Lots Happening On the Immigration Front This Month

June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

To start off, gay Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, comes “out” again and this time about his undocumented immigration status. After having lived and worked in the United States for years as a successful journalist, Vargas wanted the world to know that there are people around us who, like him, live in the spotlight and are undocumented. So those of us who hold on to the common perception that the undocumented are the restaurant workers, the nannies or the construction workers, well think again. To read the full story that Vargas authored about his revelation, read on here.

Then, lots of updates this month from the White House. First, the House held a hearing on a long-expected mandatory employment verification bill H.R. 2164 introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX); the Refugee Protection Act was introduced in the Senate and House; and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced a comprehensive high-skill bill. In addition to the House mandatory employment verification bill, two other immigration-related bills (the Secure Visas Act and the detention bill), all authored by Chairman Smith of the House Judiciary Committee, are up for debate. Being more of the same enforcement-only proposals, these bills will not fix the immigration system but will instead impose additional restrictions on our businesses and serve as mechanisms for the government to grossly expand and mandate the use of detention to encompass large numbers of asylum seekers and other harmless noncitizens. AILA is already on record and will continue to fight the passage of these bills.

Additionally, Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE) announced a basket of reforms to address concerns about the Secure Communities program as well as an ICE memo on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion at all levels of the agency’s enforcement operations. “These are significant steps ICE has taken to clarify and advance its enforcement agenda. For the first time in a decade, the memo on prosecutorial discretion puts in a single document and in plain English the criteria ICE officers and trial attorneys should consider before initiating or pursuing enforcement actions,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. “The memo lists factors such as good behavior, ties to America, and other equities for enforcement officials to consider when deciding what course of action to take in a particular case. The memo helps put into effect DHS’s priorities so that it can better target law enforcement resources at those who would do us harm.” A second memo focused specifically on protecting victims and witnesses of crimes, including domestic violence was also released.

DHS also announced several reforms to address flaws in the Secure Communities program, which has drawn criticism from federal and local officials, law enforcement leaders, and other leading civic and community leaders. Recognizing the gravity of these concerns, in May, AILA called upon DHS to suspend the program. The reforms announced today include the creation of an advisory committee on Secure Communities, a complaint process, and a promise of more transparency about the program. “The reforms set in motion today begin to address the serious concerns we have about Secure Communities, but whether the program should be continued in the long run will depend on how ICE ultimately moves forward.”

Although Secure Communities has been billed as a way to identify serious criminals who pose a threat to our communities, 60 percent of those deported under the program have never been convicted of a serious crime or any crime. AILA members have reported numerous cases of harmless individuals arrested for minor offenses like traffic violations and loitering who have been put indiscriminately in immigration proceedings.

“One purpose of the advisory board is to examine how DHS should handle individuals who are arrested for minor offenses. It is essential that DHS get that right. Harmless people who commit minor offenses should not be placed on a conveyor belt to deportation,” Pelta said.

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