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New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org

Feds may have held off Arizona law, but border law gets the green light

Although a federal judge struck down on some of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070’s major provisions in a critical victory, the untrue notion that Washington has lost control of the border remains. Within this atmosphere of hate and misinformation, President Obama signed a $600 million bill that increases appropriations for border security in a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, leading to profound disappointment at Congress’s decision to propose, promote, and pass border enforcement bill HR 6080. In a statement on the passage of the bill into law President Obama said,

“I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office… So these steps (passage of the law) will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.”

For many, the emphasis on increased enforcement without any effort to address the egregious violations that come along with these is unacceptable. The New York Immigration Coalition for one argued,

The immigration crisis is dividing our nation in ugly ways we have not seen in generations – a situation exacerbated by ramped-up enforcement.  Not only is it not solving the immigration crisis, it is also tearing up our communities and our nation.  However much money is thrown at aerial drones and border agents and the like, it still won’t fix the problem.

Ironically, HR6060 was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer who is leading the immigration reform effort in Congress, and was passed unanimously in the Senate. The approaching Senate elections seem to have driven forth the abrupt decision, as jobs and border security are considered issues expected to be on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November. House Democrats actually called a special session to pass the border security bill as well as a $26 billion aid bill to keep teachers and other public workers from being laid off.

The border security measure would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and greater use of unmanned surveillance drones. Almost one-third of the money goes to the Justice Department to help agencies such as the FBI, the DEA and the ATF deal with drug dealers and human traffickers. The bill is funded by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs, including the popular H-1B program, to bring skilled workers to the United States. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.

According to Los Angeles Times,

Immigration is an important election-year issue for some voters, and supporters of the measure from both parties hope it will demonstrate that Washington is capable of addressing border security after Arizona passed a tough illegal immigration law.

For these very reasons, many organizations oppose the law, shunning these politically expedient strategies which ultimately damage immigrant communities, instead calling for a renewal of the administration’s commitment to uphold our nation’s values and achieve real progress on immigration reform. With the negative focus on enforcement, many are calling for passage of the Dream Act and AgJobs in September to help undocumented students and farmworkers as important down payments on the broader reform that is needed. At the same time, they are calling for President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to implement administrative reforms that would provide relief to those at risk of deportation and family separation and measures that would restore basic due process to the immigration system. As Deepak Bhargava from the Center for Community Change noted,

It is extremely disappointing to see Congress fall for Republicans’ wholly manufactured allegations of an insecure border. Every study and report shows the border has never been safer. Crime statistics, free of political bias, show crime has never been lower…Republicans are impervious to facts.

According to blog ImmPolitic, many Republicans who keep calling for more border security before considering immigration reform will never be satisfied.

As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement “benchmarks” were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those “benchmarks” have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.

Instead of building on the victory of the Arizona lawsuit, Congress and President Obama is taking a step backward.

Photo courtesy of www.latimes.com

Obama announces decision to send 1200 troops to the border

In the run-up to the November elections, the White House seems to be succumbing to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement, border security and deportations, rather than fix the broken immigration system.

So it was no surprise to hear the President’s decision to send 1200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border between the Unites States and Mexico. The White House also called for an additional $500 million to fund “increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money.” The move is being compared to a “scaled down version” of President Bush’s decision to send 6,000 troops to the border from 2006 to 2008. Common to both cases, the idea is that rather than enforce immigration law, the additional troops take over support issues so that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are free to handle law enforcement. According to the Associated Press, the troops will work on-

…intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.

Since the White House announcement hit the headlines yesterday, it has received criticism from both sides of the debate. Those in favor of harsher enforcement have deemed it “insufficient”. Republicans such as John McCain and Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the controversial Arizona bill SB1070, have critiqued it saying that 1200 troops without the authority to enforce the law will do little to secure the borders. Advocates of immigration reform have denounced the President’s decision as political pandering that simply pays lip service to the issue without attempting to solve it. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum said the move is a waste of resources-

Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points. Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.

Organizations and elected officials representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have drafted a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities feel that the decision is  motivated solely by political motives, rather than based on the needs of those at the border. The letter reads-

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories of the letter. However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. It is time to rethink our border policy.  Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by mis-allocating resources. Humane border policies would focus quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

On the one hand President Obama has repeatedly mentioned the need for bipartisan immigration reform that focuses on keeping families together through a humane, but workable solution, and his criticism of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law was clear on that front. On the other hand, all actions that have been taken by the Obama administration around immigration have involved increased enforcement including the expansion of 287g and the Secure Communities programs, the highest investment on border security to date, and an all time record in detention and deportations.

Today, the Senate is about to vote on amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, which if passed, will increase immigration detention, enforcement and border security. Amongst these are amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain  and Sen. Jon Kyl which call for the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops and additional funding for Operation Streamline at the border. In the wake of the recent White House announcement, it is imperative that we urge the Senate not to increase detention and border enforcement, and instead, focus on restoring fairness and justice to the immigration system. Call your Senator today before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of LA Times.

POLL: Do you agree with President Obama's decision to send more troops to the border?

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Schumer and Graham release blueprint for immigration reform

It’s impossible for Congress to ignore the drumbeats of  a 100,000 people, descending on D.C. this weekend, to march for just and humane immigration reform. With the pressure for concrete action mounting, President Obama met Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY, head of the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week, giving them that much needed nudge to introduce immigration reform legislation into the Senate. The Senators for their part asked the President to be more engaged in getting support for immigration reform.

The two Senators have been involved in discussions about immigration reform legislation for months. Today, for the first time, we are seeing the framework for immigration reform in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, no doubt triggered by a need for answers from those coming to D.C.

Throughout our history, immigrants have contributed to making this country more vibrant and economically dynamic. Once it is clear that in 20 years our nation will not again confront the specter of another 11 million people coming here illegally, Americans will embrace more welcoming immigration policies.

The framework, rests on four pillars: ending illegal employment through biometric Social Security cards, enhancing border and interior enforcement, managing the flow of future immigration to correspond to economic realities, and creating a tough but fair path toward legalization for the 11 million people currently in the U.S. without authorization.

The President welcomed the news.

I am pleased to see that Senators Schumer and Graham have produced a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward.  It thoughtfully addresses the need to shore up our borders, and demands accountability from both workers who are here illegally and employers who game the system.

The announcement will no doubt trigger intense debate over the specifics of the legislation. But many feel that the framework marks an important bipartisan step forward. Any reform legislation must move away from an enforcement only approach and enact humane immigration policies which keep families together and restore fairness to the broken immigration system. Detention continues to be substandard and unjust while immigration raids and other enforcement actions continue to tear apart families, workplaces, communities, and congregations. The idea of a biometric card triggers many concerns about privacy and security.

Meanwhile the anti-immigration squad is playing out their strategies to counteract immigration reform. Yesterday, the Center for Immigration Studies released a 27 page report lashing out against immigration advocacy groups such as the National Council for La Raza and the Southern Poverty Law Center for “manipulating the press” with research and campaigns in favor of reform, clearly in retaliation to the extensive research done by these groups linking CIS with white nationalist and racist rhetoric. At the event to release the report, Campus Progress turned the tables by asking CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian about a quote in one of CIS’s reports that said,

If small time con-artists and Third-World gold diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can (and have) done the same.

Krikorian’s response. The basis of the statement was justified but the language used,

it was colorful language that was too colorful. Um, but, is it beyond the pale, I would say no.

It’s exactly to counteract such racism that you need to be in D.C. this weekend. To get your voice heard above the racist din, call or tweet your Senator and write to your local newspaper. Not only do we need reform, we need good reform, and for that our voices need to get stronger and more urgent.

POLL: Do you think Schumer and Graham's blueprint for reform is a good blueprint?

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Down to the Wire: Vote for us in the next 3 hours for fairness in immigration

Picture 2We’re down to the wire and need your vote now! In the next three hours, you can vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to an opportunity to have our voice heard in Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here. In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1. Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org

We need you to vote now @ “Ideas for Change in America” to restore fairness to immigration

Picture 2We need your vote! Vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to to ensure that 2010 is the year for immigration reform.

Ideas for Change in America is a competition that empowers citizens to build momentum for solutions to pressing problems facing us today. The 10 ideas with the maximum number of votes will go to Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here.  In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1.  Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org

Gutierrez to unveil immigration reform while enforcement measures on the rise

hq2Tomorrow, December 15th, at 12:30 pm, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) will officially unveil his immigration reform bill to the U.S. House of Representatives–”Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009.”  Details of the bill are yet unknown.  However, in October and November, he spoke persuasively about protecting American and immigrant workers, providing enough visas to diminish undocumented immigration, strengthening border security, keeping families together as well as the DREAM Act and agJobs.  In his own words:

“We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by this Congress and our President. The time for waiting is over. This bill will be presented before Congress recesses for the holidays so that there is no excuse for inaction in the New Year. It is the product of months of collaboration with civil rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. It is an answer to too many years of pain –mothers separated from their children, workers exploited and undermined security at the border– all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system. This bill says ‘enough,’ and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of.”

Rep. Gutiérrez will be joined by members of many different faiths and backgrounds, including Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus and Progressive Caucus.

Meanwhile, enforcement measures continue to be ramped up.  Last week, 286 foreign nationals representing more than 30 different nations were arrested in a 3 day California operation coordinated  by ICE Fugitive Operations Program, involving over 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as several other state and local agencies.  The largest enforcement surge targeting criminal aliens yet.  Assistant Secretary John Morton,  who oversees ICE, called the operation another example of the vital role multi-agency cooperation and targeted immigration enforcement play in protecting our communities.  Morton also suggested that:

“Enhancing public safety is at the core of ICE’s mission. Legal immigration is an important part of our country’s history and the American dream exists for many immigrants.  However, that dream involves playing by the rules and those who break our criminal laws will be removed from the country.  Sadly, many of the people victimized by aliens who commit crimes are other members of the immigrant community, who are following the rules.”

Although ICE claims that nearly 80% of the criminal aliens taken into custody had prior criminal records, the arrests were conducted as part of a controversial program also designed to arrest and deport immigrants without a criminal record, who may have ignored deportation orders or who have been deported and illegally reentered the United States, to fill quotas, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute earlier this year, which states that 73% of the nearly 97,000 people arrested by ICE fugitive operations teams between the program’s inception in 2003 and early 2008 were unauthorized immigrants without criminal records.

Additionally, the report notes that the National Fugitive Operations Program (FOT) has dramatically expanded; its budget increased from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year. In its first five years, the program has received more than $625 million, more than any other ICE program.  Yet ICE estimated last October that 557,762 fugitive aliens remain in the United States.  Michael Wishnie, a Clinical Professor at Yale Law School reinforces this finding:

“The National Fugitive Operations Program has not delivered on its promise to find and remove dangerous fugitives. The evidence suggests that this is a case of ‘mission drift,’ in which the program has used public funding intended for one purpose for something entirely different: Apprehending non-violent non-fugitives – who constitute the easiest targets.”

Other critics focus on the fear that the FOT program, and similar initiatives, like the Criminal Alien Program, Secure Communities and the agency’s partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies under 287(g) induce in immigrant communities by sending armed agents into neighborhoods and pulling parents away from their children.

Photo courtesy of indypressny.org