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History > 2013 > USA > Immigration (II)



Less Than American


November 24, 2013
The New York Times


Not so long ago, it seemed the debate over immigration reform was all about borders. Politicians competed to offer the most draconian solutions — higher fences, longer fences, electrified fences, armies of guards, fleets of drones, moats and crocodiles. Never mind that the Border Patrol had already more than doubled in a decade. Never mind that many of those here illegally never hopped a fence but simply overstayed a student or tourist visa. The nativist mythology has us under siege from relentless hordes striding toward Arizona on, in the fevered imagination of Tea Party Congressman Steve King, “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” To pacify the border neurotics, authors of the bill that passed the Senate last summer included $46.3 billion to militarize our southern flank.

Now, with the bill stranded in the House, it seems the immigration debate is all about citizenship. To opponents, the idea of offering 11-plus million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship — even a 13-year slog like the one envisioned by the Senate bill — is anathema, so politically toxic that the measure’s most prominent Republican sponsor, Senator Marco Rubio, pulled back as if he’d put his hand on a lit stove. To proponents of comprehensive reform, or at least to activists on the issue, citizenship is the prize, and nonnegotiable.

It’s beginning to look as if advocates of fixing our broken immigration system will face an unpleasant choice: no bill at all, or a bill that legalizes the foreigners who are already here but does not offer most of them a chance to become citizens. On Capitol Hill several lawmakers are quietly drafting compromises that give the undocumented millions little hope of full membership in America.

The first thing to note is that this is progress. The Republican mainstream view has moved in the last year or so, from Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” to something considerably less callous. Most Republicans in Congress now say they can live with legalizing the undocumented as long as (a) we don’t call it amnesty and (b) we don’t reward lawbreakers by bestowing the precious gift of citizenship.

The second point that needs making — and my Times colleague Julia Preston made it last week — is that while citizenship is the priority for pro-immigration activists, to immigrants living here as a fearful underclass the aim is not so clear cut. For many of them, the priority is to be made legal, to come out of hiding and live their lives without the threat of deportation, without the risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers, without wondering whether your spouse will make it home at night.

“The entire narrative behind comprehensive immigration reform has elevated the path to citizenship as this must-have component of an acceptable bill,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a network of immigrant organizations that includes many foreigners here without visas. “What you hear from the undocumented is: ‘We like the idea of citizenship, but what really hurts us is that we are vulnerable, that I can’t easily get a job to feed my family, that I can’t drive a car without being at risk, that I want to be able to visit relatives back home and come back safely.”

Just to be clear, I believe (and so does Oscar Chacon) that deliberately creating a class of disenfranchised residents goes against the American grain. There are few precedents for consigning whole categories of people to a sub-citizen limbo, and they are not proud moments in our history. (See the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.) It is clearly in the public interest to have people become assimilated, taxpaying, participating stakeholders in our democracy. Most Americans polled, including a majority of Republicans, agree that those now in the country illegally should be allowed to eventually apply for citizenship.

If House Speaker John Boehner is willing to brave the fury of his extreme flank and put the matter to a vote, a path to citizenship stands a decent chance of passing the House with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans. You might even think Republicans would want to get immigration settled and off the table so they could begin wooing Hispanic voters on more favorable ground — social issues, taxes, education. But among the people most immersed in this issue, I can’t find many who expect Boehner to suddenly become a statesman and defy his fanatics. In part, let’s be honest, that’s because the Republican stance is, “We protect America from Obama.” It is also in part because they fear newly enfranchised Hispanics will become Democrats — which the Republicans, by opposing citizenship, make a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So it may well be that supporters of immigration reform have to choose between half a loaf and none at all. Half a loaf might include a prospect of citizenship for some undocumented immigrants — the so-called Dreamers, who entered the country as children, and those in the military — but not the majority. If that’s the option, should Democrats swallow hard and take it?

Yes, and here’s why.

First, even without a prospect of citizenship, legalization would make the undocumented much safer from the family-wrecking heartbreak of deportation, which has continued at record numbers under President Obama. It would free them to press for better education for their children, to approach the police when they are victims of crime, to challenge abusive employers, to seek medical care without fear of exposure. Some advocates of citizenship-or-nothing suggest that the president should simply use his prosecutorial discretion to stop deportations altogether, as he has done for the Dreamers and undocumented soldiers. But the public would view that as a grievous abuse of power, and Congress might very well take away his authority. An executive order is no substitute for a protection enshrined in the law.

Second, the legislation has other good things going for it. It puts a little sense into our archaic legal immigration system, and establishes some meaningful protection against future illegal immigration (like holding employers rigorously accountable for assuring their workers have legal status, much more important than fortifying the border.)

Third, this is not the end of the story. We elect a new Congress in 2014, and another in 2016, and so on, and the electoral clout of Hispanics will continue to grow. “I’m a firm believer in the notion of incremental change,” Chacon told me. “The best public policies — look at gay rights — have evolved, they didn’t happen all at once.”

And fourth, even if many undocumented workers never make it to citizenship, the injustice will last for just one generation. Their children are citizens by birth. Young Latinos are reaching voting age at the rate of about 50,000 per month. I suspect many in that rising generation will remember, and punish, the politicians who decided their parents should remain less than American.

    Less Than American, NYT, 24.11.2013,





Fixing Immigration From the Ground Up


October 6, 2013
The New York Times


The immigration marches and vigils that took place across the country on Saturday, uniting tens of thousands of people in more than 40 states, were a plaintive reminder that immigration reform — remember immigration reform? — is among the many pieces of business that remain unfinished while Congress is in lockdown.

Reform in the shape of a big, ambitious bill handily passed the Senate, 68 to 32, in June, then entered the abyss of the Republican-controlled House. Last week, House Democrats offered their version of the Senate bill, echoing its comprehensive formulas and adding strict border enforcement in a bid to attract Republican support. But that bill, too, is unlikely to go anywhere, given the House leadership’s refusal to allow a vote on any measure that includes possible citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and their preference for piecemeal measures, dealing largely with enforcement.

As this stalemate continues, those seeking positive action should look to California, where a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Republican Party conspicuously lacking in Tea Partyers have made strides in advancing a sensible immigration agenda. If the goal is to lessen the problems caused when a huge population lives outside the law, while protecting civil rights and public safety, then California — home to an estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants — is setting a good example.

On Saturday, in a powerful rebuke to the Obama administration and Congressional inaction, Mr. Brown signed the Trust Act, a law that will make it harder for federal agents to detain and deport unauthorized Californians who are non-criminals or minor offenders and pose no threat. “We’re not using our jails as a holding vat for the immigration service,” Mr. Brown said. That same day he signed a bill to allow qualified undocumented immigrants to become licensed as lawyers.

On Thursday, he signed a bill to allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, which advocates welcomed as a means to safer roads and greater economic opportunity. This followed earlier bills allowing legal permanent residents to work in polling places for elections and granting new labor rights to domestic workers, a largely immigrant work force whose members are often exploited and abused. A measure that awaits his signature would allow legal permanent residents to serve on juries. Together the bills put California far on the leading edge of expanding immigrant rights while finding humane, sensible solutions to a problem Washington refuses to solve.

The states cannot fix the whole system, of course, or legalize anybody. But they can try to address issues and prod Washington by example.

The question, as always, is whether and when Washington can be prodded to extend greater rights and possible citizenship to unauthorized immigrants. The shadow existence of 11 million people is unsustainable and mass deportation is not an option. The Obama administration has fed this fantasy; President Obama is on the brink of setting an ugly record — the deportation during his time in office of two million people, of whom only a fraction are dangerous criminals. More than 100,000 people have been deported since the Senate passed its bill in June.

But his former homeland security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, who has just taken over as the head of the University of California system, told students last week that she had urged Governor Brown to sign the Trust Act, the law written to curb the excesses of the very department she once led. It’s encouraging evidence that once outside the fog of Washington, the head clears.

    Fixing Immigration From the Ground Up, NYT, 6.10.2013,






California Gives

Expanded Rights to Noncitizens


September 20, 2013
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — California is challenging the historic status of American citizenship with measures to permit noncitizens to sit on juries and monitor polls for elections in which they cannot vote and to open the practice of law even to those here illegally. It is the leading edge of a national trend that includes granting drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition to illegal immigrants in some states and that suggests legal residency could evolve into an appealing option should immigration legislation fail to produce a path to citizenship.

With 3.5 million noncitizens who are legal permanent residents in California, some view the changes as an acknowledgment of who is living here and the need to require some public service of them. But the new laws raise profound questions about which rights and responsibilities rightly belong to citizens over residents.

“What is more basic to our society than being able to judge your fellow citizens?” asked Jessica A. Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, referring to jury service. “We’re absolutely going to the bedrock of things here and stretching what we used to think of as limits.”

One new state law allows legal permanent residents to monitor polls during elections, help translate instructions and offer other assistance to voting citizens. And immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents will be able to practice law here, something no other states allow.

In many ways, the new measures underscore the lock Democrats have over the State Capitol, where they hold an overwhelming majority in both houses. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the poll worker legislation this month and has indicated his approval of the other bills. Many of the changes, including granting drivers’ licenses to unauthorized immigrants, passed with overwhelming support and the backing of several Republicans.

State legislatures across the country approved a host of new immigrant-friendly measures this year, a striking change from just three years ago, when many states appeared poised to follow Arizona’s lead to enact strict laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration. More than a dozen states now grant illegal immigrants in-state college tuition, and nine states and the District of Columbia also allow them to obtain drivers’ licenses.

With an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants living in California — more than in any other state in the country — some say the state has no choice but to find additional ways to integrate immigrants.

“It’s a recognition that how people are living and working in their community might trump their formal legal status,” said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There is an argument that in parts of California a jury without a legal permanent resident is not really a jury of peers. Some view citizenship as the final consecration of complete integration, but this says, ‘Let’s take who we have and get them to participate in our civil institutions.’ ”

Early this month, the State Supreme Court suggested during a hearing that lawmakers could create a law to address the case of Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the United States illegally as a child. Mr. Garcia had met every other requirement to become a licensed lawyer. Within days, legislation was approved to allow immigrants who were brought here illegally as minors to obtain law licenses, with just three opposing votes.

But the bill to allow noncitizens to sit on juries has proved more controversial. Several newspaper editorials have urged Mr. Brown to veto it.

Rocky Chávez, a Republican assemblyman from northern San Diego County, said that allowing noncitizens to serve on a jury would make it harder to uphold American standards of law.

“What we call domestic violence is appropriate in other countries, so the question becomes, ‘How do we enforce our own social norms?’ ” Mr. Chávez said. He added that granting more privileges would weaken immigrants’ desires to become citizens. “Once we erase all these distinctions, what’s next? What is going to convince someone it is essential to get citizenship?”

Departing from their role regarding other bills affecting immigrants, advocacy groups largely stayed out of the debate over the jury duty bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, a Bay Area Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“Being a juror really has nothing to do with being a citizen,” Mr. Wieckowski said. “You don’t release your prejudices or histories just because you take an oath of citizenship, and you don’t lose the ability to listen to testimony impartially just because you haven’t taken that oath either.”

He said that roughly 15 percent of people who received a jury duty summons never showed up and that the legislation would make it easier to impanel juries. Mr. Wieckowski said that he expected the governor to sign the bill and that the changes would quickly become accepted.

“It’s the same thing that happened with gay marriage: people got past their initial prejudices and realized it was just discrimination,” he said.

Supporters say that expanding the pool of those eligible to serve on juries and work the polls would serve citizens as well as immigrants. Several counties in California are required to print ballots and voting instructions in languages other than English. In Los Angeles County, ballots are available in Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Armenian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

But advocates say that the printed instructions are often insufficient and that many people are turned away from the polls because they simply cannot communicate. Expanding the pool of potential poll workers to include legal permanent residents will allow more citizens to vote, they say.

Critics say that the Legislature is going too far and that the legislation will probably face legal challenges.

“It seems they stay up late dreaming up ways they can reward illegal immigration and create either new benefits or new protections for illegal immigrants,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which backs stricter federal laws. “The overriding objective of the California Legislature is to further blur the distinction between citizen and immigrant, legal and not.”

State legislators and advocates had for years sought a law to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses. Earlier legislation to create licenses for them had been vetoed by the previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Brown signaled during his 2010 election that he would do the same.

But this year, a Republican co-sponsor signed on to the bill, and Mr. Brown quietly assured supporters that he would sign it as long as it included a marking to distinguish such a license from the existing driver’s license.

Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, traced his involvement back to protests against the 1994 state ballot initiative that would have strictly limited access to public services for immigrants here illegally.

“Twenty years ago, that drove activists like me to get serious about school, and now we’re able to lead these pro-immigrant rights legislation, which is the total opposite of what was happening then,” Mr. Alejo said. “What was really controversial then is the reality now.”

    California Gives Expanded Rights to Noncitizens, NYT, 20.9.2013,






Deportees, Then and Now


September 7, 2013
The New York Times


Congress returns from recess this week with the immigration system still failing and repairs still undone. President Obama is still promising solutions, but his administration remains a huge part of the problem.

Last Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, wrote to Janet Napolitano, the departing secretary of homeland security, imploring the administration to stop harming her state’s economy with ramped-up immigration audits that force farmers and growers to fire workers they desperately need. “Concentrate instead on removing those who would and have harmed our society,” she wrote, “rather than those who contribute to our vital agricultural economy and heritage, and the safe and high-quality food supply that benefits all Americans.”

Mr. Obama speaks of embracing immigrants but has deported nearly two million of them. He and Ms. Napolitano, who left office last week, always said they were focused on catching dangerous criminals, but they cast a wide net that has fallen hard on day laborers, carwash employees, farm workers and others who pose no threat.

A wiser nation would have long ago reset the dials on this system. But instead it is set to expel and repel. The economy depends on the labor of millions of people who want to work legally and aspire to become full Americans. Instead they become fugitives and deportees. They languish in detention centers. They die in the Arizona borderlands. They work until they are caught and disposed of.

Anti-immigrant forces call this “attrition,” the slow expulsion of 11 million people through the steady accumulation of arrests. Mr. Obama says he holds out hope for reform, and a bill that passed the Senate this summer with strong bipartisan support would go far toward bringing those 11 million within the law. But House Republicans refuse to take up the Senate bill, and are proposing or threatening inaction or their own harmful legislation.

One bill, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, which passed the House Judiciary Committee, would have devastating consequences. It would give state and local governments the authority to write and enforce their own immigration laws, unleashing the full chaos of free-form foreign policies across 50 states. It would give poorly trained local officers more power to go after unauthorized immigrants, who would be subject to arrest and prosecution the moment the bill became law, and it would turn civil immigration violations into crimes.

The bill would also erase one bright spot in Mr. Obama’s immigration record: his program deferring the deportations of thousands of young people, known as Dreamers, who arrived as children. Other legislation the Republicans are considering would allow in hundreds of thousands of temporary immigrant workers but deny them the legal protections, like the right to change jobs, that would help them resist employer abuse.

The day before Ms. Feinstein sent her letter, there was a ceremony at a graveyard in Fresno, Calif., to dedicate a granite slab bearing the names of 28 farm workers who were being deported from California to Mexico in 1948 when their plane crashed. News reports at the time named the pilot, co-pilot, flight attendant and an immigration guard, but not the Mexicans, an omission that led Woody Guthrie to write a poem, later set to music, called “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.”

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,

Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;

Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,

They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,

We died in your valleys and died on your plains.

We died ’neath your trees and we died in your bushes,

Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

America has changed a lot in 65 years, but not enough. We are still a country that eagerly, if not desperately, accepts the labor of immigrants but is slow to acknowledge their humanity. When singers perform Guthrie’s song today, not a word is out of date.

    Deportees, Then and Now, NYT, 7.9.2013,






Immigration Reform, Finally


June 27, 2013
The New York Times


The Senate on Thursday approved the most ambitious overhaul of the nation’s immigration system in a generation. The vote on the bill was 68 to 32, enough to overcome a Republican filibuster and to deliver, as its sponsors had hoped, a strong signal to the House of Representatives that the measure has broad bipartisan support and deserves to be swiftly passed and sent to President Obama’s desk.

Of course, as far as signals like those are concerned, the Republican majority in the House has its hands over its ears and is going la-la-la-la-la. It does not care about the Senate’s preoccupations, and it is unimpressed with the months of debate and arduous deal-making that led to the historic vote. As John Boehner, the House speaker, has said more than once, the House majority will do what the majority wants, in its own way and on its own time.

And what that majority wants, apparently, is not a big, bipartisan immigration solution, at least not one that turns millions of undocumented immigrants into citizens. Mr. Boehner insists that he won’t even bring a bill up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans support it.

To say immigration reform has uncertain prospects going forward puts it mildly.

Which is too bad, because the Senate’s bird in the hand — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act — is good for both parties and, lest anyone forget what this is all about, the country. It is not perfect, or even ideal, but it is a decent bill that could get better and offers the best chance in decades to improve on a disastrous status quo.

It starts with a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million people now toiling at the edge of society and outside the law. If offers them a chance to live, work and travel without the suffocating fear of arrest and deportation. Lifting that burden makes possible an outpouring of energy and hope such as this nation has never seen.

The bill contains other good and sensible reforms. It gives a faster citizenship path to farmworkers and to the Dreamers, the blameless young unauthorized immigrants who came here as children, and whose advocacy has honored their country. It allows some deportees to return from abroad to join their families and creates a more generous and sensible future flow of temporary workers. It reduces the backlogs that have kept millions waiting years to join their families. It includes reforms to the cruel and corrupted detention system and immigration courts and protections for vulnerable women and children.

The price of Senate approval for these good things has been a lot of foolish expense and enforcement overkill. The bill includes a vast expansion of the employment-verification system, whose implications for privacy and workers’ rights the country has yet to fully grasp or debate. It throws billions more dollars at the southern border, soon to be gulped by private security contractors, the for-profit prison industry and a constellation of enforcement agencies lined up from San Diego to Brownsville, Tex.

And the citizenship path is far longer and costlier than it should be: at least 13 years and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per family, and strewn with other burdens. Make it any harder and you would have to honestly start calling it a path to limbo.

And for all these hard compromises, things could get worse. The House has a handful of bills in the works, of varying degrees of awfulness, to criminalize the undocumented and add new layers of self-defeating enforcement. Hard-liners will be applying all the pressure they can to drag reform further to the right or kill it dead.

But, even so, there is no reason to despair — yet. Democrats in the House can apply pressure, too. So can Mr. Obama, the American people and any Republicans who don’t want their party continue its estrangement from the American mainstream. The failure of immigration reform would be a disaster, but it can be avoided if Mr. Boehner gives Republicans and Democrats the chance to vote on comprehensive reform. There is a strong chance that if he does so a good bill could pass.

There is a historic chapter on immigration to be written this summer. Mr. Boehner could help write it.

    Immigration Reform, Finally, NYT, 27.6.2013,







68 to 32,

Passes Overhaul for Immigration


June 27, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday approved the most significant overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation with broad support generated by a sense among leading Republicans that the party needed to join with Democrats to remove a wedge between Republicans and Hispanic voters.

The strong 68-to-32 vote in the often polarized Senate tossed the issue into the House, where the Republican leadership has said that it will not take up the Senate measure and is instead focused on much narrower legislation that would not provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. Party leaders hope that the Senate action will put pressure on the House.

Leading up to the final votes, which the senators cast at their desks to mark the import of the moment, members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” who drafted the framework of the legislation, took to the Senate floor to make a final argument for the measure. Among them was Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who is one of his party’s leading Hispanic voices. When Mr. Rubio finished, the other senators in the group surrounded him on the floor, patting him on the back and offering words of encouragement. “Good job,” one said. “I’m proud of you,” another offered.

The future will show whether voters in Republican presidential primaries share that pride.

After Mitt Romney’s loss in November, top Republicans immediately began formulating a way to improve the party’s standing with Hispanics, who have flocked to Democrats. A group of top Republican political and business officials who support an immigration overhaul met at the downtown Washington office of the anti-tax leader Grover Norquist on Jan. 17 with memories of Mr. Romney’s poor showing in their minds.

Optimism ran high at the session, which included Mr. Norquist, the former national party chairman Ed Gillespie and representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican “super PACs.” Reeling from a second consecutive presidential loss and with Mr. Rubio taking the place of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, as the face of the immigration reform movement, the strategists were hopeful that the wall of conservative opposition that blocked immigration legislation under President George W. Bush could be breached.

Now, even after the lopsided Senate vote, the prospects appear grim for the pro-overhaul Republicans. And Mr. Rubio, the 42-year-old Cuban-American who is seen as a prime White House contender in 2016, is confronting rising criticism from conservatives for pushing legislation with Democratic boogeymen like President Obama and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.

“Before the Gang of Eight and the immigration debate, I think many conservatives as well as some establishment Republican folks saw Senator Rubio as a possible bridge candidate between the conservative Tea Party base of the G.O.P. and more establishment G.O.P. voters,” said Greg Mueller, a conservative public relations executive who opposed the Senate bill. “That position is on much shakier ground today because conservatives and the Tea Party see the immigration bill as a big-government piece of legislation resembling Obamacare.”

Republicans strongly opposed to the immigration bill said they had little sympathy for Mr. Rubio.

“I don’t think we’re doing any damage to him,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “I think he’s done damage to himself with the amnesty bill.”

Alex Conant, Mr. Rubio’s spokesman, said: “Immigration is a personal issue for Senator Rubio, and he took it on because he thought it was the right thing to do. There may be some political implications, especially in the short term, but it wasn’t an issue he believed he could ignore. We don’t expect any parades for our work on this.”

On Thursday, Mr. Rubio had little cover from his party’s right flank, much less a parade. Not wanting to tempt primary opponents next year, the top two Senate Republican leaders — Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas — cast “no” votes. And a potential 2016 presidential primary rival for Mr. Rubio, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, also voted against the legislation, despite making a show of announcing his general support for an immigration overhaul earlier in the year.

The Senate bill provides a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, as well as tough border security provisions that must be in place before the immigrants can gain legal status.

The legislation — drafted largely behind closed doors by the group of eight senators — brought together an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans; business groups and labor unions; farmworkers and growers; and Latino, gay rights and immigration advocates. Along the way, the legislation was shaped and tweaked in a series of back-room deals and negotiations that, in many ways, seemed to mirror its inception.

As late as Wednesday night, several members of the bipartisan group, including Mr. McCain and his Republican colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Mr. Schumer, found themselves calling Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, trying to shore up support. In separate calls, the senators urged Mr. Christie to help persuade Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Republican of New Jersey — newly appointed by Mr. Christie — to vote for the bill. (Mr. Chiesa was one of the 14 Republicans who voted “yes” on Thursday.)

The first big deal on the legislation came at the end of March, when the nation’s top labor and business groups reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Disagreements between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. had helped doom a 2007 attempt at a similar overhaul, but the two groups came together to create a program that would expand and shrink based on economic indicators — like unemployment and job openings figures — and offer a maximum of 200,000 guest visas annually.

The group of senators who wrote the legislation had originally hoped it would receive overwhelming bipartisan support — as many as 70 votes, some senators suggested — to help propel it through the House, and when the bill moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the group took pains to win bipartisan support there, too.

The bill passed through the committee, in a process that stretched over five days and included the consideration of more than 300 amendments, on a strong 13-to-5 bipartisan vote.

The bill’s largest, and perhaps most critical, change came in a package that promised to substantially bolster security along the nation’s southern border. The proposal, by Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, both Republicans, would devote about $40 billion over the next decade to border enforcement measures, including adding 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of fencing along the southern border.

The amendment, which passed Wednesday with broad bipartisan support, helped bring along more than a dozen reluctant Republicans. But even that measure does not seem to have altered firm House resistance to the Senate bill. Speaker John A. Boehner threw cold water on any hope that the House would vote on the Senate plan, and he insisted that whatever immigration measure his chamber took up would have to be supported by a majority of his Republican conference.

“I issued a statement that I thought was pretty clear, but apparently some haven’t gotten the message: the House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” he said Thursday morning. “We’re going to do our own bill.”

As daunting to the pro-overhaul Republicans as Mr. Boehner’s apparent opposition is the structure of the Republican House majority, strategists say. More than 70 percent of districts held by House Republicans have a population that is 10 percent or less Hispanic, National Journal reported. And the Republican districts where there is a significant Hispanic population are in heavily conservative terrain in California and Texas.

    Senate, 68 to 32, Passes Overhaul for Immigration, NYT, 28.6.2013,






Border Injustice


May 27, 2013
The New York Times


Those who view fixing immigration as simply a matter of getting tougher on lawbreakers tend to overlook how tough the system already is, an ever-growing web of agents, cops, courts and prisons whose cruelty and deficiencies are appalling. Much attention has focused on the excesses of local law enforcement, exemplified by self-appointed immigration enforcers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., whose department was found guilty in federal court on Friday of violating the constitutional rights of Latinos for years through racially biased crime sweeps, arrests, detention and harassment.

But the abuses of local officials like Sheriff Arpaio are well matched by the federal government, which is guilty of its own overreach in the hunt to prosecute illegal immigration. A new report from Human Rights Watch examines many of these problems in detail, with prescriptions lawmakers should not ignore.

While immigration enforcement used to be mainly a civil matter, the federal government has devoted vast criminal law-enforcement resources to immigration violators — particularly for the felony of illegal re-entry — ensnaring thousands of people who don’t fit any reasonable definition of “criminal.”

Prosecutions at the border have exploded in the last decade. In 2002, there were 3,000 prosecutions for illegal entry and 8,000 for illegal re-entry; by 2012, the numbers were 48,000 and 37,000. The Department of Homeland Security refers more cases to the Justice Department for prosecution than all the other main federal crime-fighting agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, combined.

The federal government has said for years that its goal is to stop dangerous criminals at the border and deter migrants from trying to cross illegally. This would be understandable if the defendants were primarily a flood of dangerous criminals, but they aren’t. Many have minor criminal histories or none at all. Many are deportees trying to return to their families and jobs.

The system needs to be recalibrated to spare noncriminal migrants the harshest consequences. The Human Rights Watch report recommends revising immigration law to impose only civil, not criminal, penalties, for illegal entry and re-entry. Or, at the very least, it says illegal entry should be punishable by two years in federal prison, not 20.

The immigration bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week would improve the system in many ways, like providing a path to citizenship for millions and allowing some deportees to apply to return to their families in the United States. But it makes some things worse. For instance, it expands Operation Streamline, a program in border-state federal courts where defendants have little access to lawyers and barely any chance to fight the charges. It was designed for the mass production of guilty pleas and should be abolished.

The bill has bipartisan support, but it also has many opponents who see immigration through Sheriff Arpaio’s eyes. The challenge in the coming Congressional debate will be to preserve the elements that make the system fairer and more rational.

    Border Injustice, NYT, 27.5.2013,






Judge Finds Violations of Rights by Sheriff


May 24, 2013
The New York Times


PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled on Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops here and throughout Maricopa County.

With his ruling, Judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court delivered the most decisive defeat so far to Sheriff Arpaio, who has come to symbolize Arizona’s strict approach to immigration enforcement by making it the leading mission for many of the 800 deputies under his command at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

At 142 pages, the decision is peppered with stinging criticism of the policies and practices espoused by Sheriff Arpaio, who Judge Snow said had turned much of his focus to arresting immigrants who were in the country illegally, in most cases civil violations, at the expense of fighting crimes.

He said the sheriff relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, using their ethnicity as the main basis for suspecting they were in the country illegally. Many of the people targeted were American citizens or legal residents.

“In an immigration enforcement context,” Judge Snow ruled, the sheriff’s office “did not believe that it constituted racial profiling to consider race as one factor among others in making law enforcement decisions.” In fact, he said its plans and policies confirmed that, “in the context of immigration enforcement,” deputies “could consider race as one factor among others.”

The ruling prohibits the sheriff’s office from using “race or Latino ancestry” as a factor in deciding to stop any vehicle with Latino occupants, or as a factor in deciding whether they may be in the country without authorization.

It also prohibits deputies from reporting a vehicle’s Latino occupants to federal immigration authorities or detaining, holding or arresting them, unless there is more than just a “reasonable belief” that they are in the country illegally. To detain them, the ruling said, the deputies must also have reasonable suspicion that the occupants are violating the state’s human-trafficking and employment laws or committing other crimes.

Tim Casey, a lawyer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said the office intended to appeal, but in the meantime it would “comply with the letter and spirit of the court’s decision.”

He said the office’s position is that it “has never used race and never will use race to make any law enforcement decision.”

The office relied on training from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, he said, adding, “It’s obvious it received bad training from the federal government.”

The ruling is a result of a federal civil trial last summer in which Sheriff Arpaio and his office were accused in a class-action lawsuit of singling out Latinos for stops, questioning and detention. It says deputies considered the prevalence of Latinos when deciding where to carry out enforcement operations, in many cases in response to complaints based solely on assumptions that Latinos or “Mexicans,” as some complainants put it, were necessarily illegal immigrants.

Regardless of the type of enforcement — workplace raids, traffic stops or targeted patrols in areas frequented by day laborers — Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies were required to keep track of the number of people arrested on federal immigration violations, as well as state charges, Judge Snow said. In news releases, Sheriff Arpaio’s office often referred to the operations as integral parts of the sheriff’s “illegal immigrant stance.”

Cecillia Wang, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said, “Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people’s rights in immigration enforcement.”


Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from New York

    Judge Finds Violations of Rights by Sheriff, NYT, 24.5.2013,






The Health Toll of Immigration


May 18, 2013
The New York Times


BROWNSVILLE, Tex. — Becoming an American can be bad for your health.

A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents.

The pattern goes against any notion that moving to America improves every aspect of life. It also demonstrates that at least in terms of health, worries about assimilation for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants are mistaken. In fact, it is happening all too quickly.

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,” said Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

For Hispanics, now the nation’s largest immigrant group, the foreign-born live about three years longer than their American-born counterparts, several studies have found.

Why does life in the United States — despite its sophisticated health care system and high per capita wages — lead to worse health? New research is showing that the immigrant advantage wears off with the adoption of American behaviors — smoking, drinking, high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles.

Here in Brownsville, a worn border city studded with fast-food restaurants, immigrants say that happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. In America, foods like ham and bread that are not supposed to be sweet are. And children lose their taste for traditional Mexican foods like cactus and beans.

For the recently arrived, the quantity and accessibility of food speaks to the boundless promise of the United States. Esther Angeles remembers being amazed at the size of hamburgers — as big as dinner plates — when she first came to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago.

“I thought, this is really a country of opportunity,” she said. “Look at the size of the food!”

Fast-food fare not only tasted good, but was also a sign of success, a family treat that new earnings put in reach.

“The crispiness was delicious,” said Juan Muniz, 62, recalling his first visit to Church’s Chicken with his family in the late 1970s. “I was proud and excited to eat out. I’d tell them: ‘Let’s go eat. We can afford it now.’ ”

For others, supersize deals appealed.

“You work so hard, you want to use your money in a smart way,” said Aris Ramirez, a community health worker in Brownsville, explaining the thinking. “So when they hear ‘twice the fries for an extra 49 cents,’ people think, ‘That’s economical.’ ”

For Ms. Angeles, the excitement of big food eventually wore off, and the frantic pace of the modern American workplace took over. She found herself eating hamburgers more because they were convenient and she was busy in her 78-hour-a-week job as a housekeeper. What is more, she lost control over her daughter’s diet because, as a single mother, she was rarely with her at mealtimes.

Robert O. Valdez, a professor of family and community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico, said, “All the things we tell people to do from a clinical perspective today — a lot of fiber and less meat — were exactly the lifestyle habits that immigrants were normally keeping.”

As early as the 1970s, researchers found that immigrants lived several years longer than American-born whites even though they tended to have less education and lower income, factors usually associated with worse health. That gap has grown since 1980. Less clear, however, was what happened to immigrants and their American-born offspring after a lifetime in the United States.

Evidence is mounting that the second generation does worse. Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, has made exploratory estimates based on data from 2007 to 2009, which show that Hispanic immigrants live 2.9 years longer than American-born Hispanics. The finding, which has not yet been published, is similar to those in earlier studies.

Still, the data does not break down by generation. Ms. Arias cautioned that subsequent generations — for example, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — may indeed improve as they rise in socioeconomic status, which in the United States is strongly correlated with better health.

Other research suggests that some of the difference has to do with variation among American-born Hispanics, most of whom still do better than the rest of the American population. Puerto Ricans born in the continental United States, for example, have some of the shortest life spans and even do worse than whites born in the United States, according to research by Professor Hummer, dragging down the numbers for American-born Hispanics. But Mexican immigrant men live about two years longer than Mexican-American men, according to the estimates by Ms. Arias.

Why is a harder question to answer, researchers say. Some point to smoking. Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at Brown University, found in 2011 that half of the three-year life expectancy advantage that Hispanic immigrants had over American-born Hispanics was because they smoked less. The children of immigrants adopt health behaviors typical of Americans in their socioeconomic group. For second-generation Hispanics, the group tends to be lower income, with higher rates of smoking and drinking.

Other researchers say culture contributes. Foreign-born Hispanics are less likely than American-born Hispanics to be raising children alone, and more likely to be part of large kinship networks that insulate them from harsh American economic realities that can lead to poor health.

“I’d love to have my wife at home taking care of the kids and making sure they eat right, but I can’t afford to,” said Camilo Garza, a 34-year-old plumber and maintenance worker whose grandfather immigrated from Mexico. “It costs money to live in the land of the free. It means both parents have to work.”

As a result, his family eats out almost every night, leaving his dining table abandoned.

“It’s a decoration,” said Mr. Garza, who is overweight and a smoker. “It’s a place where we set groceries before sticking them in the refrigerator.”

The lifestyle takes its toll. The county in which Brownsville is situated, Cameron, has some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country. The numbers are made worse by a lack of physical activity, including walking. Immigrants said they felt so conspicuous during early attempts to walk along the shoulder of the roads that they feared people would suspect they were here illegally. Ms. Angeles recalled that strolling to a dollar store provoked so many stares that she felt like “a bean in rice.”

“In Mexico, we ate healthily and didn’t even know it,” said Ms. Angeles, who has since developed diabetes. “Here, we know the food we eat is bad for us. We feel guilty. But we eat it anyway.”

Still, immigrants have better health outcomes than the American-born. A 2006 analysis by Gopal K. Singh, a researcher at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert A. Hiatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, found that immigrants had at least a 20 percent lower overall cancer mortality rate than their American-born counterparts.

Mortality rates from heart disease were about 16 percent lower, for kidney disease 18 percent lower, and for liver cirrhosis 24 percent lower.

“When my daughter was born, my doctor told me that if I wanted to see her 15th birthday I needed to lose the weight,” said Gerry Ortiz, 37, a first-generation Mexican-American in Brownsville. He managed to lose 75 pounds, motivated in part by his grandfather, a farmer in rural Mexico who at 93 still rides his bicycle every day. He stares down at the family from a black-and-white photograph hanging in Mr. Ortiz’s living room. Four of the family’s six siblings are obese and have diabetes.

And health habits in Mexico are starting to look a lot like those in the United States. Researchers are beginning to wonder how long better numbers for the foreign-born will last. Up to 40 percent of the diet of rural Mexicans now comes from packaged foods, according to Professor Valdez.

“We are seeing a huge shift away from traditional diets,” he said. “People are no longer growing what they are eating. They are increasingly going to the market, and that market is changing.”

Joseph B. McCormick, the regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville, said, “The U.S. culture has crept across the border.”

Perhaps more immediate is the declining state of Hispanic health in the United States. Nearly twice as many Hispanic adults as non-Hispanic white adults have diabetes that has been diagnosed, a rate that researchers now say may have a genetic component, particularly in those whose ancestry is Amerindian from Central and South America, Dr. McCormick said.

Hispanic adults are also 14 percent more likely to be obese, according to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate is even higher for Hispanic children, who are 51 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white children.

“We have a time bomb that’s going to go off,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. “Obesity rates are increasing. Diabetes is exploding. The cultural protection Hispanics had is being eroded.”

But at least for now, the older generation is still enjoying its advantage. In the De Angeles snack bar, a favorite meeting place for elderly Brownsvillians, one regular who is 101 still walks across the bridge to Mexico. Maria De La Cruz, a 73-year-old who immigrated to the United States in her 40s, says her secret is raw garlic, cooked cactus and exercise, all habits she acquired from her father, a tailor who died at 98.

“He had very pretty legs, like mine,” she said, laughing. “You want to see them?”

    The Health Toll of Immigration, NYT, 18.5.2013,






Tech Firms Take Lead

in Lobbying on Immigration


May 4, 2013
The new York Times


WASHINGTON — The television advertisement that hit the airwaves in Florida last month featured the Republican Party’s rising star, Senator Marco Rubio, boasting about his get-tough plan for border security.

But most who watched the commercial, sponsored by a new group that calls itself Americans for a Conservative Direction, may be surprised to learn who bankrolled it: senior executives from Silicon Valley, like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, who run companies where the top employees donate mostly to Democrats.

The advertising blitz reflects the sophisticated lobbying campaign being waged by technology companies and their executives.

They have managed to secure much of what they want in the landmark immigration bill now pending in Congress, provisions that would allow them to fill thousands of vacant jobs with foreign engineers. At the same time, they have openly encouraged lawmakers to make it harder for consulting companies in India and elsewhere to provide foreign workers temporarily to this country.

Those deals were worked out through what Senate negotiators acknowledged was extraordinary access by American technology companies to staff members who drafted the bill. The companies often learned about detailed provisions even before all the members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who worked out the package were informed.

“We are very pleased with the progress and happy with what’s in the bill,” said Peter J. Muller, a former House aide who now works as the director of government relations at Intel. “It addresses many of the issues we’ve been advocating for years.”

Now, along with other industry heavyweights, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the technology companies are trying to make sure the law gets passed — which explains the political-style television advertising campaign, sponsored by a group that has revealed no details about how much money it gets from its individual supporters.

The industry also hopes to get more from the deal by working to remove some regulatory restrictions in the proposal, including on hiring foreign workers and firing Americans.

Silicon Valley was once politically aloof before realizing in recent years that its future profits depended in part on battles here in Washington. Its effort to influence immigration legislation is one of its most sophisticated.

The technology industry “understands there’s probably not a tremendous amount of resistance to their part of the bill,” Mr. Rubio said in an interview last week, saying he welcomed the industry support. “But their future and getting the reform passed is tied to the overall bill.”

The bill has a good chance of winning passage in the Senate. The hardest sell will come in the House, where many conservative Republicans see the deal as too generous to immigrants who came to this nation illegally.

Rob Jesmer, a former top Republican Senate strategist who helps run the new Zuckerberg-backed nonprofit group that sponsored the Rubio ad, insisted that his organization’s push is based on the personal convictions of the executives who donated to the cause and who believe immigration laws need to be changed. Those convictions just happen to line up with what their corporations are lobbying for as well, he said.

“It will give a lot of people who are educated in this country who are already here a chance to remain in the United States,” Mr. Jesmer said, “and encourage entrepreneurs from all over the world to come to the United States and create jobs.”

The profound transition under way inside Silicon Valley companies is illustrated by their lobbying disclosure reports filed in Congress. Facebook’s lobbying budget swelled from $351,000 in 2010 to $2.45 million in the first three months of this year, while Google spent a record $18 million last year.

That boom in spending translates into hiring of top talent in the art of Washington deal-making. These companies have hired people like Joel D. Kaplan, a onetime deputy chief of staff in the Bush administration who now works for Facebook; Susan Molinari, a former House Republican from New York who is now a Google lobbyist; and outside lobbyists like Steven Elmendorf, a former chief of staff to Richard A. Gephardt, a former House majority leader, who works for Facebook.

The immigration fight, which has unified technology companies perhaps more than any other issue, has brought the lobbying effort to new heights. The industry sees it as a fix to a stubborn problem: job vacancies, particularly for engineers.

“We are not able to fill all the jobs that we are creating,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, told the Senate Judiciary Committee late last month.

Chief executives met with President Obama to discuss immigration. Venture capitalists testified in Congress. Their lobbyists roamed the Senate corridors to make sure their appeals were considered in the closed-door negotiations among the Gang of Eight, which included Mr. Rubio and Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who have been particularly receptive.

In the many phone calls and hallway asides on Capitol Hill this year, those lobbyists realized that they had to give a little to get a lot of what they wanted. At the top of their wish list was an expansion of a temporary visa program called the H-1B, which allows companies to hire foreigners for jobs in the United States. There are a limited number of H-1Bs available each year, and competition for them is fierce.

Companies like Facebook and Intel use them largely to bring workers to their own offices. Consulting companies like Tata, based in India, use them to supply computer workers at American banks, oil companies and sometimes software firms.

Critics of H-1B visas point out that they mostly bring workers at the lowest pay scales. The technology industry’s main rivals in these negotiations were lawmakers who have long been critical of guest worker visa programs, chiefly Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and groups that represent American engineers.

Silicon Valley lobbyists told Senate negotiators they agreed that the H1-B visa system had been subject to abuse. Go after the companies that take advantage of guest worker visas and give us the benefit of the doubt, they told the Senate staff members, according to interviews with several lobbyists.

“You know and we know there are some bad people in this system,” is how Scott Corley, the president of Compete America, a technology industry coalition, recalled the conversation. “We are simply trying to make sure that as they are pursuing the rats they are not sinking the ship.”

That acknowledgment, several lobbyists said privately, helped unlock an impasse in negotiations.

What emerged was a Senate measure that allows American technology companies to procure many more skilled guest worker visas, raising the limit to 110,000 a year from 65,000 under current law, along with a provision to expand it further based on market demand. The bill would also allow these companies to move workers on guest visas more easily to permanent resident visas, freeing up more temporary visas for these companies.

But it requires them to pay higher wages for guest workers and to post job openings on a Web site, so Americans can have a chance at them. And it draws a line in the sand between these technology firms and the mostly Indian companies that supply computer workers on H-1B visas for short-term jobs at companies in the United States.

“This provision accomplishes the goal of discouraging abuse of the program while providing an important incentive for companies to bring top talent to work in the United States for the long-term, where they will contribute to our economy,” said Mr. Kaplan, the former Republican White House aide who is now the vice president for United States public policy at Facebook.

The bill is written in such a way that it penalizes companies that have a large share of foreign guest workers among their United States work forces, eventually making it impossible for them to bring in any more. It allows large American companies that have many more American workers to continue to import workers. And it includes a provision that exempts from the guest worker count those employees that companies sponsor for green cards, essentially a bonus to American businesses like Facebook whose work forces are growing fast.

Companies that provide temporary foreign workers say the move is intended to push them out of the American market.

These companies, mostly based in India, have far less good will on Capitol Hill. Their hope now rests with convincing lawmakers that it would be counterproductive to punish them.

“Why are we in the United States? We are there because American corporations want us,” said Som Mittal, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which represents Indian companies. “We help them become competitive and serve their customers better.”

In interviews, Mr. Rubio and an aide to Mr. Schumer said the draft bill takes a balanced approach to penalize those who do not hire American workers for jobs here. They say the proposal is good for the country, even as it may benefit American technology firms.

In March, some of the biggest figures in the technology industry, including Mr. Zuckerberg, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the venture capitalist John Doerr, unveiled a new nonprofit advocacy group, called Fwd.Us, with its first mission being to push Congress to overhaul immigration law. The group has hired lobbyists and a staff of veteran political operatives.

One of its first campaigns was to bankroll the television ad for Mr. Rubio. Two other ads backed Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, who is considered a critical swing vote, in a state where there are many critics of the legislation. Mr. Jesmer said the group spent “in the seven figures” on the ads.

Mr. Rubio has been a vocal ally. He says he understands the industry’s need for talent and wants to prevent companies from having to ship work overseas.

To negotiate the details on the immigration bill, Mr. Rubio hired Enrique Gonzalez, who took a leave from a law firm that handles H-1B visa applications for many technology companies. Mr. Gonzalez said the assignment presented no conflict of interest because he works with universities handling visas, not technology companies.

The fact that technology lobbyists were given an unusual degree of access to the negotiators on the bill is entirely justified, he said. “Because of the unique needs of the technology industry, the newness of it, the novelty of a lot of the issues they are confronting, I think that was why there were more engaged than some of the other industries were,” he said.


Eric Lipton reported from Washington,

and Somini Sengupta from San Francisco.

Neha Thirani contributed reporting from Mumbai, India.

    Tech Firms Take Lead in Lobbying on Immigration, NYT, 4.5.2013,




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