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Entries tagged "immigration"

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Dragnet Nation

August 10, 2011 ·

The Secure Communities program was always an intended tool for the war in Eastasia. Or was it Eurasia?

There is no societal benefit to family separation. CC Photo by cfpereda.The Obama administration continues to use Orwellian language in its quest to take the over-reaching Secure Communities nationwide. This pilot fingerprinting program would create a deportation dragnet for undocumented immigrants around the country. After struggling to nail down memoranda of agreement in states like Illinois and New York, and counties like Arlington, Virginia, the administration is now saying that local governments can't demand to be exempt from this program. Rather than listening to mounting concerns from state and local officials, it has dropped the premise that states, counties, and cities can opt out of this program.

Secure Communities hit a roadblock recently, when a judge ordered it release documents detailing its relationship with the FBI. Now the government is making the ICE-FBI relationship official, and has canceled its previously signed agreements with state governors. From the New Mexico Independent:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent out letters to 39 governors Friday, terminating all existing memoranda of agreement between states and ICE for the Secure Communities program, which shares fingerprints collected by state and local law enforcement to deport criminals. The letters say simply that such MOAs are not necessary to enforce the program.

ICE's letters made the claim that it doesn't have to ask for the information if it can get it from another federal agency. Here's an excerpt from the letter sent to Delaware Governor Jack Markell [pdf]:

ICE has determined that an MOA is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities in any jurisdiction. Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs.

This announcement, made last Friday, shows that ICE is being lazy in trying to justify its own powers. By claiming that it can simply share the information that the FBI gets, it avoids any obligation to meet the needs of the actual communities the agency says it wants to secure. Those communities have been calling for a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants for years, and have fought back this enforcement-only approach.

My fear is that President Obama's penchant for seeking the political center of every argument will render him unable to take a stand for humane immigration reform if and when such debate in Congress happens. As of now, it's hard to imagine it happening before 2013 at the least. Until then, there could be millions more deportations. And, millions more undocumented immigrants could wind up spending the rest of their lives on the underground economy. 

White House Cornered by Its Own Immigration Enforcement Record

July 29, 2011 ·

In the middle of a debt-ceiling debate that's highlighting so much of what's wrong with U.S. institutions of governance, President Barack Obama is clumsily defending his immigration enforcement actions and calling the system flawed at the same time. Somebody in the White House needs to realize that his call to ensure that such enforcement is humane is irrelevant. Obama's Republican opposition — lawmakers and presidential hopefuls — won't give one inch in their pursuit for an enforcement-only immigration strategy.

During Obama's latest address on immigration he repeated the same talking points about the history of the United States as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. In doing so, he seems eagerly trying to position himself at the political center of a non-existent debate. This is part of what he told the National Council of La Raza last Monday:

I promise you, we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane and best possible way.

Obama followed that by saying he couldn't change the law on his own, but a group of undocumented young people in the crowd responded with a loud "Yes you can!" that echoed the 2008 campaign slogan. Advocates have urged Obama to change his interpretation of current law and issue an executive order that would stop the deportation of young people and parents of U.S. citizens.

Felipe Matos of Presente.org talks to reporters after leading Dreamers in chanting during Obama's speech.

Obama's passive acceptance of solutions prescribed by the Department of Homeland Security — particularly Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton — has led to an increase in deportations. The deportation rate is rising in part thanks to programs like Secure Communities, which enables law enforcement authorities to share a fingerprint database with immigration authorities, and Operation Streamline, which makes it easier to convict and deport people apprehended at the border.

Obama's critics have taken a direct and succinct tone. From Frank Sharry at America's Voice:

You are the president; you can steer your administration's policies and practices so that they line up with your values and priorities, yet your administration is deporting more immigrants than ever. With Republican hardliners controlling the House, chances for a much-needed legislative breakthrough are slim, but you have plenty of authority, Mr. President. You have the authority to protect young people eligible for the DREAM Act, you have the authority to overhaul rather than expand deeply flawed enforcement programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g), and you have the authority to make it easier for families to stay together rather than get ripped apart. In other words, Mr. President, "Yes you can!"

The immigrant rights movement, and the hundreds of individuals and organizations seeking to increase the political power of Latinos and other U.S. ethnic groups have had to balance the short- and long- term prospects of criticizing Obama. In this case, advocating against Obama is a double-edged sword. Call off the pressure, and become irrelevant during the 2012 debate. Endanger his re-election, and we'll wind up with someone worse on immigration in the White House.

I believe Obama is tone-deaf to a moral message. He's offering a political one in return. In doing so, he's out of touch with the impact his own policies have. 

Driving Immigrants Underground

July 22, 2011 ·

Should undocumented immigrants have the right to obtain driver's licenses or government-issued ID cards? This question often dominates the immigration debate at the local level.

States have the authority to follow their own guidelines for issuing driver's licenses and ID cards that don't have to preclude undocumented immigrants from obtaining them.

But exercising that right can prove politically toxic. The issue was a thorn on Gov. Gray Davis’ side when he was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It also tripped up Hillary Clinton, who tried to avert New York’s debate on the issue when she sought to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 2008.

New Mexico is bringing the license question back into the spotlight. Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has ordered the state's Motor Vehicle Department to send letters to 10,000 random undocumented immigrants who have obtained state driver's licenses to prove they still live in New Mexico. Martinez’s Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla made a national security argument for this move:

"They're leaving New Mexico with a government-issued ID, that gives them access to federal buildings and the ability to get on an airplane," said Padilla.

Washington State recently revoked the license of Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out last month as an undocumented immigrant after a successful writing career in publications like The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and the Huffington Post. From the Seattle Times:

Brad Benfield, a Washington state Department of Licensing spokesman, said officials canceled the card earlier this week. It means that if Vargas's license is checked by law enforcement or anyone else, he will show up as not having a license at all.

It's not an uncommon step for the department to take.

Benfield said the department has canceled 187 licenses so far this year based on fraud that was discovered through use of facial-recognition technology. In most cases, the drivers had more than one record in the system.

What should undocumented immigrants do? States like New Mexico and Washington see a surge of applications by people without social security numbers precisely because immigrants travel there to seek opportunities not currently granted to them in their state of residence.

Immigration reform is a game of societal benefits and responsibilities. Driver's licenses make immigrants more productive and can facilitate their integration into U.S. society. Taking away their driver's licenses is unlikely to deter immigrants who need the mobility to work or drive their kids to school. It will, however, make it more likely for such immigrants to be captured and deported by the authorities if they roll by a stop sign or have a broken taillight.

As Eddie Garcia and Sandra Khalifa show at Campus Progress, the Obama administration deported almost 100,000 people between March and June. About 55 percent of the immigrants the government deportede weren't criminals. More deportations break up families, and that’s bad for both the United States and the countries immigrants come from.

Most importantly, the worst way to make the immigration debate more constructive and more likely to lead to a rational shift in national policy is to dwell on issues like driver's licenses. It doesn't address the root causes of undocumented immigration and it simply makes it harder for entrepreneurial undocumented immigrants to get ahead.

A Coming out Party for Jose Antonio Vargas

June 22, 2011 ·

Today the journalism world is shocked by the announcement that Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning writer who has worked for The Washington Post and Huffington Post and published pieces in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, is an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas, whose mother sent him on a plane from the Philippines at age 12, announced he lacks legal status on the Define American website that was launched today. Like many others in his situation, he had no idea he was undocumented until attempting to partake in the coming-of-age ritual of driving a car:

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. ‘‘This is fake,’’ she whispered. ‘‘Don’t come back here again.’’

Vargas narrates his struggles to deal with the situation, and his decision at age 22, to fight for his dream of becoming a journalist by fraudulently obtaining a driver’s license in another state so that he could fill out the paperwork necessary to get an internship at The Washington Post. For the next eight years, Vargas would rise in the journalism industry, while at the same time becoming more deeply entrenched into his secret status. From his perspective, acknowledging his sexual orientation was easier than sharing his undocumented status:

Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden.

Vargas credits his newfound courage to the activism of people like the members of the Trail of Dreams, a group of four students who walked from Miami to Washington, DC last year to bring awareness to their plight as U.S.-raised undocumented students. Later on the year, a group of Chicago students from the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) led the initiative for a “National Coming Out of the Shadows” day. They led a march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in downtown Chicago.

Jose Antonio Vargas has acknowledged he is undocumented. Creative Commons photo by Campus Progress.

These two actions were honored last weekend at the Netroots Nation conference with the Freedom From Fear Award, along with others who have demonstrated courage in fighting for a better world. The importance of their activism, similarly to Vargas’ coming out today, is that it highlights the intersection of identities of LGBT and undocumented youth. Both the Miami and Chicago actions featured LGBT youth prominently, making an impact on an immigrant community that still keeps LGBT advocacy in the periphery.

Like all these advocates, I was brought here at an early age — as a 13-year-old Argentine boy, to be precise. Like Vargas, I benefitted from access to higher education in California and to a driver’s license in the Pacific Northwest. But I also benefitted from a support network for undocumented youth that started at UCLA in 2003. Because of that support group, I became a public advocate for the Dream Act.

Through that work, I’ve had the opportunity to address many groups in churches and classrooms where I openly shared my story of being an undocumented immigrant, and growing up in the United States without legal status. On a few occasions, I was approached by people who were also undocumented but felt unable to share it with the world for fear of repercussions at home or in the workplace. I carry with me the memories of an L.A.-based architect, a dental assistant in Orange County, and many high schoolers who were afraid of coming out, and wondered if their lives would ever improve.

Today, Vargas’ action will have an impact on many people like them, and on many Americans who have been fed a narrow-minded view of undocumented immigrants by sloppy media coverage and an opportunistically nativist right-wing.

Vargas credits his close network of friends as a source of strength in making this decision, and mentions the Dream Act as a source of hope through the years; reminiscing of its prominent 2002 roll-out as a bipartisan bill championed by Utah’s conservative senator Orrin Hatch alongside Illinois liberal Dick Durbin. In the wait for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the United States has lost the potential talents of thousands, while people like Vargas, myself, and the Dream activists have become exceptional success stories through hard work and, frankly, a bit of luck.

Vargas’ announcement shines light on his entrapment within an immigration system that offers deportation as the only response and appropriate punishment. Absent reforms that acknowledge that the system is broken, that people brought here as children bear no culpability for our lack of status, and that LGBT families should be equally eligible for immigration benefits, Vargas has no legal options to adjust his status. Still, he has chosen to become public to carry the national conversation on immigration forward.

Congratulations to Jose Antonio Vargas for taking this important step. May his story enlighten thousands and bring us closer to a fair and humane immigration reform.

Need a Quick and Thoughtless Response to Any Public Policy Issue in Arizona? Blame Immigrants.

June 20, 2011 ·

John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, has spent the last three years championing regressive measures like his home state’s SB1070 “Papers Please” law and privately expressing anger and frustration over Latino support for Barack Obama at the polls three years ago.

Now, the man who championed the 2006 Senate bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants is blaming migrants for the fires that have devastated vast area of Arizona and New Mexico.

From CNN:

Sen. John McCain is blaming illegal immigrants for starting some of the wildfires that have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona.

"There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain, R-Arizona, said Saturday at a press conference. "The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border."

McCain’s statements are troublesome in a number of ways. By claiming that a secure border would solve the nation's immigration problems, McCain furthers the view that a fenced-up southern border is an urgent necessity.

A shut border is an impossible goal, grounded in the nativist imagination and supported by private and military contractors eager to build a taxpayer-funded industrial complex out of immigrant surveillance and detention. A more militarized southern border does nothing to address the complex root causes of migration. The economic push factors that drive Mexicans and Central Americans to take the risk of crossing the border without inspection will remain, and human and drug traffickers will continue to operate underground migration services for these desolate populations.

Moreover, McCain's statements further the "us vs. them" mentality that has led to atrocious policies of restriction that damage the economy and social trust. It may very well be that an unattended campsite on a migrant trail was the result of the fires (made worse by a regional drought that may be affected by climate change). But McCain should lead like a statesman, letting the respective agencies investigate the cause of the fires and refraining from providing distractions that further divide people. After all, the establishment of desert crossings is directly related to the failures of politicians like McCain forcing our society into a futile and expensive quest for a close border, which began in urban crossings and has driven migrants to the desert.

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