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Temporary bandage or a real step towards reform and reprieve for DREAMers?

In a desperately needed positive move, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on August 18 some significant administrative repairs to the country’s broken immigration system. Responding to the tsunami of criticism over their increasingly harsh and unjust immigration policies, including blindly deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants without due process, the DHS announced a few changes to their policy.

Under the new policy, the DHS and ICE will review and suspend the low-priority deportation cases – around 300,000 of them – that primarily involve younger immigrants and those who are not deemed a threat to public security. This new move especially benefits the DREAMers, who have been fighting tirelessly for their right to remain in the country. The main stipulations of the DHS policy shift, as highlighted by Campus Progress, are the following:

The DHS will create a joint-commission with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review 300,000 existing deportation cases to identify immigrants that are not high priority cases for removal;

Those that are not high priority individuals for removal —DREAMers, primary caregivers, veterans or relatives of persons in armed services, among others identified in an agency memo (PDF) — will have their cases closed. These individuals should then become eligible to apply for work permits.

This initiative does not provide individuals with an earned path to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status or U.S. Citizenship. Work authorization is not guaranteed, either.

These measures have been generally praised by immigration reform activists, DREAMers, organizations and officials that have been fighting for major changes in the immigration system. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a long time champion for immigration reform – who was also heavily involved in the case with Tony and Janina Wasilewski – reacted positively to the DHS announcement, stating:

This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for, that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies.

While the DHS, especially Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, has been guarded about their own policy shift so as not appear to be making a complete turnaround, immigration reform groups have also reacted with some trepidation. Napolitano, during a press conference after the DHS announcement made it clear that “Nobody’s getting a free pass. Nobody’s getting free admission to citizenship or anything like that under this system. Nobody is getting exempted.” Meanwhile, immigration reform groups have commented on the very small percentage of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that will actually benefit from this policy change.

Furthering this stance, Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Project, wrote an op-ed on behalf of the New York State Working Group Against Deportation (NYSGAD) arguing that immigration reform should include new measures for all undocumented immigrants and not just those deemed innocent or harmless. Pointing to a wider flaw in the current immigration policy of the country, Fei writes:

…we cannot accept that people with criminal convictions should be so easily tossed out of our country. They’ve already paid their price in a criminal justice system that seldomly lives up to its promise of fairness and equality – particularly for those from low-income, of color, and immigrant communities. They don’t deserve a harsh second punishment of permanent exile through a deportation system we all know is patently unjust and broken. And no matter what, they still belong with our families and communities.

Fei’s stance on the extents of the the deportation machinery highlight that much more needs to be done until we have a fair and just immigration system in the country. These moves by the DHS are definitely positive and will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants – many of them young people with a real chance at a great future – who will get another chance to stay in this country. However, the DHS and President Obama must keep this momentum going and really work towards a positive, lasting and effective overhaul of the immigration system. For more information about this policy, read this fact sheet put together by the National Immigrant Justice Center. Add your voice to the immigration reform movement today. Join Restore Fairness.

Photo courtesy of immigrationimpact.com

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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Immigrant women defy odds on International Women’s Day

March is the month where International Women’s Day celebrates the strides women have made, in spite of all they have to endure. Like Rosa Morales, an immigrant woman who turned her life around and went from the brink of being deported, to being awarded a scholarship for her contribution to society.

Two years ago, what started as a 911 call to register a case of domestic violence turned into a deportation case for Rosa. Although her husband was a legal resident, she had been living in the U.S. as an undocumented resident. Rosa, then a 35 year old mother of two boys, was taken to an immigration detention facility where she was held for a month before she was given a deportation hearing and released after her husband paid a bond. While in detention, Morales looked back on her life, realized that she was frustrated with living under extreme financial hardship, and took the decision to turn her life around. Soon after her release, she earned her GED and joined Promotoras, a group of women volunteers who visit schools and churches to provide information on health and education to other women in the community. In spite of continuing financial hardship, both Rosa and her husband have enrolled in college and she aims to follow this up with a social work degree at Arizona University, a job, and then citizenship. Recently, in honor of her commitment to bettering the life of her family and community, Rosa Morales was awarded the Virginia Palmer Memorial Scholarship from the Tucson Branch of the American Association of University Women.

While Rosa’s story is one of hope, we also want to call attention to the hardships faced by many immigrant women as they struggle to provide for their families. From exploitation by employers to the denial of reproductive health, domestic violence to the constant threat of separation from their children, undocumented women face many challenges. Many will be in the March for America on March 21st, calling for just and humane comprehensive immigration reform to reclaim their lives and contribute to society without living in fear.

But not everyone is sympathetic to the cause. In a conference call two days ago, Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement discussed strategies to counteract the March for America, with the groups advocating an anti-immigration stance that targeted Latina women and even children. From our friends at Campus Progress who listened in.

CALLER 1: I would like to speak out on something. I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies. So I feel they’re all coming over here and having all these babies, they are the new welfare queen in America…

CALLER 3: One piece of information would be, they aren’t babies, they’re dependents. Don’t use babies. It’s emotional to them. They have dependents. We have babies.

And the racist ball didn’t stop rolling, even though the accusations are unfounded and irrational. Callers discussed strategies to flood Congress with phonecalls and faxes “to create the perception that there was a grassroots opposition to immigration reform”. Perceptions are powerful, but so are the actions of hundreds of thousands of workers, families, and women calling for immigration reform. So get your voices out there.