Category Archives: Updates

White House Pledge to Immigrant Community Being Hindered by Bureaucracy, Lack of Leadership by DHS/ICE

Prosecutorial Discretion Not Being Applied to Law-Abiding Immigrants in Many Cases

Federal immigration officials have not evenly applied ‘prosecutorial discretion’ to deportation cases, and in some areas, have not implemented the Obama Administration’s plan to suspend deportation proceedings for law-abiding immigrants with strong ties to their communities.

During a national telephonic news conference today, members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) stated that there have been numerous cases where prosecutorial discretion has not been applied since the Obama Administration announced its plan last summer.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) clarified their positions last fall on prosecutorial discretion. The agencies pledged to review more than 300,000 cases currently in deportation proceedings to identify low-priority individuals whose cases could be closed because they had strong ties to the United States and they posed no threat to society.

But this month in testimony before Congress, ICE Director John Morton said that as of March 5th, ICE had reviewed 142,000 non-detained cases and 23,000 detained cases, and that only 11,000 cases were determined to fall under ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ Only 1,583 cases have been closed.

“Immigrant and Latino communities across the nation are deeply disappointed, shocked and appalled at this dismal rate of case closure,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights for Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “Based on the numbers we have seen, we can only conclude that Secretary Napolitano and her staff are willfully disregarding the policy of prosecutorial discretion announced by President Obama last year.”

ICE continues to use a narrow “one-size fits all” analysis in its review of cases, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appears to be content with this approach, said Isabel Vinent, deputy director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“Secretary Napolitano risks undermining yet another promise made by President Obama to Latino and immigrant communities, and in an election year,” Vinent added.

Two women, Sara Martinez and Jennifer Martinez (no relation), spoke of how prosecutorial discretion has not been applied in their cases. Sara Martinez, who lives in New York, is the sole caretaker of her 6-year-old daughter. Sara faces deportation back to her native Ecuador despite having no criminal record and strong ties to the U.S.

“Since I came to the U.S., I have paid my taxes on time, I’ve learned how to speak English and I have been involved in my community,” said Sara Martinez. “I have never committed a crime either in Ecuador or in the United States. I just want to give my daughter a better life than I have had.”

Jennifer Martinez’s husband, Jaime Martinez, was recently deported back to Mexico. Jaime was the sole provider for his family of four U.S.-born children, said his wife of 14 years. Jennifer Martinez and her children live in Wisconsin.

“Because of a broken immigration system, my family has been torn apart,” Jennifer Martinez said.

“FIRM members are calling on Secretary Napolitano to demonstrate real leadership in the implementation of this program,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona. “ICE and DHS cannot continue to operate without accountability.”

FIRM is a national coalition of grassroots organizations fighting for immigrant rights at the local, state and federal level.

FIRM Applauds Obama Administration’s Proposal to Keep Families United

Rule Change Eases Prolonged Separations

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) today applauded the Obama Administration’s proposed rule change allowing spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay together in the United States while family members work to gain permanent U.S. residency.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants have to leave the United States and apply for a waiver to lessen the 3-year to 10-year bar they face before they can re-enter the country. Often, the process to obtain a waiver can take months or even years, meaning families have to endure severe prolonged separations.

The rule change would allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens to file their waivers in the United States. The action does not require congressional approval.

“In focusing on keeping families together, the Obama administration is moving in a positive direction to significantly ease the hardship families are going through now to obtain these waivers,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change. The Center is a member of FIRM. “Families should not be torn apart because of their immigration status. The proposal cuts through unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape and focuses on family unity.”

The rule change would help families like Miguel and Lorena Reyes of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Miguel Reyes had to go back to Mexico in August 2011 to apply for his waiver. He is still waiting for it. Meanwhile, Lorena Reyes, a U.S. citizen, is working hard to maintain a normal family life for the couple’s two-year-old daughter, Ruth.

“This immigration process has been so stressful and devastating for me and my family,” said Lorena Reyes, who told her story to the Alliance for a Just Society and the Idaho Community Action Network, both members of FIRM. “Our life is on hold, our family’s future is on hold, as we wait for his visa to be approved. I am struggling financially and also suffering emotionally and so is our daughter. I want my husband to come back home now to wait for his waiver.”

FIRM hopes the policy is extended to immigrants with lawful permanent resident status. Families should not have to wait in other countries for prolonged periods of time to be reunited with their families in the United States.

Catching up: Arpaio, detention reform and veterans facing deportation

I have been in San Francisco (thus the picture) for the past few days at a training with the New Organizing Institute. The training was a wonderful experience and I met some amazing people doing very exciting and important work (more on this later). But being away from the blogosphere for even a few days always stresses me out. So much has happened while I’ve been gone. There are a couple of things I want to write full-length posts on, but in the mean time, I’m going to do a quick round up of updates and news.

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First things first, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, long time Latino terrorize in Maricopa County, has lost some of his swagger! It was decided that Arpaio is to be stripped of his power to arrest undocumented immigrants in the county. What this actually means is that he can no longer racially profile and target people of a certain skin color. Though Arpaio says that he will continue to conduct raids, this is at least a step in the right direction coming from the Department of Homeland Security. Read more about it here and here.

Next up, this week the Department of Homeland Security announced its plans for reform of the nation’s immigrant detention system. DHS announced its outlines for reform this past Tuesday. And, like I’ve said before, they are certainly a step in the right direction. However, they will not be effective unless they are incorporated into a comprehensive reform of the full immigration system in this country. Kevin Johnson from NILC sums it up nicely here:

The DHS announcement today identifies several of the steps the agency must make to create a “truly civil system” and correctly notes that our current immigration enforcement programs “identify large volumes of aliens with low level convictions or no convictions” who should not be the focus of immigration enforcement efforts. The detention system can’t be viewed in isolation from how immigration enforcement is conducted.

Read more about proposed detention reform here and here.

In other news, Marisa Treviño from Latina Lista reports on the over 3,000 veterans who have fought for a country that won’t even make them citizens. And to repay them? They are now battling deportation. Read her full post here. And also check out the Reform Immigration FOR America blog’s write-up of  a new documentary on military families being torn apart of the broken immigration system. Those who risk their lives for our country deserve better – and as Marisa points out they even  “deserve extra kudos because their volunteerism runs much deeper than someone who is a citizen.”

Last on the list (which is by no means exhaustive) is a report that was released by the U.N. on Monday. The report’s main finding is simple: migrants contribute much more to their new countries than they take. For more on this check out CAUSA Oregon’s blog and listen to their podcast. So for all of the folks out there who continue to shout about immigrants who are “draining” our country, listen up!

Standing FIRM at Netroots Nation ’09

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I have the privelege of attending Netroots Nation 2009 this year. In fact, I’m writing this from my hotel in Pittsburgh, where I’m prepping for the New Organizing Institute’s pre-Netroots Summit about the intersection between the LGBT movement and the immigration reform movement.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this whole week and looking forward to writing up some of the more noteworthy experiences. If you’re around, be sure to check out some of the great panels happening.

Also, I’m here with FIRM parent organization, the Center for Community Change, so be sure to come check out our booth and get more information about how you can be involved in the fight for immigration reform, healthcare reform and low-wage worker rights.

UPDATE: Obama Meets with Congressional Hispanic Caucus

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Earlier today I mentioned that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with President Obama to urge him to address comprehensive immigration reform this year. The President expressed a continued commitment to reforming immigration and also noted that his administration will be looking for ways to relieve the damage done to communities by current immigration enforcement measures.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a champion of comprhensive immigration reform, released statement about the meeting:

“We came to the President today as allies and supporters, and in return he showed us that he remains committed to immigration reform that stabilizes our economy, secures our borders and keeps our families together. “The President showed the CHC that, although it is very early in his administration, he understands that for the immigrant community it’s the 11th hour, and there is no time to waste. The Latino community supported President Obama overwhelmingly in the election, and they remain energized not only by his victory but also by his message of support for comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that a plan is forthcoming, and that we will see real change this year.”

This is an extremely important step toward immigration reform happening this year and an energizing message for all of us who are pushing for it. It seems like the demand for reform is going to hit a critical mass in the near future, with so many different voices joining to call on the administration and Congress to address the issue.

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FIRM’s parent organization, the Center for Community Change, also released a statement from our Executive Director, Deepak Bhargava. He had this to say about today’s meeting:

Today, we welcome President Obama’s pledge during the CHC meeting to start a national conversation on just and humane immigration reform. The Center looks forward to bringing the voices of those most affected to the conversation.

Our country, now more than ever, needs comprehensive immigration reform that gives the hard working men and women already here an earned path to citizenship, keeps families together and provides legal avenues for future workers to seek out opportunities here and join the struggle to strengthen our economy.

Its so important to remember that during this time of crisis in our country, we have to come together to solve then nation’s problems. Continuing the politics of divisiveness and exclusion will not foster the type of community solutions that we need. We need everyone’s contribution, both to the economy and to our communities, if we want to right the course of the nation.

It’s looking like today’s meeting is the first step to getting back on course.

UPDATE: Record Numbers Turn out for CAUSA’s Immigrant Day of Action

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This past Saturday, over 450 Latinos, immigrants and advocates gathered in Salem, Oregon to attend CAUSA Oregon’s immigrant day of Action – the highest attendance in the 12 years CAUSA has hosted the event. This record turnout sends a message to the White House and to Congress about the public support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Community members from as far away as Florida gathered to discuss important issues facing the immigrant community, such as: prospects for passing Just and Humane immigration reform, the impact of Oregon’s stricter Driver’s License rules, immigrant advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal level and know your rights information. Click here to view a photo slideshow from the event.

Last Saturday’s event also helped CAUSA gear up their push to turn out 10,000 people to the May 1st events this year.

UPDATE: Obama Reaffirms Commitment to Immigration Reform after Last Week’s Raid

Last Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided an engine remanufacturing plant in Bellingham, Washington, ignited a quick and fierce outcry from immigration rights advocates and communities across the country. We responded and the administration listened.

The day after the Raid, after thousands of calls into the White House and meetings on the Hill, Janet Napolitano called for an investigation into the raid.

Napolitano told lawmakers during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday that she did not know about the raid before it happened and was briefed on it early Wednesday morning. She has asked U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrested 28 illegal immigrants in the raid, for answers.

“I want to get to the bottom of this as well,” she said. She said work-site enforcement needs to be focused on the employers.

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The White House has now also responded through spokesman Nick Shapiro:

“Secretary Napolitano is conducting a thorough review of ICE, including enforcement,” Mr. Shapiro said. “The president believes we must respect due process and our best values as we enforce the law. The real answer to our broken immigration system is to fix it. The president has said that we will start the immigration reform debate this year, and this continues to be the plan.”

There you have it folks. We yelled and the administration answered. It looks like immigration will be on the agenda this year. Lets hope Obama keeps his promise to get the ball rolling on Comprehensive Reform; because if he doesn’t, we will be here to keep up the pressure!

Update: Workers Continue to Fight Colibri

Three weeks ago I posted on the story of the abrupt closing of the Colibri Company in East Providence, Rhode Island. The company shut their doors without warning, laying off 280 employees and violating the Federal WARN act. The workers, in coordination with our partners at Fuerza Laboral, have filed a lawsuit against the company and turned out to protest soon after the closing.

Now the workers are turning their attention to Colibri’s parent company, Founders Equity. This past Friday 70 Colibri workers and Fuerza Laboral allies boarded a bus to NYC to hold Founders Equity accountable for shutting down Colibri with no notice. Protestors packed the lobby of Founders Equity, making their demands heard.

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Leadership at the company refused to meet with the workers, but their message was loud and clear: Founders Equity must be held responsible for violating the Federal WARN Act and as such, need to pay the workers 60 days pay and benefits, plus severance for failing to give notification.

Click here to send a message to Founders Equity asking for justice for the Colibri workers. Over 700 people have already sent their messages to the company.  It only takes a minute and it will make a difference!

FIRM Update 4.28.08

Building America Together!

On May 1st, FIRM member organizations in a number of cities across the United States will engage in rallies and marches calling for unity in the movement, an end to raids, a pathway to citizenship and emphasizing the importance of civic participation as we gear up for the general election this fall. We’ve partnered with America’s Voice, a new 501c4 non-partisan communications organization, to make press and communications resources available to a number of events. If your organization is interested in participating, but has not yet contacted us, please e-mail mgraciosa@communitychange.org. More details to come soon.

Then on May 2, a delegation of FIRM leaders will follow-up on our joint action with National People’s Action with a meeting with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to further pressure that agency to resolve the naturalization backlogs that could prevent one million naturalization applicants from becoming citizens in time to register to vote in the elections this fall. FIRM’s efforts build on the work of the New Americans Initiative, implemented by FIRM member organizations across the nation, including Illinois, Maryland, Washington, and several other states. For more information about the New American’s Initiative, launched by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, go to http://www.icirr.org/nai/aboutnai.html. FIRM’s focus on USCIS also builds on the powerful work of our partner organizations in the Ya Es Hora campaign (http://www.yaeshora.info/), the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (http://www.naleo.org/) and ACORN (http://www.acorn.org/) in holding the Department of Homeland Security accountable to democracy. For more information, contact rstolz@communitychange.org.

Politics 2008

As the Democratic candidates for President look down the final stretch toward the Democratic Convention in Denver, CO, how Senator John McCain positions himself on immigration remains a major question in this presidential election. For insight into McCain’s campaign, and his home state of Arizona, here is an article from The Politico: http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=58F65022-3048-5C12-00DD9CAEA3AACE30.

On April 16th, Janet Murguia, Executive Director of the National Council of La Raza gave an important address at the National Press Club on the matter of the tone of the immigration debate and the impact on the Latino community. For excerpts of the speech, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKcDn5TQJUA.

Congressional News

Growing frustrated with Democratic leaders, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus attacked the Democratic Leadership last week for failiing to act on comprehensive immigration reform. For an AP article on the scuffle, go to http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iVvNEQTRBcKr1H77I1lD06ZPkCbAD907QPTG0. Pressure is mounting on all sides, as proponents of smaller immigration related mesaures (visa reforms and expansions, enforcement measures) are held up by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ demand that nothing move if it does not address the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A series of hearings will begin in the House of Representatives on the issue of employment verification, beginning with the Ways and Means Committee (as early as the week of May 5).

State & Local News

In Prince William County, Virginia, the County Board of Supervisors has begun debating in earnest the merits of the anti-immigrant ordinances that the county adopted a year ago. A vote on whether to repeal these higly-publicized ordinances could come up as early as this week. For information on politics in Prince William County, take a look at the following blog: http://www.antibvbl.net/index.php/2008/04/23/stewart-distances-himself-from-fair/ Continue reading

FIRM Update 4.15.08

Building America Together!

 

With May 1st only a few weeks away, organizations in cities across the country are planning a wide range of activities.  If you have not yet sent a description of events planned in your community to rstolz@communitychange.org, please do so ASAP so that we can compile as strong a list as possible.  In the mean time, press coverage over the anniversary of the major May 1 marches has started, including this article that ran in the Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-marchanniversary_12met.ART.North.Edition1.467d5fc.html

 

On April 12-14, more than 500 grassroots community leaders gathered in Washington, DC for National People’s Action, a major gathering of community organizing groups across the nation.  At that gathering hundreds of leaders from African American, Latino, Asian, and urban and rural communities joined the Building America Together campaign and endorsed the FIRM Pledge.  FIRM and NPA members then held a series of actions on a range of issues important to low-income and minority communities, including the foreclosure crisis and immigration reform.  For more information go to www.npa-us.org.  On Monday, April 14, NPA and FIRM organized an action at the Department of Homeland Security demanding that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service quickly address naturalization backlogs that could deny hundreds of thousands of immigrants an opportunity to vote this fall.  At that action, USCIS agreed to a national meeting and local follow-up meetings to discuss progress on the backlogs.

 

Politics 2008

 

At the presidential level, pundits are noting that immigration has remained a relatively quiet topic among the main candidates vying for the office.  A useful summary article of the state of the debate can be found at http://www.mgwashington.com/index.php/news/article/immigration-debate-disappears-from-presidential-race/842/.

 

Julia Preston, reporter for the New York Times, posted a blog entry on the newspaper’s site calling for stories about personal experiences with the immigration system.  A number of very compelling stories followed.  If you’d like to post your own story, please go to http://news.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/share-your-immigration-story/.

 

At the bottom of this update, please fine included an excerpt from a statement made by Senator Obama on the issue of immigration.  It’s noteworthy in that it represents a rhetorical shift toward “requiring” legalization in an unfortunate nod to Americans concerned about sounding tough on immigrants.  At the same time, Senator Obama argues against the politics of division and bitter partisanship that derailed the immigration bill last year.

 

Congressional News

 

– A column from a prominent Hispanic evangelical leader condemning the SAVE Act: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/13/EDJ7102NGP.DTL

– An article that ran on New American Media last week on “big brother” aspects of verification programs: http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=52d0ebe8371c990bd462f7f8b57a87b9

– An article on how employment verification programs impact citizens: http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=4d22e7ba1e5ee4c8039d5b38ed1177f1

– For a fact sheet being circulated in the human needs community, please go to: http://www.chn.org/humanneeds/080414c.html

 

State & Local News

 

Tensions in Arizona over race, immigration and enforcement policies centering on the actions of Sheriff Arpaio are rising.  The Mayor of Phoenix recently requested the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine Arpaio’s practices.  For coverage go to http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/04/13/20080413gordonarpaio0413.html or http://www.wbay.com/Global/story.asp?S=8160458 to see how the story is spreading.  Tensions are emerging even among law enforcement agencies and fears of civil unrest due to Arpaio’s actions: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/04/10/20080410mr-sweeps.html.  Last week the New York Times also weighed in with an editorial critical of the 287g program, which encourages cooperation among federal immigration authorities and loca law enforcement officials, and called for its own investigation of Sheriff Arpaio: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/09/opinion/09wed1.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=arpaio&st=nyt&oref=slogin.

 

In Valley Park, Missouri, recent elections ousted the incumbent mayor who had made stemming illegal immigration that town’s major political cause.  The mayor-elect has already signaled a new direction on immigration.  The town has been burdened by legal suits ever since it enacted anti-immigrant ordinances in 2006. http://www.kmov.com/justposted/stories//kmov_justpost_080410_valleypark.4ff1ebdf.html

 

A story coming out of Texas demonstrates the sad state of affairs in the nation’s immigration debate.  A young girl who claimed to have been attacked by Hispanic students for submitting an anti-immigrant homework assignment lied about the assault, but the truth came to light following a wave of angry anti-immigrant media.  For a sample story, go to http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gZ1nT1vVtsPjlF3OBXD7k6zJzmkQD8VUT0601.

 

In Missouri, a chamber in the State Legislator voted to prohibit the state from implementing the REAL ID Act.  For an article on the action, go to http://www.kansascity.com/115/story/574609.html.

 

Raids, Detention, Deportation

 

The new commercial film, The Visitor, which tells a story about the impact of immigrant detention on friends and family members, is now out in the theaters.  To see a trailer of the film, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KULst0-BQZk. A list of locations where the film is being shown can be seen at http://www.thevisitorfilm.com/visitorVenues.html.  A number of groups are organizing around this film to raise awareness about immigrant detention issues.  To see what folks are up to, go to http://www.takepart.com/thevisitor.

 

Immigration Agencies and Federal Regulations

 

Responding to concerns raised by business and political leaders, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff defended the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and punted concerns about raids by turning attention back toward Congress: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gW2P1MWWgc-PQW-oo9bUzL6vR-PQD900HNJ80.  An article on the comments and letter sent by Mayor VIllaraigosa to Chertoff can be found at http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_8876072?nclick_check=1.

 

There is a growing political response to waivers announced by the Department of Homeland Security to sidestep various protections in an effort to speed up construction of border walls.  A summary of the legal issues can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/us/08bar.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin, and a press release announcing the intent of several House members to sue the Department can be seen at http://homeland.house.gov/press/index.asp?ID=351&SubSection=1&Issue=0&DocumentType=0&PublishDate=0.

 

A coalition of organizations have developed a detailed analysis of recently issued regulations that would govern the H2A Visa program, used primarily for agricultural workers. 

 

FIRM Member Activities

 

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition celebrated a victory in the State legislature last week when an appropriations committee voted against a proposal to double the state’s immigration enforcement patrol.  For more information, contact julien@coloradoimmigrant.org.

 

Allies and Partner Activities

 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union held the most recent of a series of hearings on the impact of ICE worksite raids in Boston, MA last week.  http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/04/08/commission_hears_testimony_on_us_immigration_raids/

 

Resources & News to Use

 

Tax Time! The Immigration Policy Center released a paper last week summarizing recent research on the tax contributions of immigrants.  To view the report, go to http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/index.php?content=taxday.

 

The following Op Ed ran in papers across the country last week highlighting the personal experience of immigration lived by Cristina Lopez of the Center for Community Change: http://www.charlotte.com/409/story/567612.html

 

Two videos were honored in a contest held by the Movement Vision Lab.  Each video tells a story about immigration from the perspective of community values.  To view them go to http://www.movementvisionlab.org/ccc/www/blog/announcing-the-results.

 

An Op Ed by a state legislator from Iowa makes the case that rather than pass anti-immigrant laws, it’s time to enforce wage laws that can benefit everyone: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080402/OPINION01/804020347/1036/Opinion

 

 

Posted on Mon, Apr. 14, 2008 in the Charlotte Observer:

Obama: Enforce tighter border, employer verifications

One of my fundamental beliefs is that for too long we have had a politics of division and distraction in Washington that’s stopped us from coming together to bring about real change. There are few better examples of how broken our politics has become than the immigration debate. Just last summer, we saw comprehensive reform fail in part because of bitter partisanship.

While I understand the passions — and legitimate differences — on both sides of this difficult issue, we must restore civility and reason to the conversation. The longer we go without comprehensive reform, the more pronounced this problem will become.

We must find common ground and take action on the two central issues that lie at the heart of this debate — and we cannot effectively address one without addressing the other at the same time.

First, we must reinforce our borders to deter the more than 2,000 immigrants who cross them illegally each day. Most of these aspiring laborers risk death in the desert to come here illegally, and they are diverting our attention from those trying to enter to do us harm. Continue reading