June 29, 2010

Citizenship: It's a birthright

In 1848, the discovery of gold brought hordes of prospectors to California. In 1889, millions of acres of free land set off a rush of settlers into Oklahoma. Today, we are told, the chance to get U.S. citizenship for their unborn children is rapidly filling the country with illegal immigrants.

Critics see this as a malignant phenomenon that ought to be stopped. So Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the new law directing police to check the immigration status of people they stop whom they suspect of being here illegally, has another idea: denying citizenship privileges to anyone born in his state to undocumented parents.

He plans to offer legislation refusing a birth certificate to any child unless a parent can prove legal residence, a clever attempt to nullify birthright citizenship. He says the change would eliminate "the greatest inducement for breaking our laws," since having an "anchor baby" yields all sorts of benefits.

A Rasmussen poll found a plurality of Americans favor repealing birthright citizenship. Kentucky Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul has endorsed legislation to that end, which has attracted 91 sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform are all for it.

But the idea fails on a couple of grounds. The first is constitutional. The policy originates with the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, which says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

Pearce and his allies say illegal immigrants can be excluded because they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. But that provision was included only to exempt children born to foreign diplomats.

The Supreme Court has left little room for argument. In 1898, it ruled that birth on American soil is "declared by the Constitution to constitute a sufficient and complete right to citizenship."

In 1982, it concluded that illegal immigrants are indeed "within the jurisdiction" of the state where they are present. To deny a U.S.-born child a birth certificate would almost certainly violate the right to the equal protection of the laws.

It would be bad for common-sense reasons as well. To start with, it would call into question the status of every new baby. A report by the Immigration Policy Center pointed out that "all American parents would, going forward, have to prove the citizenship of their children through a cumbersome bureaucratic process."

This obligation is not something "we" are going to impose on "them." It would be a burden on all new parents, including those whose ancestors debarked at Plymouth Rock.

Supporters of the change regard birthright citizenship as an irresistible magnet for foreigners to sneak in. But the effect is vastly exaggerated.

One study cited in Peter Brimelow's 1996 anti-immigration screed, "Alien Nation," found that 15 percent of new Hispanic mothers whose babies were born in Southern California hospitals said they came over the border to give birth, with 25 percent of that group saying they did so to gain citizenship for the child.

But this evidence actually contradicts the claim. It means that 96 percent of these women were not lured by the desire to have an "anchor baby."

That makes perfect sense. The value of a citizen child is too remote to compete with the other attractions that draw people to come illegally — such as jobs and opportunity unavailable in their native countries.

True, an undocumented adult can be sponsored for a resident visa by a citizen child — but not till the kid reaches age 21. To imagine that Mexicans are risking their lives crossing the border in 2010 to gain legal status in 2031 assumes they put an excessive weight on the distant future.

Nor are the other alleged freebies very enticing. Some of the main benefits available to undocumented foreigners, such as emergency room care and public education for children, don't require them to have a U.S. citizen child. Illegal immigrant parents are ineligible for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and the like. They can be deported.

Barring citizenship to their newborn babies wouldn't make these families pack up and go home. It would just put the kids into a legal jeopardy that impedes their assimilation into American society — without appreciably diminishing the number of people going over, under, around or through the border fence.

Punishing innocents without accomplishing anything useful? The opponents of birthright citizenship need an anchor in reality.

June 28, 2010

Denying citizenship for illegal immigrants' children is a bad idea

They are called "anchor babies" -- the children born in the United States of illegal immigrant parents -- and pressure is growing to change the meaning of the 14th Amendment so as to deny them automatic citizenship.

Ninety-one members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill to do just that. It was submitted in the House last year by Georgia Republican Nathan Deal. Backers of Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant measure are drafting legislation that would withhold birth certificates from these babies. Similar measures are being proposed in other states.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that bestows "birthright citizenship." Opponents of the practice say that it induces immigrants to enter the country illegally with the devious strategy of having a baby as a citizen "anchor," through which the rest of the family can petition to stay and get access to American jobs and welfare.

But ending birthright citizenship might be the worst idea of the immigration debate. It strikes at the core of American identity, punishes all Americans by requiring them to prove their citizenship, overthrows two centuries of legislative intent and court rulings, and accomplishes next to nothing in resolving illegal immigration.

The 14th Amendment states: "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."

The abrogationists would reinterpret the phrase "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." They argue that unauthorized immigrants are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that Congress, acting in 1866 at the end of the Civil War, meant for the amendment to apply only to recently freed slaves.

Go back, however, and read the transcripts of the 1866 debate in the Senate and you find that both those for and against the amendment readily acknowledged its application to illegal immigrants. A Pennsylvania senator, for example, objected to granting citizenship to the children of aliens who regularly commit "trespass" within the United States. The concern then was with babies of gypsy or Chinese parents.

But Congress and the ratifying states opted instead to uphold a founding principle of the republic that was fundamental to the peaceful building of a multiethnic immigrant nation, however imperfectly. In a world plagued by bloody ethnic conflicts, that concern remains valid.

The Supreme Court has regularly upheld birthright citizenship, most recently in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe, in which all nine justices agreed that the 14th Amendment applied to legal and illegal immigrants alike, and a majority ruled that Texas had to offer public school education to children of illegal immigrants.

Abrogating birthright citizenship additionally would create practical chaos. All Americans would have to prove their citizenship. Birth certificates would no longer do. Yet we lack a national registry of who is a citizen.

As West Point professor Margaret Stock says: "The government would have to adjudicate the citizenship status of every child born within U.S. borders based on the exceedingly complex rules of derivative citizenship, or citizenship by blood. Currently, [it] takes more than a year to make such determinations, and the process is expensive and fraught with error."

The abrogationists confuse the historical ecosystem on the U.S.-Mexican border with illegal immigrants in general. Pregnant Mexican women from border towns do commonly cross just to have a baby in the United States. But their extended families have often straddled the border for a century or more. The women tend to be middle class, pre-pay the hospitals in cash and go home, though their children can someday return.

A handful of tourists do the same, but the total of all these is minuscule. Significant are the 4 million children in 2008 with one or more unauthorized immigrant parents spread throughout the country, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Repeated studies, however, show that their parents came for jobs or to join family. The children were normal byproducts of life, and not an immigration strategy. The parents are not eligible for welfare or for citizenship until after the child turns 21.

Improved enforcement has dramatically slowed the flow of illegal immigration. What's needed now is comprehensive immigration reform to finish the job. Talk of birthright citizenship is an unwise diversion.

Edward Schumacher-Matos is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. His e-mail address is edward.schumachermatos@yahoo.com.

June 25, 2010

100 co-sponsors sign on to immigration measure

Pro-immigration House Democrats on Thursday marked what they called a "milestone" of 100 co-sponsors for a comprehensive reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Flanked by a group of immigrants, Democratic lawmakers said at a news conference that achieving 100 co-sponsors shows that immigration reform has the momentum necessary to become law. Still, the bill faces an uphill battle in Congress. House members are wary of facing voters in November who are split on what to do about immigration. The stringent but popular anti-immigrant law in Arizona is adding considerable fuel to the fire.

June 24, 2010

The Melting Pot

The World Cup decides the best in the world in soccer, but the “world” in World Cup has another meaning. Players, no matter what team they are on, are from all over the world.

On the U.S. team, there are a number of players who are either immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants. Any of them, at least in theory, could have chosen to represent the country of their birth or the country of their parents.

Benny Feilhaber is Brazilian. His grandparents fled Austria for Brazil when Hitler’s Germany took over. His family migrated again, to California, when he was six years old. Through his grandparents, he was able to obtain an Austrian passport in order to play for a time for a German team.

Stuart Holden is from Scotland, and came to the U.S. when he was 10. He gained his citizenship four years ago.

Jose Torres, a Texan of Mexican descent, gave up a chance to play in the Olympics on the U.S. team in order to play with the Pachuca, Mexico, club team. He is now back with the U.S. team in South Africa.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard (who was key to keeping England to one goal in the opening game for the U.S.) could theoretically have represented Hungary, the country of his mother’s birth.

The parents of Oguchi Onyewu came to the U.S. from Nigeria, and his father played soccer for Howard University.

Jozy Altidore’s parents are from Haiti, and earlier this year he raised more than 100,000 pounds (from England, where he was playing on the Hull city team) for Haitian earthquake relief.

Other players with immigrant parents or who are dual citizens on the U.S. squad are Carlos Bocanegra (father is from Mexico); Jonathan Spector (both grandparents on his mother’s side are German and he has a German passport; Maurice Edu (both parents are from Nigeria); Landon Donovan (father is from Canada); and Hercules Gomez (both parents are from Mexico).

A People's Guide to U.S. Immigration Law

NYC mayor, major CEOs lobby for immigration reform

NEW YORK — Chief executives of several major corporations, including Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, Disney and News Corp., are joining Mayor Michael Bloomberg to form a coalition advocating for immigration reform — including a path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants now in the United States.

The group includes several other big-city mayors and calls itself the Partnership for a New American Economy. It seeks to reframe immigration reform as the solution to repairing and stimulating the economy.

Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., appeared together Thursday on Fox News to discuss the effort.

"We're just going to keep the pressure on the congressmen," Murdoch said. "I think we can show to the public the benefits of having migrants and the jobs that go with them."

Bloomberg added, "Somebody has to lead and explain to the country why this is in our interest."

The CEOs said Thursday in statements that their companies — and the nation — depend on immigrants.

"It's our great strength as a nation, and it's also critical for continued economic growth," Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Robert Iger said in a statement. "To remain competitive in the 21st century, we need effective immigration reform that invites people to contribute to our shared success by building their own American dream."

The group says it intends to make its point to policymakers by "publishing studies, conducting polls, convening forums and paying for public education campaigns."

The tactics are similar to those used by Bloomberg's coalition of mayors who support gun control.

Bloomberg has for years criticized the federal government for its immigration laws, proposing in 2006 a plan that would have established a DNA or fingerprint database to track and verify all legal U.S. workers.

The billionaire mayor, a former CEO of the financial information company Bloomberg LP, also said at the time that all 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States should be given the opportunity for citizenship, saying that deporting them is impossible and would devastate the economy.

Lawmakers who wanted to deport all illegal immigrants were "living in a fantasy world," he said.

He has recently taken up the fight again, declaring this week that U.S. immigration policy "is national suicide."

"I can't think of any ways to destroy this country quite as direct and impactful as our immigration policy," he said Wednesday. "We educate the best and the brightest, and then we don't give them a green card."

The group's main immigration goals are to secure the borders, develop an easy system for employers to verify work eligibility, hold companies accountable for breaking the laws and improve the use of technology to prevent illegal immigration.

The group also wants more opportunities for immigrants to join the U.S. work force and a path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants.

Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post said no money has been spent on the effort yet, and he could not say whether the group will be a standard nonprofit, a political action committee or a group known as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, which can operate outside the more strict limits governing political action committees.

The business leaders in the coalition employ more than 650,000 people and make more than $220 billion in annual sales, combined.

The effort marks Bloomberg's return to national issues after he spent 2009 campaigning for a third term, focusing mostly on New York City's municipal concerns.

The Republican-turned-independent spent about two years testing the waters for an independent 2008 presidential run, but ultimately he gave up the idea.

By recruiting business leaders and mayors into a national-issue coalition, he is highlighting both of his backgrounds in running a city and running a business, which could be seen as an early move to dust off his presidential aspirations.

A Questionable Excuse on Immigration

Get ready for a big news week on immigration. Unfortunately, a lot of it will be political posturing from both sides, with the serious debate over the important issues hard to find.

For starters, the Obama administration will file suit against Arizona’s new law, which allows local cops to request citizenship papers or green cards from suspects. The law has sparked heated debates in neighboring states over whether they should adopt similar laws, an issue sure to figure in the November elections. It has also prompted a national debate. Polls show a majority of Americans back the law even though a majority also think it will lead to racial discrimination. They’ve apparently decided it’s worth the price.

At the same time, Obama has formally asked Congress for $600 million for additional border security, and he’s promised to send 1,200 National Guard troops to help. Administration officials will travel to Arizona on June 28 to detail their plans to GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

Not much progress, though, on the broader question of a comprehensive immigration bill -- one that would combine tough border measures with both a guest worker program to alleviate labor shortages and a path to legal status (after paying fines and back taxes and waiting in line) for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants already in the country. Hispanic groups are demanding action on the whole package, and Democrats who need their votes this fall, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose home state of Nevada has a healthy proportion of potential Latino voters are promising to try.

But action is unlikely because Republicans and conservative Democrats don’t want to go near the issue. Even past advocates of a comprehensive bill -- Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- are shying away from bills very similar to the one they supported and President George W. Bush pushed a few years back.

The GOP cry is that securing the border must come first. “Once we get the border secured, then we can support a lot of other things,” says Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Fine, but what exactly does that mean? The U.S.-Mexico border is already far more secure than it was a few years ago, with double the number of agents, 510 miles of fences and barriers, and much more technology to guard against illegal crossings. In Arizona, for example, there are now 10 guards for every mile of border. As a result, by every measure, illegal crossings are down significantly.

The truth is that many who oppose immigration reform will never be satisfied until the border is sealed tight -- which is obviously impossible. It’s a goal the U.S. can never reach, and they know it. They’ll keep using it as an excuse so they can oppose legislation forever. Dennis Wagner explored this question of how to define “secure enough” in The Arizona Republic this week in what was an eminently reasonable argument. The comments it attracted -- 864 the last time I checked -- were much less reasonable. Leaving aside those who called Wagner names, many argued they just never accept amnesty for illegals, insisting that’s what comprehensive legislation provides. For the record, that’s not true. The dictionary defines amnesty as a pardon, which is not what the proposed bill offers. Making illegals pay their debts to society is akin to the way we treat other criminals, and no one calls that amnesty.

But the posturing goes on, with no sign of a compromise. Eventually, conditions may change enough to allow progress. A more robust economy will prompt businesses to demand a solution to labor shortages, and the ever-growing political clout of Hispanic voters will force politicians to take notice. But that’s still a long way off.

June 23, 2010

Baseball Teams Prep Rookies for Arizona’s SB1070

New recruits for Major League Baseball teams are headed to Arizona this week for the Arizona Rookie League, and teams don’t want their players getting into trouble with the law. Not because they’re worried players will commit a crime, but because many are from Latin America, and teams fear their players’ brown skin could attract the attention of law enforcement officers who are getting ready to start enforcing SB 1070 when it goes into effect on July 29.

AP reports that both the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians equip their players with photo ID cards that have contact information for a representative from the team for police to contact, should a player be stopped. Teams are also holding seminars so players know about the political and social environment of the state.

The program, a rookie-level professional league, starts today in the Phoenix area, and will host 150 players from Latin America alone through August.

Latino players make up a significant part of the MLB ranks. Many are from the Dominican Republican, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba. And in the weeks immediately after Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, players of all nationalities spoke out against the law, which allows law enforcement to detain and question any person they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country without papers. San Diego Padres’ star Adrian Gonzalez has said he will boycott the 2011 All-Star game in Phoenix if the MLB does not respond to calls to move the game.

New York Mets' catcher Rod Barajas told the NY Times: "“If they happen to pull someone over who looks like they are of Latin descent, even if they are a U.S. citizen, that is the first question that is going to be asked. But if a blond-haired, blue-eyed Canadian gets pulled over, do you think they are going to ask for their papers? No.”

A coalition of groups including MALDEF, the ACLU, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the NAACP and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center filed a lawsuit challenging the law in May. And in early June the same coalition filed for injunctive relief to stop the law from going into effect.

But MLB teams aren't waiting to hear back from the judge. "We brought in a local police officer to explain the situation and issued each player an ID card so they don't have to rely on carrying around their visas and paperwork with them," Cleveland Indians' player development Ross Atkins told the AP. If only every other immigrant in the state had the confidence of that kind of protection.

June 22, 2010

Nebraska Town Votes to Banish Illegal Immigrants

CHICAGO — Residents of a small city in eastern Nebraska voted Monday to banish illegal immigrants from jobs and rental homes, defying an earlier decision by the city’s leaders and setting off what is all but certain to be a costly and closely watched legal challenge.

In Fremont , a meat-packing town of about 25,000 people, unofficial results from The Associated Press late Monday showed that 57 percent of voters approved a referendum barring landlords from renting to those in the country illegally, requiring renters to provide information to the police and to obtain city occupancy licenses, and obliging city businesses to use a federal database to check for illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the new law, including some business and church leaders, had argued that the City of Fremont simply could not afford the new law, which is all but certain to be challenged in court. In a flurry of television commercials and presentations by opponents in the final days before Monday’s vote, opponents said paying to defend such a local law would require a significant cut in Fremont city services or a stiff tax increase — or some combination of the two.

“There were a lot of tears in this room tonight,” said Kristin Ostrom, an opponent who gathered with others in an old V.F.W. building to await the results. “Unfortunately, people have voted for an ordinance that’s going to cost millions of dollars, and that says to the Hispanic community that the Anglo community is saying they are not welcome here. They thought they were coming to a small-town community with small-town values.”

But advocates argued that federal authorities had failed to enforce their own immigration restrictions, leaving places like Fremont — with a small but growing Hispanic population — to take care of such matters themselves. They complained that illegal immigrants were causing an increase in crime, taking jobs that would once have gone to longtime residents, and changing the character of their quiet city, some 30 miles of farm fields from Omaha.

Within minutes of the results being announced, officials from the A.C.L.U. Nebraska pledged to file a lawsuit as quickly as possible.

“If this law goes into effect, it will cause discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear to be foreign born, including U.S. citizens,” Laurel Marsh, executive director of A.C.L.U. Nebraska , said in a statement issued late Monday. “The A.C.L.U. Nebraska has no option but to turn to the courts to stop this un-American and unconstitutional ordinance before the law goes into effect. Not only do local ordinances such as this violate federal law, they are also completely out of step with American values of fairness and equality.”

Fremont’s Hispanic population, practically nonexistent two decades ago, has grown to about 2,000 people, according to some estimates. No one knows how many illegal immigrants live in Fremont, and the estimates (depending on which side of this debate one is on) vary enormously.

Still, some in Fremont point, with worry, to other Nebraska towns — places like Schuyler and Lexington — as communities that no longer look or feel the way they once did.

In recent years, numerous towns and cities around the nation have considered adopting laws restricting illegal immigrants. But in most cases, political leaders and town councils have been the ones to pass the provisions — not the voters. And the laws have proven politically-tangled: measures in towns like Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Tex., are still being fought in court, while some other cities (facing the prospect of drawn-out legal battles) have dropped the issue.

That almost happened in Fremont. Two years ago, a City Council member in Fremont suggested the city should pass a law on illegal immigrants. But after two emotional hearings — with what both sides said was participants from all over the state, the Council voted 4 to 4 on the proposal. The longtime mayor then voted against it, saying that he, too, was opposed to illegal immigrants but had come to believe that the question was one that had been, legally speaking, left to federal authorities, not Fremont.

Some residents were outraged by the choice, and began collecting signatures on a petition to put the question to a vote — the vote that ultimately came on Monday.

As residents of Fremont began considering what the decision would now mean, details of the new law were a new matter for debate. Some noted, with puzzlement, that the law would not apply to the area’s two biggest meatpacking plants (including Hormel, the largest employer) because they are just outside the city’s official boundaries, and that the law would also not apply to “casual labor for domestic tasks” around Fremont homes. But some said they believe the housing requirements — and new $5 occupancy license rule — might apply to people living in nursing homes.

Clinton says Ariz. to be sued over immigration law, but Justice Dept. won't confirm plan

The Obama administration has decided to sue Arizona over the state's controversial immigration law, according to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Justice Department declined Thursday to confirm such a plan.

In a June 8 interview with an Ecuadorean television station, Clinton said the department, under President Obama's direction, "will be bringing a lawsuit" over the measure. A video of the interview was distributed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which urged the administration to go to court.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the department "continues to review the law'' and declined to comment further.

The Arizona legislation empowers police to question anyone who authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" is an illegal immigrant. The Justice Department has been considering for nearly two months whether to sue the state to stop the law from taking effect this summer.

Federal officials have given strong signals in recent weeks that a lawsuit is almost certain, and one official involved in reviewing the law said Thursday that "there is no reason to think" that Clinton's assertion was wrong. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decision has been announced.

Arizona officials have urged the administration not to file suit, and Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said in a statement Thursday: "If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation."

June 21, 2010

Migrant Backers See No Relief

For Leslie Cocche, the morning of March 12 began like any other school day.

She stood at the Fort Lauderdale Tri-Rail station listening to music through her ear buds while awaiting the train to Miami, where she attends Miami Dade College.

Suddenly, a U.S. Border Patrol agent began questioning her, eventually discovering that the 18-year-old Peruvian was in the country illegally. Cocche was arrested, handcuffed and handed over for deportation proceedings.

Cocche's detention, along with many other recent arrests of undocumented immigrants in South Florida and across the country, have raised questions about whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is misleading the public about enforcement.

In contrast to the controversial Arizona state law that would allow police officers to request immigration papers from individuals only after they stop them for suspicions activities, federal immigration agents are allowed to demand documents from any foreign national at any time.

After President Barack Obama took office, Homeland Security said that immigration authorities would focus on removing convicted foreign criminals -- a shift that initially encouraged those who saw it as a prelude to legalization of the nation's estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants.

But now Homeland Security is under fire by disillusioned activists who believe the Obama administration is only paying lip service to a different strategy, and that in reality it is detaining criminal and noncriminal immigrants the same way the administration of George W. Bush did.

``The situation has not changed,'' said David Leopold, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who will take office July 1. ``It's a failure in the field to follow the administration's stated enforcement priorities.''

Officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Homeland Security agency in charge of deportations, say the critics are wrong. They acknowledge that deportations of noncriminal immigration-law violators are continuing, but say the agency now views them as ``low-priority.''

ICE released figures last week saying they indicate a downward trend in removals of noncriminal foreign nationals in the past year and a half.

Figures from Oct. 1 to June 7 show that the number of criminal and noncriminal removals are almost even, at more than 113,000 each.

The number of noncriminal removals still exceeds that of criminal deportations, but only by 257 people.

That is a change from the last two fiscal years, when annual noncriminal removals outpaced criminal removals by more than 100,000 people.

ICE officials said figures for criminal deportations reflect removals of "foreign nationals convicted of crimes'' in the United States, but they did not specifically explain what kinds of crimes they were convicted of.

Nicole Navas, an ICE spokeswoman in Miami, said that though her agency's priority is to remove convicted "criminal aliens," it is still detaining and deporting noncriminal foreign nationals who violate immigration laws. "ICE is charged with and mandated by Congress to enforce the nation's immigration laws," said Navas. "As a law enforcement agency, ICE never said we were going to cease arresting noncriminal aliens. Noncriminals are simply the lowest priority. ICE still detains and removes noncriminals, but ICE's priority as an agency is to remove criminal aliens with convictions."

She added: "ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those convicted criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately. Across the country, we exercise lawful discretion in order to focus our efforts on violent and dangerous criminals in order to make our streets safer."

Immigrant-rights activists said they were skeptical about ICE's figures and the agency's statement that they represent a downward trend.

``Unfortunately, ICE has a history of playing fast and loose with statistics,'' said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. ``The ICE definition of criminal includes people found guilty of minor violations, like an expired driver's license and illegal entry into the United States. ICE even has classified people who weren't convicted as criminals.''

ICE officials said figures for criminal deportations reflect removals of foreign nationals convicted of crimes in the United States, but they did specify what kinds of crimes they were convicted of.

Critics expected a dramatic -- not a gradual -- reduction in the number of detentions and deportations of noncriminal immigrants under the Obama administration.

``The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center is seeing more people than ever without criminal histories being targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,'' Little said. ``Unfortunately, the kinder, gentler immigration policies that were promised by this administration are woefully lacking.''

Some immigration attorneys contend enforcement under the Obama administration has become even more aggressive.

``The situation is worse today,'' said Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto, who has practiced immigration law for almost 20 years. ``There seems to be pressure on immigration officials to remove as many aliens as possible, no matter whether they have criminal records or not.''

Tania Galloni, an immigration attorney in Little's organization, is representing Cocche and her family.

After Cocche was arrested, Galloni wrote a letter to ICE noting that proceedings against her client contradicted the administration's public statements that criminals were now the priority.

``This is not only harmful to an exceptional young woman,'' Galloni wrote, ```but would also fly directly in the face of the administration's public statements that its immigration enforcement priority is to target dangerous criminal aliens.''

The Cocche case is particularly galling to immigrant rights advocates because she is a criminal-justice student at Miami Dade College, and is in the country not by choice but because her parents brought her here when she was a child.

Legislation repeatedly introduced in Congress as the DREAM Act would grant young undocumented students green cards.

When Cocche arrived at the Fort Lauderdale Tri-Rail station, as on past occasions, she saw two Border Patrol agents on the boarding platform, and paid them little attention.

This time, an agent asked Cocche for her immigration documents, which she could not produce.

``She was found to be illegally in the United States, arrested and placed in removal proceedings,'' said Victor C. Colón, the U.S. Border Patrol's assistant chief patrol agent for the Miami Sector.

Cocche was detained at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach for 11 days. Subsequently, her sister and parents were placed in deportation proceedings as well. Cocche was eventually released with the promise that she and her family would report later to immigration court in Miami. ``If they lose their case they could all be deported, all because Border Patrol singled Leslie out that one . . . morning,'' Galloni said. ``And deporting Leslie and her sister Kellyn would not be in our interest since they are star students who would have a very bright future here.''

Bill to deny birthright citizenship would face obstacles Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subje

Challenging the 14th Amendment is among the goals of some immigration reform activists and is being considered by lawmakers.

The amendment was adopted after the Civil War to define who is a citizen of the U.S. The amendment in effect overruled the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1857 Dred Scott case that denied citizenship to blacks.

In part, the law states that any person born or naturalized in the U.S. is a citizen and "no state shall make or enforce any law" denying that right.

A group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, have stated that they are thinking of filing a bill in the next session that mirrors the controversial Arizona immigration law and goes a step further, including preventing children from becoming citizens at birth if both parents are illegal immigrants.

The Arizona law makes it a crime to be in that state illegally and requires law enforcement officers to check documents of people they reasonably suspect to be there illegally.

A challenge to birthright citizenship has been proposed in Congress as recently as 2009. Arizona lawmakers have stated plans to introduce a law denying citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

If Oklahoma were to pass legislation restricting citizenship, it likely would be challenged in the federal courts.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, Immigration Policy Center and legal scholars cite judicial rulings and precedent, executive branch interpretations, congressional law and Supreme

Court rulings in arguing to uphold birthright citizenship.

These groups say altering the amendment or its interpretation would create a subclass of citizens and lead to discrimination.

Ian Bratlie, an immigration attorney, said challenges have gone in favor of immigrants going back to the 1800s.

"Legally, it's a nonstarter," Bratlie said. "There's court case history and a long legislative history supporting it."

The reform activists argue that the amendment was to grant citizenship to former slaves, not illegal immigrants.

Carol Helm, the founder of the Tulsa group Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now, said it supports the challenge. She said the states should change the practice to what is done internationally when a U.S. citizen gives birth in another country.

"I believe what we would call a certificate of live birth instead of a birth certificate will withstand scrutiny of a lawsuit," Helm said. "Birth certificates are state-issued papers. It's controlled by the states, meaning the states should be the ones to pass certificates of live births for that child."

The notion that a U.S.-born baby can serve as "an anchor" to allow the illegal immigrant parents to remain in the country is "a myth" and "totally impossible," Helm said.

Immigration lawyers also dismiss the term "anchor baby" as false. It is typically a derogatory term used to refer to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.

"But that myth is lingering and is encouraging people to come here," Helm said. "That an illegal mother and dad made the choice to step across the border means they need to be responsible for those choices."

A U.S.-born child does not change the immigration status of a parent, and a child cannot legally petition for a parent until age 21.

An illegal immigrant must return to the home country pending a petition, which may trigger a 10-year ban from re-entering the country. The process involves eligibility based on congressional quotas and sponsor relationships.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20100620_11_A8_DMnsra471080

June 18, 2010

City in Nebraska Torn as Immigration Vote Nears

FREMONT, Neb. — In this city of 25,000, far from any international border, the fight over illegal immigration has boiled over.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Yuliana Magana, center, with her daughter Ashley, 3, at a rally in Fremont against a crackdown on illegal immigration.

This is ordinarily a serene place with polite politics and votes that sail through City Hall 8 to 0. But in a special election Monday, residents will decide whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them. Residents demanded the vote, fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the State Supreme Court.

The election has opened a rare and raw divide. There are awkward silences for some who fear offending their neighbors (whose position they cannot be certain of), and, for others, volleys of suspicion.

Wanda Kotas, who pushed for the special election, said her family’s cat, Mr. Sippi, was killed by a pellet gun not long after her efforts, an act she suspects is related. Kristin Ostrom, who has spoken against the referendum, said a rock was heaved through her front window, an old barbecue grill was dumped at her doorstep, and, this week, an e-mail message arrived promising in red letters to “shed blood” to take back the country. And Alfredo Velez, who once worked at one of Fremont’s meatpacking plants and now owns a Mexican grocery, received an anonymous letter accusing him of harboring illegal immigrants, and said someone screamed at him on these neatly kept streets: “Go back to Mexico!”

The Hispanic population, while growing, still makes up less than 10 percent of Fremont, yet some say they blame illegal immigrants for what they see as a rise in crime here, the loss of good jobs for local residents and a shift in the culture.

Some complain about shoppers speaking Spanish at the Wal-Mart, businesses with phone messages saying “Press 1 for English,” and the need for two interpreters last fall at the annual “kindergarten round-up” where children meet their teachers.

Perhaps these are ordinary growing pains for Midwestern cities like Fremont, anchored by meatpacking plants with many immigrant workers, some of whom residents here suspect of being in this country illegally.

But the struggle has taken an unusual turn. After Fremont’s political leaders rejected an ordinance intended to keep illegal immigrants out, residents fought back and insisted, finally getting approval in the Nebraska Supreme Court to take the matter straight tovoters.

This is a legally complicated realm given the federal role in handling immigration; a lawsuit is all but certain if it passes. In other places where such immigration laws have been pondered (and often contested later), state lawmakers and local governing bodies have usually made the call, not citizens by referendum.

“In this very quiet little town where this hasn’t been an issue, it’s uncomfortable,” said Michelle Knapp, who opposes the anti-illegal immigrant law but acknowledges that she has at times only whispered her view. “You don’t know what people are listening.”

The battle began two years ago when a City Council member suggested that the city should take on illegal immigration. As in other towns, leaders here said they were frustrated by what they viewed as a failure by federal authorities to manage the problem.

By July 2008, a second hearing on the City Council’s proposal drew such a crowd that the meeting was moved to the high school auditorium (for the first time in memory) and the large crowd (under the watch of the police) voiced pointed views on all sides. The City Council waived plans for another hearing and instead voted, 4 to 4. Donald B. Edwards, the longtime mayor, gave an emotional speech, then voted no, to cheers and hoots.

“Everyone including myself is strongly against illegals,” Mr. Edwards told the crowd. “That’s not the issue.” Every legal mind he consulted led him to believe that immigration was a federal matter and that city action would lead to costly litigation. “I can’t change the law.”

This 1850s-era railroad and farming town, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, included 165 Hispanic residents in 1990 by some estimates. The number is closer to 2,000 now. No one really knows how many illegal immigrants live here, but peoples’ claims about statistics vary wildly.

Dean Skokan, the city attorney, who spoke on behalf of city officials who he said were barred by statute from voicing opinions on city time regarding ballot questions, says crime has risen over time. But he says he knows of no data compiled here on crimes by ethnicity or national origin.

But that is little comfort to residents like Jerry Hart, a retired Internal Revenue Serviceworker who recalls a time when Fremont’s doors did not need locks.

The area’s meatpacking plants — including Hormel, the largest employer and a presence since 1947 — look different, he said.

“How can you be against following the law,” said Mr. Hart, who spent months helping to collect more than 4,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot.

If the population changes have shifted the way Fremont feels, so has the coming anti-illegal-immigration referendum. Hispanic residents say they once felt welcomed here — or, at least, not noticed — but the increasingly loud political fight, they say, seems to have changed the tone.

“I know what they’re thinking when they look at me: Am I legal? Am I illegal?” said Luis Canahui, who came here from Guatemala. “I can feel it.”

A woman who asked not to be identified because her legal status has run out grew tearful at what Fremont had once felt like to her. “I like this town, but this is the place for my kids, not for me anymore,” she said.

Opponents of the immigration law here nearly always cite practical considerations — the likely cost of litigation, above all — as the reason to reject it. One television spot, playing up the costs, shows a blank check signed by “Citizens of Fremont” and a narrator’s booming voice: “Say no to needless spending! Say no to cuts in community services!”

City officials have said the cost of fighting court challenges — presumably, claims that the law would improperly infringe on federal authority — would probably run into the millions. Laws in towns like Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Tex., remain in court, and other cities have, faced with legal fights, repealed laws or dropped plans for them.

Fremont’s proposal, which was written with help from an author of Arizona’s new anti-immigration law, would require Fremont businesses to use a federal database, E-Verify, to check new employees’ information, and landlords to rent only to those who get a new city occupancy license (for $5) after turning over information to the police.

Skeptics, like Les Leech, the president of the Fremont Beef Company, said plants here already use E-Verify, but that does not stop those using stolen Social Security numbers. In March, immigration officials arrested 17 workers from Fremont Beef. “This ordinance will not change the complexion of this county one bit,” Mr. Leech said, “because E-Verify doesn’t work.”

Oddly enough, the meatpacking plants, including Hormel, are just outside city limits, and would not be subject to the new law.

Supporters say it does not matter. “We have to start somewhere,” said John Wiegert, a resident. “Hiding under your desk in a city office isn’t going to help.”

Brent McDonald contributed reporting.

Fitting the Formula for Judicial Review: The Law-Fact Distinction in Immigration Law

The ill-defined law-fact distinction often stands as the gatekeeper to judicial review of an agency deportation order, restricting non-citizens facing deportation to raising only questions of law when appearing before an appellate court. The restriction on review most affects cases whose dispositions typically turn on the resolution of factual issues, including claims under Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and claims for discretionary relief from deportation like cancellation of removal. Convention Against Torture claims, for example, often involve extensive fact-finding on the part of the immigration judge regarding conditions in the applicant’s home country and the applicant’s personal circumstances. At the same time, these claims raise a plethora of issues that arguably are not purely factual, including such critical questions as: Does the feared mistreatment rise to the level of torture? Is the mistreatment likely to happen? Has the judge followed the standards governing factual adjudications? Whether or not a federal appellate court can answer these questions depends on which side of the law-fact divide they fall. This article demonstrates that the basic, analytical concept of a question of law in immigration court decisions is more expansive than is typically understood. It focuses on questions that involve the application of law to facts that have already been established - questions that are commonly called mixed questions. The article briefly traces the history of immigration judicial review, culminating with the REAL ID Act of 2005 and the jurisdictional savings clause contained in it. It discusses the concept of a mixed question of law and fact, offering a basic formula that captures the concept of a mixed question as a question of law. It also proposes a meta-rule formula for mixed questions that offers a way to identify and categorize mixed questions involving a breach of the rules of decision-making. Also addressed is the interplay between the concepts of law-fact and discretion, as this has been a focal point of confusion. The article concludes with thoughts about how courts and litigators should proceed in their thinking about the law-fact distinction.

Witnesses: Law against racial profiling needed

WASHINGTON — Azaad Singh cried when he entered the glass enclosure at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport for extra screening.

He was patted down. His bag was searched. And then the security officer went through his prized possessions: his first Elmo book, his second Elmo book, his mini-mail truck.

Azaad, whose name means "freedom," is an American and a Sikh.

He's 18 months old.

Azaad's father, Amardeep Singh, told a House hearing Thursday that he's not sure how he'll one day explain to Azaad why he and his Sikh family seems to always need extra screening.

The House Judiciary civil rights subcommittee is exploring potential legislation to stop racial profiling. Witnesses proposed that Congress require studies to document how often particular groups of victims are stopped or arrested and whether they were threats to the United States. Legislation also should provide for legal redress for those who were wronged.

Witnesses told the committee that profiling remains a national problem for African-Americans; Hispanics are increasingly victims, especially in states and communities that have cracked down on illegal immigrants; and, since Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims and Sikhs have been regularly targeted.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office, said the civil rights group has more than 2,200 membership units in every state, "and I would wager that every NAACP unit has, at some point, received at least one complaint of racial profiling. Many NAACP units report receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints."

"It's not fair. It's not safe. It's not American," said Singh, who was returning from a family vacation in Mexico two months ago when the incident occurred in Fort Lauderdale. He's director of programs of The Sikh Coalition. He testified wearing a traditional Sikh turban.

The police chief of Salt Lake City, Chris Burbank, said profiling will only get worse in communities where police are required to enforce immigration laws. "By increasing our role in civil immigration action, state and local law enforcement is placed in the untenable position of potentially engaging in unconstitutional racial profiling, while attempting to maintain trust within the communities we protect," Burbank said. "Officers are forced to detain and question individuals for looking or speaking differently from the majority, not for their criminal behavior. How is a police officer to determine status without detaining and questioning anyone who speaks, looks or acts as if they might be from another nation?"

A Utah law that takes effect July 1 allows local police officers to enforce federal immigration law. State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said that participation in the enforcement provision is optional and that many local police departments are opting out.

June 17, 2010

Arizona citizenship bill targets children

an Diego, California (CNN) -- And then they came for the children.

Just when you thought Arizona lawmakers couldn't stoop any lower, these cowardly and shameful politicians grab a shovel and put in a basement.

This fall, the Arizona legislature is expected to debate a bill that would deny birth certificates to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants -- the "anchor babies" that some Republicans have been trying to marginalize for years.

The lawmakers are cowards because, first, they go after illegal immigrants who don't vote, lobby or contribute to political campaigns. And now they're going after children who don't vote, lobby or contribute to political campaigns.

Whom are they not going after? Employers of illegal immigrants. You know why? Because they vote, lobby and contribute to political campaigns.

Video: Targeting children of illegal immigrants

By the way, the term "anchor babies," which refers to the tots that supposedly increase the chances that mommy and daddy can stay in the United States even if mommy and daddy are in the country illegally, isn't just offensive and crude. It's also misleading.

The fact that Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was famously holed up in a Chicago, Illinois, church, had a U.S.-born son didn't stop federal officials from deporting her in 2007. Some anchor.

The real anchor is a job, the kind eagerly provided by U.S. employers who thumb their noses at federal law prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants.

In fact, right-wingers acknowledge as much when they argue that if we dry up the jobs, illegal immigrants will self-deport.

What about their kids, some of which were born in the United States? Why not stay for them? Simple: Employment takes precedence. Thus, according to conservatives' own arguments, there aren't anchor babies -- only anchor jobs.

Also, you can bet that some of the same people who oppose citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants also oppose the idea of granting a pathway to earned legalization -- what they call "amnesty" -- to illegal immigrants. Why?

Because, they say, you can't willy-nilly convert those who are illegal to legal. Then how can those folks be so cavalier about making that conversion in the opposite direction by changing legal to illegal?

Lastly, one of the things you hear from amnesty opponents is that illegal immigrants should certainly not be given U.S. citizenship. It's just too valuable, they say. Agreed. But if it's so valuable, then why are some on the right so quick to strip it away from the children of illegal immigrants? Don't U.S. citizens deserve more respect than that? Apparently not.

In the late 1990s, the member of Congress leading the crusade against "birthright citizenship" was Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-California.

The San Diego-area congressman proposed a bill to limit the privilege to the children of U.S. citizens. The legislation didn't go anywhere. It couldn't even get a hearing from some of Bilbray's fellow Republicans, who cringed at the idea of visiting the sins of the parents onto the children.

The same was true for another failed attempt by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Georgia, who, in 2005, proposed a bill that explicitly denied citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The bill didn't go anywhere either, in part because not enough Republicans would even agree to give it a hearing.

That same year, I discussed the idea with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who was then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the author of a sweeping piece of legislation called "The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Immigration Control Act of 2005." Among other things, the bill would have made unauthorized presence in the United States a felony. Yet even Sensenbrenner, not exactly a softhearted liberal, wouldn't touch the idea of denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. When fellow Republicans tried to insert such language into his bill, he was careful to keep it out.

There was a time when Republicans knew better than to handle radioactive material. My, how times have changed.

And now all the opponents of birthright citizenship have to do is change the Constitution. The 14th Amendment makes clear that anyone born in the United States, with the possible exception of the children of foreign diplomats, is a U.S. citizen.

"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. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Grasping at straws, restrictionists and nativists claim that illegal immigrants aren't "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States.

So what? My concern isn't that critics don't know how to read the law. It's that they don't know how to read -- period.

Jurisdiction applies not to the parents, but to the children. As U.S. citizens, they're subject to U.S. laws, but they also enjoy the protection of the U.S. Constitution. The closed border / closed mind crowd may not like it, but that's the way it is.

I'm not surprised that this escapes the state of Arizona.

Given all that's happened in recent weeks in its jihad against not illegal immigrants but Hispanics in general, the Grand Canyon State seems to have more than its share of people who slept through high school civics, and they're being advised by lawyers who were obviously absent the day they taught "law" in law school. That's not a good look.

The U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are legally entitled to U.S. citizenship. What part of "legal" don't the critics understand?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.