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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Hold Fast to DREAMs

In legislation on March 27, 2009 at 4:10 pm
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, S. 729/H.R. 1751) is back.

Today, a bipartisan group* of lawmakers in both the House and Senate reintroduced the DREAM Act, a bill which would offer undocumented children who grew up in the United States a path to legal status and eventual citizenship through pursuing higher education.

As Representative Roybal-Allard said in her remarks as she introduced the bill, “The Act’s premise is simple and just: Undocumented students deserve the same opportunities as the 2.8 million others who graduate from this country’s high schools every year. We cannot afford to waste our investments in these talented, motivated young people who are products of our schools and our communities…the millions of high school students who comprise the Class of 2009 are mere months away from graduation. Among them are thousands of kids who have the potential to become doctors, lawyers and even members of Congress but face insurmountable legal obstacles. We have a moral obligation to remove these impediments so that all of our young people can accomplish their goals.”

The DREAM Act, which by providing a path to citizenship through pursuing education works to mend a gaping hole in the United States immigrats’ and children’s rights, is only one fix to a much broader problem. At FCNL, we believe the education portion of the DREAM Act should be a critical component of comprehensive immgration reform and we hope to see Congress work with the Obama administration in the coming year to pass humane CIR.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
For when dreams die
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow
~Langston Hughes

* On the Senate side, DREAM was introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (IL), Richard Lugar (IN), Russell Feingold (WI), Edward Kennedy (MA), Patrick Leahy (VT), Joe Lieberman (CT), Mel Martinez (FL), and Harry Reid (NV).

On the House side, DREAM was introduced by Representatives Howard Berman (CA), Joseph Cao (LA), John Conyersr, Jr (MI), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Devin Nunez (CA), Jared Polis (CO), Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA).

Obama Extends Liberian DED

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Thank you, Mr. President!

On Friday, President Obama extended Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for 12 months. This extension grants Liberians the temporary right to live and work in the United States.

Obama’s granting of Liberian DED is a welcome decision by immigrant and refugee rights groups.

Liberians were first given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in 1991 when Liberia was in the midst of a bloody civil war that was tearing the country apart. Liberian TPS was then extended each year until 2007, by which point the war had ended and democratic elections had taken place. President Bush, however, granted an 18-month extension (delayed enforced departure) due to the high unemployment rate and welfare circumstances in the country.

Bush’s extension was set to expire on March 31st.

Advocates have been pushing for another extension of Liberian DED because of the impact deportation would have on both communities in the United States and in Liberia. Many Liberians currently given status through DED have resided in the U.S. for nearly two decades. They own businesses, have families, and are an integral part of the communities in which they live. To deport Liberians now would rupture both families and local economies.

On the other side, Liberia still has an unemployment rate that soars at about 85% and many Liberians are dependent on remittances from family members in United States in order to survive.

Now, advocates will work to create a path to legal status for Liberians.

Thank you, Obama, for extending Liberian DED.

Obama Confirms His Commitment to Immigration Reform at Townhall Meeting

In legislation on March 20, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Yesterday, after meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to passing just and humane comprehensive immigration reform this year while speaking at a townhall meeting in Mesa County, California.

Check out the video:

Here’s the full text of President Obama’s Costa Mesa Town Hall meeting, from the LA Times blog:

THE PRESIDENT: I just met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today, which Congresswoman Sanchez is a member of — (applause) — to talk about this issue directly. As many of you know, during the campaign I was asked repeatedly about this, and I reiterated my belief that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, I know this is an emotional issue, I know it’s a controversial issue, I know that the people get real riled up politically about this, but — but ultimately, here’s what I believe: We are a nation of immigrants, number one.

Number two, we do have to have control of our borders. Number three, that people who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows, because if they stay in the shadows, in the underground economy, then they are oftentimes pitted against American workers.

Since they can’t join a union, they can’t complain about minimum wages, et cetera, they end up being abused, and that depresses the wages of everybody, all Americans. (Applause.)

So I don’t think that we can do this piecemeal. I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we’re going to strengthen our borders — and I’m going to be going to Mexico, I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade.

We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers. (Applause.) We have to make sure that there’s a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not. But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama. (Laughter.)

You’ve got to — and then you’ve got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you’ve broken the law; you didn’t come here the way you were supposed to. So this is not going to be a free ride. It’s not going to be some instant amnesty. What’s going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine. You are going to learn English. (Applause.)

You are going to — you are going to go to the back of the line so that you don’t get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally. (Applause.) But after you’ve done these things over a certain period of time you can earn your citizenship, so that it’s not — it’s not something that is guaranteed or automatic. You’ve got to earn it. But over time you give people an opportunity.

Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces. I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.

So we’ve got to deal with that at the same time as we deal in a humane fashion with folks who are putting down roots here, have become our neighbors, have become our friends, they may have children who are U.S. citizens. (Applause.) That’s the kind of comprehensive approach that we have to take. All right. Okay. (Applause.)

Obama and Hispanic Dems Will Meet Today to Talk Immigration

In legislation on March 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

This morning, Hispanic democrats will have their first meeting with President Obama since he came into office in January.

Immigration will be at the top of the agenda.

After the failure of immigration reform in the last two Congresses, as well as the upcoming midterm elections in 2010, Hispanic lawmakers are hoping to get a bill passed before members begin revving up their 2010 campaigns.

They’ve already started their own campaign to garner support by going on a 17-city listening tour of the country, gathering people’s stories about raids and family separation.

But they don’t plan to introduce any legislation until they talk to Obama and find out what the Whitehouse is thinking.

From what I’ve heard, the Obama administration is still planning to follow through with their campaign promise of getting comprehensive immigration reform in the first year. But I look forward to finding out more details on that after today’s meeting.

For more information, go to The Hill’s article “Obama, Hispanic Dems to Huddle on Immigration.”

Obama May Send National Guard to the Border

In enforcement, legislation on March 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Last week, President Obama began contemplating sending National Guard troops to the border to help stem drug-related border violence.

In 2008, the death toll along the US-Mexican border due to drug violence was 5,800. This year, 1000 people have already been killed.

Drug-related violence has escalated in recent years due to a rise of drug cartels and a militarized crackdown by the Mexican government. Some of this violence has “spilled over” onto U.S. soil, a fact which is not entirely surprising given that 90% of the cocaine consumed in the United States at some point passes through Mexico and 150,000 people are directly involved in the narcotics trade in order to meet US market demand.

However, from FCNL’s perspective, a further militarization of the border is not the answer to the growing problem of drug-related violence.

There are already over ten thousand Border Patrol agents working along the southern border and–after sending an additional 3,200 soldiers to the border last week–Mexico currently has over 45,000 Mexican soldiers working against the drug cartels.

The increase in military and police troops along the border has so far done little to nothing to stem the violence. In fact, the most recent State Department Human Rights Report cites that there has been an increase in the number of arbitrary civilian killings by the armed forces. A fact which, as the Huffington Post writes, “only adds to the horrors committed by the drug cartels.”

While Obama has specifically stated that he is “not interested in militarizing the border,” sending the National Guard to the border would be exactly that.

We believe that a civilian, not military, response would be the best way to deal with the current violence. And one positive thing is that it seems that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does too.

She’s heading to Mexico at the end of March to address the issue of drug violence and is carrying with her Leoluca Orlando’s model of empowering civil society to address cartels. As Orlando described it to Hillary when he brought down the mafia, his strategy is like a two-wheel Sicilian cart. One wheel is effective state, police, and judiciary system. The second wheel is civil society.

“If only one wheel rolls, the cart goes around in circles. For the cart to move forward both wheels need to spin at the same pace.”

Militarization has been tried before. More troops won’t bring more peace. We hope Obama will look to alternative approaches like the one that Secretary Clinton is suggesting.

See The Huffington Post’s article “Hillary Clinton and the Drug Cartel Violence in Mexico.”

Labor Secretary Solis Suspends Bush’s Midnight Farm Rules

In economy, legislation on March 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Just before President Bush left office, his administration introduced a set of rules which would make it both easier and cheaper for agricultural employers to hire temporary migrant workers. Now Friday, the day that Secretary Solis was officially sworn into office, she has gone about setting things right again.

The Bush rules cut wages temporary migrant workers would receive for their labor, as well as lowered the amount employers had to contribute toward migrant travel costs.

The rules were deeply criticized by labor, farm worker, and immigrants’ rights groups, as they would further exploit the work of H2A visa holders and take jobs away from U.S. workers. Critics of the H2A guestworker programs (like FCNL) challenge the fact that guestworker programs often cause employers to make permanent jobs temporary. Moreover, the guestworker program binds a worker’s visa status to a single employer, giving the employer power over the worker and thus increasing the liklihood of exploitation.

The Bush rules only made things worse.

At FCNL, we applaud Secretary Solis for taking this first step in suspending the farm rules and upholding both immigrant and labor rights.

For more information, see the NY Times article “Labor Secretary Proposes Suspending Farm Rules.”

E-Verify Tabled in Omnibus Debate

In enforcement, legislation on March 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Last night, the Senate voted to table Senator Sessions amendment (attached to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, S.Amdt. 604 to H.R. 1105) to extend the E-Verify program for six years with a vote of 50::47.

The E-Verify program, which I talked about extensively during debate of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (S. 1 and H.R. 1), is extremely problematic due to database errors, exorbitant costs, backlogs, and worker intimidation.

I was a bit disconcerted that the amendment was only tabled by a difference of 3 votes–seven democrats joined all the republicans in voting against the tabling motion–especially considering that if it had not been tabled, it likely could have derailed the entire Omnibus bill. I think this demonstrates that we still have a lot of work to do, as this is obviously not an issue divided strictly along party lines.

Despite the defeat of the Sessions amendment, the Omnibus still extends the E-Verify program until the end of FY2009.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Holds Hearing on Border: “Secure Border Initiative–Its Impact and Evolution”

In enforcement, legislation on March 11, 2009 at 7:43 pm

“$3.6 billion dollars. ”

That’s how Chairman David Price (NC) began his opening remarks at the hearing I attended to yesterday on the Secure Border Initiative.

“That’s what Congress provided in the past three years to the Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology (BSFIT) account, targeted at securing around 6,000 miles of land border as part of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI)….Today we will take stock of this program. How is it progressing? Is it working? Are we spending enough or too much?”

The subcommittee members and those testifying seemed to measure the notion of progress with very different strides.

Some members, like Ranking Member Rogers, believe there are “unacceptable” delays in development of Border Patrol along both the northern and southern borders. Others–quite shockingly to me–believed we should look to Israel’s development of the Jericho Wall for technology and manning tips.

On the other side of the spectrum, members like Congressman Rotham (NJ) seemed dismayed that the Chief of U.S. Border Patrol could not report whether the border wall actually stemmed or deterred the flow of undocumented migration. The witnesses also could not tell Chairman Price what percentage or to what extent the increase in “effective control” over the last few years has related directly to the building of the border wall and physical barriers vs. increased number of agents, the economy and a downturn in immigration to the United States, etc.

Overall, I felt the hearing ended without any sort of conclusion as to the effectiveness or progress of the Secure Border Initiative. In many ways, I felt the witnesses were trying to defend the use of their increased funding by pointing out that effective enforcement has dramatically risen during this time. However, they were also repeatedly reiterating that the wall itself was not enough, so as to stay off the record as saying the wall was the solution.

The one ray of light in the hearing was when Congresswoman Roybal-Allard (who recently introduced the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act, H.R. 1215) asked a question about what is being done to ensure that children and others are being well treated at the Border Patrol stations. While she did not press the witnesses much on the multiple reports of abuse and human rights violations, it at least placed the issues on Congressional record.

What Makes Communities Safe? A Review of Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Laws Through the 287(g) Program

In enforcement, legislation on March 5, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Yesterday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing (a recorded video of the hearing is now available) entitled ““Examining 287(g): The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement in Immigration Law.”

The highlight of the hearing was the release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report “Immigration Enforcement: Controls over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws Should be Strengthened” which emphasizes the lack of oversight Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has over its locally deputized officers in the 287(g) program.

The 287(g) program was created by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA, pronouced ir-ah-ir-ah), forming agreements which would allow local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. But while the program was formed in 1996, no local law enforcement agency had applied for the program until after September 11th. The first program was then finalized in 2002 and today there are 67 287(g) agreement programs operating in 23 states.

The intent of the program was to provide local officers with the power to go after high-level criminals. Given that immigration law is extremely complex–many people consider it a legal equivalent to tax law(!)–delegation of authority was statutorily limited to a select number of officials who underwent a five-week training in immigration law and were subject to ICE’s supervision.

However, the GAO report points out that:

  1. The program lacks key internal controls
  2. The program objectives have not been laid out or documented in program-related materials
  3. Oversight on how (and when) to use immigration authority has been inconsistent
  4. The structure of ICE’s supervision of 287(g) programs has not been developed or defined
  5. Consistent data collection, documentation, and reporting requirements have not been defined
  6. Performance meters used to evaluate program progress are virtually non-existent

And most importantly, over half of the 29 state and local law enforcement agencies reviewed and interviewed by GAO for this report had documented complaints and concerns about 287(g) authority being used to apprehend, detain, and deport immigrants who had committed minor violations like speeding or running traffic lights, and/or to apprehend and detain in a manner consistent with racial profiling.

Among the other witnesses at the hearing were Sheriff Chuck Jenkins from Frederick County, MD and Police Chief J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, MD.

Sheriff Jenkins testified that they had no problems with the 287(g) program, arguing that it is “a strong and effective tool in safeguarding our national security at our borders.” He also said that he believes “existing fear or distrust of law enforcement is generally cultural based, as most countries where immigrants originate from do have corrupt governments, corrupt and abusive law enforcement, which is all that they have been exposed to in their lives.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Manger–who is also a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association(MCCA)–believes that the 287(g) program undermines trust, confidence, and cooperation between police and immigrant communities. He testified that through his experience, he concurs with what the MCCA has written:

“…without assurances that contact with police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic attacks.”

Police Chief Manger also noted Latinos are disproportionately targets of crime and in urban areas with large Latino or immigrant populations, programs like 287(g) would be destructive to community safety.

A similar report put out by Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research group, said thatcomprehensive immigration reform, which Congress has failed to pass, should be the goal of the Obama administration… The 287(g) program ‘amounts to a local and state bailout of the failed federal immigration enforcement business.'”

Links to media coverage of the GAO report and yesterday’s hearing:

NY Times- Report Questions Immigration Program

Wall Street Journal- Immigrant Busts Faulted

Associated Press- House Panel Scrutinizes Immigration Program

Gannett Washington Bureau- Federal Immigration Officials Chided for Lax Control Over Local Police

Obama Officially Commits to Reform Defense Contracting

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Okay, so this is not exactly related to immigration, but I do work for the Quakers so I can’t help but celebrate just a wee-bit here too (and I do plan to bring it full circle by the end of the post…I promise).

Today, President Obama joined a bi-partisan group of Congresspersons dedicated to reforming defense contracting. He has officially committed to this cause and rejected the false choice between “securing this nation and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.”

According to a GAO report last year, cost overruns in major defense projects totaled $295 billion. That’s a lot of wasted money. But we over here at FCNL have been saying that for a long time, and we’ve been saying a lot more about military spending too.

But now–to bring this full circle after all and perhaps prove my obsession with immigration issues–I can’t help but wonder: Will Obama’s commitment to reform defense contracting also include no-bid contracts with defense companies and contracting abuse on projects regarding immigration like the southern border wall or immigrant detention centers?