A project of the Center for Community Change

Detention

Senator Schumer Urges DHS & ICE to Grant Working Status to Immigrants with Immigration Cases Closed Under Obama Action

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to give a one-year “deferred action” legal status to immigrants whose court removal cases have been administratively closed under new immigration initiatives. This “deferred action” legal status would give a small group of non-criminal immigrants the ability to work while the deportation of higher priority criminal cases are processed first, which is expected to take over a year.

About 40,000 non-criminal immigrants with close family ties in the United States are expected to see their cases closed in immigration court in the coming months, which will likely delay their eventual deportation for over a year. Schumer is pushing for these immigrants to be granted a temporary legal status for that time, so that these individuals can work and pay taxes. Schumer also noted that this legal status would allow DHS and ICE to use their limited resources effectively, by minimizing the chance that immigration proceedings will be repeated for immigrants whose cases have already been closed.

“Given our scarce enforcement resources, it is critical that we prioritize the deportation of criminal immigrants, and de-prioritize the deportation of non-criminals with significant family ties and long time residence in the United States,” said Schumer. “For that small percentage of individuals who meet this criteria, it is only practical to provide them with actual relief that encourages them to contribute to the country rather than remaining in the shadows in a state of legal limbo. The administration should grant these individuals status for a period of one year, so that they can legally work and support themselves and their families while still residing in the U.S., all while clearing out courtrooms for higher priority criminal immigrant cases.”

In April 2011, Schumer urged DHS and ICE to use their limited resources to prioritize criminal deportations and de-prioritize non-criminal deportations, and the administration took that course of action in June 2011. Since announcing a plan to use prosecutorial discretion in non-priority removal cases, ICE has conducted pilot programs in the Denver and Baltimore immigration courts. Of nearly 12,000 removal cases combined, 1,667 were administratively closed for non-criminal immigrants with strong family ties, pending a background check. Nationwide, approximately 40,000 immigrants could see their cases closed in this way under the administration’s plans, and would remain in the United States for at least one year as the deportation of higher priority criminal immigrants is processed first. Schumer is urging authorities to allow this small group of immigrants to be able to spend this year in the U.S. in a productive manner by working and paying taxes.

Schumer was expected to present the letter to ICE Director John Morton in person at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Schumer stated that granting “deferred action” legal status after the administration closes a removal case would help to ensure that those same immigrants are not subjected to repeated court proceedings because their status cannot be verified. Without a legal status, even after an immigrant’s court case is closed by the administration, ICE could end up repeating investigations of this low-priority individual. Schumer stated that these duplicative investigations would be a drain on already limited federal resources, which should be directed at high-priority criminal deportation cases.

DWN Conference: Write-up and video summary

DWN 2

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the Detention Watch Network member conference. I was guest-speaking on a panel about storytelling and social media. I arrived at the conference early and was lucky enough to observe the attendees debriefing after their lobby day spent talking to elected officials on the Hill.

Here is a rough video of the final day of the conference [full disclosure: yours truly appears ever-so-briefly…]

These activists and advocates spoke thoughtfully and powerfully about their meetings. Not only were they aware of the political realities of the situation, but they were engaged in thinking deeply about how to move their issue forward and how to connect it to the broader fight for social justice.

For those of you who don’t know what the Detention Watch Network is:

The Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.

The conference itself was for members to meet and strategize about how to create a successful campaign for immigration detention and deportation reform. This is a topic that often gets overlooked in the broader fight for reform and immigrant rights, but the truth about the immigration detention system is shocking.

By the end of 2009, the U.S. government will hold over 440,000 people in immigration custody – more than triple the number of people in detention just ten years ago – in a hodgepodge of approximately 400 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion.

The prison-industrial complex is alive and well in the immigrant detention “industry”, with many facilities opting for more expensive procedures rather than less costly alternatives. Don’t be fooled, it does take taxpayer money to run these facilities, but many of the corporations contracted out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are for-profit multi-billion dollar operations. The more beds they fill, the more profit they make. Not to mention the inhumane standards and lack of access to adequate medical care facing many immigrant detainees.

To find out more about this issue, visit the Detention Watch Network’s website. And to check out videos from the other two days of the DWN conference, click here and here.

Also, check out a new post from Becca Sheff at Immigration: It’s our community, titled “400,000 reasons to care about detention reform”.

Special thanks to Will Coley of Aquifer Media for the invite to speak at the conference and for his great work on these videos!

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DWN Conference: Detention Reform advocates gather in DC

Today the Detention Watch Network’s national member conference is kicking off in DC. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the full conference, but if you want to keep up with the happenings, you can follow @willcoley or @DetentionWatch and keep track via the #DWN hashtag on Twitter. Here are a few of the updates that have come in so far today.

DWN updates

Looks like the priorities of the conference are all about restoring fairness and due process to the system – something we can all get behind.

Also, if you’re going to be around, come check out our panel on Saturday morning at 9am. I will be speaking along with Will Coley from Aquifer Media and Matias Ramos from the United We Dream Coalition. Our panel will discuss the use of social media and storytelling in recent successful campaigns.

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