Reform Advocates Speak Out

As Congress focuses its attention on Syria and the debt ceiling, pro-immigration reform groups and individuals are making their voices heard by speaking out and holding rallies to remind Congress that the public still wants reform to occur. Pramila Jayapal, president of We Belong Together, said of the anticipated delay on immigration: “We elect people because we believe they can take care of multiple priorities at once. There’s really no excuse for the House leadership to not move this forward and for the House not to act.”

Jorge Ramos, the extremely popular Univision anchor, published a column yesterday in which he accused Congress (and specifically, House Republicans) of using Syria as an excuse for inaction: “Syria has turned into the biggest excuse to delay, and even eliminate, the chance for immigration reform this year. The enormous international consequences of an attack on Syria are giving the most conservative Republicans the pretext they were looking for not to give a path to citizenship to the undocumented.”

Jerry Brown, the governor of California, announced today that he will sign a bill enabling undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. “This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally,” said Brown. “Hopefully it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.” The move came as a surprise to most Californians, as Governor Brown had previously declared his intention to veto the bill due to its not containing a provision for the licenses to be marked as differently as he would have liked from other licenses. California is home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state. “When you make things illegal, you cause a lot of other things by chain reaction,” noted Charlie Beck, chief of the LAPD. Beck backed the move to offer licenses to undocumented immigrants, saying that nothing California has done in the past 16 years has reduced the problem of undocumented immigrants driving without licenses, and that it’s time to try something different. Brown apparently agreed, signing the bill into law on the last day of the legislative session.

On Tuesday, over 100 female immigration activists blocked a traffic circle outside the Capitol. Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, and Linda Meric, executive director of 9to5, were both participants in the demonstration. Said O’Neill (who was arrested for the first time in the Capitol Hill demonstration), “We need to bring these issues to the fore in the minds of women voters and demand that Congress gets this done this year.”

After interrupting traffic for half an hour, Capitol police officers arrested many, including 25 undocumented immigrants. All protesters were released several hours later with misdemeanor citations and $50 fines. Yesterday’s demonstration included the largest number of undocumented women willing to risk arrest. Women at the demonstration traveled from twenty states and wore shirts saying, “Women for Fair Immigration Reform.”

Source: MSNBC, “Don’t abandon us! Immigration reformers assail Congress” Benjy Sarlin,
September 12, 2013

Source: NY Times, “Women’s Groups Rally for Immigration Reform,” Julia Preston,
September 12, 2013

Source: The Washington Post, “Syria won’t make GOP’s immigration problem go “poof” and disappear” Greg Sargent,
September 12, 2013

Source: Reuters, “California governor to sign driver’s license bill for illegal immigrants,” Sharon Bernstein,
September 13, 2013

Bob Goodlatte

House Republican Bob Goodlatte has long been seen as an instrumental force in the immigration reform battle. Goodlatte is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and has been working on a bill to enable DREAMers to remain in the United State legally.

Goodlatte told Virginians in a town hall meeting on Monday that while he foresees the House pursuing immigration reform this Fall, he is not necessarily optimistic than any bills the House passes will ultimately become law. Debates over Syria, health care, and the debt limit “should not deter us from getting to [immigration reform] as soon as possible,” said Goodlatte on Tuesday. But the bills may go nowhere. “Will the Senate agree to them? I don’t know,” Goodlatte said. “But I don’t think Republicans in the House … should back away from setting forth the right way to do things.”

Goodlatte opposes a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, young people who were brought into the country illegally as children. “Even for them,” he says, “I would say that they get a legal status in the United States and not a pathway to citizenship that is created especially for them. In other words, they get that legal status if they have an employer who says I’ve got a job which I can’t find a U.S. citizen and I want to petition for them, ah, they can do that, but I wouldn’t give them the pathway to a Green Card and ultimately citizenship based simply on their entering the country illegally.”

On Monday night, 18-year-old DREAMer Dayana Torres drove in from another part of the state to question Goodlatte about immigration. Goodlatte told her that he opposed a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers—and their parents—because such an action might encourage more illegal immigration. “I…understand how wrong it is for a family to take a small child across the desert, through dangerous tunnels, in the backs of tractor-trailers, where some of them suffocate,” he said. “I don’t want to see it happen again. So if we’re going to have that kind of legal status, for me personally, I first have to be sure we’re not going to see additional people, additional parents bringing 2-year-old, 5-year-old children [across the border].”

Not everyone is as optimistic about the House tackling immigration reform this Fall as Goodlatte is, but Michael Chertoff, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary under Bush, believes that though busy plates of Congressmen and –women this Fall will complicate reform efforts, immigration reform will not ultimately be felled by busyness. According to Chertoff, “a wider group of people have become comfortable with the idea [of a sweeping immigration overhaul]” than were comfortable with the same in the Bush years. Says Chertoff, “[They] understand that the current system is not working…“most people [now] understand this is the right thing to do.”

Source: MSNBC, “GOP rep expects October immigration reform vote” Benjy Sarlin,
September 10, 2013

Source: Latino Fox News, “Former Homeland Security Head: Odds For Immigration Reform Are Much Better Than In 2007,” Elizabeth Llorente,
September 10, 2013

Source: Policymic, “Immigration Reform 2013: Why Syria Means It’s the Wrong Time” Paul Stern,
September 10, 2013

Source: Huffington Post, “Bob Goodlatte: Dreamers Should Not Get A Path To Citizenship,” Elise Foley,
August 20, 2013

Immigration Reform’s Uphill Battle

All signs point to immigration reform facing a tough fall (and winter, if it makes it that far) ahead. Congress has not yet reconvened after its August recess—Congressmen and -women return to work on Monday—but enough happened in the interim that people on both sides of the issue are now doubting the chances that immigration reform will take root in 2013.

Momentum behind immigration reform had slowed significantly over the past two weeks, but once it was announced that Congress would begin talks regarding whether or not to launch a military strike against Syria, immigration reform seemed nearly dead in the water. And Syria is not the only major issue on the Congressional plate this fall; the debt ceiling, the Affordable Care Act, and the Voting Rights Act are all controversial matters about which Congress will take action in the near future. “On a scale of one to 100, how optimistic am I that something will happen this year? Less than 50,” said James W. Ziglar, senior fellow at Migration Policy Institute. “Given Syria, the budget and debt ceiling, and the restrictive legislative schedule, it’s increasingly unlikely anything can get done this year.”

Some have speculated that members of Congress are using the plethora of available issues to which they must attend as excuses not to act on immigration. The way they vote on immigration has the potential to sink political campaigns, so the thinking goes; better to avoid it altogether than to act and be punished in the voting booth. But Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes that the distractions from immigration reform will not ultimately sink it. “It looks like a lot of excuses for not passing immigration reform. But the pressure is on. I don’t think this Congress wants to be blamed for not moving things forward on immigration,” she said. “We are not seeing a huge push against moving forward with immigration reform like we saw in 2007. That includes key people in leadership positions, who were talking about immigration reform in 2007 in not a positive way.”

President Obama is one of the few remaining public figures to discuss immigration reform in hopeful terms. Dan Pfeiffer, one of the president’s senior advisors, recently responded to questions about immigration reform being crowded out by other issues: “An American president has to be able to walk, chew gum and juggle at the same time. The president and his team will do everything they can to implement his overall agenda while this [Syria] debate happens.”

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, agrees with the president that Congressional busyness will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on immigration reform. “There’s no question that the debate on Syria is going to take precedence now,” said Sharry. “This is less about whether there’s time. It’s more about whether there’s a will.”

Source: Latino Fox News, “Already Facing Uphill Battle, Immigration Reform Could Be Doomed By Syrian Conflict” Elizabeth Llorente,
September 6, 2013

Source: Huffington Post, “Syria Adds To Uphill Battle For U.S. Immigration Reform ,” Caren Bohan,
September 4, 2013

The Dream 9

Amid the national immigration reform debate, nine first generation immigrants—young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children—attempted to cross the border from Mexico to the United States at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry on July 22nd. Each of the nine grew up in the United States but lacked U.S. citizenship.

The nine—dubbed the ‘Dream 9’ by the media—intended the crossing to shed light on President Obama’s deportation policies. More immigrants have been deported under the Obama administration than under any other president in U.S. history. Supporters of immigration reform are divided regarding whether the actions of the nine were detrimental or beneficial to the immigration reform cause.

Dave Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, has publically criticized the group’s approach. “I know I’ve taken a lot of heat. But I’m just the messenger. I’m just saying what a lot of people are thinking,” said Leopold. “I’m standing back and saying, ‘Wait a minute, what is it that you are trying to show? What great point was made out of this?'” he said. “We already know the immigration system is broken. In a year from now, are we even going to remember this?”

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, thinks we will. “This will be one of those actions that will be remembered,” he said. “The message behind their actions is being heard loud and clear in this summer of expectations.”

On August 4th, the activists were released from the detention center at which they were being held and allowed to return to their American communities. Upon their release, Lisbeth Mateo, the 29-year-old leader of the group, told reports that she had made the decision to leave and re-enter the United States because “being undocumented for so long, [she] was already at risk of being picked up.” Mateo and her co-travelers hoped to move the issue of immigration reform beyond political boundaries and to provide Americans with a more personal experience of the issues. Seeing the faces of nine young people in the news—nine people who, like them, grew up in an American neighborhood going to American schools—might, they thought, have the power to change minds.

The Department of Homeland Security approved the asylum requests of all nine of the activists, ruling that each had a “credible fear” of being endangered, should he or she return to Mexico. The ultimate fates of Mateo and friends will rest in the hands of an immigration judge, who may not hear the cases until years from now. In the meantime, the activists may be allowed to apply for work permits, and a one of them—Mateo—will be heading to law school this fall.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Immigrant rights activists at odds over ‘Dream 9’” Cindy Carcamo,
August 10, 2013

Source: NPR, “‘Dream 9’ Activists Released From Immigration Detention,” Eyder Peralta,
August 08, 2013

House Vote May Come in October

This October, the House of Representatives’ bipartisan Gang of Seven will likely introduce the comprehensive immigration reform bill on which they have been working for some time. A staffer with inside knowledge explained the situation to International Business Times: “I think the work has been done. I think they’ve got a good proposal. I think they’re waiting to see whether there is any chance that a comprehensive bill is going to be looked at, or components of this bill could be looked at. But I think there are probably some additional machinations that have to happen first.”

Though many House Republicans—favoring a piecemeal approach to immigration—have pledged to vote against any comprehensive reform bill, a comprehensive bill may end up being the only path forward for immigration reform legislation. Several smaller bills are currently being passed by the House Judiciary Committee, but experts agree that they lean too far to the right in order to ultimately pass Congress. The only solution may be for House Republicans be involved in drafting a comprehensive bill themselves—a feat the Gang of Seven has accomplished.

Said the staffer, “I think they are going to have a hard time getting 218 votes on the partisan bills that came out of Judiciary, but they might make a run at it. I think at some point in October there’s going to be a re-evaluation of the strategy among Republicans, and at that point I think if enough of them are serious about getting something done — and I think there are enough of them, especially in the leadership — then we will be at a bipartisan moment when they need to have a different approach that would get both Republicans and Democrats on the same bill.”

Despite having laid out an August deadline for immigration reform legislation, the Obama administration has now publically acknowledged that October is the earliest we are likely to see movement on immigration reform in the House. The White House’s point person for immigration reform, Cecilia Munoz, has told members of the press that the White House expects the House to vote on the various pieces of legislation on which it has been working. “It looks like the House will bring [for a vote] some portion of five bills that have been ready since July,” she said. “They’ve already been through the committee.”

Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez claims that a majority of members of the House support the Gang of Seven’s comprehensive reform bill, but that Boehner has so far not allowed the House to vote on the legislation. “We know we already have a majority; it exists. We’ve fought for it. But they won’t allow us to vote. Now they say that a majority of the majority must first make an agreement before we can all vote.”

Source: IB Times, “Immigration Reform 2013: House Gang Preps Comprehensive Bill For October Push,” Laura Matthews,
August 29, 2013

Source: FOX News, “White House Official Says Immigration Reform Vote Not Likely Until October,” Elizabeth Llorente,
August 28, 2013

Tough State Immigration Laws

Most of the nation’s focus has been on federal immigration laws over the past six months, but it remains unclear exactly how federal and state immigration laws would interact with one another if Congress does pass an immigration reform bill this year. Several states have immigration laws that conflict with aspects of immigration reform efforts of current federal lawmakers.

In June 2011, Alabama passed a law prohibiting undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public universities and from obtaining work. Arizona’s SB 1070 made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to be within state lines without legal documentation of their permission to be in the country and permitted policemen and –women to request to see the papers of anyone they suspected of being undocumented. Georgia passed a similar law, HB 87, which required employers to confirm the legal statuses of their applicants.

Utah’s response to Georgia’s and Arizona’s laws was to create HB 497, a law enabling police officers to investigate the citizenship of anyone they arrest and requiring both documented and undocumented immigrants to pay fees in order to obtain work permits in the state. The Utah law has not come into effect yet, however, as the Utah Senate voted in March to delay the law’s effective date by two years in anticipation of a federal immigration reform bill.

Florida’s HB-1C places many restrictions on undocumented immigrants, making it illegal for an employer to knowingly hire an undocumented worker and requiring employers to check their applicants’ names against a national database. Undocumented immigrants in Florida are allowed neither to apply for jobs nor to work as independent contractors.

Alabama’s immigration law—approved in June of 2011—prohibited law enforcement officials from releasing people they’ve arrested until they have verified the arrestee’s immigration status. Undocumented immigrants are barred from public universities, from working in the state, and from renting living space. Even children are targets of the legislation; law enforcement officials may choose to explore the statuses of children as well as adults they suspect of not having the proper paperwork in order. In addition, the law would make it a crime for American citizens to harbor undocumented immigrants. Parts of the Alabama law have since been ruled unconstitutional, but most of the law remains intact.

Undocumented immigrants live primarily in five U.S. states: Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Jersey. Federal immigration reform would heavily impact these states in particular, but what remains to be seen is how federal and state laws would coexist on the topic.

Source: Huffington Post, “Harshest Immigration Laws In The U.S.,
Updated: April 10, 2012

Source: Policymic, “Immigration Reform 2013: Federal Government Solution Would Be Better Than States Finding a Fix,” Hannah Kapp-Klote,

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist denomination—has thrown its influence behind the cause of immigration reform. The group will spend over $400,000 on radio ads aimed at influencing members of Congress to support a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Or perhaps more accurately, the ads are aimed at garnering support for immigration reform among evangelical Christians, in the hopes that they, in turn, will contact their Congressmen and –women.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the commission, explained the SBERLC’s strategy: “Right now, members of Congress are home for their August recess, listening to what their constituents want them to do for the rest of this year. We want them to know that we believe broad immigration reform is necessary and urgent. They’ll return to Washington knowing they have support at home for taking action.”

Specific, targeted ads will play in certain congressional districts—ads featuring local pastors like Felix Cabrera, who leads Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. “I decided to record this radio ad because I feel that I could be the voice of those who are voiceless in my congregation,” he says. “As a Hispanic pastor, I have to deal with the collateral damage in our community when families are separated because of our immigration system.” Districts with a large percentage of evangelical Christians will receive more ads, reaching 56 congressional districts total and airing for two weeks.

Such ads may be particularly effective in states like Texas, where evangelicals comprise 28% of the population. The group is targeting 12 lawmakers in Texas, the most of any state: Ted Poe, John Culberson, Kevin Brady, Michael McCaul, Randy Weber, Pete Olson, Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Pete Sessions, Mac Thornberry, Bill Flores and Blake Farenthold. Thirteen other states are being targeted for ads as well: California, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

Mike CcClenahan, pastor of the South Beach Presbyterian Church in California, explained his motivation for joining the movement. “There are so many children in our community who fear their parents will be deported,” he says. Felix Cabrera decided to participate because “through the ads [he] could be the voice for those who were voiceless.”

This immigration reform push is a striking move for an evangelical Christian group. Evangelicals do not currently back immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship in large numbers. Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said last week, “Really, this effort transcends politics. The story is not just that conservative businesses, families and individuals are supporting a broad movement for reform. It’s really the 60,000-plus evangelicals in America who have signed up as Pray for Reform prayer partners, and the local congregations whose hearts and minds have changed.”

Source: USA Today, “Evangelical group to back immigration bill,” Erin Kelly,
August 21, 2013

Source: NBC News, “Evangelical coalition keeps up immigration push with big radio buy,” Carrie Dann,
August 20, 2013

Source: Chron, “Evangelicals launch radio blitz to sway GOP Texans on immigration reform,” Gary Martin,
August 21, 2013