A project of the Center for Community Change

Making a comeback – UPDATE from FIRM

After a long hiatus, some new staff, and after pulling off one killer national summit – our blog is back in action.

Here is the latest update from FIRM, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement

Building America Together!
Coming out of the FIRM Summit February 10-12, 2008, the “Building America Together” campaign is up and running  A sample of the media coverage from our gathering can be seen at http://www.hispaniclink.org/HeadlineStory.asp.  And the FIRM pledge campaign is just getting started with more than 100,000 pledge commitments made by dozens of organizations across the country, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.  For more information on the campaign go to http://www.buildingamericatogether.org/.  Questions about the campaign should be directed to Marissa Graciosa at mgraciosa@communitychange.org.
At the FIRM Summit, we held a press conference at the Department of Health and Human Services calling on health care for all, and demanding that politicians should not scapegoat immigrants to derail the health care debate in this country.  For a video of the action go to http://www.movementvisionlab.org/blog/video-health-care-for-all.
Immigration Politics & Elections in 2008
In a debate Thursday night in Texas, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both said they would consider suspending immigration worksite raids until a federal immigration law were passed.  Reported in the Austin Statesman: http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/immigration/entries/2008/02/22/obama_clinton_would_consider_s.html
Immigration-related excerpts of the debate are pasted at the bottom of this e-mail.
Note that for the first time, Senator Clinton announced that she would introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the first 100 days of her Administration if she were elected President.  This represents a major shift in her political positioning on immigration.  Last December at the Heartland Presidential Forum, where FIRM members and allies called on her to make immigration reform part of her first 100 days, Senator Clinton refused to respond with specifics, which prompted boos from a large part of the 4,000 participants in the audience.  Now both Democratic candidates are on the record supporting comprehensive immigration reform legislation in their first term.
For information on the Hispanic electorate in the 2008 primary elections, go to the Pew Center at http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=86.
There is an active debate now within the Democratic Party over how to message the issue of immigration.  Here is one perspective on the debate: http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/archives/2007-2/Immigration_alevison.pdf.
Latino evangelicals, who often vote Republican because of their stance on social issues, are rethinking their relationship to the Republican party.  A column by Samuel Rodriguez, Jr. can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/22/AR2008022202385.html.
Congressional News
The SAVE Act (HR 4088), introduced by Rep. Shuler (D-NC) and Rep. Bilbray (R-CA), continues to hang over the Democratic-led Congress in 2008.  The SAVE Act is a deportation-only bill that has garnered the co-sponsorship of more than 40 Democrats in the House of Representatives concerned about trying to look tough on immigration enforcement.  90 Republicans are now on the bill. 
There are two paths to a vote available for the SAVE Act.  The first is a “motion to discharge” that requires a majority of House members to sign a petition that would allow the SAVE Act to be taken straight to the Floor of the House without having to go through the committee process.  At the moment, it appears that this path is unlikely.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has stated that any bill that reaches the floor must both address enforcement and the status of undocumented immigrants.
The second path is through a “motion to recommit.”  This would allow the SAVE Act to be attached to any legislation moving on the House floor.  Timing for such a scenario is likely to happen as early as late March or April, when bills related to homeland security are likely to be voted on.  A summary of the SAVE Act is attached to this e-mail.  For information about the SAVE Act is also available at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.04088:.
We’ll get an action alert on the SAVE Act early the week of February 25, when Members of Congress return from their President’s Day recess.
State & Local News
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) released a new guide for state and local policy advocates.  You can download the report at http://www.aila.org/stateguide.
The Progressive States Network has released a list of pro-active and positive immigration-related policies that states can pursue.  To view the report go to: http://www.progressivestates.org/files/immigration/ImmigrationPolicyOptions.pdf or contact immigration@progressivestates.org.
The following column, which ran in the Salt Lake Tribune, makes a series of arguments against harsh anti-immigrant measures at the state level in Utah: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_8328629
The LA Times issued an editorial late last week on the immigration issue that can be viewed at http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-ed-oklahoma21feb21,1,7070163.story?ctrack=2&cset=true.
The Commonwealth Institute recently issued a paper on the tax contributions of undocumented immigrant to Virginia.  To view the report, go to http://www.thecommonwealthinstitute.org/pages/immtaxcontribution.pdf.
Raids & Deportation
There is growing attention being given to the circumstances facing immigrants in detention.  In Illinois and other locations, the Sisters of Mercy have begun to hold vigils outside of detention centers.  And a new commercial film called The Visitor is now playing in theaters and it relates the story of immigrants in detention.  For more information on The Visitor, go to http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/thevisitor/trailer/.
Actual horror stories are becoming more frequent, including the following story coming out of Texas about children in detention being sexually abuse: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA021608.01B.immig-childabuse.3689173.html.
FIRM Member Activities
Earlier this month, the Alliance to Develop Power in Springfield, MA participated in a forum that higlighted solidarity among immigrant, African American and other students.  At that forum students gathered 300 pledges in support of the Building America Together campaign.  An article highlighting the story of an undocumented student and her experiences and the solidarity pledge is attached.
On Saturday, February 16th, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition held a solidarity vigil in support of an Islamic Center in Columbia, TN that had been desecrated with swastikas and burned to the ground the week before.  Nearly 200 supporters attended from across middle-Tennessee and Alabama.  For more information about the event go to http://www.tnimmigrant.org/news.php?viewStory=123.
Allies and Partner Activities
Last week, FIRM joined with Farmworker Justice and other organizations in opposing anticipated regulations that could gut worker protections for current guestworkers under the H2A Visa program.  Soon afterwards, Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary CLinton (D-NY) followed suit.  For more information, please go to http://www.farmworkerjustice.org/.
On April 12-14, National People’s Action will hold a national event in Washington, DC.  Immigrant organizations connected to FIRM are encouraged to attend.  A flyer for the event is attached.  More information about the event will appear in future bulletins.
The National Council of La Raza recently launched their “Wave of Hope” campaign to push back against the wave of hate speech directed at immigrants in the nation.  For more information about this campaign, please go to http://www.nclr.org/section/wave_of_hope/.
Breakthrough just launched their new on-line game that introduces players to the trials and pitfalls of the immigration detention system.  To see and download the game go to http://www.icedgame.com/.
Federal Regulations, Naturalization Backlogs & Social Security No Match
On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that the Administration would soon release new regulations intended to be implemented by March 27.  The three rules the Administration intends to release include 1) significantly increased penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, 2) a new requirement that federal contractors utilize the E-Verify system, and 3) requiring employers to scrutinize employees that return No Match letters from the Social Security Agency.  For more information about the press statement go to http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1203722713615.shtm.
A coalition of groups are actively working to hold the US Citizenship and Immigration Service accountable for their failure to keep pace with the surge in naturalization applications over the last several months.  As a result of this failure, thousands of immigrants may wait as many as 18 months to be naturalized.  One consequence of this situation is the effective disenfranchisement of thousands of new voters in the 2008 election.  The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the National Immigration Forum are now gathering stories of individuals that will be impacted by these backlogs.  A survey is attached for individuals to fill out share their own stories.  Stories and surveys should be sent to Maurice Belanger at the Forum at mbelanger@immigrationforum.org.
Immigration Excerpts from the transcript of the Presidential Primary Debate between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama:
RAMOS: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) Federal raids by immigration enforcement officials on homes and businesses have generated a great deal of fear and anxiety in the Hispanic community and have divided the family of some of the 3 million U.S.-born children who have at least one undocumented parent.

Would you consider stopping these raids once you take office until comprehensive immigration reform can be passed?

CLINTON: I would consider that, except in egregious situations where it would be appropriate to take the actions you’re referring to.

But when we see what’s been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left, that is not the America that I know.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: That is against American values. And it is…

(APPLAUSE)

And it is a stark admission of failure by the federal government. We need comprehensive immigration reform. I have been for this. I signed onto the first comprehensive bill back in 2004. I’ve been advocating for it: tougher, more secure borders, of course, but let’s do it the right way, cracking down on employers, especially once we get to comprehensive immigration reform, who exploit undocumented workers and drive down wages for everyone else.

I’d like to see more federal help for communities like Austin and others like Laredo, where I was this morning, that absorb the health care, education, and law enforcement costs.

And I personally, as president, would work with our neighbors to the south, to help them create more jobs for their own people.

Finally, we need a path to legalization, to bring the immigrants out of the shadows, give them the conditions that we expect them to meet, paying a fine for coming here illegally, trying to pay back taxes, over time, and learning English.

If they had a committed a crime in our country or the country they came from, then they should be deported. But for everyone else, there must be a path to legalization. I would introduce that in the first 100 days of my presidency.

(APPLAUSE)

BROWN: Senator Obama, is your position the same as Hillary Clinton’s?

OBAMA: There are a couple of things I would add. Comprehensive immigration reform is something that I have worked on extensively.

Two years ago, we were able to get a bill out of the Senate. I was one of the group of senators that helped to move it through, but it died in the House this year. Because it was used as a political football instead of a way of solving a problem, nothing happened.

And so there are a couple of things that I would just add to what Senator Clinton said.

Number one, it is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate, because there has been an undertone that has been ugly.

Oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community. We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate as it has been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants, and we can reconcile those two things. So we need comprehensive reform…

(APPLAUSE)

… we need comprehensive reform, and that means stronger border security. It means that we are cracking down on employers that are taking advantage of undocumented workers because they can’t complain if they’re not paid a minimum wage.

OBAMA: They can’t complain if they’re not getting overtime. Worker safety laws are not being observed.

We have to crack down on those employers, although we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn’t lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against, so there’s got to be a safeguard there.

We have to require that undocumented workers, who are provided a pathway to citizenship, not only learn English, pay back taxes and pay a significant fine, but also that they’re going to the back of the line, so that they are not getting citizenship before those who have applied legally, which raises two last points.

Number one, it is important that we fix the legal immigration system, because right now we’ve got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally.

(APPLAUSE)

And what’s worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you’ve got a hard working immigrant family, they’ve got to hire a lawyer; they’ve got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can’t afford it. And it’s discriminatory against people who have good character, we should want in this country, but don’t have the money. So we’ve got to fix that.

OBAMA: So we’ve got to fix that.

The second thing is, we have to improve our relationship with Mexico and work with the Mexican government so that their economy is producing jobs on that side of the border.

And the problem that we have…

(APPLAUSE)

The problem that we have is that we have had an administration that came in promising all sorts of leadership on creating a U.S.- Mexican relationship. And, frankly, President Bush dropped the ball. He has been so obsessed with Iraq that we have not seen the kinds of outreach and cooperative work that would ensure that the Mexican economy is working not just for the very wealthy in Mexico, but for all people. And that’s as policy that I’m going to change when I’m president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

BROWN: All right, Senator Obama.

We’re going to stay with this topic. I want to have John King ask another question.

Go ahead, John.

KING: I want to stay on the issue, but move to a controversial item that was not held up when the immigration debate collapsed in Washington, and that is the border fence.

KING: To many Americans, it is a simple question of sovereignty and security. America should be able to keep people out that it doesn’t want in.

But, as you know in this state, especially if you go to the south of here, along the border, and in other border states, to many people it’s a much more personal question. It could be a question of their livelihood. It could be a question of cross-border trade. It might be an issue to a rancher of property rights. It might be a simple question of whether someone can take a walk or a short drive to see their family members.

Senator, back in 2006, you voted for the construction of that fence. As you know, progress has been slow.

As president of the United States, would you commit tonight that you would finish the fence and speed up the construction, or do you think it’s time for a president of the United States to raise his or her hand and say, “You know what? Wait a minute. Let’s think about this again. Do we really want to do this?”

CLINTON: Well, I think both Senator Obama and I voted for that as part of the immigration debate.

CLINTON: And having been along the border for the last week or so — in fact, last night I was at the University of Texas at Brownsville — and this is how absurd this has become under the Bush administration. Because, you know, there is a smart way to protect our borders, and there is a dumb way to protect our borders.

(APPLAUSE)

And what I learned last night when I was there with Congressman Ortiz is that the University of Texas at Brownsville would have part of its campus cut off.

This is the kind of absurdity that we’re getting from this administration. I know it because I’ve been fighting with them about the northern border. Their imposition of passports and other kinds of burdens are separating people from families, interfering with business and commerce, the movement of goods and people.

So what I’ve said is that I would say, wait a minute, we need to review this. There may be places where a physical barrier is appropriate.

I think when both of us voted for this, we were voting for the possibility that where it was appropriate and made sense, it would be considered. But as with so much, the Bush administration has gone off the deep end, and they are unfortunately coming up with a plan that I think is counterproductive.

CLINTON: So I would have a review. I would listen to the people who live along the border, who understand…

(APPLAUSE)

… what it is we need to be doing to protect our country.

(APPLAUSE)

BROWN: Let me go on, again — John?

KING: Does that mean that you think your vote was wrong, or the implementation of it was wrong?

Because, as you know, when they first built the fence in the San Diego area, it only went so far. And what it did was it sopped the people coming straight up the path of where that was built, and they simply moved. And California’s problem became Arizona’s problem.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: But, you know, John, there is — there’s a lot we’ve learned about technology and smart fencing. You know, there is technology that can be used instead of a physical barrier.

CLINTON: It requires us having enough personnel along the border so that people can be supervising a certain limited amount of space and will be able to be responsive in the event of people attempting to cross illegally.

I think that the way that the Bush administration is going about this, filing eminent domain actions against landowners and municipalities, makes no sense.

So what I have said is, yes, there are places when after a careful review, again listening to the people who live along the border, there may be limited places where it would work. But let’s deploy more technology and personnel, instead of the physical barrier.

I frankly think that will work better and it will give us an opportunity to secure our borders without interfering with family relations, business relations, recreation and so much else that makes living along the border, you know, wonderful.

BROWN: All right.

CLINTON: And the people who live there need to have a president who understands it, will listen to them and be responsive.

BROWN: All right, Senator Clinton.

(APPLAUSE)

Senator Obama, go ahead please.

OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree. I think that the key is to consult with local communities, whether it’s on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier.

And the Bush administration is not real good at listening. That’s not what they do well.

(LAUGHTER)

And so I will reverse that policy. As Senator Clinton indicated, there may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But for the most part, having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that’s going to be the better approach.

The one thing I do have to say, though, about this issue is, it is very important for us, I think, to deal with this problem in terms of thousands of — hundreds of thousands of people coming over the borders on a regular basis if we want to also provide opportunity for the 12 million undocumented workers who are here.

OBAMA: Senator Clinton and I have both campaigned in places like Iowa and Ohio and my home state of Illinois, and I think that the American people want fairness, want justice. I think they recognize that the idea that you’re going to deport 12 million people is ridiculous, that we’re not going to be devoting all our law enforcement resources…

(APPLAUSE)

… to sending people back.

But what they do also want is some order to the process. And so, we’re not going to be able to do these things in isolation. We’re not going to be able to deal with the 12 million people who are living in the shadows and give them a way of getting out of the shadows if we don’t also deal with the problem of this constant influx of undocumented workers.

And that’s why I think comprehensive reform is so important. That’s the kind of leadership that I’ve shown in the past; that’s the kind of leadership that I’ll show in the future.

One last point I want to make on the immigration issue because we may be moving to different topics: Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education.

OBAMA: I do not want two classes of citizens in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

I want everybody to prosper. That’s going to be a top priority.

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