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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Some Clergy Oppose Mississippi Immigration Bill

Associated Press-Mississippi: Several religious leaders united Thursday in declaring their opposition to an immigration enforcement bill under consideration by the Mississippi Legislature.

Representatives from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist groups appeared Thursday at the state Capitol to reiterate their concerns about House Bill 488.

Bishop Ronnie Crudup of New Horizon Church in Jackson said the bill would lead to racial profiling.

"This is not the spirit, nor the tone of the type of legislation we need for this state," Crudup said. "It will certainly cause racial profiling to go up for not only people of Hispanic descent, I would daresay also for people of color in general."

House Bill 488 passed the House on March 14 and awaits consideration in a Senate committee. It has faced opposition since it was introduced.

The measure would require police to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement every time they arrest someone they suspect may be in the country illegally. Law enforcement departments that don't comply could be fined up to $5,000 per day. The bill would also prohibit any illegal immigrant from applying for a driver's license or business license.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and other supporters of the bill say they're not against immigrants, but think people should be in the U.S. legally.

Imam Ali Siddiqui, a California peace and labor activist visiting Mississippi, said state immigration laws have had a negative impact on Muslims in the U.S.

"There is discrimination for jobs, women who wear hijab are discriminated against and spit on," Siddiqui said. "Every time we see laws that are passed like the one in Arizona, it has also impacted Muslims."

Hope Morgan Ward, the United Methodist bishop for Mississippi, told a small crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda that the immigration bill does not follow Christian principals.

"Do no harm," Ward said. "House Bill 488, we believe, will do harm. It will create a greater climate of hostility and suspicion and fear."

Next Tuesday is the deadline for Senate committees to consider bills that have already passed the House, and for House committees to act on bills that have already passed the Senate.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, whose Judiciary B Committee is considering the bill, said he will treat the immigration-enforcement bill as he would any other that is assigned to his committee.

The Mississippi Tea Party, which supports the bill, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for sending the bill to Bryan.

"In the past, Sen. Bryan has not been a friend of enforcement," the tea party said, citing his vote against a similar bill in 2011.

"Tate Reeves' referral of the bill to Sen. Bryan could very well result in its failure based on his prior vote," the group said. "Bryan has the power to kill the bill by not bringing it up for discussion or a vote at the committee level."

Some House members also fear the bill will die in the Senate committee, and they're trying to find other ways to keep the issue alive.

On Thursday, House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, inserted the immigration-enforcement provisions into a Senate bill that attempts to further regulate the sale of counterfeit goods. It's unclear, though, whether the House rules allow the insertion of the immigration language into the seemingly unrelated counterfeit-goods bill, Senate Bill 2549, which involves different portions of state law. House rules prohibit adding new state code sections to bills in the midst of a legislative session. Gipson said he's checking with the House legal staff.

Gipson said some people pushing the counterfeit-goods bill say sale of the items affects immigrants, so adding the immigration-enforcement bill, "made sense to me."

Opposition to the immigration-enforcement bill has also come this week from sheriffs, police chiefs, county supervisors and municipal leaders, who say they worry about increased jail expenses with little or no state money to cover costs. Building contractors, several agriculture groups and the Mississippi Economic Council also oppose the bill.

DHS Expanding Deportation Case Reviews to 4 More Cities, Will Temporarily Suspend Court Docket

Associated Press: The Obama administration is temporarily suspending immigration court dockets in four cities while authorities review thousands of cases as part of a plan to indefinitely delay deportation proceedings for many non-criminal illegal immigrants.

The dockets in Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, and Seattle will be suspended during the review cases involving illegal immigrants not held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

ICE previously reviewed 11,682 in Baltimore and Denver. Officials recommended suspending more than 1,600 cases in those two cities. The reviews are part of an Obama administration pledge to focus deportation resources on criminal immigrants and those who pose a national security or public safety threat.

Congressional Republicans have decried the effort as backdoor amnesty.

Supreme Court Rules for Queen's Businessman in Immigration Case

New York Daily News: A Queens auto-body shop owner won his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that immigrants who committed minor crimes before 1996 can travel abroad and still keep their green cards.

The justices decided 6-3 Wednesday that Greek immigrant Panagis Vartelas, who has been fighting deportation for eight years, can stay.

He should also be able to take brief trips out of the country without fearing he won't get back in.

"Thank God. Thank God. The system works," said Vartelas. "It was like a very big lift for me today."

Vartelas, 50, was returning from a week helping his parents in his homeland when he was stopped at Kennedy Airport in 2003 and ordered deported because of a white-collar conviction from 1994.

Vartelas had spent four months in prison after admitting he helped his business partner make fake travelers checks.

At the time, the charge wasn't cause for deportation. But two years later, a change in the law meant green card holders convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude were in greater jeopardy of being deported.

The law is also tougher on immigrants who have left the U.S. and are trying to re-enter the country than on those who stay put.

In a decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court said Vartelas' case should be determined by the "legal regime in force at the time of his conviction," not the later law that forbid him from traveling.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, saying because Vartelas took the trip to Greece in 2003, the law at that time is what should count.

"The court recognizes that when a business faces a new law, it shouldn't have to worry that that law is retroactive... Immigrants get the same protections," said Vartelas lawyer, Stephanos Bibas.

"We had a good feeling going in and coming out of it. We were also pleasantly surprised that it wasn't a narrow, partisan decision."

While local advocates celebrated the decision, Nancy Morawetz, co-director of the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic, cautioned green card holders not to rush to make travel plans.

"Past convictions should be evaluated individually and immigrants should consult with a lawyer," she advised.

Vartelas said he plans to visit his elderly parents in Greece as soon as he can.

Guilty Plea Leads to Probation for Man Who Hired Illegal Immigrants

Associated Press: A southern Arizona contractor who pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants was sentenced to probation Thursday in the first case in the state in which authorities pursued criminal charges instead of just fines against an employer in an illegal hiring case.

Ivan Hardt, owner of Sun Dry Wall & Stucco Inc. of Sierra Vista, was sentenced in Tucson by U.S. District Judge Raner Collins to one year of probation for the misdemeanor conviction.

The 49-year-old also had pleaded guilty last year to the misdemeanor charge and a felony charge of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, but the felony charge will be dismissed if he pays the government $450,000.

That figure consists of $225,000 to cover proceeds that the company received during the time the illegal immigrants worked there and another $225,000 to settle a civil dispute with the government over its payment to its legal and illegal workers. Hardt's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, said his client has already paid $300,000 and plans to square up the debt before an October deadline.

The March 2007 bust of Hardt's business represented a new approach by federal authorities in Arizona that focused on criminal cases against company officials. Some violators viewed the previous strategy of seeking only civil penalties as the cost of doing business.

Now, people who hire illegal immigrants could face jail time, which authorities hope will be a stronger deterrent.

"No one would want to go through what Mr. Hardt has been through in the last five years," Piccarreta said. "And I think the sentence is a reflection that he accepted responsibility and immediately took steps to make sure that that would never happen again."

Piccarreta said the violations occurred when Arizona's construction industry was booming and employers such as Hardt had difficulty finding enough workers to cover all their contractual obligations.

In the years before the southern Arizona raid, federal authorities embarked on some criminal cases across the country against employers who were accused of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. But Hardt's case marked the first such prosecution under the new strategy in Arizona, the nation's busiest hub for sneaking immigrants into the country.

Matthew Allen, chief of investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, said in a written statement that Hard'ts sentence should serve as a warning to other employers.

"Hiring unlawful workers not only fuels illegal immigration and perpetuates a shadow economy, but it negatively impacts job opportunities for our nations lawful work force," Allen said.

The U.S. Attorneys Office for Arizona, which prosecuted the case, had no immediate comment on Hardt's sentence.

Piccarreta said Hardt had no previous criminal record and that he and his office manager have since attended classes held by federal immigration authorities in an effort to ensure that his business is following immigration and employment laws.

Authorities alleged that Sun Dry Wall & Stucco underreported its number of employees to federal inspectors and that some workers were found to have fraudulent work documents. They also said the company's management was on the lookout for undercover immigration agents and that the firm's president and one of its foremen used two-way radios to communicate about the whereabouts of immigration agents.

Of the eight people from Sun Drywall and Stucco who were charged in the case, six have pleaded guilty.

Vermont Joining States to Oppose Arizona Immigration Law

Associated Press: The state of Vermont is joining 10 other states that are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an immigration law implemented by the state of Arizona.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and the other states claim that Arizona's immigration law requires state law enforcement officers to detain and arrest individuals who appear to be illegal immigrants.

Sorrell and the other attorneys general maintain U.S. immigration policies can only be made and enforced by the federal government.

The states, which include New York and California, filed a friend of the court brief that is part of a challenge to the Arizona law that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

Brewer to Appeal Latest AZ Immigration Law Ruling

Associated Press: Gov. Jan Brewer plans to appeal a ruling that prevents police from enforcing yet another portion of Arizona's 2010 immigration enforcement law.

The governor says in a filing Wednesday that she'll appeal U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's Feb. 29 ruling that blocked police from enforcing the law's prohibition on blocking traffic when people seek or offer day labor services on streets.

The ban was among a handful of provisions allowed to take effect after a July 2010 decision by Bolton halted enforcement of the law's most controversial elements.

The previously blocked portions include a requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, question people's immigration status if officers suspect they're in the country illegally.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments April 25 in Brewer's appeal of Bolton's July 2010 ruling.

GOP Fears Latino Revolt

Politico (by Manu Raju): Republicans worried about their party's standing with Hispanic voters have launched an election-year scramble to put a better face on their party's immigration problem.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is working with senators from other immigrant-heavy states like Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas on their own version of the DREAM Act to help undocumented children. Kyl and Hutchison have held several closed-door meetings with a key Democrat to see whether there's bipartisan support for a compromise plan. Republicans are also exploring changes in visa rules to attract more high-skilled workers and tourists.

But above all, key Republicans are pushing a change in rhetoric, urging Mitt Romney to shift tactics away from the strident comments he's made during the primary season in hopes of convincing Hispanic voters that Republicans will give immigrants a fair deal.

"He's going to have to do something to work on that and get that up," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said of Romney's poll numbers with Latinos. "I think there are ways we need to communicate with the Hispanic community that are not being communicated now."

While Republicans say they aren't about to embrace amnesty for undocumented immigrants, the ideas being considered on Capitol Hill amount to a recognition that the party needs to appear more friendly to the country's powerful voting bloc.

"You can't win without doing well among Hispanic voters, and I don't think its any secret that the primary has not been particularly helpful from the standpoint of the tone," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who is leading GOP efforts to take back the Senate. "I think there is a sense on our side that we need to come forward with a responsible approach that if we don't define ourselves what that approach is, other people are more than happy to take advantage of the void to try to define us."

The short-term upside is obvious for Republicans: The Hispanic vote in 2012 looms large in swing states like Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, and the party has miserable approval ratings with Hispanics. The longer-term outlook is just as critical Hispanics are a rapidly growing demographic group in the country and one of the youngest, and the GOP needs to sell the next generation of American voters on its policies.

But it also amounts to a risk: pushing measures to appeal to Latinos could split the party's base that is steadfast on border security and enforcement.

Rubio and Kyl both insisted the current legislative efforts are not timed to election-year politics.

But Rubio, fresh off his endorsement of Romney on Wednesday, said Republicans have not done a good enough job to be the pro-legal immigration party.

Rubio acknowledges the party needs to be more sensitive in how it treats young people who were brought to the country illegally when they were children. As Democrats eye a renewed push on the DREAM Act, which would pave a way for citizenship to children of illegals who seek higher education or military service, Rubio and senior Republicans are drafting their own proposal, which is in its early stages. Among the ideas under consideration is whether to narrow the scope to those seeking to enlist in the military and whether to stop short of granting full citizenship rights.

"These kids haven't done anything wrong, they were brought here at a very young age and now find themselves in these circumstances and have a lot to offer this country in its future," Rubio told POLITICO. "I think the ways that some in this building have tried to address it in the past have been problematic for many."

The top Democratic sponsor of the DREAM Act is skeptical of the effort.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he has sat down with Hutchison and Kyl many times to find a bipartisan proposal, but he said there's little point to moving a bill since there's no chance the House will take it up.

"This half-DREAM approach may have a lot more to do with the November election than changing the law," Durbin said.

For Republicans, the polling outlook among Hispanics right now is bleak.

In November, nearly 22 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, the most ever and an increase of more than 2 million in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan group. In that election, Sen. John McCain pulled in support from about 31 percent of Hispanic voters, a double-digit decrease from 2004, when George W. Bush won the election with an estimated 40 percent to 44 percent of Hispanic voters.

"The good news for us is the Hispanics and the country as a whole are center-right," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said tying the DREAM Act to more H1-B visas could amount to an election-year deal. "The bad news for us is that we're bleeding among that demographic."

But a late December Pew poll found that just 23 percent supported Romney in a head-to-head matchup with Obama. And a Fox News Latino poll released earlier this month found just 14 percent of voters would support Romney over Obama.

Jose Fuentes, who co-chairs the campaigns Hispanic steering committee, called the Fox News poll an outlier.

"I'm not saying were making great strides with Hispanic voters, but we're not at 14 percent," he said. "What we see on the street is much different."

Fuentes noted that in the Florida primary, Romney won more than 50 percent of the Latino vote, and the 14 percent turnout there was 4 points higher than in the 2008 GOP primary. Citing polls, he noted that among Latinos, immigration typically ranks at about the fifth-most important issue, behind jobs, the economy, health care and education.

And he said Obama has been making inroads with Latinos after spending the past three years targeting the group, an effort he said would be replicated by both the Republican National Committee and Romney campaign.

Fuentes predicted that Romney would need about 38 percent of the Latino vote in the fall, a number he said could be achieved with the former Massachusetts governor's message on jobs and the failure of the president to deliver on immigration reform as he promised.

But there's little dispute that the primary has badly damaged Romney in the eyes of many Latinos. He excoriated Rick Perry for backing a policy in Texas granting in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants. And he slammed Newt Gingrich for being soft on immigration, which led to the former speaker accusing Romney of being anti-immigrant during the Florida primary. Romney also hailed the tough Arizona immigration law as a national model and has been critical of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice who was selected by Obama.

Romney has said he'd veto the DREAM Act in its current form, despite its wide support within the Latino community. But he's signaled he'd be open to a narrower proposal targeted at those who want to join the military.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration group, said it is not at all clear that the way to win Latino votes is to pander on immigration.

"Granting amnesty to illegal aliens and increasing the overall influx of immigrants would only exacerbate the problems that Latinos and other Americans are most concerned about," Mehlman said.

But in an interview, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the tea party freshman who is working on a joint agenda for his party, said Gingrich added positively to the conversation during the campaign when he said it's not humane to deport someone who has been living, working and paying taxes in the country for years.

But neither Johnson nor Rubio would answer directly when asked if they were satisfied with Romney's handling of the immigration issue so far.

"I think were just beginning to hear about that issue," Rubio said. "And as we pivot toward the general election, there will be more discussion of those issues that will be one of the challenges the Republican Party faces, [which] is how do we deal with this issue in a way that honors both our heritage as a nation of immigrants but also as a nation of laws."

Democrats Take Aim at Rubio-Romney on Immigration

National Journal (by Beth Reinhard): Democrats have a plan if Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida becomes the first Hispanic on a national ticket: wage a policy battle over immigration.

The strategy has been emerging since the Cuban-American rising star was elected to the Senate in 2010, and it became more apparent after Rubio endorsed Republican front-runner Mitt Romney on Wednesday evening.

The Democratic National Committee immediately responded to Rubio's endorsement with a statement chiding him and Romney for opposing legislation, backed by President Obama, that would offer citizenship to undocumented workers who enroll in college or join the military.

Rubio's support for Romney underscores what we already knew: "Mitt Romney would have the most extreme immigration platform of any presidential nominee in recent history," said the DNC statement. The line of attack was picked up on Thursday by prominent Hispanic Democrats in a call with reporters organized by the Florida Democratic Party.

The fact that your last name ends in a vowel isn't enough. You have to side with Hispanic voters on the issues, and that includes the Dream Act and immigration reform," Democratic consultant Freddy Balsera, an Obama adviser on Hispanic issues, told National Journal.

The Democratic attacks on Rubio are laying the groundwork for an unprecedented battle for the hearts and minds of the increasingly influential Hispanic vote. While Democrats aim to win over Hispanic voters by pushing a policy debate over immigration, Republicans are likely to play up Rubio's compelling personal story as the child of immigrants.

It's head versus heart. The Dream Act versus the American dream. Look no further than the messaging from the Romney campaign.

"Marco Rubio is living proof that the American dream is still very much alive," reads the statement thanking Rubio for his endorsement. "From humble origins, he has risen to become one of the brightest lights in our political party."

After leaving Cuba for the United States in 1956, Rubio's father worked as a bartender and his mother worked as a hotel maid and a store clerk. Rubio graduated from law school and became the first Cuban-American leader of the Florida House. Rubio's father died two months before he defeated Florida's sitting governor in the U.S. Senate race. The charismatic Rubio has repeatedly denied interest in the vice presidency, insisting he wants to serve in the Senate.

"There's an aspirational quality to Marco that he transmits to other Latinos," said Ana Navarro, Hispanic adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "When he speaks so eloquently about his parents, the immigrant experience, freedom, his experience growing up in a humble immigrant home, I have seen many handkerchiefs around me."

In recent weeks, as Romney has inched closer to the nomination and speculation has increased about Rubio topping the vice presidential short list, the senator has sought to blunt criticism of his position on the Dream Act. He's suggested he might support a watered-down version that would offer legal status without a pathway to citizenship. "I do want to help out these kids. The Dream Act is a way to help them out," Rubio said in an interview earlier this month with television personality Geraldo Rivera.

Romney has also tried to soften his position on the proposal. In a nationally televised debate a week before the Florida primary, he suggested he might support the legislation for illegal immigrants who enlist in the military. But in the same debate, pressed about what he would do about the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country, Romney advocated cracking down on their employers and a process of "self-deportation."

When it comes to immigration policy, Rubio and Romney have followed a similar track. As they have risen in national prominence, their positions have grown more conservative, mirroring the Republican Party's rightward shift in recent years.

Before his 2008 presidential bid, the former governor of Massachusetts made statements that suggested he favored giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. But he has subsequently taken a hard-line stance against "amnesty" and attacked his former rival, Gov. Rick Perry, for signing a Texas law that offered in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. He also ran television ads attacking former Sen. Rick Santorum for approving a federal appointment for Sonia Sotomayor, who went on to become the first Puerto Rican justice on the Supreme Court.

Rubio's political rhetoric has also changed. Several bills that would have cracked down on illegal immigration died under his leadership of the Florida House. And he initially expressed concern about an Arizona law allowing local police officers to demand citizenship papers.

But as Rubio's national stature in the tea party movement grew, he increasingly emphasized his opposition to amnesty. In October, he pulled back his previous support for tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants -- even though he had sponsored such a bill in Florida as a state representative.

Pro-immigration and Democratic groups have been quick to seize on any inconsistencies in Rubio's public statements on Hispanic issues. Americas Voice, which advocates citizenship for undocumented workers, blasted an e-mail on Thursday that said: "Rubio's second-class Dream Act won't save Mitt Romney with Latino voters."

A Fox News poll of Hispanic voters earlier this month found 70 percent favored President Obama compared to only 14 percent for Romney. Nine out of 10 Hispanic voters said they support the Dream Act; more than eight out of 10 voters said they back a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Hispanics are the fastest growing slice of the electorate and could swing the 2012 vote in several battleground states, including Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

"If Mitt Romney puts a Hispanic candidate on the ticket, I don't think Hispanic voters are going to look at that and say, 'Oh yeah,' and ignore the fact that he opposes the Dream Act," said Obama's campaign pollster, Joel Benenson. "If you've been espousing the policies they have that are pretty harsh on immigration, to think that you can turn your vote numbers around by putting someone on the ticket because they're Hispanic" won't work, he said.

Republicans argue that Hispanics, like other voters, care about the economy first and foremost and say the election will be a referendum on the president.

Perhaps President Obama's pollster should survey the opinions of the 24 million Americans who are either out of work or underemployed. What he would find is that Hispanics and other minorities have been disproportionately impacted by Obama's failed economic policies and they are desperately looking for someone like Mitt Romney to create jobs and turn around this bad economy," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

'Holiday on ICE' Hearings Take Aim at Imprisoned Immigrants

Los Angeles Times (by Brian Bennett): Reporting from Washington— Republicans in Congress mocked the Obama administration's plans to improve conditions for immigrants held in county jails and detention facilities Wednesday, saying that a raft of reforms written by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounts to coddling lawbreakers.

In a hearing titled “Holiday on ICE,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, took aim at recent administrative changes designed to improve medical care for detainees, reduce incidents of sexual abuse, increase access to safe water and outdoor recreation, among other reforms.

ICE made the changes after coming under fire from news reports, human rights groups and internal investigations for putting immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes in detention facilities plagued by sexual assaults and inadequate medical care.

Democrats on the committee took aim at the sarcastic title of the hearing, saying it belittled the serious issue of ICE’s poor track record of ensuring the safety and health of detainees in custody. To help make that point, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) displayed graphic photographs depicting immigrants with fatal wounds and medical conditions that went untreated in detention facilities.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), had asked Smith to reconsider the title of the hearing, in a letter sent Tuesday. “I hope we can agree that the manner in which we treat immigrants in our detention facilities is not a laughing matter,” Conyers wrote.

But Smith was undeterred.

“ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants,” he said during the opening minutes of the hearing. “While we would all like to be upgraded, we don’t have the luxury of billing the American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge.”

“Detention is no holiday,” said Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Asnn., who attended the hearing. “I think they should be embarrassed to describe people who are deprived of their liberty as if they were on vacation.”

There are more than 33,000 immigrants and asylum seekers held in local and county jails and other detention facilities across the country. Many are waiting for an immigration judge to decide whether they will be deported.

The Obama administration has deported more people than any previous administration. Last year, 396,906 people were deported, a record number for the third year in a row.

“I would like to be clear that no member is against the humane treatment of detainees,” said Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.). However, Gallegly said, the new 400 pages of detention standards made public in February are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and taxpayers.

The best way to help immigration detainees is to deport them more quickly, said Gallegly, “not to roll out the welcome mat at a posh detention facility.”

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Marco Rubio's DREAM Timing

Washington Post (Blog): So Senator Marco Rubio is letting it be known that he is hard at work on a new version of the DREAM Act. The one supported by Obama and Dems would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who serve in the military or attend college. The Obama/Dem version has been widely rejected by Republicans, who continue to embrace the ever more extreme rhetoric on immigration that’s apparently necessary to appeal to the GOP base.

The Times editorial board and Steve Benen both have good pieces on this, noting that Rubio’s version of the measure would only give young illegal immigrants legal status, but wouldn’t actually put them on a path to citizenship. As the Times puts it, this amounts to a “DREAM Act without the dream.”

But puting aside the substance of this, the timing is also noteworthy. Buried in a piece in the Hill on these developments was an interesting nugget: Another companion alternative DREAM Act measure that’s being worked on by two other GOP Senators, Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, is set to be unveiled just after Mitt Romney clinches the nomination.

If there’s one thing that many Republicans agree upon, it’s that they have a serious Latino problem heading into this election. The GOP primary has forced the candidates so far to the right on immigration some GOP leaders privately worry it could lead to historic losses of Latino voters that could impact GOP downticket candidates. A failure by the GOP presidential candidate’ to make inroads among Latinos could help ensure Obama’s reelection, enabling him to hold on to western states like Colorado and to get to 270 despite losses in the Rust Belt.

It’s hard not to see the timing of the push for a new alternative DREAM Act in this context.

But ultimately, what this really shows us is that the framing of the discussion about the GOP’s Latino problem is all wrong. The problem isn’t a cosmetic one that can be fixed with the right kind of “outreach.” The problem seems to be that Republicans can’t adopt positions that would actually appeal to Latinos or genuinely be in their interests because they don’t seem to think the GOP base will let them.

If the only version of the DREAM Act that Congressional Republicans can bring themselves to support is one that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship to young immigrants in America who go to college or serve in the armed forces, then that seems more likely to epitomize the GOP’s Latino problem than to fix it.

Look Out for Latino Astronauts

Sacramento Bee (Opinion by Ruben Navarrette): Who's afraid of a Mexican- American astronaut? When that astronaut is also a Democrat running for Congress, apparently, the answer is: a Republican-leaning law firm.

According to an article by Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers' Washington, D.C., bureau, the Sacramento-based law firm of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk has actually gone to the lengths of filing a lawsuit to prevent Jose Hernandez — a Democratic congressional candidate who, besides being an engineer and scientist, was also a crew member on the space shuttle Discovery in 2009 — from using the title "astronaut" to identify himself on the June primary ballot.

Really? How petty and childish can you get? The firm — which, Doyle reported, has strong ties to Republican candidates and the California GOP — seems determined to show us. Lawyers there have asked a judge in Sacramento County Superior Court to block Hernandez from using the job title on the ballot because, they claim, the descriptor is not a title that "one carries for life."

That's an interesting argument, but not a very strong one. I grew up in the Central Valley, where this story is unfolding and where agriculture is king. And many times, when I went to vote, I saw candidates on the ballot identifying themselves as a "farmer" — when it was public knowledge that the individual had been a farmer years earlier but wasn't anymore. Apparently, that's one of those special titles one does carry through life. As I recall, no one ever raised a fuss over something like that.

This fuss is really about partisan politics and the recognition that Hernandez's greatest strength is his amazing life story. Given that this astronaut — oops, I said it again — is Mexican-American, it's a story that inspires many. But given that Latinos represent more than 40 percent of the residents in the Central Valley, and an ever-increasing percentage of voters, it is also one that frightens others.

As the son of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez, born in French Camp, spent part of his youth picking fruits and vegetables alongside his parents in the fields of the Central Valley. In school, he took a liking to math and science, and did well enough eventually to earn a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of the Pacific and go on to graduate school. Later, he went to work for NASA and fulfilled his childhood dream of going into space.

Nothing special here.

Now, Hernandez — a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students legal status if they went to college or joined the military — has resigned from NASA and wants to go to Congress. Should he win his primary, he'll run against Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in the newly drawn 10th Congressional District.

Republicans, feeling threatened, are going after Hernandez by way of one of his most valuable assets: his history as an astronaut.

This man worked hard for that title. He earned it against pretty steep odds. Do you suppose Republicans would object if this Latino candidate were identified on the ballot as a "farm worker" or a "gardener"? I don't think so.

I hope a judge throws this case out. I also hope the Republicans at that law firm come to their senses — or at least that other Republicans decide they want no part of a stunt like this.

At the national level, the GOP is facing a demographic tsunami. By 2040, Latinos will represent a quarter of the U.S. population. And, at the same time, the Republican Party is about as popular among this group of voters as death and taxes.

It's a contempt that is well-deserved. This group's action against Hernandez explains why.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist. Mr. Navarrette is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune, is a fresh and increasingly important voice in the national political debate. His twice-weekly column offers new thinking on many of the major issues of the day, especially on thorny questions involving ethnicity and national origin. His column is syndicated worldwide by The Washington Post Writers Group. After graduating from Harvard in 1990, Navarrette returned to his native Fresno, Calif., where he began a free-lance writing career that produced more than 200 articles in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, The Fresno Bee, the Chicago Tribune and The Arizona Republic.

Fear of Deportation Stops Human Trafficking Victims from Reporting Crimes, Officials Say

New York Daily News: Fear of deportation stops many immigrants who are victims of crimes or trafficking from reporting to authorities what happened.

Trafficking survivors, in particular, are so wary of coming forward that the pool of 5,000 special T visas available to them each year go largely unassigned. Just 557 were approved last year. Officials believe thousands more immigrants are out there who haven’t found help.

“They’re right in front of us and we don’t even know it,” said Scott Whelan, an officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Office of Policy and Strategy.

Whelan and other USCIS officials are touring the country — from Los Angeles to Boston to Queens in New York — to spread the word about T visas and other special visas that let immigrant victims who help law enforcement stay in the U.S.

They stopped in the agency’s new Long Island City office last week to teach cops, immigration agents, community groups and nonprofits more about the benefits available to victims.

Dozens of staffers from groups like Sanctuary for Families, Safe Horizon, Kids in Need of Defense and Legal Aid showed up for the training, which is part of a Homeland Security anti-human trafficking project called the “Blue Campaign.”

While T visas are just for survivors of labor or sex trafficking, the feds give U visas to immigrants who are victims of serious crimes.

As co-director of nonprofit Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, Julie Dinnerstein has counseled many clients to alert police or testify before a grand jury without fear of deportation after terrible misfortunes.

In one shocking case, an undocumented Mexican immigrant mom living in the Bronx came into Dinnerstein’s office last year and told her she’d discovered that her boyfriend had repeatedly raped her 10-year-old daughter.

“The child rapist had been telling this little girl that if she said anything to the police or her schoolteachers, to her mother, that her mother would be deported and that she and all of her siblings would end up in foster care,” said Dinnerstein.

“And of course, the child was terrified. The reality of what happened when she finally told is actually quite different.”

Dinnerstein said her group is now working with the feds to secure U-visas for the family.

Lynn Boudreau, an assistant center director at USCIS’ Vermont Service Center, where all victim-related petitions from around the country are filed, said a growing number of immigrants are securing U visas.

For the past two years, the agency has awarded all of the 10,000 U visas available each year.

Before then, many went unused. If pending legislation to renew the federal Violence Against Women Act is approved, the feds will raise the cap for the next few years and give out U visas from past years that were never awarded.

'Holiday on ICE' Hearings Take Aim at Imprisoned Immigrants

Chicago Tribune: Republicans in Congress mocked the Obama administration’s plans to improve conditions for immigrants held in county jails and detention facilities Wednesday, saying that a raft of reforms written by U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounts to coddling lawbreakers.

In a hearing titled “Holiday on ICE,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, took aim at recent administrative changes designed to improve medical care for detainees, reduce incidents of sexual abuse, increase access to safe water and outdoor recreation, among other reforms.

ICE made the changes after coming under fire from news reports, human rights groups and internal investigations for putting immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes in detention facilities plagued by sexual assaults and inadequate medical care.

Democrats on the committee took aim at the sarcastic title of the hearing, saying it belittled the serious issue of ICE’s poor track record of ensuring the safety and health of detainees in custody. To help make that point, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) displayed graphic photographs depicting immigrants with fatal wounds and medical conditions that went untreated in detention facilities.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), had asked Smith to reconsider the title of the hearing, in a letter sent Tuesday. “I hope we can agree that the manner in which we treat immigrants in our detention facilities is not a laughing matter,” Conyers wrote.

But Smith was undeterred.

“ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants,” he said during the opening minutes of the hearing. “While we would all like to be upgraded, we don’t have the luxury of billing the American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge.”

“Detention is no holiday,” said Greg Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association who attended the hearing. “I think they should be embarrassed to describe people who are deprived of their liberty as if they were on vacation.”

There are over 33,000 immigrants and asylum seekers held in local and county jails and other detention facilities across the country. Many are waiting for an immigration judge to decide whether they will be deported.

The Obama administration has deported more people than any previous administration. Last year, 396,906 people were deported, a record number of the third year in a row.

“I would like to be clear that no member is against the humane treatment of detainees,” said Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) However, Gallegly said, the new 400 pages of detention standards made public in February are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and taxpayers.

The best way to help immigration detainees is to deport them more quickly, said Gallegly, “not to roll out the welcome mat at a posh detention facility.”

Union Chief Says New U.S. Rules for Immigration Detention Are Flawed

New York Times (by Julia Preston): The leader of a union representing thousands of federal officers responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants said Wednesday that new rules issued by the Obama administration for immigration detention centers nationwide were flawed and would make the system “more dangerous.”

In testimony in Washington before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Chris Crane, the president of Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees, accused administration officials of systematically excluding agents from discussions of security provisions in the new rules. The agents Mr. Crane represents are from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is in charge of immigration detention.

Mr. Crane said the new rules, which the agency published in February, eliminated or undercut many security procedures that were routine in other federal facilities. “New detention standards proposed by ICE are unsafe,” Mr. Crane said, using the acronym for the agency, “unsafe for detainees and unsafe for employees.”

The testimony by Mr. Crane was a new sign of a deep rift between top immigration officials, including John Morton, the director of the agency, and at least some enforcement agents on the ground, as the Obama administration makes ambitious changes in deportations policy and detention practices.

The hearing, under the title “Holiday on ICE,” was called by Republicans to air their criticisms of the new detention standards, which they regard as overly lax and wasteful.

“Under this administration, detention looks more like recess,” Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the opening of the hearing.

Kevin Landy, assistant director for detention policy and planning at ICE, noted that the agency did not have legal powers to punish, as federal prisons do. The agency holds immigrants under civil, not criminal authorities, while they await the outcome of immigration court cases or head for deportation.

The new standards were devised to deal with failings that led in recent years to dozens of deaths of immigrants in detention, many lawsuits and critical reports from oversight officials. The standards will improve medical care and add protections against sexual abuse for detainees, Mr. Landy said, and make it easier for them to consult with lawyers.

This month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement opened a new detention center in Karnes County, Tex., that is the first one in the country designed for civil detention. It includes more freedom of movement, recreation and contact visits for immigrants held there.

The contrast between Mr. Landy and Mr. Crane was so great, it often seemed they were talking about different detention systems. Mr. Crane testified that the union had tried repeatedly over three years to participate through bargaining in internal discussions leading to the new detention policy — to no avail, he said.

He accused the Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and Mr. Morton of negotiating in bad faith, in “the most anti-union and anti-federal law enforcement campaign we have witnessed.”

Mr. Crane said ICE had set up no national system for employees to report attacks by detainees on officers. ICE agents are also concerned, he said, that the new standards do not include criminal background screenings of visitors to detention centers.

The standards call for pat-down searches instead of more thorough strip searches, Mr. Crane testified, and they permit immigrants to observe searches by agents in the facility, allowing detainees to “learn search techniques.”

ICE officers have been asked to conduct initial medical screenings, he said, which are not within their expertise.

Mr. Crane noted that the agency had made a major shift to focus its efforts on deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

But while the proportion of criminals in detention increases, he argued, “security protocols appear to be weakening.”

Raising Arizona: If Democrats Can Get Latinos to Register and Vote in Proportion to Their Share of the Population, Arizona Could Become a Purple State

National Journal: What does it take to paint a red desert blue? For Democrats hoping to win their first federal races in Arizona in 16 years, the answer lies in getting the state’s electorate to more closely resemble the state’s population. But Democratic dreams of winning the Copper State this year may be more mirage than reality.

No Democratic presidential candidate has won Arizona since President Clinton took 46.5 percent of the vote in 1996, a win that only came because Ross Perot split part of the Republican base. No Democrat has secured a Senate seat since Dennis DeConcini won reelection in 1988. But the state’s electorate is changing rapidly, fueled by the Latino population, which is growing at an increasingly rapid pace: In the past decade, Latinos accounted for nearly half—47.5 percent—of the state’s population growth, while minorities overall accounted for two-thirds.

Such changes make Democrats optimistic. As Hispanic voters increasingly become a bedrock part of the Democratic base, the Mountain West’s political landscape has shifted. New Mexico, once the consummate swing state, is now considered to be in the Democratic column. Colorado and Nevada have moved toward the Democrats, too, although both states remain toss-ups.

But in Arizona, Latino population growth hasn’t helped Democrats much. Although minorities now constitute more than 42 percent of the state’s population, only one in five voted in 2010. Just 25 percent of all Arizona voters in the 2008 presidential contest were minorities.

The lack of Hispanic participation in the state’s congressional races is stark. Republican Rep. Ben Quayle, who won a heavily white district in north Phoenix and its suburbs, got 108,000 votes in 2010 to capture 52 percent of the vote. Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor won a much larger 67 percent that year, but turnout in his heavily-Latino central Phoenix district clocked in at just 13 percent; Pastor attracted only 61,000 votes total.

“The importance of minorities, particularly the Latino community, will slowly increase, but it will be many years before it is significant enough to make Arizona a swing state,” said Sean Noble, a Copper State Republican strategist. “That’s not to say Republicans can ignore the growing Latino vote. If the Republican Party wants to be sustainable for the next generation, they’ll need to reach out to them.”

To boost Hispanic turnout, Democrats are trying a novel, if long-shot, tactic by putting a prominent Hispanic near the top of the ticket. After a former state Democratic Party chairman dropped out of the Senate race on Wednesday, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona almost certainly will be the nominee to try to replace retiring Republican Jon Kyl. And Carmona, nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, is trying to drive a wedge between Latinos and Republicans.

“When it comes to understanding the culture of being Hispanic, when it comes to understanding the challenges of the border and wanting to control it for safety and security but yet not wanting it to be an impediment for Congress, I’ve lived that every day; I understand it,” Carmona said in a recent interview in his new campaign office in downtown Phoenix.

Democrats worked hard to get Carmona on the ballot. He fielded calls from President Obama, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, all urging him to jump in the race. And the party did so even though Don Bivens, the former party chairman who donated thousands of dollars to Democratic Party officials and organizations over the years, was already in the contest.

To win Arizona, Democrats likely will need some GOP assistance. And it seems a significant portion of the state Republican Party is willing to go along by alienating moderate voters, both white and Latino: Statehouse Republicans, led by immigration hard-liner Russell Pearce, passed one of the nation’s most aggressive and controversial immigration enforcement bills in 2010; more recently, GOP legislators pushed groundbreaking gun-rights measures, an ultrasound bill, and even a “birther” bill requiring presidential candidates to prove they are U.S. citizens.

The other half of the Arizona Republican Party takes a more moderate stand on immigration. Sen. John McCain and Kyl advocated for comprehensive immigration reform and have taken great pains to avoid alienating their Hispanic constituencies. Rep. Jeff Flake has a record that looks much more like McCain’s and Kyl’s than that of Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the harsh illegal-immigration bill.

Taking the extreme position is good for an Arizona Republican in the primary—after signing the bill, Brewer watched her difficult intra-party battle became a cakewalk. But it hurts in a general election. Brewer won a full term in a positive Republican year while attracting just 28 percent of the minority vote. Taking the moderate track pays off in the general; both McCain and Kyl won their reelection bids by attracting 40 percent of the minority vote (McCain even managed 40 percent among minority voters against Obama in 2008).

Until Democrats are able to bring the minority share of the electorate into closer accord with the state’s overall population, Arizona is unlikely to become a swing state like neighboring Nevada and Colorado, or a blue state like New Mexico. Republicans such as Flake have found the politic approach to immigration issues. Over the long run, their challenge will be to avoid being drowned out by the more extremist set that controls the state Legislature.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Higher Ed Provision Stripped from Immigration Bill

Associated Press-Georgia: Georgia lawmakers on Tuesday stripped a provision that would have barred illegal immigrants from state colleges, universities and technical schools from a bill making its way through the state Legislature.

The bill's author Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said the bill lacked the support to move to the House floor with that language. The rest of the bill's provisions were important enough that he told House leaders he wouldn't object to striking the higher education provisions to get the bill to the House floor, he said.

"There's other provisions in there that we really need to streamline the process of identification and also security," Loudermilk said. "Instead of just jeopardizing all this when we didn't have the support for the education part, I told them to pull that off if we need to and move forward with the rest of it."

The bill still makes some tweaks to last year's law targeting illegal immigration, notably to the requirements for applicants for public benefits and to acceptable forms of identification for certain government transactions. The House adjourned Tuesday without debating the bill. If it passes on Thursday -- the next and final day lawmakers are meeting this year -- it would still have to go back to the Senate before final passage.

Last year's law required any applicant for public benefits -- which include food stamps and professional licenses, among other things -- to provide a "secure and verifiable" document proving their legal presence in the country. Some agencies had expressed concern that the requirement would cause extra work for staffers, potentially delaying the administration of the benefits.

This year's legislation says applicants may submit their documents any time within nine months prior to the application deadline as long as the documents are still valid at the time the public benefit is administered and for the duration of the benefit. The bill also says that U.S. citizens renewing an application for a public benefit do not need to resubmit the documents each time they apply to renew a benefit with the same agency. Applicants who are not U.S. citizens would have to submit the documents each time they apply.

Last year's law charged the state attorney general with coming up with a list of acceptable secure and verifiable documents. The list issued by Attorney General Sam Olens includes a passport issued by a foreign government. Loudermilk's legislation says foreign passports should only be acceptable if they are submitted along with valid federal immigration paperwork specifying that the person is in the country legally.

The bill also adds U.S. birth certificates to the list of secure and verifiable documents and excludes foreign birth certificates unless they are accompanied by certification of the person's legal presence in the country.

A change to the bill offered Tuesday says a secure and verifiable document is not needed to obtain a marriage license and utility services related to basic human necessities. This change comes after concerns were raised that the exclusion of foreign passports from the list of secure and verifiable documents unless accompanied by federal immigration papers could prevent illegal immigrants from being able to get a marriage license in the state or to access water and sewage services.

A variety of people, including the chancellor of Georgia's university system, had testified in legislative committees against the provisions of the bill that would have barred illegal immigrants from state institutions of higher learning.

Already, illegal immigrants are effectively barred from the most competitive state schools by an October 2010 Board of Regents policy that prohibits any school that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from accepting illegal immigrants. That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University. Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.

Congress Should Get Serious About Immigration Detention Facilities

The Hill (Blog) by Annie Sovcik: During the last decade, I've crisscrossed America visiting remote immigration detention centers in more than half a dozen states. From New Jersey to California, there are over 250 such facilities that house almost 400,000 immigrants and asylum seekers on an annual basis -- all waiting in limbo as their fate in the United States is determined. Some of the facilities are actual jails, others just look and feel like them. Time spent there is certainly no "holiday," a notion that seems to escape some members of Congress.

On March 28, for example, the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), will host a hearing titled "Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's New Immigration Detention Standards." It's these kinds of flip references that make you think the Chairman is out of touch with the gravity of what people face in immigration detention.

As a lawyer, I know immigration detainees. I have observed legal orientations for individuals seeking asylum or facing removal, and I have inspected some of the nation's 250 different immigration detention facilities to assess whether conditions meet the threshold of basic human rights standards. For years, it has been clear that most do not.

In 2009, Human Rights First issued a report documenting the chronic problems in the immigration detention system -- concerns that were also echoed in reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, 60 Minutes and others. The reports noted the pervasive use of shackles and overuse of strip-searches and solitary confinement. They documented widespread medical neglect, unreported deaths and suicides and forced sedation of detainees by immigration officers. Reviews also revealed widespread challenges including access to legal counsel and telephones, as well as issues with the open practice of religion. Immigration detention practices were significantly out of step with the nation's fundamental values and long-standing vision of liberty.

In August 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a commitment to change that. The announcement came on the heels of an investigation led by a national corrections expert, Dora Schriro, selected by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to review the immigration detention system. That review concluded that jails and jail-like facilities are inappropriate and unnecessarily costly to hold asylum seekers and other civil immigration detainees.

ICE has since developed plans to offer conditions less jail-like than those in the majority of existing ICE facilities. A few weeks ago, it opened its first model "civil" facility in Karnes County, TX. Though the site is still surrounded by barbed wire fences, inside things have changed. Conditions at this facility provide for some increased outdoor access, greater mobility between areas within the closed facility and its grounds and contact visitation. Detainees can also wear "non-institutional" clothing. These are not radical reforms, but they are significant and they are changes that will ultimately make the site safer for detainees and those who work there. In interviews with corrections professionals, Human Rights First has found that "normalized" conditions are actually touted as "best practices" in the penal corrections system because they improve the safety and security of the facility. Multiple studies on the impact of prison design and operations on safety have drawn the same conclusions. Surely, these best practices could be applied to civil immigration detention centers.

The Karnes County facility is a step in the right direction for ICE. Despite this progress, however, there are hundreds of other immigration detention facilities around the country that fall far short of ICE's reform commitment. Those facilities cost taxpayers $2 billion annually, about $122 per day for each immigration detainee. These men and women are not spending their days on "holiday" at a "resort." If that's what Rep. Smith and his colleagues think, perhaps they should book their next vacation at one of the following "resorts" that I've visited:


El Centro Service Processing Center - To get to my last "holiday" at this 512-bed immigration detention facility in El Centro, California, I drove two hours into the summer desert from San Diego. To enter, I left my ID and cell phone at the "reception" desk, ran my purse through an x-ray and passed through security. The "hallways" were lined with fencing and concertina coiling and the "guest rooms" were "pods" that housed 64 beds each. Detainee "activities" at El Centro include staying in their dorms all day, with excursions that include going to the cafeteria for meals and 2 hours of recreation at the facility's large dirt yard where detainees play soccer. The day I was there, detainees demonstrated their camaraderie by crouching together against a wall trying to help each other find a small bit of relief from the intense sun and 110 degree heat. The staff there noted repeatedly how it had been a long time since an NGO had visited El Centro -- either to monitor conditions or to provide legal representation. Another "benefit" of El Centro is the isolation the detainees get from legal services, because who needs access to a lawyer when going through immigration removal proceedings?


Pinal County Adult Detention Center in Florence, Arizona and the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, TX - My "vacations" at these "holiday" spots were also enviable. Detainees don't have to move anywhere for the entire day or night! They spend 24 hours a day in the same room where they eat, sleep, shower and use the toilet without privacy. Their "outdoor" recreation is in a concrete room off of their pod with light from something that resembles a sky-light. Under ICE detention standards, a sky-light or open space in an otherwise closed, covered, concrete room is sufficient to qualify as "outside." If you stay long enough, as I saw at Pinal County, you can build up a greenish, graying tone to your skin from lack of sun exposure.

At these, and most of ICE's other immigration detention facilities, detainees are handcuffed and sometimes shackled when transported. Most are required to wear color-coded prison jumpsuits, even when they appear in immigration court in front of a judge. Detainees live with constant and extreme anxiety -- often not knowing what will happen next and where they will ultimately spend the rest of their lives. Many are confused about their legal situation or worried about family members, particularly their children. At the El Centro and Pearsall facilities and elsewhere, when family members do visit, even children, their meetings are divided by a Plexiglas barrier and they're only allowed to speak by phone. This is standard. Less common, yet more offensive, at Pinal County, visitation is conducted via video, even for visitors who arrive in person at the facility. Few facilities allow "contact" or "person-to-person" visitation. Sounds great, right Rep. Smith?

In February 2012, ICE released its 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) that, like the 2008 PBNDS, are based on correctional standards. These prescribe conditions that are not appropriate for the majority of detained asylum seekers or other immigration detainees held under ICE's civil authority. Even so, Chairman Smith calls these standards "hospitality guidelines." I'm glad he's not planning my next vacation.

At Wednesday's hearing, members of the House Judiciary Committee should spend less time trying to score political points and more time figuring out how to implement the changes that can make immigration detention facilities safer and more humane. Though there's room for improvement, ICE has a solid roadmap in place to start that journey. Now is the time for Congress to get on board.

At Wednesday's hearing, members of the House Judiciary Committee should spend less time trying to sensational and belittle what is a difficult problem, and get down to the real business of figuring out how to implement the changes that can make immigration detention facilities safer and more humane. Though there's room for improvement, ICE has a solid roadmap in place to start that journey. Now is the time for Congress to get serious.

Sovcik is advocacy counsel with the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First.

Detention Is No Holiday

New York Times (Opinion) by Edwidge Danticat: LAMAR SMITH, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is presiding over a hearing Wednesday on new guidelines for immigration detention that were issued last month and are now beginning to go into effect. The official (and facetious) title of the hearing is "Holiday on ICE," in reference to the more humane treatment undocumented immigrants should now receive after being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr. Smith, a Republican from Texas, and members of the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, which is holding the hearing, seem to think the United States is too nice to the immigrants it detains. We are being too generous in deciding to give them safe water, an hour a day of recreation, and off-site medical care if they are in danger of dying.

With draconian immigration laws spreading across the country, immigration detention is one of the fastest-growing forms of incarceration in the United States. There are more than 30,000 men, women and children in immigration custody, spread throughout jails as well as detention centers, some of which are outsourced to private companies. It is only fitting that ICE seek out more humane ways of treating this growing population.

The new ICE guidelines are not perfect. They do not offer, for example, alternatives to jail-like detention, even for unaccompanied minors, the elderly, the disabled or pregnant women. But they are a step forward. In addition to medical care, safe water and limited recreation, they also require that staff members not perform strip searches on detainees of the opposite sex and that detainees not be used for medical experiments or for clinical trials without informed consent. They will crack down on sexual assault by staff members, contract personnel or other detainees and suggest that victims of sexual abuse be given access to emergency medical treatment.

Clearly, these new standards are far from luxurious. They simply help protect basic human rights.

The flippant title of the hearing shows a blatant disregard for the more than 110 people who have died in immigration custody since 2003. One of them was my uncle Joseph, an 81-year-old throat cancer survivor who spoke with an artificial voice box. He arrived in Miami in October 2004 after fleeing an uprising in Haiti. He had a valid passport and visa, but when he requested political asylum, he was arrested and taken to the Krome detention center in Miami. His medications for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate were taken away, and when he fell ill during a hearing, a Krome nurse accused him of faking his illness. When he was finally transported, in leg chains, to the prison ward of a nearby hospital, it was already too late. He died the next day.

My uncle's brief and deadly stay in the United States immigration system was no holiday. Detention was no holiday for Rosa Isela Contreras-Dominguez, who was 35 years old and pregnant when she died in immigration custody in Texas in 2007. She had a history of blood clots, and said her complaints regarding leg pains were ignored. It was no holiday for Mayra Soto, a California woman who was raped by an immigration officer. It was no holiday for Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese immigrant with a fractured spine who was dragged on the floor and refused the use of a wheelchair in an ICE detention center in Rhode Island.

In October 2007 I testified at another Congressional hearing on immigration detention conditions, where I told my uncle's story. Also testifying was Francisco Castañeda, an immigrant from El Salvador. In 2006 he had been placed in a detention facility in San Diego, where he was refused treatment for a penile lesion and a lump in his groin. When he was eventually released from ICE custody, he had to have his cancerous penis amputated. A few months after giving his Congressional testimony, he died.

In May 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Hui v. Castañeda that public health officials in the detention system could not be held liable for failing to provide medical care to detainees like Mr. Castañeda and my uncle. This ruling further reduced the accountability for mistreatment. The new guidelines are a valuable gesture toward protecting detainees, but they are only guidelines, and they do not have the force of law behind them. Immigration facilities around the country can, and will, choose to interpret them any way they want, or ignore them altogether.

The "Holiday on ICE" hearing may just be a political stunt, but the message behind it is dangerous; it suggests that the 30,000 vulnerable people in our jails and detention centers should have little right to proper medical care, that their very lives are luxuries, and that it is not our responsibility to protect them.

Edwidge Danticat is the author, most recently, of the essay collection "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work."

A Dream Act Without the Dream

New York Times (Editorial): Republican politicians have overwhelmingly embraced an approach to immigration reform that offers only misery, arrest and punishment to the undocumented. That is popular with party's hard-right base, but toxic with Hispanic voters -- which has led some Republicans to come up with proposals that seem to shimmer with promise but lead to the same no-future dead end.

Take Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has recently been floating his stripped-down version of the Dream Act, a bill to legalize young unauthorized immigrants -- Americans in all but name -- who serve in the military or go to college. Mr. Rubio's idea to make it palatable to his party is to offer them legalization without citizenship. "You can legalize someone's status," he says, "without placing them on a path toward citizenship." He warns that if Dream Act youths became citizens, they could -- horrors -- someday sponsor family members to enter legally. This idea is nothing more than some newly invented third-class status -- not illegal, but not American.

It's the Dream Act without the dream and should be dismissed out of hand, along with similar half-measures embraced by Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential candidates, who endorse legalization for military service but not college, and not citizenship in any case. Representative David Rivera of Florida has offered a limited Dream Act only for those who join the military and has said that he would file another only for youths younger than 18-and-a-half who earn four-year college degrees and wait 10 years to adjust their status.

The only Dream Act worth passing is simple. It tells high schoolers who want to make something of themselves, for the good of the country, to go ahead. Join the military or go to college and take your place as full-fledged citizens in the only country you know. That Republicans reject this shows how far they have strayed from American ideals of assimilation and welcome.

U. S. Looks to Foreign Tourism to Add Jobs, Revenue

Politico: President Barack Obama is trying to take advantage of what's quickly becoming the country's largest service export: international tourists.

With overseas visitors pumping $153 billion into the U.S. economy last year -- an increase of $19 billion that Commerce Department figures show put it ahead of the combined benefits of the new trade pacts signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama -- the administration has launched a task force to issue more travel visas to Brazil and China, among other developing countries. Already, the number of Brazilian tourists jumped 26 percent last year to 1.5 million, while Chinese visitors were up 36 percent to more than 1 million.

Tourists are a special kind of stimulus: They spend their money here and head back home without imposing costs for health care or education on taxpayers, essentially allowing the United States to siphon some of the prosperity in developing countries, where there have been large, albeit uneven, wealth explosions.

"The richer countries become, the more tourists come our way," said Mark Doms, chief economist at the Commerce Department.

More tourism spending means more jobs -- 44,000 last year, thanks to an additional 1.5 million visitors who came to the United States from abroad, according to the U.S. Travel Association. That's still a level well below the peak in 2000: America's share of international tourism has dropped to 12.4 percent from 17 percent.

This spring, Obama's task force will issue its strategy on boosting tourism. A marketing campaign through a group called Brand USA will begin in April, according to the Commerce Department. The effort seeks to introduce international travelers to lesser-known American cities.

"There are things that the administration can do, like send more consulate operations to China and reduce the wait times and facilitate more travelers," said Blain Rethmeier of the U.S. Travel Association. "But what really has to happen is Congress needs to expand the visa waiver program."

Among the trickier provisions: The administration wants to expand the list of 36 countries -- including the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany -- that are allowed to have their citizens stay in the U.S. as long as three months without a visa.

But that expansion would require support from House Republicans. The Travel Association already has begun lobbying them.

"You have some conservative Republicans seeing this as an immigration issue, rather than as a security and economic issue," Rethmeier said.

Travel Lobby Rallies Senate Support for Visa Reform Bill

National Journal: A coalition led by the U.S. Travel Association has helped coalesce Senate support for tourist visa reform around a new bipartisan bill that is getting a hearing today.

The Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, introduced yesterday, would expedite the process for some Indian, Chinese and Brazilian nationals to get tourist and business travel visas; boost Canadian tourism; and reform the visa waiver program, which makes it easier for foreign nationals of select countries to visit the United States.

The coalition of hotels, businesses and retailers used their broad membership base and connections to help advocates reach senators on opposite ends of the political spectrum and organize support for the bill, said U.S. Travel spokesman Blain Rethmeier. Now that the Senate is focused on one bill, the coalition will lobby for additional cosponsors and continue to make its case that increasing the number of tourists will not compromise national security, he said.

The coalition and the senators who introduced the bill, dubbed the JOLT Act, have touted the economic impact of increased tourism in the United States. U.S Travel president Roger Dow, for example, will testify at today's hearing telling senators that if 11 candidate countries were added to the visa waiver program, visitors would increase from 3 million to 4 million, a bump that would support 256,000 domestic jobs.

Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another coalition leader, is testifying alongside Dow before the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Update: The U.S. Travel Association also held its annual policymaker reception last Wednesday at Union Station, in conjunction with its Board meeting and a gathering of state tourism directors. The event emphasized the association's Vote Travel campaign and allowed for lawmakers to speak with state tourism directors. Among those at the event were Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Reps. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Joe Heck (R-Nev.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Rick Berg (R-N.D.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

LAPD Officer Profiled Latinos in Traffic Stops, Internal Probe Concludes

Los Angeles Times: A white police officer has been targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops because of their ethnicity, a Los Angeles Police Department investigation concluded — marking the first time the department has found that one of its officers had engaged in racial or ethnic profiling.

For decades, the question of profiling — "biased policing," in LAPD vernacular — has bedeviled the department. Accusations that the practice was commonplace throughout the 1970s and '80s alienated the LAPD from the city's minority neighborhoods. And, despite dramatic reforms that have boosted the department's image in recent years, complaints of profiling have persisted, with hundreds of officers being accused of bias each year. Until now, none of those complaints has been substantiated.

The finding is a milestone for the department and was met with praise from John Mack, a member of the department's civilian oversight board and a longtime civil right activist who has been critical of the department's handling of such cases.

"It means we've come a very long way," he said.

The investigation into Patrick Smith, a 15-year veteran who worked alone on a motorcycle assignment in the department's West Traffic Division, found that he was stopping Latinos based on their ethnicity. He is accused of deliberately misidentifying some Latinos as being white on his reports — presumably in an effort to conceal their ethnicity, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the case who requested their names not be used because police personnel issues are confidential.

At a meeting last month, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reviewed the evidence against Smith and heard from members of his command staff who recommended the officer be found guilty. Beck signed off on the investigation's findings and ordered Smith sent to a disciplinary hearing, where the department will attempt to have him fired, the sources said. In Los Angeles, the police chief cannot fire an officer unilaterally, but instead must let a three-person board hear the case and decide if the firing is warranted. The panel could also exonerate Smith, who was relieved of duty during the investigation, sources said.

Smith, 55, did not respond to an email seeking comment, and the Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, declined to comment.

Profiling complaints typically arise from traffic or pedestrian stops, in which the officer is accused of targeting a person solely because of his or her race, ethnicity or other form of outward appearance.

The question of how commonly profiling occurs in the LAPD has long been a topic of pointed debate. A 2008 study of LAPD data by a Yale researcher found blacks and Latinos were subjected to stops, frisks, searches and arrests at significantly higher rates than whites, regardless of whether they lived in high-crime neighborhoods. At the time, Beck's predecessor, William J. Bratton, acknowledged isolated cases of profiling may occur but angrily dismissed the notion of a widespread, systemic problem. The data used in the study, he said, was several years old and did not reflect the attitudes of current LAPD officers.

Whether perception or reality, about 250 formal allegations are brought against officers each year. The fact that all the allegations, until Smith, were cleared was due to the murky nature of the allegation, police officials have said. Because profiling cases hinge on what officers are thinking in the moment they make a stop, it was all but impossible to determine whether they were motivated by a racial bias unless they confess, officials said. "We cannot climb inside the head of the officers," was a familiar Bratton refrain.

That explanation wore increasingly thin on members of the Police Commission. At a meeting in 2010, Mack said, "I've heard many times that we can't get inside an officer's head, but somehow, some way, we need to figure out a way to get to the facts. I'm not talking about a witch hunt, but I am talking about reaching a point where we can say with confidence that these claims have been very fairly and very thoroughly investigated."

The pressure on the department to overhaul its racial profiling investigations came, in large part, from the U.S. Department of Justice. Until 2009, the LAPD was under a federal consent decree that the Justice Department imposed in 2001 following the Rampart corruption scandal. It required the department to complete sweeping reforms on many issues and to submit to near-constant audits and monitoring.

The U.S. District Court judge who eventually freed the LAPD from the decree found that the department had completed most, but not all, of the required reforms. On racial profiling, the judge kept federal authorities in an oversight role for a time to assess the quality of the LAPD's investigations and the Police Commission's ability to monitor the issue.

Resentful of the continued federal oversight, department officials set about overhauling profiling inquiries. They created a special team of investigators to examine profiling complaints that focused on possible constitutional rights violations instead of trying to decipher the mind set of the officers.

The department suffered an embarrassing setback in 2010 when Justice Department officials became aware of a recording that captured two LAPD officers being dismissive of racial profiling complaints. "So what?" one said, when told that other officers had been accused of stopping a motorist because of his race. The second officer is heard saying that he "couldn't do [his] job without racially profiling."

The officers' comments, Justice officials wrote in a letter to the LAPD, spoke to a "perception and attitude of some LAPD officers on the street" and suggested "a culture that is inimical to race-neutral policing." That drew the ire of Beck, who said the Justice Department was unfairly using a few examples to make the case for a widespread problem.

Since then, the ongoing work of the new bias investigation unit and increased oversight by the commission has satisfied Justice Department officials, who cleared the LAPD of continued oversight on the issue.

Smith, sources said, first came under suspicion when multiple people he stopped filed complaints against him. It is unknown how many people he is accused of improperly stopping or misidentifying in his records.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

New York Times (Opinion by Paul Krugman): Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.

And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.

Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?

Yet that’s not all; you have to think about the interests of the penal-industrial complex — prison operators, bail-bond companies and more. (The American Bail Coalition has publicly described ALEC as its “life preserver.”) This complex has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons, whether it’s exaggerated fear of racial minorities or Arizona’s draconian immigration law, a law that followed an ALEC template almost verbatim.

Think about that: we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.

Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.



New York Times (Blog by Paul Krugman):

'Creepy Cronyism'

Just a small note about today’s column: doing the research, I found myself feeling as if I had turned over a rock and found a lot of creepy-crawly things underneath. This is really upsetting stuff.

Look, in particular, at the semi-secret history of the Arizona immigration law. A legislator goes into a closed-door meeting with corporations, including a big operator of private prisons, and soon afterwards submits legislation that … sends lots of people to those private prisons.

If you read the corrections to that report, you see that ALEC and/or its clients went over the piece with a fine-toothed comb to find anything that they could attack; sure, you can’t prove that Corrections Corporation of America inspired the law, or that ALEC lobbied for it. Hey, it could all be a coincidence.

But this is really, really creepy — and scary.

Who's Afraid of a Guest-Worker Program?

Wall Street Journal (Opinion by Jason Riley): These days, there is little appetite in Congress or on the presidential campaign trail for addressing illegal immigration in ways other than calling for more enforcement measures. But a new national poll suggests that the voting public may be open to a different approach: guest-worker programs.

With U.S. unemployment currently above 8% and millions of Americans out of work, a guest-worker program for immigrants might seem like a hard sell. Yet when pollsters at the Tarrance Group asked likely voters about a proposed guest-worker program for agriculture, 70% of respondents expressed support, and 64% said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backed it. Moreover, while support "is strong across the board," the survey found, "it should be noted that support is also strong among . . . Republicans (74%), 'hard' Republicans (75%), very conservative voters (67%), strong Tea Party supporters (71%), and weekly church attendees (73%)."

The results also reveal that despite a high level of economic anxiety in the country -- and notwithstanding restrictionist lawmakers at the federal and state level who pretend that the U.S. can deport its way to full employment -- voters by and large aren't interested in scapegoating the foreign born. "A strong majority of voters believe that immigration is at most a minor cause of unemployment," according to Tarrance, "and even fewer voters believe that immigrant farm workers are a cause of unemployment at all."

The electorate seems to appreciate that foreign nationals fill niches in the workforce that help grow the U.S. economy -- and that giving these economic migrants more legal ways to enter the country means that fewer will come illegally. Could it be that voters have a more sophisticated understanding of human capital and labor markets than politicians give them credit for?

The Republicans' Growing Latino Challenge

CNN (Blog): Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.


Oxford Analytica Analysis

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and a critical swing vote in national elections. There are now more Hispanic U.S. residents than African-Americans, and this group's projected growth rate greatly exceeds native-born blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Although both political parties will make substantial outreach efforts to Hispanics, the latest data show that a significant political advantage resides with the Democrats.

The Hispanic community has accounted for over one-half of U.S. population growth over the past decade. In 2008, there were 19.5 million adult Hispanics who were eligible to vote; this year, there will be 21.5 million.

Although Hispanic population growth is strong, political participation by this community lags far behind. For example, only approximately 60% of Hispanic citizen adults are registered to vote, compared to 70% of blacks and 74% of non-Hispanic whites.

Low political participation by Hispanics is attributable to several factors. Many first-generation immigrants have not attained citizenship and thus voter eligibility. For many who achieve citizenship, the custom of political participation does not immediately take hold.

About 70% of all native-born citizens are registered to vote, whereas for naturalized citizens that proportion drops to 54%. Moreover, many Hispanics comprise a portion of the economic underclass, the group least likely to participate politically, regardless of ethnicity.

However, Hispanic voting is on a sharp upward trajectory. According to census data, in 2004, there were 7.6 million Latino voters. In 2008, that number rose to 9.75 million, an increase of 28.4%.

The surging Hispanic population is a serious dilemma for the Republican Party, which is perceived by many in that community as the anti-immigrant party. A recent Pew national poll of Hispanics showed that only 14% would vote for the Republican nominee for president over President Barack Obama. In that same poll, 60% said that the Democratic Party is most likely to help Hispanics 'achieve the American dream', whereas only 10% chose the Republicans.

Another problem for the Republicans this year is that Hispanics comprise sizeable portions of the electorate in several swing states, including New Mexico (42.5%), Florida (19.2%), Nevada (17.3%), and Colorado (13.4%).

The leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, has adopted a harsh position on illegal immigration - one that plays well with the overwhelmingly conservative voter base in the party's presidential primaries and caucuses, but that undermines his appeal among Latinos.

Yet it is not a given that Latinos vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. With skilled outreach and an appealing message, some Republicans have fared relatively well with these voters. For example, former President George W. Bush promoted a 'path to citizenship' initiative to help many of the nation's approximately 13 million illegal immigrants regularize their status, rejecting the harshly pro-deportation stance of many conservatives. As a result, Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Halting the pro-Democratic party trend among Hispanics would require altering the Republican stand on immigration issues, emphasizing economic opportunity and growth policies, and savvy use of social conservative issues. Indeed, this is possible, but not before this November's election, when between two-thirds and three-quarters of Hispanic voters will likely back Democrats.