Tag Archives: Undocumented Immigrants

Senators’ opening bid for Comprehensive Immigration Reform has echoes of past proposals

A day before President Barack Obama is slated to visit the Silver State and deliver a speech outlining principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), a group of U.S. Senators has unveiled its own set of general proposals. Although visible progress is a welcome sign to immigration advocates who thought they may have to wait until spring for any action, the details of what is being proposed are strongly reminiscent of past proposals that have not borne fruit.

Echoing all CIR proposals since 9/11, this one attempts to forge bipartisan compromise by tying any broad-based path to citizenship with “increased enforcement and border security.” Advocates of CIR have often asked in recent years what would satisfy this criterion if 400,000 deportations per year and a decade of constant year-over-year budget increases for enforcement are deemed to have not been enough.

Cheerleaders for CIR can find encouragement in the fact that the Senate is leading the way — although the political makeup of the Senate is arguably less conducive to passing a broad package of reforms, it also has higher procedural hurdles for advancing legislation. The most recent effort to pass immigration law reform — approval of the DREAM Act to offer relief to young undocumented immigrants — died in the Senate after failing to overcome a filibuster. Similarly advocates should be optimistic that broad principles are being introduced and a path to citizenship for all of the estimated 11-12 million aspiring citizens is on the table — some advocates had worried that only a piecemeal set of small reforms could pass both houses of Congress and that some groups might be left out. Finally, it is obvious that the political environment is different in 2013 than it was throughout President Obama’s first term: on this issue perhaps less so because he is a re-elected president who is seen as deserving to implement his mandate and more because the Republican Party desperately wants to make a viable bid for Latino votes in 2014 and beyond.

But the news is not all cheery when seen through a political handicappers eyes. First, the community of immigration advocates, aspiring citizens, and their families should know now that power players in Washington posturing toward a goal does not guarantee that said goal will be realized. The proposals being ballyhooed today are very similar to those put forth in prior Congresses dating back half a decade or more and changes in the electorate, where they have occurred, are arguably more stepwise than sweeping.

Some of the familiar ideas in this proposal include:

  • More border security including the use of drones to patrol the borders and a promise to provide Customs and Border Protection with the tools and resources it needs to “apprehend every unauthorized entrant;”
  • A path to Permanent Residence for aspiring citizens who pay fines and back taxes and pass a background check;
  • Expansion of high-skill work visas such as the tiny number in the H-1B category;
  • Provisions for an accelerated “alien entrepreneur” residency for job creators;
  • An improved system for employment authorization verification; and
  • Some form of guest worker program

Among the new approaches in this proposal are:

  • An explicit “enforcement-first” approach that would rely on approval from a new commission of governors rather than the usual rhetoric of “we have to secure the borders before we discuss legalization”; and
  • A new system for proactively tracking exits from the country to prevent overstays of temporary visas (one study finds that 38 to 50 percent of all unauthorized immigrants overstayed their visas).

Finally, there are a few potential poison pills in what is being proposed:

  • The enforcement-first approach is engineered to provide political cover for both sides if negotiations break down or bills fail to win approval — one political party can point to concerns over border security and the other can score political points by highlighting its rival’s intransigence;
  • We again see the notion that those currently out of status must “go to the back of the line,” but it is unclear precisely what is meant by this. For some visa categories (see the recent Visa Bulletin here) the “back of the line” is a far-flung place 16, 19, or even 23 years in the past.
  • Universal employment authorization — many observers say that to truly achieve robust, universal employment verification the U.S. would have to implement a national identification card that every authorized worker would bear. Such a proposal faces staunch opposition from civil liberties advocates from both ends of the political spectrum.
  • Ours is still a bicameral legislature, and any proposal must appeal not only to a handful of Republican Senators but also to enough Republicans in the House to make it to a vote and survive. The attitude that the Republican Party must moderate its policies if it is to survive is not one that is universally held.

All in all, we have this week signs of progress but nothing upon which to make firm plans or even friendly bets. President Obama will weigh in when he visits Las Vegas tomorrow and we will continue to keep an eye on these developments.

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Filed under Advocacy, Enforcement, Immigrant Rights, Legalization Process, National News, Uncategorized, Undocumented Immigrants

Beware misinformation about Deferred Action for DREAMers

Since the Obama Administration announced on June 15 that it will implement a three-pronged policy to provide administrative relief to certain young undocumented immigrants, our office has been flooded with questions about the new initiative. We are hopeful that this small policy tweak will provide much deserved relief to this class of young immigrants, but we have been frustrated and worried by apparent predatory practices unfolding in our community around this issue.

At the time of the announcement, the Department of Homeland Security announced (1) that it would administratively close pending removal (deportation) cases affecting qualified individuals, (2) that it would direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to avoid placing qualified individuals into proceedings, (3) and that in the next 60 days it would craft a process by which qualified individuals can apply for youth Deferred Action.

What this means is that for most affected individuals, there is no new process nor will there be one until mid-August. Unfortunately, this has not prevented some news outlets from promoting the idea that the new policy is already in effect and “open,” and it has not prevented notarios, unscrupulous attorneys, and other predatory practitioners from encouraging immigrant families to pay them and sign up for “advanced processing” of this new process.

Generally speaking, we do not think it is a good idea to pay someone in advance for completion of a process that neither they nor you nor anyone understands in detail. A young woman called us yesterday to ask us if she should sign up with this Web site, which appears to be one such predatory immigration operation. We directed her instead to the USCIS immigration Web site, which states clearly that there is no process available yet.

For the time being, the advice we are giving young undocumented immigrants is to gather proof of their 1) identity and age, 2) time of entry and presence in the U.S. on approximately June 15, 3) clean criminal record, and 4) current attendance or completion of high school. Students who have left school without graduating can pursue their G.E.D. and may be able to qualify for the program that way. And aspiring Deferred Action candidates should not pay anyone to pre-process applications for a process that doesn’t exist yet.

We will keep our readers updated as new information becomes available.

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Filed under Immigrant Youth, Undocumented Immigrants

New report highlights the importance of discretion in deportation cases

A fact that is little-known outside of immigration advocacy circles is that the current administration has overseen more deportations in less than four years than the previous president’s administration did in eight. There is a number of reasons for this difference, including improved technology for detecting and apprehending border crossers as well as the expansion of programs such as Secure Communities which were started under the previous president and continued/expanded by this president. Total deportations under this administration have already topped one million, even as attempts to enter without inspection (cross the border illegally) have fallen in the wake of the economic downturn.

Another spike has been the number of deportation processes initiated in the federal immigration courts. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University collates data on the nation’s deportation processes. As of the end of March 2012, there are more than 305,000 pending immigration court cases in the United States, and the average number of days to complete a case is 685. Yes, it takes nearly two years to complete each case, meaning that families face both uncertainty and continued legal fees for months upon months while they process and fight out their cases in immigration court. In these data, 61 percent of all current removal proceedings (the official term) are for allegations of unlawful entry to the United States; less than 17 percent of these cases targeted respondents accused of serious offenses such as crimes or national security concerns. And because the number of immigration judges has not grown as rapidly as enforcement has increased, courts from coast to coast are becoming clogged up with respondents.

A savvy Obama apologist might argue that the president has intentionally hiked up the number of deportations and permitted the clogging of the immigration court system in order to demonstrate the need for comprehensive solutions to our broken immigration system. It is not obvious that the president or his staff would agree with this characterization, but intentionally or not these policies have shown in no uncertain terms that the “round ’em up and deport ’em” approach to recalibrating our immigration system is short-sighted or even foolish.

A recent report out by the American Immigration Council Immigration Policy Center argues that this approach is not only a waste of resources, it also denies those subject to these proceedings sufficient due-process protections. Current Department of Homeland Security practice is such that frequently a handful of different government attorneys (representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and seeking to remove the respondents) will manage the same case in a rotation depending on whose turn it is. This is done instead of locking ICE attorneys to individual cases, and the predictable results are delays in processing cases and inconsistency from hearing-to-hearing in each ICE attorney’s willingness to cooperate or show discretion toward the same respondent.

As the Immigration Policy Center points out, respondents in removal proceedings are allowed to have an attorney to represent them but they are not entitled to one. As a result, nearly half of all respondents in removal proceedings last year appeared without representation. Immigration attorneys frequently charge thousands of dollars to take on a removal case, and some families simply do not have the money to hire these services however skilled they may be. The alternative is to work with legal services organizations that provide low-cost or no-charge representation, but these organizations have been overwhelmed by the increase in volume. The respondents who fall through the cracks are therefore some of those in greatest need of help, and there is no equivalent to a public defender’s office for immigration cases.

In this context, the Immigration Policy Center points to the concept of prosecutorial discretion as a possible release valve for these pressures that so far has not been utilized. The idea of prosecutorial discretion has gained appeal as a result of a series of memos from high-ranking DHS officials including DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. The idea is that, faced with record levels of enforcement and deportation, the immigration-court system (and the enforcement agencies that fuel it) should exercise discretion in bringing removal proceedings against individuals who have compelling cases. Individuals with mostly clean criminal records, strong community ties to the United States, who have close U.S. citizen family members who live in the country, and who have been in the country for many years should be given special consideration. This might mean administrative closure of their cases (both sides agreeing to an indefinite “time-out” in removal proceedings) or even avoiding the issuance of a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court in the first place.

Immigration advocates cheered these proposals when they were first brought up, but the reality of prosecutorial discretion has been more complicated. The policy — spelled out clearly and generously in federal memos and pseudo-policy — has been enforced at the whims of local ICE offices according to the attitudes and preferences of district ICE attorneys and individual officers. Additionally, the Immigration Policy Center report points out that there is no systematic way to inform unrepresented respondents that they may request prosecutorial discretion, so many of the unrepresented are completely passed over for this form of relief while those with attorneys or representatives fight tooth and nail (often in vain) for a second look.

The Immigration Policy Center report is worth a read, and it makes a compelling case for the importance of better availability of resources for unrepresented respondents in removal proceedings. As enforcement continues to expand and more and more families are swept up into the immigration court system, the immigration system must do a better job of prioritizing cases so that the real “bad guys” are aggressively targeted for removal while law-abiding immigrant families are given a reprieve or at least get a fighting chance at closing their cases.

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Filed under National News, Undocumented Immigrants

Gruesome reports from Mexico highlight hardship of family separation

For nearly a week news outlets worldwide have been buzzing with the gruesome reports from Mexico that 49 decapitated bodies were found on Sunday in what appears to be yet another sadistic show of strength by the country’s powerful and violent drug cartels. For many mixed-status families that include immigrants from Mexico, this violence is much more than a frightful story from a faraway place.

Reasonable observers will acknowledge that the growing violence in Mexico has many sources, and among them are drug policies in the United States that focus more on criminalizing all drug use than on treating drug addiction and taking a realistic view of recreational use of substances such as marijuana. In this analysis, U.S. drug policy quashes domestic production of drugs that are in high demand, creating a powerful financial incentive for producers and traffickers based in Central America to supply the U.S. market at a lucrative premium. The result is powerful, well-financed, and determined drug cartels that have proven so entrenched and brazen that even the Mexican military struggles to contain them.

The U.S. “War on Drugs” focuses on the consumers of those drugs, or on the demand-side of the equation; on the other hand, U.S. immigration policy is mostly targets immigrants, which constitute the supply-side. And so while the U.S. has waged a demand-side War on Drugs, it has been relatively lax in its enforcement of sanctions on employers who constitute demand for undocumented labor. If only the two strategies were reversed, we might have an immigration system that functions better and drug laws with fewer negative spillover effects.

In this context is the reality of gaining legal status in the United States. Those undocumented workers who were lured from Mexico to the United States by better wages and quality of life (and loose employer sanctions) now find themselves between a rock and a hard place — increasingly harsh anti-immigrant policies targeting them in daily life, and a home country increasingly marked by merciless conflicts between drug cartels and security forces.

As we have explained elsewhere, for many undocumented immigrants the only path to legal status involves returning to their country of origin and applying for an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility. This process can take months or even years before it yields a favorable result, and in the meantime families are either separated or must face together the frightful realities of life in a country increasingly overrun by cartels. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has compiled several anecdotes of violence affecting families separated by this lengthy adjudication process. In some cases applicants or even their U.S. citizen relatives have been kidnapped, injured, or killed while waiting for permission to return to the United States.

President Obama’s administration has proposed changes to the I-601 process that would make it possible for families to request pre-approval of the waiver needed for undocumented immigrants to be permitted to return to the United States, and we are making a push for this proposal to be realized and even expanded. You can read more about our support of provisional waivers and stateside adjudication elsewhere on our Northern Nevada immigration services blog.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Undocumented Immigrants