As Democrats scramble to pass immigration reform legislation before the end of a lame-duck session of Congress, Republicans around the country are looking to introduce tough statehouse bills that echo Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.
House Republicans have made clear their intent to back immigration enforcement over reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just weeks to make another run at passing a proposed law to give young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship (and eligibility for federal student loans) before the House majority shifts to the Republicans and Senate Democrats lose their margin over the GOP.
Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin are among the states looking to pass laws that mimic Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which, according to a recent study, provoked an estimated 100,000 Latinos to leave the state.
While the country appears to be moving toward an enforcement-oriented mentality that dominated under the Bush administration, not all Republicans or conservatives are on the get-tough train.
Concerned with alienating increasingly powerful Hispanic voters, a Latino Republican group based in the Southwest asked House GOP leadership to think twice about who they place in key positions that would oversee immigration legislation in the new Congress. One of the two congressman, Iowa Republican Steve King, has pledged to hold hearings calling Obama administration cabinet members involved in immigration policy to testify.
With comprehensive immigration reform all but buried in its grave, the Obama administration may see more of its top immigration people head for the exits. In the interim, immigration is, for the most part, stuck in status quo, with a jumble of enforcement priorities, policies and practices that, it’s been suggested, undermine the Obama administration’s strategy.
The immigration courts are taking on average 20 percent longer than last year to reach decisions, according to Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, known as TRAC. (The Justice Department did just announce that officials recently swore in 23 new immigration judges.
TRAC was able to make its conclusions based on data obtained from the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. Getting similar data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might be cost-prohibitive, unfortunately. The agency has recently put hefty price tags on FOIA requests from TRAC ($450,000) and an advocacy group seeking data on detainee transfers. Families for Freedom was told by ICE’s FOIA office that the response would cost the group $1.3 million.
Despite earlier indications that ICE would let local police opt out of a program to identify illegal immigrants in jail, the agency told Santa Clara County that they did not, in fact, have any choice in the matter. The program, known as Secure Communities, has drawn consternation and ire from immigration advocates and politicians around the country.
“ICE now insists that there was never any avenue for the [Santa Clara] County to opt out,” the county’s attorney, Miguel Márquez, said in a press release. “This is clearly inconsistent with our written communication with ICE, as well as what ICE has told the public and congressional representatives about this program.”