Immigration detention reforms a distant promise as deportations rise dramatically

From the Restore Fairness blog.

An astounding 387,790 immigrants have been deported in 2009, indicating an all time high. And for those who justify the record in the name of security, two-thirds of these deportations are of people who have committed non-violent offenses. So it’s not surprising when a little girl asks Michelle Obama why the President is deporting more immigrants than ever, even as the immigration system remains irreparably broken.

But all hope is not lost. Senator Al Franken’s is slated to introduce the HELP Separated Children’s Act which will give special protections to those apprehended by immigration who are parents of a minor in the U.S., aimed at stopping the continuing separation of families that has vast implications on childrens’ emotional and physical well-being. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass.

Increasing deportations are accompanied by a deteriorating detention system, even as the administration announced plans for its reform in October 2009. The proposed reforms were to address chronic problems in the system such as overcrowding, inhumane conditions, unchecked detainee transfers and a lack of alternatives to detention. But seven months and many detainees later, it is difficult to be optimistic about the state of immigrant detention.

Such as the recent ruling from the Supreme Court exempting government doctors from personal liability for inadequate medical care of detainees. So what about an immigrant like Francisco Castaneda who was made to wait ten months in detention before getting a biopsy, despite having advanced penile cancer. Just before the results came in Francisco was released from custody so the government would not have to take responsibility for his treatment. Francisco’s case is indicative of-

…exactly what is at stake when detention standards are not only inadequate but unenforceable, and when there is broad immunity enjoyed by the persons responsible for the treatment of immigrants in their charge. With minimal accountability for how they treat people in their own custody, DHS continually fails to provide dignified or tolerable treatment of immigrant detainees.

The lack of adequate medical care and accountability is compounded by the rapid increase of numbers of detainees, resulting in the overburdening of the immigration court system that already has a huge backlog of untried cases. An analysis by TRAC shows the number of immigration cases awaiting resolution by the courts has reached all time record high of 242, 776, with a wait time of 443 days.

Translated into real terms, a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Southern California yielded a list from the administration of 350 immigrant detainees in the Los Angeles area who have been held for periods longer than six months while waiting for their cases to be heard. Many are neither flight risks, nor a danger to their community, but continue to be locked up because of harsh laws and a lack of alternatives to detention. This includes people like Damdin Borjgin, a Mongolian man seeking asylum in the United States who has been in custody since November 2007 and has never had a hearing to decide if his is eligible for release. Detention reforms were supposed to address alternatives to detention for people like Borjgin, but have so far not kicked into effect.

The infinite problems with the immigration detention and deportation system are part of a broken immigration system that continues to deny people basic human rights, due process and justice.

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Condemnation of Arizona's anti-immigrant bill goes national

From the Restore Fairness blog.

onight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bill in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

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Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Sirens, helicopters, immigration agents with guns swarming into factories and homes, this was standard game for immigration raids during the Bush administration. But all that was supposed to change during President Obama’s tenure. In a disturbing turn of events, documents procured by the Washington Post have exposed a senior-ranking Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official explicitly stating that even while deportation of those with criminal charges has risen, the overall number of deportations is “well below the agency’s goal” and what is needed is a reversal of the downward trend of deportations.

Rather than reflect the plans of the Obama administration that is committed to an enforcement agenda focused on immigrants that commit serious crimes, the exposed ICE memo has laid out a plan that will -

pump up the numbers by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; sweep prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, include a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.

In keeping with this plan, ICE field offices in Dallas, Chicago and Northern California have set their agents an incentive system that calls for them to process 40-60 cases in a month in order to earn “excellent” ratings. Such a policy encourages agents to target “easy” cases rather than focus on high risk, criminal cases that take longer to process.

ICE immediately distanced themselves from Chaparro’s memo.

Our longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present risk to the security of our communities. This focus has yielded real results – between FY2008 and FY2009, criminal deportations increased by 19%… Significant portions of the memo cited in The Washington Post did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

Mixed signals from an agency known for its harsh implementation of detention and deportation policies. A report published by the Center for American Progress weighs the fiscal damage that would result from mass deportation of all immigrants, the alternative to comprehensive reform that is championed by immigration hardliners, and the results should worry us all.

Based on federal spending on border enforcement and deportation for 2008, the report estimates the cost of detention and deportation for 10.8 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. at around 200 billion dollars. Referring to the option of mass deportation as the “status-quo on steriods”, it points to this option as a highly irresponsible one that would require “$922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country.” The bad news, the National Immigration Forum puts this number on the lower side.

The good news. Americans aren’t buying this option and are demanding immigration reform in record numbers. The Public Religion Research Institute asked American voters (predominantly white Evangelicals, Catholics and Mainline Protestants) what they think about immigration reform, and found-

Two-thirds of Americans believe in a comprehensive approach that offers illegal immigrants an earned path to citizenship. Overwhelming majorities of those asked believed that immigration reform should be guided by values of fairness, security, dignity and keeping families together.

On the other side is Public Agenda, a non partisan group that decided to find out what immigrants think about their lives in the United States. What did they find?

The overwhelming majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the United States, and would do it all over again if they could. Immigrants “buy in” to American society, for themselves and their children. They rate the United States as an improvement over their birthplace in almost all dimensions, and most say they expect their children to remain in this country. A solid majority says that illegal immigrants become productive citizens and an overwhelming 84 percent support a “guest worker” program

So what’s next? We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve practically shouted from rooftops demanding immigration reform. And now it’s time to make sure that we get some concrete action. With the current system broken, expensive and inefficient, and with 10.8 million people eager to contribute to the nation’s economy and society, everyone should be on board for finding a sustainable, just, and humane solution to the current immigration system. We rest our case.

Photo courtesy of americanprogress.org

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Looking forward to immigration reform and how it will benefit the U.S. economy by $1.5 trillion

From Restore Fairness blog

Do we need more evidence of the fact that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) will benefit the country? For those that are unconvinced, the new report brought out by the Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center should help point our how crucial CIR is to the future of the U.S. economy.

The report "Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform" concludes that immigration reform would have a positive ripple effect which would in turn boost the economy. According to the National Immigration Forum

"The program would have economic ripple effects that would, when compared to the alternative policy of mass deportation promoted by immigrant restrictions, have a net economic benefit of as much as $4.1 trillion for the U.S. economy over 10 years."

Some of the consequences of reform include raised worker's wages which subsequently "raise the wage floor" for everyone,  a willingness to invest, more income, more spending and more taxes - all of which will result in growth of gross domestic product by approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period. The figure comes from findings of surveys conducted after the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 which granted legal status to 3 million immigrants. Research shows that those undocumented immigrants who were legalized as per the IRCA (which was also implemented during an economic recession similar to the present one) went on to better jobs and higher wages. Many further invested in higher education which increased their skill level and socio-economic mobility, positively impacting the economy. Where the IRCA failed was in creating a flexible policy for future immigration, leading to the present situation in which the government spends large amounts of resources on an inefficient and costly system of enforcement.

In a recent CNN article, the author of the report Hinojosa-Ojeda who belongs to the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA states,

"The number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has increased dramatically since the early 1990s despite equally dramatic increases in the amount of money the federal government spends on immigration enforcement...The U.S. Border Patrol says its annual budget has increased by 714 percent since 1992, from $326.2 million in fiscal year 1992 to $2.7 billion in fiscal 2009."

In addition to being expensive, it is evident that the current enforcement-only policy of the government is inefficient, and has led to a damaging of the economy. The current policy seems to be heading towards a scenario of "mass deportation", which the report analyzes as one of three avenues through which the government can approach immigration policy. The other two scenarios are "comprehensive immigration reform" and a "program for temporary workers". While mass deportation would cause a loss of $2.6 trillion in gross domestic product over a 10 year period, the worker program would lead to a gain of $792 billion. Full legalization of existing immigrants along with new, flexible legal limits on permanent and temporary immigration is the best scenario, leading to $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product growth over the next ten years.

Hinojosa-Ojeda explains his calculation for "full legalization",

"All immigrant workers in this scenario have full labor rights, which results in higher wages - and higher worker productivity - for all workers in industries where large numbers of immigrants are employed. As wage and productivity levels rise, the U.S. economy's demand for new immigrant workers actually declines over time as the market shrinks for easily exploited, low-wage workers...The higher earning power of newly legalized workers translates into an increase in the net personal income of $30 to $36 billion, which would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue. Moreover, an increase in personal income of this scale would generate consumer spending to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs..."

The report demonstrates that the economic argument can no longer be used as an excuse to avoid immigration reform, and poses a stiff challenge to the mythical notion that legalizing undocumented workers will increase unemployment. Instead it helps to drive home the pressing need for the government to enact comprehensive immigration reform. In an article by New American Media, Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, says,

"I think there are two very important things about this report. One certainly is that it shines a spotlight on the potential for a very large impact on our economy in a time when we need it. Even in Washington D.C., $1.5 trillion is a lot of money. But the report also reminds us of where the focus of an immigration reform effort ought to be, and that is about how do we provide benefits to the American economy and to the American worker."

Momentum for immigration reform is building in 2010. On December 15th, Rep. Gutierrez unveiled CIR ASAP in the House, a historical bill that outlines progressive solutions to our immigration policy crisis, and early this year, Sen. Schumer is expected to introduce a bill in the Senate. You can do your bit to urge Congress to support immigration reform leading to a healthier economy and more due process and human rights for all.

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