WASHINGTON - Congress may have finally found an immigration issue it can agree on in an election year: letting in more Irish people.
At a time when the volatile issue of comprehensive immigration reform is hopelessly stalled in a divided Congress, senators of both parties are rallying behind legislation that would allow 10,500 Irish nationals to come to the U.S. to work each year.
The legislation by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has been attacked by critics as a cynical ploy to win Irish-American votes as Brown battles for re-election in a state where one in four residents is of Irish descent. It also has been decried by both pro-immigration and anti-immigration groups as an example of favoritism toward European immigrants over Hispanics and Asians.
But supporters of the bill, including Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, say they are trying to help reverse discrimination against Irish nationals that was inadvertently created by a 1965 overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.
That overhaul, designed to end a bias against immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa, made it difficult for Irish immigrants to obtain visas despite their strong cultural ties to the U.S., say supporters of Brown's bill. Hispanics and Asians have been the dominant immigrant groups to the U.S. since 1965 and, as they become citizens, their close family members have been given priority for U.S. visas as part of the U.S. government's emphasis on family reunification.
About 40 million Americans identify themselves as being of Irish descent, or about 13 percent of the U.S. population of more than 313 million. Hispanics make up about 16 percent of U.S. residents. The number of Irish immigrants granted permanent legal status in the U.S. has plunged from nearly 38,000 in the 1960s to about 16,000 in the 10 years from 2000 through 2009.
Raul Rodriguez and Alberto Ledesma live parallel lives. Both proudly claim UC Berkeley as their alma mater. Both have worked hard academically. And both have published personal essays about the stigma of being an undocumented student.
But that’s where their lives diverge. Ledesma was fortunate enough to gain amnesty via the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), federal legislation that granted amnesty to immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1986. Rodriguez, on the other hand, remains undocumented because legislation like IRCA no longer exists.
“Even now, years after amnesty, I get all tongue-tied when anyone asks me about my immigrant past. I become that undocumented immigrant Cantinflas, twisting words and phrases until nothing I say makes sense. The problem is, I don’t know where my Cantinflas and where the true me begins.”
Rodriguez says he shares that same feeling of being constantly distressed. If he were granted amnesty, he says he would take every opportunity that presented itself, the simplest of all being travel. Before discovering he was undocumented, Rodriguez had plans to move to New York City and Paris, but all of those plans disappeared upon hearing the truth about his legal status.
“Being undocumented means re-shifting your life and not doing what you love,” he notes.
Today, Rodriguez lives a life that he can only describe as “going through the motions.” He is not alone. A study conducted by the Immigration Policy Center in 2008 showed that 25 percent of all people in the U.S. are either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. The same study concluded that 40 percent of all immigrants currently in the U.S. came to this country before 1990, which suggests that they've since established deep roots in this country. Many are like Ledesma and Rodriguez, having grown up in the U.S. yet never fully embraced as Americans.
Campos, Chávez and Zambrano are all undocumented students who are enrolled at Santa Fe Community College. Along with high school student Udell Calzadillas -- 3.7 grade-point average -- they have joined a national movement dubbed "Coming Out of the Shadows."
They are asking the community to support comprehensive immigration reform and the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the Dream Act, which would provide a legal path to citizenship for youth who complete two years in the military or two years at an institution of higher learning, and fulfill certain other requirements.
In May 2011, the Dream Act was re-introduced to Congress by Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Democratic Rep. Howard Berman of California. Although the legislation has failed to gain enough support in Congress, several states such as California allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and to qualify for some state financial aid.
In New Mexico, a student without a Social Security number also can pay in-state tuition.
"I have a dream of becoming somebody in the future, of being the example for my family," said Zambrano, 20. After working in the hospitality industry, he knew he didn't want a future there, he said. So he enrolled at the community college and plans to keep working toward a four-year degree.
"Sometimes I question myself. Should I keep studying? For what? I won't be able to work," Zambrano said. "But I'm still here."
Young adults like him have joined "Coming Out" campaigns in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York to push the campaign's slogan: "Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic."
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) - Immigration lawyers want the Department of Homeland Security to release information on its Criminal Alien Program, which is believed to be involved in nearly half of all the "removal proceedings."
The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association Connecticut Chapter sued the Department of Homeland Security in a federal FOIA complaint.
Critics have said that the so-called "criminal alien program" does not target criminals at all, but is used to enlist local governments in deportations.
"The Criminal Alien Program ('CAP') is an enormous, nationwide initiative of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ('ICE'), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and is implicated in approximately half of all removal proceedings," the complaint states. "CAP's enforcement operations take place in tandem with law enforcement in every state, and as a result of CAP, individuals are often detained by ICE and deported before they have been convicted of a crime or have had the opportunity to speak with an immigration attorney. Despite CAP's role in facilitating the removal of hundreds of thousands of individuals each year, and despite serving as ICE's 'bedrock' enforcement initiative, very little information about CAP is available to the public. What little is known about the program suggests that CAP exacerbates racial profiling and other abusive police practices."
The complaint adds: "Congress never enacted legislation authorizing CAP. Nor did DHS officially promulgate regulations to govern CAP. As a result, little publicly available information exists that could illuminate how CAP functions. Instead, DHS and ICE stitched CAP together from interpretations of vague congressional appropriations provisions and a patchwork of administrative initiatives, thwarting public understanding of the program."
Immigration advocates continue to march to oppose enforcement-only state laws, deportation proceeding and to support immigration reform measures.
The recent deportation proceedings against Miami student Daniela Pelaez and her sister have sparked outrage in South Florida, with thousands taking to the streets last week to protest.
Speaking on the Spanish-language news show Al Punto on Sunday, Pelaez told reporters that her lawyer had obtained a deferred action – a step that effectively halts deportation proceedings against her, and grants her two years to adjust her residency status in immigration court.
Congressman David Rivera, R-Florida, who met with Pelaez on the heels of the Miami protest, announced Friday that he would file the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status Act, or S.T.A.R.S. Act, which would allow undocumented immigrant youth who meet certain criteria to adjust their residency status.
But according to DRM Capitol, an organization that supports the DREAM Act, Rivera’s S.T.A.R.S. Act “is far from the more comprehensive DREAM Act that many undocumented youth organizations are fighting for.”
“This proposal is an orchestrated attempt to appeal to the important Latino voting block that will be critical to the 2012 elections,” adds DRM Capitol.
In its March/April issue, Mother Jones published its Immigration Hardliner Family Tree, a chart showing the links between organizations that support self-deportation or attrition through enforcement immigration policies and several GOP politicians, including Florida congressman Allen West.
GOP presidential candidates have said they support controversial immigration enforcement laws that currently exist in Alabama, Arizona and Georgia. Those candidates have also voiced their opposition to the DREAM Act, which polls show the majority of Latino voter support.
A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked two key sections of Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56. Thursday’s ruling came the same week that thousands of Latinos marched with African American leaders to commemorate the bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery 47 years ago.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined sections 27 and 30 of the state law until legal challenges brought by the federal government and a coalition of church and civil rights groups are resolved.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the nation’s policy for issuing visas is hurting the economy by limiting tourism and blocking overseas buyers of American products from coming to the U.S. for training.
“We will engage on the visa issue, which is frankly crippling us right now,” Kirk said today in Washington. “We hear from business after business, ‘We go, we make these sales, and my customers can’t get a visa to come here to learn how to use the product.’ We are past-due to have a common-sense immigration policy, and we need to have visa reform as part of that.”
In January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the nation needs to ease restrictions on immigrants who plan to open U.S. businesses, and create a separate visa for potential entrepreneurs.
Efforts at overhauling immigration laws are stymied in Congress, including a proposal to let temporary foreign workers enter the U.S. and help illegal immigrants advance toward citizenship. The debate has overshadowed the need to change the U.S. visa program, according to the Chamber, the largest business group.
Current laws make it difficult for people to enter the U.S. and start a business, according to a Jan. 25 report from the Chamber and the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based nonprofit. Expansion of the visa program would also aid companies’ access to foreign- born graduates of U.S. universities, helping economic growth, the authors of the report said.
President Barack Obama on Jan. 19 gave the departments of Homeland Security and State 60 days to write a plan for speeding visa applications from China and Brazil. Obama’s order recommends cutting the process to three weeks from four months.
Visa-processing capacity in China and Brazil must increase 40 percent in the next year, according to the order.
If there's a controversial new anti-immigration law that's captured national attention, chances are that it has Kris Kobach's imprimatur. A telegenic law professor with flawless academic credentials—Harvard undergrad, Yale Law School—Kobach helped Arizona lawmakers craft the infamous immigration law that passed in the spring of 2010. He's coached legislators across the country in their efforts to pass dozens of similar measures, ranging from Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri to the small town of Fremont, Nebraska, pop. 26,000. His record has helped propel him into elected office, becoming Kansas' secretary of state just six months after the passage of Arizona's SB 1070.
Kobach routinely denies that he's the progenitor of the anti-immigration laws he's drafted or defended. Rather, he insists he simply assists officials already committed to tougher enforcement policies. "I did not generate the motivation to pass the law...I am merely the attorney who comes in, refines, and drafts their statutes," he says.
But advocates on both sides of the immigration debate agree that Kobach's influence has been far-reaching. Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group, calls Kobach "instrumental in helping states and localities deal with the federal government's authority." Vivek Malhotra, a lawyer who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union when it tussled with Kobach in court, says, "What Kris Kobach has done as a lawyer is really gone out to localities around the country and really used them as experimental laboratories for pushing questionable legal theories about how far states and local governments can go."
If Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has his way, Mitt Romney’s first term as president will see the largest forced exodus of people from the United States since the mid-1950s. Kobach, an adviser to the Romney campaign on immigration policy, is also the chief legal architect of a long-standing conservative campaign to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Central America, who come to America to work .
“If we had a true nationwide policy of self-deportation, I believe we would see our illegal alien population cut in half at a minimum very quickly,” Kobach told Salon in a recent intervew. With an estimated 11 million undocumented residents in the country, Kobach is hoping to force 5.5 million people to leave the country by 2016
Kobach, elected to statewide office in Kansas in 2010, advocates “self-deportation” but says he does not want “to do it at gunpoint.” Undocumented residents, he said, “should go home on their own volition, under their own will, pick their own day, get their things in order and leave. That’s a more humane way.”
A 45-years old Harvard graduate and father of three, Kobach is the man behind the Republican front-runner’s most clearly articulated immigration goal: “Self-deportation.” While the term does not appear on Romney’s campaign website, Kobach uses it all the time. With the Republican candidates gathering in Mesa Arizona tonight for a nationally televised debate, the discussion of immigration issues may well touch on Kobach’s rhetoric, as well as his legal accomplishments.
BISBEE — A special report issued earlier this month by the Immigration Policy Center called “Discrediting ‘Self Deportation’ as Immigration Policy” argues that forcing all illegal immigrants to leave the United States would make life difficult for everyone.
The strategy called “attrition through enforcement” was conceived by national immigration restrictionist organizations, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies and Numbers USA.
“While these groups favor severe restrictions on all immigration and support mass deportation, they are also proponents of this strategy. Recognizing the current political reality, they have sought to market the idea of attrition through enforcement as a kinder, gentler alternative to the harsh, expensive, and unworkable strategy of mass deportation,” states the Immigration Policy Center report.
“According to CIS (Center for Immigration Studies), attrition through enforcement involves reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., and deterring future unauthorized immigrants from coming, by stepping up enforcement of existing laws and increasing the incentives for immigrants to ‘deport themselves.’ As Numbers USA puts it: ‘There is no need for taxpayers to watch the government spend billions of their dollars to round up and deport illegal aliens; they will buy their own bus or plane tickets back home if they can no longer earn a living here,’” it continues.
According to its Web site, the Immigration Policy Center is the research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council. IPC’s mission is to shape a rational conversation on immigration and immigrant integration. In its report, the group points out that attrition through enforcement has not resulted in a significant reduction in the unauthorized immigrant population, and it has had a devastating impact on communities.