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The Muckraker

Immigration Digest, March 27-April 2: Secure Communities scrutinized

An immigration agent arrests a fugitive last month. Image courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The controversy surrounding the federal government’s expanding program to identify and deport immigrants with criminal records that reared up in Chicago, issues surrounding an immigrant workforce — legal or otherwise — and the drop in the number of asylum seekers in the last decade were among the big immigration stories last week.

Advisors to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials suggested asking Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, to intervene to help compel reluctant local officials to embrace the program, according to The New York Times.

Many deported through the program don’t have criminal convictions. The aim of the program, which began in 2008 and is expected to be implemented nationwide by 2013, is to deport dangerous criminals.

An agency contractor named Dan Cadman responded in an internal e-mail last year that the Illinois State Police message to the federal agency to back off was “not good, not good at all!” He wondered if it was “Time perhaps for a full court press?” An ICE spokesman said Cadman’s contract was terminated last month.

(Cadman, by the way, was also a central figure in a 1990s scandal involving one of ICE’s two predecessors, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service. Dubbed “Kromegate,” the affair involved moving immigrants out of a Florida detention center ahead of a congressional visit, which the Justice Department Inspector General investigated and then some. He also was the director of the INS' National Security Unit at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks.)

An outside statistician has been hired to review the Secure Communities program, working with the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which investigates such complaints, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In San Francisco, which besides being another sanctuary city, is one of the top 13 California counties that deport high percentages of noncriminal immigrant, the SF Bay Guardian reported. San Francisco had resisted participating in the program.

In Arizona, which last year kicked off the latest campaign of tough-on-enforcement legislation, an attorney started the legal process to literally split the immigration battleground into two distinct states, tentatively naming the southern neighbor Baja Arizona.

Business pressure, pressured
Businesses have been applying political pressure points on state legislatures, saying that immigration-related bills introduced around the country may have a deleterious effect on the states’ economies.

The Obama administration is catching heat from both the left and right over its shift in focusing on employers rather than just on the illegal immigrants who work for them. Workplace audits by federal agents, who seek proof that employees are eligible to work in the country, have driven undocumented workers into the underground economy, The Wall Street Journal reported. In California, one workplace enforcement audit, also known as a silent raid, hit a Sacramento-area nursery during its busiest season.

At a House of Representative hearing, an immigration scholar testified that outsourcers have exploited loopholes in U.S. visa programs to bring in cheap foreign labor to substitute for U.S. workers. Microsoft was the only company in the top five users that had U.S. headquarters. A top federal immigration official said that fraudulent visa petitions had dropped from 21 percent in 2008 to about 7 percent, according to The New York Times.

While the country wrestles with immigration, the economy and jobs, Minnesota manufacturing companies continue to move operations to Mexico, despite that nation’s own economic troubles and bloody battle with drug traffickers.

Enforcement news
In other enforcement news, ICE detained 18 suspected illegal immigrants on a bus pulled over for speeding in Pennsylvania, a dairy farmer was accused of harboring illegal immigrants in upstate New York (here’s another take on the story), and a Turkish immigrant in Massachusetts had his drug possession conviction overturned because his court-appointed attorney didn’t properly inform him that the plea deal could lead to his deportation, the Boston Globe reported.

Undocumented students are not a priority for deportation, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who later reiterated the Obama administration assertion that the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever before.

Border security
A Somali man in custody since 2008 near San Antonio who later asked for asylum allegedly helped smuggle through Mexico and into Texas potential terrorists whose whereabouts are unknown. The man pleaded guilty last year to making false statements and will be sentenced later this month.

Before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, the Government Accountability Office testified that DHS, while making progress, faces continued challenges in securing both the northern and southwest borders.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress said that opponents of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws are unrealistic in saying that absolute control of the border is achievable — or even necessary — before reform legislation can be introduced.

The fence as architecture
A UC-Berkeley architecture professor re-envisioned the border fence as architecture as "[o]ur wall is as unsophisticated as a wall built 2,000 years ago,” he said.

Among his ideas are: a “burrito wall” with a food cart so people on either side of the border can share a meal, visit or conduct business; a water distribution system; and a lending library/confessional that also straddles the border to promote learning and spiritual health.

Asylum applications drop

Asylum applications have dropped by nearly 50 percent from 2001, according to the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Refugee Agency. Image courtesy UNHCR

The number of asylum seekers in the west fell by nearly half in the decade, down 42 percent from the peak in 2001, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The United States still attracts the largest number of asylum claims, with 55,500 requests out of some 359,000 applications in 2010 – one of every six requests — with an increase attributed partly to a rise in Chinese and Mexican applicants. Asylum bids to Canada, meanwhile, plummeted by 30 percent to the lowest level in nearly five years.

Ireland had the lowest approval rate in Europe last year as the country granted asylum to just 25 people.

Former Obama immigration official blasts administration, Congress

UPDATE: Read the response from Department of Homeland Security spokesman Adam Fetcher below.

In a stinging rebuke of the White House, Washington politicians and federal agencies, a former Obama administration official slams in a law journal the U.S. government for its inaction on immigration reform and tougher-than-ever enforcement.

With uncommon candor for a once-public official, Roxana Bacon, a former top counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says that the administration — and her erstwhile employer — have shied away from vision and practical leadership on immigration, because of indifference and timidity, respectively. She published her comments in the March issue of Arizona Attorney, the state bar's law journal.

“Having seen U.S. immigration from the 30,000-foot level, I know that D.C.’s collective ostriching is not a viable strategy,” she writes. “The reasons — demographic, national security and economic — are all around us.”

Bacon accuses the White House and Congress of neglecting immigration, blasts the administration's strategy of pushing hard-line enforcement ahead of reform legislation and scolds the Department of Homeland Security for the mishandling — and renewed deportation — of Haitians fleeing the earthquake-devastated country.

In an article titled "My Year of Living Dangerously," Bacon also calls Congress irresponsible and in want of leadership for not taking on the heavy task of fixing the nation’s immigration system. As a result of the issue's neglect, she argues, the hope for change has been lost for many.

In particular, the longtime immigration attorney criticizes the U.S. Senate for voting down a more narrow bill, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, which would have paved a path toward citizenship for eligible undocumented young people.

“We need visionary thinking and incisive analysis grounded on economic truths to create the functioning immigration policy the nation needs,” Bacon writes. “None of this is likely to come from this Congress, or from this Administration.”

The former USCIS official calls on immigrant advocates, the courts and even states to prod the federal government into action and sort out the complications of immigration law while upholding fairness and constitutional rights.

Bacon, who came out of retirement at the request of the administration, resigned her chief counsel post last fall after serving for about a year. Her commentary offers a rare public critique from a former Obama administration official.

USCIS, the agency that handles legal immigration, came under fire last summer after the leak of a draft memo, co-authored by Bacon, on administrative fixes to immigration law.

Conservatives pounced on the memo, which was not adopted, as proof that the administration had plans for a back-door amnesty. Bacon dismissed the notion as “nuts” and said many of the concepts had been floated for years by the government.

Bacon is not the only former DHS official recently to call on Congress to take the reins on immigration. Tom Ridge, the first DHS secretary under President George W. Bush, said that reform critics need to “get over it”.

Treading carefully around her friend, current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and praising the cadre of attorneys that worked in her office, Bacon saves some of her harshest criticism for her former employer.

Without naming USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, Bacon chides the agency and DHS for not upholding vows made starting about a year ago that deportations to Haiti would be suspended and requests by Haitians for immigration benefits and relief would be handled with a "generous and open heart."

“Well, somebody must have had a heart transplant, because very soon it was back to business as usual,” she writes. “[I]n the middle of January, in the midst of a cholera epidemic, deportations to Haiti resumed. Daily, we send hard-working people to Dante’s hell, and no leader in the Administration even seems embarrassed, much less angry or sad.”

She paints USCIS, the "runt of the immigration litter" compared to sister agencies Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as timid, having stayed underground instead of issuing "visionary policy statements or practical field directives."

The other two agencies, in turn, “went into overdrive to detain more people, remove more people, and exercise less discretion than at any time in our nation’s modern history,” she writes. “Progressive became regressive, and the promised helping hand had a serious slap to it.”

As far as the DREAM Act, Bacon asserts that to punish young people who have excelled but were brought to the country as infants or children by denying them the chance to legalize is "like jailing a one-year-old for not wearing a seatbelt."

Faced with the choice of setting young adults up for failure or maximizing their contribution as DREAM Act candidates, she laments: "Remarkably, we opted for failure.”

UPDATE: DHS spokesman Adam Fetcher responds to this story:

In the extended aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security has remained fully committed to upholding our responsibility to assist individuals affected by this tragedy using tools available under the law.

Three days after the disaster, Secretary Napolitano announced the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of Jan. 12, 2010. This designation remains in effect through July 22, 2011, and currently more than 60,000 Haitian nationals with TPS reside in our country.

In addition to granting TPS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also made some temporary relief measures available to nationals of Haiti, as it relates to change or extension of nonimmigrant status, advance parole, employment authorization for F-1 students, processing of immigrant petitions for children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, among others. As part of this, USCIS has granted more than 90 percent of all fee waiver requests for Haitians seeking these and other immigration benefits. We continue to consider any application for discretionary benefits on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resumed the removal of criminal aliens in coordination with the Government of Haiti and consistent with our domestic immigration enforcement priorities. ICE is legally required to repatriate criminal aliens to their country of origin or release them into U.S. communities if their repatriation is not reasonably foreseeable. The moratorium on removals to Haiti therefore meant that ICE was legally required to release detained Haitian nationals into U.S. communities. Unfortunately, a significant number of the detained Haitian nationals had committed serious crimes and their release posed significant threats to the American public. As a result, after a year of suspended removals, the U.S. government made the difficult decision to restart removals of a limited group of Haitian nationals to ensure the safety of our local communities.

DHS is working closely with the Department of State and the Government of Haiti to ensure that the resumption of removals is conducted in a safe, humane manner with minimal disruption to ongoing rebuilding efforts. The resumption of repatriations of criminal aliens does not apply in any way to aliens with a pending TPS application, aliens who have been granted TPS, or aliens who are otherwise present in the United States in a lawful status.

The Department of Homeland Security continues to provide all appropriate humanitarian protections to individuals who found themselves here in the United States in this extraordinary situation, and will continue to approach each case consistent with the humanitarian response taken since the earthquake.


ICE employee faces charges of stealing government money, misuse of passport

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervisor is awaiting arraignment after a federal grand jury in El Paso indicted him for allegedly stealing government funds and misusing a diplomatic passport.

Ahmen Adil Abdallat, 63, was arrested Feb. 24, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The indictment, returned Feb. 23, charges him with eight counts of misusing a diplomatic passport and one count of conversion of public money.

A detention hearing before a federal magistrate judge is set for Wednesday afternoon. In a court filing, a federal prosecutor argued that Abdallat should be held without bail because he is a flight risk. If convicted Abdallat faces up to 10 years in prison and fines as much as $250,000 per count.

Abdallat, a supervisory intelligence research specialist, has worked for ICE and its predecessor since 1995. The responsibilities of an intelligence research specialist include analyzing and evaluating information, and coordinating and preparing intelligence products, according to a government web site.

His attorney, Mary Stillinger, said the charges were “terribly exaggerated,” according to The Associated Press.

The indictment and arrest came soon after a CIR report, published in the Washington Post, that the chief of intelligence for ICE was one of a number of ICE employees under investigation for personal misconduct.

James Woosley, the assistant director for intelligence, has been relieved of his post. James Chaparro is the new head of intelligence for the agency, which along with enforcing immigration and customs law also investigates terrorism.

Abdallat, who has tourist, official and diplomatic U.S. passports, was temporarily stationed at U.S. embassies and missions in several foreign countries. Since December 2008 Abdallat has been assigned to El Paso, according the indictment.

Starting in October 2007, Abdallat used his diplomatic passport eight times for personal travel to and from Amman, Jordan. Four of those times — as recently as December — occurred after he was assigned to El Paso and had no official embassy or related activities that required overseas travel on a diplomatic passport.

The indictment also alleges that Abdallat submitted fake receipts, used government funds for unauthorized car rentals and requested reimbursements for expenses without receipts or weren’t incurred by him for travel between February 2009 and September 2010.

According to court documents, Abdallat received about $123,000 in travel voucher reimbursements for travel from El Paso to Washington, D.C. at least 13 times on temporary duty assignments during that time period.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | January 19, 2011

Immigration Digest, Jan. 9-15: "Virtual" fence ditched, GOP immigration rift?

A U.S. Army National Guard soldier watches the U.S./Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz. in 2007. Flickr image credit Jim Greenhill

Obama ditches costly virtual border fence, a possible Republican rift on immigration and a legal challenge to local immigration enforcement were among the top stories of the week.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the end of the troubled SBInet, the Boeing Co.-run project that cost about $1 billion and aimed to guard the U.S.-Mexico border through video cameras, radar and sensors, saying that other technology would be used instead.

"This new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability," Napolitano said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The fence project began under the Bush administration, and was touted as a high-tech tool to help seal the porous U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans have pushed for tougher border enforcement despite Obama administration officials’ claims that the border is more secure than ever before.

Politico reported that there might be a possible rift over immigration reform within the GOP. At a conference of Hispanic Republicans in Florida, where GOP leaders wanted to show its intention of reaching out more to the swelling population of Latino voters, the issue of immigration barely came up.

Conference organizers, which included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, said that the party’s shift to tough-minded enforcement and opposition to amnesty had “hampered” its efforts with Latino voters, according to Politico.

(While the federal government doesn’t seem likely to take up a broad discussion of immigration during this Congress, state governments continue to push their own laws. The left-leaning American Immigration Council has a guide on state immigration laws.)

Another program that expanded under the Bush administration, 287(g), which gives local police immigration enforcement authority, faces a legal challenge in Tennessee after Nashville police detained a U.S. citizen suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case about another U.S. citizen – this time a baby – who was deported along with her illegal immigrant father. The U.S. citizen mother of the child had accused the U.S. government of wrongfully removing the child from the country, but lower courts had ruled against the mother’s claim.

The Justice Department has tried to hire a slew of new judges to help address the backlogged immigration courts. But in the Denver court one of the two new judges will have to recuse herself from deportation cases directed by her husband, one of two deputy chief counsels with the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

A U.S Border Patrol agent in Southern California was arrested by federal agents and charged with harboring illegal immigrants -— including his fugitive father.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | January 12, 2011

Immigration Digest, Jan. 2-8: The expected, a surprise and tragedy

istockphoto.com image credit Bill Oxford

With the seating of the new Congress came the expected, a surprise and tragedy.

True to his word, Rep. Steve King, R-IA, introduced a bill to limit birthright citizenship on the same day that conservative state lawmakers unveiled model legislation that they said would be pushed in at least 14 states that would denote citizenship of new-born infants in those states.

The next big immigration battle looks to be birthright citizenship, which through the 14th Amendment automatically gives any child born in the United States citizenship, even those born to illegal immigrants.

Along with tough-minded legislation a la King’s, House Republican leadership repeated their call for hearings related to immigration and homeland security. The calls come as the number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of unauthorized border crossers dropped.

In a surprise move, King will not be the chairman of the judiciary committee’s subcommittee on immigration. Instead, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas chose a California Congressman, Elton Gallegly for the spot.

Gallegly comes from a state where the percentage of foreign-born residents is 2.5 times the national average, according to Census Bureau data.

In the final days of his administration, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter approved a plan to allow Colorado jails to cooperate with federal immigration officials by sharing fingerprints to identify illegal immigrants subject to deportation.

The program, dubbed Secure Communities, has accelerated the deportation of illegal immigrants who have serious criminal records in California’s Santa Cruz County. The controversial program is now in approximately two-thirds of all California counties.

The agency that runs Secure Communities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, plans to hire a public relations firm to help manage the program.

Mexico could use some PR help of its own when it comes to immigration bureaucracy in that country, as President Felipe Calderon’s administration planned to dismiss several top officials in the country's National Institute for Migration, citing corruption and other oversight problems.

And then, there was the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the House Democrat from Arizona and a proponent of immigration reform, in her home district that includes Tucson.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | December 21, 2010

Immigration Digest, Dec. 13-19: DREAM denied

Flickr image courtesy Nevele Otseog

After months of campaigning by immigrant advocacy groups and students, including a massive push leading up to Saturday’s U.S. Senate vote, a bill that would have offered a pathway toward legal status for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants failed to leap a procedural hurdle, effectively killing the legislation.

The last-ditch effort to persuade senators to support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, came five votes short of the 60 needed to move the bill forward.

(In a rare move, Congress passed earlier in the week private immigration bills to allow two Japanese citizens to live in the United States.)

President Obama and administration officials, such as cabinet members and high-ranking bureaucrats whose respective agencies oversee legal immigration or enforce immigration laws, called for lawmakers to support the bill. Failing to convince the Senate to do so after the House passed the bill earlier in the month leaves Obama’s immigration policy in disarray, the New York Times reported.

The evening before the vote, the White House organized a press conference with top officials from Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who spoke in support of the DREAM Act.

Addressing Republicans concerns that the bill would lead to chain migration and that border security should be prioritized over any law reform, David Aguilar, CBP’s deputy commissioner, said that “At no point in history has the border been as secure as it is today.”

(Days before the press conference a Border Patrol agent in Arizona was shot and killed during a shootout with suspected bandits.)

In the same press conference with Aguilar, ICE Director John Morton said the agency would still push for deportations, but immigration officers will continue to focus on immigrants who have committed crimes or are deemed a public threat.

"Were the DREAM Act not to pass we would handle the situation as we do now," Morton said, according to The Associated Press. He said the DREAM Act would be "entirely consistent" with the Obama administration's immigration enforcement policies.

Earlier in the day, ICE released after a month in detention an 18-year-old Guatemalan student living in Ohio. The agency gave Bernard Pastor a one-year “deferred action” reprieve from deportation. Although the DREAM Act failed —and with a Republican-controlled House such legislation appears to have slim chances of coming up before the 2012 election — advocates vowed to make it a campaign issue.

(A number of administration officials, perhaps seeing the light dimming on immigration reform, have recently left government, including top immigration service attorney Roxana Bacon and the Homeland Security Department’s No. 2 attorney David Martin, among others.)

Some Republicans recognize that Latinos have been alienated by the GOP and “ugly dust-ups” over illegal immigration that contributed significantly to Jerry Brown’s thumping of Meg Whitman in the California gubernatorial race.

Immigration enforcement, however, still means jobs and money to many communities, such as Etowah County, Ala. ICE has agreed to keep some 300 immigrants detained there until June 30, 2011, instead of re-locating them this year after facing political pressure from Alabama’s Congressional delegation. As the Gadsden Times opined, “The Etowah County Detention Center is more than a jail, it’s practically a small industry for this county. It’s worth fighting for.”

Palm Beach County is in talks with ICE to detain immigrants there. Massachusetts State Police will participate after all in ICE’s controversial Secure Communities program to identify immigrants arrested for crimes. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick did an about-face on an earlier decision to bar state troopers from enforcing immigration law.

Immigration officials settled a federal lawsuit in San Diego by agreeing to expand medical care at an area detention facility.

A Federal District Judge in Connecticut ruled Julie Myers, a former ICE chief, and other senior officials can be held liable in a civil rights lawsuit that alleges immigration officers violated constitutional protections during raids in New Haven in 2007. Meanwhile, a Federal District Judge in Arizona tossed out another lawsuit challenging Arizona’s controversial immigration law known as SB 1070.

Arizona legislators are ramping up their efforts to tackle another controversy – birthright citizenship — and are coordinating with lawmakers in other states.

Meanwhile, new census data show that immigrants increasingly settled in rural and suburban areas over the last decade over more traditional landing spots – cities.

Overall, immigration to the United States has resumed, according to a Brookings Institution study, The New York Times reported, bouncing back from a decades-low dip during the recession.

And, in other news, drug trafficking continues. Immigration agents in Nogales, Arizona found a tunnel that burrowed from Mexico to a metered parking space in the United States, where parked vehicles were loaded with marijuana loaded through a hole cut in the bottom. Roughly a ton of marijuana was seized from a van.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | December 16, 2010

Immigration Digest, Dec. 6-12: A world struggling with immigration

Flickr image courtesy looking4poetry

For those who might think that the United States is alone in its struggles over and with immigration, guess what: we’re not.

America has the largest immigrant population (42 million) and the largest illegal immigrant population (estimated at 11.1 million) in the world, according to the Arizona Republic. The newspaper reported that 214 million people live outside their native countries, up more than 40 percent from a decade ago.

Between 15 and 20 percent (32 million to 42 million) of that number may be “illegal,” according to an estimate. The United States' share of undocumented immigrants accounts for more than a third to more than a quarter of the world’s total.

Deportations to Haiti to resume
The Obama administration aims to reduce the portion of unauthorized immigrants who are from Haiti. U.S. immigration officials will resume deporting some Haitians back to their country starting in January.

The U.S. government suspended deportations to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left 1 million homeless.

Meanwhile, the death toll from a cholera outbreak has surpassed 2,400. and the State Department issued a travel warning because of political unrest. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the agency must deport people with criminal records.

Judge orders ICE to release documents
A federal district judge in New York ruled that ICE must reveal the thought process behind its program to identify suspected illegal immigrants in local policy custody. The program, dubbed Secure Communities, uses fingerprints to cross reference criminal and immigration databases.

ICE has said that counties could choose not to participate, then later reversed direction and said there was no opt-out. The judge ordered ICE to release the requested documents, which might shed light on whether local police have any choice in the matter, or explain why they must be withheld. ICE previously released some records.

Gang arrests up in New York City while fallout from raids continues
Between October 2009 and September the New York City ICE office increased arrests of suspected gang members and their associates fivefold over the same 12-month time period the previous year.

Nearly three-quarters of the arrests were for federal and state crimes, such as illegal weapons possession, murder conspiracy and drug trafficking, the NY Times reported. The rest were for immigration-related offenses. James T. Hayes, the special agent in charge of the New York office, told the Times he had little interest in rounding up illegal immigrants who aren’t threats.

An immigrant living in New Haven, Conn., suing ICE agents for drawing their weapons, storming into his home, and handcuffing him before they identified themselves in a 2007 warrantless raid was within days of being deported. The immigrant is a key witness in a civil rights lawsuit, which has raised suspicion that ICE is trying to rush him out of the country. More than 30 people were rounded up in raids seen as retaliation for a New Haven city program to provide IDs to residents, regardless of their immigration status.

About 50 employees of Chipotle restaurants around the Twin Cities lost their jobs in so-called “silent raids” by immigration officials who audited the workplaces for proper work permits and immigration status of workers. Another 50 lost their jobs the week before at a different company.

ICE padded numbers with leftover statistics
The removal or deportation or nearly 200,000 criminals was a record in 2010, and the Obama administration has for much of the year touted its record-breaking enforcement efforts.

A Center for Investigative Reporting report published by the Washington Post and other papers found, however, that ICE officials counted in the year’s overall deportation numbers statistics carried over from the previous fiscal year.

Some observers believe that the administration put up a tough image as part of a strategy to rally Republican support for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Such a legislative package seems unlikely any time soon. But one sliver of immigration legislation that has bipartisan approval received an historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

DREAM act gets historic vote, but will it live on?
Known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, the bill passed the House, but was held up in the Senate.

The DREAM Act would offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 as long as they attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. Eligible immigrants must also have a high school degree or a general equivalency diploma and submit to a criminal background investigation.

The Associated Press reported that prospects are dim for the Senate to support the bill. The House is unlikely to take up the measure in the new Congress, meaning any kind of reform isn’t likely until after the 2012 elections, when immigration will be a campaign issue.

The DREAM Act has the backing of labor and religious groups and a group of Obama administration officials. But the bill does not have the support of Republicans it once had.

Politico pointed to Sen. Orrin Hatch to understand the shift in the immigration debate. The Utah Republican was the legislation’s chief supporter when the bill was first introduced in 2001, and again in 2003, but has retreated in the face of a potential challenge from the tea party.

Although Democrats have inserted concessions, Senate Republicans still balk at the bill, saying it will lead to chain migration.

But not all Republicans are in lockstep with their congressional counterparts when it comes to immigration reform. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, has repeatedly offered support of the bill. He exhorted business leaders to heed his call for reform:

“If we keep the best and the brightest out of this country, all the next big things will happen outside this country,” the mayor said during a speech at the New York Stock Exchange, according to The New York Times. “You look at people who say, ‘Oh, no, immigrants are going to kill us,’ and you wonder — they haven’t read history. … They don’t understand anything about business. And it’s up to us educate them.”

California Republicans, meanwhile, are split over a proposed ballot measure that aims to replicate Arizona’s controversial immigration law, as the crackdown could damage the party’s relationship with Latino voters.

While Democrats and DREAM act supporters await a Senate vote, ICE has in recent weeks detained some immigrant youth who might benefit from the legislation. As the vote loomed, one such 21-year-old student was being detainedin Arizona while another 18-year-old was held in Ohio following a minor car accident.

In both cases, the young men had been ordered deported along with their families years before. Both had lived in the United States for most of their lives and had been either a scholar-athlete or student body president.

Paterson pardons immigrants
New York Gov. David Paterson pardoned six immigrants who faced deportation stemming from old crimes to address “shortcomings in our federal immigration laws relating to deportation.”

New judges not expected to reduce backlog
With little movement on immigration reform, the nation’s immigration system, particularly its courts, buckle under a massive caseload. The Justice Deparment’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, has hired new judges in places like Atlanta, but doubts persist that such efforts will have much impact on the backlog of cases that stands at more than a quarter million.

Civil detention center announced, plans for more finalized soon
Although ICE prioritizes the removal of criminals, last year half of the deported immigrants were “noncriminals.” As part of the agency’s vision for reforming immigration detention, ICE is looking to open new “civil” detention facilities.

The first facility to be designed and operated for low-risk detainees will house up to 600 immigrants in Karnes County, Texas, near San Antonio. Private prison contractor GEO, which already has a facility that holds some immigrant detainees in Karnes, will operate the company-owned $32 million facility. It is expected to be completed near the end of 2011.

ICE officials are also preparing to award a contract for a 2,200-bed facility on the East Coast, with a decision possible in the coming weeks, according to a report. Two counties in Pennsylvania and another in New Jersey are in the running. In tough economic times, detaining immigrants has been a boon to local counties and towns.

Hill Republicans putting pressure on ICE
Faced with political pressure from Alabama congressmen, ICE officials delayed until March 2011 a move to stop housing 300 illegal immigrants in an Alabama county after local police reached out to state Congressional delegation.

Georgia congressmen were also hoping to get the attention of ICE officials, as they want the agency to pick up its pace in rolling out Secure Communities across the Peach state. The seven Republicans sent an invitation to ICE Director John Morton to meet on Capitol Hill.

(Morton last week postponed a different meeting with Senate Republicans who want to discuss enforcement issues and reports that the agency has been dismissing deportation cases in immigration court, according to a Hill source.)

Georgia, like many other states, has been aggressive in cracking down on illegal immigrants who are unlicensed drivers, the NY Times reported. Nationwide, at least 30,000 illegal immigrants stopped for traffic violations in the last three years ended up facing deportation.

California Republican: Sanctuary cities inconsistent policy
A California Republican congressman argued that if the Obama administration wants uniform immigration policy, instead of a patchwork of state laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, “it needs to go after sanctuary cities.”

More patchwork immigration laws
Speaking of patchwork, a Republican state senator in Florida introduced another state law targeting illegal immigration and employment, while the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Obama administration on why the justices should strike down an earlier Arizona law that targets employers who hire illegal immigrants.

The mother of a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who admitted to working as a Mexican drug cartel hitman faced charges of living in the country illegally, while a Houston man originally from Nigeria had his U.S. citizenship revoked after he was convicted of arranging fake marriages for himself and others, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Bonus: Immigration Digest November 30-Dec. 5
Geraldo Rivera supports the DREAM Act, as does DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Jeb Bush said that Phoenix police might look at his children suspiciously as their mother is from Mexico.

Immigration judges are still stressed out by their jobs.

Most illegal immigrants arrested by fugitive operations teams in Oklahoma do not have criminal records, data show.

Eight Oklahoma counties signed onto a biometric program that seeks to identify illegal or deportable immigrants in policy custody, which Washington state officials said they won’t sign. Florida lawmakers will mull their version of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

One of the nation’s largest private prison contractors that detains immigrants on behalf of ICE has “contributed significantly” to Tennessee politicians who support tougher immigration enforcement. CCA is also a member of an organization that promotes the law, according to a report by the Tennessean. In an editorial, The New York Times applauded Utah's sensible approach to immigration enforcement.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | December 1, 2010

Immigration Digest, Nov. 22-28: Which way do we go

Photo image courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
For months, groups who support and oppose immigration have railed against the Obama administration over immigration enforcement policies.

Folks on the left say that the Obama people haven’t kept up their campaign promises to overhaul the nation’s complicated immigration laws and instead have been too tough on deporting immigrants.

Those on the right hammer away at the administration, saying it isn’t doing enough to combat illegal immigration. Republicans have floated claims that Homeland Security Department bureaucrats have secret plans to provide amnesty to thousands of undocumented immigrants.

Rhetoric aside, immigration officials have reversed directions on a number of matters, which has led to “a climate of mistrust” of agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Washington Post reported.

The problem: “officials have been placed in the impossible position of enforcing laws that they themselves believe are unfair and outdated,” the Post reported.

Be it mistrust or frustration with Congress’ inaction on federal immigration laws, more state lawmakers introduced their own legislation to address the issue of illegal immigration. Whether the legislator is from a border state like Texas or thousands of miles away from the Southwest border in South Dakota, they are pushing a dizzying array of get-tough or stay-tough bills.

Many of the bills that have been introduced around the country are modeled after a controversial immigration law passed in Arizona, where more migrants in federal immigration courts are getting reprieves.

A proposed California initiative, modeled after Arizona’s law, needs to collect more than 433,000 signatures by April 21, 2011 to qualify for a state ballot in February or June of 2012.

The precursor to the Arizona law was a policy adopted in Prince William County in Virginia, which the Washington Post warns is a cautionary tale as the county has become a national symbol of intolerance. While the Justice Department has challenged the Arizona law, ICE has also been reluctant to give some local police in Georgia the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

The agency is still doing enforcement, as ICE rounded up more than 200 criminal aliens, fugitives and previously deported immigrants in a three- and four-day “surges” around the country the week before Thanksgiving. Operations took place in New York, Colorado, Idaho , Georgia, Alabama, Maryland and Nevada.

"ICE will continue using its unique immigration authorities to identify and arrest those who present a threat to our community," said Philip Miller, field office director for ICE ERO in New Orleans, said in a press release.

Felicia Skinner, the field office director in Atlanta, echoed the sentiment in another press release from the same day: "ICE uses its unique immigration authorities to identify and arrest those who present a threat to our community."

Meanwhile, Democratic leadership in Congress continues to say it will push for a vote on the Dream Act, which would give a path to citizenship for thousands of young undocumented people who have attended U.S. college or served in the military, which The Economist argues just makes sense. But, similar bills have lingered in Congress for nearly a decade, leaving hundreds of thousands in limbo.

Young students aren’t the only ones in limbo. A former Ciudad Juarez Mexico police officer was waiting for an immigration judge in Dallas to decide on his asylum claim while two former confidential informants for ICE are still trying to secure legal status in the United States.

Not in limbo?: Country music icon Willie Nelson. After being arrested at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint for possession of marijuana — again — Nelson posted bond and was released back on the road — again.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | November 24, 2010

Immigration Digest, Nov. 15-21:

As Democrats prepare to take a bite at immigration-related legislation during the lame-duck session, the argument nationally over immigration centers, at the moment, on college classrooms.

Americans, by and large, want it both ways — cheap goods and services while stemming illegal immigration. In the background is with a swinging pendulum of attention on cracking down on employers (including would-be politicians) who hire illegal immigrants.

But what should states and the country as a whole do about educating the children of illegal immigrants, or illegal immigrants themselves?

Since a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, states cannot deny children who are unauthorized immigrants access to public education, including high school. Ten or so states have laws that allow eligible illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition.

After years of legal wrangling, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that illegal immigrants can receive in-state tuition. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said a day after the California court ruling that he supported pushing for in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students at the Bay State’s public colleges. Georgia state regents, however, recently banned illegal immigrants from attending the state’s top universities. Lawsuits are also pending in Nebraska and Texas that seek to overturn laws that allow for in-state tuition.

At the federal level, the only piece of immigration reform that has received support at one time or another from both Republicans and Democrats is a bill that has floated around Congress for about a decade – the DREAM Act. This proposed law would allow undocumented men and women who meet certain requirements to be eligible for federal loans and put them on a path to citizenship.

Latinos have grown angry over Democrats’ inaction on immigration legislation, which could spell trouble for the Obama White House in 2012.

In the interim, students have relied on media attention and the rare private bill to avoid deportation. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein intervened on behalf of a San Francisco college student who faced deportation. Feinstein introduced a private bill that led to his release, but he could still be deported.

But even with the California court’s decision and the apparent end (suspension?) of one legal controversial in the state, California voters could see another one. A signature drive was authorized to begin for a ballot initiative modeled after Arizona’s controversial immigration.

Arizona’s law, known as SB 1070, stirred a backlash across the country, with protests and the threat of boycotts that would cripple state tourism. While a recent report tallied the state’s lost revenue at $141 million, The Associated Press’ takeway was that the effect was not as bad as feared.

Arizona’s law has spurred copycats around the country, but it’s also brought derision. In an apparent effort to add a little celebrity glamour to his anti-illegal immigration fight, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sprinkled some star dust on his latest posse. Hollywood action heroes of yesteryear Steven Seagal and Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno, both of whom are real-life deputies elsewhere, were sworn in to aid Arpaio’s crusade.

Andrew Becker | Update: Notice to Appear | November 16, 2010

Immigration Digest, Nov. 8-14: A hardening stance on enforcement?

Photo image courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

As Democrats scramble to pass immigration reform legislation before the end of a lame-duck session of Congress, Republicans around the country are looking to introduce tough statehouse bills that echo Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.

House Republicans have made clear their intent to back immigration enforcement over reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just weeks to make another run at passing a proposed law to give young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship (and eligibility for federal student loans) before the House majority shifts to the Republicans and Senate Democrats lose their margin over the GOP.

Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin are among the states looking to pass laws that mimic Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which, according to a recent study, provoked an estimated 100,000 Latinos to leave the state.

While the country appears to be moving toward an enforcement-oriented mentality that dominated under the Bush administration, not all Republicans or conservatives are on the get-tough train.

Concerned with alienating increasingly powerful Hispanic voters, a Latino Republican group based in the Southwest asked House GOP leadership to think twice about who they place in key positions that would oversee immigration legislation in the new Congress. One of the two congressman, Iowa Republican Steve King, has pledged to hold hearings calling Obama administration cabinet members involved in immigration policy to testify.

With comprehensive immigration reform all but buried in its grave, the Obama administration may see more of its top immigration people head for the exits. In the interim, immigration is, for the most part, stuck in status quo, with a jumble of enforcement priorities, policies and practices that, it's been suggested, undermine the Obama administration's strategy.

The immigration courts are taking on average 20 percent longer than last year to reach decisions, according to Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, known as TRAC. (The Justice Department did just announce that officials recently swore in 23 new immigration judges.

TRAC was able to make its conclusions based on data obtained from the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. Getting similar data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might be cost-prohibitive, unfortunately. The agency has recently put hefty price tags on FOIA requests from TRAC ($450,000) and an advocacy group seeking data on detainee transfers. Families for Freedom was told by ICE's FOIA office that the response would cost the group $1.3 million.

Despite earlier indications that ICE would let local police opt out of a program to identify illegal immigrants in jail, the agency told Santa Clara County that they did not, in fact, have any choice in the matter. The program, known as Secure Communities, has drawn consternation and ire from immigration advocates and politicians around the country.

“ICE now insists that there was never any avenue for the [Santa Clara] County to opt out,” the county’s attorney, Miguel Márquez, said in a press release. “This is clearly inconsistent with our written communication with ICE, as well as what ICE has told the public and congressional representatives about this program.”

A San Francisco college student still hoped to avoid deportation to Peru. He may have had better luck in Canada.