Archive for May 24th, 2011

May 24, 2011

5/24 – Politico – Opinion: Immigration reform must find balance – Thomas Wenski –

Opinion: Immigration reform must find balance – Thomas Wenski –

Obama should not pursue new enforcement initiatives without broader reforms, says the author. | Reuters photo

Obama should not pursue new enforcement initiatives without broader reforms, says the author. | Reuters

As Washington fiddles on immigration, the rest of the nation burns.

State and local law enforcement are now being charged with immigration enforcement responsibilities, leading in some jurisdictions to roundups and racial profiling. Legal immigrants and U.S. citizens have been caught in the dragnet. States are also attempting to pass immigration laws that are inherently unconstitutional — creating conflict with the federal government and sapping political energy better used on a federal bill.

The lack of immigration policy on the federal level has led to a de facto abdication to state and local governments, which are ill-equipped to handle it effectively or humanely. Now, immigration is being carried out by hundreds of governments, not just one.

What are the human costs of this federal inaction? Immigrant families — many with U.S.-citizen children — are being separated; the effective working relationships and trust that once existed between immigrant neighborhoods and local law enforcement have been seriously eroded. Should federal reform be shelved indefinitely and state and local enforcement continue unchecked, the nation’s social fabric will begin to tear — to the detriment of all Americans.

The Obama administration and Congress would be wise to avoid such a legacy and forge an immigration compromise. To his credit, President Barack Obama’s recent speech in El Paso, Texas, was an attempt to show leadership and generate some political momentum for immigration reform.

He will need more than a speech or two, however, to show Capitol Hill, as well as supporters of immigration reform, that he is prepared and willing to spend political capital on this.

Over the next few months, he may have that opportunity. The House will very likely pass a series of immigration enforcement measures — most notably a mandatory expansion of the employment verification system. To show he is serious about immigration reform — and not merely using it for political purposes — the president needs to draw a line in the sand: no new enforcement initiatives without broader reforms.

A recent White House blueprint for immigration reform says that any mandatory expansion of an e-verify system “must be accompanied by a legalization program that allows undocumented workers to get right by the law.” This language is encouraging. But the president and his administration now must put words into action — by actively opposing immigration enforcement legislation that does not address the underlying problems of our broken immigration system.

Hopefully, presidential leadership, combined with leadership in Congress, would bring both sides together to negotiate a package that balances enforcement with reforms in the legal immigration system. This must include a legalization program for undocumented immigrants.

Otherwise, a permanent underclass is likely to remain in our country’s shadows, working in an underground economy and unable to fully contribute to its communities. The chaos that is now our national immigration policy is then only likely to worsen, making the American public more frustrated and dividing more U.S. families.

Part of our elected officials’ responsibility is to educate their constituents and to lead — even if that means risking the loss of potential political support, at least in the short term. This statesmanship has helped our country tackle difficult issues at important moments in our history.

On immigration, that trait is severely lacking. Let us hope that the president’s renewed focus on the issue is a sign that our national leadership is awakening to its responsibilities.

Thomas Wenski is archbishop of Miami and a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

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May 24, 2011

5/18 – (VIDEO) – Small businesses, churches protest Georgia immigration law |

Small businesses, churches protest Georgia immigration law |

ATLANTA — The ink is still drying on Georgia’s new immigration law, and already groups have mounted campaigns calling for its repeal.

One of the latest: a push for smallbusinesses and churches to publicly oppose the law by hanging signs to declare themselves “sanctuary zones” or “buy spots.” It’s the brainchild of Somos Georgia (We Are Georgia), a coalition of groups vowing the fight the new law.

The campaign started last Friday, the day Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 87 into law. So far, 17 businesses and churches have signed the pledge. Besides showing their disapproval, the sign means they will not allow law enforcement into their establishment for the sole purpose of checking immigration status.

“The sign on the door lets everyone know that everyone’s welcome,” said Radial Café owner Frank Bragg. “That we’re a safe place if someone needs it.”

Bragg has pledged to make his café a buy spot, a decision he believes his customers will support. He did it as a statement, to oppose what he calls “a hateful bill,” but believes the law could affect his business.

“In order for Atlanta to thrive and in order for small businesses like me to survive, we need people coming into town, and we need people to love Atlanta,” he said.

Organizers say it’s a way to test the law’s true meaning:

“The intent [of the law] is not to intimidate communities of color; it’s not to intimidate the immigrant community. So we’re going to call them out on that,” said Paulina Hernandez, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, which is part of Somos Georgia.

“If that really is the case, then places like businesses shouldn’t become targets,” she continued.

But supporters of the law take issue with the group’s use of one word: immigrant.

“It’s a shameless attempt to make people think we’re persecuting immigrants,” said D.A. King with the Dustin Inman Society. “We welcome immigrants who come here lawfully. It’s the illegal aliens we’re trying to get rid of.”

Somos Georgia will publish a list of all those who make the pledge, and Bragg will encourage his customers to support like-minded businesses.

May 24, 2011

5/24 – – Where illegal immigration, business and the law collide | Jay Bookman

Where illegal immigration, business and the law collide | Jay Bookman.

“Look, I’m not a criminal. I don’t go around breaking the law, because for one thing I have way too much to lose. I do everything by the book. But if this law goes into effect, I’m telling you I’m not going to follow it. I’m just not. Because I can’t.”

I was sitting at a restaurant bar, talking to its owner about the potential impact of House Bill 87, the illegal immigration bill. He had contacted me, asking if I wanted to hear “the economic perspective of a small business owner,” with the understanding that he would remain anonymous.

“Some restaurant owners who publicly opposed this bill have received death threats, leading me to want to stay below the radar,” he explained in the email. On that basis, we agreed to meet.

If the law survives legal challenge and goes into effect, the owner said, he would face two choices: He could obey the law, lose a very big chunk of his ktichen staff and be forced out of business; or he could evade the law and save his business.

“I’ve got my future and my family’s future tied up in this,” he said, looking around at the bustling restaurant. “We’re doing good right now, but I’m in debt millions of dollars. And when I made that decision (to borrow the money), I didn’t have any idea that they’d be passing a law like this. My bank didn’t have any idea they’d be passing a law like this.”

“I don’t get it. They talk about jobs jobs jobs. The only two industries generating revenue and jobs for Georgia are hospitality and agriculture. And this is going to ruin them both. And it’s not just my kitchen staff who will lose their jobs. All of my front-of-the house workers [bartenders, waiters, hostesses], they’ll be out of work too. We’ve already lost the construction industry, and now we’re going to lose these too. Nobody I know is considering opening another restaurant in this state.”

In fact, if the construction industry was still booming as it was a few years ago, he said, there’s no way the Legislature would have passed HB 87. Back then, too many politically connected people were making too much money off illegal workers. And the hospitality and agriculture industries just don’t have the clout that developers once wielded.

Right now, he said, he does everything he can to abide by the law. He doesn’t pay anybody off the books, which means that everybody on his staff is paying taxes. “This claim that they don’t pay taxes — I don’t get that,” he says. “Yeah, they may not pay a lot in income taxes, but nobody else in those jobs does either [because they don’t make a lot of money]. But they pay sales taxes, property taxes, unemployment taxes, and they’re paying a lot of money into Social Security that they’re never going to get back.”

“See that guy right there,” he said, nodding his head toward a nearby waiter. “He’s been in this country since he was five, when his parents brought him here. He graduated from high school here, and he probably speaks better English than I do. He doesn’t know a damn thing about Mexico. And they want to send him back? Back to what? Have you seen what’s going on in Mexico these days?”

“I’m trying to grow my business; I’m trying to help my people grow and build good lives. I don’t think the politicians know what they’re doing. I just don’t think they’ve thought this through.”

May 24, 2011

5/18 – Huffington Post (VIDEO) – Immigrant Freed From 19-Month Detention: ‘I Treat My Dogs Much Better Than The Detainees Are Treated’

Immigrant Freed From 19-Month Detention: ‘I Treat My Dogs Much Better Than The Detainees Are Treated’.

Immigrant Detention

First Posted: 05/18/11 07:09 PM ET Updated: 05/19/11 01:36 PM ET

On Tuesday, for the first time in 19 months, Pedro Guzman left Stewart Detention Center, a privately run facility where he was housed while fighting deportation. The Lumpkin, Ga., detention center is one of many run by Corrections Corporation of America, a prison giant that believes its next major market is immigrant detentions.

Georgia may be its next frontier. The state’s anti-illegal immigration bill, styled after Arizona’s SB 1070, was signed into law last week. The result could be more immigrants in detention — and more profits for CCA, which has been accused of mistreating detainees and cutting down on amenities to improve profits.

CCA, as reported by NPR last year, was in the room when SB 1070 author Russell Pearce, now Arizona state Senate president, unveiled his plans for the bill at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Guzman said he saw firsthand how CCA makes its money by spending as little as possible on the men and women in detention centers.

“There’s so much money they make from us, but they’re not investing any money in detainees,” he said in an interview. “The treatment you get is like you’re an animal. I have two dogs, and I treat my dogs much better than the detainees are treated in there.”

Guzman, who turns 31 on Thursday, moved to the United States from Guatemala with his mother when he was 8 years old. He is married to an American, Emily Guzman, and is the father of a 4-year-old citizen named Logan.

For about a year an a half, the Guzman family was separated by the immigrant detention system. The difficulties of communication from the CCA-run facility made the separation worse.


Guzman was granted a green card on Monday, and will be allowed to stay in the United States under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which allows some immigrants from Guatemala to stop deportation proceedings. But he said he is “still healing” from the 19-month detention, during which he said detainees were yelled at, crammed into close quarters and given little communication with the outside world.

He was not convicted of a crime, but Guzman said he was treated like a prisoner, despite an effort launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October 2009 to make detention centers less punitive.

Detainees in the Stewart Detention Center stay in “pods,” where 62 men sleep in bunk beds about two feet apart, Guzman said. In the center of the room are about six tables, where the men can eat food they buy from the commissary.

Guzman said he saw some physical abuse, mostly when guards were provoked by detainees who talked back. More common, though, was verbal abuse. Many of the guards yelled at detainees regularly, creating an atmosphere of near-constant screaming in the pods.

“It’s just made to break your soul and handicap you,” Guzman said.

He said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials discouraged detainees from pushing for an individual response to their case, because the high-level of deportations requires most to go through courts where a judge rules on several cases at a time.

“They’re not there to help you,” Guzman said. “Ninety percent of the officers will tell you you have no chance to fight, just go to court and we will remove you and take care of the rest.”

With new detainees entering every night, guards changed the rules and procedures often, creating confusion and tension for long-term detainees like Guzman. He said a major source of stress was a new phone system implemented midway through his detention that prevented him from calling his mother in Mexico.

Calls within the United States were expensive, and phone cards only allowed him to talk for about 11 minutes. When his family visited, they had to talk to Guzman through a glass barrier.

Now, Guzman has been reunited with his family. On Wednesday evening, they were driving home to North Carolina.

“I felt like I was never going to get out of there and like I was never going to be in the U.S. again,” he said. “Many times I felt like quitting, just giving up. But changes can happen.”

WATCH: Brave New Foundations’ Cuéntame gives more information about Corrections Corporation of America’s lobbying for anti-illegal immigration laws in this video. The group plans to feature Guzman in a video as part of its Immigrants For Sale campaign.


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