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History > 2012 > USA > Immigration (I)




Immigration and Policing


December 25, 2012
The New York Times


The Obama administration on Friday announced a policy change that — if it works — should lead to smarter enforcement of the immigration laws, with greater effort spent on deporting dangerous felons and less on minor offenders who pose no threat.

The new policy places stricter conditions on when Immigration and Customs Enforcement sends requests, known as detainers, to local law-enforcement agencies asking them to hold suspected immigration violators in jail until the government can pick them up. Detainers will be issued for serious offenders — those who have been convicted or charged with a felony, who have three or more misdemeanor convictions, or have one conviction or charge for misdemeanor crimes like sexual abuse, drunken driving, weapons possession or drug trafficking. Those who illegally re-entered the country after having been deported or posing a national-security threat would also be detained. But there would be no detainers for those with no convictions or records of only petty offenses like traffic violations.

John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, said this was a case of “setting priorities” to “maximize public safety.”

But wait, you ask, shouldn’t ICE have been doing this all along? Didn’t Mr. Morton say in a memo two years ago that ICE would use its “prosecutorial discretion” to focus on the most dangerous illegal immigrants? He did. But for nearly as long as President Obama has been in office, ICE has been vastly expanding its deportation efforts, enlisting state and local agencies to expel people at a record pace of 400,000 a year — tens of thousands of them noncriminals or minor offenders. By outsourcing “discretion” to local cops through a fingerprinting program called Secure Communities, it has greatly increased the number of small fry caught in an ever-wider national dragnet.

Some cities and states have resisted cooperating with ICE detainers for the very reasons of proportionality and public safety that Mr. Morton cited on Friday. California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, told her state’s law enforcement agencies this month that ICE had no authority to force them to jail minor offenders who pose no threat.

Secure Communities and indiscriminate detainers have caused no end of frustration for many police officials, who rely on trust and cooperation in immigrant communities to do their jobs. They know that crime victims and witnesses will not cooperate if every encounter with the law carries the danger of deportation. They have shied away from a federal role that is not theirs to take.

ICE’s announcement seems to make those efforts unnecessary. It puts the Obama administration on the same page as states and cities that have tried to draw a brighter line between their jobs and the federal government’s. A stricter detainer policy is better for police and sheriffs, who can focus more on public safety. It makes people less vulnerable to pretextual arrests by cops who troll for immigrants with broken taillights. And it helps restore some sanity and proportion to an immigration system that has long been in danger of losing both.

    Immigration and Policing, NYT, 25.12.2012,






Innovative Immigrants


November 1, 2012
The New York Times



SOME 70 million immigrants have come to America since the first colonists arrived. The role their labor has played in economic development is widely understood. Much less familiar is the extent to which their remarkable innovations have driven American prosperity.

Indeed, while both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have lauded entrepreneurship, innovation and “job creation,” neither candidate has made comprehensive immigration reform an issue, despite immigrants’ crucial role in those fields. Yet understanding how immigrants have fueled innovation through history is critical to making sure they continue to drive prosperity in the future.

At the country’s beginning, the three most important architects of its financial system were immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, from St. Croix, then part of the Danish West Indies; Robert Morris, born in Liverpool, England; and Albert Gallatin of Geneva. Morris was superintendent of finance during the Revolutionary War, using every resource at his command to support the army in the field. Hamilton, as the first secretary of the Treasury, rescued the country from bankruptcy and designed its basic financial system. Gallatin paid down much of the national debt, engineered the financing of the Louisiana Purchase and remains the longest-serving Treasury secretary ever.

Immigrants’ financial innovations continued through the 19th century. In 1808 Alexander Brown, from Ireland, founded the nation’s first investment bank, and his immigrant sons set up Brown Brothers. The Lehman brothers, from Germany, began as dry-goods merchants and cotton brokers in Alabama, then moved to New York just before the Civil War and eventually founded a bank. Many other immigrants, including Marcus Goldman of Goldman Sachs, followed similar paths, starting very small, traveling to new cities and establishing banks. Meanwhile, “Yankee” firms like Kidder, Peabody and Drexel, Morgan — whose partners were native-born — remained less mobile, tied by family and high society to Boston and New York.

Immigrant innovators were pioneers in many other industries after the Civil War. Three examples were Andrew Carnegie (Scotland, steel), Joseph Pulitzer (Hungary, newspapers) and David Sarnoff (Russia, electronics). Each came to America young, poor and full of energy.

Carnegie’s mother brought the family to Pittsburgh in 1848, when Andrew was 12. He became a bobbin-boy in a textile mill, a telegram messenger, a telegraph-key operator, a low-level manager at the Pennsylvania Railroad, a division superintendent for the same railroad and a bond salesman for the railroad in Europe.

Recognizing the limitless market for the rails that carried trains, Carnegie jumped to steel. His most important innovation was “hard driving” blast furnaces, wearing them out quickly. This violated the accepted practice of “coddling” furnaces, but he calculated that his vastly increased output cut the price of steel far more than replacing the furnaces cost his company. In turn, an immense quantity of cheap steel found its way into lucrative new uses: structural steel for skyscrapers, sheet steel for automobiles.

Pulitzer was the home-tutored son of a prosperous Hungarian family that lost its fortune. He came to the United States in 1864 at age 17, recruited by a Massachusetts Civil War regiment. Penniless after the war ended, he went to St. Louis, a center for German immigrants, whose language he spoke fluently.

He worked as a waiter, a railroad clerk, a lawyer and a reporter for a local German newspaper, part of which he eventually purchased. In 1879, he acquired two English-language papers and merged them into The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In 1883, he moved to New York, where he bought The New York World and began a fierce competition with other New York papers, mainly the Sun and, later, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. The New York World was pro-labor, pro-immigration and, remarkably, both serious and sensationalist. It achieved a huge circulation.

Sarnoff was just 9 years old when he arrived from Russia in 1901. He earned money selling Yiddish newspapers on the street and singing at a synagogue, and then worked as an office clerk, a messenger and, like Carnegie, a telegraph operator. From there he became part of the fledgling radio firm RCA and rose rapidly within its ranks.

Sarnoff was among the first to see radio’s potential as “point-to-mass” entertainment, i.e., broadcasting. He devoted a huge percentage of profits to research and development, and won an epic battle with CBS over industry standards for color TV. For decades, RCA and electronics were practically synonymous.

As these men show, one of the key traits of immigrant innovators is geographic mobility, both from the home country and within the United States. Consider the striking roster of 20th-century immigrants who led the development of fields like movies and information technology: the Hollywood studios MGM, Warner Brothers, United Artists, Paramount and Universal; the Silicon Valley companies Intel, eBay, Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter — yet another immigrant, and the most perceptive early analyst of innovation — considered it to be the fundamental component of entrepreneurship: “The typical entrepreneur is more self-centered than other types, because he relies less than they do on tradition and connection” and because his efforts consist “precisely in breaking up old, and creating new, tradition.” For that reason, innovators always encounter resistance from people whose economic and social interests are threatened by new products and methods.

Compared with the native-born, who have extended families and lifelong social and commercial relationships, immigrants without such ties — without businesses to inherit or family property to protect — are in some ways better prepared to play the innovator’s role. A hundred academic monographs could not prove that immigrants are more innovative than native-born Americans, because each spurs the other on. Innovations by the blended population were, and still are, integral to the economic growth of the United States.

But our overly complex immigration law hampers even the most obvious innovators’ efforts to become citizens. It endangers our tradition of entrepreneurship, and it must be repaired — soon.


Thomas K. McCraw is a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School

and the author, most recently, of “The Founders and Finance:

How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy.”

    Innovative Immigrants, NYT, 1.11.2012,






A Romney Stance Causes Turmoil for Young Immigrants


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


An immigration stance that Mitt Romney took with little fanfare this month has created turmoil for many young immigrants living in the country illegally, lawyers and immigrant advocates say.

Mr. Romney said that if elected president, he would end the program that offers hundreds of thousands of those immigrants two-year reprieves from deportation, which the Obama administration began in August.

Mr. Romney’s statements have prompted many young people to hold back from applying, worried that if he won the presidency, those who applied and were not approved by the time he took office could be pursued by immigration authorities.

His position “has created a lot of confusion and a lot of anxiety,” said Cheryl Little, the executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, a legal aid group based in Miami that has assisted hundreds of young immigrants applying for reprieves.

Mr. Romney has said that he would honor any reprieves already approved by the government, and that he would not order the deportation of immigrants who did not get deferrals.

Even so, his position on the reprieves has heightened already existing doubts about how he would handle the program, said Gregory Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has monitored it closely. “For young people who have been living in the shadows for years, coming forward now to the authorities is a big act of faith,” Mr. Chen said. “They are concerned their information could be used at a later date against them.”

Also, at least 800,000 young people, according to estimates by immigrant organizations, will be unable to apply in time to be approved before the inauguration in January because of document requirements and filing fees. They are now facing the possibility that if Mr. Romney prevailed, they could miss out on the deportation deferrals and the work permits that come with them.

By independent estimates, as many as 1.2 million illegal immigrants are currently eligible for President Obama’s deportation reprieves. Since Aug. 15, when the program began, 179,794 immigrants have applied, according to official figures published on Oct. 12. But only 4,591 deferrals have been approved, despite what lawyers praise as unusually fast work by the federal agency in charge, Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Alberto Martinez, an adviser to Mr. Romney, said the candidate’s goal was to eliminate “perpetual uncertainty” for young immigrants. Since the deferrals are based only on a presidential action and do not provide any path to legal immigration status, he said, “it is just another stage of limbo for these young people.”

In the general campaign, Mr. Romney has moderated his immigration positions as he tries to appeal to Latino voters, hoping to chip away at Mr. Obama’s big lead among that group. In the presidential debate on Tuesday, Mr. Romney endorsed proposals giving legal status to young immigrants who have been in the country illegally since they were children.

“The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids I think should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States,” Mr. Romney said.

Without providing much detail, Mr. Romney said he would work with Congress on “real, permanent immigration reform” to give legal status to young immigrants. He has said that illegal immigrants who serve in the military should get permanent residency.

But Mr. Romney has criticized the temporary reprieves, which Mr. Obama created in June by executive action, as a political “stopgap measure.”

For young people who have grown up without documents, the deferrals and permits allow them to work legally and, in some states, obtain driver’s licenses and attend college at in-state tuition rates. In a recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, 86 percent of registered Latino voters said they approved of the program.

To qualify for the program, immigrants must be under 31, have come to America before they were 16 and have lived here for at least five years. They must also be current students or high school graduates. Since there is no filing deadline and no appeal if an application is denied, administration officials have urged young people to take their time to get it right. Many immigrants have also struggled to gather the papers they need and to raise the $465 filing fee.

Leading Republicans who are concerned about the party’s standing with Latino voters have differed on Mr. Romney’s position on the deferrals. In a recent interview on Spanish-language radio, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, lauded Mr. Romney’s plan for broader legislation. But he said, “I think it makes all the sense in the world to maintain what exists right now.”

But Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said at an event on Tuesday that he agreed with Mr. Romney. “We are not going to give out new permits because we are going to replace the system with a new one,” Mr. Rubio said. “And I think that is very promising.”

Mr. Romney’s statements have prompted some immigrants to rush to apply, hoping they could still gain approval before January. Many more are hanging back, lawyers said.

And then there is Claudia Trejo, 18, one of those who could miss the chance to apply. Born in Mexico and raised in Denver, she said she had been living in this country illegally since arriving with her parents when she was 10. Both she and her 16-year-old sister qualify for deferrals. They want to apply together so that neither would be left unprotected from deportation.

But their parents, also here illegally, do not have the money for two $465 filing fees. Ms. Trejo has been working odd jobs to raise the cash, hoping to apply at the end of the year. “Honestly, the only thing I am waiting on is the money to apply,” she said.

Ms. Trejo graduated from high school in May but cannot afford the out-of-state tuition rates she must pay to go to college in Colorado. With a deferral, she said, she could get a driver’s license and a regular job, and a chance to earn her tuition.

“I just want to go to college as soon as possible,” Ms. Trejo said. “The things Romney is saying are devastating.”

But groups opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants praised Mr. Romney’s stance on the deferrals. “We have been hopeful he would immediately stop them,” said Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA, which advocates reduced immigration. He contends that Mr. Obama exceeded his authority with the mass deferrals, and his organization has supported a federal lawsuit in Texas to try to stop the program.

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Mr. Romney wants to hold on to Republicans who supported his early calls for tough immigration enforcement. He also hopes to draw some Latinos, who are likely to cast crucial ballots in at least three battleground states: Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

“We understand the power our communities have,” said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a leader in Texas of the United We Dream Network, a national youth organization, who said she received one of the earliest deferrals. Although she cannot vote, Ms. Cabello, 21, said she had been busy organizing Latino citizens to do so. “We urge both candidates to continue this program,” she said, “and we will be mobilizing.”

    A Romney Stance Causes Turmoil for Young Immigrants, NYT, 20.10.2012,






In Texas Conviction, an Immigrant Rallying Cry


September 26, 2012
The New York Times


GATESVILLE, Tex. — In January, Rosa Jimenez, an illegal Mexican immigrant, will have spent 10 years in prison in the bleak scrublands of Central Texas for a crime she says she did not commit: forcing a wad of paper towels down the throat of a toddler in her care, making him choke and ultimately die.

She sits here in the Mountain View Prison Unit, a maximum-security facility for women, folding prison laundry, reading Bible stories and praying for exoneration while her two children are brought up by foster parents. To some, Ms. Jimenez has become a symbol of the inequality of the American criminal justice system — a process that began with a 2007 Mexican documentary that showed the prosecutor saying of Ms. Jimenez, “Despite being from Mexico, she’s very intelligent,” and that enraged the mayor of her hometown.

At her trial, the defense’s medical witness — a forensic pathologist who was not an expert in pediatrics or choking, who cost far less than the experts her lawyers originally sought and who swore at prosecutors in the courthouse hall (and later acknowledged doing so on the witness stand) — came off as an amateur.

Thousands of poor Mexicans are in American prisons and, like Ms. Jimenez, were heavily outlawyered and outspent at trial. Her story is that of many like her, yet she has been cast as a kind of hero by some.

But not by Victoria Gutierrez, also an illegal Mexican immigrant and the mother of the dead child.

“Suddenly this is all about her coming here and making a life for herself as if she were the victim,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “We all did the same thing. This is not about her. It’s about my son. Her children are going to school. My son is dead.”

Still, the renewed attention on Ms. Jimenez’s case led to donations to pay for new lawyers and experts, and a Texas appeals judge eventually ordered a new trial. In April, however, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that ruling, saying that while Ms. Jimenez’s lawyers were indeed “outclassed and outmatched,” she had a constitutional right only to a decent defense, not to a great one.

Now the United States Supreme Court is reviewing a petition for a retrial, a filing that was joined by Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, who contends that there is a widespread perception that Mexican nationals cannot get a fair trial in Texas, and says that is “bad for the citizens of both our countries.”

While the Supreme Court ponders the retrial request, the judge in the original trial, Jon Wisser, wrote an unusual letter to the district attorney last month saying that in his view, there was “a substantial likelihood” that Ms. Jimenez was not guilty. The Supreme Court has instructed the district attorney to respond before it takes any action.

It has been a remarkable set of developments for what began as a relatively routine case. Charlie Baird, the judge whose retrial order was reversed, believes Ms. Jimenez’s story has received such attention because it demonstrates something fundamental and troubling.

“This case shows that the poor are not on an equal footing — it’s not a fair fight,” said Mr. Baird, who has also served on the Criminal Court of Appeals and is now retired. “The state had unlimited resources to avail itself of medical experts. Ms. Jimenez went begging for expert assistance. She had woefully inadequate funds to do so.”

Of the pathologist the defense eventually hired, “it would be hard to imagine a worse witness,” Mr. Baird said. “That’s what you end up with when you are given a pittance to hire an expert.”

The case of Ms. Jimenez offers lessons not only about the limits of the criminal justice system but about the lives of some of the millions of illegal Mexican immigrants striving to make it in this country. In an often tearful hourlong interview in prison, Ms. Jimenez recalled her decision to leave Mexico in 1999 at 17 when she came home hungry one day from school and found the refrigerator empty.

“My mother was a single mom, and I knew I had to do something to help her,” Ms. Jimenez said, sitting in a white prison uniform, speaking in careful, measured English learned in prison. “I threatened to quit school if she didn’t let me go to America.”

She arrived in Austin, Tex., where she worked as a housekeeper in a Hampton Inn and began studying for her high school equivalency diploma. Within a few years, she had a daughter, Brenda, and was pregnant with her son. She agreed to baby-sit for a neighbor, Ms. Gutierrez, who dropped off her son, Bryan, then a little over a year old, while she went to work at a restaurant with her brother.

Ms. Jimenez baby-sat for Bryan for seven months without incident. But one day in early 2003, while she was cooking and the two children were playing, she says, Bryan began to choke and turn blue. Ms. Jimenez says she tried to put her finger down his throat to remove the obstruction. She says she ran with him to a neighbor’s, where they called 911.

Emergency workers eventually removed a wad of paper towel from Bryan — five attached sheets, balled up and bloodied. By then, he had lost enough oxygen to be severely brain-damaged. His mother took him off life support three months later.

Medical experts brought in by the state testified that no 21-month-old could have put that much paper towel down his own throat, that his gag reflex would have stopped him. The only possible culprit, they said, was Ms. Jimenez, who, they surmised, must have grown frustrated with his crying. The jury agreed. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. She is eligible for parole in 2033.

At a 2010 hearing on whether there should be a retrial, experts in pediatric airway disorders testified that a child of Bryan’s age could indeed stuff five sheets of wet, balled-up paper towel into his mouth. In their view, his death was most likely accidental.

Mr. Wisser, the trial judge, said in his letter to the district attorney last month that Ms. Jimenez had no motive, no history of such activity and no evidence of substance abuse.

“I believe now, as I did at the time of the trial, that there is a substantial likelihood that the defendant was not guilty of this offense,” he wrote.

Because Ms. Jimenez is here illegally, her mother, who sells tamales back home in Ecatepec, a suburb of Mexico City, has been denied a visa to visit her in prison. But Ms. Jimenez does have support. Consular officials visit, as do her children. Ms. Gutierrez, who has a 4-year-old daughter now, still lives in Austin with her brother, Cerafin Gutierrez, who was like a surrogate father to Bryan. They both work long hours and pay their taxes. They speak excellent English. They consider themselves Americans.

When asked whether Ms. Jimenez might have been wrongly convicted, Mr. Gutierrez walks to the kitchen and pulls off five sheets from the roll of paper towels. Can anyone imagine a child putting that much paper down his own throat, he asks.

Ms. Gutierrez weeps softly through the conversation, a drawing of Bryan on the wall above her head. When she turns on the Spanish-language television news, she sometimes hears reports about how Rosa Jimenez was wrongly convicted and is now rotting unfairly in prison.

Ms. Gutierrez said she never believed the death was an accident. “He never put paper towel in his mouth,” she said of Bryan. “He wasn’t retarded. He was a normal baby. She’s become some kind of symbol, but she’s not my symbol. Why isn’t the president of Mexico concerned about my baby?”

Ms. Jimenez, who spoke no English when her trial took place, now prefers reading in English. In prison, she has been on a waiting list for five years to take a class. Lately she has been reading about the women of the Bible.

She said she was moved by the story of Bathsheba, whose husband was sent by King David to die at the battlefront so David could take her as his wife.

“I imagine her saying to David, ‘You can take my body, but nobody can take my mind,’ ” Ms. Jimenez said.

    In Texas Conviction, an Immigrant Rallying Cry, NYT, 26.9.2012,






Deportation Deferrals Put Employers of Immigrants in a Bind


September 25, 2012
The New York Times


Manuel Cunha has been fighting for three decades to persuade the federal government to provide more legal immigrant workers for farmers in California’s verdant San Joaquin Valley. So he was initially excited when President Obama announced in June that he would suspend the deportations of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

But after reading the program’s fine print, Mr. Cunha is telling the growers and small-business owners he organizes to proceed with caution.

Immigrants applying for two-year deportation deferrals can ask employers to verify their job status as one way to meet a requirement showing that they have lived for at least five years in the United States. But employers who agree to those requests could be acknowledging that they knowingly hired an unauthorized worker — a violation of federal law. Mr. Cunha fears that the enforcement authorities could one day use the information in their files to prosecute the employers.

The Department of Homeland Security “is not friendly at all to us,” said Mr. Cunha, the president of the Nisei Farmers League, which is based in Fresno, Calif. “We have seen agriculture being audited and targeted. For the workers, after two years this program could end. And then the agency could go after the employers for hiring illegal aliens.”

Mr. Cunha said the message from Obama administration officials was “Just trust me.” His reply: “No, no, there is no more trust.”

The minefield for employers is one of the hazards that have appeared in the deferred deportation program since the agency in charge, Citizenship and Immigration Services, began receiving applications on Aug. 15. In the first month, the agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, logged in more than 82,000 applications, a figure that officials say shows that the program is advancing at a fast pace.

But with more than 1.2 million young immigrants estimated to be immediately eligible, some immigrant organizations say the application numbers are lower than they expected, in part because of unexpected pitfalls.

To qualify, illegal immigrants must have been under 31 years old on June 15, when Mr. Obama announced the program. They must show that they came to the United States before they were 16, have been here for at least five years and were in the country on June 15. They must also be enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or be honorably discharged from the military, and pass criminal background checks.

If approved, immigrants are granted what is officially known as deferred action, and separately they receive legal work permits. But they do not gain any legal immigration status.

A particularly tricky dilemma is facing farmers and other businesses nationwide that rely on low-wage labor. Many young immigrants work part time to help pay for college. Others are working after dropping out of college, unable to get tuition discounts or financial aid because of their status. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research group, about 740,000 immigrants eligible for deferment are in the work force.

“If you have actual knowledge that an employee is not authorized to work, you can’t employ them,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis who has advised businesses on how to respond to job verification requests.

A lot depends on how an employee poses the question, said Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, an organization of small businesses that employ immigrants. Those who ask for verification for deportation deferrals are admitting to being unauthorized workers. They might eventually obtain a permit to work legally, but in the meantime, the employer might have to fire them, Ms. Jacoby said.

The immigration agency issued new guidelines this month confirming that businesses could provide verification for deferred deportation applicants. This information will not be shared with the enforcement authorities “unless there is evidence of egregious violations of criminal statutes or widespread abuses,” the guidelines say.

Peter Boogaard, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said the agency is seeking to focus enforcement resources on threats to public safety. He said officials would investigate if workers’ applications pointed to “widespread patterns and practices of unlawful hiring” or “abusive employers who are violating other criminal laws.”

Neither Ms. Jacoby nor Mr. Cunha was comforted. “That’s a safety net with a lot of holes in it,” Ms. Jacoby said. She urges advocates to tell applicants not to mention the deferment program when asking for job verification.

The immigration service also clarified a section of the application that had asked immigrants to list Social Security numbers they had used. It is common for them to use fake Social Security numbers, or sometimes real numbers belonging to another person. On an official application, such numbers could be evidence of fraud or even identity theft.

The form is asking only for numbers “that were officially issued to you by the Social Security Administration,” the new guidelines say.

Department of Homeland Security officials “are not conferring immunity on anyone,” an administration official said. “But they are not interested in using this as a way to identify one-off cases where some individual may have violated some federal law in an employment relationship.”

    Deportation Deferrals Put Employers of Immigrants in a Bind, NYT, 25.9.2012,






The Morality of Migration


The New York Times
Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
July 29, 2012
5:00 pm


In announcing his executive order on June 15 that undocumented migrant youths who meet certain conditions would no longer be deported, President Obama said that "It was the right thing to do." What he did not say was whether he meant "the right thing" legally or morally.

Obviously, he considered the order to be legal, even though this invocation of presidential power drew strong criticism from many, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But the president's grounds for believing it moral were much less clear.

This should come as no surprise: the morality and politics of migration are among the most divisive issues in much of the world. In the United States, discussions of immigration flow seamlessly into matters of national security, employment levels, the health of the American economy, and threats to a presumptive American national identity and way of life. Much the same is true in Europe. Not a week goes by without a story of refugees from Africa or Asia perishing while trying to arrive at the shores of the European Union.

Nor are such developments restricted to the resource-rich countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Singapore, Israel and Jordan are countries with the highest percentage share of migrants among their total population, while the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada and France lead in the actual number of international migrants. Migrations are now global, challenging many societies in many parts of the world.

Whereas from 1910 to 2012, the world's population increased slightly more than fourfold, from 1.6 billion to to more than 7 billion, the number of people living in countries other than their own as migrants increased nearly sevenfold, from roughly 33 million to more than 200 million.

Migrations pit two moral and legal principles, foundational to the modern state system, against each other. On one hand, the human right of individuals to move across borders whether for economic, personal or professional reasons or to seek asylum and refuge is guaranteed by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Article 21 of the declaration recognizes a basic right to self-government, stipulating that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government." Under the current regime of states, that fundamental right includes control over borders as well as determining who is to be a citizen as distinguished from a resident or an alien.

The international system straddles these dual principles but it has not been able to reconcile them. The irony of global developments is that while state sovereignty in economic, military, and technological domains is eroded and national borders have become more porous, they are still policed to keep out aliens and intruders. The migrant's body has become the symbolic site upon which such contradictions are enacted.

Why not advocate a "world without borders" then? From a moral point of view, no child deserves to be born on one side of the border rather than another, and it is deeply antithetical to our moral principles to punish individuals for what they cannot help being or doing. Punishment implies responsibility and accountability for one's actions and choices; clearly, children who through their parents' choices end up on one side of the border rather than another cannot be penalized for these choices.

A strong advocate of the right to self-government might retort that rewarding certain children for the wrongs committed by their parents, in this case illegal immigration, by legalizing undocumented youths is illogical as well as immoral and that "the right thing to do" would be to deport all undocumented migrants - parents and children alike. Apart from the sheer impracticality of this solution, its advocates seem to consider undocumented "original entry" into a country as the analog of "original sin" that no amount of subsequent behavior and atonement can alter.

But such punitive rigor unfairly conflates the messy and often inadvertent reasons that lead one to become an undocumented migrant with no criminal intent to break the law.

If conditions in a person's native country so endanger his life and well-being and he becomes willing to risk illegality in order to survive, his right to survival, from a moral point of view, carries as much weight as does the new country's claim to control borders against migrants. Immanuel Kant, therefore, called the moral claim to seek refuge or respite in the lands of another, a "universal right of hospitality," provided that the intentions of the foreigner upon arriving on foreign lands were peaceful. Such a right, he argued, belonged to each human being placed on this planet who had to share the earth with others.

Even though morally the right to hospitality is an individual right, the socioeconomic and cultural causes of migrations are for the most part collective. Migrations occur because of economic, environmental, cultural and historical "push" and "pull" factors. "We are here," say migrants, "because in effect you were there." "We did not cross the border; the border crossed us."

We do have special obligations to our neighbors, as opposed to moral obligations to humanity at large, if, for example, our economy has devastated theirs; if our industrial output has led to environmental harm or if our drug dependency has encouraged the formation of transnational drug cartels.

These claims of interdependence require a third moral principle - in addition to the right of universal hospitality and the right to self-government - to be brought into consideration: associative obligations among peoples arising through historical factors.

States cannot ignore such associative obligations. Migration policies, though they are often couched in nation-centric terms, always have transnational causes and consequences. It is impossible to address Mexican migration into the United States, for example, without considering the decades-long dependency of the rich California agricultural fields upon the often undocumented and unorganized labor of Mexican workers, some of whose children have now grown up to become "Dreamers" (so named after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced to Congress in 2001). Among the three million students who graduate from United States high schools, 65,000 are undocumented.

The United States owes these young people a special duty of hospitality, not only because we, as a society, have benefited from the circumstances under which their parents entered this country, but also because they have formed strong affiliations with this society through being our friends, students, neighbors and coworkers. In a liberal-democratic society the path to citizenship must follow along these associative ties through which an individual shows him or herself to be capable and worthy of citizenship.

Migratory movements are sites of imperfect justice in that they bring into play the individual right to freedom of movement, the universal right to hospitality and the right of collectives to self-government as well as specific associative moral obligations. These rights cannot always be easily reconciled. Furthermore, international law does not as yet recognize a "human right to citizenship" for migrants, and considers this a sovereign prerogative of individual states. Nonetheless, the responsible politician is the one who acts with a lucid understanding of the necessity to balance these principles rather than giving in to a punitive rigorism that would deny, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "the right which nature has given to all men of departing from [and I would add, from joining with] the country in which choice, not chance has placed them" (1774).

Whether or not President Obama considered all these moral aspects of the matter, his handling of this issue shows that he acted as a "responsible politician," and not opportunistically as some of his critics charged. It was "the right thing to do."


Seyla Benhabib is the Eugene Meyer professor of Political Science and Philosophy

at Yale University. She is the author of

"Dignity in Adversity. Human Rights in Troubled Times" (2012).

    The Morality of Migration, NYT, 30.7.2012,






Migrants’ Freedom Ride


July 28, 2012
The New York Times


On Sunday night or early Monday, about three dozen people are planning to set out on a six-week bus voyage through the dark terrain of American immigration politics. Their journey is to begin, fittingly, in the desert in Arizona, national capital of anti-immigrant laws and oppressive policing. It will wind through other states where laws and failed policies force immigrants to toil outside the law — New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — and end in North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention.

There the riders plan to deliver a defiant message to a president who is hoping to return to office on a wave of Latino support that they believe he has not earned.

There is something very different about this particular protest. Many of those planning to ride the bus are undocumented and — for the first time — are not afraid to say so. Immigrants who dread arrest and deportation usually seek anonymity. These riders, weary of life in the shadows and frustrated by the lack of progress toward reform, will be telling federal authorities and the local police: Here are our names. This is our plan. If you want us, come get us.

The momentum for this daring ride, called the “UndocuBus,” began building last Tuesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix. The immigrants’ nemesis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was testifying at trial that day about his office’s long history of racial profiling and discriminatory policing. Out on the street, the midday glare off the pavement was blinding. Four unauthorized immigrants — Leticia Ramirez, Miguel Guerra, Natally Cruz and Isela Meraz — sat blocking traffic and waited to be arrested. They were taken away in cuffs to spend the night at Sheriff Arpaio’s red-brick jail on Fourth Avenue.

Their civil disobedience should not have been necessary. Hopes for reform were high in 2006, a year of huge, peaceful pro-immigrant marches in cities across the country, after which Congress entertained comprehensive reform that had strong bipartisan support. But Republicans killed the bill, and the years of inaction that followed crushed immigrants’ hopes while reinforcing the broken status quo — to the benefit of border vigilantes, the private-prison industry, the engorged homeland security apparatus and hard-right ideologues who started planting neo-nativist laws in legislatures across the land, starting in Arizona.

As Sheriff Arpaio quickly recognized, demonizing the undocumented was a potent political tool: once an immigration moderate, he recast himself as a relentless hunter of “illegal aliens.” With federal powers delegated to him by the Homeland Security Department, he spent years conducting “saturation patrols” in Latino neighborhoods of Maricopa County, abusing and terrifying those with brown skin.

All this time, as promises were broken and reforms went nowhere, as President Obama ratcheted up deportations to record levels, and as Republicans intensified their assaults, the immigrants lay low. But then groups of students, working outside the regular channels of immigrant advocacy, bravely “came out” as undocumented and demanded justice — and won from Mr. Obama a promise not to deport them.

A few more immigrants have now chosen to come out of the shadows. It is impossible to know how many of the 10 million to 12 million undocumented might dare to do the same. And while each and every one of them deserves a chance to get right with the law, one provocative bus trip may well seem like a voyage to nowhere, given the dismal state of Congress and the low odds of immigration reform.

But this small group has already won an important victory, a victory against fear. At the cramped offices of Puente Arizona, the Phoenix organization behind the “UndocuBus,” volunteers kept busy last week updating calendars and working phone banks. They made papier-mâché masks and silk-screen posters, and decorated plastic buckets for drumming. There was packing to be done, a bus to be painted. Saturday was the day for a march, Sunday will be for the gathering in a city park, for eating, singing and saying goodbyes. After that, the bus will roll.

    Migrants’ Freedom Ride, NYT, 28.7.2012,






Hospitals Worry Over Cut in Fund for Uninsured


July 26, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama’s health care law is putting new strains on some of the nation’s most hard-pressed hospitals, by cutting aid they use to pay for emergency care for illegal immigrants, which they have long been required to provide.

The federal government has been spending $20 billion annually to reimburse these hospitals — most in poor urban and rural areas — for treating more than their share of the uninsured, including illegal immigrants. The health care law will eventually cut that money in half, based on the premise that fewer people will lack insurance after the law takes effect.

But the estimated 11 million people now living illegally in the United States are not covered by the health care law. Its sponsors, seeking to sidestep the contentious debate over immigration, excluded them from the law’s benefits.

As a result, so-called safety-net hospitals said the cuts would deal a severe blow to their finances.

The hospitals are coming under this pressure because many of their uninsured patients are illegal immigrants, and because their large pools of uninsured or poorly insured patients are not expected to be reduced significantly under the Affordable Care Act, even as federal aid shrinks.

The hospitals range from prominent public ones, like Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, to neighborhood mainstays like Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn and Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. They include small rural outposts like Othello Community Hospital in Washington State, which receives a steady flow of farmworkers who live in the country illegally.

No matter where they are, all hospitals are obliged under federal law to treat anyone who arrives at the emergency room, regardless of their immigration status.

“That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and not just in New York — in Texas, in California, in Florida,” Lutheran’s chief executive, Wendy Z. Goldstein, said.

Lutheran Medical Center is in the Sunset Park neighborhood, where low-wage earning Chinese and Latino communities converge near an expressway. Hospitals are not allowed to record patients’ immigration status, but Ms. Goldstein estimated that 20 percent of its patients were what she called “the undocumented — not only uninsured, but uninsurable.”

She said Congressional staff members acknowledged that the health care law would scale back the money that helps pay for emergency care for such patients, but were reluctant to tackle the issue.

“I was told in Washington that they understand that this is a problem, but immigration is just too hot to touch,” she said.

The Affordable Care Act sets up state exchanges to reduce the cost of commercial health insurance, but people must prove citizenship or legal immigration status to take part. They must show similar documentation to apply for Medicaid benefits that are expanded under the law.

The act did call for increasing a little-known national network of 1,200 community health centers that provide primary care to the needy, regardless of their immigration status. But that plan, which could potentially steer more of the uninsured away from costly hospital care, was curtailed by Congressional budget cuts last year.

That leaves hospitals like Lutheran, which is nonprofit and has run a string of such primary care centers for 40 years, facing cuts at both ends.

On a recent weekday in Lutheran’s emergency room, a Chinese mother of two stared sadly through the porthole of an isolation unit. The woman had active tuberculosis and needed surgery to drain fluid from one lung, said Josh Liu, a patient liaison.

The disease had been discovered during a checkup at one of Lutheran’s primary care centers, where the sliding scale fee starts at $15. But the woman, an illegal immigrant, had no way to pay for the surgery.

Another patient, a gaunt 44-year-old man from Ecuador, had been in New York eight years, installing wood floors, one in Rockefeller Center. The man had been afraid to seek care because he feared deportation. Finally, the pain in his stomach was too much to bear.

Dr. Daniel J. Giaccio, leading the residents on their rounds, used the notches on the man’s worn belt to underscore his diagnosis, severe B-12 deficiency anemia. The woodworker had lost 30 pounds in a month, and his hands and feet were numb. Reversing the damage could take months.

“This is a severe case of sensory loss,” Dr. Giaccio said. “Usually we pick it up much sooner.”

In some states, including New York, hospitals caring for illegal immigrants in life-threatening situations can seek payment case by case, from a program known as emergency Medicaid. But the program has many restrictions and will not make up for the cuts in the $20 billion pool, hospital executives said.

Groups that favor more restrictive immigration policies said they agreed that the cuts in the $20 billion fund were a burden. They said hospitals obviously had a duty to provide emergency care for everybody, including illegal immigrants.

“I kind of like living in a society where we don’t let people die on the steps of the emergency room,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of one such group, the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.

But he said the answer lay in enforcing laws, so that illegal immigrants leave the country, not in extending health coverage.

“There is no ideal resolution to the problem, other than reducing the illegal population,” he said. “Incorporating illegal immigrants into health exchanges or directly taxpayer-funded health care legitimizes their presence.”

The Obama administration said the Affordable Care Act supported safety-net hospitals in other ways, pointing to measures that raise payments for primary care and give bonuses for improvements in quality.

“We are taking important steps to make health care more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans,” Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an e-mail. “Health reform isn’t the place to fix our broken immigration system.”

With illegal immigration an issue in the presidential campaign, many politicians continue to steer clear of addressing the cuts.

Hospitals in New York State now receive $2.84 billion of the nation’s $20 billion in so-called disproportionate share hospital payments.

Those payments start shrinking in 2014 under the law, and drop to $10 billion by 2019.

“It is a difficult time to really advocate around this issue, because there is so much antipathy against new immigrants,” said Alan Aviles, president and chief executive of the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

The corporation runs New York City’s public hospitals, which treated 480,000 uninsured patients last year, an estimated 40 percent of them illegal immigrants. The same worries haunt tiny Othello Community Hospital, in Washington state’s rural Adams County, where it is the only hospital for miles around.

Last year, the state began requiring that participants in a basic health plan prove that they are citizens or legal residents.

As a consequence, 4,000 out of the 4,400 patients at the nearby primary care center, mostly immigrant farmworkers, lost their coverage, leaving Othello more financially vulnerable when those people need emergency care.

In Central California, Harry Foster, director of the Family HealthCare Network, another primary care center, called the Affordable Care Act “a double-edged sword.”

Many low-wage earning citizens now lack employer-sponsored health insurance, and the health care industry is already competing for those who will gain coverage through the law. But no one is competing to treat those it leaves out, he said.

“We will receive more and more of those patients,” he said, estimating that 40 percent of the area’s residents were illegal immigrant farmworkers. “But financially, we can’t take on all the uninsured patients in the area, to the exclusion of all the others, and survive.”

In many ways Lutheran, a century-old hospital that refurbished a defunct factory to serve as its hub in the 1960s, has been a prototype of the law’s new model: coordinating primary and preventive care to improve health outcomes while curbing costs. Yet it stands to lose $25 million from the cuts.

“This is an unintended consequence of the law,” said Ms. Goldstein, the hospital’s chief executive. “But so far, nobody is doing anything to resolve it.”

    Hospitals Worry Over Cut in Fund for Uninsured, NYT, 26.7.2012,






Immigration Law


June 25, 2012
The New York Times


The Supreme Court rejected the foundation of Arizona’s cold-blooded immigration law and the indefensible notion the state can have its own foreign policy. In a 5-to-3 decision, the court blocked three of four provisions in the statute and gave a significant, though incomplete, victory to the federal government.

The majority opinion, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, knocked out sections of Arizona’s 2010 statute, S.B. 1070, that made it a crime not to carry immigration papers in the state and a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job or to work there. The court also struck down a section that gave state officers power to arrest without a warrant anyone that they had “probable cause to believe” had committed a crime that could make that person subject to deportation.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion rests heavily on the principle that the federal government has exclusive power over immigration policy as part of its power to control relations with foreign nations — and thus pre-empts states from entering this area of governance.

The ruling is a clear warning to other states that they, too, are barred from writing their own immigration laws, including imposing state punishments on the undocumented. Arizona’s fallacious claim that part of its statute was intended merely to help federal agents do their job was rejected outright.

The court said the requirement to carry papers intruded on federal registration of immigrants. The criminal section, it said, added prohibitions “where no federal counterpart exists.” And the provision allowing the state to arrest a person for being deportable breached “the principle that the removal process is entrusted to the discretion of the federal government.”

The one section the court did uphold requires officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, arrest or detain on some other legitimate basis — if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. Justice Kennedy wrote that until that provision is put into operation, the court could not assume that it would be applied in ways that conflict with federal law.

But the intent of the law is to harass Hispanics and to drive out immigrants by “attrition through enforcement.” That section of the law, as it goes into effect, will promote racial profiling of all Hispanics, including American citizens and legal residents. By mandating verification of immigration status even when it is unlikely the federal government will deport the individual, the provision sows fear that any contact with law enforcement — even for a jaywalking ticket — could result in detention.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion noted that allowing the provision to stand for now “does not foreclose other pre-emption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”

But in allowing the section to stand, the majority bends over backward not to deal forthrightly with the racial context of Arizona’s immigration efforts. The majority should have struck it down as well.

A pending lawsuit against S.B. 1070, including this section, could become a compelling challenge on the basis of discrimination. The Justice Department should ensure that the state’s application of this section is as careful as the Supreme Court said it expects.

    Immigration Law, NYT, 25.6.2012,






Don’t Shut the Golden Door


June 19, 2012
The New York Times


IMMIGRATION is in the headlines again, with President Obama’s decision last week to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, and the Supreme Court’s approaching decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s crackdown on undocumented migrants.

But too much of the public debate has focused on the legality of immigration without considering a more fundamental question: What effects has mass immigration had on American society?

As a result of the 1965 immigration act, which opened the door widely to non-European immigrants, 40 million foreign-born immigrants now live in the United States. They make up 13 percent of the population, the largest such proportion since the 1920s. More than half of these migrants are from Latin America and the Caribbean, although a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that Asians overtook Hispanics in 2009 as the fastest-growing group of immigrants.

For the May issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, we commissioned some of the most meticulous research done to date about the effects of immigration on a cross section of American communities — urban, suburban and rural.

The scholars who participated were in remarkable agreement: while new immigrants are poorer than the general population and face considerable hardship, there is no evidence that they have reshaped the social fabric in harmful ways.

America is neither less safe because of immigration nor is it worse off economically. In fact, in the regions where immigrants have settled in the past two decades, crime has gone down, cities have grown, poor urban neighborhoods have been rebuilt, and small towns that were once on life support are springing back.

Scholars can’t say for sure that immigration caused these positive developments, but we know enough to debunk the notion that immigrants worsen social ills.

For example, in rural counties that experienced an influx of immigrants in the 1980s and ’90s, crime rates dropped by more than they did in rural counties that did not see high immigrant growth. Higher immigration was associated with reductions in homicide rates for white, black and Latino victims. In both Hazleton, Pa., which has a recent history of hostility toward immigration, and St. James, Minn., a much more welcoming community, migrants have also bolstered dwindling populations and helped to reverse economic decline.

In large gateway cities, immigration has been associated not only with a decrease in crime but also with economic revitalization and reductions in concentrated poverty. Data from the 2005 American Community Survey showed, for example, that the income of blacks in the New York City borough of Queens surpassed that of whites for the first time, a development driven largely by immigration from the West Indies.

Scholars found that immigrant youths in Los Angeles were involved in less crime and violence than their native-born peers in similar economic circumstances. Research also has shown that an increase in immigration in cities like San Antonio and Miami did not produce an increase in the homicide rate. Furthermore, social scientists found that people in immigrant communities in New York were less cynical about the law than were people in less diverse communities; they were also more likely to indicate that they would cooperate with the police.

If migration has had such beneficial effects, why, then, has there been such a persistent backlash?

Part of the answer surely lies in the social changes — language, political attitudes, religious mores — that immigrants bring, in addition to the effects of the recession. The leveling-off of migration, especially from Mexico, may bring a sense of relief to opponents of these social changes, but if the new research is any guide, the consequences of the slowdown may be the opposite of what the critics intend.

Comprehensive immigration reform — last attempted during the second term of President George W. Bush — should be a priority for whoever wins in November. Mr. Obama’s decision to exempt undocumented children who were brought to the United States by their parents from harsh deportation rules is an overdue, but welcome, first step.

Establishing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented adults, creating a more permissive guest-worker program, reducing unwarranted police stops of immigrants and preserving families rather than separating them through deportation are controversial ideas, but they deserve a hearing.


John M. MacDonald is an associate professor of criminology

at the University of Pennsylvania.

Robert J. Sampson is a professor of the social sciences at Harvard.

    Don’t Shut the Golden Door, NYT, 19.6.2012,






Death in the Desert


June 21, 2012
The New York Times


Watertown, Mass.

NO matter how the Supreme Court rules this month in Arizona v. United States, which will determine the fate of Arizona’s aggressive illegal immigration law, the national conversation about illegal immigration has shifted. As recent data from the Pew Hispanic Center and the United States Border Patrol indicate, illegal immigration is on the wane, with arrests of migrants trying to cross the United States-Mexico border at a 40-year low and with net migration to the United States at a standstill — and perhaps even reversing direction. In the eyes of many, this is cause for celebration: no more straining the resources of border states while migrants risk life and limb for a shot at a better life.

But this rosy image of “success” ignores the larger, sobering picture of which migrant death and suffering is still very much a part. To see this, all you need to do is visit the southwest desert of Arizona, where migrants crossing into the United States continue to perish in tragic numbers. While it’s true that illegal immigration numbers are down overall, migrants are dying in the desert at the same rate that they have been for years (roughly between 150 and 250 deaths a year), according to statistics compiled by the Arizona Recovered Human Remains Project and the human rights group No More Deaths. In the past 10 years alone, some 2,000 migrants — men, women, children and the elderly — have died this way.

Why does this number remain so disturbingly high? Because of the “funnel effect” created by the militarization of the United States-Mexico border: hundreds of miles of physical barriers, high-tech infrastructure, highway checkpoints and other security enhancements have combined to reroute migrants away from highly trafficked and relatively safe urban crossing zones and into remote and perilous stretches of scorching, waterless desert. Fewer migrants may be crossing, but those that do face more treacherous journeys.

During months of research about immigration in southern Arizona, I heard many tales of death and suffering in the desert.

Consider the all-too-typical story of Josue Ernesto Oliva-Serrano. A Honduran illegal immigrant living in Oklahoma with his American wife and their two children, Mr. Serrano was deported last year following his involvement in a minor traffic accident. (An illegal immigrant does not automatically become a United States citizen when he marries an American.) In September, he perished in Arizona in a desperate attempt to be reunited with his family. He had paid a coyote, or smuggler, to take him from Honduras to the United States-Mexico border, where he joined up with a group of roughly 20 other migrants to enter the United States through the desolate and searing terrain of the Tohono O’odham American Indian reservation in southern Arizona.

According to accounts from the other migrants, the coyote told Mr. Serrano that Phoenix was only a day’s walk away (when in fact it was four days under the best of conditions) and that the two gallons of water he was carrying would suffice. The temperatures soared to triple digits the day the group set out. They ran out of water within hours and resorted to drinking water from cattle ponds. Mr. Serrano soon fell ill. He succumbed to the heat, a victim of hyperthermia and dehydration, the most common causes of migrant death. His mummified remains were found many days later by Tohono O’odham tribal members whom Mr. Serrano’s wife had contacted to help locate her husband.

Or consider the plight of female migrants. Many suffer atrocious abuses at the hands of their smugglers: they are robbed, sexually assaulted or simply abandoned in the desert. When I was in Arizona, I spoke with a man known as Sundog, the caretaker (and sole resident) of a ghost town named Ruby located in the mountainous area northwest of the city of Nogales. One afternoon, Sundog said, he saw a woman fleeing down a hilltop in his direction, screaming wildly. Close on her heels was the woman’s smuggler, who had already raped her friend and was coming after her.

Another story: On Christmas Day last year, several volunteers from one of Tucson’s humanitarian aid groups came across a woman with broken ribs and a punctured lung during one of their desert runs. She was still alive; she had managed to fight off her coyote when he tried to rape her. “The question is not if a female migrant will be raped,” Shura Wallin, an aid worker in Arizona, told me, “but when and how often. Things are getting so much worse here.”

When it comes to illegal immigration, low numbers are one way to measure success. Another is in terms of death and human heartbreak. If you spend even just a day in southern Arizona talking to aid workers, or across the border at a migrant shelter in Mexico teeming with recent deportees, or with Border Patrol agents (who have their own sad tales to tell), the numbers begin to look different. They look different in light of the corpses on gurneys, the empty water jugs littering the desert, the children who have lost their fathers, the crosses hanging on the United States-Mexico border wall that bear the names of the dead — or the crosses that simply say desconocido: “unknown.”

Ananda Rose is the author of “Showdown in the Sonoran Desert:

Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy.”

    Death in the Desert, NYT, 21.6.2012,






Obama to Permit Young Migrants to Remain in U.S.


June 15, 2012
The New York Times


Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work, under an executive action the Obama administration announced on Friday.

Administration officials said the president used existing legal authority to make the broad policy change, which could temporarily benefit more than 800,000 young people. He did not consult with Congress, where Republicans have generally opposed measures to benefit illegal immigrants.

The policy, while not granting any permanent legal status, clears the way for young illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally and obtain driver’s licenses and many other documents they have lacked.

“They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” President Obama said in announcing the new policy in the White House Rose Garden on Friday. He said he was taking “a temporary stopgap measure” that would “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people” and make immigration policy “more fair, more efficient and more just.”

Under the change, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer initiate the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing. The immigrants must also be not more than 30 and have clean criminal records.

Young people, who have been highly visible and vocal activists despite their undocumented status, have been calling on Mr. Obama for more than a year to stop deporting them and allow them to work. Many of them were elated and relieved on Friday.

“People are just breaking down and crying for joy when they find out what the president did,” said Lorella Praeli, a leader of the United We Dream Network, the largest coalition of illegal immigrant students.

Republicans reacted angrily, saying the president had overstepped his legal bounds to do an end run around Congress. Some Republicans accused Mr. Obama of violating the law. “The president’s action is an affront to the process of representative government by circumventing Congress and with a directive he may not have the authority to execute,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It seems the president has put election-year politics above responsible policies.”

In many ways, the president’s move was a clear play for a crucial voting bloc in states that will decide whether he gets another term. It also held the potential for considerable payoff.

The action was the first measure by Mr. Obama that offers immediate relief to large numbers of illegal immigrants, in contrast to smaller steps the administration had taken that were intended to ease the impact of deportations but in practice had little effect. During the three years of his term, Mr. Obama has deported more than 1.1 million immigrants, the most by any president since the 1950s.

“Now let’s be clear: this is not an amnesty,” Mr. Obama said in the Rose Garden, anticipating the Republican response. “This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix.”

The group of illegal immigrants that will benefit from the policy is similar to those who would have been eligible to become legal permanent residents under the Dream Act, legislation that Mr. Obama has long supported. An effort by the White House to pass the bill in late 2010 was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Mr. Obama called on Congress again Friday to pass that legislation.

The president was facing growing pressure from Latino leaders and Democrats who warned that because of his harsh immigration enforcement, his support was lagging among Latinos who could be crucial voters in his race for re-election.

Illegal immigrants said the new policy would make a major difference in their lives. As students, when they graduate from high school, they often cannot go on to college because they are not eligible for financial aid and must pay higher tuition rates. If they do succeed in graduating from college, regardless of their academic accomplishments, they cannot be legally employed in the United States or obtain driver’s or professional licenses.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, estimated on Friday that as many as 1.4 million immigrants might be eligible for the new measure. The vast majority are Latinos, with about 70 percent born in Mexico. Many of the students live in states that could be pivotal for Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

Nationally, a Pew Center survey in December found that 91 percent of Latinos supported the Dream Act.

For immigrants who come forward and qualify, Homeland Security authorities will use prosecutorial discretion to grant deferred action, a reprieve that will be valid for two years and will have to be renewed. Under current law, that status allows immigrants to apply for work permits.

In a memorandum issued Friday referring to the students, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano instructed all enforcement agents to “immediately exercise their discretion, on an individual basis, in order to prevent low-priority individuals from being placed into removal proceedings.”

But Homeland Security officials said they would begin accepting requests from immigrant students in 60 days, leaving time to prepare procedures to handle the huge response they expect.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who is an outspoken critic of illegal immigrants, said he would bring a lawsuit against the White House to stop the measure.

White House officials said they chose Friday for the policy shift because it is the 30th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, that effectively established that all children, regardless of immigration status, were entitled to public education through high school.

Immigrant student leaders praised Mr. Obama, saying his action should convince other students that advocacy could be effective, even for immigrants without legal status. Although the reprieve is temporary, the leaders said they expected that the majority of students would seize the opportunity to work and come out into the open.

“We’ve done away with the fear,” said Gaby Pacheco, 27, an Ecuadorean-born immigrant who was among the first in a wave of students in recent years who “came out” to declare publicly that they were in this country illegally.

Mr. Obama also received praise from Democratic lawmakers, including the Hispanic Caucus in the House and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest Democrat in the Senate who is the leading author of the Dream Act. Mr. Durbin first proposed in April 2010 that the president should grant deferred action to young students.

Over the past two months Mr. Durbin and other top Democrats, including Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, have quietly urged Mr. Obama to do something significant to help immigrant students.

Maricela Aguilar, 21, who was born in Mexico and lives in Wisconsin, said she was in Los Angeles with a group of students when the news came of the new policy.

“We were all watching and listening and screaming out in joy,” she said. Ms. Aguilar graduated last month from Marquette University, but feared she would never find work professionally.

Some students were cautious, recalling that Mr. Obama had promised them help before. “We don’t want to get too excited,” said Daniela Alulema, 25, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador who is a leader of the New York State Youth Leadership Council. “We hope that what was announced will be implemented and will actually help our community.”


Kirk Semple and Richard W. Stevenson contributed reporting.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 22, 2012

An article on Saturday about the Obama administration’s new policy allowing some younger immigrants to avoid deportation and obtain work permits misstated part of the age qualifications established by the new rule. It applies to people who came to the United States as children and were no more than 30 years old — not “under 30 years old” — at the time the policy was changed by the administrative action last week. The error also appeared on Sunday and on Monday in articles about the new policy.

    Obama to Permit Young Migrants to Remain in U.S., NYT, 15.6.2012,






An Invitation to Abuse and Chaos


April 21, 2012
The New York Times


Arizona’s cold-blooded immigration statute was enacted in 2010 to bring about “attrition through enforcement” — to make life so harsh for undocumented immigrants that they would be driven out of the state. It invites unfettered racial profiling and the abuse of police power. And, if allowed to stand, it opens the door to states’ writing their own foreign policy, in defiance of the Constitution.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether the state can enforce key parts of this law, despite the federal government’s exclusive constitutional authority to regulate foreign affairs, including immigration policy. Any sensible reading of the statute, the Constitution and legal precedents going back to the nation’s founding would say no.

The Arizona statute, which has become a model for other states, makes a state crime of being in the United States unlawfully and failing to register with the federal government. Its enforcement provisions essentially turn all Hispanics, including American citizens and legal residents, into criminal suspects. Both a Federal District Court and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have blocked four parts of the statute from going into effect because they so clearly usurp federal authority. The justices hearing the case (Justice Elena Kagan is recused) should affirm that finding in the strongest terms.

The legal issue is whether federal immigration law pre-empts, or disallows, the state regulations. Pre-emption doctrine enforces national standards when the federal government has set them. Arizona argues that because federal law does not explicitly prohibit the state provisions, they are valid unless Congress implicitly intended to bar such measures. It contends there is no “clear conflict” between any federal law and the state statute, which “simply uses state resources to enforce federal rules.”

In pre-emption cases, the Constitution’s supremacy clause ensures that when there is a conflict, federal law prevails. But the constitutional threat in this extraordinary case goes beyond routine pre-emption analysis. By the framers’ intent, foreign-policy making is entrusted to the federal government through presidential and Congressional powers. That authority is exclusive, barring any state intrusion. As the Supreme Court said in a 2003 immigration case, “any policy toward aliens is vitally and intricately interwoven with contemporaneous policies in regard to the conduct of foreign relations, the war power, and the maintenance of a republican form of government.”

While Arizona says its law merely empowers law enforcement to work cooperatively with federal officers, that is demonstrably false. The four provisions at issue go far beyond federal law, turning federal guidelines into state enforcement rules and violations of federal rules into state crimes. They transform a federal policy that allows discretion in seeking serious criminals among illegal immigrants into a state mandate to target everyone in Arizona illegally. How the provisions overstep federal law is worth noting:

¶Law enforcement officers are required to verify the immigration status of any person they stop, arrest or detain if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. Any official who restricts enforcement of the provision is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 a day. There is no such mechanism in federal law.

¶Failure to carry legal immigration papers is a crime in Arizona, though this is not a crime under federal immigration law. The statute also interferes with the discretion of federal officials, who under federal law have the power to put off proceedings against undocumented immigrants or to allow their release from custody.

¶It is a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job, solicit a job or work in Arizona, though Congress does not criminalize such conduct.

¶Police may arrest anyone without a warrant as long as an officer has “probable cause to believe” that person has committed a crime that could make him subject to deportation — even if that person is not wanted for the alleged offense and the federal government may not want to deport or even detain him.

These provisions defy federal law. The justices should forcefully repudiate Arizona’s unconstitutional statute and send a clear message to other states following Arizona’s pernicious lead.

    An Invitation to Abuse and Chaos, NYT, 21.4.2012,






Deporting Parents Hurts Kids


April 20, 2012
The New York Times


LAST May, President Obama told an audience in El Paso that deportation of immigrants would focus on “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.”

Two weeks ago, however, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that flatly belies the new policy. From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen.

In contrast, in the entire decade between 1998 and 2007, about 100,000 such parents were removed. The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results.

Research by the Urban Institute and others reveals the deep and irreversible harm that parental deportation causes in the lives of their children. Having a parent ripped away permanently, without warning, is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in human development.

These children experience immediate household crises, starting with the loss of parental income. The harsh new economic reality causes housing and food insecurity. In response to psychological and economic disruptions, children show increased anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger.

In the long run, the children of deportation face increased odds of lasting economic turmoil, psychic scarring, reduced school attainment, greater difficulty in maintaining relationships, social exclusion and lower earnings. The research also exposes major misconceptions about these parents.

First, statistics about those who were deported in 2011 show that 45 percent were not apprehended for any criminal offense. Those who were, were usually arrested for relatively minor offenses, not violent crimes.

Second, most American-born children of undocumented parents are not “anchor babies”; most of the parents have lived and worked in the United States for years before having their first child. “Birth tourism” is a xenophobic myth.

Finally, our studies in New York City and elsewhere show that these parents are extremely dedicated to their children’s well-being and development. Undocumented parents typically work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, at the lowest of wages. Deporting them worsens the already precarious lot of their children.

A more humane deportation policy would not, as Mr. Obama pledged last May, target those with strong family ties who posed no public safety threat. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in fact, began implementing such a “prosecutorial discretion” policy last fall, aimed at considering family ties and other factors in deportation decisions and closing low-priority cases.

But preliminary data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raise the question of how committed the agency is to identifying and closing those cases. As John Morton, the agency’s director, testified in March, of 150,000 deportation cases the agency has reviewed nationwide, about 1,500 — a mere 1 percent — have been closed.

What does that mean for affected families? Consider Sara Martinez, 47, whose daughter is an American citizen. Since arriving from Ecuador, Ms. Martinez has paid her taxes, learned English and never broken a law, according to the New York Immigration Coalition, which has taken up her case. In January 2011, she was on a bus in Rochester with her daughter when three border patrol agents asked her for identification. She could produce only her Ecuadorean passport, and was arrested.

She has applied to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for prosecutorial discretion three times and been denied, without explanation, even though she meets new criteria for such discretion: she has close ties to the community and is not a threat to public safety.

Ms. Martinez’s six-year-old daughter has suffered from nightmares, had trouble sleeping and eating and expressed fear that the “police” will come again and take away her mother (who is not in detention while the case is pending) for good.

The United States should not be in the business of causing untold hardship by separating children from the love and care of their hard-working parents.


Hirokazu Yoshikawa, the academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of “Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children.” Carola Suárez-Orozco, co-director of immigration studies at New York University, is an author of “Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.”

    Deporting Parents Hurts Kids, NYT, 20.4.2012,






Kenneth Libo, Scholar of Immigrant Life, Dies at 74


April 8, 2012
The New York Times


Kenneth Libo, a historian of Jewish immigration who, as a graduate student working for Irving Howe in the 1960s and ’70s, unearthed historical documentation that informed and shaped “World of Our Fathers,” Mr. Howe’s landmark 1976 history of the East European Jewish migration to America, died on March 29 in New York. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an infection, said Michael Skakun, a friend and fellow historian.

Mr. Libo’s contribution was acknowledged by Mr. Howe and the publishers of “World of Our Fathers,” who listed his name beneath the author’s on the cover of the book: “With the Assistance of Kenneth Libo.”

Scholars familiar with his archival work credit Mr. Libo with adding a level of emotional detail, and a view of everyday life in the teeming tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, that the book might have lacked without his six years of work. “I don’t think ‘World of Our Fathers’ could have been written without the spade work done by Ken Libo,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “He had a certain researching genius, a feel for visceral detail.”

Mr. Libo worked with Mr. Howe on two more books and shared billing on both as co-author — “How We Lived,” a 1979 anthology of pictures and documentary accounts of Jewish life in New York between 1880 and 1930; and “We Lived There, Too,” an illustrated collection of first-person accounts by Jewish immigrant pioneers who moved on from New York to settle in far-flung outposts around the country, like New Orleans; Abilene, Kan.; and Keokuk, Iowa, between 1630 and 1930.

He became the first English-language editor of The Jewish Daily Forward in 1980, lectured widely, taught literature and history at Hunter College, and later in life helped several wealthy Jewish New York families research and write their self-published family histories.

But throughout his life, Mr. Libo was known best for his involvement in “World of Our Fathers,” a best seller that Mr. Howe, a socialist and public intellectual, once described in part as an effort to reclaim the fading memory of Jewish immigration from the clutches of sentimental myth, Alexander Portnoy and generations of Jewish mother jokes.

The book was a large canvas — depicting a lost world of tenements, sweatshops and political utopianism — written with elegiac lyricism.

By most accounts Mr. Howe gave the book its vision, its voice and its intellectual legs. Mr. Libo gave it people and their stories.

He mined archives of Yiddish newspapers like The Forward, Der Tog and Freiheit; the case records of social service organizations like the Henry Street Settlement House; the letters of activists like Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman; memoirs by forgotten people whose books he found in the 5-cent bins of used bookstores. He interviewed old vaudevillians like Joe Smith of Smith and Dale (the models for Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys”) for the story of Yiddish theater.

In an essay about the book, published in 2000 in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, Mr. Libo wrote that in the summer months “Irving did the bulk of the writing while I remained in New York with an assistant to run down facts.”

Kenneth Harold Libo was born Dec. 4, 1937, in Norwich, Conn., one of two sons of Asher and Annette Libo. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, his mother American-born. His parents operated a chicken farm, friends said.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959, served in the Navy and taught English at Hunter College of the City University until he began work on “World of Our Fathers” in 1968 with Mr. Howe, who died in 1993.

He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the City University of New York in 1974. He never married and no immediate family members remain.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 9, 2012

An earlier version misspelled the name of a newspaper

whose archives Mr. Libo used for his research. It was Freiheit, not Freheit.

    Kenneth Libo, Scholar of Immigrant Life, Dies at 74, NYT, 8.4.2012,






Mixed Reviews on Program for Immigrants With Records


April 6, 2012
The New York Times


Senior Obama administration officials created major confusion for state and local authorities by providing inconsistent information about a high-profile federal program to identify illegal immigrants who committed crimes, according to a stinging report published Friday by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

The mixed messages about the expansion of the program, known as Secure Communities, from officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement led directly to “opposition, criticism and resistance in some locations,” the inspector general, Charles K. Edwards, found.

But in a second report released on Friday, the inspector general’s office found that despite the rocky start and continuing political disputes, Secure Communities has been effective at rapidly identifying more immigrants who committed serious crimes — and in many more places — than efforts in the past, and at a very low cost to states. The program is a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policy, intended to increase the number of convicted criminals among about 400,000 immigrants deported each year.

The second report found that enforcement officers had a good understanding of priorities set by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detaining and deporting immigrants identified under the program, making decisions in line with its priorities in 97 percent of 723 cases that auditors reviewed.

The back-to-back reports brought both an embarrassing critique of the performance of officials at the immigration agency, known as ICE, as they extended the program across the country, but also an endorsement by the inspector general’s office of its effectiveness in some aspects. Officials have said they plan to spread Secure Communities nationwide by next year.

Amid conflicting statements from ICE officials about whether the program was mandatory, governors of several states — including Illinois, Massachusetts and New York — have sought to withdraw from Secure Communities. The program has drawn an outcry from many immigrant organizations, which contend that it has led to the separation of families and the deportation of many immigrants here illegally who did not actually have criminal records.

Under Secure Communities, fingerprints of anyone arrested by the police are checked against both F.B.I. criminal databases, a routine procedure, and also against databases of the Department of Homeland Security, which hold records of all foreign-born people in the immigration system. As of last December, the program was operating in 44 states, covering 64 percent of local law enforcement jurisdictions.

Under ICE’s priorities, agents are instructed to accelerate deportations of serious offenders, but exercise prosecutorial discretion to suspend deportations of illegal immigrants who do not have criminal convictions.

The inspector general “did not find evidence that ICE intentionally misled” local officials or the public about Secure Communities.

But the report includes a chronological roster of misstatements and conflicting documents issued by ICE officials — including the director, John Morton — about whether states could opt out of the program. While ICE indicated during 2009 and 2010 that the program was voluntary, officials eventually settled on the position that states could not withdraw.

The report finds that the officials failed to set clear policies internally and “missed opportunities” to clarify the situation.

In a statement Friday, Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for ICE, said that the agency had taken “aggressive steps” in the past year to provide clearer guidance about the program.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has acknowledged that her department fumbled communications about Secure Communities. Homeland Security officials said Friday that they were in the final stages of preparing new guidelines to govern the program, as the inspector general urged.

Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on the House immigration subcommittee, wrote a letter last year that prompted the inspector general’s review. She said Friday that she was “frankly disappointed” with the reports, saying they failed to answer several of her questions: “Does the program also ensnare victims and others with no criminal history? Is it susceptible to racial profiling?”

Immigrant advocates said the inspector general reports showed that the Secure Communities program should be canceled.

“In an attempt to justify the program, the reports inadvertently admit that ICE has mutated S-Comm into an overreaching dragnet,” said Sarahi Uribe, of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, one of the most staunch opponents of the program.

    Mixed Reviews on Program for Immigrants With Records, NYT, 6.4.2012,






Do-It-Yourself Deportation


February 1, 2012
The New York Times


ONE of my happiest childhood memories is of my parents at my First Communion. But that’s because most of my memories from that time are of their being absent. They weren’t there for my elementary school graduation, or for parent-teacher conferences.

From the time I was just a baby in Mexico, I lived with my grandparents while my parents traveled to other Mexican states to find work. I was 6 in 2000 when they left for the United States. And it took five years before they had steady jobs and were able to send for me. We’ve been together in this country ever since, working to build a life. Now I am 17 and a senior in high school in New York City. But my parents have left again, this time to return to Mexico.

Last week, when asked in a debate what America should do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here, Mitt Romney said he favored “self-deportation.” He presented the strategy as a kinder alternative to just arresting people. Instead, he said, immigrants will “decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here.”

But really this goes along with a larger movement in states like Arizona and Alabama to pass very tough laws against immigrants in an attempt to make their lives so unbearable that they have no choice but to leave. People have called for denying work, education and even medical treatment to immigrants without documentation; many immigrants have grown afraid of even going to the store or to church.

The United States is supposed to be a great country that welcomes all kinds of people. Does Mr. Romney really think that this should be America’s solution for immigration reform?

You could say that my parents have self-deported, and that it was partly a result of their working conditions. It’s not that they couldn’t find work, but that they couldn’t find decent work. My dad collected scrap metal from all over the city, gathering copper and steel from construction sites, garbage dumps and old houses. He earned $90 a day, but there was only enough work for him to do it once or twice a week. My mom worked at a laundromat six days a week, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., for $70 a day.

But the main reason they had to leave was personal. I have a brother, 16, a year younger than me, still living in Mexico. He was too little to cross the border with me when I came to the United States, and as the government has cracked down on immigration in the years since, the crossing has become more expensive and much more dangerous. And there was no hope of his getting a green card, as none of us have one either. So he stayed with my grandparents, but last year my grandmother died and two weeks ago my grandfather also died. My parents were confronted with a dilemma: Leave one child alone in New York City, or leave the other alone in Mexico. They decided they had to go back to Mexico.

Now once again I am missing my parents. I know it was very difficult for them to leave me here, worrying about how I will survive because I’m studying instead of earning money working. I’m living with my uncles, but it is hard for my mother to know that I’m coming home to a table with no dinner on it, where there had been dinner before. And it’s hard for me not having my parents to talk to, not being able to ask for advice that as a teenager you need. Now that they are in Mexico, I wonder who will be at my graduation, my volleyball games or my birthday? With whom will I share my joy or my sad moments?

I know a girl named Guadalupe, whose parents have also decided to return to Mexico, because they can’t find work here and rent in New York City is very expensive. She is very smart and wants to be the first in her family to attend college, and she wants to study psychology. But even though she has lived here for years and finished high school with a 90 percent average, she, like me, does not have immigration papers, and so does not qualify for financial aid and can’t get a scholarship.

People like Guadalupe and me are staying in this country because we have faith that America will live up to its promise as a fair and just country. We hope that there will be comprehensive immigration reform, with a path to citizenship for people who have spent years living and working here. When reform happens, our families may be able to come back, and if not, at least we will be able to visit them without the risk of never being able to return to our lives here. We hope that the Dream Act — which would let undocumented immigrants who came here as children go to college and become citizens and which has stalled in Congress — will pass so that we can get an education and show that even though we are immigrants we can succeed in this country.

If, instead, the political climate gets more and more anti-immigrant, eventually some immigrants will give up hope for America and return to their home countries, like my parents did. But I don’t think this is something that our presidential candidates should encourage or be proud of.

Immigrants have made this country great. We are not looking for a free ride, but instead we are willing to work as hard as we can to show that we deserve to be here and to be treated like first-class citizens. Deportation, and “self-deportation,” will result only in dividing families and driving them into the shadows. In America, teenagers shouldn’t have to go through what I’m going through.


Antonio Alarcón is a high school student and a member of Make the Road New York,

an immigrant advocacy group. This essay was translated by

Natalia Aristizabal-Betancur from the Spanish.

    Do-It-Yourself Deportation, NYT, 1.2.2012,






For Many Latinos, Racial Identity Is More Culture Than Color


January 13, 2012
The New York Times


Every decade, the Census Bureau spends billions of dollars and deploys hundreds of thousands of workers to get an accurate portrait of the American population. Among the questions on the census form is one about race, with 15 choices, including “some other race.”

More than 18 million Latinos checked this “other” box in the 2010 census, up from 14.9 million in 2000. It was an indicator of the sharp disconnect between how Latinos view themselves and how the government wants to count them. Many Latinos argue that the country’s race categories — indeed, the government’s very conception of identity — do not fit them.

The main reason for the split is that the census categorizes people by race, which typically refers to a set of common physical traits. But Latinos, as a group in this country, tend to identify themselves more by their ethnicity, meaning a shared set of cultural traits, like language or customs.

So when they encounter the census, they see one question that asks them whether they identify themselves as having Hispanic ethnic origins and many answer it as their main identifier. But then there is another question, asking them about their race, because, as the census guide notes, “people of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin may be of any race,” and more than a third of Latinos check “other.”

This argument over identity has gained momentum with the growth of the Latino population, which in 2010 stood at more than 50 million. Census Bureau officials have acknowledged that the questionnaire has a problem, and say they are wrestling with how to get more Latinos to pick a race. In 2010, they tested different wording in questions and last year they held focus groups, with a report on the research scheduled to be released by this summer.

Some experts say officials are right to go back to the drawing table. “Whenever you have people who can’t find themselves in the question, it’s a bad question,” said Mary C. Waters, a sociology professor at Harvard who specializes in the challenges of measuring race and ethnicity.

The problem is more than academic — the census data on race serves many purposes, including determining the makeup of voting districts, and monitoring discriminatory practices in hiring and racial disparities in education and health. When respondents do not choose a race, the Census Bureau assigns them one, based on factors like the racial makeup of their neighborhood, inevitably leading to a less accurate count.

Latinos, who make up close to 20 percent of the American population, generally hold a fundamentally different view of race. Many Latinos say they are too racially mixed to settle on one of the government-sanctioned standard races — white, black, American Indian, Alaska native, native Hawaiian, and a collection of Asian and Pacific Island backgrounds.

Some regard white or black as separate demographic groups from Latino. Still others say Latinos are already the equivalent of another race in this country, defined by a shared set of challenges.

“The issues within the Latino community — language, immigration status — do not take into account race,” said Peter L. Cedeño, 43, a lawyer and native New Yorker born to Dominican immigrants. “We share the same hurdles.”

At a time when many multiracial Americans are proudly asserting their mixed-race identity, many Latinos, an overwhelmingly blended population with Indian, European, African and other roots, are sidestepping or ignoring questions of race.

Erica Lubliner, who has fair skin and green eyes — legacies of her Jewish father and her Mexican mother — said she was so “conflicted” about the race question on the census form that she left it blank.

Ms. Lubliner, a recent graduate of the medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles, in her mid-30s, was only 9 when her father died, and she grew up steeped in the language and culture of her mother. She said she has never identified with “the dominant culture of white.” She believes her mother is a mix of white and Indian. “Believe me, I am not a confused person,” she said. “I know who I am, but I don’t necessarily fit the categories well.”

Alejandro Farias, 23, from Brownsville, Tex., a supervisor for a freight company, sees himself simply as Latino. His ancestors came from the United States, Mexico and Portugal. When pressed, he checked “some other race.”

“Race to me gets very confusing because we have so many people from so many races that make up our genealogical tree,” he said.

Yet race matters. How Latinos identify themselves — and how the census counts them — affects the political clout of Latinos and other minority groups. Some studies have found that African-Latinos tend to be significantly more supportive of government-sponsored health care and much less supportive of the death penalty than Latinos who identify as white, a rift that is also found in the broader white and black populations.

This racial effect “weakens the political effectiveness of Latinos as a group,” said Gary M. Segura, a political science professor at Stanford who has conducted some of the research.

A majority of Latinos identify themselves as white. Among them is Fiordaliza A. Rodriguez, 40, a New York lawyer who says she considers herself white because “I am light-skinned” and that is how she is viewed in her native Dominican Republic.

But she says there is no question that she is seen as different from the white majority in this country. Ms. Rodriguez recalled an occasion in a courtroom when a white lawyer assumed she was the court interpreter. She surmised the confusion had to do with ethnic stereotyping, “no matter how well you’re dressed.”

Some of the latest research, however, shows that many Latinos — like Irish and Italian immigrants before them — drop the Latino label to call themselves simply “white.” A study published last year in the Journal of Labor Economics found that the parents of more than a quarter of third-generation children with Mexican ancestry do not identify their children as Latino on census forms.

Most of this ethnic attrition occurs among the offspring of parents or grandparents married to non-Mexicans, usually non-Hispanic whites. These Latinos tend to have high education, high earnings and high levels of English fluency. That means that many successful Latinos are no longer present in statistics tracking Latino economic and social progress across generations, hence many studies showing little or no progress for third-generation Mexican immigrants, said Stephen J. Trejo, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study.

And a more recent study by University of Southern California researchers found that more than two million people, or 6 percent of those who claimed any type of Latin American ancestry on census surveys, did not ultimately identify as Latino or Hispanic. The trend was more prevalent among those of mixed parentage, who spoke only English and who identified as white, black or Asian when asked their race.

James Paine, whose father is half Mexican-American, said it never occurred to him to claim a Latino identity. Mr. Paine, 25, the owner of a real estate investment management company in La Jolla, Calif., spent summers with his Mexican-American aunt and attends his father’s big family reunions every year (his mother is white of Irish and French descent). But he says he does not speak Spanish or live in a Latino neighborhood.

“If the question is ‘What’s your heritage?’ I’d say Irish-Mexican,” he said. “But the question is ‘What are you?’ and the answer is I’m white.”

On the other side of the spectrum are black Latinos, who say they feel the sting of racism much the same as other blacks. A sense of racial pride has been emerging among many black Latinos who are now coming together in conferences and organizations.

Miriam Jimenez Roman, 60, a scholar on race and ethnicity in New York, says that issues like racial profiling of indigenous-looking and dark-skinned Latinos led her to appear in a 30-second public service announcement before the 2010 census encouraging Latinos of African descent to “check both: Latino and black.” “When you sit on the subway, you just see a black person, and that’s really what determines the treatment,” she said. The 2010 census showed 1.2 million Latinos who identified as black, or 2.5 percent of the Hispanic population.

Over the decades, the Census Bureau has repeatedly altered how it asks the race question, and on the 2010 form, it added a sentence spelling out that “Hispanic origins are not races.” The change helped steer 5 percent more Latinos away from “some other race,” with the vast majority of those choosing the white category.

Still, critics of the census questionnaire say the government must move on from racial distinctions based on 18th-century binary thinking and adapt to Americans’ sense of self.

But Latino political leaders say the risk in changing the questions could create confusion and lead some Latinos not to mark their ethnicity, shrinking the overall Hispanic numbers.

Ultimately, said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy and chairman of the Census Advisory Committee on the Hispanic Population, this is not just a tussle over identity, it is a political battle, too.

“It comes down to what yields the largest numbers for which group,” he said.

    For Many Latinos, Racial Identity Is More Culture Than Color, NYT, 13.1.2012,






The Next Immigration Challenge


January 11, 2012
The New York Times


Los Angeles

THE immigration crisis that has roiled American politics for decades has faded into history. Illegal immigration is shrinking to a trickle, if that, and will likely never return to the peak levels of 2000. Just as important, immigrants who arrived in the 1990s and settled here are assimilating in remarkable and unexpected ways.

Taken together, these developments, and the demographic future they foreshadow, require bold changes in our approach to both legal and illegal immigration. Put simply, we must shift from an immigration policy, with its emphasis on keeping newcomers out, to an immigrant policy, with an emphasis on encouraging migrants and their children to integrate into our social fabric. “Show me your papers” should be replaced with “Welcome to English class.”

Restrictionists, including those driving much of the debate on the Republican primary trail, still talk as if nothing has changed. But the numbers are stark: the total number of immigrants, legal and illegal, arriving in the 2000s grew at half the rate of the 1990s, according to the Census Bureau.

The most startling evidence of the falloff is the effective disappearance of illegal border crossers from Mexico, with some experts estimating the net number of new Mexicans settling in the United States at zero. The size of the illegal-immigrant population peaked in 2007, with about 58 percent of it of Mexican origin, according to the Pew Hispanic Center; since 2008, that population has shrunk by roughly 200,000 a year. Illegal immigrants from Asia and other parts of the globe have similarly dwindled in numbers.

This new equilibrium is here to stay, in large part because Mexico’s birthrate is plunging. In 1970 a Mexican woman, on average, gave birth to 6.8 babies, and when they entered their 20s, millions journeyed north for work. Today the country’s birthrate — at 2.1 — is approaching that of the United States. That portends a shrinking pool of young adults to meet Mexico’s future labor needs, and less competition for jobs at home.

If the number of immigrants is declining, what about that other nativist bugbear, assimilation? There’s little doubt that immigrants’ potential as economic contributors turns on their ability to assimilate. Fortunately, recent studies by John Pitkin, Julie Park and me show that immigrant parents and children, especially Latinos, are making extraordinary strides in assimilating.

Today, barely a third of adult immigrants have a high-school diploma. But the children of Latino immigrants have always outperformed their parents in educational achievement. By 2030 we expect 80 percent of their children who arrived in the 1990s before age 10 to have completed high school and 18 percent to have a bachelor’s degree.

But it is immigrants’ success in becoming homeowners — often overlooked in immigration debates — that is the truest mark of their desire to adopt America as home. Consider Latinos. Among those in the wave of 1990s immigrants, just 20 percent owned a home in 2000. We expect that percentage to rise to 69 percent — and 74 percent for all immigrants — by 2030, well above the historical average for all Americans.

Who will be selling these homes to these immigrants? The 78 million native-born baby boomers looking to downsize as their children grow up and leave home. Fortunately for them, both immigrants and their children will be there to buy their homes, putting money into baby-boomer pockets and helping to shore up future housing prices.

Indeed, with millions of people retiring every week, America’s immigrants and their children are crucial to future economic growth: economists forecast labor-force growth to drop below 1 percent later this decade because of retiring baby boomers.

Immigrants’ extraordinary progress in assimilating would be faster if federal and state policies encouraged it. Unfortunately, they don’t. This year, the Department of Homeland Security plans to spend a measly $18 million — far less than a tenth of 1 percent of its budget — on helping immigrants assimilate. Meanwhile, states with large immigrant populations are cutting the budgets of community and state colleges, precisely where immigrant students predominantly enroll.

How do we change course and begin treating immigrants as a vast, untapped human resource? The answer goes to the heart of shifting from an immigration policy to an immigrant policy.

For starters, the billions of dollars spent on border enforcement should be gradually redirected to replenishing and boosting the education budget, particularly the Pell grant program for low-income students. Some money could be channeled to nonprofits like ImmigrationWorks and Welcoming America, which are at the forefront of helping migrants assimilate.

Second, the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education need to play a greater role in immigration policy. Yes, as long as there remains a terrorist threat from abroad, the Department of Homeland Security should have an immigration component. But immigration policy is all about cultivating needed workers. That means helping immigrants and their children graduate from high school and college. It means that no migrant should have to stand in line for an English class. It means assistance in developing migrants’ job skills to better compete in an increasingly information- and knowledge-based economy.

Thanks to our huge foreign-born population (12 percent of the total), America can remain the world’s richest and most powerful nation for decades. Shaping an immigrant policy that focuses on developing the talents of our migrants and their children is the surest way to realize this goal.


Dowell Myers, a professor in the Price School of Public Policy

at the University of Southern California, is the author of “Immigrants and Boomers.”

    The Next Immigration Challenge, NYT, 11.1.2012,




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