“Most Important Legislation for Immigrant[s]” in 2012 Vetoed


September 28, 2012; Source: CNN

Late last night, California Gov. Jerry Brown had the opportunity to sign the TRUST Act but he opted to veto it instead. The bill was seen as the antithesis of Arizona’s approach to illegal immigration. A federal judge gave Arizona law enforcement officials the green light to ask individuals whom they suspect of being in the country illegally for their papers. The controversial provision, which critics view as essentially sanctioning racial profiling in Arizona, was one of the only aspects of the state’s hardcore immigration law that was not overturned by the Supreme Court in June. In contrast, the California law would have limited the ability of local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal officials, allowing them to share information only on those undocumented immigrants who are convicted of major or violent felonies.

In a letter explaining his decision, Brown said he was “unable to sign the bill as written,” pointing out that “the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes.” Prior to Brown’s veto, Jose Antonio Vargas, the award-winning immigrant journalist who gained notoriety when he admitted to not having papers himself, penned an op-ed extolling California’s TRUST Act as a better way for states to deal with undocumented immigrants. He characterized the bill as “the most important piece of legislation for immigrant communities this year,” arguing that signing the bill into law “can prevent the separation of thousands of families, establish an alternative to Arizona’s approach and send a powerful message to the nation: In a state built and replenished by generations of immigrants, fairness and equality matter.”

While Gov. Brown chose to veto the TRUST Act as currently written, he did not slam the door shut on the bill. Brown ended his statement by stating that “the significant flaws in this bill can be fixed, and I will work with Legislature to see that the bill is corrected.” We hope he does so, as the TRUST Act would, as its name suggests, foster trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement officials. It would have freed the latter to focus on crime prevention and safety. It would have made California a more welcoming place for immigrants who have been integral to its past and who are vital to its future.

Ultimately, however, state-by-state measures are a poor substitute for Congress tackling the issue of unauthorized immigration on the federal level. Nonprofit advocacy organizations should encourage (or continue to encourage, in some cases) our federal lawmakers to produce comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a fair and reasonable path to legalizing the status of millions of people who live and work in the U.S. without papers.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 1, 2012.

Both Parties Propose Immigration Bills But Pass None

Immigration activists marched on the Capitol last October - Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W

Immigration activists in front of the Capitol. (Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W)

Democrats are thinking of introducing an immigration bill as early as December, CNN reported Monday. It is not clear what it would cover—possibly the DREAM Act—but apparently Congressional Democrats would like it to differentiate themselves from Republicans in order to secure Latino votes in 2012.

GOP lawmakers tend to focus on border security and enforcement. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, for instance, passed the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month and a vote in the Republican-controlled house is expected soon. The law would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to ignore environmental laws on federal lands including Glacier National Park and the Great Lakes.

The Scott Gardner Act is another Republican-sponsored bill and it seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by directing the U.S. Attorney General to take into federal custody any unauthorized immigrant arrested for a DWI or similar infraction by state and local law enforcement officials. The Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act likewise seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by penalizing states and other jurisdictions that block E-Verify and Secure Communities.

While trying to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Republican House members have simultaneously presented bills recently meant to attract foreign investors and high-skilled professionals. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act which would eliminate country quotas for employment-based green cards. Rep. Raul Labrador proposed the American Innovation and Education Act of 2011 which would speed up green card applications for foreign-born grad students who have high-tech jobs waiting for them. These bills signify an acknowledgment in the GOP that immigration policy for legal immigrants needs to be reformed.

If the Democrats introduce anything, it will most likely be a bill that acquiesces to the GOP imperative for border security and enforcement while re-introducing DREAM Act provisions. Like all other federal immigration legislation, it will go nowhere. Fact is, nothing major will pass anytime soon. Not before the upcoming elections or during the 113th Congress, regardless of who takes control of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the White House.

Immigration laws that myopically emphasize border security and enforcement will not win the hearts of Latinos, even if this rapidly growing group of voters agrees with other Republican concepts. These proposals may pander to the conservative nativist base and pretend to address our nation’s economic woes, but at the end of the day, these measures skirt around the obvious need for comprehensive immigration reform, which many Latinos consider priority numero uno.

It is helpful to know where parties and politicians stand on immigration so we can hold them accountable. Party allegiance is not set in stone, a concept many of us are starting to embrace.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 27, 2011.

Is Massachusetts Turning Red on Immigration?

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant living in Massachusetts and looking for work. (Photo: WBUR)

A bipartisan group of Massachusetts lawmakers presented an immigration bill last Monday which makes one wonder whether the traditionally progressive state is turning red.

The proposed legislation is very much in the same vein as laws passed by more conservative states. The bill, provoked by a recent fatal accident involving an allegedly drunk undocumented immigrant driver, sets up a complaint line to report individuals who are working in the state illegally.

The statute also requires the immigration status of individuals appearing in court to be checked; calls for stiffer penalties for driving without a license and for creating, disseminating or using false identification; penalizes and sanctions companies that hire unauthorized immigrants; requires students at public colleges and universities to verify their immigration status to qualify for in-state tuition; asks applicants for public housing, family assistance or college grants to prove legal residency; and requires the administration to produce a report outlining how it is helping jurisdictions deploy the Secure Communities program.

Should the sponsors of the bill convince their fellow legislators to pass the law with constituent support, it would be a dramatic change in sentiment from a year ago.

A 2010 Suffolk University poll, taken after Arizona’s draconian immigration law passed, found that while 53 percent of Massachusetts residents said they supported Arizona’s SB 1070, only 43 percent said Massachusetts should pass a similar law.

But the drunk driving incident and other crimes allegedly committed by a few undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts are being used by enforcement advocates to drum up support for the bill.

Could the citizens of the Bay State get riled up enough to push their lawmakers – a majority of whom are Democrats – to support the proposed legislation?

Massachusetts has recently undergone considerable demographic changes. It is one of six states that can attribute all of its population growth during the past decade to Latinos.

At the same time, although the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is lower than the national rate, 8,900 people lost their jobs in August. To date, the state has only recovered a third of jobs lost during the recession and over a quarter of a million residents remain unemployed. The poverty rate rose from 10.3 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent in 2010. Median household income fell by nearly $3,200, from $65,254 in 2009 to $62,072 in 2010. Might economic troubles, fear and uncertainty cause Massachusetts residents to blame undocumented immigrants for their woes?

A bipartisan group supporting such an immigration bill is a troublesome sign. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Massachusetts would turn red on immigration. The state’s economy is doing better overall compared to the rest of the country. The legislature is controlled by Democrats and Gov. Deval Patrick, who refused to bring the state into the federal Secure Communities program, will surely veto any measures like the one being proposed.  The Bay State should remain blue. For now.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 30, 2011.

Obama or Perry (or Romney) – Does it Make a Difference to Immigrants?

Immigration reform protest


The latest Rasmussen poll of likely Republican Primary voters finds Texas Governor Rick Perry leading the GOP pack of presidential contenders. He is trailed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the winner of last Saturday’s Iowa Ames Straw Poll Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

As the GOP whittles down its field of presidential candidates, it is worth looking at where these politicians stand on immigration and asking whether it ultimately matters who wins the presidency in 2012 when it comes to advancing policies and laws beneficial to immigrants and their families.

Some on the right see Perry as having an “immigration problem.” After all, he did sign a law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition ten years ago, long before that became a major immigration issue nationwide.

The conservative Washington Times also points to his questioning Arizona for passing the draconian SB 1070, which resulted in a cascade of copycat anti-immigrant laws in other states, his criticism of the E-Verify program, and his purported support for open borders as evidence of Perry’s liberal immigration bona fides.

All this might give some the impression that the Texas governor would be good news for immigrants and their advocates. But as Feet in 2 Worlds clarified, Perry’s “open borders” policy is rather nuanced. It would involve a biometric identification system that tracks immigrants to make sure they paid their taxes and obeyed the law. All this as a requirement for two year work visas for migrant laborers.  Perry also tried, but failed, to pass a bill prohibiting sanctuary cities in his state.

Bottom line, it might not be enough for extreme hard-liners, but Perry’s immigration stance is one of enforcement. He calls for thousands of “boots on the ground” and predator drones in the air along the border with Mexico.

The National Catholic Reporter adds that Perry opposes any comprehensive immigration reform effort that includes “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and most of the provisions of the federal DREAM Act. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is quoted as accusing the governor of having “the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation.”

Mitt Romney also toes the party line and prioritizes enforcement. As Mitt Romney Central states – should anyone doubt – “securing the border is priority number one.” In addition, the presidential hopeful opposes “amnesty,” supports an employer verification system, and is against “sanctuary cities.” Particularly chilling for immigrants and their families are his proclamations that “illegal immigrants should be required to return to their home country” and “giving tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants needs to stop.”

Michelle Bachmann shares Perry’s and Romney’s views on immigration. At a town hall event in Greenville, South Carolina, she called for a wall to be erected along the border with Mexico and claimed that lax enforcement of immigration laws was a threat to the nation’s security. She promised that “as president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border.”

So on the Republican side, the option is between one type of enforcement or another. No GOP candidate is talking about comprehensive immigration reform. Does this mean that despite little immigration-related action in his first term, the incumbent is still the better choice when it comes to improving the lives of millions of immigrants and their families?

In a certain light, it might not matter who wins the presidency when it comes to comprehensive reform.

President Obama did not pass CIR while both Houses of Congress were under Democratic control and any reform effort is now unlikely to occur due to the current political climate. Mr. Obama has chosen not to use his executive powers to push meaningful immigration changes such as the DREAM Act, one of the least controversial initiatives, or stop deportation proceedings. In fact, his administration has managed to deport a record number of immigrants, much more than his Republican predecessor. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security unilaterally declared an end to Secure Communities agreements with state and local governments, saying states had no choice but to participate.  Last Thursday, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a decision that immigrants arrested without a warrant will not be read their rights until they are placed in formal deportation proceedings.

Some argue that if the president’s party were to win control of both Houses of Congress again, then he could finally fulfill his promise to pass immigration reform. On the other hand, he still may not fulfill that promise, leaving immigrants and their families to live in constant uncertainty and anxiety.

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide whether they will support a Republican candidate who is crystal clear on where he or she stands, or a Democratic one who says all the right things but has yet to deliver.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 18, 2011. Re-posted on WNYC It’s a Free Country, August 18, 2011.