asking myself whether I was facing two countries," said Commission member Paul Sergio Pinheiro. "These are very contrasting pictures," he said.

Michelle Brane Director of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children's detention and asylum program, who testified before the Commission, said, "the U.S. prides itself on family values. Shutting up families in prison is in direct contradiction of these values."

"Recent tragic deaths in detention have spurred Congress and the international community to investigate the treatment of detainees within the U.S.," said Kerri Sherlock Talbot, director of policy and planing for the Rights Working Group, who also testified the at hearing. Earlier this month, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on medical treatment in U.S. detention centers. Sherlock called on the international community and the public to force Congress and the administration to require that people in detention are treated humanely.

Read Testimonies from Congressional Hearing on Detention

Edwidge Danticat Niece of Reverend Joseph Dantica, deceased detainee
June Everett Sister of Sandra Kenley, deceased detainee
Francisco Castaneda Former Detainee

Learn more: Visit to learn how you can take action.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction on DHS "No Match" Rule

Last updated October 11, 2007

Today a federal judge issued a preliminary order that stops the government from implementing a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule on Social Security Administration (SSA) "no match" letters. The order prevents any implementation of the new DHS rule until the court makes a final ruling, according to a press release from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). >To read a brief explanation of the order from NILC click here.

"The government's proposal to disseminate no-match letters affecting more than eight million workers will, under the mandated time line, result in the termination of employment to lawfully employed workers," the judge wrote (Washington Post).

The order follows a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and local labor movements. According to the organizations, the rule violates the law and will cause discrimination against workers perceived as immigrants.

Monday, October 01, 2007

USCIS Unveils New Naturalization Test

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last week announced the 100 questions and answers of the civics section of the new naturalization (citizenship) test. USCIS will being administering the new test next year on October 1, 2008. >To read Frequently Asked Questions about the new exam from USCIS click here.

USCIS has posted the new question and answers, vocabulary lists, and a side-by-side comparison of the current and new test online at: