Thursday, May 31, 2007

AFSC Supports DWN Call-in Day

The United States is committed to principles of democracy and fairness, yet hundreds of people are confined in jails near your home, frequently without access to counsel, and often transferred to other states, without contact with their families.



As part of the DWN Week of Action
Coordinated with the Rights Working Group

Take Action!
Urge Congress Not to Increase Detention But Restore Fairness and Justice to the Immigration System

Congressional offices are hearing loudly from all sides of the immigration spectrum. At the same time, reporters have indicated that they were not aware of the detention and due process provisions in the proposed immigration legislation.

NOW is the time for us to make some noise! Detention and Due Process cannot remain hidden in the shadows of the debate; don't wait! Today is the day our voices must be heard!

The immigration "compromise" bill being debated in the Senate contains many of the same deportation and detention provisions included in last year's controversial bills, including:

* Adds 20,000 detention beds

* Mandates the use of closed military bases for detention

* Expands the grounds for deportation

* Overturns two Supreme Court cases to legalize indefinite detention

* Restricts judicial review in several areas

We MUST tell the Senate and the House that these provisions will not fix our broken immigration system. In considering any immigration reform legislation, they must restore due process to our immigration system, they must oppose attempts to expand mandatory detention and deportation laws, and they must support proposals that create a safer and humane detention system.

Call your Senator and/or Congress member and ask him or her to:

1) OPPOSE attempts to expand mandatory detention and deportation grounds. Support proposals that allow immigration judges to weigh circumstances in ALL individual cases.

2) SUPPORT proposals for a safe and humane detention system. Support the Safe and Secure Detention Act (which may be voted on Monday!) and fund alternatives to detention.

3) OPPOSE the expansion of detention beds and the use of military bases as detention centers.

4) PROTECT due process in immigration proceedings and keep real judicial review.

Please Call Your Senators and Representatives TODAY - MAY 31, 2007!

To find who your congressperson is, go to:

[If the link does not work, please cut and paste into your browser.]


* Who you are and why you care (I work with people or family members affected by detention.)

* Use talking points from section above and cite real people you've worked with who would be harmed, if safe and appropriate.

Please contact DWN staff at if you have any questions.

Make your voice heard!

Learn More and Spread Awareness
The AFSC believes that the detention of immigrants is an ineffective and misguided attempt to regulate migration. We urge an immigration policy that respects the humanity and dignity of individuals and families. We call for an end to the use of detention to solve complex human problems.

For more information on detention and the rights of detained immigrants visit AFSC's Newark based immigrants rights program here and the Detention Watch Network website at

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Excessive Fees Increase Financial Hardship

USCIS Ignores Community Outcry

AFSC's long and direct experience and partnerships with immigrants and refugee communities across the nation grounds our work and informs our strong opposition to the newly announced fee increases by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The increases will create yet another obstacle for individuals seeking to adjust their immigration status. The fee increases will place too heavy a burden on the backs of immigrants, many of whom cannot shoulder the excessive costs and will be forced to postpone their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens or remain separated from their families.

The size of the fee increases is particularly troubling since the Bush administration has repeatedly indicated that it is committed to helping immigrants adjust their status in the United States, including eventual citizenship.

USCIS released a final fee schedule, which goes into effect on July 30, 2007, yet which completely ignores the outcry of immigrants and refugee communities, elected officials, social service organizations and others who have expressed serious concerns about the financial impact and hardships the revised fees will create for persons seeking to adjust their status in the United States, or that of family members.

According to Amy Gottlieb, director of AFSC's Newark-based immigrant rights program, "Although USCIS has included the possibility of waiving fees in certain hardship cases the new fees are prohibitively high and will cause great hardship for most of our clients."

For example, the current fee to apply for permanent residency is $325; USCIS will raise this fee to $1,010. The fee for naturalization ("citizenship") applications will increase from $330 to $675. The fees include an $80 biometric fee.

As House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) stated in a hearing of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship, Border Security and International Law, "Many in the immigrant community see the increase for what it is: increasing the costs of the American dream; telling those least fortunate among us that they probably need not apply."

Statements by members of Congress refute the justifications used by USCIS for the increases. "Customer service and processing backlogs have not improved enough to justify such a steep fee increase. Predicting better service on the backs of the next wave of immigrants we want to help strikes us not only as unfair, but also as a questionable way to do business," wrote the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Joe Baca (D-CA) in a letter to Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Many of the over 3,900 comments received by USCIS recommended alternative funding sources including appropriated funds. USCIS, however, rejected the use of alternative funding sources and chose to place its burden on immigrant families.

The negative impact and undue hardship of the excessive increases necessitates support for alternative funding sources from the nation's lawmakers. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) said in a statement submitted to the Subcommittee, "... in 2006, the USCIS received appropriated funds to address and eliminate its backlog. USCIS should spend these funds efficiently and not put very difficult financial obstacles in the way of immigrants who are complying with the law."

In a letter to USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez, AFSC General Secretary Mary Ellen McNish urged the USCIS to work with Congress to create an alternative and permanent funding stream that would support USCIS operations.

AFSC also continues to call on Congressional leaders to fund immigration services and policies that benefit families rather than spend millions of dollars to underwrite policies centered on arrests, detention, and deportation, which cause untold hardships for families and communities.

>For the final USCIS fee schedule click here.

Justice Prevails: Truth about "Amnesty"

"I felt, finally, like a human being with rights"

Yesterday, the Miami Herald featured the story of AFSC Project Voice Southeast Regional staff member Herman Martinez and three other immigrant stories from the area. >For the full article click here.

Born in El Salvador, Herman Martinez fled to Mexico to escape death squads that were rounding up dissidents. In 1980, he migrated to the U.S. at the age of twenty as an undocumented refugee.

He first lived in southern California, where he worked with a local community group, El Rescate that educated and oriented recent immigrants regarding their rights in the United States. In 1983, Herman relocated to South Florida and joined a local sanctuary group, which was closely affiliated with AFSC. While there, Herman also worked as a farm worker on a tomato farm in Homestead, Florida and attended night classes to learn English.

In 1985, while returning home from a long day of hard labor work on the farm, Herman was apprehended and placed in deportation proceedings.

While in custody at the Krome Detention Center, Herman was able to apply for political asylum and was subsequently released on bond for $1,500. The U.S. government pressured him to voluntarily return to El Salvador, but Herman refused. "Had I been sent back, they would have killed me right at the airport, on arrival."

Herman was among tens of thousands of Salvadorans who were discouraged from applying for asylum during the 1980s by the U.S. government. In 1988, the systematic practices of coercing and discouraging Salvadorans from applying for asylum ended when a federal judge issued an injunction ordering immigration officials to advise Salvadoran immigrants about their right to seek asylum. (For an issue brief on the Orantes injunction by the National Immigration Law Center click here).

In 1986, Herman became eligible for his green card under changes to the law known as "amnesty." The term "amnesty" refers to measures were adopted under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which allowed undocumented immigrants who had been living in the United States since before January 1, 1982, to apply for permanent residency.

Throughout his life Herman has been heavily involved in the labor rights movement and continues this focus of work through ongoing community education and know rights workshops in South Florida. Herman has become nationally known for his extensive work outreach to day laborers as an active immigrants rights leader in the nation's southeast region.

Herman is also a member of the AFSC Project Voice network which endeavors to promote just and humane immigration policies and an inclusive society which respects and honors the rights of all.

AFSC advocates for the full recognition and protection of the human rights of all people, including immigrants to the United States, documented or undocumented.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Mother's Story: In Her Own Words

"How is a mother supposed to react when she is told that one of her children is to be separated from her and the rest of the family?"

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article on families facing separation including Glenys and Curtis Old from West Virginia, who have been fighting for the past four years to keep their son Michael, a British citizen, in the United States.

"Just because it took them so long to process a piece of paper is why we are being torn apart," said Mr. Old. >To read the full article click here.

This Mother's Day, Mrs. Old shared her experience at an Interfaith Immigration Coalition vigil in Lafayette Park by the White House. >To view a slideshow click here.

This is her story...

"When the Interfaith Immigration Coalition contacted me and asked if I wanted to attend this prayer vigil, on Mother's Day, I didn't hesitate in my response. You see, this may be the last Mother's Day I get to spend with my son, here in the United States.

I pray every day that, guided by God, our legislators will show some humanity, kindness, caring, and common-sense in the way immigration law and policy is enforced in this country.

Then I was asked if I would speak at this vigil and if I could spend a little time talking about the situation my family is in. I'm not a public speaker and I was concerned that I would make a complete fool of myself! But, with my son in Removal Proceedings, who has done NOTHING wrong, and requests for help falling on deaf ears, I felt that I HAD to speak.

As a Christian, I truly believe the words "Do what is right - God will do the rest!" As a family, I believe we have done what is right and now I am here to ask God to do his part. I ask, not only for myself, but for all other families who find themselves at the mercy of OUR country's immigration laws and policies.

I say "OUR" country, because my daughter and myself are naturalized citizens of the United States and my husband is a citizen by birth. As a family the United States is our home.

To become a naturalized citizen of the US you are expected to meet certain requirements, such as:
1. a period of continuous residence
2. an ability to read, write, and speak English;
3. good moral character;
4. attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution

My children and I met those requirements. However, my son was not even given the chance to become a US citizen - instead, he's been placed in removal proceedings. He is to be deported.

He was born and raised in England and has lived in this country for over 4 years now.

He epitomizes good moral character - he's kind, honest and law-abiding. He's hard-working and has contributed to the US economy, society and local community. He believes in the principles of the Constitution ... and I'm not just saying this because I am his mother, but everyone that knows him will tell you what a fine young man he is.

But, he has struggled with the difficulties of not being a legal permanent resident of this country. He has not been afforded the same choices in employment. He hasn't been able to build up a credit rating. He isn't able to get a mortgage to purchase his own home. He can't buy a car on finance.

All these things are what any other young man his age would be doing, under normal circumstances. He's unable to enter certain sites where he is required to make deliveries as part of his job and is constantly being questioned about his legal status here. He lives from day-to-day, not knowing what his future holds.

So, why, you may be asking yourselves, are the USCIS deporting him? Well, I can't understand that either. But ...

I entered the US on a K-1 visa, as the fiance of a US citizen. My children on K-2's. After our marriage, I filed to adjust status, as did my children, to become legal permanent residents of the United States.

There were no problems with my own adjustment of status, or that of my daughter, but when we attended interview for my son, we all left that room in tears. None of us could believe what we had just been told. We thought there had to be some kind of mistake.

Because my son turned 21 during the USCIS processing of his application he was no longer eligible to become a legal permanent resident because he wasn't a "child" any more! His application would be denied. The rest of us could stay in the United States, but HE would be deported!

How is a mother supposed to react when she is told that one of her children is to be separated from her and the rest of the family?

How can any government allow a family to enter its country, as a family, and then simply go ahead and tear that family apart?

The Child Status Protection Act was brought into law in 2002. Its very purpose was to stop this happening to "children"(CSPA) who became "adults" during processing. But because the K-2 visa is classified as a "non-immigrant" visa, K-2's are not included in the CSPA's protection!

We truly believe that it was not Congress' intention to leave these children out of the CSPA, rather an oversight, which needs to be corrected now.

Our case is only one example of poor immigration laws that need amending.

Until the law is changed, or processing delays are totally eliminated, all children entering on a K-2 visa are at risk of being deported and many other families are going to suffer the heartache and despair we have suffered.

Back at the time of my son's interview, when we were told that he had "aged-out" we could not find one family in our situation. Not one family that was going through what we were. But, as the years have passed (and several have, because my son is soon to have his 25th birthday!) other families, with this problem, are now starting to appear. Their numbers will grow unless this is addressed in any immigration reform bill that is finally enacted.

We joined American Families United, a group of American citizen families torn apart from their loved ones, in similar situations. In the time we have been members, I have come to realize that there are many, many, families faced with separation due to poorly-drafted or inhumane immigration laws.

I pray to God that my son is able to stay with us - here in the United States. He has done NOTHING wrong and the processing time of his application was out of his control, from the very moment he handed it over to the USCIS. It doesn't seem right, or just, that someone can be punished for something that isn't his fault ... and was totally out of his control.

Shortly we will have a moment of silent prayer for all families suffering hardships under the present immigration laws and policies - and those hardships are varied, I know. But, I ask that you please remember all the families with K-2 children that are faced with having to choose between family and country.

God blessed me when He called me to be a mother! I will do what I know is right and will stand by my son.

I just happen to agree wholeheartedly with Barbara Bush, who is also a mother, the mother of our President, when she said ...

"Family means putting your arms around each other and being there."

I only pray that our country's government, will afford me the opportunity to do this by allowing us to remain here as a family.

Thank you for listening and I would like to wish all the mothers here tonight a happy, and blessed, Mother's Day. Thank You."


Action Step You Can Take

Family unity is a basic value of our country and its laws. Family unification, the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, will be more difficult under the legislation. Under the Senate bill, all adult children, including those whose parents are U.S. citizens, would not be eligible for family reunification.

Contact Your Senators Today: Click this link to e-mail your Senators take action in support of keeping families together. You can also call your member by using the Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121. >For talking points click here. >For information on family amendments click here.

To learn more about American Families United visit

Video: Family Amendments Introduction

This week's press conference with Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Menendez (D-NJ) on family amendments to the Senate bill is now available on YouTube. >To watch the press conference click here or on the video below.

"It is time for the family values chorus from the White House and our colleagues in the Senate to put their votes where their values are. If their votes match their values they'll be voting for both of our amendments," said Senator Menendez.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

All in the Family: Senate Amendments

Sen. Clinton at Press conference
This afternoon Senators Clinton (D-NY), Menendez (D-NJ), and Hagel (R-NE) introduced an amendment to the Senate bill that would allow legal permanent residents to reunite with spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years old) by categorizing them as "immediate relatives." For the official press release click here.

"Hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents have been waiting for years to be reunited with their spouses and children due to visa backlogs," said Senator Clinton. "This amendment is about fundamental fairness," she said.

Sen. Menendez at press conferenceIn his support of the amendment Senator Menendez said, "We are facing a fundamental change to the values of our immigration system. The bedrock principle of family would be drastically diminished under this deal. Passing this amendment would promote social stability and show that family values do not, in fact, end at the Rio Grande, as the president likes to say."

Senator Menendez said that "sometimes we lose sight of who these people really are." He recounted that one of the first soldiers to die in Iraq was Jose Gutierrez, a lawful permanent resident from Guatemala. Even if he had survived, he would not have been able to claim his family, Menendez emphasized.

Senators Menendez and Hagel are also introducing a substitute amendmendment, which changes the cut-off of May 2005 for family reunification visas and establish the same cut off date for backlog reduction visas as the deadline for legalization for undocumented immigrants.

Many faith-based and advocacy organizations spoke at a press conference in support of the Clinton-Menendez amendment among these, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, NETWORK a Catholic Social Justice Lobby, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"It [the amendment] would take care of the current backlog of over 1 million spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents who are facing separation of 5 to 7 years," said Karen Nagasaki of the Asian American Justice Center. "Proponents of the deal in the Senate have been pointing to Canada's immigration system as their blue print. Canada's family system allows spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents to come in with no quota, which is what this amendment would accomplish," she said.

Rev. Luis Leon, Rector of St. John's Lafayette Square Episocal Church located near the White House, emphasized the faith perspective. "We are called to love our neighbors as God loves us," he said "Ironically, immigrants reflect the best of what citizens want to see in themselves."

Two Step Action You Can Take
Family unity is a basic value of our country and its laws. Family unification, the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, will be more difficult under the legislation.

(1) Contact Your Senators: Click this link to e-mail your Senators take action in support of keeping families together. You can also call your member by using the Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121. For talking points click here.

(2) Action Alert: To view an action alert on the Menendez-Hagel Amendment click here.

Call Your Senators: National Faith Call-In

Today the Senate debates a troubling new proposal on immigration reform. This proposal, constructed by compromises between several key Senators and Bush administration officials, falls short of what we need to fix the nation's broken, out-of-date immigration system.

The U.S. needs substantive reform that includes a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants, family reunification, demilitarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, and a halt to worksite raids and detention.

While it is good that the proposal includes a path to legal residency and eventual citizenship, even that path is filled with hurdles.

Email or call your senators today asking them to improve the proposed legislation and to support fair, humane immigration reform by clicking here or call your senator through the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. For talking points click here.

Sending an email or calling shows your senators that many people in this country want to protect the rights and dignity of immigrants. To learn more about the legislation and improvements that are needed click here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

C-SPAN: Watch Senate Debate LIVE

To view today's Senate debate on C-SPAN 2 click here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fencing off the American Dream

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice organization, today expressed its strong concern with the proposed Senate immigration compromise.

Based on 90 years of work with immigrants and refugees, AFSC supports substantive reform that includes a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants, family reunification, demilitarizing the border region, and halting work site raids and detention.

"The proposed legislation will tear apart families and separate workers from their loved ones." says Esther Nieves, Director of AFSC's Project Voice immigrants' rights initiative. "It falls far short of what is needed to address the nation's broken and out-of-date immigration system."

Family unification, the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy since 1965, will be more difficult under the proposed legislation. It would eliminate the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for residency for their adult children and siblings. The bill also drastically limits the number of available slots for parents of U.S. citizens. The bill does take a step forward by eliminating the current family-based immigration backlog within eight years, but it also sets a retroactive cut-off application date of May 2005. This means that thousands of families' applications will be void and they will be forced to reapply under the new, restrictive point system.

The proposed path to legal residency and citizenship is also riddled with practical problems that would cause severe hardships for immigrants and their loved ones.

"The proposed legislation does offer a limited path to citizenship, but unreasonable provisions, including lengthy waiting periods, fines, a new "merit"-based system, and other punitive hurdles mean that undocumented workers would need to wait from eight to thirteen years to become citizens and pay the equivalent of up to six months wages," says Nieves.

The bill establishes a guest worker visa program, which permits individuals to work in the U.S. for three two-year terms, but requires that they leave for at least one year between each term. These workers would be left without a direct path to permanent residency and vulnerable to unethical employers, as shown by the experience of the Bracero program between the U.S. and Mexican government between 1942 and 1964. Even now, former bracero workers fight for unpaid wages and recount severe mistreatment and exploitation while they were temporary workers.

Punitive Provisions Would Come First

The legalization program and the temporary worker programs would not start until the government has hired 18,000 additional Border Patrol agents and built 370 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico.

"U.S. taxpayers have already spent more than $30 billion to fund more fences, walls, and border agents in the past 12 years and instead of stemming the flow of immigrants, we've created a humanitarian crisis at the border," says Nieves. "More deaths have occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border in the past decade than in the history of the Berlin Wall. It is very troubling that even the flawed positive provisions will not begin until we spend billions more on unsound, inhumane border policies."

The bill also requires funding for 27,500 detention beds per day, annually. The proposal is unclear whether this is in addition to the already overbroad use of detention, or a reaffirmation of the misguided commitment to lock up undocumented immigrants. Either way, detentions, often coupled with home and work site raids and deportation, creates so much pain for families that we must find a more humane and just way to handle alleged violations of immigration laws.

AFSC and its community partners will continue to call upon Congress and the Bush Administration to include immigrants as equal members and contributors and to develop a sound immigration policy. We believe that all future immigration policies must respect and recognize the inherent and equal rights of all members of the human family.

"As a Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee believes in the inherent dignity and worth of all people," said Joyce Miller, assistant general secretary for justice and human rights. "We continue to believe that the U.S. has as much to gain from newly arrived immigrants as it did from those who came to this country in preceding centuries."

The AFSC supports the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of their immigration status. Project Voice, the AFSC immigrant rights initiative, works to uplift migrant voices and strengthen efforts of migrant-led organizations to set an agenda for fair and humane national public policies. AFSC has 90 years experience working with immigrants and refugees and presently works with immigrants in 18 communities in fourteen states and in countries around the world.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Summary of Senate Immigration Deal

For a summary of the Senate immigration deal (Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007) published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) click here. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 07051768 (posted May. 17, 2007)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Senate Debate to Begin

Updated May 17, 2007

Senate: Reid to Push Immigration Bill for Floor Debate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring an immigration bill (S. 1348) modeled on last year's Senate immigration bill S. 2611, to the floor next week. "We all recognize [that last year's] bill is imperfect. But it is a place that we are going to start," Reid said, Congressional Quarterly reports.

Senator Reid plans to stay on schedule with two weeks of floor debate on an immigration bill. The move comes as several weeks of negotiations between the Administration and Senators failed to yield legislation.

Senator Reid plans to move forward with a vote on "cloture" (a procedure used to limit the amount of time to debate a bill or other matter) on Monday to proceed with debate of the bill (S. 1348). With 60 votes required for the cloture vote to pass, Senator Reid will need Republican support.

On May 9th, Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mel Martinez (R-FL), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) sent a letter to Senator Reid stating that they would only move forward on legislation that is a part of the bipartisan negotiations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also said "scrapping" negotiations would lead to "frustration and defeat on both sides"(CQ). The Senators may continue negotiations and could offer substitute legislation during the amendment process if they reach agreement.

The White House proposal, which calls for the creation of a point or "merit"-based system (which uses factors such as educational level to assess prospective immigrants), increased fines for the "legalization" program, and eventual end of family-based visa categories raise concern about the negotiations. "Unfortunately, the White House began the process this year with a far more impractical and partisan proposal," Senator Menendez (D-NJ) has said, according to Congressional Quarterly.

Sections of last year's bill that undermine due process and create a "three-tiered" legalization program raise concerns for immigrants rights advocates. In order fix these provisions it will be necessary for Senators to amend the bill during the debate on the Senate floor. Last year, Senators Lieberman (D-NJ) and Brownback (R-KS) introduced an amendment (SA 4020)to add protections for asylum seekers and improve detention oversight and conditions; however, the amendment failed.

House: Subcommittee Immigration Hearings Continue

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration will continue to hold hearings this week on the "integration" of US immigrants, the impact of immigration on states and localities, and the future of undocumented students in the United States. For full details including times and locations of the hearings click here. All of the hearings are open to the public.

Children's Hearing on the Social Impact of Raids

On Thursday, May 17th the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and other nongovernmental organizations will hold a "Children's Hearing on the Social Impact of Raids on Families and Communities" from 10 am to 12 pm in Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255.

Guest will include: Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund; Kim Gandy, President, National Organization of Women; Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches; and Hilary Shelton, Washington DC Bureau Chief, NAACP.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mother's Day Interfaith Vigil for Families

Washington, DC - This Mother's Day interfaith groups and concerned community members will join together in support and solidarity with family members torn apart by our nation's broken immigration system for an Interfaith Vigil at Lafayette Park near the White House on March 13th from 7:00 - 8:00 pm. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is an informal group of faith-based organizations committed to humane immigration measures. The vigil will include the testimony of a US citizen mother whose family has been battling for the past 4 years to keep her son in the US.

For a flyer about the event click here. The nearest Metro location is McPherson Square Metro Station (White House exit) on Orange and Blue lines.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This Week in Washington

Hearings Focus on Family-Based Immigration and REAL ID

This week the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law will continue its series of hearings on immigration with two hearings this week. On Tuesday, May 8th at 9:30 am the Sub-Committee will hear testimonies on The Role of Family-Based Immigration in the U.S. Immigration System. On Friday, May 11th at 9:00 am the Sub-Committee will hold a hearing on the Impact of Immigration on States and Localities. Both hearings will be held in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building and are open to the public.

Senate Judiciary Committee to Examine Civil Liberties Concerns of REAL ID

On Tuesday, May 8th at 11:00 am, the full Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled "Will REAL ID Actually Make Us Safer? An Examination of Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns" in 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building. The witnesses will include Allen Gilbert (ACLU of Vermont), Jim Harper (CATO Institute), Dr. James Carafano (Heritage Foundation), Bruce Scheinier (BT Counterpane), and Janice Kephart (9/11 Security Solutions, LLC). For the full witness list click here.

May 8th Deadline for REAL ID Proposed Rule Comments

The Senate hearing occurs on the same day as the deadline for public comments on the Department of Homeland Security's proposed rule on the minimum standards for driver's licenses under REAL ID. Last week a coaltion of over 40 organizations launched a campaign for public comments to oppose the proposed rule.

Community members raised concerns about privacy, costs, and security of implementing the plan during a public hearing on May 1st held by the Department of Homeland Security at University of California - Davis.

Four states including Maine, Idaho, Arkansas, Montana, and Washington have opted out of REAL ID. In February, Representative Thomas Allen (D-ME) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced bills in the House (H.R. 1117) and Senate (S. 717) respectively to repeal Title II of the REAL ID Act of 2005 and reinstitute section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Under Title II of the REAL ID Act, applicants for new or renewed driver's licenses must provide documentation of their U.S. citizenship or immigration status.

The deadline for public comments on the proposed rule is May 8th at 5pm. To submit a comment visit and search for the DHS docket number "DHS-2006-0030" or by fax at 866-466-5370. The docket number should be included in all comments. The text of the proposed rule is available here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

House Judiciary Sub-Committee Hearing on Immigration Point System

by Devi Ramkissoon
AFSC, Project Voice Communications and Policy Advocate

While the Senate awaits the introduction of an immigration bill, much of the current discussion in House of Representatives regarding immigration reform stems from a series of hearings. Past hearing topics have included the immigration history, the shortfalls of previous immigration laws, and employment verification. (For a review of past hearings click here). Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law plans to wait for Senate action before the Sub-committee considers an immigration bill.

On May 1 the Sub-Committee focused on the use of a point system as a method for selecting immigrants. The Sub-committee also held a hearing on the "U.S. Economy, U.S. Workers, and Immigration Reform" on May 3.

What is a Point System?
In a series of panels, Sub-Committee members discussed the possibility of implementing the point system in the United States. Under a point system immigration officials use various "Factors of Assessment" to assign points to prospective immigrants. These factors often include a combination of the following: level of education, age, language ability, occupational demand, work training and experience, pre-arranged employment (which can include self-employment), personality and adaptation, family ties; and ethnicity (with respect to maintaining diversity).

This idea has been presented to Congress in various forms in previous years. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand implement points systems to some extent.

Panelists and Members Share Perspectives on Point Systems
In his testimony, Senator Jeff Sessions (R- AL) emphasized the preference of academics over "lower-skilled" workers, observing that academicians were more adaptable than other workers. When Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) raised a question about the high potential for separation of families under the point system, he responded, "We'll just have to wrestle with that."

Researchers from the Library of Congress presented on the systems of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, emphasizing the fact that the point system is only one portion of their immigration policy and certainly doesn't apply to all immigrants. In addition, a panelist representing the Migration Policy Institute pointed out that, nations often turn to the system to boost their economies and that the system "can be flexible according to a country's goals."

Supporters of the point system indicated that it would eliminate the long interview process and subsequent backlog in the current US immigration system and would instill a sense of fairness concerning who "deserves" to immigrate to the U.S. Opponents, however, questioned its morals, potential for discrimination, and lack of regard for family unification.

Senator Hagel Introduces Point System Bill
Senator Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) recently introduced the Immigrant Accountability Act of 2007 (S. 1225) reflects the growing interest in the point system. The bill is intended to be incorporated into a Senate bill to be considered in May. Under his bill, undocumented immigrants would receive points if they met the following qualifications: military service; advanced English proficiency; civic engagement/community service; business ownership; home ownership; work history; level of education; length of U.S. presence; and U.S. citizen/permanent resident spouse or minor child.

If they earned enough points, immigrants would then have to wait thirteen years to gain citizenship. However, not all undocumented immigrants would qualify to earn points under the bill. They must have been living in the U.S. prior to January 7, 2004; pass a criminal/security background check; pay all previously owed state and federal income taxes; have proficiency in English; register for selective service; and pay at least $2,000 in fines in order to qualify to earn points.

For the complete text of the bill click here.

In Review: House Immigration Hearings

by Devi Ramkissoon
AFSC, Project Voice Communications and Policy Advocate

House Revisits Immigration Past and Shortfalls

Throughout March, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, chaired by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has hosted a series of hearings focused on immigration reform issues. These hearings lay the groundwork for consideration of a House immigration bill and provide insight on the views and questions of members of Congress on immigration.

Past, Present, and Future: A Historic and Personal Reflection
The first of these hearings, entitled "Past, Present, and Future: A Historic and Personal Reflection on American Immigration," took place on Ellis Island. Two panels included the participation of the Office of Border Patrol Department of Homeland Security and several academicians. In addition, five Subcommittee members attended the hearing (Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member Steve King (R-IA), Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), who recently introduced the STRIVE Act of 2007.

The members traced their personal immigration histories and questioned the academicians on the nation's immigrant past. Chairwoman Lofgren noted that, forty percent of Americans trace their roots to a relative who came through Ellis Island.

Historic Discrimination against Immigrants
In addition to the history of admissions, members heard testimony on the history of immigrants' reception in America. As Professor Tichenor (State University of New Jersey) noted, "Each wave of 'new' immigrants has been scored by critics as incapable of successfully joining our ranks, only later to distinguish themselves among our most loyal and accomplished citizens." Representative Luis V. Gutierrez cited the historic arguments made against Irish and Italian immigrants as examples of past discrimination.

Scholars link immigrants and the economy
Professor Dan Siciliano (corporate governance professor, Stanford Law School) suggested, "Immigrants have helped increase wages in recent years." He said that recent research demonstrates that the record immigration between 1990 and 2004 had helped to increase wages in the United States. Immigrants could also help to offset the aging of the "baby boom" generation, said Dowell Myers, a demographer from the University of Southern California.

Fence is Not "Single Solution"
Border Patrol official, David V. Aguilar, suggested that a well designed immigration reform program could help mitigate the flow of immigrants and help the government do its job. Aguilar also stated that a fence was not the "single solution." "The vast majority of that clutter, that chaos at our Southern border, is seeking economic employment," Mr. Aguilar said.

20 Years Later: Shortfalls of the 1986 Legislation (IRCA)
The second major hearing on the "Shortfalls of the 1986 Immigration Reform Legislation," on April 19, 2007 focused on the negative impact of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) on immigration policy in the United States. Panelist Muzaffar A. Chishti (director of Migration Policy Institute's office at NYU School of Law) cited IRCA as "the first major attempt by Congress to address the problems of unauthorized migration." Its provisions included increasing border security, implementing sanctions for employers to prevent the hiring of undocumented immigrants, and implementing a type of "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria, and through the Special Agricultural Worker Program (SAW), legalizing unauthorized agricultural workers who had worked at least ninety days.

The panelists explored the failures of IRCA from various angles. According to Chisthi, the ultimate downfall of IRCA stemmed from its narrow focus, which only addressed the issues of undocumented immigration and did not foresee the problems related to future immigration and the labor market demand for immigrant workers. Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA and an organization which supports reducing immigration, opposed this view by stating that the major setbacks of IRCA included its focus on amnesty, the government's failure to enforce employer sanctions and prevent the rise of fraudulent documents. Conversely, research by the AFSC on the affect of employer sanctions indicates that 1986 employer sanctions were ineffective and harmful.

The panelists also examined several possible solutions to the current immigration debate. Chisthi explored the possibility of creating a "provisional worker category for jobs that are not seasonal or temporary" while Stephen Legomsky (Professor, Washington University- St. Louis) suggested awarding 2A's (i.e., spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of legal permanent residents) the same status that immediate relatives of U.S. citizens receive.

Professor Stephen Pitti (Yale University) focused on the impact of future legislation on immigrants from Mexico, "Any future guest worker program signed with Mexico must allow migrants to join organizations in the United States without risk of penalty; it must allow migrants to leave employers who do not comply with the terms of the program without great difficulty; and it must require both close governmental and nongovernmental monitoring of working conditions - by private organizations, unions, churches, and other groups - to investigate the operations of the program."

A Decade Later: Shortfalls of the 1996 Legislation
A similar hearing on April 20, 2007 focused on the "Shortfalls of 1996 Immigration Reform Legislation" which included the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA); the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act; and Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Paul Virtue (executive associate commissioner partner at Hogan & Hartson Law Firm) noted that the 1996 legislation took the focus away from the contribution of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. and that any potential reforms should reflect each case on its merits. Professor Douglas Massey (Princeton University), called U.S. immigration policies "dysfunctional," concurring that increased border control would not provide an effective solution. He recommended policies that would regularize the status of undocumented immigrants, increase legal quota for permanent residents from Mexico, establish a temporary worker program, focus on "internal enforcement" instead of border control, and increase the resources of the U.S. immigration administration.

Discussing the issues on broader terms, Mark Krikorian (Executive Director, for the Center for Immigration Studies which favors reducing immigration to the U.S.), declared that Congress's most significant mistake in 1996 was refusing to cut overall legal immigration and argued in favor of stronger border control. Professor Hiroshi Motomura (North Carolina School of Law) added that border enforcement is not enough to solve immigration problems, and that decision-making should be placed in the hands of immigration judges instead of entry inspectors.

AFSC's Analysis
Increased personnel or technology have not been effective solutions in the past and it is highly unlikely that this situation will be ameliorated by continuing to pursue these same 'solutions.' Authorizing appropriations for increased Department of Defense equipment, enforcement personnel, and infrastructure disrupts the quality of life of border residents and citizens alike and fails to effectively deter unauthorized crossings. AFSC's border policies stem from a vision of borders which are the product of mutual agreement and acknowledgement, jointly administered, disarmed, and aided by border crossing procedures that respect human dignity and rights.

Problems in the Current Employment Verification System
Lastly, on April 24, 2007 and April 26, 2007 the Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on"The Problems in the Current Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement System" and "Proposals for Improving the Electronic Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement System."

John Shandley (senior vice president of human resources, Swift & Company) outlined the Employment Eligibility Verification (EEV) Program formerly know as the Basic Pilot Program, which was established as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). EEV is used to verify the residency status of employees.

Basic Pilot Fatally Flawed
Shandley pointed out the system's major shortcomings, acknowledging as well that Swift had been raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and that over 1,000 employees were displaced. He stated that "Basic Pilot is...fatally flawed."

Database not Intended for Immigration Purposes
Furthermore, Professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr (Cornell Law School) indicated that other major problems included the fact that the database against which the EEV Program checked its information was not intended for immigration purpose, it took program officials weeks to respond to employer inquiries, errors were evident in about twenty percent of all inquiries; and that a full-scale implementation would require billions of dollars. Yale-Loehr insisted on increasing government participation, support, and evaluation for the systems effectiveness. Professor Marc Rosenblum (University of New Orleans) recommended that the government provide employers and employees with a clear set of rules about the verification process and also enhance enforcement.

AFSC's Analysis
The AFSC continues to oppose all forms of employer sanctions due to the negative affects these have wrought since 1986 including employment discrimination. The proposed Electronic Employment Verification System has the overall effect of imposing on both workers and employers burdensome and expensive requirements just to earn a living or stay in business, respectively.

The Social Security Administration should only be used for its original intent, the welfare of retired and disabled workers, their dependants and survivors. SSA should not become an enforcement arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The implementation of the current "Basic Pilot Program" (a voluntary EEVS) indicates that there exists a significant rate of false positives. The process to appeal a "tentative non-confirmation" under EEVS is cumbersome, time consuming, and financially beyond the reach of many working class immigrants.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

AFSC STRIVE Act Analysis in Spanish

The AFSC analysis of the STRIVE Act is now available in Spanish. To view the full analysis click here.