Archive | April, 2013

No Parking: Immigration Reform in a Lot on Adephi Road

28 Apr

Some of the most contentious issues raised in recent immigration reform discussions – prioritizing business over family, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the reach and responsibilities of law enforcement – were played out in a parking lot in Hyattsville, Maryland yesterday. The specific debate was about parking, but the arguments and proposals for resolution may as well have been about how U.S. legislators, courts, and law enforcement decide to permit non-native-born men, women, and children to enter and remain in the United States.

Every Saturday, Northwestern High School hosts a very popular Flea Market run by the International Studies Program. This Flea Market takes place in the main school parking lot – vendors sell everything from bananas to bandanas to barbecue. Several Saturdays in the spring, Northwestern High School also hosts track and field meets for schools in the Catholic Youth Organization of the Archdiocese of Washington. Several hundred students from dozens of schools in the area participate in these meets – well over a thousand athletes and their families attend the track and field events every Saturday. Parking is always a problem at these meets, and especially so at Northwestern, when the main lot is filled with vendors who have been there since dawn setting up their stands. Families arrive to the track meet and – finding no legitimate parking spots left – resort to parking along the curbs and on the hillside behind the bleachers.

Yesterday, the track meet organizers announced that cars parked on the hillside would be ticketed and towed. Grumbling parents and grandparents trudged out of the bleachers to move their cars, some loudly claiming that the school should cancel the flea market on weekends when track meets or other high attendance events are held – why ruin the goodwill gained by hosting the meets in the first place? A young gentleman with a hand-held electronic ticketing device was citing certain cars, vans, and trucks parked haphazardly along the curb. He was clearly employed by an agency authorized to issue parking tickets at the school, but his weekend-casual uniform also indicated he was not a member of the Prince George’s County police force. He spoke to the parents: “I am only ticketing those vehicles blocking the fire and emergency vehicle access lanes. I am not going to ticket those cars parked along the yellow curb that are not blocking access to the school or fields. I cannot guarantee the police will not come and ticket your cars, but it is a weekend and a big hassle for them to write out individual tickets by hand when I can do it faster and easier on my device here – and I am solving the emergency access problem. But I promise you I am only ticketing the most egregious offenders.” Pleased by this reasonable response, families made their way back to the meet. However, an hour later the meet organizers announced that the police were ticketing and towing any cars parked along the yellow curbs. Hundreds of parents who had been assured that only the most dangerously-parked vehicles would be cited left the bleachers to move their cars into the surrounding neighborhood. “But you promised!” and “Cancel the stupid flea market!” they cried. The consequences were financial and emotional – some were ticketed, some missed their kids placing in a photo-finish 400 meter dash. Some simply reparked their cars and purchased barbecue from the flea market vendors.

Northwestern should not have to cancel a long-standing and popular flea market because of a special event, nor should it discontinue hosting middle school sporting events because of lack of ample parking – both the ongoing commercial enterprise and the family events contribute to community goodwill and raise the profile of the school as long as law enforcement is clear on – and willing to cooperate with – the school’s priorities. Business and family can coexist. Lower-rung authorities are capable of quick and reasonable decisionmaking. Law enforcement authorities with overlapping jurisdiction should communicate to avoid giving conflicting information to the affected public. Enforcement zealotry eviscerates goodwill and secures nothing. Perhaps the legislators, policy makers, and attorneys who are shaping immigration reform will lift their heads from the minutiae of 844-page proposals and gain insight into the broader issues at play during a seemingly unrelated event. Northwestern is hosting three more Saturday track meets this season.

Will the Courts Invalidate Deferred Action?

24 Apr[Crown]-Keep-Calm-And-Apply-For-Daca

There is much hue and cry over a federal district court judge possibly blocking the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In a lawsuit filed by Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, on behalf of ICE Union head, Christopher Crane, challenging the DACA program, Judge Reed O’Connor (Northern District of Texas) has indicated that he is likely to find that the program violates federal law.

Previously, Judge O’ Connor had ruled that agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement had standing to bring suit as the prosecutorial discretion directive urged them to violate federal law, and the agents believed that by not following the directive, they would be subject to discipline and other adverse employment consequences.

Beneficiaries and recent applicants for the deferred action program should rest assured that even if the lawsuit is successful, it should not invalidate or affect their ability to legally work and reside in the country.

First, the judge has not yet issued a preliminary injunction against DACA. In fact, the case presents complicated issues of whether the federal judge even has jurisdiction to hear the case as it appears to be an employment dispute. Judge O’Connor has therefore asked the parties–the Department of Justice and lawyers for the ICE Union–to brief whether the  Collective Bargaining Agreement and the CSRA bars the federal district court from hearing the case.

Second, even if Judge O’ Connor grants a preliminary injunction, there are additional questions as to whether the injunction only affects applications filed in the Northern District of Texas. Regardless of the answer, the Department of Justice is likely to file an appeal to the Fifth Circuit, and seek a stay of the injunction, such that the operation of the deferred action program continues smoothly.

Third, upon appeal, the Fifth Circuit is likely to uphold deferred action. Prosecutorial discretion has a long history in U.S. immigration law and agency practice, so Judge O’ Connor is simply wrong in stating that immigration laws mandate the detention of non-citizens present in the U.S. without legal status. In fact, Judge O’ Connor erroneously finds that DHS has prosecutorial discretion in the latter stages through the cancelling of removal proceedings but not in the initial stages, which hardly makes any sense.

In the meantime, the DACA program continues to be available to eligible undocumented youth. Prosecutorial discretion is also unlikely to go away and a federal judge in Northern Texas does not have the ability to undo decades of U.S. immigration law.

We will continue to document the efforts of bureaucrats within ICE to stymie intelligent immigration enforcement through insubordination, lawsuits, leaks, and more generic tactics like refusal to complete trainings and sick-outs.

The lesson of the day is hence, keep calm and keep applying for DACA.

Did Moncrieffe Kill Two Birds With One Stone?

24 Apr

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The Supreme Court’s decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder represents a big win for those—like us—who believe lawfully present immigrants should not be deported for relatively minor drug offenses. The question now is: how big?

In a 7-2 decision written by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that a marijuana distribution conviction should not be considered an “aggravated felony” under the immigration laws unless court records demonstrate that the offense involved payment or more than a small amount of marijuana. Yet in so doing, the court appears to suggest that immigrants should always receive the benefit of the doubt if court records fail to indicate whether they were convicted of an “aggravated felony,” even when they are applying for relief from removal. If so, the decision would effectively resolve a question that was distinct from, but related to, the one before the Justices.

Some background: For immigrants in removal proceedings, having an “aggravated felony” conviction carries two distinct consequences. First, it makes them removable from the United States (i.e. subject to deportation). Second, it makes them ineligible for most discretionary forms of relief—including asylum and cancellation—that would allow them to lawfully remain in the country notwithstanding the conviction. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the government carries the burden of demonstrating that an immigrant is removable, while immigrants carry the burden of demonstrating they are eligible for relief. Thus, in holding that Mr. Moncrieffe was not convicted of an aggravated felony for purposes of removability, the Supreme Court could have left open whether he would have to affirmatively show he was not convicted of such a crime to qualify for relief from removal.

Fortunately, Justice Sotomayor’s decision appears to kill two birds with one stone, suggesting that a conviction cannot be considered an aggravated felony for purposes of removability or relief unless clearly established by the record of conviction. How do we know? For one thing, the opinion repeatedly implies that the inquiry into whether an immigrant was convicted of an “aggravated felony” should be one in the same for purposes of removability and relief—even saying in footnote 4 that its analysis is “the same in both contexts.” For another, the majority specifically says (on page 19) that an immigrant like Mr. Moncrieffe “may seek relief from removal such as asylum or cancellation of removal”—and, as importantly, that Immigration Judges could deny relief as a matter of discretion if additional facts surfaced to suggest the immigrant was a legitimate drug trafficker.

If this interpretation of Moncrieffe is correct, it would mean that numerous federal circuit courts now wrongly require immigrants to affirmatively demonstrate they have not been convicted of an aggravated felony to obtain relief from removal. By making immigrants prove a negative, these decisions (such as Young v. Holder in the Ninth Circuit, and Salem v. Holder in the Fourth Circuit) have the same practical effect as the position the Supreme Court has now rejected: denying relief from removal to otherwise qualified immigrants simply because their conviction records do not specify the surrounding circumstances of their offense. We hope government attorneys will read Moncrieffe the same way. You can be sure, however, that Benach Ragland will raise this argument and continue to litigate the issue until the Supreme Court makes explicit what Moncrieffe makes implicit.

The April 10 Immigrant Rights Rally by Liana Montecinos

23 Apr


Rally“¡Obama escucha, seguimos en la lucha!” This shouting was heard from downtown on 14th street as Sandra, Mariela, and I made posters to join thousands of people at the immigration rally held in front of the Capitol on Wednesday, April 10th Since my arrival to the United States in 1999, I have attended every immigration rally in Washington, D.C.  I find every experience of a rally to be very rewarding including being able to shout nonstop on the streets of DC without getting arrested.  I am inspired and ignited by the hard working people who are forced to live in the shadows of society, who cannot drive or work, pay in-state tuition where their parents have lived and paid taxes for years, who did not have the chance to say goodbye to a family member who died in their country of origin, and who-above all-never lose faith in justice.  Last Wednesday, thousands of undocumented brothers and sisters ventured out of the shadows of their homes, work, and communities, taking public transportation or carpooling, walking unafraid in Washington DC, to wave their colorful flags and say “presente.”  I saw people of all ages and colors lifting the American flag, being proud of being in this nation and wanting to desperately have an opportunity to achieve the American dream.  On last Wednesday, I saw the human face of the immigration issue. I hope and believe our President and our legislators saw it too.

Summary of the Newly-Introduced Senate Immigration Bill

17 Apr

Here is a short summary of the Senate immigration bill released to the general public late last night. Keep in mind that this is just proposed legislation, and no one can or should apply for anything yet. We’ve a long way to go before this legislation becomes reality.

Title I Border Security

This title provides for phased in border security measures that will achieve and maintain effective control in high risk border sectors of the Southern border.

  • Border Plan: Stage one requires the Secretary of DHS to develop a Comprehensive Border Security Strategy and Southern Border Fencing Strategy that must be submitted to Congress before the registration period for Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPI) begins. These strategies must be designed to achieve an ability to achieve persistent surveillance of the border using both technology and human resources and to achieve a 90% effectiveness rate for apprehensions and returns in high risk border sectors. This bill appropriates $3 billion for this plan. The Secretary’s plan must be operational before any RPIs may apply for adjustment of status.
  • Triggers: In addition, the Secretary must develop and implement a fencing plan (up to $1.5 billion); Everify must be mandatory and operational; and biographic entry-exit at air and seaports must be implemented before RPIs may adjust to permanent residence.
  • Southwest Governors Commission: After five years, if the specified goals of 90% effectiveness and persistent surveillance have not been met, a Southern Border Security Commission will be established to make further recommendations for achieving the targets. The Commission will recommend up to $2 billion in additional spending that would be available achieve the border security goals if they have not yet been met.
  • Additional Resources: To further ensure completion of these targets, Border Patrol personnel and resources will be increased, additional funding for border prosecutions in the Tucson sector are funded, and the authority of the National Guard to assist in border security operations is codified.
  • Civil Rights: To protect the integrity of the system, additional resources and training will be devoted to implementing a DHS-wide use of force policy and associated training in appropriate use of force, individual rights, and sensitivity to cultural and environmental impact of federal operations on border communities. A Border Oversight Taskforce is established to take testimony and conduct hearings in order to review and recommend changes to existing border policies. The current duties of the USCIS Ombudsman’s office will be expanded to encompass all DHS immigration functions.

Title II Legalization (Registered Provisional Immigrant program) and Legal Immigration

  • This title provides a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million undocumented workers in the United States. This title establishes a new framework for future legal immigration that maximizes the number of visas made available annually to persons in family, employment, and a new merits based visa category. In addition to the current family and employment based systems, two additional “merit-based systems” would be created.

    SubPart A. Creation of Registered Provisional Immigrant program

  • Registration Requirements: Immigrants who entered the United States before December 31, 2011 and have been physically present in the U.S. since that time will be eligible to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status provided they pass background checks, have not been convicted of serious criminal activity, pay any assessed tax liability, pay appropriate fees and a $500 fine.
  • Initial registration will be valid for six years, provides for work and travel authorization, and includes spouses and children.
  • Renewal: RPIs applying for renewal will be subject to new background check, evidence of having been regularly employed while meeting public charge requirements or having income and resources at 125% of the poverty level evidence of learning English and payment of fees and a $500 fine.
  • Adjustment of status to Permanent Residency: At the end of ten years, RPIs may apply for adjustment of status, provided that they can continue to demonstrate eligibility per the renewal standards (with a heightened income requirement) with payment of an additional $1000 fine. Individuals present in the U.S. for 10 years in lawful status can adjust status. RPIs may not adjust status until the family and employment backlogs are cleared and the border security triggers are met. RPIs may apply for naturalization after a three year wait, making the total path to citizenship a 13 year wait.
  • Timeline: There is an initial 12 month period for regulations. Then there is a one year initial application period which can be extended for up to one year at the discretion of the Secretary.
  • DREAM Act: Individuals who entered the United States before the age of 16 and who have completed high school in the U.S. may register for RPI status through the DREAM Act. There is no age cap for the program. Five years after registration, DREAM RPIs may apply for adjustment of status; their time in RPI status will count towards eligibility for naturalization, allowing them to become citizens immediately after receiving their green card.
  • Agricultural Program: Undocumented farm workers who have made a substantial prior commitment to agricultural work in the United States would be eligible for an Agricultural Card. Agricultural workers who fulfill future Agricultural Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture, show that they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime, and pay a $400 fine are eligible to adjust to legal permanent resident status.
  • Grant Programs: Creates an Office of New Americans and additional integration initiatives. Provides funding for immigration legal services.SubPart B. Legal Immigration Reforms
  • A new “Track Two” merit-based system is created to adjust the status of individuals lawfully present in the U.S. for over ten years with work authorization and to eliminate all existing legal immigration backlogs within the next 8 years. The Secretary is permitted to clear the backlog of family and employment based petitions that have been pending for more than 5 years.
  • Lawful Permanent Residents’ spouses and children become “immediate relatives” and are uncapped: Current family based categories will be revised to permit the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to immigrate immediately.
  • Additional changes to the current family system: The current sibling category will be eliminated 18 months after enactment, but the backlog reduction program will include processing of all sibling petitions submitted before expiration of the program and US citizens can petition for the sibling for up to 18 months after enactment. The third family preference category (adult married children of US citizens) has an age cap of 31.
  • New Family “V” Visa: Creates a new nonimmigrant visa for families with approved petitions to work and live in the U.S. while waiting for their green card. Allows other family members including siblings to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year
  • International adoption harmonization allows adoption of foreign-born children till age of 18, as opposed tp the current age of 16.
  • Equal treatment for all stepchildren, as in the age until which a step-child is considered a child is amended from 18 to 21.
  • Clarification of 203(h)(3) of the Child Status Protection Act – Children who age out after complex mathematical formula still retain the original priority date of any family-visa, employment-visa and diversity visa petition filed on behalf of their parents, and can apply the original priority date to a subsequent petition filed on their behalf by a parent.
  • Employment-Based Reforms: Spouses and children of employment based visa applicants, STEM graduates with doctoral degrees, certain other experts and professionals, and certain foreign doctors are exempt from the employment visa cap. The cap on low-skilled workers is raised.
  • New Merit-Based System: Creates a “Track One” merit based visa which will initially allocate 120,000 visas annually based on a points system. Equally weighted points will be awarded for factors such as education, employment, and length of residence in the US, with the possibility of increasing the allotment by 5% (capped at 250,000) in any year where unemployment is under 8.5%. A portion of these merit visas will be set aside for high skilled and low skilled workers.
  • Additional Backlog Reduction and Improvements: Additional provisions to streamline processing and reduce backlogs including elimination of employment based country caps, increase in family based country limits, and recapture of unused visa numbers are authorized. Permanently authorizes popular programs for foreign doctor (Conrad-30), religious worker recruitment; and EB-5 investors. Includes numerous other technical fixes to improve and streamline current visa programs, many of which were included in the Menendez/Honda Reuniting Families Act (additional protections for stepchildren, widows, and other family members.)
  • Judicial Discretion: Expands availability of waivers for unlawful presence, false claims to U.S. citizenship, misrepresentation and expands authority of immigration judges and DHS to waive removal on humanitarian grounds, lowering the bar from extreme hardship to hardship for parents, spouses and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Title Three: Interior Enforcement

  • This title mandates E-Verify, provides additional worker protections, reforms the immigration court system and provides additional measures related to interior enforcement.
  • Five year phase-in of mandatory E-Verify: Establishes a phased-in expansion o current electronic employment verification system (E-verify) to cover all employers within a four year period, beginning with federal contractors and critical infrastructure employers. Requires identity verification through enhanced fraud-proof work authorization and green cards. Specifically prohibits creation of a national ID card.
  • Anti-fraud measures: Expands ability to protect against identity theft of Social Security numbers by allowing employees to block their social security number and gives employees access to personal E-verify history. It provides for photo identification mechanism as component of E-verify.
  • Due Process: Expands due process protections for employees to ensure that legal workers are not prevented from working due to errors in the system or because of employer negligence or misconduct. Provides for back-pay if an employee loses work unfairly due to system or employer error. Provides a stay of termination of employment to give the worker time to correct any errors in the system.
  • Worker Protections: Subparts B and C of this Title provide other miscellaneous protections for employers and employees, including pre-emption of state and local work authorization laws, expansion of U visas in employer abuse situations (POWER ACT), creation of mandatory exit verification system, program funding. The bill also cracks down on labor recruitment abuse.
  • Refugee/Asylum Issues: Streamlines processing in refugee and asylum cases by eliminating one year asylum filing deadline, allowing persons who were denied asylum as a result of the one-year filing bar to file a motion to reopen the case within 2 years of the enactment of the bill; eliminating family reunification barriers for asylees and refugees, authorizing streamlined processing of certain high risk refugee groups, authorizing asylum officers to grant asylum for eligible applicants during credible fear interviews, and permits qualified stateless individuals to apply for lawful permanent resident status.
  • Immigration Court Improvements: Authorizes increase in immigration court personnel, additional resources, and more training for judges and other staff, access to counsel for vulnerable populations to improve efficiency of courts, permanently and codifies Board of Immigration Appeals and legal orientation programs.
  • Interior Enforcement: Tightens certain grounds of inadmissibility relating to document and passport fraud, driving while intoxicated following two convictions, conviction for gang related activities, convictions related to domestic violence, child abuse, stalking, violation of protection orders and failing to register as a sex offender. Prohibits and or increases penalties for abusive smuggling, hindering or obstructing immigration investigations, illegal entry and re-entry.
  • Detention Reform: Increases oversight of detention facilities, expands discretion of immigration judges to conduct bond hearings, and requires establishment of alternative to detention programs in consultation with community groups.

Title IV Reforms to Non Immigrant Visa Programs

This Title reforms current non-immigrant visa programs and creates a new W worker visa that melds greater employer flexibility with more worker protections and ability to self-petition for permanent residence.

  • H-1B: Reforms to the H-1B high skilled visa program include expanding current cap from 65,000 to 110,000 with an option to ultimately increase the cap to 180,000 visas annually based on a High Skilled jobs Demand Index. Increases requirements for web-site advertising for U.S. workers prior to hiring foreign workers.
  • H-4: Allows dependents of H-1B workers work authorization if country of origin reciprocates with similar provisions for U.S. citizen dependents living abroad
  • Deterring Abuse: Establishes significant new authorities and penalties to prevent, detect, and deter fraud and abuse of the H-1B and L-1 visa systems by fraudulent employers. Increases wages for foreign workers to help protect Americans.
  • H-2B: Makes permanent the H-2B returning worker provision.
  • New Worker Program (W Visa): Establishes a new nonimmigrant W classification for lesser-skilled foreign workers performing services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position. Spouses and minor children are included and will receive work authorization. Three year visa with three year renewal periods. Initially, 20,000 W visas will be made available, rising to 75,000 visas in year four. After that time, a newly established Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research will be authorized to calculate and recommend appropriate W visa levels. Other safety valves will be built into the cap to ensure occupations or employers with genuine shortages can hire needed workers. W visa holders may switch from one registered employer or position to another without penalty and upon meeting other eligibility criteria apply for the merits based lawful permanent residence.
  • Agriculture: A new agricultural guest worker visa program would be established to ensure an adequate agricultural workforce. A portable, at-will employment based visa (W-3 visa) and a contract-based visa (W-2 visa) would replace the current H-2A program. The H-2A program would sunset after the new guest worker visa program is operational.

Here is the complete Senate bill and a longer outline of the bill.

NIYA Organizers Infiltrate Michigan ICE to Reveal Racial Profiling and Due Process Abuses

15 Apr

On April 4th, 2013, an organizer with The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), Claudia Munoz, infiltrated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Michigan. Claudia allowed herself to be detained by accidentally driving in to Canada. Claudia is still detained at the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In a video message that she shot before her arrest and detention, Claudio states that she is detained at a Michigan detention center because she allowed herself to be caught by Customs and Border Protection in an effort to expose the abuses that happen inside immigrant detention centers.  Since Claudia has been detained inside the Calhoun County Jail for the past 10 days, she has witnesses numerous due process violations and abuses conducted by ICE officials:

  • Due process violations: CBP agents intentionally misinterpreted detainees in order to incriminate them, which is a violation of their due process.
  • Forcing detainees to agree to voluntary departure: ICE Liaison, Officer J. Jolin, was seen forcing detainees to agree to voluntary departure. Office Jolin told a detainee that “I can bring in 3 deputies and make you sign it!” in order to compel signature. Additionally, a detainee was locked away in a room ‘until he changed his mind.’ Office Jolin also threatened one man with “20-years in prison if you don’t sign.” These reports corroborate past allegations that ICE officials have forced individuals to relinquish their legal rights.
  • Medical abuses. A detainee, Maria de la Luz, developed several health problems in the course of her detention. She has been coughing blood. Maria has also developed ovarian cysts, which are quite painful. Despite requesting medical help four times, she was merely given over-the-counter Advil. ICE agents have told her “why spend money on you when we plan on deporting you?” This is contrary to the Performance-Based National Detention Standards allegedly adopted by ICE in 2011.
  • Inaccessibility to filing complaints: Most of the detainees cannot complaint to officials as all grievance forms are in English. Additionally,  these grievance forms are not readily available and must be requested from an ICE agent.
  • Detention of low-priority detainees. Gustavo Corona was detained on April 1st, despite being eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His detention was also contrary to prosecutorial discretion guidelines, as he was pulled over for driving without a license, and detained despite having no criminal record and substantial family ties to the U.S. After protests from immigrant rights activists, Gustavo was finally released on April 11.

In addition to these abuses, Claudio also discovered out-of-date listings for pro-bono attorneys and non-profits. Other detainees have also allegedly complained of similar issues.

The National Immigrant Youth Alliance alleges that these cases are not an anomaly but that the Michigan ICE office has a track-record of abusing its power and not following national directives. In April 2011 and again in October 2012, Director Adducci ordered her agents to detain parents outside a local elementary school. In January 2012, Director Adducci refused to grant discretion in the case of Yanelli Hernandez, an undocumented youth from Ohio who had attempted suicide twice while in detention. In July of 2010, Officer J. Jolin, forced detainee, Ivan Nikolav to watch as his mother was stripped searched.

According to TRAC data, since Adducci became Field Director, Michigan ICE has issued over 4,200 immigration detainers; nearly 80% have been against immigrants with no prior contact with law enforcement.

The NIYA alleges that nearly all of the detainees at the Calhoun Facility are low-priority, and a result of racial-profiling against Latinos. Most are detained for driving without a license, as collateral walking to pick their children up from school, or merely as passengers in a car. Out of nearly 150 detainees at Calhoun, NIYA organizers contend that over 70% are the parents of U.S. citizen children, and eligible for prosecutorial discretion.

This is not the first time that NIYA has infiltrated a detention facility. Last summer, NIYA organizers Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez, infiltrated Broward Transitional Center in Florida, where they found hundreds of cases of low-priority detainees. They were eventually released but not before they drew Congressional attention to the polices and practices at Broward, and started a hunger-strike inside the facility, which led to the release of many more detainees.

Claudia Munoz is likely to be identified and released from detention soon. However, while the Senate gears up for comprehensive immigration reform, it should seriously reconsider the practice of immigration detention and mount a full investigation into the policies and practices of detention centers across the country.

Things are about to get really interesting

10 Apr

time is now

As Washington, DC has seemed to jump from winter to summer, the politics of immigration reform are heating up.  For the rest of this week, the Capital will be inundated with activists, lawyers, politicians and celebrities all advocating for immigration reform.  Among all this activity, the Senate “Gang of Eight” is prepared to release their proposed bill.  Rumored to be nearly 1500 pages, the Gang of Eight will provide the meat on the bone that all of us have been waiting to chew on.  Benach Ragland will provide you with the latest and most comprehensive information regarding the politics, the proposal, and discussions as to how the proposals will affect the lives of immigrants.

Today, April 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM on the West Lawn of the Capitol, tens of thousands of immigrants and their friends will hold a rally for commonsense immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.  Over the past few days, buses of immigrant supporters have departed from cities all across the United States to attend the rally.  Along with the rally, immigrants are lobbying Congress, meeting with the media, and demonstrating the urgent need for immigration reform.

Tomorrow, on April 11, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) National Day of Action for Immigration Reform is being held.  Immigration lawyers and their clients will meet with their representatives to share their stories of the  hardships of the U.S. immigration laws.

If you can not make any of these events, we urge you to make your voice heard by contacting your representatives. 

Finally, we learned today that the Gang of Eight will release their bill as early as Thursday, April 11 and the House is not far behind.  As deportations continue, people organize, and the CIS runs out of H visas in a week, the urgency of immigration reform could not be more obvious.

H-1B Cap Reached for Fiscal Year 2014

5 Apr

As predicted by many in the profession, the H-1B filing cap was reached today.

On one hand, this is good news because reaching the H-1B cap this early into the season is an indicator that the economy is rebounding. This has been the shortest application period to date in the past five years.

However, this means that all applications filed through today will be subject to a lottery– a computer generated random selection process for all applications that were received through today, as in April 5, 2013. No H-1B applications will be accepted past April 5, 2013.

The H-1B cap is a major issue for employers looking to hire foreign workers. Due to the H-1 program’s popularity, the annual allotment of 65,000 slots is routinely filled just weeks (if not days) after USCIS begins accepting applications—leaving employers, and especially technology start-ups, unable to tap much of the pool of foreign labor on which they rely.

The I-Squared Act, a bipartisan bill that is pending in the Senate and would likely be attached to broader comprehensive immigration legislation, would create a floating cap for the H-1B as depicted by the Brookings Institute chart below:

Fluctuating the cap based on economic need would be a welcome change from the current fixed cap of 65,000 for regular H-1Bs, and 20,000 additional for H-1Bs filed on behalf of advanced degree holders. We can only hope that this legislation sees the light of day.

Premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions will begin on April 15, 2013. The USCIS has not yet announced the date of the lottery. Stay tuned for more information.

Moving Beyond the “Illegal Immigrant” – The Associated Press Drops the Pejorative Term. Who’s Next?

3 Apr
Image representing Associated Press as depicte...

Image via CrunchBase

Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that it would stop using the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe an individual present in the US illegally, or who entered the country without proper authorization. This is a great victory for the long history of organizing against the word “illegal” beginning with the transnational No Human Being Is Illegal campaign and more recently, the Drop the I-word campaign, in addition to the many undocumented immigrants across the country who have insisted on defining ourselves beyond the pejorative brush of “illegal” or “illegal immigrant.”

The AP dropping the I-word also has wide ramifications not just for the media, but also for the way we view and treat people. ”Illegal” or “illegal immigrant” is a dehumanizing pejorative imbued with violence and oppression. I have written at length about how “illegal immigration” and hence, “illegal immigrant” came to be part of our lexicon through the construction of true and false immigration. There is no coincidence that the legal history of deportations coincides with the use of more virulent language to separate desirable immigrants from undesirable immigrants, and castigate the latter as undeserving of any civic or political rights.

By painting certain people with the broad brush of illegality, the state apparatus makes it easier to deny rights to persons without papers, and conduct large-scale violent

Members of the South Central Farm attending th...

Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. The banner, in Spanish, reads “No human being is illegal”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

actions against them, actions that now take the form of workplace raids, detention and deportations. Changing such language then, does help to make it more difficult to castigate people as undesirable and unwanted.

However, this is not just about political correctness. It is also about accuracy. Beyond the sheer dehumanization and violence, the use of the phrase” illegal immigrant” has always been plain lazy journalism. It presupposes that someone is in violation of immigration law without affording the person due process, which is quite contrary to our laws. In my widely-read New America Media article, It’s More Complicated Than Legal vs. Illegal, written last summer,  I mention more accurate, legal and less dehumanizing ways to categorize people,:

Overstay: Someone who overstays her admission to the country. An overstay may or may not accrue unlawful presence, and may simply be out of status.

Entry Without Inspection (EWI): Someone who enters the country without inspection or proper admission. An EWI may still be eligible for admission without leaving the country.

Immigrant: A green-card holder whether through admission or adjustment of status.

Non-immigrant: Anyone who is in the U.S. temporarily with legal status but is not a green-card holder or U.S. citizen.

Asylee: Anyone granted asylum in the United States due to past persecution or well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

These are merely suggestions. As always, I’d err on the side of people defining themselves. I also think it is quite possible to write a story about an immigrant or immigration reform without necessarily having to categorize the actions of people who may be here without proper authorization. Maybe now, news organizations beyond the Associated Press can focus on covering new stories and opinion pieces about the lives of actual people as opposed to painting us all with the brush of a lazy, inaccurate and dehumanizing pejorative.

There is something to be said about the continued raids, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, despite the change of language. While it is too soon to declare victory in terms of the treatment of irregular or unauthorized immigration, and the AP will continue using the phrase “illegal immigration” as a way to describe immigration outside the law, this is a step in the right direction.