White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said yesterday that immigration reform legislation is coming “early” in President Obama’s second-term agenda. Axelrod’s comments followed shortly after Obama’s inauguration address in Washington DC in which he only briefly touched on immigration. Axelrod went on to say that the president could push for reform as soon as the State of the Union speech in three weeks.
The near-record turnout by Latino voters in November favoring Obama over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by a margin of 71 to 27 percent gave the president a new mandate to reform the U.S. immigration system. A number of immigrant reform groups organized events around the inauguration to make sure the issue of got the attention it deserved. For example, 120 members of advocacy group Casa de Maryland—many of whom worked on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012—marched on the National Mall yesterday calling for sensible reform that goes beyond Deferred Action.
Legislation will likely include measures that seek to resolve the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—especially for young arrivals and so-called “Dreamers”—while stepping up enforcement mechanisms like E-verify. Other components of immigration reform legislation will likely also address visas for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs with agricultural visas a likely sticking point between the two parties. Immigration reform was expected to be the president’s first order of business in 2013, but the Newtown shooting and the consequent push for gun control legislation mean that introduction of a bill is now expected to occur in the spring.
Today is the first day that as many as 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children can file applications for deferred action, under a new policy announced by President Obama in June. Instructions for the applications were posted on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website Tuesday afternoon. If approved, these immigrants would be allowed to live and work openly in the United States for a two-year period that could then be extended.
USCIS, which normally reviews about 6 million applications for citizenship, residency and work visas every year, will review the applications for deferred action. It is not known how many people will apply or when. The greatest numbers of beneficiaries will be in the states of California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois.
Both advocates and critics warn of potential budget shortfalls and back-ups in processing paperwork. Alejandro Mayorkas, director of USCIS, said that “while individual processing times may vary, individual requests will take several months to process.” No new USCIS workers have been hired to review the school records, affidavits and other documents that applicants will be required to file, and no additional funds have been allocated to cover the additional processing costs. USCIS expects costs to be covered by the application fees.
Under the program, called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old would be eligible for deferred action and a renewable two-year work permit if they are currently enrolled in school, graduated from high school or served in the U.S. armed forces, and have no criminal record, among other criteria. The program does not confer any permanent legal status or open a future path to citizenship. While the policy offers immigration advocates and undocumented immigrants cause for optimism, several states continue to move forward with new immigration policies that may dampen some of the euphoria around the new policy.
Advocacy groups around the country have planned celebrations, legal aid seminars and other events to mark the occasion and provide support to applicants. The office of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), a leading advocate for immigrant communities that has worked with AS/COA, was flooded over the weekend with young immigrants seeking information about the applications, as were many similar organizations in other cities. Jacqueline Esposito, director of immigration advocacy at NYIC, said, “We recognize that this particular relief is limited in nature, but we believe it’s going to build momentum to more lasting reform.”
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Clock Ticks Down on Rio+20
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development—known as Rio+20—adopted an official text in negotiations this week, which will be debated on June 20 to 22. The 80-page document, titled “The Future We Want,” outlines the conference’s goals of sustainable development, corporate sustainability, and the importance of the private sector and free trade in achieving these goals. The summit was expected to draw 50,000 participants and the heads of state of more than 100 countries to Rio de Janeiro. However, “there are few expectations for concrete actions or pledges of new aid to developing countries,” reports the The New York Times. A piece in Mexican news site Animal Político also questions the conference’s sustainability, pointing to the huge carbon emissions involved in traveling to and hosting the conference.
G20 Wraps up in Mexico
Discussions about the ongoing eurozone crisis dominated the two-day G20 summit held in Mexico this week. Members agreed to focus on improving Europe’s economic stability in the wake of continuing turbulence in Greece and Spain, and to avoid protectionist measures until 2014. The summit also succeeded in increasing funding contributions from emerging economies to international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for promised reforms, including greater voting power for developing countries. China offered $43 billion to the IMF, while Brazil, India, Russia, and host country Mexico each agreed to contribute $10 billion. The United States used the opportunity to invite the G20 host country as well as Canada into negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed nine-country free-trade area in the Asia-Pacific.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the importance of the G20 being held in Mexico.
Learn more about the TPP in an AS/COA Online Explainer.
World Leaders to Tour Region after G20 and Rio+20
A number of world leaders will take Latin American tours after participating in the G20 in Mexico and the Rio+20 in Brazil. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will undertake a tour of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will travel to Chile for three days after the two summits, and will also become the first South Korean president to visit Colombia, where he will spend two days. Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is also visiting the region this week, making his first stop in Peru on Monday before continuing on to the Rio+20 in Brazil. He will spend this weekend in Colombia before returning home.
The President’s speech today from the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, hit the right message: immigrants are vital to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. As was reiterated today, the U.S. can no longer afford to idly sit by without passing legislation to create an immigration system that fosters entrepreneurship and addresses the plight of those in the U.S. without authorization. With flags fluttering in the background on a hot Texas day, he emphasized that “reform will make America more competitive in the global economy.”
The numbers are clear. Immigrants come to the U.S. to contribute to this country’s future and to create a better future for their families. It’s no surprise that people who give up everything to start a new future in the U.S. are also innovative businesses people. In fact, according to a 2008 study issued by the Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants. And overall, The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute reported in 2007 that Hispanic entrepreneurs have established an estimated 2 million businesses in the United States, generating $350 billion annually. Here in New York, immigrants accounted for $229 billion in economic output, or 22.4 percent of the state’s total GDP, according to a 2007 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute.
A Democratic proposal in the Colorado state legislature failed to gain approval from the Colorado House Education Committee and was rejected in a 7-6 party-line vote this past Monday. The measure, Senate Bill 126, would have allowed undocumented students in the process of normalizing their immigration status, and other criteria, to pay the lower in-state tuition to attend state universities and colleges. The measure would have lowered the cost of education for undocumented students from $28,000 per year to just over $10,300 – slightly more than the $8,500 for Colorado residents who are eligible for additional subsidies not included as part of the proposed bill.
Republicans have opposed the bill arguing that it would encourage more unauthorized immigration into the state. As such, the decisive vote that struck down SB126 in the House was cast by Republican Representative Robert Ramírez, the only Hispanic GOP member of the House, whose father, a Mexican immigrant struggled to gain legal residency. His vote echoed his sentiments that approving the bill would send a message to “a new generation that it’s OK not to follow the laws of our country.”
The measure had been approved last week 20-15, again, in a strict party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Democrats have supported the bill saying that allowing more students to attend colleges and universities would be beneficial to the state’s future economy. Had it been approved, SB126 would have made Colorado the twelth state to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants joining California, Illinois, Kansas, and Texas among others.
A bill proposed yesterday in the New York State Senate would revive parts of federal legislation that failed to make it through the U.S. Congress last year. That legislation, known as the DREAM Act, would have provided a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. Following its defeat in Congress, the New York State Youth Leadership Council, a youth-led nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting equal opportunity for immigrant youth, mobilized an aggressive campaign to introduce and garner support for a state version of the bill.
While not offering a path to citizenship, the new bill, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, would offer young undocumented immigrants certain rights and privileges currently afforded only to legal residents and citizens—including the authorization to hold certain state jobs and to apply for a driver’s license. While undocumented immigrants in New York already qualify for in-state tuition fees, the bill would enable them to apply for state financial assistance in the form of grants, loans and scholarships. It would also provide them with access to health care.
To qualify, the young person would have to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, lived in New York for two years and be under the age of 35. He or she would also be required to have completed at least two years of a four-year degree at a state college or university, two years in the New York National Guard or nearly 1,000 hours of community service.
The proposal of the bill comes amid a recent wave of state legislative measures designed to address unauthorized immigration—some meant to crack down on and others meant to expand the rights of undocumented immigrants—after the federal government failed to do so last year. Co-sponsor Daniel L. Squadron (D-Brooklyn) says the new legislation would not circumvent the federal provision that employers cannot willingly hire undocumented immigrants, but “could potentially expand the state’s options.”
Announcement of the new legislation also follows President Obama’s recent trip to Latin America, in which he reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform while also underscoring the need to promote development and job growth in Mexico and Central America.
Democratic Assemblyman Guillermo Linares is slated to introduce an Assembly version of the bill shortly.
Since the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate in December and Republicans took over the House of Representatives, many people have argued that any pro-immigrant legislation is impossible. The chances are indeed slim, but the movement that emerged to press for DREAM is far from accepting defeat. In fact, if you ask these young leaders, their struggle has only just begun.
The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would offer undocumented youth an earned path to citizenship, conditional on college attendance or military service. When the bill failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in December, DREAM students (Dreamers) were devastated. And, to make matters worse, the Republicans’ landslide victory in the mid-term elections indeed made DREAM an unlikely prospect until at least 2013.
But student leaders have responded with aplomb. And at the United We Dream (UWD) network’s national congress in Memphis in early March, they focused on how far they’ve come and the work that lies ahead.
According to new estimates, the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States remained steady between 2009 and 2010, following a two-year period of decline that began in 2007. A study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center found that as of March 2010, there were approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., compared with 11.1 million a year earlier and a peak of 12 million in 2007. Similarly, the number of undocumented immigrants in the nation’s workforce remained steady at 8 million in the 2009-2010 period, compared to 8.4 million in 2007. The decline was notable particularly in Colorado, Florida, New York, Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
Although the Pew report was not designed to answer why these changes occurred, Pew Hispanic Center director Paul Taylor said “common sense” suggests that the economic recession and slow recovery from it in the U.S., as well as tougher border enforcement, are contributing factors. Senior demographer and co-author of the report Jeffrey S. Passel told Reuters that, in the past, immigration inflows have been tied to the state of the U.S. economy, particularly in the case of Mexico. Undocumented immigrants from Mexico account for 58 percent of the total and appear to be a primary source of the decline.
Despite stricter border enforcement and record numbers of deportations under the Obama administration (392,000 in 2010), the report did not find that a large number of undocumented immigrants were leaving the country. This may yet again prove the failure behind state-by-state “attrition through enforcement,” a strategy in which states adopt tough, anti-immigration laws. Although the anti-immigrant SB 1070 law passed in Arizona in 2010 is currently on hold pending court appeals, at least 15 other states have proposed similar legislation in 2011.
The Pew analysis, which is based on U.S. census data, also reports that 350,000 children had at least one undocumented-immigrant parent in 2009. This represents about 8 percent of the newborn population and is on par with figures from 2008. Conservative lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures have proposed initiatives to deny automatic citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, and in December 2010, a Senate filibuster blocked passage of the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would have provided children of undocumented immigrants permanent residency conditioned upon completion of two years of higher education or military service. Birthright citizenship is currently guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution.
Rather than focus on crafting real solutions to our broken immigration system, legislators have started the new year again playing politics. Last week, on the first day of Congress, Representative Steve King (IA) introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 (HR 140) as legislators from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina also unveiled their plans to introduce local measures to create state-by-state, two-tiered citizenship categories. Nine other states also intend to introduce similar bills this year. Neither of these proposals should be part of the answer to the
The King bill made it onto the list of the first 150 pieces of legislation to be introduced in the new session of the House of Representatives. What about the economy or jobs? Only four job-related bills (HR 72, HR 117, HR 132, and HR 133) were introduced before Mr. King’s bill and none have come close to gathering the 33 cosponsors that the King bill can already count on. Actually, each of these bills has zero to one cosponsor at the time of this post. Instead, 33 Members of Congress chose to focus part of their attention on a bill that would restrict citizenship to only those children with parents where one of whom is either: “a U.S. citizen or national; a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States; or an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Supporters of restricting citizenship cite the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment—adopted in 1868 to allow former slaves to become
With control of the U.S. House of Representatives switching to the Republican Party, the future of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform is now in greater doubt. And Democrats—unable to put forward a proposal that could muster the necessary support to right our broken immigration system—will take a back seat to the immigration plans of the new House leadership.
One of the first orders of business when the new Congress convenes in January will be the designation of new committee chairpersons. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is out as the House immigration subcommittee chairperson, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will likely take the gavel. As for the full Judiciary Committee, it will likely be led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). This means a new approach for immigration-related issues. And in essence, going back to the drawing board on many of the core concerns.
The Democrats had been working on comprehensive immigration reform that revolved around four pillars originally put forward by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) in March. (That is before Sen. Graham withdrew his support a few months later.) The approach included: requiring biometric Social Security cards; beefing up border security; creating a system for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path for the legalization of certain undocumented immigrants. And President Obama asserted that the chance for reform was close, noting last week: “Right now on immigration reform, we’re eight votes short or 10 votes short.”