Category: Immigration reform


National League Versus American? The Disconnect Between Federal and Local Attitudes on Immigration.

January 25th, 2015 — 4:24pm

Between President Obama’s Executive Action on immigration and the upcoming presidential election, there has been a great deal of rhetoric about immigration at the federal level. Positive actions, however, are almost entirely taking place at the local and state level.

What is happening – and why is there such a disconnect?

Cities are almost overwhelmingly in favor of a more welcoming attitude towards immigrants. From the Cities for Citizenship campaign, a national initiative working to increase citizenship among eligible permanent residents, to Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, city leaders are looking to community partnerships and other collaborative strategies to drive immigrant integration.

And while half of the states have joined a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive action on immigration, many local leaders in those states have come out in support of it. In early December, Cities United for Immigration Action was launched by a coalition of almost 50 mayors of cities spanning the country.

Not all news at the state and federal level is negative, though. Three years ago, Florida almost passed a bill that would have required law enforcement to check the status of anyone  believed to be in the country without legal status. This May, it became one of 15 states to pass DREAM Act legislation allowing young undocumented immigrants to pay the same in-state college tuition rates as other Florida residents.

And as of January 1, 2015, California and Connecticut became the latest states to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Response was unprecedented – California had 17,000 applicants by the end of opening day and the California Department of Motor Vehicles projects some 1.4 million immigrants will seek licenses over the next three years. In Connecticut more than 6,500 undocumented residents obtained testing appointments online the first day they were available.

And in the courts, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring workplace raids targeting suspected illegal immigrants by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The judge said it was likely the advocates seeking the injunction would prevail in their U.S. District Court lawsuit claiming that the raids are unconstitutional and that federal law trumps two state statutes used to back them. Courts also have struck down Arizona’s human smuggling law and ban on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Two explanations immediately come to mind for the difference between local and national political attitudes towards immigration. The first is purely political – elected officials supporting or proposing legislation or other acts that they believe will boost their standings in the polls, particularly with their base. This certainly explains politicians who vocally endorse laws that have almost no chance of being either passed or brought to a vote.

The second explanation is of greater concern. Perhaps elected officials on the ground in our cities and towns see the real impact of immigrants and immigration policies on our communities. According to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, immigrants contribute to growth in many counties, particularly in growing regions of the country such as Sun Belt South, Mountain West, and Pacific Northwest regions. City officials in those regions can see how immigrants contribute – and how policies discouraging immigrants from fully participating in the local economy inhibit growth.

As states pursue lawsuits spurred by Obama’s executive action, and federal policymakers seek to block its enactment, we can only hope that pressure from our cities offsets and ultimately overwhelms national-level anti-immigration bias.

 

Comment » | Immigration reform

The Benefits of Obama’s Executive Action

December 5th, 2014 — 5:43pm

What’s the Plan?

On November 20th, 2014, President Obama finally announced his plans for executive action on immigration reform. While it’s only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, it will help almost half of all undocumented immigrants gain official status — nearly five million people.

President Obama’s plan extends the temporary relief from deportation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. In order to temporarily stay in the U.S. for 3 years, qualified individuals will have pass a background test and pay any back taxes. The plan also moves the window to include even more DREAMERs.

Who Benefits

The most obvious benefit will be improved quality of life for many undocumented immigrants. Moving from the shadows and into a fully recognized status can mean more opportunities, more work, and greater stability for their families. Also, many currently working in the gray economy will see an increase in wages.

That will also result in increased tax revenue for the U.S. Previously, only a third of undocumented workers and the people that employed them paid payroll taxes. Now, with official status, we can expect to see an increase in the gross domestic product up to .9% (nearly $210 billion over 10 years). The first year alone will net the federal government $3 billion.

But what about the “increased competition” for low-wage work? Many experts believe that the plan will lead to an increased average wage of about .3%. While not much, it’s certainly not the fall in wages that most opponents of immigration reform expect. And now that nearly one half of undocumented immigrants will compete on an even playing field with citizens, there won’t be such a large potential source of below-minimum-wage labor. Many companies have been asking for reform like this for quite a while.

Who Doesn’t Benefit

President Obama’s plan leaves some immigrants undocumented and negatively impacts at least one industry.

First, undocumented immigrants who arrived within the last five years don’t qualify. This means that over 10,000 Central Americans who have fled the violence in their countries since 2010 will remain undocumented for the time being.

Second, the private prison industry will lose out on the massive amounts of detainees awaiting deportation. While it’s unfortunate that an industry will take a hit as a result of the president’s actions, fewer detainees is generally a good thing.

Why It’s Good For Us

The President’s plan is certainly the temporary help that many both citizens and undocumented immigrants need — it’s just not the overarching reform that the U.S. desperately needs. While critics have found way to admonish the President, ImmigrationPolicy.org notes that every president since Eisenhower has executed similar executive actions for certain groups on immigrants. With nearly 39 examples, executive action for immigrants is essentially a Presidential precedent at this point.

Hopefully this plan will push Congress to finally bring meaningful reform when they see how much it helps immigrants, citizens and businesses all over the U.S.

 

Comment » | Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

The Immigration Reform Investment: More Legal Workers, More Tax Revenue

October 6th, 2014 — 2:35pm

As Congress continues to ignore one of the most important issues of this generation, the U.S. is losing valuable tax money. Without a safe path to legal work, many migrant workers don’t pay taxes, nor do their employers. In 2013, the Senate passed a bill that could have changed that, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Also known as S. 744, the law would have provided a path to legal status for millions of undocumented workers in the United States. The House never even considered S. 744.

The Social Security Administration and Pew Research estimated that nearly 63% of undocumented workers don’t contribute to taxes. The 33% who do pay taxes currently contribute roughly $13 billion a year. S. 744 could have potentially tripled that number. The federal government wouldn’t be the only beneficiary — the Center for American Progress (CAP) believes that over a 10-year period, undocumented immigrants would pay $40 billion more in state and local taxes.

With legal status, migrant workers would be able to get better wages — CAP estimates undocumented workers’ wages could grow around 15% with legal status, and an additional 10% after citizenship. Higher wages for undocumented workers means they could contribute enough to reduce the federal deficit by $820 billion over 20 years, according to ImmigrationImpact.com. Thirty years of the additional taxes could extend Medicare for four years. And we could add $606 billion to Social Security, potentially funding 2.4 million more American retirements. But partisan politics have put any meaningful debate on hold, and our costly and broken immigration system continues to do more harm than good.

To put things in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers for the potential law. By their calculations, every dollar spent on implementing S. 744 could mean two more dollars in taxes, effectively doubling the initial investment and making millions of peoples’ lives better. Beyond simple compassion, beyond American progress, immigration reform is a great investment. But political agendas stand firmly in the way of actual legislation, and undocumented workers continue to live and work in hiding.

Even temporary deferred action could bring in a significant amount — nearly $4.5 billion in the first year alone. And that number only includes undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. for 10 years or more. If President Obama offered deferred action to undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. for 5 years or more, the U.S. could collect $6 billion in the first year.

The numbers speak for themselves — immigration reform could have a major impact on the economy. Hopefully Congress can get past the partisan bickering and make some progress.

 

Comment » | Immigration reform

Executive Action: Using a Band Aid When We Need a Cast

September 15th, 2014 — 2:33pm

For the past 10 years, the debate on immigration reform has only intensified. With Congress repeatedly failing to act on any meaningful legislation for the sake of partisan politics, someone needs to step up and address the problem. And that someone should be President Obama.

With legislative gridlock firmly in place, official policy has been to simply reinforce the same broken laws — to the tune of $18 billion dollars per year. We currently spend over $3.5 billion more on immigration and border enforcement that all other federal law enforcement combined.

But President Obama doesn’t have much room to really make any permanent difference in immigration laws as his options are temporary solutions to a long-term issue. The controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may serve as a model for next steps.

The president has the ability to determine how to enforce the laws, meaning that the Department of Homeland Security — the agency responsible for immigration enforcement — can decide to target higher-risk individuals and focus less on the undocumented parents or other relatives of citizens and the so-called DREAMers.

The president can also create a procedure for these individuals to come forward and seek out temporary relief until Congress can enact permanent reform legislation. This way, undocumented immigrants who are contributing members of our society can remain with family, local economies can stabilize and we can focus on the dangerous individuals trying to make their way into the US.

Since 2001, over 4,000,000 undocumented immigrants have been deported — 2,000,000 during Obama’s administration alone. Expansion of DACA is the first step in the right direction.

It’s important to remember that deferring actions is an administrative decision, meaning that these solutions aren’t the lasting legislation that we so desperately need. The next administration could reverse any decisions made by President Obama. For now though, temporary relief can help ease the burden of a broken immigration system.

 

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration reform

Unaccompanied Minors from Central America: What is Happening on the Ground and Why This is Not a Border Security Crisis But a Crisis Demanding Humanitarian Relief

August 26th, 2014 — 2:39pm

For much of the summer, the immigration news has been dominated by the recent surge of some 60,000 unaccompanied minors and young children with their mothers fleeing the violence and lawlessness in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Central American humanitarian crisis has resulted in a national debate about how to treat this vulnerable population: send them back to their home countries or grant them humanitarian relief in the United States.  Below is a very brief overview of what the federal government’s response has been thus far, a depiction of conditions on the ground, and a historical perspective on the numbers.

Shortly after the crisis emerged, the Obama Administration marshaled the resources of the numerous federal agencies involved in the apprehension, processing, housing, and repatriation of unaccompanied minor children, and sought emergency funding from Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate and the House of Representatives could not agree before their August 4 recess, and will have to resume negotiations and deliberations when Congress returns after Labor Day. In the meantime, the immigration courts have been instructed to expedite the hearings these immigrants are afforded to determine if their fears are credible, if they are eligible for asylum status, or if they should be deported.

While many of the children have been reunited with other family members who already live in the United States or have been released to sponsors, many others are being detained in detention centers awaiting hearings. One such center is the federal detention center at Artesia, a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico. Artesia has been thrown into the national spotlight because the federal training center located there was turned into a make-shift detention center for women and children fleeing violence in Central America.

In the wake of the crisis, the immigration bar mounted a massive pro bono effort to ensure that detainees are afforded due process. Teams of experienced immigration lawyers, many of whom are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, are volunteering their time and experience to help these mothers and children. The following dispatches from lawyers who have spent a week at Artesia sheds some light on the conditions in these detention centers:

“I spent last week at the Artesia ‘family detention’ center, a 4-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso. We had a group of roughly ten volunteers (attorneys, translators, and administrative staff) trying to stop the rapid deportations and see that the women and their children get some modicum of due process. This was the first week there has been a full time volunteer attorney presence on site during the month it has been open. 

“The first impression you get . . . is that all the children are sick, with coughs at minimum. They are dehydrated and listless. They are cold — there were two mornings where the temperature was around 60, and there were no jackets or blankets, so mothers and kids walked around with towels wrapped around their shoulders for warmth. Nearly all of them have valid claims for asylum — the majority based on domestic violence or gang issues. An unfortunate number were already deported without the opportunity to even consult with an attorney. Some mothers are giving up and asking to be deported because their kids are so sick.” [Editor’s Note:  Individuals are giving up even though the conditions in their home countries are dire.  For example, five recent Honduran deportees were murdered by gangs upon their arrival in Honduras. NPR, 8/21/2014.]

One pro bono lawyer from Oregon describes her experience in Artesia in this way:

“The lack of justice, due process, and the gross infringement on basic human rights at Artesia is truly staggering. . . . We need to send our members here to see and experience what is happening firsthand, so that they can shed light on this very dark place. . . . These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and our government is using them to send the message that America’s southern border is closed. As advocates, we can’t sit by and allow this voice of hate to be the loudest.”

A third volunteer lawyer reports:

“Women and children detained at length, being refused a chance for a fair hearing and access to counsel, and ultimately being sent back to the danger from which they fled. That’s what we’re seeing at Artesia . . . .

It shouldn’t be like this. But this is what we’ve come to. We need to help these families, to offer them due process and humane conditions, and ultimately address the root cause of this crisis: the conditions in Central America and the smugglers and traffickers who are making money off the misery of others.”

 

The New York Times highlighted a recent lawsuit filed by the American Immigration Council and other groups challenging the governments policies denying a fair deportation process to mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the United States seeking safety.

The August 26, 2014 editorial stated:

“But the treatment of hundreds of these migrants in a makeshift detention center in Artesia, N.M., is appalling evidence that this promise was empty, according a lawsuit filed Friday in Federal District Court by a coalition of civil-rights organizations.

The immigrant detention center was supposed to be a safe haven for mothers and young children as their cases go through court. Though the detainees, as unauthorized immigrants, have no legal right to lawyers, advocates and immigration lawyers have made strenuous efforts to provide representation. The migrants have fled countries racked by gang and drug violence, and many have credible claims to asylum.”

 

 

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

Back to top