Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo: Hope for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

There’s hope for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), says Kevin Appleby, immigration policy whiz at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ office for Migration and Refugee Services. Notes Appleby:

President Obama got the ball rolling with a March meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) where lawmakers stressed the need for CIR this year. Soon after, President Obama spoke at a town hall meeting in California about the need for CIR. In April, the Administration formally announced their intention to pursue CIR and the President is expected to convene working groups of policymakers and advocates to begin discussing the content of the bill. Timing for CIR legislation still remains unclear, but the Senate held its first CIR hearing of 2009 on April 30.

At an April 29th press conference, President Obama again addressed immigration reform. He expressed his desire to work with Senator John McCain, saying McCain has "the right position" on reform. Noted the President: "We can't continue with a broken immigration system. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for American workers. It's dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border. It is -- it is putting a strain on border communities, who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers. And it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing U.S. wages."

Mr. Obama said he wants to start movement on CIR this year and hopes to convene working groups with Congressional lawmakers to shape the bill. He also stressed the importance of taking administrative steps through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve border security and reform worksite enforcement so that Americans gain confidence in the enforcement of current law.

On April 30, DHS released new policy directives to guide Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in worksite enforcement operations. The directives call for ICE to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who recruit and hire illegal workers. ICE is to seek out the commitment of the relevant U.S. Attorney to prosecute the targeted employer before ICE arrests any illegal workers at a worksite. The directives expand ICE's current humanitarian guidelines to worksite enforcement actions involving 25 or more illegal workers (from the previous 150). Under the new policy guidance, DHS will continue to arrest illegal workers it encounters in its investigations.

On April 30, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security held a hearing: "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009: Can We Do It and How?" Speakers included former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who said that illegal immigrants provide a safety valve as demand for workers increases and decreases. He asserted that illegal immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy, and that legal reform is badly needed. He responded to questioning that undocumented immigrants do not compete with Americans for jobs by and large, except at the bottom end of the economy, where they compete with high school dropouts.

Chairman of the Subcommitee, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), said, "No one is happy with our current system," and now is the time to enact significant reform. Montgomery County, MD Police Chief Thomas Manger stressed the way in which reform which targets criminal immigrants rather than unlawful workers would facilitate crime-fighting through stronger relationships with the undocumented community.

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