Weekly Update on Immigration: Two Themes - The Economy and Hate

I.  We begin with the good news from this week - The President signs a children's health bill into law that provides for legal immigrant children.  Even though the recent debate over funding health insurance for children was contaminated by fears that "illegal immigrants" would sign up for the program, the bill still passed Congress and was signed into law this week.  It is a very encouraging sign that Members of Congress could see past the politics and recognize that this bill - and the provision that was for granting legal immigrant children care - was the best policy.  Congress and the American people showed how they are now ready to rise above the insults and demagoguery to enact smart policy.  The accusations rang hollow - that the bill would encourage more people to come to the United States to "get on the government dole," or that there was "no verification system to speak of ... in the bill," as stated by Lisa Sylvester on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," while the phrase "illegal alien bailout" flashed on the screen - all this was kicked to the curb because policy makers knew better.  They knew the truth, and demonstrated a desire to focus on solving problems as opposed to hating immigrants.  Donna Cohen Ross, director of outreach at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said she was not surprised by the Lou Dobbs rhetoric.  Still, after studying the House bill's language, she concluded that there was "nothing about the rules that would allow illegal immigrants to use the program."

But the fight is not over, as Simon has stated, "The immigration system is broken and there are a lot of people who live in this country who are not legal citizens,....So the issue of whether benefits are conferred upon them will come up again and again."  Hence the urgency to pass comprehensive immigration reform as a way to stop having domestic policy held up by immigration proxy fights. 

II. Mixed Messages - The debate in D.C. is focused around the economic stimulus package this week.  And while everyone says they care about helping businesses and helping "everyday working Americans," the "economic recovery" plans laid out by Congress are full of mixed messages - I won't delve into NDN's perspective on these issues individually at this time, I'm only pointing out key items that - to me - seem a bit contradictory: 

1.  On the one hand, the Senate kind of backed off the original "Buy America" provisions, diluting them after public outcry.  And yet, after diluting buy America, Senators turned around and came out against increasing H1-B - foreign - workers. 

2.  "He giveth and he taketh away" - A week after the Federal government decided to delay mandatory implementation of the E-Verify system for government contractors, the economic stimulus package could mandate that all recipients use this ineffective system.  Let me get this straight - you have companies that are struggling to the point they need government aid, and somewhere, someone believes it's a good idea to then turn around and impose an additional requirement on them that will potentially dilute any benefit conferred by the stimulus.  Mandating e-verify could require businesses to hire additional Human Resources personnel to become trained in and handle the e-verify checks.  Additionally, it will cause a delay for businesses in receiving the stimulus because most do not currently use e-verify, which means they can't get stimulus until they are trained and registered on the system.  Businesses will have to deal with DHS and SSA on a regular basis, and many workers will potentially lose their jobs as their data is run through e-verify, many unjustifiably.  At this time, all energy and money should be going to helping business get on its feet, and that should be the ONLY goal at this time, not to impose a bureaucratic process that does not even fulfill its intended role.  By all means, we support a functional system that could provide certainty to employers making hiring decisions, but that is not the current e-verify.  Let's worry only about stimulus at this point, then revisit E-verify as one part of a bill to enact comprehensive reforms to the entire broken immigration system.  

And lest we forget - the E-verify database does not contain immigration information, it was created by SSA to verify benefits with W-2s, it was never intended to serve as a system to check legal status.  As reported by the House Committee on Small Business, implementing this now will only hurt businesses - small businesses above all, who already suffer inflation, poor sales, and job loss.  

Finally, I have a test case that demonstrates what happens to business when you mandate the current - flawed - e-verify system: the State of Arizona.  IPC has data about this case, and NILC and CATO have written about it as well.  As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords testified during a committee hearing:

I believe that the Arizona experience should inform the ongoing debate about employment verification and whether the current E-Verify program administered through DHS should be extended and/or mandated Nationwide. 
Some of the businesses that have signed up have reported a variety of challenges and problems using E-Verify. They are finding it complicated, unreliable, and burdensome. They are having great difficulty getting answers from DHS to their problems about the system.  I have heard from employers, employees, and privacy rights advocates who are very vocal that nationally mandating E-Verify as it is would be potentially disastrous for our Nation. They are all experiencing the downfalls of using an inaccurate database with inadequate privacy protections.  Between October of 2006 and March 2007, roughly 3,000 foreign-born U.S. citizens were initially flagged as not work-authorized.  These errors have specifically impacted Arizona workers who have their ability to work wrongfully impacted. The experience of Arizona employers and employees makes it clear that we can do better and that action is needed.

III. Money = Policy.  A great piece by Nina Bernstein of the New York Times this week continued exposing details of how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actually strayed away from its mission to protect us for the sake of meeting ridiculous "quotas" of arrests, originally reported in California last week.  Under President Bush, Immigration raids garnered bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program run by ICE even as complaints grew that teams of armed agents were entering homes indiscriminately.  Raids on private homes around the country were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, and given "catchy" names like Operation Return to Sender.  Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening - criminals and terrorism suspects.

Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either. Internal directives by immigration officials in 2006 raised arrest quotas for each team in the National Fugitive Operations Program, eliminated a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals, and then allowed the teams to include nonfugitives in their count.  In the next year, fugitives with criminal records dropped to 9 percent of those arrested, and nonfugitives picked up by chance - without a deportation order - rose to 40 percent. Many were sent to detention centers far from their homes, and deported.

What exactly was Congress expecting when it funded this particular program the most, and then did not partner that funding with oversight?  Money is policy, and if you put your dollars into making arrests, it's not exactly a shock when the recipient of the money focuses on making arrests - without regard for the type of arrest.  This is an example of why it's so important for advocates and for members of our community to look at where the dollars are going, and to shape where funding goes because that will necessarily dictate policy priorities. 

Now, as the Obama administration vows to re-engineer immigration policy to target criminals, we certainly hope they reverse these "internal directives," participate in oversight, and work with Congress so that relevant committees also understand their role in funding certain programs, and then continuing oversight after they decide to appropriate funds.  It will be interesting to see the role Janet Napolitano decides to play in all this - now that she has left Arizona politics behind, Ms. Napolitano is free to prove this is not Arpaio's America, where the mob rules and immigrants are subject to ritual attack and humiliation.

IV. Where is the Outrage? Speaking of ritual humiliation, even though 21st Century America is nothing like Sheriff Arpaio's America, this man refuses to let down.  This "Sheriff" from Maricopa County, AZ paraded more than 200 men and women in shackles and prison stripes, marched under armed guard past a gantlet of TV cameras to a tent prison encircled by an electric fence. They were inmates being sent to await deportation in a new immigrant detention camp minutes from the center of America's fifth-largest city.  Two things are troubling:  1) this has not been recognized as a NATIONAL civil rights issue by the media, most activists, and elected officials.  How can a man - particularly in the position of Sheriff - allowed to parade people like cattle, dehumanizing and humiliating them while they are in a legal proceeding.  We forget - MOST awaiting deportation are not criminals.  Where is our community's outrage at this man, and the outrage of the entire country, that people are paraded in such fashion in the United States of America?
And 2) Arpaio's tactics are even more infuriating given that his office's budget has nearly doubled since 2001. In the meantime, criminals have the run of Maricopa County. As reported by the Goldwater Institute and the East Valley Tribune, the sheriff has 40,000 outstanding felony warrants in his jurisdiction and 2,700 lawsuits filed against him.  So the money is going to pulling stunts as opposed to doing his job.  If he wants celebrity, let him step down. The duty of Sheriff is to keep people safe.  With crime rising, and being in a state that is largely involved in the drug trafficking fight, he should be more concerned with organized crime and fighting real criminals, as opposed to humiliating members of the community.  I share NCLR's call to action against him: 

Arpaio's newest scandal will by no means improve the safety of his community but no doubt get him more publicity. The images that this march will provoke are shocking: horrific shots of people chained, marching through public streets at lunchtime. Perhaps it's a ploy to increase the ratings of Sheriff Joe's new reality show, which is in its seventh week. Are you tired of his antics yet?  Here's what you can do:

1. Request that the Department of Justice investigate Arpaio's abuses.
2. Forward this email to all of your family and friends, post it on Facebook, and circulate it as far and wide as you can. Send a clear message to Arpaio and his thugs that we will not stand for these kinds of abuses in our nation.

Arizona Republic: Arpaio to Move Illegal-immigrant Inmates
Hundreds to be relocated to segregated area of Tent City; sheriff says plan will cut costs
February 4, 2009
By JJ Hensley and Yvonne Wingett

Sheriff Arpaio Chains Together Immigrants and Forces
February 4, 2009
By Dan Weiss

Stop Arizona. Stop Arpaio. Stop the Circus.
February 4, 2009
By Rev. David L.

"Chain gang?" He should be worried about real gangs. So that you can see the "chain gang" for yourself:

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