Thursday, December 4, 2008

Weekly Update on Immigration

Submitted by Zuraya Tapia-Alfaro on Wed, 12/03/2008 - 5:25pm.

"Prison" for immigrants? - A note in Dubois, Pennsylvania's Courier Express discusses expansion plans for a privately run "federal prison for illegal immigrants." According to the story, the prison is under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. My first question is: why are any immigrants going to prisons as opposed to detention centers? Or is this a case of criminals who are serving sentences and are found to be in the country illegally? I feel like important details were left out of the story, but if non-criminal aliens are somehow being held in prisons then we have a major issue.

The Impact of the 2008 Elections on Immigration, continued: 1. "Firewall" wins -Saxby Chambliss (R) won the runoff election in Georgia against Jim Martin (D) for the Senate. The runoff was widely covered by Time and Chambliss was even on Halperin's "Five Most Important People in American Politics Right Now Who Aren't Barack Obama." In addition to the political considerations, a win by Jim Martin would have meant a key vote in the Senate for immigration reform. Now Chambliss and the Republican party are touting this "big win." This seat would have meant a huge win for Democrats, but it's important that Democrats put up such a fight in Georgia. Vehemently anti-immigrant and anti-reform Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin couldn't have more different views on immigration and in their approach to governing - Chambliss has been politicking, selling himself as a "firewall to prevent Democratic excess," while Jim Martin had presented himself as the man who would provide a "bridge" to the change promised by President-elect Barack Obama, and that change includes immigration reform.

2. Reality sets in, in VA - Per a piece by Anita Kumar in the Washington Post, the Virginia Panel on Immigration is changing its ways, from the hard-line stance to more productive and realistic proposals. After seeing the hard-line anti-immigrant Republican candidates lose congressional elections all over the state, the members of this commission have apparently realized that the anti-immigrant positions they formerly took to score what they considered to be political points just don't work. The panel has shifted its focus from fighting illegal immigration to working with the ever-growing population of immigrants. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who served on the commission and is staunchly anti-illegal immigration, noted "I can't totally disagree that some people are leery of the issue, because maybe it wasn't the wedge issue that some thought it would be," Gilbert said. The new recommendations provided by the panel to Gov. Tim Kaine include shortening the Medicaid residency requirements for certain qualified immigrants, offering in-state tuition to immigrants who meet specific criteria and creating an immigration assistance office. The commission also proposed increasing the number of English classes and creating a plan to address the needs of foreign-born residents and urged the federal government to compile more complete immigration statistics, increase the number of visas for foreign workers and pass comprehensive immigration legislation.

A Post op-ed also discusses the significance of this change in tone in Virginia in more detail: "....reform is as needed as ever. Only the federal government can get the job done, and the political climate may be more favorable than last time around." Of the 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the United States, 250,000 to 300,000 live in Virginia, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. The U.S. Census Bureau says an additional 440,000 people in Virginia are not U.S. citizens but are in the state legally.

3. More Immigration Losers - The Wall Street Journal remarks: the GOP hardliners have to face the reality that immigration reform is not unpopular. This Opinion piece notes Virgil Goode's loss to Tom Perreillo - which became official this week. For the second straight election, incumbent Republicans who attempted to turn illegal immigration into a wedge issue lost their election. Anti-immigration hardliners Randy Graf, John Hostettler and J.D. Hayworth were among the Republicans who lost in 2006. In addition to Goode, joining them this year were GOP Representatives Thelma Drake (Virginia), Tom Feeney (Florida), Ric Keller (Florida)and Robin Hayes (North Carolina) - all Members of a House anti-immigration caucus that focuses on demonizing the undocumented and advocating for things like mass deportation and denying citizenship to U.S. born children of undocumented persons.

4. GOP Immigration Strategy Goes Down in Flames - El Paso newspaper citing the most recent poll conducted by America's Voice and Lake Research.

5. Jeb Bush Readies to Woo Hispanics- In an interview, most importantly, Bush said his party must embrace the nation's changing demographics:

"We can't ignore large segments of our population and expect to win," Bush said. "We can't be the ‘old white-guy' party. It's just not going to work, the demographics go against us in that regard...". "Among Hispanic voters, I think we need to change the tone of the conversation as it relates to immigration. In Florida, we've not participated much in the chest pounding and the yelling and the screaming. I mean, it just drives me nuts when there are substantive policy differences that we can show mutual respect on, but the tone needs to change. And I think we need to recruit more candidates who share our values in the Hispanic community. In Florida we've done that."

This provides a window into the strategy Jeb will use if he runs for Senate.

Intelligence Report: Anti-immigration Leader at Heart of White Nationalist Scene for Decades - This report just released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) details more precisely what SPLC has been reporting for some time: John Tanton, the architect of the modern anti-immigration movement and founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has been at the heart of the white nationalist scene for decades, working with racist intellectuals, Klan lawyers and even Holocaust deniers.

CIS also appears in this article on alleged "Green Card Marriage Fraud." While there is little data to substantiate the alleged incidence of fraud in marriages between one U.S. citizen and one non-citizen, even one case of fraud is unfortunate. In this regard, we thank CIS for furthering our argument for CIR - so long as the immigration system is broken and so long as there are insufficient legal channels for those currently living in the United States, or those wanting to come here, people will continue to find ways outside of the system to come here. So let's get a law passed that provides for a realistic number of visas, a speedier green-card process through employment and family, and additional realistic legal channels for permanent residence.

Outlook on Napolitano- A New York Times Editorial on the role Gov. Napolitano could play in achieving Comprehensive Immigration Reform as DHS Secretary. This op-ed makes many of the arguments NDN has posited on the inadequacy of "enforcement-only", and makes a compelling argument for the urgency of CIR:

How badly have [enforcement-only] efforts failed? Since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, instead of comprehensive reform, 32 tunnels have been discovered under Arizona's border with Mexico, according to research by The Arizona Republic's Sean Holstege. That's more than all tunnels previously found in Arizona. Drug cartels finance tunnels, but transporting people into the country illegally has become so lucrative that drug smugglers increasingly are mixing their cargo. If the U.S. had a process to legally bring in needed foreign workers and legalize the current undocumented population, the reduction in the Border Patrol's workload would allow border law enforcement to focus on drug smuggling. There's reason to hope the new Congress will act on that simple reality.

The Immigration Crystal Ball - NPR is doing a great job focusing on border and immigration issues, Jennifer Ludden explores how enforcement priorities may change under President Obama and why "Immigration Experts Expect Fewer Workplace Raids." There's also a great deal of debate over whether immigration reform will happen, and when: 1) an interesting blog by Roberto Lovato, 2) A Dallas Morning News post by William McKenzie posits "Why Immigration May Go Forward," while a John Riley article in Dallas Morning News argues that immigration reform "Takes backseat to the economy."

No one really knows, all we can do is educate and advocate. The bottom line is that President-Elect Obama has demonstrated a commitment to immigration reform - he has spoken about this issue as a priority, and here's how he'll go about it.

The Economy and Immigration - And why should immigration and the economy be considered separate priorities, exclusive of each other? At NDN we've discussed why there is opportunity for immigration reform to form part of a new plan for the economy. In a post this week, Jeff Cornwall of Belmont University also posits that immigration may be part of the answer to give the economy an entrepreneurial boost:

Most studies find that immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs or self-employed than the population as a whole. The Philadelphia Business Journal reports on yet another study that adds more support....Current policy makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. legally.

In a different post, Jaya Ramji-Nogales writes about one of the effects of the economic downturn on immigrants:

The "Lou Dobbs" effect; as xenophobic vitriol and resulting anti-immigrant sentiment has increased, so has violence against immigrants or those who appear to be immigrants. Add that to an economy in free-fall, and the result may be highly combustible.

Number of Undocumented Immigrants Continues to Fall - According the Center for International Trade of University of Texas at San Antonio, 1.3 million, or 11% of undocumented immigrants have returned to their home country this year. A right wing website similarly reports a dramatic decline, the difference is in the causes to which the decline is attributed. The UT study correctly attributes the decline to the economic crisis and a decrease in the supply of jobs, combined with increased raids and workplace enforcement. The nativist website draws a very incorrect and very dangerous conclusion: that "illegal immigrants" started heading home "immediately" after the failed attempt at CIR in the Senate in Summer of 2007, which is completely false. The first evidence of undocumenteds leaving began earlier this year, during late summer and Fall of 2008, in response to the economic crisis, as opposed to a bill in Congress. As we move forward, and as President Obama works with Congress to pass immigration reform, we have to be very careful to fight back against that 10% of people in the U.S. who will be spreading misinformation such as this.

Immigration Changing Course, A Story that Needs Telling - The Miami Herald has begun a series on the course of immigration, "It's an important story for a country built on immigration and yet often ambivalent about its impacts. Over a generation, new arrivals from Mexico, the Caribbean and throughout Latin America have reshaped this country. Nowhere is that more the case than in South Florida, where millions of legal immigrants and nearly one tenth of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States have settled."

Hate Crimes Changing Political Climate - On Tuesday, activists called for investigation of Suffolk hate crime statistics. This is the beginning of what we hope to be an ongoing PR campaign to encourage victims to report hate crimes, and to encourage law enforcement to crack down on such criminal activity.

El Universal reports an increase in remittances to Mexico over the last month, with immigrants taking advantage of the recent devaluation of the peso. Remittances rose 13% compared to October of 2007, coming to a total of about $2.4 billion. This is the first rise in remittances after 14 months of a consecutive decline. Even though they rose from last October, remittances are still less than they were in January of this year. And the AP reports on Philadephia's growing immigrant community.

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