For those who might think that the United States is alone in its struggles over and with immigration, guess what: we’re not.
America has the largest immigrant population (42 million) and the largest illegal immigrant population (estimated at 11.1 million) in the world, according to the Arizona Republic. The newspaper reported that 214 million people live outside their native countries, up more than 40 percent from a decade ago.
Between 15 and 20 percent (32 million to 42 million) of that number may be “illegal,” according to an estimate. The United States’ share of undocumented immigrants accounts for more than a third to more than a quarter of the world’s total.
Deportations to Haiti to resume
The Obama administration aims to reduce the portion of unauthorized immigrants who are from Haiti. U.S. immigration officials will resume deporting some Haitians back to their country starting in January.
The U.S. government suspended deportations to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left 1 million homeless.
Meanwhile, the death toll from a cholera outbreak has surpassed 2,400. and the State Department issued a travel warning because of political unrest. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the agency must deport people with criminal records.
Judge orders ICE to release documents
A federal district judge in New York ruled that ICE must reveal the thought process behind its program to identify suspected illegal immigrants in local policy custody. The program, dubbed Secure Communities, uses fingerprints to cross reference criminal and immigration databases.
ICE has said that counties could choose not to participate, then later reversed direction and said there was no opt-out. The judge ordered ICE to release the requested documents, which might shed light on whether local police have any choice in the matter, or explain why they must be withheld. ICE previously released some records.
Gang arrests up in New York City while fallout from raids continues
Between October 2009 and September the New York City ICE office increased arrests of suspected gang members and their associates fivefold over the same 12-month time period the previous year.
Nearly three-quarters of the arrests were for federal and state crimes, such as illegal weapons possession, murder conspiracy and drug trafficking, the NY Times reported. The rest were for immigration-related offenses. James T. Hayes, the special agent in charge of the New York office, told the Times he had little interest in rounding up illegal immigrants who aren’t threats.
An immigrant living in New Haven, Conn., suing ICE agents for drawing their weapons, storming into his home, and handcuffing him before they identified themselves in a 2007 warrantless raid was within days of being deported. The immigrant is a key witness in a civil rights lawsuit, which has raised suspicion that ICE is trying to rush him out of the country. More than 30 people were rounded up in raids seen as retaliation for a New Haven city program to provide IDs to residents, regardless of their immigration status.
About 50 employees of Chipotle restaurants around the Twin Cities lost their jobs in so-called “silent raids” by immigration officials who audited the workplaces for proper work permits and immigration status of workers. Another 50 lost their jobs the week before at a different company.
ICE padded numbers with leftover statistics
The removal or deportation or nearly 200,000 criminals was a record in 2010, and the Obama administration has for much of the year touted its record-breaking enforcement efforts.
A Center for Investigative Reporting report published by the Washington Post and other papers found, however, that ICE officials counted in the year’s overall deportation numbers statistics carried over from the previous fiscal year.
Some observers believe that the administration put up a tough image as part of a strategy to rally Republican support for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Such a legislative package seems unlikely any time soon. But one sliver of immigration legislation that has bipartisan approval received an historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
DREAM act gets historic vote, but will it live on?
Known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, the bill passed the House, but was held up in the Senate.
The DREAM Act would offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 as long as they attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. Eligible immigrants must also have a high school degree or a general equivalency diploma and submit to a criminal background investigation.
The Associated Press reported that prospects are dim for the Senate to support the bill. The House is unlikely to take up the measure in the new Congress, meaning any kind of reform isn’t likely until after the 2012 elections, when immigration will be a campaign issue.
The DREAM Act has the backing of labor and religious groups and a group of Obama administration officials. But the bill does not have the support of Republicans it once had.
Politico pointed to Sen. Orrin Hatch to understand the shift in the immigration debate. The Utah Republican was the legislation’s chief supporter when the bill was first introduced in 2001, and again in 2003, but has retreated in the face of a potential challenge from the tea party.
Although Democrats have inserted concessions, Senate Republicans still balk at the bill, saying it will lead to chain migration.
But not all Republicans are in lockstep with their congressional counterparts when it comes to immigration reform. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, has repeatedly offered support of the bill. He exhorted business leaders to heed his call for reform:
“If we keep the best and the brightest out of this country, all the next big things will happen outside this country,” the mayor said during a speech at the New York Stock Exchange, according to The New York Times. “You look at people who say, ‘Oh, no, immigrants are going to kill us,’ and you wonder — they haven’t read history. … They don’t understand anything about business. And it’s up to us educate them.”
California Republicans, meanwhile, are split over a proposed ballot measure that aims to replicate Arizona’s controversial immigration law, as the crackdown could damage the party’s relationship with Latino voters.
While Democrats and DREAM act supporters await a Senate vote, ICE has in recent weeks detained some immigrant youth who might benefit from the legislation. As the vote loomed, one such 21-year-old student was being detainedin Arizona while another 18-year-old was held in Ohio following a minor car accident.
In both cases, the young men had been ordered deported along with their families years before. Both had lived in the United States for most of their lives and had been either a scholar-athlete or student body president.
Paterson pardons immigrants
New York Gov. David Paterson pardoned six immigrants who faced deportation stemming from old crimes to address “shortcomings in our federal immigration laws relating to deportation.”
New judges not expected to reduce backlog
With little movement on immigration reform, the nation’s immigration system, particularly its courts, buckle under a massive caseload. The Justice Deparment’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, has hired new judges in places like Atlanta, but doubts persist that such efforts will have much impact on the backlog of cases that stands at more than a quarter million.
Civil detention center announced, plans for more finalized soon
Although ICE prioritizes the removal of criminals, last year half of the deported immigrants were “noncriminals.” As part of the agency’s vision for reforming immigration detention, ICE is looking to open new “civil” detention facilities.
The first facility to be designed and operated for low-risk detainees will house up to 600 immigrants in Karnes County, Texas, near San Antonio. Private prison contractor GEO, which already has a facility that holds some immigrant detainees in Karnes, will operate the company-owned $32 million facility. It is expected to be completed near the end of 2011.
ICE officials are also preparing to award a contract for a 2,200-bed facility on the East Coast, with a decision possible in the coming weeks, according to a report. Two counties in Pennsylvania and another in New Jersey are in the running. In tough economic times, detaining immigrants has been a boon to local counties and towns.
Hill Republicans putting pressure on ICE
Faced with political pressure from Alabama congressmen, ICE officials delayed until March 2011 a move to stop housing 300 illegal immigrants in an Alabama county after local police reached out to state Congressional delegation.
Georgia congressmen were also hoping to get the attention of ICE officials, as they want the agency to pick up its pace in rolling out Secure Communities across the Peach state. The seven Republicans sent an invitation to ICE Director John Morton to meet on Capitol Hill.
(Morton last week postponed a different meeting with Senate Republicans who want to discuss enforcement issues and reports that the agency has been dismissing deportation cases in immigration court, according to a Hill source.)
Georgia, like many other states, has been aggressive in cracking down on illegal immigrants who are unlicensed drivers, the NY Times reported. Nationwide, at least 30,000 illegal immigrants stopped for traffic violations in the last three years ended up facing deportation.
California Republican: Sanctuary cities inconsistent policy
A California Republican congressman argued that if the Obama administration wants uniform immigration policy, instead of a patchwork of state laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, “it needs to go after sanctuary cities.”
More patchwork immigration laws
Speaking of patchwork, a Republican state senator in Florida introduced another state law targeting illegal immigration and employment, while the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Obama administration on why the justices should strike down an earlier Arizona law that targets employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The mother of a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who admitted to working as a Mexican drug cartel hitman faced charges of living in the country illegally, while a Houston man originally from Nigeria had his U.S. citizenship revoked after he was convicted of arranging fake marriages for himself and others, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Bonus: Immigration Digest November 30-Dec. 5
Geraldo Rivera supports the DREAM Act, as does DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Jeb Bush said that Phoenix police might look at his children suspiciously as their mother is from Mexico.
Immigration judges are still stressed out by their jobs.
Most illegal immigrants arrested by fugitive operations teams in Oklahoma do not have criminal records, data show.
Eight Oklahoma counties signed onto a biometric program that seeks to identify illegal or deportable immigrants in policy custody, which Washington state officials said they won’t sign. Florida lawmakers will mull their version of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
One of the nation’s largest private prison contractors that detains immigrants on behalf of ICE has “contributed significantly” to Tennessee politicians who support tougher immigration enforcement. CCA is also a member of an organization that promotes the law, according to a report by the Tennessean. In an editorial, The New York Times applauded Utah’s sensible approach to immigration enforcement.