Announcing "New Progressive Voices"

The Opportunity Agenda is pleased to help announce, on behalf of the Progressive Ideas Network, the release of a new collection of essays outlining a new long-term vision for America.

"New Progressive Voices: Values and Policy for the 21st Century" brings together leaders from a wide array of organizations, of different backgrounds, to present a bold, progressive agenda for America's future.  Integral to the project is a commitment, not to just presenting a new direction, but also realistic approaches to solving our collective problems.

From the collection's introduction:

In recent decades, progressivism has faltered. It was conservatives who developed and moved the big ideas, while progressives triangulated, tweaked, and tinkered. Since the 1960s, progressives have been running on the fumes of the New Deal and Great Society, confining themselves largely to narrow issue silos and poll-tested phrases and positions. Content to play defense in many of the major political battles of the day, they have all too often been cowed into submission by the vitality and confidence of the other side.

Now that is changing. Instead of obsessing about what we are against, progressives have begun to think about what we're for -- to prepare once again to play our role as agents of bold ideas and political and social transformation. Finding new confidence and imagination, we have begun to renew our intellectual capital. The essays in this volume draw on that new store of capital to sketch the outlines of a progressive agenda for 21st-century America.

Our own Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, contributed an essay to the collection.  You can read "The Promise of Opportunity" here.

Read more from The Opportunity Agenda here.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

    On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a ground breaking executive order requiring all city agencies to provide language assistance services for people who speak Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian or French Creole.  According to The New York Times, this is the first time that all New York City agencies will be forced to follow the same standard in providing translation and language interpretation services to people who do not speak English:

Immigrant advocates and city officials say it is the most comprehensive order of its kind in the country. The mayor refused to be specific about how much the services will cost, saying only that it was a "relatively small" amount given the size of the city's budget. He added: "This executive order will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most inclusive municipal government in the nation."

The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All details the need for immigrants to have access to language assistance services in order to achieve their full potential. In providing immigrant groups with this access, Mayor Bloomberg has taken the entire city forward and empowered communities throughout New York.

     Politicians have also been busy down in Washington, D.C. working to provide language assistance for immigrant families across the United States.  At noon today, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Mike Honda are introducing the "Strengthening Communities through Education and Integration Act of 2008." In addition to providing English language literacy and civics education to immigrant families who are in the process of becoming citizens, the bill:

will help immigrant communities become a more integral part of the American fabric and maximize their social and economic contributions.

Legislation like this is crucial to aiding immigrants on their way to becoming U.S. citizens, and is a necessary part of treating immigrants like full and equal members of our community.

    The aftermath of the ICE raids in Postville, Houston, and most recently Rhode Island, is still being felt in communities across America.  However, a Washington Post article describes how it is not only workers and their families feeling this strife - now, it is employers as well:

The crackdown's relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation.

    A story in the MetroWest Daily News calls attention to a local organization in Massachusetts, the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center, that is defending the rights of immigrant workers in the U.S.  Immigrant workers are routinely subject to labor law violations, including the denial of compensation and overtime, as well as unnecessary injuries on job sites.  In addition, the article points out that all immigrants, including undocumented ones, have worker rights:

Contrary to what many people think, illegal workers have rights. Although in the country illegally, those who work are entitled to be paid for their labor and overtime. If they are injured on the job, they are eligible for workers' compensation coverage, said [Diego] Low, [director of the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center] who has been advocating for immigrant workers' rights for the last 25 years.

*    A DMI Blog posting points to an extremely upsetting Associated Press report of a beating in a Pennsylvania town that left a 25 year old Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez dead.   

Hate crime or not, the killing has exposed long-simmering tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia that has a growing number of Hispanic residents drawn by jobs in factories and farm fields.

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Court Upholds LAPD's Policy of Not Asking Immigration Status

Last Thursday, June 26th a California Superior court upheld the LAPD's 29-year-old policy of neither arresting people based on immigration status nor asking about immigration status during interviews. This policy, described by Police Chief William Bratton as "an essential crime-fighting tool for us," is meant to avoid discouraging the undocumented population in many LA communities from communicating with police officers and reporting crimes. Proponents of the policy's abandonment, who filed suit in April 2007, argue that it conflicts with federal and state law. While under the policy officers do alert immigration officials in the case of a suspect who has either previously been deported or is arrested for a felony/multiple misdemeanors, plaintiffs argue that illegal immigrants are repeatedly arrested rather than appropriately deported.

The judge's decision affirms that immigration law is to be applied on the federal, and not the local level. Local law enforcement officials cannot and will not be asked to act as federal immigration agents. The defendants argued, and the court agreed, that this conflation of positions is not warranted on legal grounds and is detrimental to the goals of local law enforcement.

The overturning of this lawsuit averts several troubling implications that elimination the disputed policy would have had. The role of a local police officer and that of an federal immigration agent have vastly different objectives; while the former exists "to protect and serve" residents, the latter aims to "effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws... by targeting illegal immigrants." In an area with a significant undocumented population, these roles are often at odds with each other. To ask that police officers assume the duties of immigration agents is to cast them into a confused role that ineffectively pursues conflicting goals. Furthermore, incorporating these duties into local law enforcement greatly increases the risk of racial profiling in pursuit of undocumented residents.

The court's decision to uphold the LAPD's longstanding policy marks a victory for security in these communities. As one of its six core values, the Opportunity Agenda holds security to be vital to our human dignity. Without safe and healthy living conditions, it becomes overwhelmingly difficult for residents to access any of the other opportunity that society has to offer. To put local police officers in a position that undermines their ability to serve their communities as a whole would be to betray a fundamental commitment to equality, security, and community. With its policy on immigrants intact, the LAPD can go forth in its goal to "build safer communities throughout the City of Los Angeles."

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Supreme Court Decision Offers Mixed Results for Immigration Reform

In a victory for immigrants' rights, the Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing immigrants to file motions without fear of being deported for not voluntarily departing within a specific time period.  The case, Dada v. Mukasey addressed two conflicting sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Section 1229c allows judges to grant immigrants who are told to deport the country permission to leave voluntarily within a specific period of time.  However, Section 1229a allows individuals to challenge a deportation order (in the event of any changed circumstances) but requires them to remain in the country while legal motions are pending.

The petitioner, Samson T. Dada, an immigrant from Nigeria, was married to an American citizen in 1999.  However, without adequate proof of marriage, the Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had overstayed his temporary immigrant visa and ordered his deportation.  An Immigration Judge granted Dada's request to voluntarily leave the country within 30 days, a decision that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed.  However, two days before he was supposed to leave, Dada found conclusive proof of his marriage, withdrew his request for voluntary departure and filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings.  The BIA denied his request, claiming that Dada had failed to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (while ignoring Dada's withdrawal of his request to voluntarily leave).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the BIA's decision.

Dada filed a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Fifth Circuit Court decision contradicted other Circuit Courts that found immigrants should be able to file motions to reopen their cases, and found that their decisions to file should override their previous decision to voluntarily leave the U.S.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Dada, finding that immigrants must be allowed an opportunity to withdraw their request for voluntary departure (as long as they do so before the end of their allotted departure period).  

In addition, the Court articulated the inefficiencies and complications in the immigration process - Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion:

A more expeditious solution to the untenable conflict between the voluntary departure scheme and the motion to reopen might be to permit an alien who has departed the United States to pursue a motion to reopen post departure, much as Congress has permitted with respect to judicial review of a removal order.

Much of The Opportunity Agenda's work to promote opportunity for all has been related to immigration reform.  Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All discusses the discrimination that immigrants face every day as they are treated as unequal members of society:
True opportunity requires that we all have equal access to the benefits, burdens, and responsibilities of our society. In order to fully contribute and participate in society, immigrants and the native born alike should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, religion, country of origin, and other aspects of what they look like and where they come from.  But too often immigrants are treated unfairly.

The document also emphasizes the importance of immigrants' roles in strengthening communities across America:
American communities are strengthened by immigrants from all over the world. Newcomers' economic contributions are immense, while their cultural and personal contributions improve all aspects of American life.

The Dada case addresses the importance of allowing immigrants to be full and equal members of American society.  Without having access to proper legal services, and with relentless discrimination from Courts, immigrants will continue to face barriers to achieving their full potential.

Many people have joined The Opportunity Agenda in calling for reform of the immigration process.   One of these individuals is the Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner - he described the U.S. immigration court system as "inadequate" and "ill-trained" in an article in The National Law Journal.

If even an established and admired judge in the U.S. is making such harsh criticisms of the immigration court system and the extent of legal remedies immigrants can seek, then it is clear it is time for the system to be reformed.  This reform cannot come fast enough; until it does, there will be more and more individuals trying to fight their way through an unjust system.

Any reform might be too late for Dada - while the Supreme Court ruled that Dada was able to withdraw his request for voluntary departure, the Court did not grant his request to reopen his removal proceedings (it remanded the case back to the lower court).  The BIA could still choose to deport him.  While Dada's case brought a victory for many U.S. immigrants, it has not yet brought him the legal right to remain in the U.S.

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Free Market Values

With the lame duck 109th Congress exiting shortly (and with the hope that it will uphold its do-nothing reputation to the bitter end so as not to cause yet more harm to the Constitution and citizens), both the House and Senate are preparing their legislative agendas, and the 2008 presidential hopefuls (you know who you are) are beginning to stake out issues and platforms to try out on the road.

Health care will be back with a vengeance, and so before the fur and snow flies, here are a few foundational principles upon which to chew.

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