Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Position Statement on Illegal Immigration (2008)

A cornerstone of a nation’s sovereignty is the will of its people and the ability of its government to secure its borders and to uphold its territorial integrity.

Our government has failed in its duty to control our borders and to regulate unauthorized access to the United States.

First, as a nation, we must do whatever it takes to secure our borders and ports of entry. As a matter of national security, we cannot begin to consider “comprehensive immigration reform” until we have verified border security.

Second, after verifying that our borders are secure, we must work to develop a realistic plan for dealing with the estimated 12 million or more people unlawfully present in the United States. That plan can not involve amnesty. We’ve tried that failed policy before, in 1986, when the Reagan administration granted amnesty to 6 million illegal aliens — resulting in a doubling of the number of undocumented aliens two decades later.

If we fail to learn the lessons of history, we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes.



Legal Immigration: A Dual Dilemma

Immigration policy today must confront a dual dilemma. Most Americans are already familiar with the issue of illegal migration to the United States. A second, lesser known issue is inadequate assimilation, including the matter of dual citizenship.

In that regard, I paraphrase from a recent book by my colleague, political scientist Stanley Renshon:

The glue of American identity is patriotism. The problem is that to an increasing extent in our global society, immigrants retain strong ties to their country of origin, and many exercise dual citizenship. This has serious implications both for our national identity as a nation and for our national security in an age of terrorism.

Legal immigration and illegal migration to the United States more than tripled in the past four decades. Since 1961, 80% of legal immigrants have come from dual-citizenship-allowing nations. Our neighbor to the south, in particular, has aggressively encouraged dual citizenship.

In a time of increasing terrorist and other national security threats, a growing segment of our population holds a weakened attachment to our nation, which is neither in our national interest nor strengthens us as a people.

Reference: The 50% American: Immigration and National Identity in an Age of Terror. By Stanley Renshon. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005. 273 pp.



House Immigration Subcommittee Examines the Constitutionality and Merits of Birthright Citizenship

By Chris Chmielenski
NumbersUSA Newsletter
Week of May 1, 2015

For the first time in 10 years, the issue of Birthright Citizenship was in the forefront on Capitol Hill this week when the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on Wednesday. The hearing sought to determine if Birthright Citizenship is the right policy for America, but it focused less on the policy question, and more on whether or not it’s a Constitutional mandate via the 14th Amendment.

The first section of the 14th Amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) Birthright Citizenship bill, H.R.140, would require at least one parent of a child born in the United States to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident for the child to be “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” and therefore receive automatic citizenship.

Panelist and President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen, argued that everyone in the United States is subject to U.S. laws and therefore “subject to the jurisdiction”, but both Dr. John Eastman, Founding Director for the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, and Lino Graglia, a University of Texas law professor, argued that the phrase would simply be redundant if it meant all persons in the United States, so it must serve a purpose.

Dr. Eastman made a distinction between those who are within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and those who owe allegiance to the U.S.

“Think of it this way: foreign tourists visiting the United States subject themselves to the laws of the United States while here,” Eastman wrote in his prepared statement. “An Englishman must drive on the right side of the road rather than the left, for example, when visiting here. But they do not owe allegiance to the United States, they do not get to exercise any part of the political power of the United States, and they cannot be tried for treason if they take up arms against the United States.”

Dr. Eastman also explained why the issue is such a hot topic in the modern immigration debate, calling Birthright Citizenship the third largest magnet for illegal immigration after jobs and welfare services. Center for Immigration Studies Legal Policy Analyst, Jon Feere, backed up that claim in his testimony.

“Every year, 350,000 to 400,000 children are born to illegal immigrants in the United States. To put this another way, as many as one out of 10 births in the United States is now to an illegal immigrant mother,” Feere wrote in his prepared statement. “[U]nder [Pres. Obama’s] DAPA program (the Deferred action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program), it would provide benefits to illegal immigrants who gave birth here and allow them to ‘stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.'”

As Roy notes in his blog on the topic, “H.R. 140 would put an end to babies being used as a kind of shield for lawbreakers and would return them to just being the children of foreign citizens who would be expected to take their full family back home with them, just like any other civilized family would be expected to do — and just like is expected in most countries around the world where babies take the citizenship of their parents, not from the soil where their mothers happened to give birth.”

The question of whether or not the policy of granting automatic citizenship is good or not wasn’t discussed extensively, but Rep. King did note that if his legislation were passed and signed into law, he expected a legal challenge. In defense of their positions, most panelists referred to a Supreme Court decision or Senate transcripts from more than a century ago, so Feere argued that Congress should act and put the issue to the test.

“Some Administration decided to give them a Social Security number and a passport and no one really knows when,” Feere said. “I think Congress hasn’t addressed the problem, and as a result of not addressing it, we’re relying on floor statements from 100 years ago. We’re relying on a footnote from a Supreme Court case in 1982. I think some clarification from Congress would help a lot.”

Dr. Eastman agreed that the ball is in Congress’ court.

“Congress has the power over naturalization; it’s a plenary power, and that means you get to set the policy of how large or small or how restrained or unrestrained our immigration into this country is going to be,” he said. …


Update: August 18, 2015

Original intent of the 14th Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”

In 1866, Senator Jacob Howard clearly spelled out the intent of the 14th Amendment by stating:

“Every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. This has long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.”

This understanding was reaffirmed by Senator Edward Cowan, who stated:

“[A foreigner in the United States] has a right to the protection of the laws; but he is not a citizen in the ordinary acceptance of the word…”

The phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was intended to exclude American-born persons from automatic citizenship whose allegiance to the United States was not complete. With illegal aliens who are unlawfully in the United States, their native country has a claim of allegiance on the child. Thus, the completeness of their allegiance to the United States is impaired, which therefore precludes automatic citizenship.



Update: March 11, 2018

Cutting welfare to illegal aliens would pay for Trump’s wall (Paul Sperry, New York Post, March 10, 2018) — Mexico won’t have to pay for the wall, after all. US taxpayers won’t have to pick up the tab, either. The controversial barrier, rather, will cover its own cost just by closing the border to illegal immigrants who tend to go on the federal dole. … Absent a wall, the Homeland Security Department forecasts an additional 1.7 million illegal crossings at the US-Mexico border over the next decade. … If a wall stopped 50 percent of those expected crossings, [according to Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies], it would save American taxpayers a whopping $64 billion — almost four times the wall’s cost — to say nothing of the additional billions in federal savings from reduced federal drug interdiction and border-security enforcement. … The US Census Bureau’s latest “survey of income and program participation” shows that 62 percent of illegal-immigrant-headed households are on the federal dole — more than double the rate for households headed by native-born Americans. And that includes households where one or more workers are present in the household. … Full report



Watching Our Language . . . And Theirs

By Roy Beck
NumbersUSA Newsletter
Week of January 17, 2014

The open-borders folks have been an utter failure the last 14 years in trying to pass an amnesty. But they have been wildly successful in controlling language.

For example, they have persuaded nearly all news media and politicians to ban a perfectly legitimate term of law — illegal alien — from being uttered. They have hi-jacked the term “immigration reform” to mean “amnesty,” which is a word that few media now use; our opponents have persuaded the media that the word “amnesty” is an uncivil epithet and pejorative that should be avoided. …

[The box at this link] displays perhaps the most important phrases in the amnesty, illegal and legal immigration categories. …

For example, when a politician says “path to citizenship” or “path to legalization,” it is important that we universally note that what the politician really means or wants is “blanket amnesty.”

When politicians say they want “border security first” or “enforcement first,” we must note that what they really mean or want is “amnesty and more illegal immigration.”

When they advocate “immigration reform” or “fixing our broken immigration system,” we must always say that what they really want is “uncontrolled immigration.” Since they have succeeded in getting journalists to use “immigration reform” as the label for the massive amnesty and green card increases they seek, we now should go along with it and make sure that their desire for amnesty and huge immigration increases is clear.

This tactic may seem a little overbroad because some politicians using those terms may not realize they have bought into the language deceptions devised by the open-border advocates. Thus, it is the duty of all of us to help anybody who isn’t truly on the other side to understand that they must stop using the terms of the other side if they don’t want to be confused as being on the other side. …

More: Controlled Immigration: Vocabulary



X-ray image showing U.S.-bound illegal migrants crammed in trailer truck. (Photo credit: Government of Chiapas via EPA)

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Weak on Immigration Check (Aug. 25, 2011)

Obama Touts ‘Immigration’ Reform (May 11, 2011)

Quick Immigration Conflict Fuse (April 17, 2011)

States Fight Illegal Immigration (Feb. 5, 2011)

U.S. Northern Border Insecurity (Feb. 1, 2011)

Enforcing Immigration Law (Dec. 26, 2010)

House Democrats OK Illegal Amnesty (Dec. 9, 2010)

Immigration: Government vs. The People (July 28, 2010)

Immigration Enforcement Surge (June 25, 2010)

Arizona Tough on Illegal Immigration (April 23, 2010)



Check out this infographic (by Infographic World, July 9, 2014) for a timeline of immigration reform attempts since 1986.



From Germany to Mexico: How America’s Source of Immigrants Has Changed Over a Century

By Jens Manuel Krogstad and Michael Keegan

May 27, 2014

With more than 40 million immigrants, the United States is the top destination in the world for those moving from one country to another. Mexico, which shares a nearly 2,000-mile border with the U.S., is the source of the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States. …

In 1910, Germany was the top country of birth among U.S. immigrants, accounting for 18% of all immigrants (or 2.5 million) in the United States. Germans made up the biggest immigrant group in 17 states and the District of Columbia, while Mexico accounted for the most immigrants in just three states (Arizona, New Mexico and Texas). Behind Germany, the second-most number of immigrants in the U.S. were from Russia and the countries that would become the USSR (11%, or 1.6 million). …

Where U.S. immigrants come from, state by state today and a century ago (Pew Research Center)

Since 1965, when Congress passed legislation to open the nation’s borders, immigrants have largely hailed from Latin America and Asia. …

Today, five times as many immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico than China, the country with the second-highest number of immigrants (5% of all immigrants in the U.S., or 2.2 million). Mexico is the birthplace of 29% (or 11.7 million) of all immigrants in the United States. Immigrants born in Mexico account for more than half of all of the foreign born in four states: New Mexico (72.4%), Arizona (60.2%), Texas (59.7%) and Idaho (53.5%). …

Full report


Maria Cruz Ramirez, one of several undocumented immigrants traveling across the country on the “undocubus,” protests during a briefing on the civil rights effects of state immigrations law held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Birmingham, Ala., on August 17, 2012. Carol Swain, a professor of politics and law at Vanderbilt University, said … she thought “the average citizen doesn’t understand how someone can be in the country … undocumented or illegal and then they’re making demands and flaunting the fact that they don’t have papers.” (Photo credit: Bob Miller for NBC News)

Boehner Is Said to Back Change on Immigration

By Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker

January 2, 2014


WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has signaled he may embrace a series of limited changes to the nation’s immigration laws in the coming months, giving advocates for change new hope that 2014 might be the year that a bitterly divided Congress reaches a political compromise to overhaul the sprawling system. …

Aides to Mr. Boehner said this week that he was committed to what he calls “step by step” moves to revise immigration laws, which they have declined to specify.

But other House Republicans, who see an immigration overhaul as essential to wooing the Hispanic voters crucial to the party’s fortunes in the 2016 presidential election, said they could move on separate bills that would fast-track legalization for agricultural laborers, increase the number of visas for high-tech workers and provide an opportunity for young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to become American citizens. …

Readers’ comments (Select ‘Reader Picks’ tab)


Legal Immigrants Seek Reward for Years of Following the Rules

Angeles P. Barberena, who lives near Nashville. She and her husband left Mexico with their two young children in 1995. Ms. Barberena says of the debate on immigration policy, “Now it seems everything is about illegal immigrants and nothing is about us.” (Photo credit: Nathan Morgan for The New York Times)

By Julia Preston

June 16, 2013


Angeles P. Barberena has always tried to follow the United States’ immigration laws. She dutifully filed her petition to become a resident, complied with the requirements and paid her taxes and fees.

That was 17 years ago. Ms. Barberena, who is from Mexico, is still waiting. Her file is inching through a backlog, and she has several years to go before she will receive the green card that will make her a permanent resident.

As Congress debates an overhaul of the immigration system, Ms. Barberena often feels like yelling with frustration. “It’s been so long and we did everything by the rule,” she said, speaking from her home near Nashville. “Now it seems everything is about illegal immigrants and nothing is about us.”

While stark differences between the Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have centered on border security and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, another major issue is snagged in the dispute: the plight of more than 4.4 million aspiring legal immigrants like Ms. Barberena, who are languishing in backlogs in a broken system. …

The backlogs swelled because of a longstanding mismatch in immigration law between the number of visas available and the much larger number of foreigners who qualify for them, especially those applying based on family ties to American citizens and permanent residents. Congress has imposed caps on the number of visas issued to each country each year.

As a result, immigrants from some countries — particularly China, India, Mexico and the Philippines — can wait a decade or more to get their visas after approvals. Most foreigners are waiting outside the United States, but many — at least hundreds of thousands — live here on temporary visas or work permits. …

But before Congress gives any help to illegal immigrants, Ms. Barberena said, she wants her family to become citizens first.

Mr. de Souza agrees. … “I have been doing it legally all the way, just what a regular American citizen would do,” Mr. de Souza said. But, he said, “I don’t see any advantage for the legal immigrant right now.” …

Full story


GOP Leaders Line Up Against Obama’s Immigration Move — While Romney Remains Mum

By Sahil Kapur

Talking Points Memo
June 20, 2012

Republicans are lining up against President Obama’s end-run around Congress to administratively grant immunity to some undocumented immigrants, effectively ensuring that he reaps the political dividends of the move among Hispanic voters — and deepening Mitt Romney’s predicament with Latinos and conservatives.

New polls suggest that Obama is gaining support among Hispanics, who have been unhappy with him for failing to pass immigration reform and for deporting illegal immigrants at a record pace.

Even as prominent conservatives like George Will and Bill Kristol give their party leaders an escape hatch by praising Obama’s move, elected Republicans have instead decided to take cover with their anti-immigration base and stand against it. Careful to wrap their critique in procedural concerns and avoid discussing the substance, GOP lawmakers are lining up in droves to decry Obama’s shift as executive overreach.

Joining the pack Tuesday was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), even as he expressed sympathy for the plight undocumented youth brought to the U.S. by their parents.

“The question remains whether he violated the Constitution,” Boehner said, adding that “the president’s actions make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.” …

So far, Romney has offered few hints on where he stands. …

Romney has refused to say whether he would keep the new policy if elected. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of Republicans is calling on their nominee to pledge to reverse it.

During the primary, Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act if elected president and called for laws that encourage “self-deportation” of those migrants. His new-found sympathy for DREAMers is already a notable shift, and further movement in that direction risks angering the conservative base he’s careful not to take for granted. …

Full story


Related opinion

Obama’s Amnesty-By-Fiat: Naked Lawlessness

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
June 21, 2012



Obama’s bombshell amnesty-by-fiat is a subversion of straightforward immigration law.

It is shameful that congressional Democrats are applauding such a brazen end run. Of course it’s smart politics. It divides Republicans, rallies the Hispanic vote …

As for policy, I sympathize with the obvious humanitarian motives of the Dream Act. But two important considerations are overlooked in concentrating exclusively on the Dream Act poster child, the straight-A valedictorian who rescues kittens from trees.

First, offering potential illegal immigrants the prospect that, if they can hide just long enough, their children will one day freely enjoy the bounties of American life creates a huge incentive for yet more illegal immigration [emphasis added].

Second, the case for compassion and fairness is hardly as clear-cut as advertised. What about those who languish for years in godforsaken countries awaiting legal admission to America? Their scrupulousness about the law could easily cost their children the American future that illegal immigrants will have secured for theirs.

But whatever our honest and honorable disagreements about the policy, what holds us together is a shared allegiance to our constitutional order. That’s the fundamental issue here. …

Full story


Arizona Governor Signs Toughest Immigration Law

Image: Protest at the Arizona Capitol
Brian Ochoa, left, and Gustavo Rocha, both from Phoenix, join hundreds of protesters as they rally at the Arizona Capitol on Friday, April 23, 2010 to protest the signing of an immigration bill by Gov. Jan Brewer. (Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin / AP)

April 23, 2010

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer ignored criticism from President Barack Obama on Friday and signed into law a bill supporters said would take handcuffs off police in dealing with illegal immigration in Arizona, the nation’s busiest gateway for human and drug smuggling from Mexico. …

“We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” Brewer said after signing the law. “But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.” …

The legislation, sent to the Republican governor by the GOP-led Legislature, makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants, allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws, and make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.

Full story


Immigrants [illegal aliens] Head to D.C. to Push Reforms

March 18, 2010

NEW YORK — Day laborers on foot from Long Island and Californians who sold tamales to pay for their trip are expected to rally on Sunday with tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented Hispanics, in Washington, D.C., to dramatize their pleas for immigration reform. …

Rally organizers, a coalition of community, labor, business and faith groups, were hopeful as many as 100,000 marchers would arrive, said Shuya Ohno, a spokesman for the National Immigration Forum in Washington. …

By the busload

Reform advocates frustrated by the lack of progress met with Obama last week to press him on his stated commitment to fix the nation’s immigration system. Obama reiterated to them his commitment to reform and met with lawmakers who are drafting legislation; it is unclear if Congress will get him a bill this year that combines tougher border enforcement with a pathway to legalization.

Other issues pushed by the immigration groups include labor protection, a suspension of deportations until the bill is passed, an end to splitting families, and improvements in backlogs for legal visas.

In California, 400 members of nonprofit, labor, church and student groups set out by bus, car and plane, said Vanessa Aramayo, a director with the Los Angeles-based Council of Mexican Federations. …

Organizers in the New York City area expected to send 200 buses, each with about 50 people aboard. …

In Massachusetts, about 15 buses are scheduled to leave Saturday evening, according to immigrant advocates. A bus from Fitchburg, Mass., will transport some city’s large Uruguayan population while buses from New Bedford — the site of a 2007 raid of a leather-goods factory by federal immigration agents — will bring a large Central American group.

In Kansas, efforts to put together a caravan of buses and cars were being led by Spanish-language media outlets. …

Legalizing the undocumented

Not everyone who thinks the country’s immigration system should be changed agrees with the rally’s call for legalizing the millions of undocumented immigrants already here. [emphasis added]

That would be a mistake, and would only encourage others to come here illegally, said Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has written on immigration.

She called for changing the system from the current emphasis on using family to determine who comes in to a system that allows entry to people based on their skills.

“I don’t think that it’s in the long-term economic interest of the country to preserve the current immigration mix,” she said. “It’s not what the 21st century economy needs.” …

Full story



Immigration lives up to ‘political third rail’ reputation (MSNBC, March 9, 2010) – Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, talks with Chris Hayes about the divisions in the Tea Party movement over anti-immigration[*] sentiment and the expectations pro-immigration[*] activists have for President Obama (05:41)
* When referring to “immigrants,” Bhargava and Hayes are talking about illegal aliens.


Southeast Sees Big Influx of Illegal Immigrants

February 23, 2010

ATLANTA — When the Olympic Games came to Atlanta in 1996, a building boom transformed the landscape of downtown and brought with it an influx of Latino immigrants — both legal and illegal.

In the years since, the number of illegal immigrants living in Georgia has skyrocketed, more than doubling to 480,000 from January 2000 to January 2009, according to a new federal report. That gave Georgia the greatest percentage increase among the 10 states with the biggest illegal immigrant populations during those years. Many in metro Atlanta say the explanation for the boom is simple.

“It was because of jobs,” said Kathy Brannon, who worked for the suburban city of Chamblee for nearly 30 years. “That’s why people have come to this country since it started, for opportunity.”

For years, Chamblee was the last stop for three bus companies carrying immigrants from the border city of Brownsville, Texas, said Brannon, the retired city manager. With cheap housing, easy transportation and an abundance of work, the immigrants put down roots and were quick to tell family and friends back home of the opportunities in the Atlanta area.

‘Badge of success’

To get a better sense of how much the illegal immigrant population has grown in Georgia, consider that the state had just 35,000 of them in 1990, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution said illegal immigrants moved where they could find work in low-skilled fields like construction and the service industry, which were booming across the Sun Belt states along with higher-skilled jobs.

“In a way it could be a sort of badge of success to have a higher undocumented immigrant population” because it means the economy is strong, Frey said.

North Carolina, another fast-growing Southeastern state during those years, is also one of the top 10 states for the sheer size of its illegal immigrant population, estimated at about 370,000 in January 2009 as compared to 260,000 in 2000, according to the report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics. The agency relied on data from the American Community Survey, a nationwide sampling conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The large immigrant populations in Georgia and North Carolina are largely Mexican and undocumented, said Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

As recently as the 1980s, Southeastern states — with the exception of Florida — had very few immigrants, legal or illegal, Passel said. California, which is still home to about 24 percent of the country’s illegal immigrants, used to account for about 40 percent. Five other states — Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey — shared another 40 percent, he said.

But a recession in California in the early 1990s, and a ready supply of low-skilled jobs in other regions prompted immigrants to look elsewhere, especially the Southeast, Passel said. …

27 percent growth nationwide

Nationwide, the report found that the illegal immigrant population grew 27 percent during the study period, though the numbers fell in the last two years. The population was 11.8 million in January 2007. It fell to 11.6 million in January 2008 and dropped to 10.8 million in January 2009. That coincides with the downturn in the U.S. economy, and demographers say the drop is likely to be temporary.

“If you look back over the last 20 years, the inflow of undocumented immigrants goes up and down with the U.S. economy,” Passel said.

A rough economy hits illegal immigrants even harder than citizens and legal immigrants, he said. But once the economy rebounds, construction will pick up, as will the service industry, and illegal immigrants will return for those jobs.

Demographers expect the Southeast to bounce back faster than states like California, Nevada and Arizona. And they don’t expect hostile attitudes or get-tough laws to keep illegal immigrants from coming back to Georgia.

“The only way you’re going to get the illegal immigrant population in Georgia to go down is to legalize them or get rid of the jobs,” said Dowell Myers, a specialist in demographic trends at the University of Southern California.

Full story


Related content

Timeline: U.S. immigration policy


White House Prepares for Immigration Overhaul Battle

The Obama administration is rallying allies to push for a package with better border security and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the U.S. The effort is sure to be a tough sell.

By Peter Nicholas and Tom Hamburger
Los Angeles Times - logo
December 30, 2009


With the healthcare battle still unfinished, the Obama administration has been laying plans to take up an issue that could prove even more divisive — a major overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.

Senior White House aides privately have assured Latino activists that the president will back legislation next year [2010] to provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

In a recent conference call with proponents, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, political director Patrick Gaspard and others delivered the message that the White House was committed to seeing a substantial immigration bill pass and wanted to make sure allies were prepared for the fight.

In addition to the citizenship provision, the emerging plan will emphasize efforts to secure U.S. borders against those trying to cross illegally. But that two-track approach was rejected repeatedly in the past by Republicans and other critics who insist that a border crackdown must demonstrate its effectiveness before any action on citizenship is considered.

Whatever proposal Obama puts forward will probably meet equally determined opposition. Another complication is the calendar: Midterm elections are in November, and polls show that the public is more worried about joblessness and the fragile economy than anything else.

So embracing an immigration bill is a gamble for the White House, which already has a packed agenda for 2010: economic recovery, global warming legislation and tougher regulation of financial institutions.

No matter what the environment, immigration is a tough sell, said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.

“We know from a lot of experience that immigration reform has been and can be a very polarizing issue. There are heated differences about whether there ought to be some kind of pathway to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally,” he said. …

Even so, the White House apparently has decided to press ahead.

As a candidate, Obama vowed to take up immigration during his first year in office. That deadline will come and go. Further delay could anger Latino voters, who came out in force for the president and congressional Democrats in 2008.

No one anticipates that a core element of the Democratic base will defect to the Republican Party in November. But even a significant drop in turnout — which often happens in nonpresidential elections — could frustrate Democratic efforts to preserve their congressional majority. …

For an immigration bill to have a realistic shot of passing next year, political analysts said, the particulars would have to be agreed upon by the spring. A delay would increase the likelihood of the issue getting derailed by the November elections. …

An immigration bill was introduced in the House earlier in the month, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chairs a subcommittee on immigration, is heading the effort to cobble together a bipartisan coalition in the Senate. …

Should an immigration bill gain traction, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would probably be a central player in the negotiations.

As an aide to President Clinton, Emanuel co-wrote a memo on the political dynamics of immigration. He and Ron Klain, now the top aide to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote in 1994: “We must be seen as taking proper, forceful steps to seriously address the immigration problem without alienating the Hispanic and civil rights constituencies.” …

Full story


San Francisco Alters When Police Must Report Immigrants

By Jesse McKinley

October 21, 2009


SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco board of supervisors voted Tuesday to overturn a city policy that has been at the center of a national debate over offering illegal immigrants sanctuary.

The policy, ordered by Mayor Gavin Newsom last summer, requires the police to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever they arrest a juvenile on felony charges who they suspect is in the United States illegally. Since the policy took effect last summer, more than 100 undocumented minors have been turned over to federal immigration authorities.

Mr. Newsom has said the ordinance is necessary to prevent young criminals from using the city’s so-called sanctuary policy, which prevents the use of city money for immigration enforcement.

“Sanctuary city was never designed to protect people who commit crimes,” said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom.

But under the changes approved Tuesday, referrals would be required only after juveniles were convicted of crimes, instead of after their arrest. Immigration advocates say that referrals upon arrest have resulted in the deportation of innocent youths, the breakup of families and a fear among immigrants of contacting the police when they are the victims of crime.

“We recognize that there’s a need to do some reporting of illegal juveniles,” said David Campos, the supervisor who sponsored the new ordinance. “But we’re trying to strike a balance.”

Tuesday’s meeting was filled to capacity, with hundreds of supporters of Mr. Campos’s bill filling the board’s chambers and two overflow rooms. Simultaneous translation of supervisors comments were offered in Mandarin and Spanish, and when the bill was passed, by 8 to 2 with one absentee, cheers erupted in the chambers, with chants of “Yes We Can” in English and Spanish echoing through the ornate City Hall. …

The vote was a sharp rebuke to Mr. Newsom, a Democrat who is running for governor and who has promised to veto it, though supporters seem to have enough votes to overturn that.

San Francisco adopted its sanctuary policy in 1989, and has long refused to refer minors in police custody to the federal authorities, although adults accused of felonies have always been referred. Some of these minors were later flown to their home countries at taxpayer expense rather than being turned over to immigration authorities. Mr. Newsom learned of those flights last May and ordered them stopped.

Mr. Newsom’s policy was also a response to a series of embarrassing revelations in The San Francisco Chronicle, including that the city, rather than turning a group of young Honduran crack dealers over to ICE, sent them to a group home in Southern California, from which they walked away.

The city was also shocked by a June 2008 triple murder, which prosecutors say was committed by Edwin Ramos, a suspected gang member and an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who had been picked up as a juvenile by the San Francisco police but not referred to immigration authorities. …

Mr. Campos, the supervisor and a naturalized citizen who emigrated — illegally — from his native Guatemala when he was 14, said the vote to change Mr. Newsom’s policy was necessary to maintain the city’s reputation as a safe haven for illegal residents. …

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Bad policy.


Enforcing Immigration Laws

By Marie Rosen
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York
Undated [2009]

Nearly 38 million immigrants (legal and illegal) reside in the United States, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that about 12 million of them are illegal — that’s nearly one in three.

The dilemma for local law enforcement across the country is whether or to what extent they should enforce federal immigration laws.

For the most part, enforcement of the country’s immigration laws falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. But, in the absence of clear national policy and limited federal resources, local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve have been left on their own to form policies and practices.

It’s a complicated issue. Just being here illegally is a civil, not a criminal, violation and across the country there is wide variation in how local law enforcement addresses this problem. Policies range from local police and sheriffs being trained and “deputized” to strictly enforce federal law to localities that serve as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Many departments check status only when a suspect is arrested for a serious crime. Some jurisdictions will check status during a traffic stop. Others leave the status check to the holding facility following an arrest.

To look at this issue more closely, the topic was discussed with five John Jay alumni who are in police leadership positions around the country:

  • Lawrence Mulvey (BA ‘75), Police Commissioner of Nassau County, NY
  • Frank Straub (MA ‘90), Commissioner of Public Safety for White Plains, NY
  • John Timoney (BA ‘74), Police Chief of Miami, FL
  • Dennis Weiner (BS ‘92), Police Chief of Juno Beach, FL
  • Hubert Williams (BS ‘70), Police Foundation President, Washington, DC

For them, these issues are not hypothetical, but critical challenges that affect thousands of lives on a daily basis.

For police to do their job effectively, they must have cooperation from the residents of their communities. “It’s the foundation, the bedrock, for policing. When a police badge is transformed into an immigration badge in the mindset of the immigrant community, there will be little cooperation with police,” says Williams. “I think it falls to the federal government to enforce immigration law,” says Mulvey. “For us to enforce immigration laws, which we really don’t have the authority to do, would break down all that hard work that we have engaged in during the years developing trust.” This trust, Mulvey believes, is in part responsible for the declining crime rates that his jurisdiction has been experiencing. “We want people to report crime, to bear witness to crime. And to have that, you have to have a certain level of trust.”

In Nassau County, all the years of earning the community’s trust were tested in 2007 when the department assisted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a series of early morning raids to purportedly apprehend 131 gang members who were eligible for deportation. “Only nine of the targets were located, meaning that at 122 locations there was a consent search where agents encountered only ordinary citizens and immigrants, legal and illegal, who were not criminals, not involved in crime,” Mulvey noted. He withdrew the department’s support before the operation was completed.

In Miami, where 70 percent of the city is foreign-born and possesses real empathy and sympathy toward immigrants, “There is a reticence of people coming forward because there is fear of deportation,” Timoney notes. “And it’s interesting what crimes go underreported. You see it in the serial sex crimes. He recalled that on a number of occasions there was a serial rapist victimizing the Miami community. “People going into bedrooms at night — and quite a bit of it went unreported until I made pleas on television. Strict enforcement of immigration law would drive immigrants under the radar and there would be the underreporting of crime.

Williams, who observed a focus group with the immigrant community, says, “We found that there is a deep fear of deportation within the immigrant community that has a chilling effect on their relationship with law enforcement.” He recalled that one participant was afraid to get groceries for her children when law enforcement was around. Straub also points out that, “If police are required to question the suspect, they may have to ask the status of the victim as well. It’s not a conversation a victim wants to have.”

Straub’s jurisdiction operates similarly to that of a sanctuary. “I don’t think that local law enforcement should enforce federal immigration law. That being said, I don’t think there is necessarily a problem with local law enforcement participating in task forces that may look at serious offenders who are illegal.” In such areas as human trafficking, bank robbery investigations, drug trafficking and gang investigations, both federal agents and police have routinely worked together over the years. “There is a criminal element within the immigrant community,” noted Williams, “but it’s not a question of whether or not they immigrated into the country illegally, which is a federal responsibility, but whether these people are committing heinous crimes. So, I think such cooperation in this area can be very important for both federal and local authorities. But it must be done carefully.”

The difficulty that police have with illegal immigrants who engage in criminal activity has a history, according to Timoney. While serving with the NYPD from the 1960s through the 1980s “we would lock up people who were here illegally for serious felonies but we could never get immigration officials to respond.” That someone is here illegally and is engaged in illegal activity is the critical test when it comes to enforcement. For Weiner, the central issue is why pass laws that cannot be effectively enforced. “Any law that is not uniformly and regularly enforced loses its deterrent effect. I maintain that one reason so many people attempt to enter the country illegally is that if one is successful, there is little risk that that individual will ever be held accountable for violating our immigration laws.”

“As president of Police Executive Research Forum”  (a professional organization of city, county and state law enforcement agencies), Timoney says, “I’ve witnessed more pressure from the federal government to get local police more involved and there has been resistance on the part of local police, especially among the big city chiefs. At present, local policies range from requiring that police check the status of those with whom they come in contact to expressly forbidding it. To deal with the legal jurisdictional issues, the federal government established a program called “Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act” that permits designated officers, who have been trained, to perform federal immigration law enforcement functions. So far, a relatively small number of law enforcement agencies are participating in the program.

Community sentiment

Just how much local enforcement does in the way of checking status often reflects community sentiment. In Juno Beach, for example, the community wants vigorous enforcement of immigration laws and the police department assists ICE and the Border Patrol whenever requested. In White Plains, it’s a different story. Straub noted that his community aggressively looks for people to assimilate. “We run a 10-week program for new members of our community without asking for immigration status. We let them know what services are available — schools, youth bureau, police, fire and health. We have a police officer who is assigned to day laborers. The officer goes to their informal shape-ups and lets them know about their rights when it comes to their employers — such as their right to be paid at the end of the day.” But even within the same geographical area, there can be differences in how local law enforcement deals with the issue. For example, in Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, the sheriff and the police chief have sometimes been at odds in their policies and practices.

Criminal activity — Myth vs. reality

The extent to which illegal immigrants are involved in criminal activity depends on the specific locality and numerous jurisdictions report that a significant portion of the crime in their communities is being committed by illegal immigrants. But such is not the case in Nassau County. In the last 15 years, the Hispanic population has risen by more than100 percent yet serious offenses have decreased by 48 percent, which, for Mulvey, is an indication that immigrants (both legal and illegal) are not committing disproportionate amounts of crime.

In times of economic stress, crimes like burglary, robbery and theft traditionally go up. “In White Plains,” Straub notes, “we had an influx of people coming as landscapers, doing masonry work and construction-like jobs. If these jobs disappear, you’ll have more unemployment that could result in increased domestic violence, larceny, etc. Or you could see a movement from one area to another where there are jobs.” “The economic downturn will magnify the problem as more and more citizens and resident aliens seek jobs that have been held by illegal immigrants,” says Weiner. Timoney is afraid that the economic downturn will result in a backlash against immigrants. “Historically, during bad economic times people like scapegoats,” a sentiment echoed by Williams.

Economic troubles don’t just affect residents, however. They also affect police department budgets as well. “I think the question is where can local law enforcement resources best be utilized,” says Straub. Mulvey and Timoney both feel that police already have enough on their plate and checking for status, particularly when no criminal infraction has occurred, would put an undue burden on police departments that are already strapped for resources.

Enforcement & reform

According to Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an average of 470,000 illegal immigrants — primarily from Mexico, Central and South America — enter the country each year. Weiner thinks an argument can be made that local law enforcement is in a good position to handle immigration law enforcement since they routinely meet illegal immigrants. “It doesn’t seem economically viable to fund enough federal officers to adequately enforce our immigration laws. He believes there are two basic choices. “Empower local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, or lower the barriers to legal immigration — which would provide for better identification and documentation of those that are entering this country.

Timoney notes the irony of the situation. “I think we have an untenable position right now. We have 12 million people that are in nether land. It’s unrealistic to deport them all. If we were to do what they are asking us to do, there isn’t enough federal immigration detention capacity to handle it. They’ve got about 30,000 beds and they’re all filled. There needs to be concrete immigration reform.

Some reform seems to be in the works with the appointment of Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. She is viewed by many police chiefs as well experienced in the issues surrounding illegal immigrants. As Timoney points out, “She was the governor of a border state and a state that is divided on the issue. In January, she told reporters that she wants “criminal aliens” off American streets. ICE deported about 113,000 criminals who were in the country illegally last year and the agency estimates that there are currently some 450,000 such criminals in federal, state and local detention centers. Napolitano’s goal is for federal immigration officials to be notified immediately when an inmate is processed into a detention facility and deported after the criminal serves his or her sentence.

Marie Rosen is a senior editor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.


Firm Agrees to Historic Settlement for Immigration Violations

Relatives of people arrested in IFCO raids gather for a news conference in July 2006.
Relatives of people arrested in IFCO raids gather for a news conference in July 2006. (Photo credit: CNN — Getty Images)

By Mike M. Ahlers

December 19, 2008

WASHINGTON — A company accused of encouraging hundreds to illegally enter the United States and then hiring them using fake Social Security numbers has agreed to pay the largest settlement ever in a workplace immigration bust, the Department of Justice said Friday.

IFCO Systems North America, a pallet and crate company, will pay a $20.7 million settlement, which includes $18.1 million in fines and $2.6 million for overtime violations, the Department of Justice said.

In early 2006, immigration officials raided 45 IFCO sites, arresting almost 1,200 low-level workers. Federal officials also charged several managers, accusing them of using “as a business model the systematic violation of United States law.” …

“The agreement severely punishes IFCO for its serious immigration and employment violations,” acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Baxter said. “But it also allows the corporation to continue its operations, so that its lawful employees and innocent shareholders do not suffer the consequences of a business failure in this economy.”

IFCO’s violation of the law was flagrant, officials said. More than half of the company’s 5,800 workers during 2005 had invalid Social Security numbers, and the company ignored at least 13 letters from the Social Security Administration about questionable Social Security numbers.

IFCO records suggests that as many as 6,000 illegal immigrants worked at company plants from 2003 to 2006, the Justice Department said. …

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500,000 Illegal Immigrants Defy Deportation

Image: Guatamalan immigrants
In the past year, U.S. immigration officials have made 34,000 arrests, more than double the number two years ago. These Guatalaman immigrants are among the deported. (Photo credit: Eitan Abramovich / AFP — Getty Images)

November 14, 2008

BOSTON — Zeituni Onyango came to the United States seeking asylum from her native Kenya but was turned down and ordered to leave the country in 2004.

Four years later, she is still here. And her nephew is about to become president of the United States.

Onyango’s family connection to Barack Obama has thrown a spotlight on a phenomenon many Americans might find startling: An estimated half-million immigrants are living in the United States in defiance of deportation orders.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up efforts to catch fugitive aliens, as they are known, and now has about 100 “fugitive operations teams” around the country. In the past year, the teams have made 34,000 arrests, more than double the number two years ago. But there are still 560,000 such immigrants in the U.S.

Fugitive aliens include people who, like Obama’s aunt, sought asylum in the United States but were rejected and ordered to leave the country. Others were caught entering or living in this country illegally, and failed to show at their deportation hearings.

Often, illegal immigrants who have been issued deportation notices are given a certain amount of time to get out of the country on their own. They are not forcibly put aboard a plane; these deportations essentially operate on the honor system.

Generally, if these immigrants stay out of trouble — if they don’t get pulled over by police or swept up in a workplace raid, for example — they are in little danger of being thrown out of the country.

That galls many immigration reform advocates, who say the practice breeds disrespect for the law and emboldens immigrants to sneak in and stay.

“We are strong believers of enforcement of our immigration laws, and this is a priority area for getting the message across to this country, that if they’ve been convicted of committing crimes or if they have been ordered deported, that they will be apprehended if they try to hide and continue to stay in the country,” said Jack Martin of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

‘Catch and release’ policy

Government officials say that they do the best they can with the money and manpower available to them, and that they focus on the most serious cases, including those involving illegal immigrants who have committed crimes in this country.

“ICE has taken tremendous steps at closing these cases and apprehending fugitives,” spokesman Richard Rocha said. “However, we prioritize our efforts on egregious violators and criminal aliens.”

Overall, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. In the last year, the government arrested and deported a record number of illegal immigrants, nearly 350,000, according to ICE.

Critics of the agency complain of the government’s former “catch and release” policy along the U.S.-Mexico border, in which non-Mexicans caught sneaking across were released into this country with a date to appear for an immigration hearing. Officials ended the practice in 2006. Now, these immigrants are held until their hearings. …

Advocates say the only way to reduce the number of illegal immigrants is to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. …

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America Sees Immigration Slowdown

Weakening economy, tougher laws cited for drop in newcomers

September 22, 2008

WASHINGTON — The wave of immigrants entering the United States slowed dramatically last year as the economy faltered and the government stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.

The nation added about a half million immigrants in 2007, down from more than 1.8 million the year before, according to estimates being released Tuesday by the Census Bureau. …

The U.S. has added an average of about a million immigrants [sic] a year since 1990, including those in the country legally and illegally.

At more than 38 million, the number of immigrants in the U.S. is now at an all-time high. …

The Census Bureau’s estimates for immigrants include those in the country legally and illegally because the agency does not ask about legal status [emphasis added].

Government and private estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. at about 12 million. …

The issue … has been muted in this year’s presidential election in part because both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama support comprehensive immigration packages that include increased enforcement and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. …

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Tens of Thousands of Iraqis May Come to US in ‘09

September 12, 2008

WASHINGTON — The United States has surpassed its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year and expects more, perhaps tens of thousands, next year, the State Department said on Friday.

The United States expects to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the department’s senior coordinator for refugees said. Thousands more Iraqis and their family members could arrive through a special visa program for people who worked for the United States or its contractors.

“I think you’ll see the U.S. government admitting over the course of fiscal 2009 tens of thousands of Iraqis into the United States,” coordinator James Foley told reporters.

Up to 3,000 could come from Baghdad, where the United States began interviews this year, he said.

So far this year, 12,118 Iraqi refugees have arrived and 1,000 more are booked to travel to the United States by the end of this month, when the U.S. fiscal year ends, he said.

That marks a huge leap from just 1,600 Iraqis admitted in the previous year. That number drew widespread criticism from refugee groups that said Washington should do more to help millions of Iraqis who have fled instability and violence since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. …

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 2 million Iraqis are living abroad, mostly in neighboring Jordan and Syria. Some 2.5 million are internally displaced. …

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U.S. Scraps Self-Deportation Program

Only eight people turn themselves in during three-week trial

August 21, 2008

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The federal government will scrap a program for illegal immigrants to turn themselves in for deportation after only eight people volunteered during a nearly three-week trial, an official said Thursday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered the pilot program in five cities, giving illegal immigrants facing court orders to leave the country 90 days to plan their departure and coordinate travel with relatives instead of facing the prospect of being arrested, detained and deported.

ICE will end its “Scheduled Departure” program when the trial period concludes Friday, Jim Hayes, acting director of ICE’s detention and removal operations, told The Associated Press. …

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Work Begins on $57 Million Border Fence in San Diego

August 16, 2008

SAN DIEGO, California — Scrapers and bulldozers began Friday filling a deep canyon to make way for a border fence in the southwestern corner of the United States after 12 years of planning, environmental reviews and legal challenges.

The 3½-mile stretch extends from a state park on an oceanfront cliff through a canyon known as Smuggler’s Gulch. The gorge was overrun by illegal immigrants until U.S. authorities launched a crackdown in the 1990s that pushed traffic to the remote mountains and deserts of California and Arizona.

At a cost of about $16 million a mile, the fence will be far more expensive than fences the U.S. government is building elsewhere along the nation’s 1,952-mile border with Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the average cost along the entire border is $2 million to $3 million a mile. …

The border is marked by a decaying fence made of surplus Navy landing mats. Border Patrol agents swarm the area in jeeps and pickups as they wait for migrants in Tijuana to dash about 2 miles through trees to the closest patch of stores and homes.

It is a far cry from the early 1990s, when large groups blitzed across the border and easily overwhelmed the Border Patrol. …

Arrests along the stretch have doubled in the past year as the Border Patrol has added agents, said spokesman Alex Renteria. Arrests totaled 16,738 in the area from October through July, or about 60 a day, up from 7,944 the same period last year.

The project calls for a dirt access road and 15-foot steel mesh fence just north of the existing fence. Crews also will build a third fence about 10 feet high farther north and install lights. …

The construction will help inch the Bush administration toward its pledge of 370 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of this year. …

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