Friday, November 30, 2007

DHS Says No Go on "No Match" Letters

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has opted to forego using the Social Security Administration's database to implement its "no match" rule. The DHS decision comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by organizations including the AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) to stop DHS from sending no match letters to the nation's employers.

DHS asked a federal court to place the lawsuit on hold until March 2008 in order to rewrite the rule and conduct a small business survey. DHS plans to re-craft a new rule for public dissemination in late December, the NY Times reports.

"No matter how DHS alters its rule, any use of a social security mismatch to assume immigration status will trap workers in a bureaucratic nightmare and punish them unfairly," said Marielena Hincapie, staff attorney and Director of Programs for NILC.

The lawsuit contends that use of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) defective database would prompt the unfair dismissal of employees and the discrimination or racial profiling of many workers. SSA's Inspector General has consistently found significant clerical and bureaucratic discrepancies in its database including the records of United States citizens. In October, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer's preliminary order halted DHS from enforcing the rule, which would affect an estimated eight million workers.

AFSC strongly urges DHS and the Bush Administration to pursue constructive worksite policies that enable employers to assist their workers in the adjustment of their immigration status, while they also continue to contribute to the nation's economic vitality.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Winter of ICE and No Reform

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

A major overhaul of failed U.S. immigration laws will not occur until after the 2008 presidential election year, according to members of Congress. Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) recently indicated that major immigration reforms will not be a priority in Congress for at least another year, the L.A. Daily News reports.

Both members supported negotiations earlier this year on the immigration bills AgJOBS (H.R. 371) and the DREAM Act (H.R. 1275). The Senate versions of these two bills suffered recent setbacks when the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the DREAM Act and when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) decided not to attach AgJOBS (S. 340) to the Farm Bill.

Enforcement-Only Bills in the Wake of Congressional Inaction

At the same time, House members introduced two enforcement-only bills in less than a week. The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4088) introduced this month by Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) has received criticism from immigration reform advocates including some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) noted similarities between the SAVE Act and the STRIVE Act, a bill that he and Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced this past March. Rep. Gutierrez said that it looked like Rep. Shuler "took all the enforcement parts of [my STRIVE bill] and forgot to turn the page." (CQ Today).

The SAVE Act, which currently has 112 co-sponsors, may face a challenge in the Homeland Security Subcommittee chaired by Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), a former member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. According to CQ Today, Rep. Sanchez stated that Rep. Shuler made a mistake by "not consulting with her before he introduced the bill."

Among its provisions, the SAVE Act would authorize DHS to retain or construct a family detention center, similar to the T. Don Hutto detention center, with at least 500 beds. The bill would also mandate the use of employment authorization verification called E-Verify (formerly known as Basic Pilot) for every employer in the United States, a move previously criticized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to erroneous Social Security Administration records.

Sensenbrenner Revisits An Unsuccessful Legislative Past

This month Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced another enforcement-only bill, the Border Enforcement, Employment Verification and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4065). This bill, which currently has 10 co-sponsors, is similar to H.R. 4437, a measure Rep. Sensenbrenner introduced in 2005 when he served as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The American Friends Service Committee believes that legislative proposals such as H.R. 4088 and H.R. 4065 do not offer workable, realistic solutions that constructively address the issue of immigration facing the nation. An enforcement-only approach does not reflect the support studies and polls have reiterated for bringing "out of the shadows" the nation's undocumented immigrants and workers.

Legislation Mirrors Disturbing Wave of Local Immigration Legislation

Unfortunately, because the federal government has failed to produce constructive policies, there are now troubling manifestations of local and state governments taking actions in a matter that is the legal purview of the federal government. The Congressional proposals come at a time of increased use of local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law in 34 states such as Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia.

This troubling landscape is compounded with the rise in anti-immigrant ordinances that exclude undocumented immigrants from accessing housing, social services or jobs. Sadly, the root of these efforts is grounded in misguided policies, an increase in nativism and the calls by restrictionists to swiftly apprehend and deport immigrants who have not adjusted their immigration status. The domino impact has been clear: multi-status families have been separated; children have witnessed the deportation of their parents; more immigrants are now being held in detention centers; and racial profiling, and civil and human rights abuses has also increased.

Tone of Campaigns Does Little to Encourage Thoughtful Policy Solutions

Despite the increase in state and local measures, the aftermath of the state elections that took place in New York and Virginia in early November showed that immigration is not necessarily a wedge issue when it comes to the ballot box. Representative Xavier Becerra, (D-CA) said the elections sent "a clear signal - immigration by itself is not a wedge issue to count on in a negative campaign." (L.A. Daily News). While immigration is one of several issues that concern voters, what voters want is responsible and measured leadership, and a move away from divisive language and demagoguery, according to election analysis by the National Immigration Forum, The Century Foundation, Progressive States Network .

Justice for All

In the meantime, advocates throughout the nation continue to work with the undocoumented immigrants and non-immigrant allies who dislike the current undertone of the immigration discourse. The tone and spirit of this pressing debate can only change when immigrant and non-immigrant communities become fully engaged in actions that challenge anti-immigrant language and actions and that instead, bring to the fore the nation's history of fairness and due process, and ultimately lead to workable and constructive solutions.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NY's Decision A Step Back and Set Back

Security and Fairness Lost in Political Gamesmanship of Misinformation

The American Friends Service Committee expresses its strong disappointment with New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's decision to abandon his administration's plan to provide an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to seek driver's licenses. This is not just a setback for the state's immigrant communities, but for all the people of New York.

The initial plan provided a historic opportunity for the Spitzer Administration to lead the nation in putting forth a humane policy which addressed local security and public safety concerns. Unfortunately, Spitzer's plan succumbed to a misinformation campaign and was withdrawn.

"The governor's plan would have promoted safer roads for all state residents, increased the number of insured drivers, and supported New York's thriving immigrant community which spurs on the state's economic vibrancy and development. Governor Spitzer's idea was a bold first step, but we still lack national leadership and desperately need legislation to offer permanent legal status to the nation's undocumented population," observes Amy Gottlieb, an attorney and director of AFSC's immigrant rights program in the Greater New York area.

While a significant number of the nation's citizenry have indicated their support for a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants, legislators have ignored their voices. Such a path would allow immigrants to adjust their legal status and end the daily fear and abuse they confront. In the meantime, the legislature's failure to act has led to the separation of families, increased raids in immigrants' homes and workplaces, deportations, and a growing population of individuals and families housed in detention centers.

"We will be in touch with New York legislators to express our disappointment and urge them to call on Congress and the White House to produce viable and constructive solutions," says Gottlieb. "New York City has been one of the nation's ports of entry for generations. The city is rich because people from around the world have come to make it an international commercial and cultural capital. Our work with and on behalf of immigrant communities will go on, and we will press our leaders to enact fair and humane policies, not ones based on fear, misinformation, and intolerance."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Home Sweet Home? Read this State Survey

Diversity Inc. recently published a state by state survey of passed state immigration laws. To find how your state compares to other states across the nation click here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

From the Classroom to Congress: Addressing Economic Migration

What about the conditions in immigrants' home countries such as Mexico? He thought that one person might live better in the U.S. without authorization than in Mexico as a citizen or resident. The room sat silently for a moment as he waited for an answer. I asked for his thoughts. He answered "aid programs." Another person answered "education." Another answered "improving opportunities" in their home countries.

These answers did not come from a group of policy analysts or researchers, but rather a group of high school students discussing immigration in a Washington, DC classroom. The students raised questions and answered the question which is often absent from the debate on immigration - how do we address the root causes of migration?

Jubilee Act

As the students discussed immigration, across town, members of Congress listened to advocates discuss a bill that may help answer part of the question of improving opportunities in countries of origin. The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing yesterday on HR 2634, also known as the Jubilee Act. The bill would extend debt cancellation to 67 low-income countries in the world, provided they demonstrate plans to spend the funds on poverty reduction programs.

Debt and migration

What is the connection between the debt and migration? One of the factors that forces economic migration is international debt which contributes to abject poverty, poor economic development and lack of employment opportunity. Millions of families are separated due to unjust global economic policies which generate poverty and force individuals to leave their communities in search of a livelihood.

Debt and Its Dreadful Legacy

Despite debt relief agreements in 1999 and 2005, countries of the Global South continue to spend $100 million every day to pay foreign debts, often incurred by undemocratic governments and under unfair lending practices. In 2005, Mexico spent $44 billion to service debt, more than the country's entire education budget. Due to the tremendous outflow of money, debt payments limit a country's ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

How would debt cancellation help? Debt cancellation stimulates economies. For example, Uganda has invested its 2006 debt relief savings of $57.9 million in primary education, healthcare and infrastructure upgrades. Newly available resources can also support agricultural advancements and other critical economic development projects. Greater economic prospects result from fair economic policies.

Migration should be a choice, not a forced economic necessity. Pressures to migrate will only be reduced when the push factors - including unjust global economic policies - are addressed. More families and communities will remain intact when this vision is realized and jobs and other sustainable opportunities are made available by transparent and receptive leaders and governments.

The class of students understood the complexities of addressing immigration issues in the United States. Although divided in their opinions, they broadly agreed that ameliorating the economic push factors which force migration is an important part of ending the cycle of migration and global poverty, particularly in developing nations. It's time for Congress to address the same questions.

Email your Congressional Rep today and urge her or him to support the Jubilee Act (HR 2634) and 100% debt cancellation for low-income countries. Click here and take action.

For more info about the AFSC Life Over Debt campaign, click here. To learn more about the Jubilee USA network and its member organizations that support the Jubilee Act, please visit

Cross posted at Street Prophets blog.