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Category:
Public Policy

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With President Obama set to announce another executive action on immigration this week, the newly-elected Republican majority in Congress is threatening countermeasures to thwart whatever program the president wants.  Last week there was loud talk about forcing yet another government shutdown if the president takes any action on immigration. Cooler heads among the Republican base have counseled against this. 


I have to say I was bemused and amused by the "government shutdown" threat.  Setting aside the enormous problems that a shutdown causes across all areas of civic and economic life, the threatmakers must have very little understanding of how our immigration system is actually run.  As I detailed during last year's government shutdown, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service-- which is the agency responsible for processing DACA applications and probably any new executive programs--goes right on working when the government is shutdown.  It's funded by filing fees, not taxes. ...

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In August, 2014 I spent a week in Artesia, New Mexico working on asylum cases for women and children imprisoned there by our government.  Sadly, hundreds are still imprisoned there and the U.S. Government is building even more family prisons.  These are my letters to the President and First Lady, mailed in September.


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington DC 20500-0001


Dear Mr. President,

I have been a supporter of your presidency since the beginning.  My husband and I took our then-infant daughter to celebrate in Millennium Park in Chicago on Election Day in 2008, and I remember it as one of the happiest events I have ever been at in my life.  I have had an Obama bobblehead in my office for years.

No more. The president I supported ran on a platform of Hope.  He chanted "yes we can!" and "Sí, se puede!"  That president is gone.

I have spent the past weeks working with women, children, and infants that you have imprisoned, Mr. President, in what I can on...

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As our government scrambles to find some way to handle the thousands of desperate migrant children and families from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador slipping across our southern border, we should remember the past.  Seventy-five years ago, in June of 1939 another wave of desperate migrants was pleading for entry to our country. There were no visas available because of strict quotas on immigrants, and legislation that would have allowed more of these migrants into the country had died in Congress.  President Roosevelt and his Department of State declined to extend any extraordinary relief, instead sending a letter to the migrants that they must "await their turns on the waiting list."  We turned away boatloads of migrants, Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany, and sent them back because they did not fit our immigration priorities. Of the 938 passengers on one ship, the St. Louis, more than 250 died in the Holocaust.

As an American, I am not proud of that moment in ...
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With the intractable disagreements about the Affordable Care Act stalling any productive budget action by Congress, the Federal Government is likely to shut down at midnight tonight. What will this mean for the many thousands of immigrants, potential immigrants, foreign workers, and businesses waiting for government action on visas applications, petitions, and other immigration matters?

To a large extent, it depends on what agency is responsible for the matter,    (see sidebar "Who's in Charge?") and whether the matter is considered 'essential."  If this shutdown follows past protocol, here is what we can expect for different matters:

Visa Applications before U.S. Consulates Abroad (Department of State)

All visa processing will likely shut down except for diplomatic visas and life-or-death matters.  Unless you are waiting for Humanitarian Parole for urgent medical treatment, you will probably need to reschedule any visas interviews that fall on days the government is shut down.  Phone ...
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Yesterday was a banner day for the "Marriage Equality" movement in the United States.  In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme court struck down the federal "Defense of Marriage Act," (DOMA) a 1996 law which defined "marriage" as a union between a man and a woman for purposes of federal laws.  

When it was enacted, DOMA really just codified the status quo; no jurisdiction had yet recognized marriage between partners of the same sex. The law was a preemptive strike at a time when the earliest gay marriage cases were under consideration in the Hawaiian courts.  The situation now is vastly different.

Marriage equality, defined as recognizing same-sex marriages in the same way as opposite-sex marriages, has been gaining steam for the past decade.  As recently as ten years ago opponents of same-sex marriage could claim the "will of the people" was against marriage equality, because no state had legislatively granted same-sex marriage rights and many states had passed laws or constitutiona...
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As the full Senate is debating a comprehensive bill reforming federal immigration laws, across the street today the House Committee on the Judiciary was busy with a bill, the SAFE Act, which would have states enforce our immigration laws while the federal government foots the bill.  

As I have written earlier, under current laws and regulations, state and local law enforcement are encouraged to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the "Secure Communities" program, but not all police forces choose to do so.  As California Attorney General Kamal Harris stated in an informational bulletin on Secure Communities: "Under principles of federalism, neither Congress nor the federal executive branch can require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense."

The SAFE act would deny Homeland Security funding to any state or municipality which does not adequately cooperate with ICE, and also deny such funding to any jurisdiction with a "statute, policy, ...
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Our current immigrations laws are full of harsh provisions which grant no leeway for mercy, and INA Sec. 236(c) (8 U.S.C. Sec. 1226(C)) may be the harshest of all. This provision requires that any alien whom the Department of Homeland Security is trying to deport must be imprisoned for the entire length of the proceedings with no bond, if the alien has a previous conviction for any listed crimes, including simple possession of marijuana or drugs.  As I have written previously,  the Immigration Reform Bill currently under consideration in the Senate would bring some sanity to this detention provision by allowing alternatives to imprisonment such as probation-like monitoring and by giving immigration judges the discretion to issue bond to aliens who do not pose a threat to public safety.

However, in the other wing of the Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee is trying to increase imprisonments.  Buried within budget for the Department of Homeland Security is a provision which inc...
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As the Senate Judiciary Committee works over the new immigration bill this week, we have seen the familiar tug-of-war between factions demanding enforcement and accountability for rule-breakers, and those who would rather wipe the slate clean and give transgressors a chance to stay.  I support rule-of-law, but laws are human creations, which we write, amend and even ignore or forget as suits our circumstances.  When considering whether to adopt, amend, or reject a law, we must ensure that the law does not create greater harm than it seeks to prevent.

We must ask ourselves which would cause greater harm to society: breaking the law, or enforcing it?  For much of our current immigration code, the harm caused by enforcement is far greater than the harm caused by the breech.  Below is one family's story, representative of thousands more.


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I had intended today to write more about immigration in response to the Heritage Foundation's report which has been getting quite a lot of media attention.  However, in reading the report I find that it is really not about immigration at all.  Hence, neither is this blog.

I keep in my office a slim volume entitled "American Legacy: The United States Constitution and other Essential Documents of American Democracy."  I will begin today's blog with a quotation to remind us all of our nation's founding principles.  

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form as to them shall see...
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Categories: Public Policy

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This week the "gang of eight" senators introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.  At 844 pages, the bill proposes more changes than can be addressed in a blog post.  I think the bill in its current form takes some good steps, but needlessly makes an already complicated system even more complicated. Here is a quick rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good:

One of the best changes that is proposed is finally allowing a waiver for false claims to U.S. Citizenship.  As I have written previously, this is one of the harshest provisions of immigration laws today.  A person who EVER claimed to be a U.S. Citizen is permanently inadmissible forever and ever with almost no exceptions allowed.  If BSEOIMA (Great Acronym!) becomes law, at least a person with a false claim will have a chance to ask the government to waive the false claim if he can show that keeping him out of the country would cause extreme hardship to himself or his family...
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Happy International Women's Day!  March 8th is celebrated around the world as a day to honor women's contributions to economy and society.  This date actually commemorates strikes by female garment workers in New York in 1857 and 1908, according to this article in today's Christian Science Monitor, and was initially called "International Working Women's Day."  Women around the world will have some time off work to celebrate, and will receive flowers and small gifts from employers and students.  In many nations, the day is also being used for events and demonstrations highlighting the special challenges that women still face, including gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, patriarchal oppression, and unequal pay.  The date is little marked in the United States, perhaps due to our national aversion to publicly condoning anything that's ever been associated with or approved by socialists anywhere. 

Yesterday, however, our President did give the 51% an early Women's Day pres...
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Last week Governor Quinn signed a law that sets up a licensing protocol for Illinois drivers who do not have legal immigrant status.    The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights was a driving force behind this bill, and has created this information sheet describing the features and limitation of the Temporary Visitor Driver's License.

I hope that this begins a trend among our legislative bodies to carefully consider the purpose served by any particular license, benefit, or right and whether that purpose is served by restricting it to persons of certain status.

Far too often in our nation's recent history, lawmakers have responded to shocking tragedies by placing sweeping restrictions on entire classes of people who share some characteristics with the perpetrators of horrific acts.  Thus, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 begat the "REAL ID Act" of 2005.  Since many of the terrorists who planned an implemented the attacks had been living in the United States, ...
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The immigration laws are truly "writ in water."  Our Constitution makes only the barest mention of immigration, Article I gives Congress the power "To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization" and "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations."  In essence, our Constitution says that who can enter our country and who can become a citizen is entirely up to Congress.

How Congress has chosen to regulate has varied from letting in everyone with no restrictions (1776-1875), to excluding certain nationalities altogether and setting quotas on others (1882-1965), to promulgating a litany of misdeeds which will bar any person from entering for many years or forever (1996-present).

Now, with politicians and pundits both left and right calling for change to a system that is ill-serving thelabor needs of our employers, separating children from their parents, and leaving far too many productive would-be citizens with no path to legal residence, Congress seems poised to re-write the immigration co...

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The decision of whom to allow into our country and on what terms is a matter of national sovereignty, and our Constitution gives the federal government the power to "establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization," Art. I Sec.8, cl. 4. Thus immigration laws and regulations are set at the federal level by Congress and by the President, not by individual states, cities, or towns.  The Supreme Court just affirmed this in June in the case of Arizona v. United States.

However, the fact that states and cities can't regulate immigration does not mean that they all treat immigrants the same.  Federal law provides that state and local law enforcement can "cooperate with the Attorney General in the identification, apprehension, detention or removal of aliens not lawfully present."  8 U.S.C. Sec. 1357(g)(10)(B).  State and local governments go to great lengths to show themselves to be either the most or the least "cooperative" in the enforcement of immigration laws.  Federal law also bars most imm...
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Yesterday I joined hundreds of volunteers and thousands of immigrant youth and families at Navy Pier in Chicago for the first "DREAM Relief day" hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) along with other immigrant groups, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and many others. As anyone who has followed the new coverage in the Chicago area knows, this was *massive*.  While the good folks at ICIRR had planned for several thousand people, they had not expected the more than 10,000 who arrived, including many who camped out on the pier the night before.

As someone who has done some event planning and volunteer management on a much smaller scale, I was very impressed that ICIRR, NIJC, and others were able to put this together in such a short time period.  The entire "DACA*" program was only announced two months ago, and the forms were released less than a day before the event.  Organizations typically spe...
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Sponsor an immigrant relative to come to the U.S., and you are undertaking much more than just some extra paperwork.  By signing the I-864 "Affidavit of Support" you are contracting to keep that person from ever becoming a "public charge."  Specifically, you have a duty to guarantee the immigrant support at 125% of poverty or else the immigrant can sue you for support--as can any government agency that provided benefits to the immigrant.  This duty ends only once the immigrant becomes a citizen, leaves the country permanently, is credited with 40 quarters of employment, or dies. 

Litigation about this duty has been sparse, even though the I-864 has been used by many thousands of immigrant families since 1996.  However, a recent holding by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals may spur more immigrants to sue for support. 

In Liu v. Mund, the Seventh Circuit held that the immigrant has no duty to mitigate damages.  In this case, Liu, a Chinese immigrant sued her ex-husband in federal c...
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Last week I wrote about the various proposals before Congress to give legal status to many of the young immigrants who were brought here as children and are living here without legal status. Then big news broke on that very topic Friday, as President Obama announced a plan to grant
'deferred action"   to many of these young people. This announcement raises the question of just what is "deferred action," and how does this compare to actual legal permanent residency.

"Deferred action" is not a new concept, though it has not previously been granted to this group of immigrants.  For more than a decade, USCIS has been granting "deferred action" to low-risk immigrants who are already in the country but who do not currently qualify for a visa.  For example, immigrant spouses of legal permanent residents (green card holders) can petition on their own for a visa if the green card holding spouse is abusive and will not sponsor the abused spouse.  These self-petitioning spouses are often grante...
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Last week the Immigration Policy Center published a comparison of the provisions of various bills before Congress that would grant some sort of legal status to some subset of the millions of young people living in the United States without legal status.  The DREAM Act, the ARMS Act, and the STARS Act promise some path to legal permanent residency for young people who entered the country as children.  The DREAM Act is more of a favorite of democrats and liberally offers the possibility to apply for a green card after completing 2 years of college or two years of military service.  ARMS and STARS are Republican proposals that deal with military service and college achievement separately, and contain stricter provisions and longer requirements for service or study.

What strikes me about all of these proposals is how they condition the right to remain in your adopted homeland on educational and career decisions. All of these laws only really apply to people between ages 18 and 30 or 35. ...
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