Immigrants' Rights

 

The following information is summarized and copied from the references listed below.

 

Immigration Reform:

 

Background: Anti-immigrant sentiments over the past few decades with the rise of vigilante groups such as “the Minute Men”, introduction of anti-immigrant legislation in several states and Congress, and more recently raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has brought attention to the plight of the ~12 million undocumented immigrants. Our nation’s current immigration system is one of piecemeal, patchwork of state and local measures. Its focus on deportation and detention using raids and local law enforcement have largely been ineffective, and to the detriment of the safety and well being of the immigrant communities.

 

Some of the issues with the current system are:

 

Deportation-Only approach: The strategy of using raids, by ICE agents and local law enforcement agencies in SWAT-like teams to round-up, detain and deport undocumented immigrants has been costly and largely ineffective. While the original focus of some of the massive worksite raids in Iowa and other places was to arrest unscrupulous employers, it has only resulted in racial profiling and rounding up of anyone who may be undocumented to increase the numbers of immigrants in detention.

 

Detention: As a result of the raids and indiscriminate rounding up of immigrants, the number of people who are in detention centers has grown tremendously. As many as 30,000 immigrants are held in detention centers every day. By the end of 2009, the U.S. government will have held more than 440,000 people in immigration custody in ~400 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion. These detention centers run by ICE or private contractors have come under scrutiny for providing substandard conditions for the detainees, including medical negligence that have led to deaths.

 

Secure Communities: This a fingerprint-sharing program between state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and ICE. It requires local police to simultaneously maintain its role of criminal enforcement while also assisting ICE to identify individuals who may be deportable from the United States and serving as the initial jailer for civil immigration enforcement. The program screens individuals for civil immigration violations at the point of contact with local law enforcement, regardless of whether their arrest leads to a criminal conviction. The path toward removal proceedings is set in motion when an individual is flagged in the Secure Communities database and ICE issues an immigration detainer instructing the LEA to hold the individual until the agency can assume physical custody. States and localities already enrolled in Secure Communities have observed that the vast majority of individuals identified and deported under the program have no criminal history or only minor offenses such as traffic violations (read letters from the governors of Illinois and New York). Under Secure Communities, LEAs have no discretion to decide when fingerprints are screened for civil immigration enforcement. The program undermines LEAs’ trust with the communities they are tasked to protect, diverts scarce resources to fulfill ICE’s objectives, encourages racial profiling, and needlessly tears families and communities apart with negligible impact on curbing crime. Morton’s announced “changes” do not address these fundamental flaws.

 

Family Unification: There are ~ 4 million U.S. citizen children who have at least one undocumented parent. Policies that target their parents have grave consequences not only for these children, but the whole family. For every two immigrants apprehended in an immigration raid, one child is left behind. This can have significant and life-long impact on the lives of these children who are separated from their parents and loved ones. It has also inconvenienced and confused mixed status families and kept many eligible children at bay from participating in important social programs. Since 1993, despite the increase in the annual budget for the U.S. Border Patrol (332% increase) and the number of agents (276% increase), the undocumented population has increased three fold. Current strategies of raids, detention and deportation have largely been ineffective and serve to criminalize some of the most vulnerable populations. There is an urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform that will allow the millions of undocumented immigrants to get on the path of obtaining legal status in this country. This would then allow the many immigrants who already contribute to our communities through their work and labor to become part of the formal economy while having some protection from unscrupulous and corrupt employers who take advantage of their situation.

 

DREAM Act: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors

 

Background: Each year, U.S. high schools graduate ~65,000 unauthorized immigrant students.1 Most were brought to this country as young children, educated in the American K-12 schools and share the values of their peers. However, due to their immigration status, they are unable to pursue the American dream of a higher education due to a lack of opportunities that make a college education affordable.1 This includes being able to pay in-state tuition fees, access to grants, loans and scholarships, and ability to legally work their way through college.

 

Legislation: DREAM Act: S.774: a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Richard Lugar (R-IN)

 

The “American Dream Act: H.R. 1275: similar bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Howard Berman (D-CA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). If passed, these bills would facilitate access to college for immigrant students in the U.S. by restoring states’ the right to offer in-state tuition to eligible unauthorized immigrant students residing in their state. It would also provide a path to citizenship for hardworking immigrant youth. These bills would:

 

  • Repeal Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a federal provision that requires states that provide in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants to provide the same tuition for out-of-state residents, thus discouraging many states from offering it.

 

  • Allows immigrant students to adjust their status to that of a legal permanent resident on a conditional basis for 6 years if:
    • They entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years before the enactment of the Act.
    • Have been accepted for admission into a two or four-year institution of higher education, have earned a high school diploma, or GED certificate.
    • Show good moral character as defined by immigration law and have no criminal record.
    • Their status can become permanent if they earn a degree or maintain good standing for 2 years from an institution of higher education while working towards a degree, or serve in the U.S. Armed Services for at least 2 years.

 

 

References:

1. National Council of La Raza: www.nclr.org/index.php/issues_and_programs/immigration

2. The PEW Hispanic Center: www.pewhispanic.org/topics/?TopicID=16

3. The Urban Institute: www.urban.org/immigrants/index.cfm

4. Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/immigrant-justice

5. Kaiser Family Foundation: healthreform.kff.org

6. Information on Secure Communities: www.immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/missing-point-secure-communities

7. Information on Dream Act: www.dreamact.info