Immigration Across The Nation 12/16/09

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►Comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced to US Congress

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a bi-partisan union of Hispanic congressmen and women from across the United States, will introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill as this paper goes to press on Wednesday, December 16. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D – Ill.), an active member of the caucus who has been touring the US holding rallies and talks in support of immigrant families, wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he praised the new bill as “progressive, compassionate and comprehensive” and claims that much of the bill is supported by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,

and President Barack Obama. Entitled “The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity”, the bill “prioritizes the best of what our nation values: family, civil rights, economic opportunity and diversity. It is the product of months of collaboration with human rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. Already, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have endorsed it as a solution to both stem illegal immigration and promote legal migration that will protect and strengthen our nation’s economic and national security,” Gutierrez wrote.

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It is not clear from the early reports how the bill will attempt to legalize the many thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the US. But Gutierrez did say in his La Raza press release that “We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you. But if you are here to work hard – if you are here to make a better life for your family – you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship.” This would suggest that the new bill will have some system for immigrants living in the US without legal residency to pursue legality and citizenship with easier methods than the ones currently in place. President Obama has repeatedly suggested that, after paying taxes and a fine, an undocumented immigrant could then acquire temporary documentation and enter a process towards citizenship.

The bill also incorporates some of a proposed motion by Congressman Mike Honda (D – Calif.) called the “Reuniting Families Act.” This language, if included in the final bill, would allow the children and spouses of legal immigrants to obtain a visa on the basis of that relationship, which according to the US State Department could increase the number of visas issued by up to half a million. It would also increase the visa allocation per country for family and employment visas from 7% of all visas issued to 10%.

According to Gutierrez, The bill would also adopt measures proposed by the agricultural industry in allocating more H-2A temporary worker visas, and the DREAM Act proposal that would allow immigrants who came to the US under the age of 16 and have met education requirements to attain legal residency. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was voted down in 2007 and was reintroduced in 2009 only to be shelved in favor of healthcare debate and other issues. The DREAM Act, much of which has already been adopted by several states, would allow young immigrants who spend at least two years in college pursuant to a bachelor’s degree or higher degree, or who serve in the armed forces for at least to years, to achieve a “temporary legal residency” status that can be extended indefinitely and can lead to permanent legal residency status and, at length, citizenship.

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All this is good news, but the bill will probably not be discussed until after the House returns from Christmas break in January. But as Gutierrez said, with the bill on the table and a 2009 introduction date, there is “no excuse” for beginning debate immediately after the recess.

Gutierrez evidently thinks very highly of the bill for which he is partially responsible, and had no end of praise for it. “It is an answer to too many years of pain – mothers separated from their children, workers exploited, and undermined security at the border – all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system,” Gutierrez said. “This bill says ‘enough,’ and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of.”

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►300 undocumented immigrants with serious crimes arrested in California

As part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new focus on arresting immigrants with criminal records, rather than undocumented immigrants in general, the ICE performed its “largest operation ever aimed at illegal immigrants with criminal records” last week, according to ICE officials. The Los Angeles Times reported on the sweep, in which over 80% of the detainees had been convicted of serious crimes such as armed robbery, child molestation, and rape. 100 of the 300 detainees have already been deported.

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In a subsequent Los Angeles press conference, ICE spokesman John Morton said, “We are going to focus on those people who choose to pursue a life of crime in the United States rather than pursue the American dream of education, hard work and success.” Janet Napolitano, the Director of Homeland Security, had encouraged such activity by the ICE in a Congressional hearing the day before the sweep began.

Mr. Morton also said that as part of the ICE “Secure Communities” program, local prisons will be allowed as of 2012 to check on the immigration status of inmates without the case-by-case approval of the federal government, using a similar system as the E-Verify program for businesses.

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