September 2015

Border Communities with a Need for Accountable Border Patrol


Sixteen year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was gunned down in Nogales, Mexico by a United States Border Patrol agent in October 2012. The agent fired several times through the fence from Nogales, Arizona. The boy was unarmed and shot several times in the back; his family said he had been walking home from a basketball game.

The Border Patrol has insisted that the agent was simply defending himself from rock-throwers on the Mexican side. But a federal grand jury on Wednesday charged the agent with second-degree murder. The indictment lends credence to what Jose Antonio’s family and activists on both sides of the border have long insisted: that this was another senseless killing by a member of an agency notorious for the reckless use of deadly force.

In Jose Antonio’s case the agent’s claim of self-defense would seem unreasonable to anyone who visits the spot in hilly Nogales where the teenager fell. It is hard to imagine him throwing anything across the road, up a 25-foot embankment and then over the fence and hitting, much less hurting, anybody. A major leaguer might be able to hit a baseball that far, but not a 16-year-old boy with a rock.

There are a number of other cases where agents were said to have taken hesitant and lethal action. The Police Executive Research forum released a critical report in 2013 in which it seriously questioned the Border Patrol’s policies on deadly force – it found that agents would deliberately stand in the way of fleeing cars, to justify shooting at them. It urged the agency to put a stop to it and forbid the agents to shoot at people “throwing objects not capable of causing serious physical injury or death to them” – that is, teenagers with rocks.

Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, took office promising greater transparency from his troubled agency, which continues to be dogged by reports of misuse of force and other abuses.

The U.S. Is Still Falling Short with Resettlement of Syrian Refugees


The U.S. has finally decided to join Europe in pledging to gradually increase the number of worldwide refugees it will accept from 70,000 to 85,000 in 2016; and eventually to 100,000 in 2017. This will allow the U.S to fulfill its latest promise to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. But just how significant is this change in policy for Syrian refugees? Just weeks ago the U.S. had already quietly pledged to accept 5,000 to 8,000 Syrians for resettlement.

What many do not realize is that the UNHCR, the agency that screens candidates and initiates the U.S. resettlement process, had already selected and referred more than 17,000 Syrians for resettlement in the U.S. The security process can take at least 1 to 2 years for completion before arrival in the U.S. For hopeful Syrians who think the U.S. is slowly opening its doors, they will be in for a disappointment. In reality only .25 percent of the ever-growing refugee population will benefit from this announcement by 2016. The U.S.’s current acceptance of only roughly 1,700 Syrians since 2011 has been shocking compared to the millions that have found refuge in the Middle East and Europe. The new policy provides a small improvement, but it does little to alleviate the global refugee crisis.

More than 85,000 Americans have called for the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees. 72 House Democrats have demanded the resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees by 2016, as a “moral duty,” consistent with the recommendations of numerous refugee organizations. This appeal was followed by a similar request from over 20 senior officials urging that admitting 100,000 Syrian refugees would be a “responsible exercise in burden sharing.” Additionally, more than 150 national and local refugee, human rights and faith based organizations have proposed the 100,000 figure. These numbers are a better place to start, and there is resounding support for such a change across America. The U.S. must do more than pay lip service to save face before the international community. The ability of the U.S. to regain credibility as the world’s leader in refugee resettlement will lie in its proposed numbers and true impact. The U.S. does not need a divisive political solution to save Syrian refugee lives — only one that is sincere, humanitarian, and rises to the occasion.

Half a Million of Undocumented Parents were Deported since 2009, What Happens to their Children?


New research has shown the devastating effects on children when their undocumented parents are sent back home. The Obama administration has expelled approximately 3.7 million people who were living in the country illegally between 2009 and 2013. While deportations have slowed dramatically, with a shift in enforcement towards weeding out those who actually committed crimes in America, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that many children in the country have either one or no parents in America as a result. And about 5.3 million children are still living with undocumented parents, constantly under threat of losing one or both.

We’re just starting to understand the impact of losing a mother or father can have on those kids’ development.

Reports issued on Monday describe how kids have been affected by deportations in the past several years. Both were funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute, with the help from research and input from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Academic performance also generally suffers in the wake of a parent’s deportation. One grandmother from the Rio Grande Valley reported this was happening to her grandson. “He was hardworking, he was doing well in school,” she told researchers. “But after all that, he would not go to school, he wouldn’t work, he just sleeps during the day and is out at night. He’s on a bad path now, he’s always going to court.”

Children whose parents have disappeared are not the only ones being affected with depression. The Migration Policy Institute’s research found that the spouses of deported individuals are also highly impacted. Most of who were not the family’s primary breadwinners, and have trouble replacing the income they lost. Immigrant parents already tend to be reluctant to apply for social welfare benefits, even if their children – many of whom are U.S. citizens – are eligible. Along with the inability to apply for driver’s licenses and poor public transportation, that reduces access to healthcare and other services for their children.

White House Campaign Urges Legal Immigrants to Become (Voting) Citizens


White House officials announced the beginning of a nationwide campaign on Thursday that will encourage legal immigrants to become American citizens, which could add millions of voters to the electorate in time for the presidential election next year.

There are about 8.8 million legal residents in the country who are eligible to become American citizens. White House officials say they are trying to make it easier to complete the final steps to citizenship.

The USCIS, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations, will offer practice tests on mobile devices for the civics exam that immigrants must pass, but which many find intimidating. They will also be holding preparatory workshops in rural areas. Applicants will also be able to pay the fee, still a heavy $680, with a credit card.

The White House is working with regional immigrant groups to organize more than 70 citizenship workshops and about 200 naturalization ceremonies in the coming week alone. Four citizenship ambassadors have been named, including Fernando Valenzuela, the Mexican-born former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who recently became an American citizen after many years in the U.S.

The officials mentioned they had started the campaign this week because Thursday is Citizenship Day. But the White House is also aware of federal figures that show about 60 percent of immigrants eligible to naturalize are Latino and about 20 percent are Asian, both groups that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Nearly a third of legal residents eligible to naturalize are Mexican.

For now, the White House officials have turned to the citizenship drive, which offers nothing for immigrants without legal status. To be eligible for naturalization, immigrants must have been legal permanent residents for at least three years, and in most cases, five years. The officials insisted the effort was nonpartisan.

“We want to build off the negative energy,” said Tara Raghuveer, policy and advocacy director for the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of immigrant groups that is holding dozens of events during the campaign. “People are hearing the hate and racist xenophobia on the national stage from the presidential candidates. They are angry, and this is an opportunity for us to organize.”

The Immigration Bill that changed America: Fifty Years Later


A major immigration bill a half-century ago is a reminder that policy changes often don’t go as planned. For today’s politicians, perhaps the biggest takeaway of the Immigration and Nationality Act is to expect unintended consequences.

It was in 1965, during the depths of the cold war and the peak of the civil rights movement, that the United States overhauled its immigration laws. Working with liberal democrats and liberal Republicans (who existed then), President Lyndon Johnson pushed a bill that did away with the national origins quota system. The old quota system, in place since the 1920s, determined who could immigrate to the U.S. based on ethnicity, with a heavy tilt toward Western Europeans—especially the English, Irish and Germans. Only small allotments were granted to Eastern Europeans, Asians and Africans.

That became an issue for the United States in the ‘60s, when new countries were emerging from colonialism, pitting the U.S. and the Soviet Union in a contest for their allegiances. Republican Senator Jacob Javits, a liberal from New York, noted in September 1965 that the immigration system, with its bias toward Western Europeans, “remains today a target for Communist propaganda…making our effort to win over the uncommitted nations more difficult.”

Economic trends in both Latin America and the U.S. also encouraged more migration. As Motomura explains it, 1965 was the “beginning of a mismatch of the legal immigration system and the demands of the economy.” Specifically, urbanization and economic dislocation drove Mexicans and other Central Americans from rural areas north in search of work, while Americans were obtaining higher levels of education and moving away from menial labor. “In 1950, more than half of the labor force were high school dropouts. Now it’s less than 5 percent,” notes Tamar Jacoby, president of the business-backed coalition ImmigrationWorks USA. The law’s drafters “didn’t foresee that.” That’s an understatement.

The lesson of unintended consequences is something advocates on both sides of today’s immigration debate acknowledge. “The first lesson is: Don’t believe everything a politician tells you. As we’ve seen with all kinds of social innovations from the 1960s and 1970s, the assurances of their promoters turn out to be incomplete or false,” says Mark Krikorian, the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for much tighter controls on immigration. He and Jacoby agree that the family migration provisions have pushed the system out of whack. But they’re vehemently divided over whether the country still needs robust immigration, and if unmet labor demand is at the root of America’s glut of undocumented migrants.

Disagreements on immigration ultimately come down to a debate over what America should be and how its economy should work. Though President Johnson promised the law “ will not reshape the structure of our daily lives,” the ensuing shifts in population and migration patterns has indeed meant “big changes in American life,” says Skerry, for good and for ill. The last time politicians hashed out a new immigration system, they didn’t entirely weigh those implications. Today’s leaders would be wise to think about the ripple effect before they mess with the borders.

Revised Procedures Announced by USCIS for Determining Availability for Visa Applicants Waiting to File for Adjustment of Status


The USCIS along with the Department of State (DOS) is revising the procedures in determining the availability for visa applicants who are waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored preference adjustment of status.  The re-examined process will better align with the procedures the DOS uses for foreign nationals who are looking to become U.S. permanent residents by applying for immigrant visas at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad.

The revised process will improve DOS’s ability to more accurately predict overall immigrant visa demand and determine the cut-off dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin. This will help make certain that the maximum number of immigrant visas are issued annually as intended by Congress, and minimize month to month fluctuations in Visa Bulletin final action dates.

What is changing?

Two charts per visa preference category will be posted in the DOS Visa Bulletin:

  • Application Final Action Dates (dates when visas may finally be issued); and
  • Dates for Filing Applications (earliest dates when applicants may be able to apply).

USCIS, in coordination with DOS, will monitor visa numbers each month and post the relevant DOS Visa Bulletin Chart. Applicants can use the charts to determine when to file their Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

USCIS will compare the number of visas available in order to determine whether additional visas are available for the remainder of the fiscal year with:

  • Documentarily qualified visa applicants reported by DOS;
  • Pending adjustment of status applications reported by USCIS; and
  • Historical drop off rate (for ex. Denials, withdrawals, abandonments).

About the Visa Bulletin

Current immigrant visa availability is published by DOS in a monthly Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin indicates when statutorily limited visas are available to prospective immigrants based on their individual priority date.

  • The priority date is generally the date when the applicant’s relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on the applicant’s behalf with USICS. If a labor certification is required to be filed with the applicant’s immigrant visa petition, then the priority date is when the labor certification application was accepted for processing by Dept. of Labor.
  • Availability of an immigrant visa means eligible applicants are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.

States Considering Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants Grows


While there are still other issues with undocumented immigrants, state legislatures across the country are now dealing with a new immigration-related issue – driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Proposals to allow undocumented individuals to obtain driving privileges are not new. A number of states, Puerto Rico included, already offer driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals. This year, a new push across many states has put the issue back on the table.

Nebraska is the only state that currently bars Deferred Action (DACA) recipients from obtaining a driver’s license. Despite being shielded by DACA there are approximately 270,000 undocumented immigrants exposed to driving infractions for driving without a license. The issue is currently headed to the courtroom, where the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Attorney General over the issue.

Unlike Arizona, where DACA beneficiaries were barred from obtaining a driver’s license until late last year due to an executive order issued by former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Nebraska’s Governor Pete Rickett’s opposes the state legislature’s efforts on undocumented driver’s licenses.

Undocumented individuals recognize the value and significance of these small pieces of plastic. Issues surrounding immigration policy are varied, and they manifest themselves in the debates of tuition and drivers licenses, but the patchwork of policies aiming to bring relief to immigrant families continues to grow.

U.S. Citizen Detained at the Texas Border by U.S. Officials


Immigration officials at the Texas/Mexico border have a U.S. citizen detained, a Texas-born man, behind bars for almost one week over his citizenship concerns. The man now faces deportation, according to media reports.

Dr. Edgar Basaldua has been traveling back and forth from Texas to the Mexico border in Reynosa to his private practice for years now. This was his routine until Monday August 25.

Even though Basaldua possessed a social security, Texas drivers’ license and a U.S. passport along with a birth certificate, border officials detained him as he returned home from work. He was placed in the Port Isabel Detention Center where immigrants are held.

Basaldua mentioned that his experience detained in Port Isabel was traumatic and did not feel like a detention center, but more like a prison. He told the media that he was being detained until they had proof of him being born in the U.S. The problems arose when they realized that Basaldua obtained dual Mexican and American citizenship.

Basaldua’s attorney does not believe that the problem is necessarily because of the dual citizenship he obtains but that officials will allege that he is actually not a citizen of the United States.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the local news that they could not comment on the case, but offered that agents may be less concerned with people using fake documents, which are easy for them to spot and more concerned with people using real documents that belong to someone else.