Local Legislators Targeting Immigrants With Criminal Convictions

May 15, 2008 by Mark Siesel

Under a federal plan known as the "287g" program, local legislators including Ron Ball, R-Carmel are seeking to arm local police with the ability to start deportation proceedings against Putnam County illegal immigrants convicted of felonies. Essentially, Ball's plan is to implement the federal government's 287(g) program on a statewide basis, by which local police or correction officials would perform deportation duties normally handled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, known as "ICE." Advocates of the 287(g) program say that it only targets serious criminals who are in the U.S. illegally and whose immigration status is not discovered until after the arrest. However, opponents of the program are numerous and widespread, including such groups as The Hudson Valley Community Coalition, the Rockland County Immigration Coalition, and the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, who state that the program would destroy trust between police and immigrants and lead to racial profiling.

Damon K. Jones of the Westchester County Corrections Department noted that "involving local law enforcement in illegal immigration will increase the existing poor relationship of law enforcement and the immigrant and minority communities." Another substantial problem which Mr. Ball will have to confront in attempting to implement his plan is that State and local officials have made clear that they will not take custody of federal detainees.

Immigration Department Admits Wait For Green Card And Citizenship Now 18 Months

March 14, 2008 by Mark Siesel

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS acknowledged that due to a huge increase in applications for green cards and citizenship in July of 2007, the average waiting time for legal residency and citizenship is now 18 months. The surge in applications in July of 2007 (7 times more than the average month), which resulted in the increased waiting time from approximately 7 months to 18 months, was due to applicants submitting their papers just before the almost 50% increase in fees on July 30, 2007.

The USCIS has been under fire for not anticipating and planning for the huge increase in applications last July, although they did hire 750 additional agents for the sole purpose of working on applications. Michael Aytes, the associate director of domestic operations of USCIS has pledged that the agency will keep its promise made at the time of the increase: that in return for the higher fees, by 2010, applications for U.S. citizenship will be processed within 5 months, and petitions for green cards will be handled within four months.

This writer is somewhat skeptical about these optimistic predictions from the USCIS, but we will give the agency the benefit of the doubt and hope that these 750 extra officers will make the difference once the July 2007 surge in applications is two years behind us.

New York Immigrants Bolster Economy According to Study

December 5, 2007 by Mark Siesel

In a joint study by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) , there were some interesting and surprising results which may give politicians who are demanding more border control and higher fences some hesitation in making those demands. Specifically, the study found that a typical New York immigrant lives in the United States legally, speaks English well, has attended some college and lives in a home owning family that earns $71,000 per year. The study found that foreign born residents contribute 229 billion into New York's economy, accounting for 22.4% of the state's gross domestic product. Other interesting and important findings are as follows: The great majority of the New York suburbs' immigrant population is in the United States legally; There are approximately 130,000 New York undocumented immigrants, from Westchester and Long Island combined, which make up only 21% of the overall immigrant population in New York; Despite a major focus on day laborers, they comprise less than 1/2 of one percent of the immigrant population in the New York suburbs;
Foreign born employees, legal and illegal, account for 82% of housekeepers, 58% of cooks and almost half of construction workers; importantly, foreign born workers make up 41% of physicians, 28% of professors, and 19% of financial managers--perhaps that statistic should be repeated to Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Hillary Clinton as they fight over who will be the toughest "keeping our borders safe."

Immigration Backlog Delays Applications For Citizenship and Green Cards

December 3, 2007 by Mark Siesel

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that there will be substantial delays, of at least one year in some cases, in processing citizenship and green card applications. These delays were brought on by two significant events: First, early in 2007, the USCIS announced that fees for all applications would be increased on July 30, 2007. For example, the fee for submission of the N-400 Naturalization application went up 66% from $405.00 to $675.00 on July 30th of this year. As a result of this announcement, applications filed in July and August of 2007 were double that in the same two months in 2006. In all, USCIS received 2.5 million applications in July and August of 2007. The second major development prompting increased filings was the anti-immigration debate in Congress this year, which coincided with the USCIS announcing that they were preparing a more difficult test for aspiring citizens.

As of November 16th, the Texas and Vermont Processing Centers are just now acknowledging receipt of naturalization petitions received in July, 2007. The processing backlogs at present are completely different than those in the past involving immigrants seeking legal residency from countries like Mexico and the Philippines, in which annual limits on green cards have often resulted in delays of several years. The USCIS has announced that with the revenue from increased fees, it will hire 1,500 new employees, an increase of its current staff of 15,000, to assist in clearing the backlog. The goal is apparently to complete naturalization applications submitted this past summer in time for these applicants to vote in the November, 2008 elections.

New York Governor Spitzer Abandons Driver's License Plan

November 18, 2007 by Mark Siesel

Faced with vigorous opposition by Republicans and Democrats alike, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has abandoned his plan to provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants a scant two months after his initial proposal. Governor Spitzer's original idea was to abandon New York's policy of requiring a social security number as a component of obtaining a driver's license, in order to encourage illegal immigrants to become better trained drivers and obtain car insurance to protect the public.

The irony is that even immigrant rights advocates opposed the more recent version of the driver's license plan, which would have created three different types of licenses, with immigrants entitled only to a license which could not be used for i.d purposes. They argued that illegal immigrants would "never come out of the shadows" to obtain the lesser form of driver's license, and that authorities would take advantage of the new policy by reporting the presence of the undocumented immigrants to the Department of Homeland Security.

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Governor Spitzer's Plan For NY Driver's Licenses

November 12, 2007 by Mark Siesel

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has unveiled a plan for a multi-tiered driver's license which has support from the federal government yet is facing much opposition in New York, including by many representing undocumented immigrants. The plan calls for three types of licenses:

1. An enhanced driver's license which will be as secure as a passport--this is intended for people who will soon need to meet ID requirements even for the short drive to Canada;

2. A second version which will meet federal standards under the Real ID Act, which is designed to make it harder for illegal immigrants to get licenses;

3. A third type of driver's license which will be available to undocumented immigrants, in order to "bring those people out of the shadows" and ensure that the immigrants get driver's training and obtain automobile insurance in New York.

Under the new administrative order of New York Governor Spitzer, New York would be the fourth state after Arizona, Vermont and Washington to agree on federally approved secure licenses. However, Governor Spitzer continues to face staunch opposition to his plan in the Republican controlled New York State Senate, which wants to ensure that "illegal immigrants will not get any version of a license." The Senate is holding firm to the present New York State requirement that in order to obtain New York driver's licenses, immigrants must first be in possession of a social security number.

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Dream Act Fails Test Vote In the U.S. Senate

November 9, 2007 by Mark Siesel

On October 25, 2007, the United States Senate rejected the Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education of Minors Act) by a vote of 52-44. The Dream Act would have allowed illegal immigrants who plan to attend college or join the military, and who arrived in the United States with their families before they turned 16, to become legal residents and ultimately citizens. In order to make the legislation veto proof, supporters of the Dream Act fell 8 votes short of the 60 that they needed to do so. Originally, the Dream Act was part of a broad immigration plan that would have legalized as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants and fortified the border. The broader plan failed in the Senate, as major boosters such as Senator John McCain bailed out on his support of the measure when he believed it was negatively impacting his presidential campaign chances.

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Comprehensive Immigration Reform--Will It Happen?

May 18, 2007 by Mark Siesel

The right wing of the U.S. Congress has for years expressed concern about passing the far reaching immigration reform that President Bush has advocated. However, the irony is that there are multiple reasons why immigration reform would benefit the United States economy, the social security system, our education system, and our country's security--which these same Republicans would be in favor of if the issue of immigration was not part of the discussion.

The United States is at present the World's only military "superpower", and there is a huge financial cost to the government in maintaining that position. With our military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have strained our military's manpower and budget. Just think of it--if we were to give legal status to the approximately 20,000,000 undocumented immigrants already in the United States, many of whom are of military age and who meet the characteristics deemed desirable for soldiers, there would be a tremendous increase in the available pool of potential recruits.

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Real ID Act--Do We Want This Type of "Security"?

April 30, 2007 by Mark Siesel

The Department of Homeland Security plans to use a private corporation chosen by the federal government to implement the REAL ID Act. The plan calls for the outsourcing of all drivers license and ID card checks to a private corporation, who would then charge the states for each check performed.

Arguments are presented on both sides of the issue regarding the necessity of a National I.D. card, although in the age of Halliburton and our Vice President, there is certainly strong public skepticism as to whether the I.D. card should be outsourced to a private corporation--i.e. the public interest certainly wasn't well served by the outsourcing of defense contracts to Halliburton.

The arguments made in favor of a National I.D. card include:

Easy identification in banks or at national borders without a passport, making the identity card the equivalent of a passport;

In states that do not issue identity cards, private companies require such documents, such as drivers' licenses, which are not suited for identification purposes;

All humans carry personal identification which cannot be falsified--DNA. In the near future, DNA sequencing hashes may become the preferred method of personal identification. The use of identity cards would be a lesser evil compared to the possibility of privacy risks associated with the daily use of DNA for identification purposes.

The arguments against the National ID cards include:

Cards with a centralized database could be used to track anyone's movements and private life, Private investigators would obviously love them) endangering privacy

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President Bush to Unveil Plans for "Z" Visa

April 8, 2007 by Mark Siesel

President Bush has announced plans to institute a "Z" Visa, which he has claimed would help illegal immigrants on a path to legal residency. Many illegal immigrants in New York feel betrayed by President Bush, who they considered as a possible ally because (unlike most Republicans in Congress), Bush has repeatedly said he favors giving many illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain legal residency and ultimately citizenship.

The White House's draft plan would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, although at a hefty $3,500 each time. Then to become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.

The "Z" Visa proposal has been sharply criticized by Hispanic advocacy groups, many Congressional Democrats, and unions that have large immigrant memberships. They argue that the cost of work permits and the green card application — which could total more than $20,000 — are prohibitive for low-wage earners.

The proposal is far more conservative than the one passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan support as well as the approval of President Bush. That plan would have allowed many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States, and apply to become legal residents, provided that they learned English, paid small fines and back taxes, and cleared background checks.

Many Senate conservatives opposed that plan, and it failed to gain sufficient support in the then Republican-controlled House, which at the end of 2005 passed an immigration reform bill that angered immigrants and led to protests throughout the United States.

Maria Lopez, 50, an illegal immigrant who works as a seamstress and sends $200 a month to family members in Mexico, stated: "We have no way to come up with that much money, and Bush knows that," she said. "He is doing this on purpose so we don't ever become legal residents."

It remains to be seen if the "Z" Visa will gain the necessary bipartisan support necessary to become law, especially in light of the contradictory messages being sent by Congress on a daily basis on the issue of immigration reform.

New York Immigration Raids On the Rise

March 25, 2007 by Mark Siesel

This past week, the Immigration Bureau of Customs Enforcement http://www.ice.gov/ conducted two raids of residential buildings in Mount Kisco, New York, apparently for the purpose of apprehending a fugitive who has multiple criminal convictions and is in the United States illegally.

These raids were performed in the early morning hours with the assistance of the Mount Kisco Police Department. The fugitive was not apprehended, but approximately twenty men were arrested and taken to a Manhattan ICE facility, charged with immigration law violations. Of the approximately 20 men arrested this past week, 11 were taken to an ICE detention facility in New Jersey and have been placed in removal (formerly known as deportation) proceedings. The others had green cards or other documentation that kept them from being detained.

Recent raids at day laborer sites in Connecticut and in New Bedford, Massachusetts have drawn media attention in recent weeks. The arrests at work sites and residences have led to a "Stop The Raids" campaign in Connecticut. Although ICE officials claim that they were looking for a sole fugitive in New York, questions have arisen due to the amount of officers and vans involved in the two operations.

The detained workers, most of them otherwise law abiding, who provide cheap labor for industries, employers and local residents, will now have to negotiate immigration laws which for many of them will inevitably lead to extensive detention and ultimate removal from the United States. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any clear consensus in either house of Congress as to resolution of the immigration issue. Early optimism after the Democratic takeover of Congress this past November for an Immigration bill which would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to adjust their status in the United States through a combination of education requirements, fines, and payment of back taxes now seems to be hopelessly stalled.
Previous proponents of immigration reform such as Senator John McCain are now backing off of their support due to presidential aspirations and objections from their constituents.

US Citizenship & Immigration Services Proposes Increase In Fees

March 24, 2007 by Mark Siesel

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has proposed to adjust fees for naturalization applications and petitions. The idea behind the increase is to improve customer service, allowing applications and petitions to be processed more quickly and close security gaps.

Emilio Gonzalez, the Director of USCIS, noted that: “As a fee-based agency, we must be able to recover the costs necessary to administer an efficient and secure immigration system that ultimately improves service delivery, prevents future backlogs, closes security gaps, and furthers our modernization efforts.” After a complete review of the present system, USCIS found that the current fee structure does not allow USCIS to recover the costs of providing services to adjudicate millions of applications and petitions.

USCIS projects that the revenue from a new fee structure will enable a 20 percent reduction in average application processing times by the end of fiscal year 2009, and will cut processing times by the end of fiscal year 2008 for four types of applications. These applications are the I-90 (Renew / Replace Permanent Resident Card), I-140 (Immigration Petition for Alien Worker) and I-485 (Adjust of Status to Permanent Resident), which will improve to four months from its present six months processing time, and the N-400 (Naturalization), which will improve to five months from the present seven months processing time.

The fee increases would add an average of $55 to the current cost of immigration applications, and increase the biometrics (fingerprints) fee by $20. USCIS proposes to increase fees for naturalization applications by 80%, from $330 to $595. Further, the fees for permanent resident applications would be increased 178% from $325 to $905. This is the first overall fee review the Immigration Service has performed since 1998.

The proposed fee increases will be available for public comment at www.regulations.gov for a period of 60 days, beginning on February 1, 2007. The proposal does not raise fees, but the USCIS is simply announcing its intention to do so.