Category: immigrant rights

Will demographic trends doom the GOP?

By Alan Bean

No matter how depressing present political realities may be, Democrats look to the future with confidence.  By mid-century, they say, America will be a majority-minority nation and that can only help the left. 

Jamelle Bouie questions this reasoning on two counts: Republicans could win back the most prosperous sector of the Latino community by returning to the moderate immigration policies of George W. Bush; and, as minorities are absorbed into the affluent mainstream, their resistance to conservative politics will diminish.

In other words, future trends can never be predicted with confidence, especially when we’re gazing 37 years down the road. 

This “the future is ours” rhetoric should make genuine reformers cringe.  We can’t get locked into the culture war categories of the present hour.  Between 1950 and 1970, Democrats and Republicans switched sides on civil rights.  It is hard to believe that the Republican Party on display during the primary election season could move to the left on anything; but stranger things have happened in American politics.  If public sentiment shifts (as it always does) politicians will shift along with it. Reformers should be trying to nudge both parties in the direction of compassion and common sense, even when it feels silly.  Life is full of surprises.

The worst thing that could happen would be for Democrats to eschew the hard work of rethinking the entire progressive narrative because “we are bound to start winning sooner or later”.  Democrats have been on the wrong side of plenty of issues in recent memory (think the war on drugs, mass incarceration and the deregulation of the financial sector), and the blue team will continue to get things wrong if they misread the writing on the wall. 

The tepid politics of triangulation has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Nothing in public life is inevitable.  Change is always hard work.  Justice demands courage.  Patience is a virtue; complacency is not.

The Democrats’ Demographic Dreams

Jamelle Bouie

June 14, 2012

If Democrats agree on anything, it’s that they will eventually be on the winning side. The white Americans who tend to vote Republican are shrinking as a percentage of the population while the number of those who lean Democratic—African Americans and other minorities—is rapidly growing. Slightly more than half of American infants are now nonwhite. By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 117 million people, and the vast majority—82 percent of the 117 million—will be immigrants or the children of immigrants. In a little more than 30 years, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country. By 2050, white Americans will no longer be a solid majority but the largest plurality, at 46 percent. African Americans will drop to 12 percent, while Asian Americans will make up 8 percent of the population. The number of Latinos will rise to nearly a third of all Americans. (more…)

Obama says no to mass deportation

By Alan Bean

In a major development, the Obama administration has decided to enforce key provisions of the failed DREAM Act essentially by presidential fiat.   Young people who came to the United States as children, who have graduated from high school and have a clean criminal record, will be allowed to remain in the United States.  The plan does not include a pathway to citizenship, but qualifying applicants will receive two-year work visas that can be renewed indefinitely.

Although this plan does not give the immigrant rights movement everything it wants (this is no substitute for comprehensive reform), it means that 800,000 young people are no longer targeted for deportation.

President Obama is calculating that, like his recent support for marriage equality, his softened position on deportation will help him more than it hurts.  It will certainly raise his prospects with Latino voters who are far more likely to show up on election day now that the administration has addressed the mass deportation issue. 

In the process, Obama has handed Mitt Romney a potential campaign issue.  But Republicans will have to think carefully before accusing the administration of introducing  de facto “amnesty” contrary to the express wishes of Congress.  Demonizing “illegal aliens” has worked well for the conservative movement, but public opinion could shift in a more progressive direction simply because somebody, finally, is making the case for compassion and common sense. 

An update to the article below can be found here.

Administration plan could spare hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from deportation

By Associated Press, 

 Friday, June 15,


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies. (more…)

Evangelicals call for immigration reform

By Alan Bean

Evangelical organizations from the left-leaning Sojourners to the right-leaning Focus on the Family, have joined in a plea for immigration system.  If you’re curious, you can find a list of all the signatories here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Critics will note that there are few concrete policy proposals mentioned in the brief list of principles released by the Evangelical Immigration Table.  But the fact that conservative religious leaders are calling on political leaders to “welcome the stranger” is noteworthy.  Here’s the statement: (more…)

Anti-immigrant sentiment on the decline nationwide

By Alan Bean

As the summer heats up, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been cooling considerably.  Or, to be more precise, mainstream politicians are beginning to understand the downside of siding with the haters. 

In an interview in which he was predictably critical of Barack Obama, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, tried to pull his party back from the brink on the immigration issue:

“It’s the one thing that separates us from the rest of the world is to say embrace our values, learn our language and work hard and dream big and create what you want to create because it helps all of us.  You have to deal with this issue, you can’t ignore it and so either a path to citizenship which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives or … a path to residency of some kind.”

In Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia, public officials are in full-scale revolt against the now-mandatory Safe Communities program.

California legislators are close to passing a TRUST Act which would “require police to continue to detain only those immigrants for deportation purposes who have a serious or violent felony conviction under state law”.  TRUST is a somewhat desperate acronym for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”.

TRUST is hardly a radical piece of legislation; it simply means that, in California, the kinder, gentler version of Safe Communities will be enforced instead of the “deport everybody” approach that has been in vogue in many jurisdictions over the past couple of years.

In Texas, the state Republican Party dropped much of the mean-spirited, anti-immigrant language from its platform in the course of its state convention in Fort Worth.  According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the new statement begins like this:

 “Because of decades-long failure of the federal government to secure our borders and address the immigration issue, there are now upwards of 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States today, each of whom entered and remain here under different circumstances,” the document states. “Mass deportation of these individuals would neither be equitable nor practical.We seek common ground to develop and advance a conservative, market-and law-based approach to our nation’s immigration issues.”

This “Texas Solution” calls for a temporary worker program “to bring skilled and unskilled workers into the United States for temporary periods of time when no U.S. workers are currently available.”

In addition, “the program would require participants to pay fees and fines, pass a criminal background check, prove they can afford private health insurance and waive rights to apply for public financial assistance.”

This new immigration policy is hardly a panacea for proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, but it’s a vast improvement over the  “what part of illegal do you not understand?” approach that has dominated conservative politics since the advent of the Tea Party revolution.

According to Bud Kennedy, a Star-Telegram columnist who attended the Republican Convention, the new GOP platform is driven by demographic reality.

“I’d start telling Hispanic voters about Republicans, and they’d say, ‘I’m pro-life, too, but you want to deport my grandma,'” said Norman Adams of Houston, celebrating the Texas party’s 180-degree turn away from its position of removing all illegal immigrants and slowing legal immigration.

“They can’t say that anymore.”

Texas has always been a one-party state.  It was once impossible to win statewide office if you ran as a Republican, and the same is now true for Democrats.  But with the Hispanic slice of the electorate growing by 2% with every new election cycle in Texas, the GOP mainstream is beginning to read the writing on the wall.
Tea Party reaction to the state GOP’s softened stance on immigration was predictable–they think the new policy represents a de facto amnesty for “illegals”.
It doesn’t, of course.  The presence of non-citizens would merely be tolerated under the proposed policy, there would be no fast track to citizenship, and beneficiaries of the new regime would have to relinquish their right to public assistance.  In short, we are talking about a permanent class of second-class citizens.  But, as Kennedy suggests, people who live in fear that Grandma could be deported at any moment may be happy with half a loaf.
If Texas Democrats want the enthusiastic support of Texas Latinos, they need to move to the left of state Republicans on immigration, something they have been reluctant to do.  Democrats know white conservatives will control Texas politics for at least another decade, so they are reluctant to sell themselves as the party of inclusion and diversity.  The blue party was hoping it could win Latino support by largely ignoring the immigration issue and allowing the GOP’s nativist and xenophobic platform to drive Latino voters into the democratic party by default. 
The Texas GOP may just have taken that option off the table.

Why American immigration policy is in chaos

By Alan Bean

It is difficult to make sense of American immigration policy because our immigration policy makes no sense.  The Obama administration swept to victory in 2008 on promises of comprehensive immigration reform.  When efforts to follow through on this promise were met with hysterical references to amnesty and calls for wholesale deportation, Obama ramped up a Secure Communities program ostensibly designed to identify and deport undocumented residents with criminal records.  Secure Communities (also know as S-Comm) led to record levels of deportation (upwards of 400,000 per year) as the number of people entering the country, legally and illegally, dropped to a 40-year low.  Mass deportation did little to silence Obama’s critics on the right but sparked claims from the Latino community that the spike in deportation was separating undocumented parents from their  citizen children while targeting people who posed no threat to public safety.

In response to criticism from a sector Obama can’t afford to ignore, ICE officials were ordered to focus on keeping families together while deporting only “the worst of the worst”.  In December, immigration prosecutors initiated an extensive review of the nearly 300,000 deportation cases pending in the nation’s 58 Immigration Courts to ensure that the new policy was being carried out.  As a result, the deportation machinery has slowed considerably. 

Conservatives are calling Obama’s new policy a de facto amnesty for illegal aliens; Latino critics complain that thousands of harmless people are languishing in immigration prisons while public officials dither.

Now, according to this article in the Tucson Citizen, some are alleging that the judicial logjam in the nation’s immigration courts has been caused by conservative officials within the Homeland Security establishment who take their cue from conservative Republicans demanding that every undocumented person must be deported regardless of criminal history or family circumstances. 

In other words, as the President attempts to arbitrate the contradictory demands of conservative Republicans and Latino activists there is no sign that a coherent immigration policy will emerge any time soon.  By nature, Obama is a conciliator eager to meet his opponents in the middle.  As the fall election approaches at freight train speed, however, no one is in the mood for cutting pragmatic deals.  If Obama doesn’t go to the wall to back up his kinder-gentler version of Secure Communities he could lose the enthusiastic support of the Latino community.

New policy slow to clear deportation backlog

on Jun. 09, 2012

Tucson Citizen

Federal immigration officials have closed less than 2 percent of the more than 230,000 cases they have reviewed in the past six months in their effort to reduce backlogged immigration courts and focus more attention on deporting serious criminals. (more…)

FBI hears from critics of controversial deportation program

The controversy over the federal government’s Secure Communities program is heating up.  If this briefing from “Uncover the Truth” (a website dedicated to monitoring Secure Communities), the FBI community is split on the issue, with one group upset over the federal mandates that have been imposed on local law enforcement, and the another group supporting the status quo.  Is Secure Communities a legitimate program or a classic example of mission creep and Big Brother bureaucracy?  This issue has created an interesting coalition between civil rights advocates and small government, privacy rights people. AGB

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Contact: Jessica Karp, NDLON: , 917-855-7682

Controversy Over “Secure Communities” Deportation Program Widens as FBI Role is Scrutinized At Bi-Annual oversight meeting, Advocates Call on FBI to alter program to protect public safety

Buffalo, New York–Today, immigrants’ rights and privacy advocates are addressing the bi-annual meeting of the FBI group charged with managing the nation’s criminal databases. Their topic is the controversial “Secure Communities” deportation program. The advocates say the FBI makes the program possible by automatically forwarding all arrest fingerprints to DHS for an immigration background check. And they say the FBI should change that policy in response to growing calls from governors, police chiefs, and communities across the country–including New York City, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Vermont, where Secure Communities was recently activated over strong local opposition.

Said Jessica Karp, Staff Attorney and Soros Fellow with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network: “We know from documents received through the Freedom of Information Act that Secure Communities has generated fierce debate within the FBI between those who support states’ right to opt out and those who want to keep the program mandatory. Top FBI officials have described their position as ‘being caught in a nuclear war,’ saying, ‘[a]ny way we go will contradict one of our partners.’ We hope today’s meeting will show the FBI that the right way forward is clear—it must end its facilitation of this ill-conceived and mismanaged deportation program.”

Sonia Lin, Attorney and Clinical Teaching Fellow at the Cardozo School of Law Immigration Justice Clinic, says: “The FBI is supposed to partner with state and local police to promote public safety. But Secure Communities was imposed on states and local agencies without their consent. It undermines community policing, diverts local resources, and turns local law enforcement agencies into gateways to deportation. The FBI has the authority—and the obligation—to rethink its involvement in this deportation dragnet.”

Travis Hall, a PhD candidate at New York University studying biometric programs, said: “There are many ways to set up biometric databases–they can either increase detrimental forms of surveillance and encroach upon privacy rights, or they can be used to bolster security and be privacy enhancing. This depends a great deal on the values embedded into the technologies during their design and application. Right now the Secure Communities program is a textbook case of ‘function creep’, when information collected for one purpose is inappropriately used for another. It is my hope that the FBI will take into consideration the concerns of privacy and immigration rights activists in setting the standards and policies that structure their collection and dissemination of personally identifiable information.”

DC says no to “secure communities” immigration checks

By Alan Bean

If you’re wondering what this “secure communities” business is all about, you probably aren’t Latino.  If so, you have nothing to worry about.  Forget about it.  This doesn’t apply to you.  Unless you believe in equal justice.  In that case, read on.

Secure Communities began as a pilot program in late 2007.  The idea was to hold criminal suspects in detention until their fingerprints could be checked against FBI and DHS records.  In case of a match, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) puts a detainer on the individual until immigration status can be verified and a preliminary decision made about deportation. 

In theory, only serious criminals are selected for deportation, but the rules governing the Secure Communities program are vague and susceptible to multiple interpretations.  Public officials who want to use Secure Communities as a cover for racial profiling and the harassment of heavily Latino neighborhoods are free to do so.

Secure Communities was voluntary at first, but the Obama administration, eager to dodge the impression that it is soft on illegal immigration, has become increasingly enamored of the program.  Safe Communities is now mandatory and universal compliance will be demanded by 2013.

US immigration policy lurched in a conservative direction in 1981 when Ronald Reagan took a strong stand against Haitian asylum seekers.  But the real change came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1996.  The implementation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) made deportation much easier while shifting decision-making authority from the judiciary to petty government officials.  The post 9-11 creation of ICE as a component of Homeland Security set the stage for Secure Communities.  The United States now deports seven times as many people as we did in 1994, just prior to AEDPA and IIRAIRA.

Although half of the roughly 400,000 people deported annually in recent years have criminal records, many are guilty of nothing more than driving without a driver’s license (an understandable violation if you are documented). 

How safe has Safe Communities made America?  Deporting bad actors will always be a popular idea, but when entire communities are transformed into virtual police states, community trust is seriously eroded.  Nobody wants to talk to the police, even the victims of violent crime or potential eyewitnesses.

Secure Communities policies were softened slightly earlier this year, but critics were uniformly unimpressed with the miniscule changes.

As this story suggests, the erosion of community trust is emerging as the major reason people across the nation are fighting mad about Secure Communities. 

Secure Communities Immigration Checks Resisted In District Of Columbia

Elise Foley
Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia council members said they plan to act swiftly on Tuesday to defy a federal immigration enforcement program the city will be forced to join the same day. (more…)

Will Obama Deliver on Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Viviana Hurtado

By Alan Bean

Viviana Hurtado learned about immigration issues while working as a journalist in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.  She understands the desperation that drives men and women across the River and how tenuous the existence of the undocumented can be.  She understands that many extended families contain both the documented and the undocumented.  President Obama’s delay in pushing for meaningful immigration reform means that “many of the estimated 12 million people who live and contribute millions of dollar to the economy will continue to live in fear that at any moment, La migra may pick up and deport a mom or dad, often times of a U.S. citizen”. During my recent trip to “the Valley” I was disturbed by the militarization of the area (I can’t think of a better word).  There was a time when Mexican citizens entered the United States on a seasonal basis, worked a few months in the fields, then headed back to Mexico.  Or they might live on the Mexican side of the border and work as a maid in a Texas border town.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  Once you are in the country, you stay in the country, even if that means being confined to virtual house arrest while documented members of the family venture out of the home to buy groceries.  If your child is picked up by La Migra and transferred to a county jail, you aren’t able to visit; you can’t leave the Rio Grande Valley without passing through the checkpoints that are located within 100 miles of the border on every highway.  Between 1994 and 2008, the overall number of individuals detained i the United States each year swelled from approximately 81,000 to around 380,000.  Thanks to the federal Secure Communities program that has spread to virtually every part of the United States, local law enforcement must put an “Ice Hold” on every person they detain if there is any chance they might be illegal.  At least 400,000 people are deported from the United States every year.

With these policies in place, it is hardly surprising that as many people now cross the border from the United States to Mexico as enter the US from the South.  When I hear critics of the Obama administration insisting that the federal government “get serious” about border security, I wonder what they are talking about.  The President is desperate to prove that he can be as punitive as any Tea Party Republican on the immigration issue; he certainly puts the relatively balanced policies of his predecessor to shame.

Former priest Michael Seifert
Mike Seifert, Equal Voice Network

Mike Seifert, head of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, took me for a guided tour of the border fence.  “What do people who don’t live here need to know about the life experience of the undocumented?” I asked. Mike thought a moment.  “To tell the story of the world people live in down here,” he said at last, “you would need to invent a new vocabulary.”  (more…)

Victory for immigrant rights advocates: ICE backs away from family detention in Texas

by Melanie Wilmoth

In 2009, immigrant rights activists successfully fought to end family detainment at the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas. A few weeks ago, Friends of Justice posted a blog about U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) request for 100 new family detention beds in Texas. Many of the same activists who fought against family detention in 2009 joined forces again to keep ICE from opening a new family detention center in the state.

“Last month,” according to Grassroots Leadership, “a broad coalition of more than 65 national, state, and local immigrant, civil rights, and faith organizations called on ICE to end the practice of detaining immigrant families, including small children and infants.”

As a result of these efforts, ICE has decided not to bring family detention back to Texas. Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. “This is a victory for advocacy organizations who did not want to see family detention return to Texas,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership in a press release, “however, the administration should discontinue the practice of detaining families altogether and prioritize non-restrictive alternatives to detention of families.”

Activists praise ICE decision not to open new family detention center in Texas


Prior to 2009, undocumented immigrant families were detained in a private prison facility in Taylor, Texas. The T. Don Hutto Residential Center, owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), profited from a government contract to imprison undocumented families. After the ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) changed its policy on family detention in Texas.

Since 2009 the only detention center in the country still housing immigrant families is the Berks County Family Shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania. As KUT radio in Austin reported, however, in November ICE put out a request for proposals for a new 100 bed family detention center in Texas. (more…)

Will Texas return to detaining immigrant families?

In 2006, the state of Texas began detaining immigrant families and children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, TX. The detention center did not stop housing immigrant children until 2009, after the ACLU of Texas sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rather than turning to more humane and practical solutions like probation or home-like community shelters, however, Texas may soon reinstate the practice of detaining immigrant families. According to KUT, ICE recently requested 100 new family detention beds in the state.

We need to consider how the criminalization of immigration contributes to mass incarceration. We must also look at the looming possibility of family detention, the effects of which would be devastating to the physical and mental well-being of immigrant children and families in Texas. MW

Immigrant Family Detention Could Return to Texas

by Erika Aguilar

Undocumented families waiting for their immigration status to be determined could soon be held in detention centers in Texas. The federal government is reviewing contracts from companies interested in running them.

Central Texas housed immigrant families in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor from 2006 to 2009, and some immigration rights advocates say they fear the practice of detaining families could return.

The ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children.

“The ICE field office started using its discretion a little more bit more wisely, allowing some of the bond-eligible families to bond out,” said Lisa Graybill, the legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Others were placed in shelters like Casa Marianella, which is a shelter for immigrant families and immigrant women, and other sort of community-based alternatives.”

After that, the only detention center in the country still housing families was in Pennsylvania. That center will be closed in March. But last November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put out a request for proposal for 100 new family detention beds in Texas. (more…)