Tomorrow the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship will hold a hearing, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?" Tomorrow's important hearing signals movement on this critical issue.
NDN has written extensively about the need to fix our nation's broken immigration system. In preparation for this hearing, NDN would like to provide you with key background information that explains the nature of the immigration debate and why Congress can -- and should -- pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year:
Last week we posited that Immigration Reform is a vital component of economic recovery. This week, we’ve seen hopeful signs in the seriousness of the immigration debate while we have also seen Republican and Democratic law makers attempt to use this pivotal policy issue as a publicity tool. As stated by Simon in The Politico today:
The small visa programs have little to do with the central issues of the broader immigration debate, such as how to handle the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S., said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a progressive group seeking a broad immigration package. But they have become the stray dogs in this political fight. “It’s irresponsible the way some members of Congress are going after this,” Rosenberg said.
This week, after the Obama administration again delayedimplementing a rule requiring federal contractors to use the E-Verify system (an Internet tool that checks the validity of employees’ Social Security numbers) Rep. Lamar Smith argued this constituted "an insult" to "legal immigrants and Americans." The rule originally was to go into effect in February, but the Obama administration delayed it until May 21, and now until June 30. What Rep. Smith fails to highlight is the significant error rate in this system, which is designed to check a social security number against a name for determining benefits, not as an immigration database.
The same tone was taken in discussions over legal foreign workers. Even though labor organizers themselves recognize the need to deal with the issue of future flow, we’ve seen debate over comprehensive immigration reform stop at “how many?” instead of answering the essential question: “how” do we fix our broken immigration system?
There is something very wrong when our immigration “system” is comprised of 70,000 legal immigrant workers and an estimated 400,000 undocumented workers each year. How do we create a fair, safe, effective, and productive immigration law? An immigration system should ideally: 1) serve as a record-keeping mechanism that allows a government to know who is within its borders, 2) achieve this by putting incentives on the side of legal flow, not by attempting to stop flow, 3) help reflect a country’s values, and 4) generate revenue through an effective and speedy application process.
Is the purpose of reform solely to legalize those currently here? Or is the goal to develop a comprehensive, forward-looking plan to effectively end undocumented immigration? In a 21st century globalized world, with a globalized economy, it is naïve – at best – to argue that people won’t come to the U.S. because the economy is not doing so well, because they’re not welcome, or because we don’t want them to.
They will come; the bottom line is: do we want them here legally, or illegally? Do we repeat the mistake of 1986 and pass reform arguing that we look after all those currently in the shadows, many of them in abusive conditions, but leave the rest in ambiguity? Turning a blind eye towards the plight of legal immigrants currently in the country and to the undocumented that are on their way as they cross over illegally and in inhumane conditions? Only those who have had to undergo the increasingly expensive and irresponsibly drawn out process of legal migration can understand how the existing policy has of its own design dictated how much easier it is for individuals to fall out of legal status or come to this country illegally. We do not advocate “open borders,” we argue for justice and the rule of law – the rule of a just law that responds to reality, that encourages legality instead of exacerbating illegality.
A piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by Jason Riley contends that President Obama will “be pressured by advocacy groups” to focus on a legalization program as part of a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform – I disagree with this contention as it is presented because it implies that this is not already the President’s position. President Obama has been a longtime supporter of the essential components of comprehensive reform (CIR):
1. Enhanced border security, 2. Bring people out of the shadows 3. Work with immigrant-sending nations 4. Improve the legal immigration system 5. Remove incentives to enter illegally
Despite this week's news articles, the legalization of the estimated 12 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. will prove equally or more controversial than fixing our legal immigration system. A true immigration reform proposal must include all the above elements, supported by the President.
Foreign H-1B workers are the most recent subject of much of the anti-immigrant sentiment. The argument that H-1B workers bring down wages and “displace” U.S. high skilled workers could be equated with positing that women are unfair competition to their male counterparts because all the studies and statistics demonstrate that we make less than our male counterparts in the same position. Instead of doggedly insisting on making foreigners “the boogieman” of this economic recession, let’s focus on fixing the inequities and flaws that do exist in the broken legal immigration system. We can't ignore the fact that many of these "foreign workers" are educated in the U.S., have been long-time residents of the U.S. and as such have strong ties here.
Additionally, we can’t forget that just as we receive foreign workers, other countries receive U.S. workers, too. As highlighted in Gebe Martinez’s piece today:
Goldman Sachs has about 200 H-1B employees, Blankfein said at a recent meeting of the Council of Institutional Investors. “But we have 2,000 employees who are working overseas and pay U.S. taxes. Do we want to invite other countries to take punitive measures against us?”
Particularly conservatives advocate a merit-based society, yet these are the same individuals that – like Sen. Grassley – have been suggesting to companies like Microsoft that H-1B workers be laid off before qualified Americans. How about we let companies let go employees based on their individual contributions, regardless of nationality? [Microsoft General Counsel Bradford Smith responded that the company complies with civil rights law and does not base its compensation decisions in the U.S. on an employee’s citizenship.]
If President Obama is to be more successful than the previous administration when it tried to reform immigration, he must remain cognizant of the reasons behind the failure of the last major immigration reform legislation enacted in 1986 (IRCA).
IRCA focused on the legalization piece and border enforcement enhancements, and did not address the issue of future flow of immigrants. It merely designed a system of what was desired future flow, not a system based on reality and actual demand. It’s no news that the border enhancements over the past two decades haven't hampered the illegal flow whatsoever, they have merely made it more profitable to smuggle human beings across the border. But that hasn't stopped immigration restrictionists from calling for still more security measures.
The 1986 amnesty was never going to solve the problem, because it didn't address the root cause….Illegal immigration to the U.S. is primarily a function of too many foreigners chasing too few visas. Some 400,000 people enter the country illegally each year -- a direct consequence of the fact that our current policy is to make available only 5,000 visas annually for low-skilled workers. If policy makers want to reduce the number of illegal entries, the most sensible and humane course is to provide more legal ways for people to come.
It's unfortunate that the "no amnesty" crowd has been able to suck up so much oxygen in this debate. Immigration hysterics on talk radio and cable news have used the term effectively to end conversations. And restrictionists in Congress have used it as a political slogan to block reform. But from a public-policy perspective, the fate of the 12 million illegals already here...will solve itself over time if we get the other reforms right.
As in 1986, our economy and society have already absorbed most of these illegal workers. Many have married Americans, started families, bought homes, laid down roots. If their presence here is a problem, it is a self-correcting one. In time, they will grow old and pass on with the rest of us.....
Past experience shows that economic migrants have no desire to be here illegally. They will use the front door if it's available to them, which reduces pressure on the border and frees up homeland security resources to target drug dealers, gang members, potential terrorists, and other real threats.
We need to improve existing legal channels and provide more pathways. This could be done by creating new – more inclusive – visa programs or increasing green-card quotas or both. The end should be to create more legal channels for workers and family members. The 1986 legislation did not create realistic legal pathways, which is why we now have the problem of 12 million undocumented immigrants (who have incidentally already been absorbed by the U.S. labor market). If we don’t think and act globally, then we will all suffer the penance of our own short-sightedness.
Granted, this will be a hard sell at a time when growing numbers of Americans are out of work. Even in good times, zero-sum thinking -- the notion that what is gained by some must be lost by others -- dominates discussions about immigrants and jobs. But the schooling and skills that the typical Mexican immigrant brings to the U.S. labor market differ markedly from the typical American's, which is why the two don't tend to compete with each other for employment. Labor economists like Richard Vedder have documented that, historically, higher levels of immigration to the U.S. are associated with lower levels of unemployment. Immigrants are catalysts for economic growth, not job-stealers.There are plenty of ways and plenty of time to deal with the country's undocumented millions in a fair and humane manner. But we'd do better to focus first on not adding to their numbers. If the fate of this group instead drives the policy discussion, we're more likely to end up with the status quo or faux reforms like amnesty that dodge the real problem.
Over the past few days there have been signs, hopeful signs, that Washington just might take up immigration reform this fall. NDN recently released a report, Making the Case for Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year, which succinctly lays out our case for why we should move this year. Let me review a couple of the key observations - ones that are new to the debate this year:
1) In tough economic times, we need to remove the "trap door" under the minimum wage.
One of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress back in 2007 was to raise the minimum wage, to help alleviate the downward pressure on wages we had seen throughout the decade even prior to the current Great Recession. The problem with this strategy is that the minimum wage and other worker protections required by American law do not extend to those workers here illegally. With economic times worsening here and in the home countries of the migrants, unscrupulous employers have much more leverage over, and incentive to keep, undocumented workers. With 5 percent of the current workforce - amazingly one out of every twenty workers now - undocumented, this situation creates an unacceptable race to the bottom, downward pressure on wages, in a time when we need to be doing more for those struggling to get by, not less.
Legalizing the 5 percent of the work force which is undocumented would create a higher wage and benefit floor than exists today for all workers, further helping, as was intended by the increase in the minimum wage two years ago, alleviate the downward pressure on wages for those struggling the most in this tough economy.
Additionally, it needs to be understood that these undocumenteds are already here and working. If you are undocumented, you are not eligible for welfare. If you are not working, you go home. Thus in order to remove this "trap door," we need to either kick 5 percent of existing American workforce out of the country - a moral and economic impossibility - or legalize them. There is no third way on this one. They stay and become citizens or we chase them away.
Finally, what you hear from some of the opponents of immigration reform is that by passing it all these immigrants will come and take the jobs away of every day Americans. But again, the undocumented immigrants are already here, working, having kids, supporting local businesses. Legalization does not create a flood of new immigrants - in fact, as discussed earlier, it puts the immigrant worker on a more even playing field with legal American workers. It does the very inverse of what is being suggested - it creates fairer competition for American workers not unfair competition. The status quo is what should be most unacceptable to those who claim they are advocating for the American worker.
2) In a time of tight budgets, passing immigration reform will bring more money into the Federal Treasury.
Putting the undocumented population on the road to citizenship will also increase tax revenue in a time of economic crisis, as the newly legal immigrants will pay fees and fines, and become fully integrated into the US tax-paying system. When immigration reform legislation passed the Senate in 2006, the Congressional Budge Office estimate that accompanied the bill projected Treasury revenues would see a net increase of $44 billion over 10 years.
3) Reforming our immigration system will increasingly be seen as a critical part of any comprehensive strategy to calm the increasingly violent border region.
Tackling the growing influence of the drug cartels in Mexico is going to be hard, cost a great deal of money, and take a long time. One quick and early step towards calming the region will be to take decisive action on clearning up one piece of the problem - the vast illegal trade in undocumented migrants. Legalization will also help give these millions of families a greater stake in the United States, which will make it less likely they contribute to the spread of the cartels influence.
This is certain to come up during President Obama's trip to Mexico this week.
4) Fixing the immigration system will help reinforce that it is a "new day" for US-Latin American relations.
To his credit President Obama has made it clear that he wants to see a significant improvement in our relations with our Latin neighbors. Just as offering a new policy towards Cuba is part of establishing that it is truly a "new day" in hemispheric relations, ending the shameful treatment of Latin migrants here in the US will go a long way to signaling that America is taking its relations with its southern neighbors much more seriously than in the past.
5) Passing immigration reform this year clears the way for a clean census next year.
Even though the government is constitutionally required to count everyone living in the United States every ten years, the national GOP has made it clear they will block efforts for the Census to count undocumented immigrants. Conducting a clean and thorough census is hard in any environment. If we add a protracted legal and political battle on top - think Norm Coleman, a politicized US Attorney process, Bush v Gore, Tea Parties - the chance of a failed or flawed census rises dramatically. This of course would not be good for the nation.
Passing immigration reform this year would go a long way to insuring we have a clean and effective census count next year.
6) The Administration and Congress will grow weary of what we call "immigration proxy wars," and will want the issued taken off the table.
With rising violence in Mexico, and the every day drumbeat of clashes and conflicts over immigration in communities across America, the broken immigration system is not going to fade from public consciousness any time soon. As it will be front of mind, those on the right, will put this issue on the table in the first place, will continue to try to attach amendments to other bills ensuring that various government benefits are not confered to undocumenteds. We have already seen battles pop up this year on virtually every major bill Congress has taken up, including SCHIP. By the fall I think leaders of both parties will grow weary of these proxy battles popping up on every issue and will want to resolve the issue once and for all. Passing immigration reform will become essential to making progress on other much needed societal goals like moving towards universal health insurance.
7) Finally, in the age of Obama, we must be vigilant to stamp out racism wherever it appears.
Passing immigration reform this year would help take the air out of the balloon of what is the most virulent form of racism in American society today - the attacks on Hispanics and undocumented immigrants. It will be increasingly difficult for the President and his allies to somehow argue that watching Glenn Beck act out the burning alive of a person on the air over immigration, "left leaning" Ed Schultz give air time to the advowed racist Tom Tancredo on MSNBC or Republican ads comparing Mexican immigrants to Islamic terrorists is somehow different from the racially insensitive speech that has gotten Rush Limbaugh kicked off Monday Night Football, or Don Imus kicked off the radio.
So for those of us who want to see this vexing national problem addressed this year, it has been a very good week. But we still have a long way to, and a lot
of workahead of us if we are to get this done this year.
I. Growing media market, forum for immigration discussion - This past week, we discussed the role of ethnic media. The fact that immigration reform is an issue of top concern to immigrants, naturalized Americans, and their U.S. born descendants; combined with this type of media's growing market share makes it an important space for discussion of the latest news pertaining to immigration reform.
II. Illinois 5 - We also touched on the recent election in Illinois to fill Rahm Emmanuel's seat and its impact on immigration reform.
III. What Part of "Illegal" Don't They Understand? U.S. citizens are also victims of the broken immigration system -More and more cases are surfacing of U.S. citizens being illegally detained for extended periods of time. The latest cases demonstrate that event with the best intentions of the current Administration to shift enforcement priorities, the "boots on the ground" are often still the same from the raid-quota Bush era, and legal residents and citizens will continue to get caught in the cross-fire until we pass comprehensive immigration reform. The absence of CIR only exacerbates discriminaton against immigrants and non-immigrants alike. This has been evidenced in Arizona, where three of every four immigrants are considered "criminals."
In a drive to crack down on illegal immigrants, the United States has unlawfully locked up or deported many of its own citizens over the past eight years. A months-long AP investigation has documented 55 such cases, on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These citizens are detained for anything from a day to five years. Immigration lawyers say that there are actually hundreds of such cases, based on their caseload.
It is illegal to deport U.S. citizens or detain them for immigration violations. Yet citizens still end up in detention because the system is overwhelmed, acknowledged Victor Cerda, who left Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 after overseeing the system. The AP reports, the number of detentions overall is expected to rise by about 17 percent this year to more than 400,000, putting a severe strain on the enforcement network and legal system.
Most at risk are Hispanics, who made up the majority of the cases the AP found:
"The more the system becomes confused, the more U.S. citizens will be wrongfully detained and wrongfully removed," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches at Pepperdine Law School. "They are the symptom of a larger problem in the detention system. ... Nothing could be more regrettable than the removal of our fellow citizens."
And our fellow citizens are getting caught in the cross-fire of anti-immigrant fervor, a few examples:
1)Frank Ponce de Leon, a U.S. citizen and native of Mexico who lives in La Puente, Calif., spent almost three months in immigration custody - all the while insisting he was a U.S. citizen. "I knew they couldn't hold me forever, and sooner or later they would see it my way because I had every right," he said.
3) Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen living in Lancaster was taken by U.S. immigration officials and shipped to Tijuana in May 2007 from the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. He was being held on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. The Los Angeles native, then 29, spent three months rummaging for food in dumps and sleeping in the Mexican borderlands as his mother, a fast-food cook, searched for him in hospitals, shelters, jails and morgues. Eventually Guzman was reunited with his family in the border town of Calexico.
4) Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he's never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack's claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona. McLatchy reports:
"The immigration agents told me they never make mistakes," Warziniack said in an earlier phone interview from jail. "All I know is that somebody dropped the ball."
According to available data, workplace arrests rose from 517 in fiscal year 2003 to 6,274 in 2008. Julie Myers, former Homeland Security assistant secretary overseeing ICE, said agents quickly sort out which workers are citizens during raids. But the raids have already led to several lawsuits.
5) In 2007, 114 U.S. citizens and permanent residents sued after a raid on Micro Solutions Enterprises, a computer printer equipment recycler in Van Nuys, Calif. They alleged illegal detention and sought $5,000 damage each.
6) In 2008, the union representing workers at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants sued on behalf of eight citizens and legal residents caught up in raids.
7) In one case, three citizens and nine others, all Hispanic, sued after ICE agents raided their New Jersey homes as part of what was dubbed Operation Return To Sender. The lawsuit alleges that an immigration agent pulled a gun on one of the citizens, a 9-year-old boy.
8) Ricardo Martinez, born in McAllen, Texas - like so many others - lived in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 17. He was stopped last year on his way back to Texas from visiting Mexico:
Martinez's stepfather, Florentino Mireles, said in a Feb. 27, 2008, affidavit that he called border inspectors to ask why they had taken Martinez's documents. The response, he said: An officer didn't believe Martinez was a U.S. citizen because he didn't speak English.
On top of the unfounded detention, the Customs officials threatened that if Martinez did not admit to being in the country illegally and sign such an affidavit, he'd go to jail. Like so many other legal immigrants and citizens, he signed his own order for deportation.
Attorney Lisa Brodyaga discussed the report, "I've been doing this for 30 years and I've seen bureaucratic bungling. This is more than that," she said. "This is an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, particularly for Mexican-Americans on the border."
What is clear is that immigration detentions - including those of citizens - have soared in recent years. Largely thanks to the political climate since 9-11 that encouraged a tough stance on illegal immigration. The inability to pass immigration reform legislation almost three years ago has only exacerbated this problem.
Before 2007, just seven state and local law enforcement agencies worked with ICE officials under 287(g) agreements that empower localities to an extent to enforce immigration aw. By last November, more than 950 officers from 23 states had attended a four-week program on how to root out and jail "suspected illegal immigrants."
IV. No doubt, this zealousness in enforcement is largely fueled by some of the most shocking displays of racism our country has seen - What is most shocking is how the demonization of Hispanics and bigotry, when directed at people thought to be immigrants, is somehow acceptable. Examples this week: 1) Glenn Beck - hating on all things, period. 2) Betty Brown, a Republican state representative, is facing numerous demands that she apologize for having said that voters of Asian descent should adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with." 3) In your neighborhood - A Washington Post piece yesterday by Jonathan Mummolo noted how recent arrest data in Prince William County further questions the contention that "illegal immigrants" are only detained once they have committed a serious crime. The data concludes that about 2 percent of the people charged with major violent crimes in Prince William County last year were illegal immigrants.
V. Do We Want Immigrants? - Last week we discussed growing news reports on how H-1B workers and the U.S. itself are increasingly affected by policies that are anti-immigrant, at best. See this interesting editorial piece in the New York Times that asks, "Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?" and today's piece in the CQ, on the H-1B visa debate.
Cable news seems to be multiplying blatantly racist shows, as opposed to shutting them down. By accident I happened to catch some of the new "Ed" show, 6pm time slot on MSNBC and was less than happy to see the man who almost had to resign for recommending the U.S. bomb Mecca - Tom Tancredo - on with him to discuss immigration reform of all things. I mean, even Fox news no longer has Tancredo on. Mind you, one thing is to have a healthy debate and someone on the show who opposes reform, but Tom Tancredo does not know healthy debate. He is no opponent of immigration, he is a proponent of hate and mass destruction. Lest we forget his campaign ad equating immigrants and Hispanics with "Islamic terrorists." On the bright side, bring him on - keep bringing on the Tancredos out there - there will be no better tool to pass CIR. As Simon has said before, anti-immigrant positions don't deliver politically. Hence Tancredo was at 1% favorability among Republicans during his vie for his Party's nomination. His anti-immigrant stance and hatred towards other cultures is not popular. He did so poorly in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination and in his own district, that he didn't even attempt to run for re-election in 2008. A post on Kos pretty much expresses the same reaction to seeing Tancredo on the air, re-posted below. So we are left with the question? Is Ed going to be MSNBC's Lou Dobbs? Don't networks want to report actual news stories, or riveting educational pieces as opposed to serving as a space for bigoted individuals to air their frustrations?
Ed Schultz: Why Tancredo?
Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 06:43:22 PM PDT
This diary is about the new Ed Schultz show on MSNBC called "The Ed Show" which airs at 6 pm EST in place of the 1600 Penn Ave hosted by David Schuster. I have watched the Ed Show since its inception and for the most part I've enjoyed it. The Ed Show's main focus is topics related to the middle class. For instance, one day he discussed the rising costs of healthcare and had Senator Wyden of Oregon to discuss his healthcare plan. Another day, he discussed the EFCA and had a union guy as a guest. On Wednesday, he talked with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on how to fix the education system. Until today, I liked Ed's topics and guests.
Unfortunately, today's show I think Big Ed may have jumped the shark with his invite of Tom Tancredo to appear on his show.
ademption's diary :: ::
Now I understand that immigration is a very divisive issue, even among Democrats. I also gather from today's show that Big Ed does not support comprehensive immigration reform like Obama. That's fine. We as progressives can't always agree on everything. I can understand Ed Schultz wanting to discuss the topic of immigration and even invite a guest that shares his viewpoint on the topic. But I cannot accept his choice of guest to discuss the issue tonight.
Tom Tancredo was the absolute wrong choice to discuss immigration. I can't understand why a professed progressive like Ed Schultz would give a divisive figure like Tancredo a platform for his show. Does Big Ed recall his insane remarks about bombing Mecca? His likening Miami, Florida to be a third world country? Tom Tancredo is so radioactive that even he and Karl Rove had a falling out. That is how much of a cretin that Tancredo is. I am absolutely flabbergasted that Tancredo was even invited on a so called progressive show. I don't even think that Fox News has Tancredo on the air anymore. Maybe I'm wrong, but I haven't even heard about Tancredo since the Republican primaries in 2007. I thought that he had fallen off the face of the earth until I watched the Ed show today.
I know that the Ed Show has gotten really decent ratings in his first week on MSNBC. But I don't think that having Tom Tancredo on his show helps. I am so offended by Ed Schultz having Tancredo appear as a guest that I am seriously considering not watching the show ever again. And again, I like the show. But having Tancredo appear really touched a nerve. I'm not only writing my concerns on Dailykos, but I'm going to let MSNBC know as well.
For those who watched Big Ed during his regular timeslot at 6 pm or his guest stint on Countdown at 8 pm EST, do you think it was appropriate for Ed Schultz to invite Tom Tancredo to appear on his show?
Election Results in Illinois 5th Congressional District Represent Another Win for Comprehensive Immigration Reform - Cook County commissioner, Mike Quigley will travel to Washington as early as Thursday to prepare to take over the 5th Congressional District seat formerly held by Rahm Emanuel. He obtained a major victory yesterday, defeating Republican Rosanna Pulido and Green Party candidate Matt Reichel by taking 70 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting. Pulido is not only extremely anti-immigrant in an incredibly diverse district, she was the state director of the Illinois Minutemen Project. By contrast, Mr. Quigley is a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and has stated:
He'll stand up to the extremists in Congress who try to use immigrants as scapegoats and whose harsh policies would divide spouses, parents and children. Mike will fight for the rights of families to stay united here in America.
Voters clearly favor solution-oriented reformers over mass-deportation hardliners, and they send one more vote for comprehensive immigration reform to the House of Representatives.
I. Signs That Immigration Reform is On Track - Last week I previewed the meeting held between President Barack Obama and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Immigration, Simon provided NDN's Backgrounder on the issue, and Andres recapped for us what occured during the meeting and afterwards at a townhall meeting in Costa Mesa. The CHC meeting was declared an important step forward for immigration reform by those who participated. Immigration reform was the sole issue discussed, which demonstrates the level of importance this issue holds for Hispanics, as well as the commitment on the part of Members of Congress and the President to pass reform. Dan summarized the coverage of these steps towards movement on CIR, and NDN's thoughts on the same:
1. The San Francisco Chronicle:
After the hour-long meeting, the Latino leaders pronounced themselves pleased, saying they had gotten the president's pledge that he would move forward with a plan for "comprehensive immigration reform" this year. Caucus chair Nydia Velazquez of New York had this to say: "The President made clear to us that he is a man of his word. He clearly understands the consequences of a broken immigration system. We believe that under his leadership we can finally provide some dignity to the thousands of families that are living in the shadows and in fear."
Pro-immigrant Democratic strategists were also calling the confab a success. "It's an exciting day," said Simon Rosenberg of NDN. And given the magnitude of Obama's other legislative challenges, he predicted: "The White House is going to realize that passing comprehensive immigration reform is one of the easier things he can do this year."
2. Major Mexican Publication, El Excelsior:"Immigration Reform Takes on Greater Importance." This piece reports that President Obama has set immigration reform as a "national priority," and quotes Simon's political outlook on issue (translation): Democrats promised passage of CIR this year, and it is an issue that could help them secure the electoral gains achieved in 2008 among Hispanics, while Republicans need this issue to sue for peace with the Hispanic community; "oppose CIR this year, and watch your chance to win national elections again evaporate for a generation or more," said Simon.
As Andres pointed out, the President continued to outline his position at a townhall in Costa Mesa:
"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."
Importantly, the President also announced that he will be visiting Mexico to discuss this and other issues with President Calderon.
II. Immigration and Public Opinion - As Kos discussed a recent statement by Congressman Steve King - "the overwhelming majority of Americans who support enforcement of our immigration laws, border security and no amnesty for illegal immigrants" - he lays out all the evidence, including NDN polling, that disproves such a statement, and reiterates: Immigration Bashing Isn't the American Mainstream.
III. Would You Stop a Hate Crime In Progress? - This hidden camera experiment found that most would NOT intervene. What would you do?
IV. In Case You Missed It - Sheriff Arpaio appeared on Al Punto yesterday - the Univision Sunday morning political program. On the recent DOJ investigation and Congressional hearings to investigate his methods, he does not fear criticism. He feels Chairman Conyers, "...only reads the New York Times editorials..." and doesn't know what it's like to be sheriff. When challenged by Jorge Ramos on the increase in crime in Maricopa County despite his "tough" enforcement efforts, and the increasing number of pending criminal cases, he argues crime has actually dropped, and that he has support of Hispanics in Arizona.
As highlighted by KOS, Roll Call, and The Hill, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will meet tomorrow with President Barack Obama. Immigration reform is expected to be one of - if not the - issues of top priority discussed.
In anticipation of the meeting tomorrow at the White House with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, NDN is re-releasing its basic backgrounder on the recent history of the immigration reform debate. You can find it and download it here.
Simon Rosenberg and Andres Ramirez, VP of Hispanic Programs at NDN, are available for comment on the background and future of the immigration debate. Simon is also available to discuss the issue on television news programs tomorrow. Contact Dan Boscov-Ellen: 202-384-1226.
Our broken immigration system is a national disgrace, yet another terrible vexing governing challenge left over from the disastrous Bush era. Legitimate workers have a hard time getting legal visas. Employers knowingly hire and exploit undocumented workers. Our immigrant justice system is a moral outrage. And of course, the scapegoating of the undocumented migrant has become the staple for right-wing politicians and media, giving them something to rail against as the rest of their agenda has collapsed all around them. It is long past time to fix this broken system and replace it with a 21st century immigration system consistent with traditional American values and the needs of our modern ideas-based economy.
For links to other reference materials including a great deal of recent polling on immigration, click here.
UPDATE: Case in Point - Speaking of the drug war on the border, a piece in The Hill today by Bridget Johnson is a perfect example of how the lines between "immigrant" and "cartel" are becoming blurred, and how violence on the border will have an effect on the immigration debate:
"Any steps that you take to curtail Mexican drug violence will help illegal immigration," said Bryan Griffith, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, noting that though stepped-up enforcement may help, the violence itself may spur more northward journeys. "Generally, people come to the U.S. to find jobs," Griffith said. "If you have violence, there's more of a motivation."
And somehow doing nothing will not exacerbate violence? This is to be expected from CIS, as it ignores the underlying problem: consumption in the United States. We need to be sure to keep immigration policy very separate from persecution of organized crime. Countries in the entire region must work together to 1) combat consumption, 2) share intelligence and extradite traffickers, and 3) continue aiding each other to develop stronger economic institutions to end this vicious cycle of poverty, violence, and drugs.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told The Hill that officers continue to be subject to a "dramatic increase" in assaults, with 1,097 documented incidents in the fiscal year between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008. "Obviously, we're extremely concerned about the continued escalation of violence, which has been increasing every year for at least the past six years," he said...... While the completed border infrastructure has had a "negligible effect on border violence," Bonner said, "there appears to be a correlation between the fortification of the border and assaults on our agents."
As explained by Angelica Salas in the article, "By sealing off the border in this way, what you end up doing is giving [the cartels] more power," Salas said. "Their money- making is actually increased." Violence will not be curtailed until the issue of organized crime is addressed through intelligence and legal channels, and the broken immigration is fixed by passing comprehensive immigration reform.
Although even this Bonner guy admits: "As long as you have such strong demand [for drugs] in the U.S...then you'd have cartels trying to find a way in."
I. Obama Pressed on Immigration - The latest news from this morning, the CHC is ramping up activity, and Simon explains how immigration reform can be used as a tool to improve the economy.
II. Happening in Our Own Backyard - A friend of mine from Nashville shared with me that the Lt. Governor of Tennessee had not taken any action for or against the "English Only" provision that was voted on in TN shortly after January 20th. The Lt. Gov. was in D.C. for the inauguration, and as he was driving home, having just heard the President's moving speech on the dream that is America, on moving forward, on how "We are One," that "I am my brother's keeper," and that we are not the "native" or "foreign," "black" or "white" states of America, but rather the United States of America, he began hearing anti-immigrant talk radio as he crossed the state of Virginia. And it hit him - how could he come from hearing his President's inspired words, then go home and ignore what was happening in his own backyard? And he got home to rally against the "English-only" provision, which failed. This lesson applies to all of us.
Two years ago, in Prince William County, Virginia - a mere 30 minutes away from the home of our President, Congress, and federal Judicial Branch - the County Council decided it was a good idea to turn citizens and local police into immigration officers. Now Montgomery and Frederick County in Maryland are following suit. Following the GAO report on 287(g) that we discussed last week, NPR had a great interview with the Frederick County sheriff, Charles Jenkins - who is encouraging this policy - and our friend Frank Sharry, of America's Voice. How can we say that we support our country, our President, and his values if we don't fight against these laws?
Sheriff Jenkins argues this initiative is in response to an "increase in crime involving people in the country illegally," but as indicated during the interview, of the 337 arrests of undocumented immigrants in Frederick County, only 12 of those individuals had actual criminal records, and only 9 participated in gang-related activity. These individuals should be arrested and prosecuted for their offenses as part of the normal county policing efforts, but there is no reason to pinpoint "immigrants" specifically. Data demonstrate that native-born individuals are 5 times as likely as foreign-born to have a criminal record. This effort is not a strategy to go after actual criminals, it is an effort to turn community police into deportation agents, which has unintended consequences. We recommend Sheriff Jenkins take a good look at the counties that have already had experience with the 287(g) program, and learn from it.
In Prince William County, Chief of Police Deane warned the County Council of these unintended consequences:
1. Community policing efforts in minority communities will end. Best practices in policing indicate that effective policing is based on trust. This trust is undermined when communities - particularly minority communities - feel they, or their friends and family, are in danger of being deported or persecuted.
2. Sharp rise in unsolved crimes and underreporting of crimes in the minority population. As stated by Frank - there is a reason 95% of police departments choose not to participate in this program, it undermines their policing efforts. If police are seen as "la migra" or immigration enforcement, as opposed to protectors and partners in the community, this is the expected result.
3. Crime rates among youth will rise. These programs lead to feelings of persecution and marginalization, which translates to frustration.
4. Rise of vigilantism. These programs cause greater "citizen activism" and embolden those with anti-immigrant feelings to feel more comfortable acting out on those feelings.
5. A more radical population. These programs cause a greater rift between immigrants, minority communities, and those who are very anti-immigrant. Chief Deane noted that eventually both sides become increasingly polarized and harder to deal with.
6. Perceptions of racism will increase. The reputation and perception of life in that County changes, as we saw with the exodus of many Hispanics from Prince William.
7. Higher taxes, skyrocketing expenses.
Sheriff Jenkins believes that he is, "not spending an enormous amount of resources on this program. I am simply performing this duty as an extension of law enforcement duties." But participation in 287(g) necessarily requires additional processes and resources, which will be felt in the county, as happened in Prince William. In a time of economic crisis, Prince William County had to cut back on their 287(g) initiative because of the unforeseen amount of resources that went into it. Sheriff Jenkins might want to take a look at this presentation by Chief Deane before the Prince William County Board over one year after the implementation of the 287(g) program:
III. Immigration and Latin America - President Obama wants to develop a renewed and more engaged relationship with Mexico and our other neighbors in Latin America, but given some of last week's events, one understands why it becomes difficult for these countries to trust the U.S. government - and Democrats in particular. Last week during the vote in the Senate approving the Omnibus spending bill, the U.S. government sent mixed economic messages and backed out on a major commitment under NAFTA. The bill that passed on Tuesday would end funding for the cross-border trucking program that was signed into law in 1993 as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Regardless of the success or flaws in this program, the bottom line is that the United States agreed to this pact, signed it into law, and is now going back on its obligations (it's reported that access to U.S. roads granted to Mexican trucks in NAFTA would be terminated). Critics cite safety concerns, but a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy argues:
"During the cross-border trucking demonstration program's 18 months of operation, 26 carriers from Mexico -- with 103 trucks -- and 10 from the U.S. -- with 61 trucks -- crossed the border over 45,000 times without a significant incident," said spokesman, Ricardo Alday.
Mr. Alday adds, "Mexico would expect that at a time of global recession and economic distress, the U.S. would play by the rules, fulfill its international treaty obligations and ensure that bilateral trade is a level playing field, rather than erect trade barriers that undermine much-needed incentives to foster growth," predicting the action would increase consumer costs. We can expect Secretary of State Clinton will have to address this issue while she's in Mexico next week.
This issue ties into immigration because Congress must come to the realization that we are indeed connected to the rest of the world, and to the Latin America region in particular. As long as members of Congress like Sen. Byron Dorgan and others continue to use serious policy issues to do politicking, and as long as they scapegoat our neighbors for domestic problems, it will be impossible to have a political atmosphere that is rational and balanced enough to deal with major domestic problems, like the economic crisis and the broken immigration system. This takes me to the next issue:
IV. Mexico is No Failed State-Much was said last week about reports and academic studies calling Mexico a "failed state." First, let's return to our basic University level Theory of State and government classes: a "failed state" is a term used by commentators to describe a state perceived as losing basic conditions of a sovereign government. Per Noam Chomsky, these conditions include:
Loss of physical control of its territory - Last I checked, not a single mayor or Governor in Mexico has ceded control to organized crime.
Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions. - Again, President Calderon, the Judicial branch and Congress are still carrying on with daily business.
Inability to provide reasonable public services. - If anything, service providers in Mexico have improved, with new education and other service providers.
An inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. Considering the U.S. Secretary of State is visiting her counterpart in Mexico next week, and given Mexico's active participation in everything from the UN, to the OAS, to the upcoming Summit of the Americas, this is evidently not the case.
Let's stop demonizing a country that is in fact our second largest trading partner, with whom we share much more than a border and economic ties. We share ideology, common goals, strategic benefits, the fact is we share a people and many aspects of culture and customs.
If Mexico were a failed state, we'd have to apply the same title to the U.S., given the events of 2007 that revealed unexpected shocks - primarily the implosion of the U.S. subprime market, which burst housing bubbles worldwide, slowed trade, and sent currencies into tailspins.
V. Congressional Hearing on Border Crime - It is important that all our advocates for immigration reform refute these claims as quickly as they refute attacks on our immigrant population because as long as Mexico and Mexicans continue to be seen asharmfulto the U.S., immigration will continue to be equated to "Mexicans," "security," "terrorism," and other "hazards," as was evidenced during last Thursday's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Border issues. At Thursday's hearing, Chairwoman Sanchez asked Mr. Alonzo Pena, the Homeland Security Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, whether all of Mexico was truly as dangerous as reports make it seem. Mr. Pena responded that his family had just vacationed in Mexico, and that while the border region and specific areas are dangerous, tourist areas and the country in general remains safe:
"While there is violence in Mexico, it is not, and I repeat not, an indication of the government of Mexico's inability to maintain control," he said. "Rather it is an indication of President Calderon's success in confronting transnational criminal organizations in Mexico."
I left the hearing very concerned that "immigrants" continue to be bundled into "border threats" and "other hazards." Organized crime is organized crime, many times carried out by U.S. citizens on both sides of the border. Organized crime is one thing, immigrants are an entirely different phenomenon. The Administration and specifically the Department of Homeland Security must separate "immigrants" and "immigration" from "gangs" and organized crime. The ICE gang unit should certainly seek out and persecute gang members, but the ICE gang unit should not constitute all of ICE's work, nor can it serve as the foundation of ICE's ideology and priorities.
We saw progress in that both ICE and ATF agents finally recognized the harm U.S. arms are causing as they're being shipped into Mexico. But not once was drug prevention mentioned throughout the entire hearing as part of the strategy to combat organized crime. It took Congressman Al Green to remind the panelists that this is not a border problem, or a U.S.-Mexico problem, but a "transnational problem," and a "growth problem," due to the increase in drug use in the U.S. When none of the panelists were able to provide the number of ICE/ATF employees dedicated to "following the money trail" of organized crime, Mr. Green reiterated: the Government of Mexico has asked for our help on two fronts: control the guns, and control the money, and U.S. authorities have so far been unable to do either.
Congresswoman Kirkpatrick accurately noted, as long as we don't address the issue of drug consumption, there will be "no appreciable change" in this situation, we'll just continue with "spurts of arrests." Instead of fanning fears of destabilization in Mexico, people like Sen.Cornyn of Texas should instead focus on what Texas can do and what they can do to stop the elements that are feeding this violence: guns and drug consumption.
VI. In Case you Missed It - A fantastic New York Times interactive map that shows immigration trends and data, and the Los Angeles Time graphic showing a decrease in arrests of undocumented immigrants along the border (while border violence is on the rise, so let's stop blaming the immigrants).