Monday, May 4, 2009

MRS/USCCB Immigration Policy Update

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
President Obama started the ball rolling by holding a March meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) at which lawmakers stressed the need for CIR this year. A CHC press release on the meeting can be found here: . Soon after the CHC meeting, 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. The President is expected to convene working groups of policymakers and advocates to begin discussing the content of the bill. While timing for CIR legislation still remains unclear, the Senate held its first CIR hearing of 2009 on April 30 (see below).

President Addresses CIR at 100 Days Press Conference
At an April 29th press conference, President Obama again publicly addressed the issue of immigration reform. The President expressed his desire to work with Senator McCain, saying that McCain has "the right position" on reform. He also stated that he wants to move CIR: "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 went on to say that he wants to start movement on CIR this year and that he 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.

For a full transcript of the President's remarks.

DHS Announces New Policy Directives on Worksite Enforcement
On April 30, DHS released new policy directives which are intended to guide Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its worksite enforcement operations. The directives call for ICE to focus its resources on the criminal prosecution of employers who recruit and hire illegal workers. Specifically, ICE is to seek out the commitment of the relevant United States Attorney (USA) to prosecute the targeted employer before ICE arrests any illegal workers at a worksite. The directives also 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 the course of its investigations.
For the DHS Press Release

Senate Immigration Subcommittee Holds First CIR Hearing of 2009
On April 30, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security held a hearing entitled: "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009: Can We Do It and How?" Testimony was given by two panels of immigration, faith, civil rights, and economic leaders including former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. Greenspan testified that illegal immigrants provide a safety valve as demand for workers increases and decreases. He also 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 that, "No one is happy with our current system," and that now is the time to enact significant reform. Dr. Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed stated his view that: "Most people of faith are hoping for policies that will prioritize family togetherness, respect for the law, personal productivity, and compassion for those who are most helpless." 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.

The Subcommittee also received expert testimony from Doris Meissner, Director of the Migration and Policy Institute (MPI) on the economic impact of CIR, as well as from Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) among other witnesses.

A webcast of this hearing is available. The USCCB submitted a statement on CIR to the Subcommittee to be included in the record.

President Obama Meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon
President Obama traveled to Mexico City in mid-April and met with President Felipe Calderon. In the course of his trip, President Obama delivered remarks supporting CIR and calling attention to the need to address root causes of migration. The text of his remarks can be found here.

Labor Unions Announce Joint Framework for CIR
The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) teamed with Change to Win in announcing that the two labor unions had reached agreement on an immigration reform position on April 14. The position needs more refinement, and USCCB maintains support for a worker program with protections. Their framework for this agreement can be read.

DREAM Act 2009 Introduced in Congress
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2009 (DREAM Act) was introduced in both the House and the Senate on March 26. In the Senate, the bill was introduced as S.729 by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). In the House, the bill was named the American DREAM Act and was introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL).

An Action Alert that tells you how you can help propel passage of the DREAM Act.

The USCCB letter to Senator Durbin thanking him for introducing DREAM can be viewed.

A Section-by-Section Summary of the DREAM Act can be seen.

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