September 2016

Leon Rodriguez, Immigration Director, Defends Refugee Vetting Policies


(ESPAÑOL) Leon Rodriguez, immigration director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said a “significant” number of refugees have been implicated in terrorist plots over the past eight years but that the rejection of some 7 percent of Syrian applications proves his officers can spot danger signs.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, countered that it was striking that the department knew how many people it denied but couldn’t determine how many refugees have been connected to terrorism. He read off the details of several cases, including a refugee from Iraq, living in Texas, arrested this year for plotting against the U.S.

The Obama administration has welcomed about 12,500 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016 and has put the U.S. on pace to take in as many as 30,000 Syrians in 2017, which begins Saturday. Overall, the administration has set a target of 110,000 refugees from around the globe.

Federal law lets the president set the refugee cap after consulting Congress. This year, that consultation amounted to a meeting where top officials announced their number, then fielded questions and objections — but didn’t alter their plans.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said that didn’t strike him as consultation, particularly with so many questions still swirling about the government’s ability to vet and assimilate the newcomers.

Mr. Rodriguez, though, said his agents have become good at spotting questionable information and testing it against their knowledge of conditions in a country to evaluate applicants’ validity.

He also rebutted an internal Homeland Security Department evaluation of the refugee system, which House Republicans released last week, and which deemed “refugee fraud is easy to commit.” That document said a key problem was that applicants can be approved based on testimony and don’t always need corroboration.

“This is a draft document. It is my understanding that it was never issued. We believe it was prepared in 2012. Whoever wrote this didn’t know what they were talking about,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Under questioning by Mr. Cruz, though, Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged that someone can be admitted without any documentation.

“I am acknowledging that, yes, testimony can be the basis for the grant of a refugee. But it needs to be tested against other information that we know. The country conditions, at a minimum,” he said.

New Border Chief Aims to Reform Patrol Culture

 

(ESPAÑOL) The new border chief who would be in charge of guarding a wall with Mexico if Donald Trump is elected president isn’t so sure the strategy would keep undocumented immigrants out.

Instead, Mark Morgan —  the first outsider to lead the 21,000 uniformed agents who make up the U.S. Border Patrol — has had another priority in the three months he’s been on the job: changing the agency’s culture.

The law enforcement force on the front lines of U.S. border security has faced allegations of an overly confrontational approach that’s resulted in multiple fatal shootings, long unaddressed internal corruption and a lack of accountability in investigating misconduct.

“It was a culture of not getting out and talking about issues, not being transparent about the process that drove the perception there was a culture problem,” Morgan, a career FBI official and former Los Angeles police officer, said in his first interview since his appointment in June.

He’s devising strategies to help agents develop better intelligence on the drug cartels and smugglers behind so many illegal crossings. He’s coordinating multiple law enforcement authorities so that if agents do fire their weapons, there is a system to review whether the action was appropriate.

When it comes to enhancing border security, the wall the Republican nominee for president has proposed to keep out illegal immigrants does not top Morgan’s list, however hotly debated it has been. As a civil servant and not a political appointee, Morgan will be in the job whether Trump or Hillary Clinton is elected.

“A simplistic answer to an immensely complex problem,” is how Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, described the wall. He notes that the government “spends a tremendous amount of money repairing what we have now” on the Southwest border — 600 miles of very intermittent fencing — from damage from erosion, flooding and holes when migrants break through.

Asked to describe the state of border security at a time when Trump supporters decry a massive lack of it, Morgan said, “Everybody has a different perspective on that.” Some will say, of course, that the border is not secure unless you catch everyone who tries to cross illegally.

He acknowledges that it’s very hard to know how large this group is.

“How do you measure something you’re preventing?” he asks. “We’re constantly trying to improve the way we measure this.”

U.S. Undocumented Immigration Stable, Mexican Immigration Declines


(ESPAÑOL) Undocumented immigration into the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession and continued to decline through 2014, according to a Pew Research Center estimate released this week.

The decreased influx of newcomers primarily came from Asian, Central American, and African countries, not Mexico, the neighbor nation commonly attributed to the nation’s immigrant population. Mexicans led the way in the 1990s and early parts of the 2000s but fewer jobs, enhanced border enforcement, increased deportation efforts from the Obama administration discouraged them from crossing over.

Since 2009, more undocumented Mexicans have left the U.S. than entered.

The Pew Research Center estimated the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. at 11.1 million in 2014.

“As overall net immigration from Mexico declined, immigration from Asia did not flag – indeed, it somewhat increased,” Pew researchers wrote. “As a result, among all newly arriving immigrants to the U.S., more now come from Asia than from Latin America, a change since 2008.”

Pew estimated 350,000 immigrants arrive each year, only about 100,000 of which come from Mexico; about 5.8 million undocumented Mexicans live in the U.S. two years ago, down 57 percent from 2007. Arrivals from Asia and Central America reached 5.3 million the same year, a 325,000 increase since 2009.

While Mexicans are finding reason to leave the U.S., more and more from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala see it as their only chance of survival.

Immigrants from countries designated for Temporary Protection Status can stay if they are escaping civil war or immediate natural disasters. During fiscal year 2014, nearly 70,000 unaccompanied children were caught along the U.S.-Mexico border. They fled Central America in fear of gang violence, sexual violence, and poverty, prompting a debate whether they warrant TPS.

The second-biggest influx comes from East Asian countries like China, the birthplace of some 1.4 million undocumented individuals in the U.S in 2014. They arrive with legal status but overstay visas.

As for the other incoming arrivals, Pew researchers found the following: 650,000 came from South America, 425,000 from the Caribbean, and 600,000 from Canada and Europe each.

Despite anti-immigration rhetoric spilled during the 2016 presidential election, the Middle Eastern immigration population is relatively small. Undocumented immigrants from Islamic nations accounted for 140,000 arrivals in 2014, or about one percent of the total.

Immigration Costs and Benefits: An Overview

 

(ESPAÑOL) Immigration costs and benefits are subjects constantly in review, while also fueling both sides of the current political debate. A study has come out this week examining the wealth of data swearing on one side or another, with the results being…inconclusive.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a roughly 500-page report that pooled data from more than a dozen individual economists, professors and immigration-minded specialists. It says America’s immigrant population climbed by more than 70 percent between 1995 and 2014, when it stood at 42.3 million, accounting for roughly 13 percent of America’s total population.

The study’s findings ultimately suggest immigration is neither 100 percent beneficial nor completely detrimental to the country’s economic and financial well-being.

Yet other studies conflict with these findings. The New York Times on Wednesday published an article titled “Immigrants Aren’t Taking Americans’ Jobs, New Study Finds.” The study found there were “many important benefits of immigration – including on economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship – with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term.” The study also found that skilled immigration is ultimately a net positive for the U.S., as it helps spur technological innovation and broader productivity gains.

On the other hand, The Washington Times delivered its own take on the study in a post titled “Mass Immigration Costs Government $296 Billion a Year, Depresses Wages,” where researchers found that immigrants may suck up between $43 billion and nearly $300 billion more in government benefits and support than they pay in taxes based on 2012 dollar calculations, though the latter estimate is an absolute worst-case scenario.

Researchers also found evidence that the arrival of new immigrant workers puts pressure on the employment status of older immigrants who have already come to the U.S. And, interestingly, new immigrants’ wages over the last few years have been much slower to climb to what others in the country make.

“To the extent that negative impacts occur, they are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born workers who have not completed high school,” the group found, according to the release. But, it noted, “immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.”

More Than 850 Immigrants Found to have Been Erroneously Granted Citizenship


(ESPAÑOL) More than 850 people were accidentally granted U.S. citizenship, despite all of them being previously ordered to be removed from the country. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General says bad fingerprint records are to blame, mainly due to these records being on paper and not yet having been digitized.

The report by the DHS Office of Inspector General was released on Sept. 8. The error, it says, was found during an investigation into whether U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been using personal information databases effectively for naturalization applications.

According to the report, about 148,000 fingerprint records that have not been digitized belong to people with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives. Those fingerprints were collected before Homeland Security created its digital fingerprint repository in 2007. But because the naturalization process checks only digitized fingerprint records, some people who applied under a different name were erroneously approved for citizenship.

The report also describes information-sharing problems between the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is missing records for its repository of fingerprints because, as the report notes, “not all records taken during immigration encounters were forwarded to the FBI.”

The Office of Inspector General recommends that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement finish uploading old fingerprint records into the digital repository. The report notes in its conclusion that because of the “difficulty of revoking citizenship,” it’s important that the Department of Homeland Security get it right the first time when it comes to naturalization applications.

The report also recommends a plan be made for reviewing every one of the 858 cases of mistaken citizenship to determine whether the person was, in fact, eligible for citizenship. For those who are not, denaturalization will require legal proceedings. By definition, however, these proceedings are guaranteed to be greatly delayed and the issue to be uncured for some time.

Canadian Immigration: A Comparison

(ESPAÑOL) The Canadian immigration history and processes might provide the U.S. the example it needs for its current migratory conundrums. Canada today has one of the highest immigration rates in the world. For the past two decades, it has admitted about 250,000 newcomers a year, with more than 20% of Canada’s inhabitants now being foreign-born.

Yet polls show that Canadians could not be happier about it. Polls have shown that two-thirds of them feel that immigration is one of Canada’s key strengths, and the same numbers favor keeping, or increasing, the current immigration rate.

This is despite Canada’s muddled history with immigration over the years. Even after World War II, Canada only accepted very narrow European demographics, with all other groups outright banned. The country suffered severe labor shortages under these restrictive policies, and in 1967 they dropped all ethnic criteria. Applicants for residency were assigned points based on nine criteria, such as education, age, fluency in English or French, and whether or not their skills fit Canada’s economic needs. Those who scored above a certain number got in, period. Nothing else mattered.

The effects of this change were dramatic. Between 1946 and 1953, 96% of immigrants to Canada had come from Europe. Between 1968 and 1988, that figure fell to 38%. Although the changes made economic sense, polls at the time showed that the majority wanted to continue excluding non-whites, while 67% opposed any increase in immigration. This came to a head when Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, announced in October 1971 that cultural pluralism “is the very essence of Canadian identity.”

Faced with the potential secession of Quebec and constant bombings, Trudeau’s gambit was the most pragmatic way of keeping the province in the country without war. Thanks to his gambit, Canadians today rank multiculturalism ahead of hockey.

The circumstances are not the same, but when our country is struggling to find the right path, looking at our next-door neighbors might provide a better option than reinventing the wheel.

Arizona’s Immigration Law Lawsuit Ended with Deal

(ESPAÑOL) The challenge against Arizona’s immigration law ended after the coalition of civil rights groups heading the lawsuit dropped the case. The law requires police officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

The dropped lawsuit marked the last of seven legal challenges against the contentious law. Although other sections of the law were struck down as unconstitutional, the questioning was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, despite racial profiling concerns raised by critics.

The law involved extensive discretion, however. The officer would have to document the reasons for their suspicion that a particular person is in the country illegally, and they would have discretion not to check immigration status if doing so would prolong detentions, hinder investigations, or due to impracticality.

Opponents of the law said the changes bring accountability to the enforcement of the statute and said the law is now a watered down version of what it once was.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich emphasized in a statement that the agreement means the questioning requirement remains in the law. “Our goal while negotiating this settlement was to find a common sense solution that protects Arizona taxpayers while helping our great state move forward,” Brnovich said.

Cecillia Wang, one of the lawyers who pressed the challenge, said the requirement that officers document the reasons for questioning people about their immigration status brings accountability to the law. “It gives us the hook to investigate cases where a cop actually does cross the line,” Wang said.

Although the questioning requirement remains in place, the courts barred enforcement of the law’s requirement that immigrants carry registration papers. It also blocked enforcement of a provision aimed at immigrants that prohibited people blocking traffic when offering or seeking day-labor services on streets.

As part of the agreement, the state also agreed to pay $1.4 million in attorney fees and other costs to the coalition.

LA County Proposal Moves to Stop Fraudulent Immigration Services

(ESPAÑOL) Fraudulent immigration services destroy the lives of another family in this country, and a Los Angeles ordinance aims to end it. Immigration officials picked up Nancy Landa one night in September of 2009. Landa, Cal State Northridge’s first Latina student body president a few years before, was deported to Mexico without her parents.

Although Landa and her family filed their immigration papers, they fell victim to fraudulent immigration services, resulting in her and her brother’s deportation from the country after two decades of living in Los Angeles. Landa is only one of many victimized by these con services throughout L.A. County.

Accordingly, supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Keuhl proposed on Tuesday than an ordinance to stop fraudulent immigration services be drafted and presented to the county board for vote by year’s end. The supervisors proposed that the ordinance require all immigration consultants to be licensed and those that give faulty advice be penalized. This ordinance would potentially protect around 800,000 residents who are eligible for citizenship and more than 50,000 eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The law would restrict immigration consultants to help fill out paperwork and bar them from dispensing advice for money. The ordinance would specifically target and restrict notarios, or notary publics. Notary publics in Latin America are almost equivalent to lawyers and are authorized to represent others before the government. In the U.S., someone with the title of notary public can only witness signatures and authenticate documents. Presumably, said notary publics can (legally) advertise themselves as notaries to help-seeking immigrants and but represent themselves as having more legal authority than they actually have.

The proposal for the ordinance comes a few weeks after Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced he had secured convictions against a San Fernando Valley woman for the unlicensed practice of immigration law at Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional on Van Nuys Boulevard. He said Gloria Dora Saucedo and her business, Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, were performing unauthorized paralegal services. Some clients allege their immigration status was affected, Feuer said in a statement.

 

 

Miami Immigration Courts Voted Highly on Leniency, Study Shows

(ESPAÑOL) Which American Immigration courts are the most lenient in the country? A report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University recently published a list of the top five, graded on the proportion of individuals allowed to stay.

Ranking number one was the Phoenix Immigration Court (AZ), the New York Immigration Court (NY) ranked second, Denver (CO) came in third, San Antonio (TX) made fourth, and Miami (FL) came in fifth.

On the other end of the spectrum lied Oakdale, Louisiana, Lumpkin, Georgia, and Napanoch, New York, where only 11.3 to 17.5 percent of immigrants were allowed to stay.

The report goes on to describe a number of reasons why an individual may be allowed to remain in the country, such as the individual was entitled to asylum, the government did not meet its burden to show the individual was deportable, or through prosecutorial discretion, among other reasons.

“Prosecutorial discretion” includes the Obama administration’s encouragement of officials to avoid deporting undocumented immigrants under compelling reasons, such as a parent who cared for small children.

Miami immigration attorneys, such as Wilfredo Allen, were not surprised by the findings. “Across the board, we have a great judiciary in the immigration court in Miami. No. 1, it is extremely diverse. They have a good representation of a cross section of the country and the community. There are Hispanics, African Americans, men, women, young judges and older, really experienced judges,” added Allen.

Another immigration attorney in the area, Tammy Fox-Isicoff, attributed the low rates of removal to Miami not being a border city, and the foreign nationals in front of the judges have longstanding ties with the U.S. and their communities, placing them in the low priority removals of Obama’s prosecutorial discretion and the case’s administrative closing.

Results also vary outside of Miami, with centers like Krome in West-Dade showing only 38.1 percent of detainees allowed to remain in the country.

Immigration Reform Republicans Face Re-election

Some Republicans stand ready to negotiate with Democrats and settle on a bi-partisan reformation of U.S. immigration law. However, this compromising attitude is in peril, as the prospect of a re-election could replace these Republicans with more conservative members less willing to negotiate on the issue.

These same compromising Republicans face the peril of being replaced simply for their party lines. 27.3 million Latinos are qualified to vote in this year’s election, according to the Pew Research Center, constituting a record 11.9 percent of eligible voters. Latino organizations have been focused on encouraging turnout in a year some speculate could make Hispanic voters an electoral heavyweight for years to come.

This shift on its own has lead Republican Congress members to change their points of view just to survive in office. Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado, for example, voted in his first term against a bill to create a path to legalization for young people who came to the United States as children. But when his constituency shifted from one in ten Latino residents to one in five, he quickly shifted positions and is now one of at least a dozen Republicans pushing for broad immigration legislation as soon as next year.

Coffman and the other Republicans may not get a next year, since voters would inevitably relate these more moderate Republicans with Donald Trump.

Representative Robert J. Dold, a Republican also taking part in the reforming group, represents a heavily Democratic district in Illinois with 59,000 voting Latinos making up 11.2 percent of the electorate – not an insignificant number considering Dold defeated the Democratic contender by a margin of 5,000 votes, when Latinos only casted 13,500 votes.

Dold, along with other Republican representatives, rebuked and distanced themselves from Trump and his extremist speech. Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, sees the fact that even Trump’s own party will recoil from his policies and statements as a positive, and attributes this call for compromise mainly to Trump’s polarizing power.