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07/18/11 | The Case for Discretion and Proportionality in Our Immigration System

Washington D.C. - It has long been the case that those responsible for carrying out and enforcing our nation's laws do so with a measure of discretion and proportionality.  Every day, law enforcement officials and judges exercise discretion in charging and sentencing decisions, weighing differing priorities and social values, and matching punishments with crimes.  Consequently, minors are treated differently in the criminal system, and traffic violators and murderers receive different punishments. The use of judgment and proportionality is so ingrained in our legal system—with the exception of immigration law—that we take it for granted. Today, the need for discretion and proportionality is needed more than ever in our antiquated and over-burdened immigration system to ensure that the government spends its limited resources on high priority cases, and that immigrants who have a strong case for remaining in the U.S. are able to do so if current law provides for an avenue of relief.  

To that end, a wide range of organizations, including the American Immigration Council, have been asking the Obama Administration to use its executive authority to exercise discretion in the immigration context. In June, Director John Morton of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memo outlining new guidance on the use of prosecutorial discretion in a wide range of circumstances.  The memo signals a greater commitment to using limited resources to enforce immigration law with an understanding of the need for measured action and fairness in the immigration context. 

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07/13/11 | More Fear and Loathing in the House Judiciary Committee

Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up two immigration bills that supposedly address community safety, but in reality are simply the latest attempts to restrict immigration and limit due process for immigrants. Neither Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011,” or Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011” (SAFE Act) offer solutions to the immigration crisis. Instead, Chairman Smith’s bill would authorize indefinite detention for a wide range of immigrants, while Rep. Goodlatte’s bill would eliminate the diversity visa—a lottery that offers 50,000 visas per year to immigrants from countries that send few people to the U.S. Once more, the House Judiciary Committee is using fear to restrict our immigration system.

While studies have repeatedly shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, “The Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011” attempts to exploit the public’s fear of crime to advance an anti-immigration agenda. The bill would expand the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to subject certain immigrants to indefinite—that is, potentially life-long—detention, even though the Supreme Court has held that such detention raises serious constitutional concerns. The bill relies on the continued detention of immigrants—many of whom have never committed a crime—as a stand-in for fixing the underlying problems of our broken immigration system. Similarly, the deceptively titled SAFE Act simply eliminates 50,000 visas that currently go to immigrants from many countries in Africa and elsewhere that have less of a tradition of immigrating to the U.S. 

Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, noted:

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06/24/11 | Are States Training Law Enforcement to Implement Restrictive Immigration Laws?

Washington, D.C. - While many states legislatures rejected Arizona-style immigration laws this year in anticipation of high costs, legal challenges and charges of racial profiling, others states—like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina—passed laws requiring law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone that is stopped or detained for any offense. Civil rights groups have sued in Georgia and Alabama and plan to challenge South Carolina’s law once the bill is signed. Federal courts found similar laws in Arizona and Utah unconstitutional and issued injunctions, baring law enforcement from implementing the laws. 

With lawsuits pending, however, local officials are now in a position of having to prepare for possible implementation of immigration laws. Local law enforcement, for example, is struggling to interpret the laws and provide training to officers—a struggle which could be further complicated if courts allow only some parts of the law to go forward.  In some cases, training is simply not taking place. Officials in Georgia are waiting for a judge’s ruling before training officers on the law, slated to take effect July 1st. Which begs the question, how, if at all, are law enforcement officers being trained in other states where similar laws have passed?

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06/14/11 | Once Again, Congress Pursues Costly E-Verify Legislation to the Peril of U.S. Economy

Washington D.C. - On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on the “Legal Workforce Act,” another enforcement-only bill introduced today by Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). The bill would make the electronic employment verification system “E-Verify” mandatory for all employers within two years (three for agriculture). Much like the other hearings conducted by the Subcommittee this year, Wednesday’s hearing is likely to promote tougher enforcement and more deportations as the solution to immigration reform, rather than offer a thoughtful analysis of what must be done to create an effective immigration system that stimulates our economy and supports workers and businesses.

E-Verify is a web-based technology that allows employers to check federal databases to determine whether their employees—U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and other foreign-born workers—are authorized to work in the U.S. While USCIS has made significant improvements in E-Verify, many problems still exist. An independent evaluation found that E-Verify is unable to identify unauthorized workers in half of the cases. At a time when the U.S. needs to stimulate its economy and create jobs, mandatory E-Verify will impose additional regulations and costs on businesses, and employers will have to fire U.S. citizens who are erroneously indentified as unauthorized to work. 

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06/09/11 | Immigrants in America: More Skilled and Educated Than Ever Before

Washington D.C. - Today, the Brookings Institution released a new report, The Geography of Immigrant Skills: Educational Profiles of Metropolitan Areas, which finds that more working-age immigrants hold college degrees than lack high-school diplomas. This newly-released data has broad implications for an immigration debate that is driven largely by myths and stereotypes of less-skilled, unauthorized immigrants while devoting scant attention to the high-skilled end of the labor spectrum. To effectively reform the U.S. immigration system to the benefit of the U.S. economy and workers, both high-skilled and less-skilled immigrants must be part of the discussion and the debate must be guided by more facts and less political rhetoric.

As the report points out “immigrants are now one-in-seven U.S. residents and almost one-in-six workers. They are a significant presence in various sectors of the economy such as construction and hospitality on the low-skill end, and information technology and health care on the high-skill end. While border enforcement and illegal immigration are a focal point, longer-term U.S. global competitiveness rests on the ability of immigrants and their children to thrive economically and to contribute to the nation’s productivity.” 

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06/08/11 | Misguided Opposition to So-Called "Sanctuary Cities" Continues

Washington D.C. - Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that he plans to resurrect his proposal to crack down on cities that provide "sanctuary" to unauthorized immigrants, even though the Department of Homeland Security and other government officials have found that so-called "sanctuary cities" do not exist. Local police agencies regularly cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify and detain immigrants who commit crimes, so it's hard to imagine why the Governor is looking for a solution without a problem.
 
What Perry is calling "santuary cities" are cities that have implemented community policing policies that prevent police agencies from asking community residents who have not been arrested to prove their legal immigration status. Based on the tenets of community policing, these policies make it safe for immigrant crime victims and witnesses to report criminals to the police and help put them behind bars.These policies make it easier for the police to do their jobs and make communities safer.
 
Debunking the Myth of "Sanctuary Cities" Community Policing Policies Protect Americans, written by Lynn Tramonte, responds to those who claim some cities are providing "sanctuary" to unauthorized immigrants and seek to abolish their community policing policies.  In it, police officials and others explain why community policing policies are so critical to their work and to keeping American communities safe.

To view the paper in its entirety see:

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05/17/11 | DHS Extends Temporary Protected Status to Haitians

Washington D.C. - Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took an important step on behalf of Haitians affected by last year’s devastating earthquake, demonstrating the humanitarian side of its immigration responsibilities.  Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that DHS would extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an additional eighteen months for Haitians currently residing in the United States. She also announced that she would permit Haitians who arrived up to one year after the earthquake, many of whom came in on visitor visas and other authorized measures, to apply for TPS.  The following is a statement from Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center.

“We applaud DHS’s decision both to extend the timing of TPS and to broaden the scope of people who qualify for it. In the chaotic days following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the men and women of DHS worked hard to provide relief to survivors, admitting many people temporarily to save them from devastation, disease, and starvation. While DHS quickly designated TPS status for those Haitians residing in the U.S. at the time of the earthquake, many others who came to the U.S. within days or weeks of the disaster were ineligible for TPS, but were also unable to return home. Today’s announcement addresses these problems and recognizes the extraordinary need for a compassionate and humane response to the devastation in Haiti.

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05/11/11 | Senators Reintroduce the DREAM Act

Washington, D.C. - Today, Senators Richard Durbin, Harry Reid, and Robert Menendez re-introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Last fall, the DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives, and garnered the support of a majority in the Senate, but was ultimately defeated when the Senate failed to invoke cloture and proceed to debate. The sponsors of the DREAM Act hope to build on last year’s momentum and continue to highlight the importance of fully utilizing the talent and potential of thousands of young people who are Americans in every way but their birth certificates.

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05/10/11 | President Obama Puts Immigration Reform Back on the Table

Washington, D.C. - Today, President Obama offered his most concrete articulation of a new way forward for resolving our broken immigration system. Echoing and expanding upon the concepts of innovation, entrepreneurship, and the American Dream, the President invited the American public to join him in pressing Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.   

Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, issued the following statement:

“The President continues to refine his argument that comprehensive immigration reform is a key component of ensuring our success in the 21st century. While this message cannot be repeated often enough, the blueprint for change released by the White House today marks a new page in the immigration debate. The blueprint offers numerous ideas that can be translated into specific legislation and will challenge both parties to come together to work in the country’s best interests. The blueprint also invites the public to engage Congress directly on this issue, setting the stage for a showdown between the President and the public—who overwhelmingly support immigration reform—and a recalcitrant Congress.   

We look forward to engaging in a more robust discussion of the economic impact of immigration, and we take today’s events as a signal that the Administration will continue to lead on this important issue. Immigration reform is on the table, and the time is long overdue for an honest, constructive debate over how to create a 21st century immigration system that is good for American workers and families, and reflects our history as a nation of immigrants.”

To view information on the economics of immigration reform, see: 

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04/11/11 | Filling the Leadership Void: What is President Obama’s Vision on Immigration?

Washington D.C. - More than two years into the Obama Administration, it is still unclear whether President Obama’s immigration agenda will ultimately be remembered as an enforcement-driven enterprise, or one that uses the full force of executive branch authority to improve our badly broken system. On the one hand, the President continues to voice support for comprehensive immigration reform that would create a new immigration system that is more fair, just, and practical than the unworkable system now in place. On the other hand, the Administration repeatedly trumpets the fact that it is deporting more people with greater efficiency than its predecessors. When confronted by this apparent contradiction, Administration officials claim that, in the absence of Congressional action, their hands are tied and they must simply enforce the dysfunctional laws that are now on the books. This response ignores the important and completely legitimate role that the Executive branch of government has always played in interpreting and implementing existing laws.

It is time for the Administration to more clearly define a vision for what its legacy on immigration will be, then take action to ensure that vision is reflected in its interpretation and implementation of immigration law. Without bold and decisive action, President Obama’s legacy on immigration will come to be defined by a do-nothing Congress with a chronic inability to pass legislative reform.

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