Category: Immigration Reform

20-Year-Old Immigration Law Signed By President Clinton Continues to Harm Immigrants

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In 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the harshest immigration bill that this nation had seen in decades.  The effects of this bill linger and hang over any efforts for “immigration reform.”

Interestingly, Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act has not been discussed much this election cycle, despite the fact that IIRIRA established the deportation machine that has been humming along for two decades now.

Regular readers of this website know that we have been super-critical of Republican hard-liner Donald Trump and his harsh anti-immigrant, xenophobic presidential campaign.  But this does not mean that Democrats get a pass here.

The truth is that the “centrist” Bill Clinton signed the most draconian immigration bill of our lifetime.  President Barack Obama has deported more people than any President in the nation’s history.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promises immigration reform, but what exactly would that reform look like?

Lost in all of this is IIRIRA.  According to a recent article on Vox:

The ’96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today — where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants.  It was a bundle of provisions with a single goal: to increase penalties on immigrants who had violated US law in some way (whether they were unauthorized immigrants who’d violated immigration law or legal immigrants who’d committed other crimes).

IIRIRA greatly expanded the types of crimes that could result in the deportation of a foreign national.  This included lawful permanent residents.  And the Clinton bill made those changes retroactive, thereby boosting the number of possible (probable) deportations.

The law also made many immigrants subject to mandatory detention while their immigration cases were being decided.  This pre-trial hammer was used to make frustrated, imprisoned immigrants give up their effort to stop deportation and simply go home.  An underfunded deportation judicial system only meant that these immigrants had to wait longer and longer while in lockup for their day in court.

Immigrants convicted of certain crimes or those caught within 100 miles of the border were given summary deportation orders without ever having the chance to see an immigration judge.

Finally, the 1996 law made it almost impossible for undocumented immigrants to receive cancellation of removal.  This is a form of relief for longtime undocumented immigrants who had not committed crimes to stay in the country.  IIRIRA made it almost impossible to obtain such relief.

Proponents of immigration reform and immigration advocates are understandably appalled by the harsh rhetoric coming from the Republican party on this issue.  But it cannot and should not be lost on any one who follows this issue that the Democrats have a lot of blame for our current situation as well.

 

USCIS Attempts to “Go Digital” are Abysmal Failure

A decade ago, the U.S. government began a push to move all of their immigration forms from paper to digital.  Today, there is only one of those forms online and one way to pay a certain fee electronically.  Meanwhile the 94 other forms can be filed with paper.

Originally, this project was expected to cost a half-billion dollars and be completed in 2013.  The project, which is run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is now expected to cost roughly $3.1 billion and be completed around 2019.  According to interviews with federal officials, this will make immigration policy reform much tougher, slow down the process of citizenship for current immigrants and hurt detection of national security risks.  

The state of the project can be blamed on poor management.  It wasn’t until three years after IBM received a $500 million contract, that officials completed basic plans for the computer system.  

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security knew about hundreds of defects in the software by 2012.  The agency continued to use the software because of pressure from the Obama administration.  This happened, in part, because of the administration’s push for reform and the officials wanting to please them.

The only form that is digitally available for filing is an application for renewing or replacing a misplaced green card, which is the document given to legal permanent residents.  According to government documents, many immigrants that applied online have waited as long as a year or never received their new cards.  This made it hard for many of these immigrants to work, travel, and attend school.  

Former president of the union that represents employees at immigration , Kenneth Palinkas said, “You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency. It’s a huge albatross around our necks.’’

“In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of simply scratching it and starting over.  We took a fresh start — a fix that required an overhaul of the development process — from contracting to development methodology to technology,’’ said a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services.  

The spokesman, Shin Inoye went on to say, “Since making these changes, we have been able to develop and deploy a new system that is able to process about 1.2 million benefit requests out of USCIS’s total annual work volume.  Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency, and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”

If Congress votes to implement immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security would be able to easily make significant changes to immigration documents.  Currently, immigrants and their lawyers have had to deal with a very flawed process.  They often have to ship documents and even face problems with these documents being lost.  

An immigration attorney is quoted as saying, “It’s in­cred­ibly slow to use the few forms they put online.  Most immigration lawyers have concluded the system is half-baked.’’

Millions of immigrants have to suffer with this archaic process on a daily basis.  Immigrants often miss deadlines due to lost paperwork, which leads to the loss of jobs, traveling and schoolwork.  These immigrants have lost homes and countless opportunities.  

“If there are some bad apples in there who should not get a green card, who are terrorists who want to do us harm, how on earth are they going to find these people if they’re sending mountains of paper immigration files all over the United States?’’ said a D.C. immigration attorney.   

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Appeals Court Thwarts Implementation of Obama’s Expanded Deferred Action Program

President Obama’s expanded deferred action program for those facing deportation suffered a severe blow yesterday.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Obama overstepped his authority in implementing executive actions to allow nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. and receive work permits.

While an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely, time may be running out on President Obama’s attempt to provide temporary status to these immigrants.  It is unclear whether the Supreme Court would hear the appeal this term or its next term.  If the case is delayed until the 2016-2017 term, such a ruling would likely be issued after the President left office.

The appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, ruled in favor of the State of Texas and 25 other states that had joined in the legal challenge to Obama’s programs – expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a new program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).  The two judges ruled that the President lacked “statutory authority” to issue the executive orders and that DHS had failed to provide notice and an opportunity for public comment.

According to the judges, federal law “does not permit the reclassification of millions of illegal aliens as lawfully present and thereby make them newly eligible for a host of federal and state benefits, including work authorization.”  The 2 judges rejected what they called an attempt to “change the immigration classification of millions of illegal aliens on a class-wide basis.”

This appeal was supposed to be an “expedited” appeal; however, the two Republican judges took 5 months to rule and their decision was 135 pages long.  The dissenting judge, Carolyn Dineen King, criticized the majority of the “extended delay” in issuing the ruling, for which she said there was “no justification.”  Presumably, the judges took their time in order to slow down an appeal by the Supreme Court.

The two executive orders would have expanded DACA, a popular program that allows young people who arrived in the U.S. without inspection as children to get work authorization and prevent deportation.  DAPA would have granted three-year work permits and temporary protection from deportation to adults in the U.S. who are parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders who have been present in the U.S. for more than five years.

 

Immigrant Whiz Saves Boy on a Plane

Donald Trump and others of his ilk would have you believe that immigrants are criminals, deviants and thugs.  Fox News has gotten much mileage vilifying immigrants on a regular basis.

So you may not have heard the story of Dr. Khurshid Guru last week.  Guru is an Indian American and the Director of Robotic Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York.

During a recent flight from Spain to the U.S., a 2-year old toddler suffered an asthma attack, requiring medication.  However, his parents had mistakenly included the treatment in their checked luggage.

The plane only had an adult inhaler, so Dr. Guru grabbed materials on the plane – a plastic water bottle, a cup, some tape and an oxygen tank – and built the boy a nebulizer.  The contraption allowed the boy to take in both oxygen and the asthma medicine simultaneously.   After a few minutes, the boy’s oxygen level was normal in just a few minutes.

Our office deals with immigrants every single day and we see the positive contributions that the vast majority of them are making.  This story is just one example (albeit very dramatic) of how allowing smart immigrants like Dr. Guru into the country can really help Americans – even 2-year old boys who simply can’t catch their breath.

 

 

100 Women March 100 Miles in Support of Immigration Reform

100 immigrant women, faith leaders, domestic workers, and immigrants’ rights activists embarked on a 100-mile pilgrimage on foot from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.  They hope to get the message across to Pope Francis, that immigration should be at the forefront of his address to Congress.  

Juana Flores, one of the marchers, explained that they are starting their pilgrimage at a detention center in order to spread, “stories from a site of human suffering to the Pope with a message of human dignity.”

Following the marchers arrival on September 22, they will participate in a vigil and candlelight procession at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.  

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They will join millions of pilgrims, in Washington D.C, eager to hear the Pope speak in front of Congress.  He is expected to continue his legacy as the “Migrant Pope” and share a message of love for migrants around the world.  It is hoped, that his address, will spark a greater debate on immigration and lead to the greater protection of immigrants by U.S. policy.  

“Our world is far from what we are called to create, but we hope that each step on our pilgrimage is another step closer to it. Though global migration is a hallmark of our times, it is still marked by fearful reception, capsized boats and harrowing desert crossings. But Pope Francis places today’s migrants in the legacy of the holy family during their escape from Herod into Egypt and he tells us not to lose hope.  Far from losing hope, we are filled with it. With each step, with each mile, with each of our stories, we will arrive in the nation’s capital the night before the Pope’s meeting with President Obama and we will be there eager to hear his message.”

Significant changes to the Visa Bulletin

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and the Department of State (DOS) are changing  the procedures for determining visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored preference adjustment of status. This revised process is supposed to approve the agencies’ ability to more accurately predict overall immigrant visa demand and determine the cut-off dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin.

The Visa Bulletin revisions implement November 2014 executive actions on immigration announced by President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson, as detailed in the White House report, Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st century, issued in July 2015.

The Visa Bulletin has changed.  Now, two charts per visa preference category will be posted in the DOS Visa Bulletin:

  • Application Final Action Dates (dates when visas may finally be issued); and
  • Dates for Filing Applications (earliest dates when applicants may be able to apply).

 

Each month, in coordination with DOS, USCIS will monitor visa numbers and post the relevant DOS Visa Bulletin chart. Applicants can use the charts to determine when to file their Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

 

To determine whether additional visas are available, USCIS will compare the number of visas available for the remainder of the fiscal year with:

  • The known qualified visa applicants reported by DOS;
  • Pending adjustment of status applications reported by USCIS; and
  • Historical drop off rate (for example, denials, withdrawals, abandonments).

These changes will have significant impacts on people who have been stuck in immigration limbo due to unavailability of visas.  By allowing people to submit adjustment of status applications earlier, they will be allowed to obtain work authorization and travel documents.  Moreover, this approach may allow less children of visa applicants to “age out.”  The changes have just been announced and we are working our way through the changes.  But this is a very exciting development in the way that the United States distributes visas to foreign nationals.

Broken U.S. immigration slowing entrepreneurship down

Amit Paka, a co-founder at Parable, founder of Flockish and who also held high-up positions at Microsoft and PayPal, recently took his oath of U.S. citizenship.  In a TechCrunch article, Mr. Paka recently described the negative ramifications that the immigration process has had on Silicon Valley. “This wait [referring to the 12 years he waited for U.S. citizenship] damages the entrepreneurship spirit and, worse, impacts career prospects, thereby crimping the economy. And I’m not an outlier; comparable delays play out over and over amongst prospective permanent residents in Silicon Valley. Our immigration system hinders entrepreneurship, innovation and productivity.”

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In order to succeed in Silicon Valley, one must be able to predict trends in technology and products.  One must also be willing to leave jobs for a possibly unpredictable company.  

Startups provide jobs as well as a highly trained workforce.  When someone creates their own startup of joins one, they are able to take on several roles that they were previously unable to.  

Paka claims that, “The immigration process impedes all these possibilities.”

Every permanent residency application requires three steps: immigration petition (I-140), labor certification (LC), and adjustment of status (AoS).  LC is skill and location specific.   “This disrupts labor mobility by disallowing transition to different roles (in my case, from engineering to product management) or relocation to more promising company locations. If you want to change companies at this stage, tough luck; you must restart the process, losing all the years spent in the queue, like I did.”

I-140 leaves the immigrant in an unsure state as they wait for AoS.  I-140 is considered immigration intent and bars the immigrant from receiving a student visa, thus forcing the immigrant to attend class while working.  

If the immigrant switches companies, then your application could be reset.  If you lose your job then you must leave the country.  

Paka went on to say, “The American dream is built on entrepreneurship. But risk taking can only thrive in a stable residency environment.”

The United States is no longer the most sought after innovation center in the United States.  Congress has turned its back on legal immigration while it focusses on illegal immigration, thus hindering the process.

“Let’s give a voice to innovation, entrepreneurship and the American dream.”

Christie Announces FedEx Plan to Track Immigrants

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, has announced his plan to confront illegal immigration.  Christie talked of creating a system for tracking visitors to the U.S. in the same way that FedEx tracks packages.  

On a stop in Laconia, New Hampshire, Christie said, “At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane. Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”

According to Mr. Christie, 40 percent of 11 million illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally but remain long past their visa expires. 

“However long your visa is, then we go get you. We tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me. Thanks for coming. Time to go,’” said Christie.  

With Donald Trump’s plan to deport all illegal immigrants, as well as build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border, Christie’s plan could be seen as a desperate attempt to climb back into the top ten G.O.P presidential candidates. Many other Republican presidential contenders have followed suit by taking strong stances against illegal immigration.

While visa overstays is certainly a problem and the federal government does spend a significant amount of time trying to keep people out of the U.S. instead of finding the people already here without status, Mr. Christie’s plan is extreme and seems designed to get a response more than anything.

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Democratic lawmakers determined to shut down several immigration detention centers

Democratic lawmakers toured two notorious immigration detention centers this week.  They left determined to seek changes to the way our nation detains immigrants awaiting possible deportation.

“Let me just make clear: Our goal is to shut the facilities down,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). “These kids, they shouldn’t be in there. … There is damage being caused to these kids that they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their lives.”

“There’s a difference between using beds while [the courts] are making a determination … and treating them as a locked facility, where they are now, treated as criminals,” Rep. Steny Hoyer said. “We are urging … that these facilities, for the purpose they’re being used, be closed.”

Gutierrez and Hoyer were part of an eight-member group of Democrats who traveled this week to the Karnes County Residential Center, a 532-capacity facility in Karnes City, Texas, and the South Texas Family Residential Center, a 2,400-capacity facility in Dilley.

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Gutierrez also criticized the current system for its reliance on for-profit companies running the detention centers. He’s advocating for the facilities to be managed by the government, perhaps under the Health and Human Services Department.

“This shouldn’t be run by jailers. This should be run by people who care about kids,” he said. “Let’s take the profit out of it.”

Democrats called for the nation to prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing our enforcement objectives. Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer, according to these leaders.

ICE to change the way it houses transgender detainees

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has decided to make a change to the way that they house transgender people. Based on the gender the person identifies with, ICE will house them accordingly. The agency will also track transgender detainees. ICE will train detention staff and prepare individual detention plans for transgender inmates

“ICE will allow for the placement of a transgender woman consistent with their gender identity, meaning that a transgender woman could be with biological females,” said Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, who was also appointed as a national coordinator for issues related to gay, lesbian and transgender detainees.

The move did little to limit criticism from advocates who have encouraged the agency to discharge more transgender inmates, referring to the danger of sexual assault in detention. A heckler recently interfered with President Barack Obama’s comments at a gay pride event in Washington to protest the detainment and deportation of gay, lesbian and transgender immigrants.

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality thinks these people shouldn’t be in detention centers.

The Department of Justice issued similar rules for transgender inmates years ago, but many jails and detention centers still aren’t following the rules and continue to house transgender inmates based on their current physical condition or alternately put them in isolation purportedly for their security explained Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

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ICE currently has about 60 transgender detainees. About 25 are housed in a special unit in Santa Ana, California, for transgender women and gay men. The rest are housed in different facilities across the country, mostly with the general population and consistent with their biological sex

The agency currently houses about 31,000 detainees a day, Lorenzen-Strait said..

“When you decide who should be urgently released, pregnant women, people with severe health problems, transgender individuals, there are certain populations that weigh so heavily in favor of release and that the automatic response is always to detain,” Morris said. “It’s not in anyone’s best interest.”

Immigration enforcement advocate Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said she worries that gender identity could trump other factors, such as flight risk, when making decisions about detention.

“In practice, this could become a double standard for transgender individuals that seems unprecedented,” Vaughan stated