Monday, July 10, 2006

Bush Still Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In recent weeks, the press had been reporting that George W. Bush was leaning towards acceptance of border-security-only legislation. His news conference in Chicago last week made it clear that he has not caved in on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. It seemed to me that he spoke at greater length on that subject than on any of the other subjects. Chicago, which is home to a huge community of undocumented immigrants, was a fitting place to make remarks on the subject of immigration reform. Judging from some of Mr. Bush's comments about his conversations the previous night at dinner, business leaders in Chicago are receptive to Mr. Bush's position on immigration reform. I did note, however, that the reporters were not anxious to address the issue of immigration reform in their questions. I hope that does not mean that the issue is fading from prominence, because it sure remains of the utmost importance to those of us affected by it. I hope reporters and lawmakers will keep that in mind.

In other news, I would have been amused, if I wasn't quite so alarmed, to hear the reports on the House Republicans' first "hearings" on immigration reform. They appeared to consist primarily of law enforcement officials recruited to speak on the topic of the need for increased border security. There was no effort whatsoever at providing a balanced view of the issue of immigration as a whole. When one law enforcement officer attempted to digress slightly from the topic of border security, and made a comment not entirely in keeping with the Republicans' agenda, he was promptly asked to keep his remarks to the subject of border security. I'm not comfortable with this kind of a "hearing." Moreover, as one commentator pointed out, this testimony is only relevant to the extent that we assume all undocumented immigrants are violent drug traffickers and terrorists disguised as Mexicans, which is simply not the case.

Senate leaders held dueling hearings in an attempt to present a more balanced view of the immigration issue. I don't think it had much, if any effect. I am no longer optimistic that any real progress will be made this year, although I would be happy to be proven wrong. I just hope that supporters of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate will not cave in and pass some "compromise" legislation that will make the lives of undocumented immigrants and their loved ones even harder.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Editorial about "The Immigration Roadshow"

This is what I was talking about! A funny editorial about the hearings House leaders are planning to hold on the topic of immigration reform. It's nice to know I'm not alone!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

House to Hold Hearings on Immigration Reform

The New York Times has reported that Republican leaders in the House intend to hold a series of hearings around the nation on the issue of immigration reform. I might be in favor of this if I thought that those conducting the hearings would be doing so with open minds, in an effort to gain a complete picture of the issue and how the nation feels about it. In fact, if given the opportunity, I would love to testify at such a hearing. I fear, however, that those pushing for the hearings already have their minds made up, and will simply be seeking to gain ammunition for their positions, and to influence public opinion accordingly. As an added bonus for them, this plan would almost surely delay any actual efforts at finding a compromise with the Senate and passing legislation. It is quite possible that it would delay the issue right into 2007, in which case both the House and the Senate would have to start from scratch all over again.

If that happens, I will resent the waste of my tax dollars. I will also be among the millions of people left in limbo, wondering what will happen to our family, friends, and loved ones. I will resent that much more.

What those who would like to see immigration reform derailed should realize is that they will have something to resent as well. Not only will the derailment of immigration reform mean the defeat of the Senate version of immigration reform (which includes meaningful provisions for both border security and immigration reform), but it will also mean the defeat of the House bill (which addresses border security exclusively).

That's right, some Republican leaders would rather leave our borders unsecured than work to find a compromise that addresses both border security and some sort of meaningful reform to the obviously broken immigration system. Suddenly, I find it somewhat more difficult to believe that they are really so concerned about border security, and about protecting us from terrorists.

So let them hold their hearings. But let them hear from people on all sides of the issue, and let them do so with open minds. Let them actually listen to the people. And if they are really concerned about border security, and about the millions of undocumented immigrants already within the borders of this country, and about the family members of those undocumented immigrants who are permanent residents and U.S. citizens, then let them show it. Above all, let them hold their hearings as promptly as possible, and then let them get back to Washington and do the job we are paying them to do. Do not let them use these hearings to derail an opportunity for meaningful reform and increased border security.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Undocumented Workers

Here's a link to an interesting and on-the-mark story about employment as an undocumented immigrant.

It's a New York Times article, that happens to center on undocumented immigrants in Minneapolis. Most mainstream media, including local Twin Cities media, have a hard time hitting the mark in their efforts to provide an accurate picture of various aspects of life as an undocumented immigrant. But this article gets it right, at least as far as the Twin Cities are concerned.

Among the interesting points in this article is one I have mentioned here before--most immigrants pay taxes. I think there must be, as the article suggests, a stereotype out there that undocumented immigrants are all working "under the table" and not paying taxes. In most cases, that is simply not true. All of the undocumented immigrants that I know get a paycheck just like anybody else, with taxes taken out. They also pay sales tax (in most states), property tax, etc.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's Not Amnesty, and Other Thoughts Provoked by My Day's Travels

As I was getting my morning coffee yesterday, I overheard a guy talking about the owner of a cheese-steak shop in Philadelphia who has posted a sign requiring customers to order in English. He was reporting approvingly to his companion that the cheese-steak guy had said "I'm not no Italian-American...." I didn't hear the rest of the conversation, and I'm not sure whether it was the cheese-steak guy or the coffee shop guy with the limited grasp of the English language. Either way, I found it rather ironic.

Later on that day, I fell into a conversation about immigration reform with a guy at the gym. This guy described himself as being neither a liberal or a conservative. He voted for George Bush the first time, and did not vote at all the second time because he did not like either candidate. He seemed to be reasonably well informed, and he apparently had fairly strong feelings on the immigration issue.

He felt that it was wrong for someone who had done something illegal to be able to get in line in front of people who had followed the rules, and busted their butts for years, and learned English, etc. I waited for him to finish, and then I told him that I could agree with all that. But, I said, it's not really amnesty like all the conservatives keep saying.

It's actually an 11 year process. People who came here without documents will have to learn English, and maintain a job, and pay their back taxes if they have any, and pay a rather hefty fine, and pass a background check. They will have to remain in a sort of limbo for 6 years. At the end of 6 years, they can apply for permanent residency (commonly known as a "green card"). However, they will have to get in line behind everyone else who has already applied. In other words, they will not be cutting in front of anyone. If and when a person is granted permanent residence, there is a wait of another 5 years before he or she can apply for citizenship. During that time, the person must continue to maintain a clean record, pay taxes, etc. So, you see, the proposed process would take at least 11 years to complete. And that's not counting the time it takes the government to process paperwork, which can be months or years.

I gave the guy at the gym a shortened version of that information. His reaction was visible. I could actually see him recalculating his position. He had not known all that the proposed process would entail. I know that he did not know, because he told me so.

I don't know what that guy's position on immigration reform will ultimately be. To me, that conversation served as a reminder that some messages are simply not getting across to people. He is certainly not the first person I have encountered who has not been aware of all that the proposed process will require. Many people hear the conservative blustering about "amnesty," and it sounds right to them. It sounds like we are giving people who did something illegal a free pass. Indeed, if that were true, it would be amnesty. The definition of amnesty is "[a] general pardon granted by a government." A pardon is an exemption from punishment. Essentially, then, amnesty is a free pass.

I can understand why people would be against "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. The problem, I think, is that many (although certainly not all) of the people who are against "amnesty" do not realize that we are not actually contemplating amnesty. In reality, we are contemplating a lengthy process, which requires an undocumented immigrant to meet numerous requirements, and pay various penalties for being an undocumented immigrant. By definition, that is not amnesty. I believe there is a good chance that many of them would think differently if they knew what was actually being proposed.

What I don't understand is why this information is not getting across. I have heard and seen other sources reporting the same information I am giving you here. So I know this information is out there. But for some reason, it does not seem to be effectively reaching the people. I guess I did my part at the gym yesterday, and I'm doing my part by sharing the information here. It's just that I feel like such a small voice in the wind...

Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm a worker, not a criminal

Soy trabajador, no criminal.

I'm a worker, not a criminal

Is it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant?

Is it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant? I would say that this question is the subject of much debate, except that it's not really. People simply take sides, and make definitive, passionate statements one way or the other, without ever really discussing the facts. You will often hear conservatives, and even not-so-conservatives stating unequivocally that undocumented immigrants are criminals. Many others, including myself, believe that they are wrong. Here are the facts (in summary form, but with citations for those who want more information). I will leave it up to you all to come to your own conclusions.

Unauthorized Presence

There are no criminal penalties under current law for mere unauthorized presence in the United States. Accordingly, an undocumented immigrant found in Minnesota, for example, is subject only to removal, which is a civil, not a criminal proceeding. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants fall into this category.

Improper Entry

The penalty for improper entry (or attempted entry) into the United States can be a fine, or imprisonment for no more than 6 months, or both. 8 U.S.C. section 1325. An offense that carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for one year or less is generally classified as a misdemeanor. 18 U.S.C. section 3559(a). So, a person caught crossing the border without the proper documents could be charged with a misdemeanor. In reality, however, most people are simply removed or allowed to voluntarily depart.

It is important to note that the offense of improper entry into the United States is consummated at the time of the improper entry; it is not a continuing offense. U.S. v. Rincon-Jimenez, 595 F.2d 1192, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 1979). So, someone who has been here for years cannot be charged with committing the offense of improper entry. Furthermore, the lack of proper documentation or other indication of unauthorized presence, by itself, does not provide probable cause of the offense of improper entry. Gonzales v. City of Peoria, 722 F.2d 468, 476-77 (9th Cir. 1983) (overruled on other grounds). This makes sense, because some undocumented immigrants enter legally, but lose their legal status at some point, for a variety of possible reasons.

Entry or Presence after Removal

A person who has previously been removed from the United States, and who subsequently enters, attempts to enter, or is found in the United States can also be subject to fines and/or somewhat more severe criminal penalties, depending on the circumstances of the case. 8 U.S.C. section 1326. In some cases, these individuals are actually criminals. That is, they may have been removed as a result of having committed some crime. In those cases, the penalties under 8 U.S.C. section 1326 may be more severe.


There you have it. Now you can draw your own conclusion. I do not believe that undocumented immigrants are criminals. There are no criminal penalties for unauthorized presence in the United States. It is true that some undocumented immigrants risk being charged with improper entry at the time of their entry into the United States. But that rarely happens. Even if it did, it is only a minor offense. If every person in the United States who had ever committed a misdemeanor in his or her life were indelibly branded a criminal, we would have an awful lot of criminals in this country.

It is also true that some undocumented immigrants commit crimes. I am happy to see those individuals face the penalties for their crimes. However, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are just regular people who are trying to live, work, and raise their families the best they can. Most of them have been here for many years without committing any crimes. Their presence is not a crime. If you ask me, that's a good thing, because they are not criminals.

For an interesting summary of the legal framework, and discussion of the possible ramifications of proposals to criminalize unauthorized presence in the United States, see Michael Garcia, CRS Report to Congress: Criminalizing Unlawful Presence: Selected Issues, May 3, 2006, available at,0509-crs.pdf (last visited May 29, 2006).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Senate Passes Immigration Bill

The Senate passed S.2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, late yesterday afternoon by a vote of 62 to 36. I was planning on posting some celebratory image here, but I couldn't really find anything. Also, to tell you the truth, I didn't feel quite as celebratory as I thought I would. I think it's because what's ahead--finding a compromise with the House--will probably be the even harder part. There will be a lot of Catholic ladies (and other people) all over the Americas praying for this thing, though. Maybe that's how it got this far in the first place. It did seem like some kind of miracle when the Senate first came up with the framework of this proposal, which has now passed in the form of S. 2611. Yay!