Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category

Arizona Expands Restrictions on Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants

October 2, 2013

Arizona Governor BrewerIn a follow-up to Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s announcement last year that the state would deny driver’s licenses to young immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who have been granted deportation deferment under a recent Obama administration policy, Arizona has announced that it will expand its restrictions on who may receive an Arizona driver’s license.  Under the policy expansion, all immigrants “who have been granted relief from deportation” will be prohibited from obtaining a drivers license.

According to ACLU of Arizona executive director, Alessandra Soler, the policy “is motivated by politics, and Brewer’s desire to get out from under a lawsuit” that the ALCU and other groups filed last year in response to Arizona’s ban on drivers’ licenses for dreamers.  The new policy, according to the ACLU, would ban the issuance of drivers’ licenses to individuals who have been allowed to remain in the country for humanitarian reasons, including victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation.

The policy expansion comes in the wake of a federal judge’s refusal to grant an injunction on the original policy and a rejection of an argument that the policy is preempted by Federal law.  However, the judge also stated that plaintiffs’ argument that the policy violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would likely prevail.

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New Immigration Policy Attempts to Help Keep Families Together

September 18, 2013

ObamaOn August 23, the Obama administration, in an attempt to keep families from being separated due to immigration policy, “issued a policy … telling immigration agents to try not to arrest and deport illegal immigrant parents of minor children.” The policy requires Immigration and Custom Enforcement to add parents of minor children to the list of individuals who should not be targeted for detention.  The policy requires agents to use prosecutorial discretion to avoid detaining individuals with children and to ensure children are able to visit parents that have been detained.

Despite receiving praise from immigrant rights groups, the policy has been criticized by at least one Representative as an attempt to circumvent the law.  Virginia Republican and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, denounced the policy, saying, “President Obama has once again abused his authority and unilaterally refused to enforce our current immigration laws by directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop removing broad categories of unlawful immigrants.” Representative Goodlatte continued, accusing the President of undermining immigration reform efforts by politicizing the issue and poisoning the debate.

The new policy seems to be inline with detention and deportation reform efforts over the last few years, including the granting of deportation deferral for Dreamers, or immigrant children brought into the county illegally, and a general focus on individuals who have committed serious crimes or who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

Despite broad support by immigrant rights groups, as with the new policy, deferral for Dreamers received significant opposition, particularly from ICE agents tasked to enforce the policy. ICE agents attempted to block the policy, but were unsuccessful when a federal judge found that he did not have jurisdiction over the issue.

Change In Immigrant Detention Policy Could Save $1.44 Billion Annually

September 4, 2013

Detention FacilityThe National Immigration Forum released an updated report in August on the current cost of the US immigrant detention policy.  According to the report, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will need nearly $2 billion, or $5.05 million per day, to fund immigration detentions for 2014. However, the report argues that if ICE were to limit its use detention of to only those who had committed violent crimes, focusing instead on electronic monitoring or similar methods for those individuals that have not been convicted of serious crime, they could save “nearly $4 million a night, or $1.44 billion annually – a 79 percent in costs.”

In 2011, the current policy resulted in the detention of nearly 500,000 individuals, which, as Ali Noorani, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, points out, is “like detaining the population of Atlanta.”  However, these funds are most often not used to maintain operations in government detention facilities.  Instead, a majority of the detention costs go to paying large private prison corporations which contract with the US government to house those detainees. According to Mr. Noorani, in the past 10 years, the top three private prison corporations have at least $45 million in campaign donations and lobbying efforts.

Despite the opportunity for significant savings, “the House of Representatives has signaled that it plans to take the opposite approach” by raising funding for immigration detention by approximately $600,000 per day, or $219 million, in 2014.

The report comes at the end a summer of tense and often polarized immigration reform discussions, with support for reform coming from both liberals and conservatives.

New York City Invests Millions in Undocumented Immigrant Education and Legal Defense

August 21, 2013

Immigrant EducationNew York City, further reinforcing its standing as one of the most immigrant-friendly cities in the U.S., plans to invest $18 million to assist young immigrants without legal immigration status in qualifying for federal deferred action, a program granting temporary reprieve from deportation.  The two-year investment represents “the largest investment made by any municipality in the nation to help immigrants obtain the deferral.”

The money will be used to create 16,000 additional seats for the historically underfunded adult education programs across the city in order help potential deferral applicants earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. to satisfy the federal program requirements.

The education project is part of a pair of initiatives to provide public money to assist immigrants.  The second program, the first of its kind in the U.S., allocates funds to establish a pilot program, called the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, to provide public defenders for immigrants in deportation proceedings.

The program is aimed at helping the 60% of immigrants detained in New York that are not able to secure legal representation.  Although approximately 2,800 unrepresented immigrants face deportation each year, the pilot program will cover only 135 immigrants.  However, despite the limited reach of the program, advocates remain optimistic that it will “give them a chance to test their theories and demonstrate the potential impact of a broader plan” as well as allow for the creation of a model that can be replicated by other municipalities.

Immigration Reform to Give States $2 Billion Economic Boost

August 7, 2013

Immigration Economic GrowthA report released in July by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy examined state and local tax contributions from the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.  The report found that tax contributions in 2010 from undocumented immigrants reached $10.6 billion dollars, “with contributions ranging from less than $2 million in Montana to more than $2.2 billion in California.” The report also provides a state-by-state breakdown of the projected impact of pending federal immigration reform, granting unauthorized immigrants the right to legally work in the U.S., on state tax revenue, projecting over a $2 billion dollar increase across the states.

According to the report, in addition to reforms benefiting states known for their concentrations of immigrant populations, several states not usually associated with significant immigrant populations such as West Virginia, Delaware, and Kentucky may see a jump in tax revenue from immigrant populations ranging from 30-45%.

The report, offering strong support for the federal immigration bill, comes after several other studies finding that immigration reform would prove economically beneficial, including studies finding reform “would shrink the deficit by $197 billion over the next decade” and may lead to a wage increase for U.S.-born workers.  Furthermore, according to a Pew Research Center poll, 75% of Americans believe that granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would benefit the U.S. economy.

Supreme Court DOMA Decision Affects LGBT Immigrants

July 17, 2013

DOMAThe Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor held a key provision, defining marriage as between one man and one woman, in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Although the decision will be celebrated by LGBT individuals and advocates across the country, the decision will have a particularly significant impact on one subset of LGBT individuals in the United States: binational same-sex couples.

Striking down the definition of marriage in DOMA will affect numerous federal laws and regulations, many of which regulate benefits to married couples.  Before the ruling, immigration benefits received by immigrants married to US citizens or lawful permanent residents were restricted to only marriages between a man and a woman—despite the sanctioning of same-sex marriages in several states.  This often resulted in the denial of residency status and citizenship to noncitizen immigrants in same-sex marriages, who were then forced to choose between living apart from their spouse or remaining in the country in violation of federal law.

As a result of Windsor, federal immigration officials are now required to recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes.  Now, LGBT immigrants married to US citizens will have the opportunity to remain in the country through spousal green cards and eventual US citizenship. The decision has “already helped one binational same-sex couple: an immigration judge halted the deportation of a man married to a U.S. citizen.”

The decision relieves some pressure on House and Senate Democrats in the immigration reform debate by allowing them to skirt at least part of the debate on the issue of whether to include LGBT immigrant rights in the immigration bill.  However, advocates continue to push for greater protections for LGBT immigrant interests in other areas, including amnesty and protections against solitary confinement.

Border Security Proposal Provides Renewed Support For Immigration Reform Effort

July 3, 2013

A border patrol vehicle observes six miles of border fencing in Douglas, ArizonaIn the midst of the ongoing debate surrounding the immigration reform bill, which would grant a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, the Senate endorsed a proposal by two Republican senators, Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, adding provisions for heightened border security. The amendment, which would provide for “roughly $40 billion over the next decade to border enforcement measures, including nearly doubling the number of border agents to 40,000 and completing 700 miles of fencing,” garnered wide support, ending in approval by a vote of 67-to-27.

The procedural vote prevented any hope of a filibuster to the proposal and provided a preview to how a vote on the final bill may end.  The proposal also alleviated worries by several Republicans concerned that the original bill did not address the border security issue, drawing over a dozen Republicans in support of the measure.  Despite this support, however, a majority of Republicans in the Senate voted against the proposal citing concerns that the border security amendment was insufficient and that the bill is being rushed to a vote.

The proposal also received criticism from supporters of the immigration bill, including border community representatives and others concerned that, in the interest of garnering bipartisan support, Democrats “were making too many concessions without getting anything in return.”

Even if the immigration bill passes the senate, it still faces broad opposition from the Republican-controlled house, where several Republican representatives have already expressed their opposition.

New Bill Would Require Hospitals to Check Immigration Status

February 27, 2013

A recently introduced bill in Arizona would require hospital staff to check the immigration status of uninsured patients before providing them with medical care. If a person enters a hospital for treatment and cannot prove that they are in the United States legally, the bill would require hospital staff to alert the either federal immigration officials or members of local law enforcement.

The bill, H.B. 2293, is the creation of Republican state Rep. Steve Smith. According to Smith, the bill is not meant to withhold medical care, but rather to collect data on how many illegal immigrants are receiving free medical care within the United States. Advocates of immigrants rights, who believe that the bill asks hospitals to monitor illegal immigration, have been quick to vocalize their strong opposition to the bill.

Officials of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, who have referred to Smith’s bill as “unconscionable,” believe that the bill, if implemented, would stop immigrants and their families from seeking necessary and preventative medical care. According to executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, “This bill would legalize harassment of immigrants and, in fact, of any woman who looks like she could be an immigrant.”

Obama Renews Immigration Push

February 13, 2013

President Barack Obama has set his sights on an immigration overhaul, and providing millions with legal status in the United States. Recent reports indicate that an agreement to reach these very goals has nearly been reached within a bipartisan Senate working group.

Obama’s renewed immigration push is expected to build off of the immigration principles he had previously outlined, however has yet to act on. In 2011, Obama unveiled an immigration blueprint which included creating a pathway for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, heightening border security, implementing mandatory penalties for those who employ unauthorized immigrants, and improving the legal immigration system.

Obama has not yet had a chance to implement the ideas outlined in his blueprint. According to White House press secretary, Jay Carney, “What has been absent in the time since he put those principles forward has been a willingness by Republicans, generally speaking, to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.” According to Carney, Obama hopes that “that dynamic has changed.”

The process of immigration reform will no doubt be contentious and emotional. It may also have strong political implications, as President Obama received overwhelming Latino support in the 2012 election. Of the Latino vote, which accounted for 10 percent of the November 2012 electorate, 70 percent went to Obama.

Mexico Implores United States to Block Arizona Immigration Law

January 30, 2013

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 9.58.40 PMAttorneys for the Mexican government have requested that a United States court block a minor section of Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, SB1070, that makes it illegal to harbor undocumented immigrants. According to The Seattle Times, attorneys for Mexico have filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief requests that the court uphold a lower-court decision which blocked the ban from being implemented.

According to the attorneys representing Mexico, the ban would be harmful to diplomatic relations with the United States, would hinder the ability of the United States to speak to foreign nations with a single voice, and would encourage marginalization of those who appear to be of Latino descent. In the brief, attorneys for Mexico state, “Mexico cannot conduct effective negotiations with the United States when the foreign policy decisions of the federal governments are undermined by the individual policies of individual states.”

The harboring ban was previously in effect from July to September of 2010. Susan Bolton, the United States District Judge who blocked the ban, stated that she was not aware of a single arrest made pursuant to the provision. The United States Supreme Court did not consider the harboring ban when they considered other sections of the law earlier this year.