Former DHS Chief calls for comprehensive immigration reform

Tom Ridge, who was appointed as the first Secretary of Homeland Security, said recently that critics of immigration reform need to “get over it,” and warned that Americans shouldn’t be so “arrogant” as to believe that “everybody that comes across the border wants to be an American citizen.”

The former secretary said that “sometime in the future” the U.S. government should take a serious look at immigration policy “in general.”  He continued:  “At some point in time you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘We’re not sending 12 million people home.’ . . . We’re not going to send them home, so let’s just figure out a way to legitimize their status, create a new system, and I think that will add more to border security than any number of fences we can put across the border.”

Many in the crowd erupted in applause.

Read more about Tom Ridge’s speech here.

NYT Editorial: Immigration Enforcement Program is Bad News

The New York Times published the following editorial:

No Exit from a Bad Program

“I’m totally confused now,” wrote a government official in one of thousands of internal e-mails released last week on the subject of Secure Communities, the federal program enlisting state and local police in the crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The confusion was over a simple question: Could a state or city choose not to participate in Secure Communities? That is, could it decide to preserve that bright line separating local policing from federal immigration enforcement, so as not to discourage immigrants from reporting crimes?

The e-mails show that the Department of Homeland Security didn’t know how to answer the question — even two years into the program, which sends the fingerprints of everyone arrested by participating state and local agencies to federal databases for an immigration check.

The answer was important, because while the Obama administration has made Secure Communities a centerpiece of its immigration-enforcement strategy, many state and local agencies have wanted nothing to do with it. They know it has been used to deport tens of thousands of people with no criminal records, even though it was supposed to focus strictly on dangerous criminals.

They have seen how some politicized and unscrupulous police departments have used it as an excuse for racial profiling. They worry that participation will strain their resources and make community policing harder.

Though the e-mails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by immigrant-rights advocates, show the agency at its most confused, top administration officials had no doubt: Secure Communities doesn’t allow states and localities to opt out. As The Times reported, the administration even “developed a plan to isolate and pressure communities that did not want to participate.”

There is a place for local law enforcement in immigration matters, but it must be strictly limited and cautiously drawn. It must place the highest priority on catching and removing dangerous criminals, while letting alone those without criminal records — the vast proportion of the undocumented population.

President Obama has repeatedly promised that he will work to change the immigration laws so undocumented immigrants who work hard can earn legal status. The Secure Communities program goes against that vow. It is also bad for public safety. States, cities and towns should be able to opt out.

Here is a link to the editorial.

New report on immigration enforcement

From a press release:

UC Berkeley School of Law’s Warren Institute released a new report that analyzes the complex legal and policy issues surrounding U.S. immigration enforcement. The report, “Borders, Jails, and Jobsites: An Overview of Federal Immigration Enforcement Programs in the U.S.,” explains the intent of federal programs that target noncitizens—and the unintended consequences.

Despite current economic constraints, the federal government continues to escalate funding for enforcement programs. In this year’s budget request, the White House seeks approximately $5.5 billion for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, $55 million more than was allocated last year. But do these programs work—or is the U.S. throwing money away on failed policies?

Click here for the full 40-page report.

New York Times Editorial: Citizenship by birth and assimilation are fundamental American values

The New York Times published an editorial titled “Angry Arizona, Again.”  Here is the editorial in its entirety:

Many states are doing urgent business: jobs, the economy, broken budgets. Arizona’s legislators are trying to give government new powers to strip away individual rights, to extend immigration enforcement into schools, public housing, hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Arizona made itself ground zero for a new nativism last year with a radical policing law that encouraged racial profiling and declared the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants to be official state policy. This led to boycotts, slumping tourism and convention business, and lawsuits, including one by the Obama administration. Yet Arizona’s current legislative session is overstuffed with nativist bills, several of which passed through committee on Tuesday in an “omnibus” measure.

They include:

A bill to chop up the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to children born in Arizona to undocumented mothers. A bill requiring hospitals to check every patient’s citizenship status, turning doctors and nurses into the immigration police. A bill to deny education to undocumented children by requiring proof of citizenship to enroll in any public or private school. A bill to criminalize driving by illegal immigrants, and to evict them from public housing. This will fix nothing, and do real harm.

The birthright citizenship bill interprets the 14th Amendment in a way no federal court or Congress ever has. The state would issue a different type of birth certificate to babies whose parents lack papers. It’s a nonexistent problem; women are not sneaking over the border to have babies who — when they turn 21 — may be able to sponsor them for green cards. The plan will not drive away illegal immigrants, but it would turn generations of young Americans into deportable criminals.

The Supreme Court has ruled that undocumented children have a right to primary education, because the country is not served by perpetuating an illiterate underclass. And yet Arizona’s elected leaders persist in their assault on that principle. The bills’ sponsors don’t seem to care about the damage they do. They are bent on inflaming the anxieties in a changing country, even when crime is down in border cities and immigration has tapered off. New Census data shows America’s population growing more slowly than it has since the 1930s — another era of rampant bigotry and racial scapegoating.

We hope the angry Arizonans, and the rest of the country, will soon return to their values. Citizenship by birth and assimilation of newcomers are central to the American experiment. All that separates our newest immigrants from previous waves is the lack of a working system to assimilate them.

Here is a link to the editorial.

New York Times profiles DREAM Act Advocate

The New York Times has published a compelling profile of Isabel Castillo, a 26-year-old woman who was brought to the United States illegally when she was 6 years old.

Ms. Castillo graduated from college with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.  Despite her talents, achievements, and her 20 years in the United States, Ms. Castillo has no legal status in the United States.

The DREAM Act, a bill that remains pending in Congress, would have given legal status and a chance for citizenship to Ms. Castillo and others like her – people who were brought to the United States illegally at a young age who then attend college or serve in the U.S. military.

You can find the article here.

Congress investigates USCIS delays in new processing program

Congress is looking into a delayed program to computerize the immigration application process.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is heading the “Transformation” program, which began in 2007 with a budget of $536 million and a plan to automate the paper-based application process by 2013.

So far, $630 million has been spent, current cost estimates have ballooned to $2.2 billion, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

In a February 16 letter to the Director of USCIS, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, wrote, “I’m concerned that very few improvements have been made since the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress in 2007 about the Transformation initiative. . . . The GAO and the inspector general have noted that ‘efforts to modernize . . . have been unfocused, conducted in an ad hoc and decentralized manner, and in certain instances, duplicative.’ “

You can read the complete article here.

Opinion: On immigration, demography is destiny

Demography is destiny, according to political commentators Steve and Cokie Roberts.  In an opinion column, they note that confronting the reality of our nation’s immigration situation requires politicians to have an “adult conversation” about some difficult issues.

Recently, two key senators — Democrat Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — took some early steps to “test the political will” in both parties for grappling with immigration. “Who knows,” said Schumer, “we might surprise everyone and get something done.”

Republicans would be wise to consider their own political self-interest.  In 2010, Hispanic voters provided key margins for victorious Democrats in at least three states: California, Nevada and Colorado.

If demography is destiny, the power of minority voters is only going to grow.

As Steve and Cokie Roberts write, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is married to a Mexican woman, told fellow Republicans last month: “It is important to realize that the Hispanic population, which is the fastest-growing population in the country, will also eventually be the fastest-growing population of voters. It would be incredibly stupid over the long haul to ignore the burgeoning Hispanic vote.”

Read the opinion piece here.

Texas police chiefs oppose immigration bills

The El Paso Times reports that Texas police chiefs and sheriffs have declared their opposition to state legislators’ attempts to make them act in the role of immigration officials, saying that law enforcement officials, not politicians, know how to maintain safety in communities.

Police chiefs from many parts of Texas, including El Paso, Dallas, McAllen, San Antonio, and Austin, recently traveled to the state Capitol to denounce the Arizona-style legislation, which they say would take their deputies and officers out of neighborhoods and require more spending, at a time when legislators are already reducing funding to deal with budget deficits.

The officers said that the proposed legislation could cost taxpayers millions of dollars to detain undocumented immigrants in state jails, pay for officer training and defend any lawsuits that might arise.  The officers also said that the proposed legislation would destroy the trust that police officers have established with their local communities, making people less willing to cooperate with police.

Read the entire article here.

Report: Immigrants boost Michigan’s economy

Immigrants to Michigan provide an overall benefits to the state’s economy, according to a report published by the Michigan League for Human Services.

Highlights from the report include these key points:

• Immigrants are responsible for 33 percent of all hightech startups, making Michigan third among all states in producing new high-tech business opportunities.

• In 2006, 22 percent of the international patent applications from Michigan listed a foreign-born resident as one of their key inventors, ranking Michigan 8th in the nation.

• During the 2008-2009 year, foreign students contributed $592 million to the local economy in tuition, fees, and living expenses.

• In 2008, 37 percent of the Michigan immigrant population had a college degree, an increase of 27 percent since 2000.

• 44 percent of all engineering master’s degrees and 62 percent of engineering doctorates are awarded to foreign-born students in the state.

• Michigan stands to lose over $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 20,000 jobs with the removal of all unauthorized workers from the labor force.

Congress members discuss immigration reform

High-ranking members of the U.S. Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, and Senators Lindsey Graham, Charles Schumer, and John McCain, are setting immigration reform legislation as a priority for this session of Congress.

A spokesperson for Senator Durbin recently indicated that Democrats now plan to reintroduce the DREAM Act in this session.

Click here to read an article about the senators’ comments.