Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Border Patrol Program Raises Due Process Concerns

This is the first in a three-part series that takes an in-depth look at a little-known program that is pushing the boundaries of the American justice system along the U.S.-Mexico border: Operation Streamline. NPR's Southwest correspondent Ted Robbins has spent the past three months analyzing court data and documents on the program.

Operation Streamline is an initiative that takes immigrants caught entering the United States illegally and pushes them through the federal courts at unheard-of speeds. They are often arraigned and counseled, plead and are convicted in a matter of hours.

These illegal immigrants are coming for jobs or to reunite with family — and have no other criminal background. Immigrants in these circumstances used to be returned voluntarily, or they went through the normal administrative deportation process. Now, they leave as convicted federal criminals.

The government says Operation Streamline is a success — it's a deterrent and a needed change from a "catch and release" policy. But its measures of success don't always hold up. And no one can tell how much it costs.

Operation In Action

Las Cruces, N.M., is one of the eight court districts along the border that has implemented Operation Streamline or similar programs since 2005.

On one recent typical day, Federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen's courtroom in Las Cruces was packed with 45 defendants. She had to figure out how to fit them in the courtroom, suggesting the jury box as possible space.

Throughout the two-hour proceeding, men and women caught crossing the border illegally shuffled into the seats, wearing handcuffs and leg shackles — and the same clothes they've had on since they were caught.

The defendants had earphones so they can hear a court interpreter repeat the judge's words in Spanish.

Molzen told them, "The charge you will be pleading guilty to alleges that you illegally entered the United States at a place not designated for immigration purposes."

The charge was a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty was a fine and six months in prison. In groups of five to seven, Molzen asked the defendants a series of questions, including: Have you been told your rights? Have you had enough time to talk with your lawyer? Is anyone pressuring you?

Then, she asked them how they plead.

The defendants all pleaded in Spanish: "Culpable." "Guilty."

If anyone wanted to fight the charge, they'd spend at least a month in jail waiting for a trial. Molzen sentenced the defendants to time already served — six to 10 days from when they were caught. Everyone now had a criminal record. And the judge gave them a stern warning that they'll face a longer sentence if caught again.

Operation Streamline Jurisdictions - The cities marked on the map are the federal jurisdictions that have implemented Operation Streamline.

She did recommend that two people not be deported because they had family in the United States legally. She told the rest: "You will be deported from the United States, and with that deportation and this criminal conviction, it will be difficult or impossible for you to enter the United States lawfully in the future."

This daily, systematic mass sentencing under Operation Streamline is unlike anything in U.S. judicial history.

Expansion Brings New Questions

The program began in Del Rio, Texas, in 2005.

At that time, Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Dean Sinclair says, agents were overwhelmed with catching and processing illegal crossers, then returning them to Mexico. The sector chief thought that convicting the immigrants of a crime would make them think twice about trying to cross again.

"So Operation Streamline was developed ... using existing laws, policies and procedures — to put a deterrence effect into the mindset of the economic aliens coming across, hoping to deter those crossings," Sinclair says.

The Border Patrol labeled Operation Streamline a success in Del Rio. So it expanded to Arizona, New Mexico and other places in Texas. At least 130,000 people have been convicted of illegal entry since it began.

But, there are serious questions about defendants' rights. Do they get adequate legal representation? At first, in Del Rio, lawyers were paid by the case. So, some took as many cases as they could. Lawyer Jacques De La Mota says at one point, he handled up to 140 cases in three days.

"In the beginning, in 2005 when this program started, I had mixed feelings as to the system and the process and were we putting people on a conveyor belt, so to speak," he says.

The court in Del Rio was ordered to stop and to start paying defense attorneys by the hour. De La Mota now gives his clients basic information in a group — then he meets separately with each one. Still, in five years, he says, no one has gone to trial.

When Operation Streamline expanded up to 70 people a day in Tucson, it pushed the boundaries again. Defendants stood before the magistrate and pleaded together, saying "guilty" at the same time. Last December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that violates the rules of criminal procedure. The court in Tucson slowed down and cleaned up the process. But lawsuits are still pending.

Heather Williams, an assistant federal public defender in Tucson, says Operation Streamline still violates defendants' rights. Imagine, she says, if the tables were turned.

"What if your sister was in custody in France, or in Uganda, or in Thailand, and was treated and was shuffled through a process all in one day where they could be facing up to six months in prison, the way that people in Mexico and Central America are being shepherded through in this. The United States government would be absolutely outraged, and they'd be right in being outraged," Williams says.

Alia Ludlum, a former prosecutor, is the presiding judge in Del Rio. She says the process works well now. She doesn't buy complaints that defendants are getting hustled through the system.

"They have counsel. They're in court with counsel. We address them individually in court — as a group as well as individually. They have time to elocute to the court. They have a copy of their charges. They have a copy of their discovery. I'm not real sure what due process rights we keep supposedly violating," Ludlum says.

Not Deterred

NPR was not granted access to defendants while they were in custody. But prisoners from Tucson are released across the border in Nogales, Sonora, and often find their way to charities that feed and house them.

Filiberto Robledo-Aguilar was among a group deported to Nogales. He went to the Center for Attention to Deported Migrants for dinner. Robledo-Aguilar seemed to understand what happened to him in court.

"They did explain our rights to us," he says, "and if we wanted to waive our rights we could leave voluntarily. Or we could stay and fight and spend I don't know how long in jail."

But he was also confused. He said he didn't have a lawyer — though he must have. He said he doesn’t understand why last year, when he crossed into Texas, he was returned to Mexico without going to court.

Regardless, Robledo-Aguilar is not deterred by his conviction. He says he'll try to cross again.

"I'm not against the authorities or anything like that, but I need to work," he says.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eye scanners get test run on border

McALLEN — Eye-reading machines — which creators see revolutionizing advertising campaigns and freeing the world from identification cards — are getting a test run here as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s arsenal against illegal border crossings.
The machines scan irises — muscles that form the colored portion of the eye with a texture scientists say can’t be altered and is unique to every person on the planet. While the U.S. Department of Defense already uses the scanners at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newer generation is able to discern identities of several people at a time and from distances of up to 30 feet. Previous models required peering into a viewfinder.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the two- to eight-week trial is to see what the equipment can do and if it is, as promised, superior to fingerprinting.

“This is a preliminary test of how the technology performs,” she said. “We have no specific plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this point.”

A privacy impact assessment released this summer by DHS details how immigration violators will have, with their consent, their irises scanned for a pool of images that can be checked for quality by government researchers. The images will be closely guarded and destroyed following the research period, the assessment says.

Prototype cameras include floor-mounted pressure sensors, beam break sensors, and simple cameras. Agents already tasked with recording age, gender and ethnicity and taking photos and prints also will collect iris scans during the trial.

The aim is to see the scanners work in a Customs and Border Protection setting, with three different systems being tested to ensure products are interoperable. Testers want to make sure the scanners are quick, durable, easy to use and accurate, regardless of subjects’ age and ethnicity, which presented problems with earlier scanners.

U.S. prisons and jails are buying iris-scanning systems, as are corporations and U.S. and foreign governments, with India using the scanners as it collects the world’s first digital census.

Leaders of León, Mexico, have quietly rolled out the first phase of a citywide network of iris scanners they hope will make theirs the most secure city in Mexico.

Some, however, find the technology downright spooky.

"We’re very concerned about iris scanning because it can be done without your permission and at a distance,” ACLU counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “You may never know you’ve been scanned but you can be identified, and anyone with an Internet connection and a camera can essentially identify and track you.”
He questioned the precedent of scanning for illegal immigration.

“You’d have to screen everybody, which means creating a database with everybody’s iris.”

The blogosphere is peppered with commentary saying the scanners are bringing us one step closer to a “Big Brother” world where every movement is tracked and privacy is an antiquated concept.

As a representative of one of the DHS test vendors sees it, we’re in some ways already there, and for the most part voluntarily.

“These are situations where they just provide complete, ironclad security of identity to make sure that you are who you say you are and that your identity is protected as such,” said Jeff Carter, chief business development officer for Global Rainmakers Inc. “It’s no different than when you enter a country and have to produce your passport. ... If you choose not to produce your passport, then you won’t be able to access the country.”

Credit and debit card purchases track our dollars, websites our interests, social media our friends and associates.

Tech websites say iris scanners one day may track gazes at advertisements on airport walls and window displays in shopping malls, allowing marketers to learn what’s grabbing interest.

Carter, who headed think tanks at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Bank of America, said the scanners may be the answer to financial fraud, identity theft and lost bank cards.

“If your bank offered iris access to your accounts and for payments and completely guaranteed everything, to the second, that it was only you, would you want to use that service?” he asked. “I think it’s going to be driven by consumer choice.”

Groups Say ELLs Got Short Shrift in Race to the Top

ELLs are always an afterthought, unfortunately. It's like our country doesn't want to get it. Good folks at the Department of Ed looking at this though. Hope something really gets done in response to this criticism. What they should be mindful of is that this is not the exception. Rather, it is the rule in the area of policy making.

It's unconscionable that Massachusetts received a score of 25 out of 25 despite widening achievement gaps between ELLs and non-ELLs from 2003 to 2009. They even got away with not providing 2009 reading scores in its application from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Had they done so, they wouldn't have gotten their perfect score.


Groups Say ELLs Got Short Shrift in Race to the Top

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Take Action Against State Violence Against Immigrant Families

Michelle Chen at Colorlines reports on recent “child welfare intervention” policies in which states terminate the parental rights of undocumented immigrants and take away their children. Chen quotes a paper by Prof. Marcia Anne Yablon-Zug of the University of South Carolina School of Law:

Increasingly, states are removing the children of undocumented immigrant parents and then terminating their parental rights. Such terminations represent a significant, but largely unnoticed, change in the law. There is no Supreme Court case or Congressional Act heralding this development. This is an unofficial change that comes directly from the child welfare agencies and family courts and their shifting conception of what justifies the termination of parental rights.

The article also points to a case in which a child was taken from his Guatemalan mother by a US judge and placed with a richer American family who the judge claimed were more “fit” parents.

Meanwhile, Alto Arizona reports on a delegation of children from Arizona and throughout the country who, on July 15, 2010, and along with mothers, aunts, and women’s advocates, testified before Congress about the police/ICE violence their families have endured. Here are some excerpts:

It was five or six thirty in the morning when my sister jumps on the bed crying saying that she overheard my dad talking to the babysitter. We decided to talk to my dad and he told us what was going on. He promised us that she would be back the next day, but she wasn’t. So my sisters and brothers were really upset. They started crying because they wanted their mother. But it was really painful to tell them, oh she’ll be there the next day, and keep on lying to them until she came home. It was really heartbreaking because we saw her with a broken jaw.
- young person giving testimony

Children are being terrorized and traumatized by these programs that are taking effect in Arizona. They are being torn apart by ski mask officers that take their moms away.
- Sylvia Herrera, Puente Arizona

I live in Maryland and I’m from El Salvador. I have a daughter that is 1.5 years old. One day I called the police because of a domestic violence issue. I thought they would help me, but instead they began harassing me because they thought I was selling illegal phone cards. I was detained for 5 days. I thought I would never see my daughter and husband again. They released me, but with a tracking device. Now I have an order for deportation.
- woman giving testimony

Here's the full video:

Stop Separating Families: Stop SB1070, 287(g), & the Secure Communities Act from mansee on Vimeo.

The relationship between gender violence and immigration violence is profound. Anti-immigrant racism and violence is destructive to immigrant families and puts immigrant women and queer/trans folks at more risk for domestic & sexual violence, economic exploitation, police brutality, and reproductive assaults.

The National Women’s Caucus Against ICE and Police Collaboration has written a letter asking President Obama to stop ICE and local police collaboration programs, such as 287(g) and “Secure Communities,” which opened the door to the passage of Arizona’s SB1070. Here’s an excerpt:

We, supporters of women’s and children’s rights, urge you to address the growing human rights threat against women and children in the United States as a result of failed immigration enforcement programs. In the last two years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau has expanded programs that enlist local law enforcement to help enforce federal immigration law with particularly disastrous consequences for women and children. Programs like 287(g) and the “Secure Communities” initiatives undermine family safety, deter women survivors of violence from seeking protection or help, facilitate workplace harassment and employer abuse, and create tremendous suffering and psychological trauma for separated mothers and children.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tucson Students Aren't Deterred by Ethnic-Studies Controversy

Maria Federico Brummer, center, teaches American government from a Mexican-American perspective at Tucson High Magnet School. State school officials want to shut down such classes in December.
—David Sanders for Education Week

In the midst of an attempt by Arizona’s legislature and top education official to shut down ethnic-studies courses in the Tucson Unified School District, students here at Tucson High Magnet School are flocking to the courses this school year.
At least one class in two of the courses taught from a Mexican-American perspective at this school have more than 45 students, although the union contract calls for no more than 35 students in a class. School district officials say enrollment in Mexican-American studies in Tucson Unified’s 14 high schools has nearly doubled since last school year, from 781 to 1,400 students.

“Ethnic studies allow me to read and view and analyze different forms of literature and learning from another perspective,” said Krysta Diaz, 17, one of 386 students taking an ethnic-studies course at the school this year. The courses attract primarily students like Ms. Diaz, who are of Mexican-American heritage, but also draw in the occasional African-American, Anglo, or immigrant from a country other than Mexico.

Some students say the controversy over ethnic studies caused them to want to check out the courses for themselves. But others say they signed up to learn more about social justice generally or Mexican-American culture and history specifically.
The political storm engulfing the debate over ethnic studies in Arizona’s high schools seems to be gaining a momentum like that of other recent high-profile debates in the Grand Canyon State, such as the one over its plans for enforcing federal immigration laws.

Fostering Hostility?
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and Deputy Superintendent Margaret Dugan contend the courses teach anti-American ideas and encourage Mexican-Americans to think of themselves as victims. In public letters, Mr. Horne has quoted a former teacher from Tucson Unified as saying the courses foster hostility among Mexican-American students toward U.S. society.

The state schools chief helped convince the Arizona legislature to approve a law, signed in April by Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, that aims to ban the kind of ethnic studies public schools are offering. Scheduled to take effect Dec. 31, the law bars all public schools across the state from providing courses designed for a particular ethnic group, that advocate ethnic solidarity, or that promote resentment toward a race or group of people. But public attention has focused on the 60,000-student Tucson district, known to have the only districtwide ethnic-studies program in the state, where a showdown is currently shaping up between state and district school officials.

Last month, Mr. Horne sent a letter to John Carroll, Tucson’s interim school superintendent, saying that if the district continues to teach ethnic studies after the law becomes effective, the Arizona education department will withhold 10 percent of the school district’s funds. Mr. Horne, who is the Republican nominee for state attorney general, won’t be in his education post then. But John Huppenthal, who landed the Republican nomination to replace him, has run a radio ad saying he aims to shut down the ethnic-studies courses, according to local news media.

A cut in funds “would sting,” said Abel Morado, the principal at Tucson High. But he said he believes the Tucson Unified school board will stand up for continuing to offer ethnic studies. The courses are valuable, he said, because “a student’s identification with the curriculum is non-negotiable.”

The expansion of ethnic studies in the Tucson school district is also a key component of a post-unitary status plan that stemmed from a federal desegregation case. The plan was adopted by the district’s school board in July 2009 and approved by a federal judge in December.

At the 2,900-student Tucson High Magnet School, where the ethnic-studies courses have been taught since 1998, students can earn regular English, American history, or American government credits for the courses. Teachers use regular textbooks as a point of reference, said Martin Sean Arce, the district’s director of Mexican-American studies, but also use sources such as Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodulfo Acuna, that teach perspectives that may not get much play in a traditional K-12 classroom. In a paper he co-wrote last year for an academic journal, Mr. Arce contends that the courses draw on “culture as a resource” and help students develop their own academic voice.

Broad Appeal
While critics have targeted the ethnic-studies courses with a Mexican-American emphasis, Tucson High Magnet also offers a Native-American literature and an African-American literature course under the same umbrella. Of the 386 students taking ethnic-studies classes at the high school, 332 are taking Mexican-American studies while 54 are taking either African-American or Native American studies. About 70 percent of the school’s students are Latinos, mostly Mexican-Americans; 20 percent are Anglos, and the rest are African-American, Asian-American, or Native American.

In his public letters, Mr. Horne quotes criticism of ethnic studies at Tucson Unified by John A. Ward, a Mexican-American and a former U.S. history teacher for the district, that a columnist for The Arizona Republic cited in 2008. Mr. Ward taught a class in American history from a Mexican-American perspective at Tucson High during the 2002-03 school year. He is now a school district auditor for the state auditor general.

Mr. Ward said in an interview this month that he shared the teaching of the class primarily with Mr. Arce though two other Mexican-American men also sometimes taught it. He said the other teachers aimed “to create this very, very strong ethnic identity among the kids that created a sense of separatism, that America was a country run by the white establishment, that they were outsiders to it and always would be, and that they had to come together as a unified group and fight the system.”
By contrast, said Mr. Ward, “if I had an ideological perspective, it was that while we fall short, the overall trajectory of this country has always been to make people [of all colors] freer. It’s still a work in progress, ... but we’re moving in the right direction.”

He said he fought to introduce works by conservatives to students to balance out their other assignments. He wanted to assign What’s So Great About America, by Dinesh D’Souza, and writings by former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork.
Mr. Arce said this month that he told Mr. Ward that such writings weren’t appropriate for the course. By both men’s accounts, Mr. Ward was removed from the course and reassigned to other teaching duties.

A central issue in the debate is how much academic freedom is afforded a school district over its curriculum.
Ten teachers in Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American studies department, plus Mr. Arce, intend to file a constitutional challenge to the state law banning ethnic studies in mid- to late October, according to Richard M. Martinez, a Tucson-based lawyer who is representing them. He said the lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Mr. Martinez said the challenge will argue that the state law violates the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it targets one school district, Tucson Unified, and one group of people, Mexican-Americans.

Administrators and teachers in the district acknowledged that the ethnic studies courses are not the traditional high school fare. But they said they are about teaching “empowerment,” not victimization.

Curtis Acosta, who teaches juniors and seniors Social Justice and Latino Literature at Tucson High Magnet, said courses such as his offered by the Mexican-American studies department provide “a classroom that is more authentic to the students’ lived experiences.”

On a recent school day, Mr. Acosta gave seniors homework to write a bibliography of eight books, songs, movies, “or other types of artistic expression that has either influenced your life or illustrates who you are as a person.” They were also instructed to write 80 to 150 words about “the reason the words resonate with you.”

The assignment came with a pep talk for students to be bold in demonstrating their academic ability. “People get into who we are, what we are,” Mr. Acosta said. “Maybe we’re not who they think we are.”

The students also worked in groups to reflect on an article about the origin and contribution of hip-hop music to the United States.

Real-Life Lesson
Meanwhile, for the American Government/Ethnic Studies course, teacher Maria Federico Brummer has designed a unit on the ethnic studies controversy. For a recent class, she assigned for homework a news article about the dispute, two opposing editorials in the debate, and one of Mr. Horne’s public letters criticizing ethnic studies. She didn’t express a point of view on the issue.

Students say that critics’ claims that they’re taught to be victims in the class couldn’t be further from the truth.
The difference between ethnic studies and regular high school courses, said Roman Figueroa, 17, is “we are more socially critical of a lot of things around us. We explore the other side of the story.”

In a recent discussion in Mr. Acosta’s class, Mr. Figueroa said a more diverse group of students should be recruited to ethnic studies. He took a step toward that goal himself by persuading his best friend, Nasrat Malekzai, 18, to enroll in Latino literature. Mr. Malekzai is an immigrant from Russia and a member of Afghanistan’s Pashtun minority.

For his part, Mr. Malekzai said, he chose to enroll in Latino literature rather than regular senior English because he wanted to learn more about Mexican-American culture. After all, he said, he’s “surrounded” by Mexican-Americans at school. “The class has opened my eyes,” he said.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20, 2010, 2:02 PM
Border Governors Conference Under Way, Minus Most Governors

SANTA FE, N.M. — There was plenty of star power present at the kickoff reception for the U.S.-Mexico border governors’ conference on Sunday night. Over there, Shirley MacLaine, the actress. And there, Sam Donaldson, the newsman. All around, politicians from Mexico.

But it was those who did not show up to sip margaritas at Gov. Bill Richardson’s hilltop home who were the subject of the most attention.

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas stayed away from the session, which Mr. Richardson organized after six Mexican governors, in protest of Arizona’s immigration crackdown, refused to attend a summit that Ms. Brewer had been planning in Phoenix.

Then, at the last minute, there was another no show. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a co-chairman of the rogue session in Santa Fe, sent word that budget woes in Sacramento would prevent him from attending. He sent his lieutenant governor, Abel Maldonado, instead.

Although Mr. Maldonado dazzled the crowd by recounting, in Spanish, how he was the son of Mexican field workers, it was not lost on anybody that Mr. Schwarzenegger’s absence meant Mr. Richardson was the lone governor from the United States at the session.

Representation by Mexican governors was robust, with all six from the Mexican side of the border showing up along with many governors-elect who were voted in over the summer, organizers said. Ms. Brewer’s name did not come up directly in the opening remarks, but Gov. Humberto Moreira Valdés of Mexico’s Coahuila State left no doubt about who he was speaking about when he praised Mr. Richardson and Mr. Maldonado for their friendship with Mexico and noted that not every border leader thought the same way.

Perhaps trying to defend herself, Mrs. Brewer granted an interview with Univision, a major Spanish-language broadcaster, that was shown over the weekend. She said she was disappointed that the Mexican governors had not come to Arizona to hash out the issue of illegal immigration face to face and was hurt that she was being branded by some as a racist.

“Not only am I concerned, it’s really disappointing to me,” she told Jorge Ramos, a Univision anchor. “I’ve lived in the Southwest my whole life. I’ve got many friends, of many cultures and certainly a great deal of them are Hispanics, and I love them from the bottom of my heart. I love everybody, Jorge, from the bottom of my heart.”

Mr. Richardson said it was Arizona’s harsh immigration law, much of which has been blocked from being implemented by a federal judge, that prompted him to call the session in his state. “You can’t just throw stones at each other and pass bad laws,” he told New Mexico television.

Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the border governors typically dealt with nuts and bolts issues that cross national boundaries, like improving the border economy and helping adjacent states with firefighting. At last year’s session in Monterrey, Mexico, Mr. Richardson was also the only American governor present after others dropped out at the last minute because of scheduling concerns.

“The ongoing collaboration among the 10 border states is important,” said Mr. Selee, one of the experts who was to address the elected officials. “The meeting itself rises and falls in prominence.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Immigration 101 Becoming a legal immigrant is more complicated than you might think

The young woman sitting at a kitchen table with her father looks like any other Arizona teenager. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she's wearing jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a large silver peace sign.

Moments ago she was running around her family's house in slippers being chased by a little black puppy her family got her—a perfect distraction from her family's worries that her father faces deportation back to Mexico, where the family came from more than 14 years ago.

At the request of the family's attorney, the Tucson Weekly will not identify her or her father or mother. The family is undocumented, in the country illegally. But this 18-year-old wants you to know a few things about her. She wants you to know that she works extra hard to be a good person. She obeys the law, works hard in school and cares about her community. She is in almost every way a model U.S. citizen.

"I've always had to work harder than most of the other kids I know, kids who have their papers, kids who are here legally and always getting into trouble," she explains.

She entered the United States when she was three years old. Now she plays a bit of a waiting game, hoping for the passage of the Dream Act legislation, which would allow young adults who entered the U.S. illegally as young children to stay in the country and be able to eventually apply for citizenship.

"We've been here for 14 years. My father came here—jumped over the fence. My brother and I came here in a car with friends, and my mother came over in a different car," she says with just a slight accent.

"We've been here most of my life. I don't remember anything about Mexico."

Part of the waiting game for her also centers on her father, who was apprehended in early July during a traffic stop and spent three weeks in detention while his family figured out the process to post bond and have him released.

Eventually, her father may face deportation proceedings, although she says an attorney is working with the family to help him avoid deportation or at least slow the process to allow him to continue staying with his family as long as possible.

Her father says he was going to work in a truck with two other people for a job he had doing drywall. He was driving in a construction zone that changed the speed limit abruptly to 25 miles per hour and he wasn't able to slow down fast enough. The police officer who stopped him gave him a ticket for speeding and another ticket for a problem with the car and then another for an expired drivers' license. The cop also asked the other two people in the car for their identification and asked about their legal status.

"The (SB 1070) law hadn't (taken effect) yet, but the police asked if they were Mexican. They didn't have any ID. At that instant my dad showed them a G-28 paper that indicates he has an attorney representing him. I think it's what eventually helped us get him released on bond."

She also thinks what helped her father was the information she has learned being involved in local immigration organizations, such as Tierra Y Libertad. Through Tierra, she says she's learned what to do if she's stopped and asked about immigration status. She taught this to her parents and other members of the community. Her father followed her advice, while the two men with him did not.

When the Border Patrol showed up, an officer asked all the men to sign a document regarding their legal status, but her father didn't sign anything and only presented a copy of the G-28 form. The two men with him signed the forms and went through immediate deportation proceedings. Her father went to detention in Florence and because there wasn't enough room he was transferred to a facility in Pinal County, where he waited almost a month before he finally saw a judge.

His daughter says it was difficult because they knew he had been arrested, but when they called Border Patrol they were told his name wasn't in the system. It took a long time to figure out where he was and get his proper identification number so an attorney could begin working on his case.

Her father tells her that the best thing to do right now isn't to worry, but continue to work, go to school and move forward. She takes that advice to heart, as he took her advice on getting stopped by police.

"But don't get me wrong, when this happened, when I was out of this house people saw me as a strong person, confident and getting out there, but when I got home I would fall apart. I cried almost every night," she says.

"It is hard, and at the same time you have to suck it up and continue. My dad is a really strong person. 'You shouldn't worry. If it is going to happen, we have to continue our lives.' I'm going to use this experience to help people out. I want to tell them what I know because it is a really hard situation to be in. Be prepared."

Rachel Wilson, a Tucson immigration attorney who represented the father when he was first detained, says the man and his 18-year-old daughter are an example of why most perceptions of the current immigration process are false.

"Out there, there is this perception that there is a process you can easily go through to become legal, but let's say you're Mexican as an example, since most of the immigrants in Tucson are from Mexico. You decide you want to move to the U.S. for economic opportunity, but if you don't have any family members here ... that will sponsor a visa for you, there is no way for them to come legally to the U.S."

The U.S. immigration process can be frustrating for her and her clients, as well as the dozens of people who walk into her office seeking help only to be told that there is nothing she can do because of the way the law is set up and how the individual arrived in the country.

If a person wants a work visa in the U.S., and eventually to become a citizen, it's easier if they have a relative in the country who has legal status and can file a petition on their behalf. In those instances there are lines of people waiting—a wait that can go from a period of a few years to sometimes almost a decade.

"If you have an immediate relative who lives in the United States that is your spouse or a child over 21, then you can apply for a visa relatively quickly. It has to be your immediate relative and that person has to be a citizen. So then let's say you have a spouse who is a legal permanent resident; then you have to get in line and wait probably three or four years. Or you go all the way down to the farthest relative away who can invite a person in, who is a brother or sister who is a citizen, and that line for Mexican citizens is long. There are different lines based on what country you are from. There are some countries that have extra long lines because the United States has determined that there are too many people from that country already," Wilson explains.

Wilson sits at her computer scrolling through the U.S. State Department website that has all the immigration status information, including what's called the visa bulletin, a section that immigration attorneys and immigrants often check to find out when their waiting period is going to end.

On the bulletin posted for September 2010 (travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5113.html) is an explanation of the different visa categories—employment-based visas and family-based visas are all based on specific numbers of visas allotted each year for each category and five countries that have a specific visa quota. Mexico is included in that list, as well as China (mainland born), India, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

Every category also has a limit to the number of visas that can be issued, but what's more troubling for Wilson and other immigration attorneys in Tucson isn't really the limit on the number of visas, but the backlog that prevents immigration from happening in a timely manner.

Mexico happens to be the most backlogged of all the countries on the bulletin. For example, next month the State Department will look at petitions of brothers and sisters of adult citizens that were filed in January 1994, but if you are from China, they are going to be getting to petitions filed in October 2001.

"It's really complicated. When they are talking about the preferences they are talking about the degree to the relationship you have and what preference you are in the visa system. So then let's say you're Mexican and you have a brother or sister in the United States who petitions for you. Here we are in 2010, and they are processing petitions that were filed in 1994. So that's a wait of 16 years," Wilson says.

Rather than wait, many people come over illegally because the system can be daunting and complicated. For example, Wilson says if someone filed paperwork for a relative before April 30, 2001, and they come here illegally and don't get caught before their visa comes up, they can get a green card. "If, however, your relative filed an application for you after 2001, if you stay here, even if you don't get caught until your visa comes up, you can't get a green card because you made an illegal entry."

The 2001 cutoff comes from 1996 immigration reforms that the U.S. Congress kept renewing and grandfathering, but stopped in 2001—six months before Sept. 11. The father she helped with the 18-year-old daughter who is also here illegally is also an example of the backlog problem. His U.S. citizen brother filed a petition for him long before 2001, but it will probably be another six years before he finally gets a green card.

"It took us three weeks to get him out of detention, and as far as I can tell, he has no relief from deportation except to leave voluntarily, and then in six years when his visa comes up he'll have to apply for permission to enter ... which at this point I don't know if he can do," Wilson says.

Is the immigration system and backlog like a bureaucratic mess from a scene in the movie Brazil?

"Oh yes," Wilson answers. "Some judges have compared it to the tax code, and it's just as complicated and its crazy and it doesn't make any sense. Like for example, if you are an asylum seeker and you present yourself at the border and say, 'I'm seeking asylum,' they will immediately take you to detention, because that person is what is called an arriving alien. Arriving aliens are subject to mandatory detention and can't get bond. There is no provision for bond. But if you cross the border illegally and are apprehended somewhere inside the border, then you're not considered an arriving alien and are eligible for bond. Does that make any sense?"

Wilson says the system is so frustrating because it often goes against all the values that guided her to law school to become an attorney.

"Representing people on a one-by-one basis, it is hard to make any real change in the system; it's more like just trying to shepherd people through it. I went into law school to fight the man, but I'm not fighting the man, I'm fighting a bureaucracy," Wilson says.

"I've found that a lot of the people who work in the immigration service don't even want to enforce the law this way, and don't want the rules to be like this, but they are. And a lot of times it's not even the law that gets in the way; a lot of times it's just the bureaucracy. For example, let's say the law is on your side. You have the correct relationship with a U.S. citizen ... you can file your paperwork, and it gets sent back to you because of some clerical error. It doesn't get resolved right away. Meanwhile that person doesn't have authorization to work and have the documents they need to get a job, even though it's just a little clerical error. ... They may not be able to work for three to six months."

If anything does work in the system it is deportation. Wilson says people who argue that the government isn't doing its job and deporting people are wrong. "It's a flat-out lie. ... The government is deporting people left and right, and immigration courts are backed up two or three years in deportation hearings. The detention centers are full of people, and Immigration has to rent out space in other facilities. For example, everyone is scattered now between the detention center in Eloy and the detention center in Florence, and the Pinal County Jail and the Central Detention Center, and women are sometimes sent out to (the Goodyear prison) Perryville."

"What the government isn't good at is processing people's (applications)—people who have a right to be here, people who have the ability to get their green card."

Wilson says this is due to an inefficient system that isn't funded properly and is now a hot potato for any politician who suggests more funding for immigration services. Right now the only way immigration services are funded is through the collection of fees. People who are eligible for immigration have to pay $1,010 for a green card, and a citizenship application costs $675.

"I think that people who are here and have been here for a long time need to have a way to come out of the shadows and work legally," Wilson says.

Another lie Wilson often hears is that people who hire illegal workers pay them legal wages.

"Undocumented workers are coming here working for less than a legal wage, which in turn causes more businesses to want to hire more undocumented people because they can get away with paying them less than the legal wage. In my view of it, we don't have as much of an immigration problem so much as we have a labor problem. We have lax enforcement of our laws and if you go to those legislators in Phoenix and talk about law enforcement, 'What part of illegal don't you understand? Tell me, Senator (Russell) Pearce, about the employers who pay less than the legal wage. Why aren't you cracking down on employers who pay less than the legal wage?'" Wilson asks.

"If we were to enforce our labor laws, there would be less incentive to come here because employers would have to pay the same to everybody regardless of documentation—then there would be no incentive to hire anyone undocumented. At the same time, if we had fewer undocumented people, gave people a chance to get their documentation in some fashion, that would cut down on the exploitation as well."

Immigration, Wilson says, is a straw man that keeps people from focusing on the real problems. If people are worried about crime, she says that there are already many laws against crimes. "Immigration is just a handy scapegoat for all these other problems, so going after immigration doesn't solve any of those problems."

Real immigration reform was bantered about in the past during a different economic and political climate, even by the likes of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who pushed for reform legislation with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Now, if you want a job in politics, it's best to keep reform off the table.

Immigration attorney Maurice "Mo" Goldman says he wonders if Kennedy were still alive if he'd sit McCain down and persuade him to take up reform again. But real comprehensive immigration reform isn't about creating a guest-worker program and calling it a day.

"People would come here for five years, but not stay here and have no path for a green card," Goldman says. "That does not make sense to me. The employer isn't going to want them to go and will have grown attached to individuals and the individuals plant roots here and have children going to school here. I know there will be checks making sure people will have to leave, but we will be in the same boat we are in now with a bunch of people who don't want to leave."

Instead, he says, we have to make it easier for people to get their visas, and that will ultimately help benefit the U.S. It puts into practice the philosophy that comes from a country built by immigrants. The argument that other countries, including Mexico, treat their immigrants differently and wouldn't put up with the problem the U.S. does is also ridiculous, according to Goldman.

"First, this country was really built by immigrants. The U.S. didn't really have an identity until people were coming across the world. Sometimes they were brought here and enslaved, but our country has flourished because of our acceptance of others in this country. A lot of people come here and do great things," he says.

Rather than focus on those great things, Goldman says in the past decade people have focused on the bad because of Sept. 11. The argument becomes about security, but most statistics he's seen have shown that terrorists enter legally from other areas, but not Mexico.

Goldman thinks that rather than using immigrants to distract us from the country's real problems, people should read a study by Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, a UCLA associate professor of Chicano and Chicana studies, who determined that immigration benefits the economy.

According to Hinojosa-Ojeda's report (immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/raising-floor-american-workers), comprehensive immigration reform would increase the country's gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. If the country continues on the same path with detention and deportations, it will change the GDP to negative $2.6 trillion.

Besides the economics of immigration, Goldman says we need to consider that as a society we are allowing families to be torn apart and destroying people's lives; that in itself is un-American.

"As Americans we are a country that opens our arms to people and allows them to pay for their faults. People have to pay a fine or be pardoned for different reasons. We are a forgiving country, but lately not when it comes to immigration," Goldman says.

For young people who came into the country illegally as infants or toddlers and are now in high school or fresh out of college trying to get jobs, it is an especially unfair system that needs to be changed with legislation like the Dream Act, Goldman says.

"(They) just want to go to college to better themselves and our society. They don't want to go out and commit crimes. They want to go out and be nurses and doctors. We need that. We need people to go out and be nurses, we need people who are going to join the military. Our military is thin and needs to be increased exponentially," Goldman says.

"I wonder what guys like Jesse Kelly or Jonathan Paton would say if you proposed that to them. Being military guys, how do they argue against that? ... They'd probably say it would benefit the parents eventually, or we're going to allow a law-breaker to receive some sort of benefit. But I don't think that kind of argument is justified when you look at the full picture."

Sometimes the only way to sway people who are against immigration reform, or who argue based on myths rather than fact, is for them to personally experience the immigration system. When Goldman worked as an attorney in New York, where there is a more varied population of immigrants entering legally and illegally, he found it interesting that people who were typically conservative would change their minds when it involved a nanny or someone else who worked for them.

"Then they finally seemed to get it," he says.

Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, an immigration advocacy and education organization that supports immigration reform, says she thinks lawyers have it the most difficult because their job is to work through a system that doesn't have a lot of options.

"In my field at least I get to work with people, and sometimes we win—well, sort of," Allen says.

Goldman serves as chair of the Border Action Network board. Allen says she has seen him provide services pro bono, services for which, she says, many in the community are most grateful.

But besides the legal issues, Allen says her organization also teaches immigrants how to develop political skills to be leaders in their community and in the state in order to reform immigration policies.

"Clearly many of us are frustrated and challenged by the existing system," Allen says. But she says immigrants get involved with the organization and get over their fears because they realize there is "an enormous disconnect about who immigrants are, their role in this country, and what they want. People are willing to step up and say 'Whoa, none of that is true. Here's who I am, here's who we really are. We want the same things that every other family wants ... we want to participate and be part of this country.'"

As it is for Wilson and Goldman, the misinformation regarding undocumented immigrants is troubling for Allen. She often travels to Phoenix to keep tabs on the Legislature and any bills that address immigration. Usually the vitriolic rhetoric comes from Senator Russell Pearce, along with members of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Their presentation equates immigrants with murderers and crime.

"This whole myth of criminality is constantly propagated even though criminologists all over the country over and over again say the opposite, which is why cops are often on the same side as immigrant activists, because they have found that a safe community has a high immigrant population," Allen says.

Immigrant communities often go to great lengths to be law-abiding and respectful. Pearce and other politicians use myths to justify laws that are "meant to address some perceived problem that is not actually the problem," she says.

Also at issue is how politicians take separate problems—people who cross over illegally, national security, and criminal activity—and blur them together to create greater problems to support legislation like SB 1070. Militarizing the border isn't the way to deal with these issues, Allen says, but separating the issues and creating policy responses for each problem is.

Ultimately, what will make it better for everyone and prevent politicians from dehumanizing and criminalizing immigrants through false information is immigration reform, Allen says.

What a relief it would be for immigrant communities and the lawyers who represent them. Wilson says she knows that when someone is caught and faces deportation there is little she can do to help them, even if they have U.S.-born children they might have to leave behind.

"There are people who have been living here 10, 20 to 30 years and have entire families here. There's nothing I can do for them," Wilson says. "They can ask to remain, but to win that case they have to show that they have U.S. citizen children or spouse and that their family will suffer extreme and unusual hardship if they are deported."

However, separation from family or loss of that person's income is not enough. If the child or wife is disabled, that could actually help.

"So I'm constantly asking about that—'Does your child have a learning disability? Does your child have all their limbs?' I'm just hoping for anything," Wilson says.

But despite the challenges, once in a while there are a few miracles. Goldman points to a case that occurred in March 2008 when the state raided a Tucson Panda Express restaurant and changed the lives of 11 workers (See "The Panda Express 11," Nov. 6, 2008), separating them from their families and infant children.

Included among the 11 people was Omar Espino-Lara, who was working as a Panda Express assistant manager when the raid occurred. Now 27, Espino-Lara first came to Tucson at the age of nine. After two years, he says his family moved back to Guanajuato, but returned to Tucson permanently when he was 14.

He was a soccer star at Sunnyside High School and was working at Panda Express because he had to support his family after his father got hurt in an accident, so he had to drop out of Pima Community College.

"I'm back at Pima," Espino-Lara says. "I'm trying to finish my certification for an A.A. in accounting, and then transfer to the UA."

After the Panda Express raid, he says he went to the detention center in Florence first, and then spent five months at the center in Eloy. He had applied for a visa in 2000 that would allow him to get his green card, but he had to wait five years. Then the raid.

"When I was taken to detention I didn't think I'd be able to stay. I thought I was headed back to Mexico, even though I haven't been there since I was 14," Espino-Lara says. "After I got out it was stressful. I had to go to court. I didn't know what was going to happen. Was this the last time I was going to see my family? Was the judge going to send me back to Mexico? Instead, the judge allowed me to prove I wasn't a dangerous person."

His permanent visa was finally approved on July 26, 2010. Still, even with a permanent visa, SB 1070 has taken a toll on his family, including all five of his U.S.-born children.

"Even though my wife is a U.S. citizen and I have this visa, my kids are scared. I like to play the radio in the car in Spanish, but my kids would yell at me to turn it down. 'I don't want the cop to stop us,' my daughter told me. I told her nothing can happen to them. 'You're citizens.' 'Yeah, but you're not. I'm scared for you,'" he says they told him.

Some of his children's friends didn't come back to school this year and left Arizona because of the new law, and their neighborhood has changed, too.

"Yeah, even though I have (a permanent visa) I still feel like a target, since it is based on how you look. But you keep going. I'm almost done with school. I've been working at the same time and doing this kind of slow, but I have most of the credits I need."

Wilson's 18-year-old client, whom the Weekly agreed to not identify, is trying to get back on track with her application to Pima. Her plan to start college this fall was derailed when her father was put in detention and she spent most of her time rallying the community to help her get him released.

She attended all of her elementary school years at Hollinger Elementary, middle school at Wakefield, and graduated from Pueblo Magnet High School.

"This set me back, but I had to help him, and I felt like I was under pressure because I was the middle man. All the information had to go through me," she says.

She's getting ready to take the assessment test and take classes this spring. She wants to attend a four-year college and major in agriculture and Latin American studies. She says she's also counting on the Dream Act.

"I cannot become a U.S. citizen with my parents; I have to find a different way. My way is going to be the Dream Act," she says.

"After this happened to my father and after SB 1070, I asked my parents if we should leave. They said, 'Why? This is our home and we are going to continue to live here.' Even when my father was in detention, my mother kept working (as a house cleaner). We respect the laws. We respect Border Patrol. We respect the police. We don't do anything stupid. We follow the rules just like any other person."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kerry Pitches Softer Approach to Immigration Raids

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano led a naturalization ceremony for more than 5,000 new Americans at Fenway Park, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday pitched a bill requiring federal authorities to take a more “humane” approach when enforcing immigration laws.

The “Families First Immigration Enforcement Act of 2010” calls for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to give state agencies advanced notice before an immigration raid so they can provide translators for the detainees.

The Kerry bill would also require ICE to check detainees to see if any should be released on the grounds that they are too sick, too old, pregnant or nursing, or fall under other vulnerable groups.

A third provision of the bill requires illegal immigrants to be detained near their local ICE office – space permitting – to prevent them from being sent hundreds of miles away from their families.

Kerry said ICE raids across the country, including a 2007 raid in his home state of Massachusetts where 360 workers were detained, triggered reports of detainee mistreatment, families being broken apart, and social and legal services being unavailable.

“This bill represents the humane approach needed to allow ICE to enforce the law without inflicting undue pain and suffering,” Kerry said in a statement Tuesday. “I've heard way too many stories about detainees being denied medical care, or access to a dependent child, elderly parent, or translator. There is no excuse for violations of basic human rights.

“Every person should be treated with common decency while we continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform,” he added.

At Boston’s Fenway Park, Napolitano and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas joined 5,200 new citizens from nearly 150 countries in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

“I am proud to welcome these men and women who have come from all over the world to become the newest citizens of our nation,” Napolitano said in a statement. “Our social, economic, and civic vitality needs the contributions, the perspectives, and the experiences of all Americans—including our newest Americans.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arizona immigration law's legal costs could top $1 million

by Ginger Rough
September 2, 2010 03:15 PM
The Arizona Republic

Defending the state against lawsuits related to Senate Bill 1070 has cost more than $440,000 to date, and outstanding bills could easily add up to an excess of $1 million or more.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office on Thursday released to The Republic the latest round of invoices from its outside legal counsel, Phoenix law firm Snell & Wilmer.

The bills, however, only cover work and charges incurred through the end of June, which doesn't include any costs related to the U.S. Department of Justice's suit, which was filed in July. The only three hearings in the cases so far also were held that month.

That means bills for July and August could be on par with, or even higher, than those already received, the Governor's Office said.

Last week, Brewer's legal team filed an argument explaining why she believes the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit should allow all of Arizona's new immigration law to go into effect. The governor is asking the appeals court to overturn the preliminary injunction put in place in late July by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton.

That injunction halted four parts of Senate Bill 1070, and oral arguments on the case are expected to be heard by the 9th Circuit the first week of November.

"The fees incurred have been, and will continue to be, sizeable as the governor's counsel responds to the massive number of filings in these lawsuits and prepares her filings before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals," Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said in an e-mail Thursday.

When asked if the office had any indication of cost totals for the July and August billings, Senseman said, "There's really no way of telling."

The state's tough new immigration law, portions of which took effect July 29, had been the subject of seven federal suits. One has been thrown out; another has been partially dismissed.

According to the Governor's Office, more than 219 attorneys have participated in the lawsuits, and there have been more than 900 legal filings containing more than 12,160 pages of
legal briefings related to the cases.

Money to pay for the state's legal costs is coming from Brewer's legal defense fund . So far she has authorized two expenditures: one for just over $77,000 to cover bills received for work in the last 11 days of May, and the second for $363,520.25 to cover the June legal charges.

The fund has received more than $3.6 million in donations to date, from 41,478 donors all across the country. A single donation in the amount of $1.5 million was received in the last two weeks from Timothy Mellon of Laramie, Wyo., Brewer's office said.

Public records show that Mellon is heir to a family banking fortune and is the chairman of Pan Am Systems, a privately-owned shipping and freight company based out of New Hampshire.

Mellon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor. Really. We Mean It.

Economists are making the case politicians are afraid to: Immigration is great for the U.S.
By James Ledbetter
Posted Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, at 5:26 PM ET

If you pay attention only to politics, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the current debate about immigration in America is limited to how severely it should be restricted—whether we need only to seal the border or actually change the birthright citizenship clause in the Constitution.

But among economic pundits, the discussion is heading in exactly the opposite direction. Pro-immigration arguments are booming, and reached a zenith this week with the publication of a paper by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, arguing among other things that immigrants, despite popular misconception, do not displace American workers. This has led a number of economic bloggers to make the very rational argument that one of the best things America could do now to fix our sagging economy is to encourage more people to come here and work.

According to the econo-blogosphere lately, immigration is a cure-all for America's economic ills. We'll get to the question of whether anyone is listening, but here is a guide to the virtues-of-immigration arguments that have been making the rounds in recent weeks.

Immigrants will solve our housing crisis. One major reason why housing prices remain in the doldrums and sales remain slack is that there are simply too many houses for sale. The National Association of Realtors reported that in July, there were 3.98 million existing homes on the market, representing a 12.5-month supply at the current pace of sales. That's an exceptionally high number (a normal market has a six-month supply). Until hundreds of thousands of those homes sell, the market is likely to stagnate. So, goes the argument, let's open the borders to immigrants who promise to buy a house. Every year tens of thousands more people apply for the highly coveted H-1B visas than receive them, and even the rejected applicants tend to be highly educated and highly skilled. Expand the number of visas granted, make them contingent on buying a house, and the newcomers will make a fast and substantial dent in the glutted market.

Immigrants are needed to replenish the American workforce. While the American labor force continues to grow, the rate at which it grows has been slowing down for decades. The Bureau of Labor Services projects that by 2020, the growth rate will be just 0.4 percent per year, and by 2030 just 0.3 percent per year. Some of this is attributable to baby boomers moving into retirement homes, and some is attributable to declining birth rates. If there aren't enough native-born Americans to fill jobs, they will be filled by immigrants. This is already happening. In recent years, most of the growth in the workforce has been attributable to immigrants, both legal and undocumented. In California, one worker in three was foreign-born in 2008. Hence, the continued flow of immigrants has important implications for propping up the American economy and keeping Social Security solvent.

Immigrants make the economy better. Not only does the San Francisco Fed paper—written, appropriately, by an Italian economist, Giovanni Peri—argue that immigrants don't hurt the economy, it actually makes the case that immigrants are putting money in the pockets of native-born workers. Specifically, it says that "total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6 percent to 9.9 percent increase in real income per worker." How does that happen? Businesses, Peri claims, adjust to the growing population by upgrading and expanding their facilities. In addition, both less-educated and more-educated immigrant workers tend to work in different categories than their native-born counterparts. For example, Peri says, "among more-educated workers, those born in the United States tend to work as managers, teachers, and nurses, while immigrants tend to work as engineers, scientists and doctors." The resulting specialization leads to higher productivity and thus to economic expansion.

So is it really that simple—open the borders and our problems will be solved? Not quite. For one thing, scale might matter. Most of the pro-immigration arguments are comparing the difference between, say, having 1 million new immigrants a year and having zero. Not all of the positive effects of immigration would necessarily stay the same or improve if it went, say, to 10 million a year. Moreover, these pro-immigration advocates for the most part aren't addressing the issues typically raised by anti-immigration forces, such as the demand that illegal immigration puts on taxpayer-funded resources. (If you believe the Center for Immigration Studies, taxpayers are already paying billions for the health care of illegal immigrants, though you can find much lower estimates, too.)

The political viability of the pro-immigration case, then, depends in part on what questions you're trying to answer. But the public discussion of immigration in America is apparently able to incorporate questions as sensational as whether to give dialysis to 38 undocumented aliens with kidney failure, and as absurd as whether or not Mexicans constitute a dangerous "fifth column" preparing to take over the United States. It would be nice if there were room enough to include some genuine, informed examination into immigration's economic impact.

The Ungreat Debate

The Ungreat Debate
Published: September 3, 2010

We do not generally look to gubernatorial debates for excitement. But this week there was a fascinating one in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer gave a bad performance of epic proportions. Really, Richard Nixon in 1960 was Demosthenes in Athens compared with this one.

Brewer began by blanking out during her introductory statement — there was this horrible 16-second interval where she went silent, stared down at her notes and giggled. The evening ended when she stomped away from reporters who were yelling: “Governor, please answer the question about the headless bodies.”

Everyone knows you never want to finish a big campaign night on a headless-body note.

Brewer is an unelected governor, a Republican who moved into the job when Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, was named secretary of homeland security. (Someday, when things are calmer, we may want to discuss whether it was really a good idea for President Obama to fill his administration with senators and governors from swing states.) She is trying to win a term in her own right by running almost exclusively on her support for that new Arizona law aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants.

The governor has been on national programs on Fox 20 times since April to talk about illegal immigration, but she has been generally unavailable to the Arizona reporters. I learned this from the postdebate newscast on the local Fox outlet in Phoenix, where the reporter Steve Krafft complained about her propensity to stonewall the state’s news media in favor of the national shows. During the postdebate confrontation, “I locked eyes with her,” said Krafft. “She was looking right at me as if perhaps, maybe, I might ask some question and bail her out. ... but all of us wanted an answer.”

The headless body debate goes back to Brewer’s longstanding contention that Arizona is plagued by “drugs and the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings” related to illegal immigration.

Naturally, inquiring minds wanted to know about the beheading part. “Oh, our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert — either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” she said in an interview.

This was both memorable and untrue. At the debate, her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard, claimed that Arizona was losing business because people around the country now believe it’s a hellhole of immigration-fueled violence. “Jan, I call upon you today to say there are no beheadings,” he demanded.

We will pause here briefly to express regret that questions like this don’t come up more frequently in gubernatorial debates. Really, it’s usually all about bonded indebtedness and pensions.

“Terry, I will call you out. I think that you ought to renounce your support and endorsement of the unions that are boycotting our state,” Brewer responded, not precisely to the point.

The most interesting issue in this campaign, and the most critical one for the rest of the nation, is whether crime by undocumented immigrants created public fear, which then led to the Arizona law and Brewer’s current popularity. Or whether politicians, in search of a winning issue, created the fear all by themselves. During John McCain’s sterling performance in his primary campaign this summer, he contended that cars full of illegal immigrants “are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.”

The nonexistent beheadings and alleged drive-by assaults are being brought up at a time when, as Goddard points out, “violent crime is at the lowest level it’s been since 1983 and crime along the border is at least at a 10-year-low.”

But there’s an undeniable surge in drug-related violence in Mexico. The question is whether, for Arizona, the problem lies in the general population of illegal immigrants or the well-financed and technologically sophisticated crime lords who smuggle drugs and human beings over the border.

Goddard, who is the state attorney general, is absolutely passionate on this subject. He can go on for hours about the Treasury Department’s failure to follow the dirty money. He worked with Western Union to stop the smugglers’ ability to receive payments by wire for their human cargo. He’s outraged about the way our laws limiting the amount of cash people can carry across the border haven’t kept up with the modern methods of transferring money.

None of these issues, alas, are nearly as exciting as headless bodies or demonic drivers.

In her postdebate repair effort, Brewer told a radio interviewer that “the bottom line is that there have been beheadings in the border region in Mexico.” She also said that the difference between her and her opponent was that “I’ve done something. Terry hasn’t did anything.” We are going to forgive her the sentence construction because, really, it had been a bad week.

She also announced that there will be no more debates.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is it really possible to opt-out of Secure Communities?

Last Thursday federal officials released a memo called "Setting the Record Straight" that outlines for the first time how local police can opt-out of sharing arrest data with immigration authorities via enrollment in the "Secure Communities" program. But so far, the process exists only on paper.

The memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states:

All of these steps sounded familiar to San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey, except the resolution.
"I did all of that," he said after reading the explanation.

When California signed a statewide agreement with ICE, Hennessey sent a letter to ICE on June 3 asking for his jurisdiction to opt-out of the program which allows agents to access arrest data from local jails.

Deputy Director for Secure Communities, Marc Rapp, responded to Hennessey with a phone call, the upshot of which was that there was no way his request could be granted. Shortly afterward, Secure Communities went into effect over the objection of the sheriff and his Board of Supervisors.

"I followed procedure, but they did not follow procedure," said Hennessey.

Now the sheriff has sent another letter, this time asking California Attorney General, Jerry Brown, to clarify whether San Fransisco can stop sending its misdemeanor arrest data to ICE.

Confusion over how to opt-out of Secure Communities may explain how ICE has enrolled 574 jurisdictions in 30 states since it began two years ago. While the new memo suggests Secure Communities is voluntary, it definitely seemed mandatory when Orange County, North Carolina tried to opt-out in January 2009.

"My first reaction to the memo was that this is a complete contradiction to everything they said before," said Marty Rosenbtlath, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Rosenblath is a member of Orange County's Human Rights commission, which was asked to investigate Secure Communities.

"We were told point blank by ICE that the only way for Orange County to opt-out was to stop fingerprinting people," he said.

As a result, the county passed a resolution with the following request:

Now Rosenbluth says he plans to revisit the opt-out issue with the commission and the sheriff.

"At our next meeting we're going to say, 'Excuse us, we have this new information," said Rosenbluth. "Would you mind please considering it?"

In counties already enrolled in Secure Communities, the push back is coming from both activists and local officials. Members of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia plan to ask the mayor to reconsider opting out. County Supervisors in Santa Clara, California may pass a resolution opposing the program.

Civil rights groups who filed an open records request with ICE in part to clarify the opt-out process say the agency's next step should be to include similar instructions in agreements with states yet to be enrolled.

"We demand a clear protocol be included in every single Secure Communities agreement," said Sarahi Uribe with the National Day Labor Organizing Network and lead organizer of the "Uncover The Truth Behind ICE and Police Collaborations" campaign.

Governors in Colorado and Washington could decide as soon as this week whether they will sign an agreement to enroll their states in Secure Communities. If they choose to join, local law enforcement agencies in those states could unleash a wave of opt-out requests that will put ICE's new explanation to the test.

The agency is already on the hot seat back in San Fransisco. ICE spokesman, Richard Rocha, told the Washington Independent he will discuss Sheriff Hennessey's new request to opt-out and seek a resolution that may "change the jurisdiction's activation status."

Stay tuned...

This post originally appeared on DeportationNation.org, a news website dedicated to critical coverage of how Secure Communities has turned local police into the front lines of a federal immigration crackdown.

Follow Renee Feltz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/reneefeltz