Released 27 May 2009  By National Immigration Forum
Immigration Policy Update
May 7, 2009 - National Immigration Forum
Senate begins consideration of comprehensive immigration reform: On Thursday, April 30, the Senate Immigration Subcommittee held its first hearing to consider how to fix the immigration system. The topic, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?" Witnesses presented compelling testimony from a range of perspectives--faith, business, labor, law enforcement, and civil rights.
The first panel consisted of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan; J. Thomas Manger, Police Chief for Montgomery County, Maryland (also speaking on behalf of the Major Cities Chiefs); Dr. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, and a member of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership in Houston, Texas.
Greenspan noted that in this economic crisis, immigration has slowed, but that he hoped that Congress will reform the immigration system by the time this crisis fades. He talked about the role undocumented immigrants have played in the U.S. labor force, accounting for 1 in 6 new workers from 2000 to 2007. He also devoted much of his time speaking of the need for high-skilled immigrants to our economy.
Chief Manger told the Senators that one compelling reason for comprehensive immigration reform is that "[i]t is tremendously challenging to deliver police service to a community of people who are afraid to have any contact with the police." He went on to list a host of problems arising from our broken immigration system that police agencies must deal with.
Dr. Hunter gave one of the most eloquent testimonies I have heard concerning the hardship caused by the broken immigration system. He told the Senators that, "[t]he need for comprehensive immigration reform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing."
Mr. Mosely talked about the hardship imposed on business due to the broken immigration system. He noted that the legal channels for both low-skilled and high-skilled immigrant workers are insufficient for the needs of our economy, and the fact that there are 12 million undocumented persons here is testament to that fact. Even with unemployment up at the moment, the idea that removing the undocumented would make jobs available for American workers assumes "…that an unemployed worker in New York's financial sector would be willing to relocate to do agricultural work in California or construction work in Houston…."
A second panel consisted of Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, representing the labor view; Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presenting the civil rights perspective; and Doris Meissner, formerly Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and now Senior Fellow with the Migration Policy Institute. The one witness testifying against sensible reform was Kris Kobach of the University of Missouri Law School and formerly with the Department of Justice under Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Administrative and Legal Updates
Alejandro Mayorkas nominated to be USCIS Director: On April 24th, President Obama nominated Alejandro Mayorkas to be head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Mayorkas is currently a litigation partner in a law firm in Los Angeles, O'Melveny and Myers. Prior to that, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. He was on President Obama's Justice and Law Enforcement transition team.
Unfortunately, there is not much to report here by way of his immigration background. Among immigration advocates in Washington, not much is known about this nominee. He apparently has little immigration experience.
This position requires Senate confirmation, and the nomination will be considered in the Judiciary Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee holds DHS oversight hearing: On May 6th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first oversight hearing of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was the only witness. The hearing covered a range of subjects falling under the jurisdiction of the Department. On immigration, the Secretary said that her priorities were smart and effective immigration enforcement; targeting employers who hire undocumented workers; improving the E-Verify system; and expanding efforts to deport criminal aliens. In concluding her prepared remarks, Secretary Napolitano said that she was looking forward to working with the Committee on comprehensive immigration reform.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the new ranking member of the Committee after Senator Arlen Specter switched parties and became a Democrat, focused most of his questions on the immigration issue. He was critical of the release by DHS of several undocumented immigrants who had been swept up in a raid in Bellingham, Washington. He also urged Secretary Napolitano to carry on with Operation Streamline, the border-area initiative in which immigrants who cross illegally are being prosecuted for illegal entry, instead of merely sent back over the border. The initiative has overwhelmed the courts, a fact noted by the Secretary.
In an exchange with Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) about the DREAM Act, Secretary Napolitano noted that while it is important to enforce our immigration laws, we have to have the ability to deal with the human issues that arise. The DREAM Act, she said, seemed to be "a good idea."
Secretary Napolitano gave few specifics as to what she believed should be included in immigration legislation, but she made it clear that the Department's priorities are changing, that enforcement will be more targeted and effective, and that she is looking forward to working with the President and with congress on comprehensive immigration reform.
White House to release budget request: The White House will be releasing its detailed budget on May 7th. A few details relating to immigration have dribbled out thus far. There will be new resources for border enforcement. Much of it will be focused on the interception of south-bound U.S. guns that now end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. In the interior, the deportation of violent criminals will get more attention and resources. There will be more money for E-Verify, including for the development of a monitoring and compliance office, for an increase in data integrity, and for outreach and training of employers.
There will be new money for immigrant integration, including $206 million to reform immigration fees by ending the surcharges placed on application fees to pay for applications that are processed without charge (refugee and asylee applications, for example). The budget request includes $10 million for an immigrant integration office within USCIS. This includes funding for grants to community organizations for naturalization and integration-related work. An additional $70 million will be set aside for immigrant education out of an adult education budget of $628 million.
DHS issues new guidelines for worksite enforcement: On April 30, DHS issued new guidelines to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding worksite enforcement. The new guidance directs ICE to focus its worksite enforcement resources on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. At the same time, a fact sheet on the new guidance said that "ICE will continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who are found in the course of these worksite enforcement actions in a manner consistent with immigration law and DHS priorities."
While the guidelines do signal a more targeted enforcement strategy, they are no substitute for immigration reform. Until Congress acts, the enforcement agency is stuck enforcing a bad law, and some immigrant workers will continue to suffer.
Supreme Court rejects tactic of prosecuting immigrants for identity theft: Undocumented workers who work in regular workplaces where they get a paycheck and have taxes withdrawn are usually using Social Security numbers that were not given to them by the Social Security Administration. They obtain numbers (often with the encouragement of the employer) that are either false numbers or are the numbers given to someone else. They do not necessarily know what a Social Security number is; they know only that they must have one to get a job.
In the last several months of the Bush administration, federal prosecutors were charging immigrant workers caught in workplace raids with "aggravated identity theft," a crime that carries a minimum two-year sentence with a conviction. The prospect of two years in jail was used to get immigrants to agree to deportation. The government charged more than 300 immigrant workers with identity theft after they were swept up in the raid in Postville, Iowa. (You can read an account of that raid, and the use of the identity theft charge here.)
On May 4th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the government in a case where an immigrant worker was charged with aggravated identity theft. The government tried to argue that in order to convict on the identity theft charge, it did not have to prove that the worker knew the Social Security number he was using belonged to someone else. The justices disagreed. All of them.
Postville raid anniversary events: May 12th is the one-year anniversary of the Postville, Iowa, immigration raid. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition will join the local Postville faith community in marking the anniversary with a series of events around the country. To find out how you might plug in to these events, go to the Web site of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition: http://www.interfaithimmigration.org/