Hundreds of undocumented and mixed-status families were reunited this week after ICE released people from immigration prisons en masse, citing anticipated automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. In recent days, the White House has used its formidable political apparatus to play up the negative consequences of the sequester in an effort to maximize political damage to Republicans. Media reports told the story of drastic funding cuts to the Department of Homeland Security forcing the administration to release immigrants from prison. In reality, the sequester was likely an excuse, a convenient opportunity for the government to quiet growing criticism of Obama's longstanding policy of deporting record numbers of immigrants. Nevertheless, budget cuts to DHS mean that fewer fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives will be imprisoned and deported, which is good news for immigrant families.
The administration has stumbled from one public message to another regarding the prisoner releases this week. The initial message to the voting public was that immigrant prisoners were being released because of anticipated budget cuts, with the corollary that GOP hardliners were to blame for endangering public safety and national security. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) called the White House's bluff and claimed that the White House was recklessly releasing dangerous people. DHS clarified that all of those released were "low-priority" individuals according to ICE's prosecutorial discretion guidelines. But in conceding that none of the people released were a threat to public safety, the administration effectively admitted that they should not have been locked up in the first place. It was a week of spin masquerading as policy.
If the prison releases really were a direct result of DHS budget cuts, then long live the sequester! Military cuts, prison closures, family reunification--what's not to like?
A theme emerging from immigrant rights advocacy groups as immigration reform legislation is being drafted this year is that any acceptable bill should "leave no one behind." Groups like presente.org and United We Dream are pushing for legalization for all of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. Politicians have promoted comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) as a once-and-for-all solution to the problem of unauthorized migration in the U.S.
President Obama and a bipartisan Senate working group have each proposed a blueprint for reform. The proposed legalization would require undocumented people to register with the government, pass background checks, learn English, pay a fine, and go to the end of the line. By legalizing undocumented people, sealing the border, implementing measures to make sure visa holders leave the U.S. when they are supposed to, and better facilitating future immigration flows, CIR is supposed to do what the 1986 amnesty failed to accomplish: permanently solve the problem of unauthorized migration.
Some issues are still being discussed, such as whether legalization will create a path to eventual citizenship or instead create a long-term limbo status. But despite these divergent positions, a bipartisan consensus is forming around legalization for most of the 11 million. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of undocumented people are unlikely to benefit from legalization as it has been proposed.
Colorlines recently put up an infographic that elucidates this point. None of the current CIR proposals would fundamentally change the immigration system. Beneficiaries of reform will still be subject to most of the laws and regulations that now exist, the same legal regime that pushed 11 million people into the shadows. The reasons that millions would be excluded from legalization include:
- Unreasonable fees and fines - A friend recently estimated that combined fees and fines will be around $2,000 per person, which seems about right to me. The closest recent parallel was a mini-legalization program ("245(i)") that required fees and fines to the government of just over $2,000 per person. Lawyers' fees could be that much or more. A family of four living on a subsistence income could be looking at $15,000 to $20,000 to legalize. Prohibitive cost could make legalization unattainable for millions of people.
One provision in several of the bills that I've been scratching my head about is the requirement to be employed at the time of application for legalization, when by definition, applicants are prohibited from working lawfully. This as much as anything else captures the public confusion about immigrants that has made it so difficult to improve the laws. How do you write a bill that reconciles the fear that immigrants are taking jobs with the fear that they are living off welfare?
Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat congresswoman from New York's 9th district had this to say about what she thinks priorities should be for the 113th Congress:
According to IYJL the bill just passed out of committee but there about 5 votes short in the House. Speaker Madigan, as far as I can tell has not yet publicly said whether he publicly supports or opposes the bill. Cindy said to keep pushing Speaker Madigan, and if you live in Illinois to contact your legislators. If your legislator already supports the bill, ask them to move other legislators.
ORIGINAL POST: It looks like it's going to come down to the wire, but there's a real chance that 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois could be able to drive without fear coming out of this legislative session in Illinois.
This is bigger than Illinois. It could reverse a national trend that the pro-migrant movement has been on the losing side of for some time.
I'm here in the land of eternal spring, Guatemala, thankful for the privilege that gives me the means and the ability to cross borders to be home with my family, this holiday season. My gift, this year, to those reading this, is one of my favorite Christmas songs--The Kinks' "Father Christmas"--The punk rock they helped inspire clearly shining through.
There's a lot to reflect on, this year.
I thought I'd share a little bit of Bob Marley this holiday weekend. I can't think of a better musician to express both the gratitude that has become the core of this U.S. holiday, along with the solemnity of the violence from whence it came.
Dear Ms. Sullivan,
I write with respect to your piece today addressing Jose Antonio Vargas's recent request to the AP and the New York Times to stop using the term "illegal immigrant." Thank you for discussing this important issue. I am an immigration attorney based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You cited Mr. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at The Times, as stating:
[I]n referring in general terms to the issue of people living in the United States without legal papers, we do think the phrases "illegal immigrants" and "illegal immigration" are accurate, factual and as neutral as we can manage under the circumstances. It is, in fact, illegal to enter, live or work in this country without valid documents.
I wanted to respond to this comment with a few points. First, the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien" are not defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act and are generally disfavored by immigration judges and the members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, who make decisions about whether someone is to be removed from the U.S. or not. According to applicable law, the terms are no more accurate than "undocumented" or "unauthorized." "Alien" is the most accurate legal descriptor of a non-citizen. I've attached and copied below a blog post I wrote for change.org a few years ago that explains this in more detail, with citations to applicable law (change.org recently removed the blog posts from that time period from its site, so the post is no longer available online.)
Second, the term illegal immigrant is not accurate because it usually assumes a person's immigration status when that status has not yet been determined by a court of law. It has been documented that the Department of Homeland Security routinely attempts to deport U.S. citizens, and sometimes succeeds.
Don't read this post if you are looking for detailed guidance on how to apply for DACA. The most comprehensive guidance is on the USCIS.gov (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) website:
- Form I-821D, with related forms and instructions
(if the links are dead, do an internet search for "Form I-821D" or "deferred action for childhood arrivals USCIS").
On August 3, USCIS issued additional guidance about the process, which they clarified again over the past week in the FAQ. Here are some highlights:
NOTE: What follows is the limited perspective of one person, a pro-migrant chapringo ally, on the immediate story of what led to President Obama's promise to stop the deportations of 1 million people, last week. Most of the people who could tell this story better than me are already working furiously on next steps. I've written this out because it's a story that needs to be told to better determine next steps, but if I'm missing anything or telling it wrong, please help me tell it right in the comments or through your own posts, which I will happily link to. What follows is a draft that I will continue to modify in an effort to make it better.
"We can exist now in the eyes of the country."
Julio Salgado - Los Angeles Times(16 June 2012)
Wow. I don't think it's possible to overstate the significance of the "Remarks by the President on Immigration," delivered last week. President Obama just promised to "lift the shadow of deportation" for what some estimates suggest is anywhere between 800,000 and 1.4 million young people and also allow them to "apply for work authorization." The internet exploded with the news.
The mainstream media conversation quickly devolved into vapid statements about political process and discussion of the even more inane actions of an incompetent reporter. Beneath that empty noise, a much more interesting conversation is taking place. A movement, led by undocumented immigrants, found a way to bend the will of the most powerful person on Earth and is now furiously debating where to go from here: celebration? implementation? escalation? My co-blogger David Bennion has already doused some of the euphoria with some hard legal analysis of how this is going to play out.
Nowhere, though, have I seen even a basic recounting of what brought us here. From everything I've read, it's as if the President just woke up by himself one day, last week, and all of the sudden decided to "do the right thing, period." Everyone who has followed this closely knows that's not how it happened, but not everyone in the country, much less the world has been following this closely. So, before I even get into the next steps I think it's extremely important that we all try to tell the story of how we got here. What follows is my feeble attempt.
The Fox And The Wolf: The Story So Far
The story of how a subset of unauthorized migrants who used to be fearful and invisible grew to be undocumented, unfraid, and most importantly well-organized enough to move the most powerful person on the planet, last week, is an epic story that continues on. I'm not sure if even the greatest artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers, could do the story justice working at the peak of their powers. I'm not going to even attempt to recount that entire story, myself, but I will try and tell the most recent iteration of it.