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#ImHere for Immigrant Women. Are You?

For millions of immigrants, here — the U.S. — is home. But for many immigrant women, home is not safe. The last few years have brought a steady decline in the human rights of all immigrants to the United States. Our broken immigration system and cruel anti-immigrant laws have had particular impact on immigrant women and the families they’re raising. Many immigrant women are sole breadwinners — yet they earn 13 percent less than their male counterparts and 14 percent less than female U.S. citizens.

Many families have already been separated by deportation or indefinite detention, often without due process. Other parents and children — especially in states where police demand the papers of anyone inviting “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented — live in fear of these threats, rarely leaving home at all. These laws also force women to choose between the threat of an abusive husband and the threat of deportation if they call the police. They send pregnant mothers to give birth in shackles with federal agents by their side. They trap women and LGBTQ people in immigrant detention centers under the constant threat of physical and sexual abuse. They drive parents to give power of attorney over their children to friends, neighbors and employers because the threat of deportation and indefinite detention is just too real. In fact, in the first six months of 2011, the U.S. deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children.

Does this feel wrong to you?

Do you believe in human rights for all?

Do you believe you can make a difference?

If so, let us know you’re here for, in support of, and in solidarity with, immigrant women.

Here are 3 quick things you can do:

1. UPLOAD A PHOTO of yourself on the #ImHere wall and join the growing number of women, men and young people in the U.S. and beyond who believe in human rights for all women. Check out the wall here: http://ow.ly/bKlar. First, print or write out a sign saying #ImHere. Second, take your picture holding up the sign. Third, upload the photo here: http://imherebreakthrough.tumblr.com/submit. (NOTE: You don’t need to have an account to upload.)

2. Post this on your Facebook page: Here’s a great way to show solidarity with immigrant women. Upload your photo onto your own, or your organization’s Facebook page and tag @Breakthrough.

 3. Tweet this out: #ImHere to support the rights of immigrant women. Are you? http://ow.ly/bKlar #waronwomen @breakthrough

Other ways to submit:

EMAIL: Send your photo to us at imhere@breakthrough.tv. Include your first NAME, CITY of residence, and TWITTER handle (if you have one) so we can follow you.

INSTAGRAM: Tag your photo #ImHere and share to Twitter and Facebook.

FACEBOOK: Post your photo to your timeline and tag our Breakthrough page. We’ll do the rest!

Thanks so much. Together we can build an America where all women, and their families, are safe in their homes and limitless in their dreams.

Dept. of Homeland Security ends biased and ineffective immigrant registration & tracking system

On April 27, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a long overdue announcement indefinitely suspending the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a framework that has been fraught with controversy and inefficiency since it was launched in the wake of 9/11. Several advocacy organizations have welcomed the move but have also called for the DHS to repair the damage that NSEERS has done over the years.

Over the past six years, the NSEERS required individuals from primarily Arab countries to register with the government on arrival and departure from the United States. These countries included Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Individuals who fell under the critera were required to undergo around 30 minutes of additional inspection at a port of entry if  entering the U.S on nonimmigrant visas. Visitors had to register again when exiting the country. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) justified the existence of the system stating that it was implemented “to keep track of those entering and leaving our country in order to safeguard U.S. citizens and America’s borders.”

The DHS and ICE have been criticized for their overt racial profiling of Arab visitors or those who appear Arab in an effort to preserve national security. The almost exclusive focus on visitors from the Arab countries showed that an institutional typecast was established, a move that received much flak from advocacy groups. The NSEERS impacted a lot of innocent people . In 2003, Abdulameer Yousef Habeeb, a refugee from Iraq was traveling on an Amtrak train from Seattle to Washington, DC to start a new job at an Arabic-language newspaper. While the train had stopped for a 30-minute break in Havre, Montana, Habeeb was singled out by two border patrol agents and then subsequently interrogated, arrested, imprisoned and set up for deportation back to Iraq. This was all because Habeeb hadn’t registered with the NSEERS even though his status didn’t require him to do so. In March 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Habeeb, seeking compensation and damages for his losses and suffering as a result of the erroneous arrest and imprisonment. Finally, in June 2007, the U.S. government apologized to Habeeb for their misconduct and offered compensation. The message from U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan for the Western District of Washington giving Habeeb a formal statement said-

The United States of America acknowledges that, by not registering under NSEERS, you did nothing wrong. The United States of America regrets the mistake.

In what seems like an extension of their acceptance that Habeeb “did nothing wrong,” the DHS is now saying the same thing with regard to the entire community their NSEERS program had targeted. In their official announcement, the DHS gave the following reason for the cessation of NSEERS-

Over the past six years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented several new automated systems that capture arrival and exit information on nonimmigrant travelers to the United States, and DHS has determined that recapturing this data manually when a nonimmigrant is seeking admission to the United States is redundant and no longer provides any increase in security. DHS, therefore, has determined that it is no longer necessary to subject nationals from these countries to special registration procedures.

Cases such as Habeeb’s indicate that the NSEERS mistreated several nonimmigrant visitors to the U.S. from Arab countries. Therefore, while the suspension of the NSEERS is a much welcomed move, we must also not forget the damage to people and families that was caused by the program’s implementation over nine years. The mistrust of Arabs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 branched out into the profiling of other ethnic communities such as Sikhs and other South Asian groups as well as the wider community of Muslims in America. The recent congressional hearings lead by Peter King on the “radicalization of Islam” are another testament to this deep mistrust and societal damage. Several advocacy groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), along with the Arab American Institute (AAI), the National Immigration Forum (NIF) and the Rights Working Group (RWG), have praised the end of NSEERS, jointly stating-

The NSEERS program was a counter-productive response in the wake of September 11, 2001…One controversial aspect of the NSEERS program was a “domestic call-in” component that solicited registrations from more than 80,000 males who were inside the United States on temporary visas from predominantly Arab, South Asian, or Muslim-majority countries. The specific parameters of NSEERS revealed it to be a system that was a clear example of profiling: discriminatory, arbitrary, and, as DHS itself has stated, an ineffective national security measure…It is critical that DHS view this rule as a starting point for granting relief retroactively for those affected by NSEERS. Ultimately, these groups believe that NSEERS must be repealed in its entirety.

The steady erosion of basic human rights after the tragedy of 9/11 has affected numerous Americans and visitors to this country. In our current state of paranoia, we as a country have singled out and alienated specific groups, and programs such as NSEERS have added to this damage to the social and cultural fabric of our country. The suspension of the program is definitely a positive step by the DHS, which should be furthered by the full elimination of the program and a reform of the DHS policies and functioning to become unbiased and effective. The unfortunate cases of racial profiling, such as that of Habeeb, should not be repeated. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, we must strive towards an America that cherishes its diversity and doesn’t needlessly suspect those who are different. The time is right for us to re-embrace one of our greatest strengths as a nation – our diversity.

Photo courtesy of dhs.gov

Immigration detention reforms a distant promise as deportations rise dramatically

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.

Photo courtesy of immigrationforum.org

Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills 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.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

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Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

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

Obama to meet with Schumer, Graham amidst calls for concrete action on immigration

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra reposted from America’s Voice blog

Over the weekend, news broke that the President intends to meet with Senators Schumer and Graham this evening at the White House:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to focus attention on immigration next week by meeting at the White House with two senators crafting a bill on the issue. White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said Obama will meet with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Monday.

The president is “looking forward to hearing more about their efforts toward producing a bipartisan bill,” Shapiro said Friday.

So are a lot of people, it looks like. The news generated 9,026 comments on The Huffington Post (it was the front page story for a time on Saturday), and has come amidst growing pressure on the administration to show concrete progress on immigration reform in advance of the upcoming “March for America: Change Takes Courage” in Washington, D.C. on March 21st.

Momentum is building rapidly for the march. Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Reform, writes:

Today, a caravan of faith leaders, day laborers and others is leaving from Phoenix, Arizona. Greeted by crowds of up to a 1,000 in places like Houston and New Orleans, this caravan will grow to dozens of vehicles and hundreds of people to arrive in DC on March 21st.

In Michigan, Ohio, California, Wisconsin and states across the country, communities are raising money and organizing buses to bring African American workers, small business owners, immigrant families and others to Washington DC on March 21st.

These communities on the move will meet in Washington DC to joins tens of thousands of Americans to March FOR America on Sunday, March 21, 2010, and remind our elected leaders that Change Takes Courage.

Indeed, tens of thousands of people will be marching to Washington to stand up for that vision of change– for crafting an immigration system that is once again rooted in America’s most deeply-held values of fairness, dignity, and hard work. Clarissa Martinez, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the nation’s leading Latino advocacy organization, NCLR, argues that the President must help move the process forward after tonight’s meeting:

But let’s be clear. If the meeting is just to “hear more,” it’s not going to cut it. The president had a meeting with Republican and Democratic members of both chambers in June 2009, and in August held a White House summit, hosted by Secretary Janet Napolitano, with a large number of representatives from faith, labor, business, law enforcement, immigrant, ethnic, and civil rights groups. Around that time, Schumer and Graham started working on a bipartisan proposal, and Schumer announced he would have the parameters of a proposal ready by Labor Day 2009.

With the Congressional legislative runway getting crowded and time running out before the November elections, it is time to land this plane. Monday’s meeting must be followed by a clear, bipartisan proposal and a firm timeline for Senate action. Anything less will be regarded as more stalling by the tens of thousands coming to DC to march in two weeks.

In case you missed this new video from NCLR, a reminder of the President’s own promise and stated vision to reform immigration:

“They’re counting us to rise above fear, the demagoguery, the pettiness, the partisanship, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform… In this country, change does not come from the top down. Change comes from the bottom up.”

Even the pundits are realizing the importance of passing immigration reform. One of D.C.’s insiders, who often sets the conventional wisdom in this city, Jonathan Alter, told the NY Times that Democrats could revitalize their base by moving immigration reform:

There are other things Democrats can do to energize the base. Bringing up immigration reform, Mr. Alter says, tends to draw  Hispanic voters  on their behalf.

Indeed, a new report on Latino voters in the 2010 elections, released last month by America’s Voice, shows the opportunities and perils for both parties if they fail to enact immigration reform.

And as Douglas Rivlin, blogger with News Junkie Post argued yesterday, immigration reform is not only a top priority for Latinos, but for groups like Irish Americans as well:

With millions of Irish immigrants in the U.S. – and tens of thousands undocumented – the Irish are stepping up and engaging seriously in the immigration reform debate. [...]

… Ciaran Staunton, co-founder and President of ILIR is traveling to Denver, Phoenix, and Tucson to send the message that “Immigration reform is as important to the Irish American community as it is to any other community,” according to ILIR’s press release.

The fact remains that a stunning majority of Americans prefer a comprehensive immigration overhaul to both doing nothing about our immigration crisis and to deportation-only immigration proposals, which do little to truly fix our broken system.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the time for immigration reform is indeed now.

Head of ICE John Morton speaks of promised changes for immigration detention

Guest Blogger: Maurice Belanger from National Immigration Forum reposted from ImmPolitic Blog

On January 25, John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), gave a speech at an event hosted by the Migration Policy Institute.

The bulk of his remarks were devoted to reform of the immigration detention system.  Morton reiterated that detention reform is a personal priority for him, and that ICE will engage in a sustained effort to transform the immigration detention system, an effort that will extend beyond his tenure.  This effort was first announced in August 2009, and re-announced in October 2009.  These announcements included fact sheets and media events laying out many of the reforms that Morton repeated this week.  Given the enormous scale of this announced reform, and the lengthy timeline required, we will be monitoring and periodically reporting about progress here.

He noted that ICE currently detains as many as 32,000 people a day in a vast network of more than 300 mostly penal facilities that are for the most part county, state, federal, and private prisons that ICE contracts with.

That is the crux of the problem.

Some of the individuals ICE detains have been convicted of crimes, and the penal system is designed to incarcerate those in the criminal justice system.  However, the vast majority of those ICE has detained are being held for violations of immigration laws.  They are people who came here to work and have done so without authorization.  If they can’t show they have an avenue to stay here legally, they are being detained only until they can be removed—not because they have done anything more serious than work without permission.

What ICE needs, then, is to design a system that is appropriate to hold such people for a short period of time until their immigration cases are adjudicated and they are removed (or are found to be eligible for release).

Morton’s vision is to have a smaller network of facilities designed to hold suspected immigration violators, with appropriate medical care and transparent standards that are fully implemented.  These facilities will be managed by federal personnel.  That’s the long-range plan.  It is a long way to there from where ICE is now.

Morton did give a preview of changes to expect in the coming months.

The agency will soon have 50 new employees to monitor detention facilities.  (These same 50 positions were announced in October, but apparently have not yet been filled.)  An overdependence on contractors and a lack of federal employees to monitor them were blamed by Morton for leading to some of the problems that have caused the detention system to come under public and Congressional scrutiny in recent months.  Morton said his long-term goal is to have a federal monitor in each facility used by ICE.

By this summer, there will be an on-line detainee locator system, so the family members and representatives of detainees can figure out where they are being held.

ICE is developing a classification system so that when someone enters the system there will be an assessment to determine their danger to the community, flight risk, and medical status.  Everyone with a medical issue will have a case manager assigned to them to ensure they receive appropriate medical care.  What Morton didn’t say is whether this classification system will result in a greater identification of those who qualify for release or enrollment in an alternatives to detention program.

The agency is now in discussion with contractors about designing a facility model that will be appropriate for the population ICE detains.

Morton also noted that ICE is working with groups to revise its detention standards, but implementation of new standards will take time.  The problem with the current standards, he noted, is that they came out of the penal world, and they are not appropriate for the kind of civil system that he wants ICE to move toward.  Reading between the lines, it will be difficult to fully implement the kind of detention standards advocates want as long as immigration violators are being held in prisons.

For many persons who are now routinely detained, ICE is exploring alternatives to detention.  ICE will soon begin a pilot project with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR, the immigration judges).  This initiative was promised by January 2010 in the October detention reform announcement.  He noted that widespread implementation of alternatives to detention (Morton said the agency has 16,000 or 17,000 slots funded) will require more resources for EOIR; the backlog of cases for immigrants in proceedings who are not detained (and thus have a lower priority for the immigration courts) is very long.  The agency is about to submit a report to Congress on alternatives to detention.  (Morton and Secretary Napolitano previously pledged to submit this report to Congress by Fall 2009.)

The Administration’s budget, to be released on February 1st, should contain more clues as to what we can expect in the near term regarding the effort to reform the detention system.  All of this will take resources, but the reforms ICE has begun to tackle are long overdue and deserve to be funded.  Given that more than 100 people have died in immigration detention since 2003, these reforms could quite literally be lifesaving.

You can view a video of the program with Assistant Secretary Morton on the Web site of C-Span.

Photo courtesy of www.ice.gov.

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

story.chicago.march.cnnDo 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.

Photo courtesy of www.cnn.com