Category Archives: Immigrant Rights

New Wave of Local Intiatives Seek to Restore Trust Damaged by DHS Arizona Style Policies, Push Back Against Secure Communities Program

California TRUST Act, DC Bill Set New ‘Commonsense’ Trend 

07.10.2012. Washington, DC.

Days after the California senate passed a “Post- Arizona SB1070” bill called the TRUST act, and on the day the Washington DC council is signed a similar bill (Bill 19-585) into law, more than twelve cities launched efforts to develop local policies that restore the trust in law enforcement damaged by the Department of Homeland Security’s coercive Secure Communities program. Groups are calling for an end to the program and urging local officials to join a trend of municipalities led by Cook County, IL, California, and Washington, DC to counter the criminalization of immigrants, to protect against racial profiling, and to prevent the wrongful extended incarceration of residents for the sole purpose of deportation by setting commonsense standards for how to respond to immigration authority’s voluntary hold requests.

Newly released FOIA documents illustrate that new policies in Cook County, IL, Santa Clara, California, and several municipalities are acting on solid legal grounds.  While state laws seeking to regulate immigration in Arizona, Alabama, and elsewhere have been generally found to be unconstitutionally preempted and violative of civil rights, local legislation to limit the effect of failed Department of Homeland Security policies is clearly permissible.

The restoring trust effort seeks common-sense local solutions that ensure federal immigration enforcement will not undermine public safety. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, sponsor of AB1081, the TRUST Act, explains, “California’s TRUST Act will make the state a model for transparency in the way local authorities cooperate with federal immigration authorities. It will remove the fear from interactions between local police and immigrant communities and by doing so will make our communities safer.”

Ron Hampton,  Executive Director Blacks in Law Enforcement in America,  added that from law enforcement’s perspective, “The bottom line is that ICE’s Secure Communities program is incompatible with community policing. Policing relies on partnerships with the communities served. It’s foolish to sever those relationships in order to enforce civil immigration laws. Police officers must create relationships to stop and prevent crime by gaining people’s trust. Secure Communities shatters their ability to do that. The federal government should not coerce local law enforcement to do the federal government’s job at a time of scarce resources, and certainly not at the cost of public safety. The federal government should follow common sense and heed the calls of law enforcement professionals and of local and congressional officials and finally terminate this failed deportation program.”

As seen in Arizona where immigration policies have created a humanitarian crisis, how localities respond to wrongful deportation is at its heart a moral question. Cardinal Mahoney, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles, says, “Our primary concern is the human dignity of immigrant brothers and sisters.  What ICE has done is created an enormous feeling of fear and threat throughout the immigrant community. Because of Secure Communities immigrants are even terrified to call police when they’re a victim of a crime because they’re afraid they’ll be deported. Immigrants can be so valuable to keeping our communities safe but are afraid to do so. We must seek anything that can be done to diminish that fear and increase respect for the dignity of all people.”

Jesus Garcia, Cook County Commissioner and an early leader in restoring trust, explains, “The Sheriff of Cook County was detaining people who were in custody for small infractions of the law, namely traffic related matters. [It] was resulting in placing them in deportation, causing pain and suffering to many families. The practice was resulting in an increase in racial profiling in the County.  As we researched the issue, we found out that the belief that the ICE requests were mandatory was false. Local law enforcement was being bullied into responding to ICE detainer requests.  ICE detainers are in fact voluntary not mandatory. We enacted an ordinance last September whereby the County of Cook ended all cooperation with ICE detainer requests unless they had a warrant as is the normal practice. Those in custody could, like anyone else arrested under the law, secure a bond and seek their release. There have been efforts to scare people and play on fears [but] as we have informed people, what is at stake here is ensuring the constitutional guarantees of all people in the County. We will not honor ICE detainers because they are not founded on constitutional practices and put our County at a liability if we were to hold people without being required to do so.”

On a tele-briefing announcing the week of action, Maria Poblano, mother of four in Florida, explained the impact Secure communities has had on her family. “On March 6, my husband and I took our son to the emergency room. On our return home, a police officer stopped the car and started our nightmare. My husband was arrested and was taken from me crying in front of our children. He was placed into deportation proceedings as a result of the Secure Communities program and now has a court date in October. How is it possible that we’re in this situation for taking our children to the hospital, for loving our children and taking care of our family?  S-Comm has caused us to suffer both emotionally and economically. I hope they’ll stop this program because there are so many families like mine in Florida and other states. It only destroys families and leaves us more insecure.”

Leaders are calling upon local elected officials to take their own initiative to turn the tide against the broken immigration and detention system by enacting local policies that draw a bright line between local police and civil immigration enforcement.

As part of the initiative, groups launched a new website as a resource for faith leaders, local elected leaders, law enforcement leaders, and other concerned stakeholders.

Restoring Trust National Week of Action: List of Local Events July 9th-13th



Date/Time of Event:  Monday July 9th at 2:00pm pt

Location:  651 Pine Street – Martinez

Description: Vigil in front of Sheriff’s office to urge him to stop honor ICE holds and separating families and opposition to jail expansion in the county.


Date/Time of Event: Thursday July 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

Location: Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail 441 Bauchet Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Description: Press conference and rally outside detention center.


Date/Time of Event:  Monday July 9th – Friday July  13th

Description: Community based surveys happening throughout the week as part of the Trust Index Survey designed to measure how the community’s trust in law enforcement changes when local law enforcement agencies cooperate with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE)


Date/Time of Event: Wednesday July 11th at 5:30pm pt – 8:00pm pt

Location: St Francis of Assisi Church 1425 Bay Road East Palo Alto, CA 94303

Description: Community forum impact of ICE holds on Juveniles. East Palo Alto and Redwood City are the highest cities to refer youth to ICE. Youth standing up to the immigration and detention will share powerful testimonies. Also 10min consultations with immigration lawyers.


Date/Time of Event: July 14th at 11:00am

Location: Benito Juarez High School 1510 W Cermak, Chicago, IL

Description: Democracy day includes workshops and a rally to continue to protect the ground breaking Cook County Ordinances on ICE holds and advance administrative relief for DREAMers



Date/Time of Event:  Monday July 9th – Friday July 13th

Location:  Miami, FL

Description: Community based surveys happening throughout the week as part of the Trust Index Survey designed to measure how the community’s trust in law enforcement changes when local law enforcement agencies cooperate with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE)



Date/ Time of Event: Thursday July 12th at 11 am est

Location: Massachusetts State House (inside staircase) Beacon Street Boston, MA 02133

Description:  Press conference and announcement of commission to monitor S-Comm



Date/Time of Event: July 11, 2012 at 2:00pm

Location:  San Juan County Jail, Farmington, New Mexico

Description: Press Conference



Date/time: Wednesday July 11th at 11:00 am

Location: Voz Workers Rights Education Project 1131 SE Oak, Portland, Oregon 97214

Description:  Visit offices of County Commissioners to provide information on voluntary ICE holds requests.



Date/Time of Event: Wednesday July 11 at 12noon pm

Location: Travis County Sheriff’s Office at 5555 Airport Boulevard Austin, TX 78751

Description: Restoring Trust in Travis County” and will be a press conference and media event



Date/Time of Event: Wednesday July 11, 2012 at 6:00pm

Location: UU Church Burlington 152 Pearl Street, Burlington, VT 05401

Description: Migrant Justice, the UU Church, and NY Rural Migrant Ministry Will team up to share how the faith community can work in solidarity to stop anti-immigrant policies such as Secure Communities, and ‘ICE-Holds’ in defense of Human Rights.


Date/Time of Event: Tuesday July 10th at 9:30am

Location: Steps of the Wilson Building 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington DC

Description: Press conference on the eve of passage of local bill to counteract impact of S-Comm and other harmful federal deportation programs

National Organizations Announce Record Latino Voter Mobilization Effort

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The nation’s leading Latino advocacy and civil rights non-profit organizations have come together to mobilize eligible Latino voters across the country, protect their right to vote, and ensure that they remain a vital part of our democracy amid an increasing onslaught of discriminatory policies; including this week’s upholding of the racial profiling provision of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law by the Supreme Court.

As a diverse and multi-issue electorate, the Latino community also awaits policy developments on the issues all Americans care about: the economy, education, and healthcare.

The non-partisan effort will register over 400,000 Latinos to vote, and mobilize more than 700,000 registered Latino voters in several states across the nation.  The effort will also equip Latino voters with the skills and resources they need to become fully engaged in American democracy. These organizations include the Center for Community Change, the Hispanic Federation, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, the NALEO Educational Fund, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Presente, and Voto Latino.  The combined effort will include work in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

“We will make our voices heard above the noise of political campaigns and show that Latino communities, their families and friends represent powerful constituencies at the ballot box, and a vital component of a vibrant country and healthy democracy,” said Rudy Lopez, National Political Director for the Center for Community Change.

“Latinos are part of America’s DNA and our voters will grow the ranks of those who care about solving the nation’s most pressing challenges.  It’s about solution, and it’s about respect—we are organizing and elevating the issues that matter to bring about change,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, NCLR Director of Civic Engagement.

“This program is designed to build a long-term vision that extends beyond 2012,’ said Jose Calderón, President of Hispanic Federation. “Our goal is to build sustainable electoral capacity that steadily grows an engaged participatory electorate.”

“The current and future vitality of our nation depends upon our ability to successfully integrate new Americans into our social and economic systems, and to empower all Americans to be active participants in civic affairs,” said Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the NALEO Educational Fund. “This coordinated initiative will help ensure Latinos are woven into the fabric of the American democracy this November, and beyond.”

“In a political environment that has never been more negative – even hostile – towards the Latino community, Latino citizens are responding with a positive message by getting more engaged in the democratic process of our country,” said Ben Monterroso, National Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. ” Mi Familia Vota and our community allies will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that Latino participation reaches an all-time high in the November election. And by investing in the current and long-term capacity of our groups, we intend to strengthen the civic infrastructure of Latino communities for many election cycles to come.”


Follow FIRM on Twitter @Re4mImmigration

Supreme Court Says Yes to Racial Profiling

Latinos, Immigrant Communities Prepared to Voice Objections at Ballot Box


(WASHINGTON)—The Supreme Court today upheld Arizona’s vehemently anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law.

“The Supreme Court dealt a major setback to justice for everyone.  The impact of this decision will be an upsurge of racial profiling on a massive scale,” said Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Campaign for Community Change. “The court has made a decision but the ultimate decision will rest with the voters.  The author of this law, state Senator Russell Pearce has already been recalled and voted out of office for his efforts and today’s divisive decision will undoubtedly result in record-breaking 2012 turnout in immigrant and Latino communities.”

“While today’s decision properly strikes down the majority of the Arizona law, our communities know that the only real solution is comprehensive immigration reform and we know that the only path forward to heal the country is for communities that are being targeted to mobilize, register and to vote in record numbers,” Bhargava added. “And that’s exactly what we will do in response to this sad day.”

The Campaign for Community Change and other groups advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, including Reform Immigration FOR America (RI4A) and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), will unite in an unprecedented effort to register Latinos to vote to make sure that candidates who champion racial profiling laws are defeated in 2012. That goes for copycat Arizona laws on the ballot this year.

There will be voter registration rallies in many key states; voter education on why people must defeat anti-immigrant candidates and legislation, and; unprecedented grassroots efforts to turnout the largest number of Latinos in history to vote.

“Although the Supreme Court’s decision upheld an egregious law, we will not stop fighting to protect our basic civil rights,” Bhargava said. “We will build more power to demand respect and equal treatment under the law. Now is the time for fair-minded people from across the political spectrum to stand up to lawmakers who champion anti-immigrant, hate-filled policies by registering to vote so we can speak at the ballot box.”

You can follow our efforts on Twitter at #Justice4AZ and #SB1070.

Obama Administration Makes Dream Come True for DREAM Students

Halt to Deportation for ALL DREAMers

(WASHINGTON)—The Obama Administration today made the dream come true for DREAM students by immediately halting deportation for children who were brought to America by their immigrant parents and want nothing more than to continue their American dream.

 “Today’s decision is a huge victory for these courageous young men and women.  It grants them the opportunity to resolve their immigration status and work toward citizenship so they can continue giving back to the country they call home,” said Rich Stolz, Interim Director of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). “This action makes sense, not only because it upholds basic notions of fairness, but because it is fully within the President’s authority.  We commend the Obama Administration for halting the deportation of young people whose parents brought them here as children. Now they can work on making their other dreams come true.”

“These children are American in every way, except for paperwork. They should be rewarded, not deported, for enrolling in school or joining the military so they can stay in their adopted country to study and work,” Stolz added.

“We have seen too many examples of young people full of potential facing deportation because they were not born in this country,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, a member of FIRM. “As our opponents make every effort to demonize and dehumanize immigrants, it is a tremendous victory that the Obama Administration is showing America that immigrants and their families simply want to take part fully in American life, and want to give back to their adopted country. We will fight to defend this principled and important announcement.”

“The Obama Administration has also shown that it values keeping families united here in America as they work toward a path to citizenship. We hope the administration will continue on this forward path toward comprehensive immigration reform, and we will work with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to ensure that the policy is implemented successfully to bring real relief to young people and hope for their families,” Stolz said.

FIRM is a network of community-based immigrant advocacy organizations in 30 states.

Latino and Immigrant Leaders, Attorneys and Advocates Say Implementation of Prosecutorial Discretion Policy is Failing

One Year After Obama Administration Announces New Deportation Policy, Progress Report Using DHS Data Shows Fewer Individuals Getting Relief and Those Getting Relief are Getting a Worse Deal

Washington, DC – After a growing outcry by immigrants, allies, and Members of Congress, outraged at the record number of deportations carried out by the Obama Administration, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new policy in June 2011 that was supposed to focus immigration enforcement on the “worst of the worst” and spare individuals who have been in the U.S. for years, raising families.  Immigrants and their allies applauded these changes and hoped they would be implemented fairly, finally allowing long-time U.S. residents, parents of U.S. citizen children, and young people eligible for the DREAM Act to live their lives with less fear.  Unfortunately, a year has passed since the policy was announced, and very little has changed.  In some cases, the situation has even gotten worse.

The Administration’s original policy changes, detailed in memos from ICE Director John Morton and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in the summer of 2011, involved an unprecedented review of hundreds of thousands of pending deportation cases.  The Department pledged to close the cases of individuals who didn’t meet their enforcement “priorities.”  On a press call today, immigration lawyers, community leaders, and advocates, representing a broad spectrum of Latino and immigrant communities, declared the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of the new enforcement priorities is failing and asked the Obama Administration to take immediate action to fully implement this policy by protecting families, DREAM Act eligible youth, and those standing up for their civil and labor rights.

Leaders expressed serious alarm at information provided by DHS about the implementation of this policy.  Only 1.5% of pending cases have actually been closed and when the initial reviews are complete experts estimate that 4-5% of the cases reviewed will be closed. This number is abysmally low, given the huge number of immigrants with no criminal records who are currently in deportation proceedings.

According to Crystal Williams, Executive Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association, “In June 2011, ICE set out to make an irrational machine run a little more rationally.  They laid out all the best tools to do so, but then chose to work only with one worn wrench.  Is it any wonder that little has been improved?”

In an NPR interview over the weekend, ICE director John Morton made the hollow case that ICE has succeeded in focusing deportations on serious criminals and claimed that “people who’ve been here for a very long period of time and have no criminal record and are removed from the United States is, in fact, quite rare.  Those people are not our priority and we don’t seek to remove them in large numbers.”  However, a front page Washington Post story today highlights the case of a Virginia DREAMer, Heydi Mejia, a graduating high school senior who’s facing deportation just a few days after accepting a her diploma.  “In Mejia’s case, what should be done with an illegal immigrant who came to the country at age 4; who speaks better English than Spanish; who wants to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and become a nurse; whose knowledge about modern Guatemala comes in part from what she’s read on Wikipedia?”

Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice Education Fund, “Something is seriously wrong when an honor student who came at the age of 4 and who has broken no laws is scheduled for deportation under a program whose head administrator claims only focused primarily on serious criminals. A year ago, we applauded the changes the Obama administration announced to their deportation policies, and we were hopeful that they would bring a new era of humane immigration enforcement.  However, a year later we are sad to declare that the implementation of this policy change is failing. This policy has not made things better, in many cases it’s actually made things worse.”

On today’s call, speakers discussed the release of a new report from Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), titled “Restore the Promise of Prosecutorial Discretion,” which focuses on the human impact of DHS’s failure, analyzes available data on the Administration’s initiative to date and its implications for the families of immigrants, and provides recommendations on what DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement must do to restore the credibility of this policy in immigrant communities. The report outlines four recommendations, the foremost of which is ensuring that the policy actually protects families from separation.

According to Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, “Our patience has been exhausted.  The Obama Administration has to ensure that DHS implement prosecutorial discretion with the full intent and spirit of the policy.  DHS has to act otherwise we will conclude that the lack of implementation is purposeful and in direct contradiction to the original June 17, 2011 discretion memo.”

Saket Soni, Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, agreed.  He helped launch the Stand Up 2012: Make Justice Real campaign to fight for the rights of immigrants standing up for labor and civil rights, and holding the Administration accountable to promises laid out in a second memo, which instructs ICE to exercise “all appropriate discretion” for individuals “pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints” including  “individuals engaging in a protected activity related to civil or other rights (for example, union organizing or complaining to authorities about employment discrimination or housing conditions) who may be in a non-frivolous dispute with an employer, landlord, or contractor.” According to Soni: “The prosecutorial discretion policy calls on ICE to protect immigrants who are defending civil rights. Instead ICE is pressing for their deportation. And the Obama Administration is letting ICE break the promise of basic civil rights to millions of immigrants.”

Last month, leaders from the United We DREAM Network (UWD) and their locally-led organizations launched the “Right to DREAM” campaign with rallies, marches, and protests around the country to demand that President Obama use his power to stop tearing immigrant families apart and provide real and lasting relief for DREAM Act eligible youth.  In a newly released memo to the White House, nearly 100 law professors have outlined the three legal mechanisms that President Obama could apply, using his executive authority, to grant proactive relief for DREAM Act eligible youth.

Gaby Pacheco, Education not Deportation (END) Project Coordinator, United We Dream Network said, “I think all of us were really excited to see how the Administration’s prosecutorial discretion policy would roll out, but over the last year, all we’ve seen are families divided and DREAMers deported.  The President has clear legal authority to give our community relief, yet he continues to say he doesn’t have the power.  Rest assured, we will continue to move forward with our ‘Right to Dream” campaign and take our voices to the White House and to his campaign offices until we see Obama exercise leadership.  How can we believe in a powerless President?”

According to Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns, National Council of La Raza, “Elevating national security and community safety above all else is a priority we can all get behind—it serves the public good and with it, brings some relief to families across America who continue to suffer the consequences of Congressional inaction on immigration.  We cannot be at war with our own values and principles, and the rightful  and effective use of prosecutorial discretion can help address that.  But so far, implementation has been dismal.  We need bold action to ensure that what can be done is reflected in what is being done.”



The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border

For three years, OneAmerica community organizers had been hearing about the fear and mistrust border residents harbored toward U.S. Border Patrol. Residents living in Snohomish, Whatcom, and Skagit counties were too afraid to go to the courthouse to pay a fine, too mistrustful of the authorities to call 911, or too fearful to leave their home to attend church or go to the grocery store.

How could they become active participants in their communities if they were too scared to leave home?

Organizers interviewed residents in their homes, at work, and in church. We researched and observed how U.S. Border Patrol’s funding soared, its jurisdiction crept further and further inland, and how its role in the community became virtually indistinguishable from local police and 911 emergency service personnel.

Download the Executive Summary (2MB pdf)Download the Executive Summary


Download the full report (5MB pdf) Download the full report

OneAmerica compiled this research into a report and, in April 2012, released The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border, which truly demonstrates the transformation of these border communities in the wake of the post-9/11 buildup of U.S. Border Patrol activity in the area.

The report shares the findings from 109 on-the-ground interviews with mothers, fathers, workers, and students. The majority of stories are marked by fear, mistrust, harassment, and abuse. They are rooted in specific—and avoidable—patterns of practice implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), working in close coordination with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.

In particular, Growing Human Rights Crisis calls attention to three interrelated patterns of practice:

  • First, in its own independent operations, the Border Patrol engages in systematic profiling of religious and ethnic minorities.
  • Second, collaboration between Border Patrol and other agencies, including local law enforcement, emergency responders, and the courts, results in a confusing and dangerous fusion where vital services are perceived as immigration enforcement.
  • Third, these first two patterns result in a third: U.S. Border Patrol’s behavior and dangerous partnerships with other agencies have created extensive fear and mistrust, leading to community members’ unwillingness to call 911, access the courts, and even to leave their house to attend worship services or fulfill basic needs.

We believe firmly that we must not trade away our rights for security. Documenting what is happening allows us to educate our policy makers so we can push together to change the situation. Our report offers policy recommendations aimed at correcting these wrongs while still protecting our borders, improving the ability for CBP to carry out its mission, and protecting the safety and rights of all who live in these communities.

This report is the product of a unique three-way partnership between OneAmerica, theUniversity of Washington Center for Human Rights, and the residents and leaders of these border communities. It culminates the first stage of a long process of organizing, educating, and empowering northern border communities to defend their human rights.

Alabama again at forefront of civil-rights issue

Last month we participated in the re-enactment of the 1965 civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. This year, the march took on a whole new meaning — and issue — as Latinos and immigrants’ rights activists joined in.

During the civil-rights era, events in Alabama raised our hopes and fears about the state of America’s creed that this is a country “with liberty and justice for all.”

We traveled to Alabama because last year Alabama passed HB 56, the worst anti-immigrant law in the nation. HB 56 orders public schools to demand immigration papers from children when they enroll, it shuts off municipal water service to customers who lack legal immigration status and it requires local and state police to demand proof of legal status (supposedly without engaging in racial profiling).

HB 56’s most draconian provisions are on hold, temporarily enjoined by a federal court. On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the propriety of injunctions issued against the law in Arizona (SB 1070) that inspired HB 56. The Alabama Legislature has before it bills to either repeal HB 56 or rework its most decried provisions.

Our experiences in Alabama reminded us that the colonies — and the United States that they became — took 250 years and a civil war to eliminate government-sanctioned slavery. Until 1868, Africans and African-Americans on U.S. soil were not considered citizens. It took another century-plus to establish that African-Americans are entitled to equal access to voting, to public services and to public spaces.

America — and Alabama — was a very different place in March 1965. An all-white state police force savagely beat 600 marchers as they nonviolently stood their ground on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the first stage of their pilgrimage to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

Forty-seven years later, national leaders, local and national elected officials crossed that bridge, leading thousands of others, assisted by Alabama State troopers — many of them African-Americans. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who co-led the 1965 bridge crossing, denounced HB 56 as an affront to civil rights and un-American. Other iconic leaders of that era stood at his side and added their voices.

Senator Schumer Urges DHS & ICE to Grant Working Status to Immigrants with Immigration Cases Closed Under Obama Action

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to give a one-year “deferred action” legal status to immigrants whose court removal cases have been administratively closed under new immigration initiatives. This “deferred action” legal status would give a small group of non-criminal immigrants the ability to work while the deportation of higher priority criminal cases are processed first, which is expected to take over a year.

About 40,000 non-criminal immigrants with close family ties in the United States are expected to see their cases closed in immigration court in the coming months, which will likely delay their eventual deportation for over a year. Schumer is pushing for these immigrants to be granted a temporary legal status for that time, so that these individuals can work and pay taxes. Schumer also noted that this legal status would allow DHS and ICE to use their limited resources effectively, by minimizing the chance that immigration proceedings will be repeated for immigrants whose cases have already been closed.

“Given our scarce enforcement resources, it is critical that we prioritize the deportation of criminal immigrants, and de-prioritize the deportation of non-criminals with significant family ties and long time residence in the United States,” said Schumer. “For that small percentage of individuals who meet this criteria, it is only practical to provide them with actual relief that encourages them to contribute to the country rather than remaining in the shadows in a state of legal limbo. The administration should grant these individuals status for a period of one year, so that they can legally work and support themselves and their families while still residing in the U.S., all while clearing out courtrooms for higher priority criminal immigrant cases.”

In April 2011, Schumer urged DHS and ICE to use their limited resources to prioritize criminal deportations and de-prioritize non-criminal deportations, and the administration took that course of action in June 2011. Since announcing a plan to use prosecutorial discretion in non-priority removal cases, ICE has conducted pilot programs in the Denver and Baltimore immigration courts. Of nearly 12,000 removal cases combined, 1,667 were administratively closed for non-criminal immigrants with strong family ties, pending a background check. Nationwide, approximately 40,000 immigrants could see their cases closed in this way under the administration’s plans, and would remain in the United States for at least one year as the deportation of higher priority criminal immigrants is processed first. Schumer is urging authorities to allow this small group of immigrants to be able to spend this year in the U.S. in a productive manner by working and paying taxes.

Schumer was expected to present the letter to ICE Director John Morton in person at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Schumer stated that granting “deferred action” legal status after the administration closes a removal case would help to ensure that those same immigrants are not subjected to repeated court proceedings because their status cannot be verified. Without a legal status, even after an immigrant’s court case is closed by the administration, ICE could end up repeating investigations of this low-priority individual. Schumer stated that these duplicative investigations would be a drain on already limited federal resources, which should be directed at high-priority criminal deportation cases.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Takes Steps to Improve Noncitizens’ Access to Legal Counsel

During its nine-year history, issues have arisen with respect to restrictions on counsel by the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration agencies. Tuesday, in response to calls from the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued immediate, comprehensive changes to their policies to ensure an appropriate role for attorneys in the immigration process.

Many noncitizens are forced to navigate the immigration process without representation because they cannot afford an attorney.  But even persons who can afford one, or are represented by a pro bono attorney, have at times faced severe restrictions on their representation.  This is particularly troublesome given the significant power USCIS officers wield.  For example, they decide whether a noncitizen is entitled to stay in the U.S. or not.  The assistance of an attorney well versed in the complexities of immigration law can help safeguard the rights of these noncitizens and ensure just outcomes.

By revising its guidance, USCIS has responded to some of the most serious access concerns.  For example, the new guidance provides that an attorney generally may sit next to his or her client during an interview, may be permitted to submit relevant documents to the USCIS officer, and may raise objections to inappropriate lines of questioning.

The American Immigration Council looks forward to commenting on the new guidance and working with the agency to make sure it is followed.  The other immigration agencies – Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – should take note of USCIS’s commitment to improving access to counsel and take similar steps to recognize the meaningful role that attorneys play in protecting noncitizens’ rights.

To view the guidance see:

This entry was contributed by the American Immigration Council.

FIRM leads thousands in Montgomery march against HB-56 at conclusion of Immigrant National Convention

On Saturday, December 17, more than 2,500 people gathered at the Alabama State Capitol and marched to the Governor’s Mansion to denounce HB56 and support its repeal.  The march marked the conclusion of the Immigrant National Convention, organize by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and hosted by the Alabama Immigrant Justice Coalition (ACIJ).