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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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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Citing fiscal crunch, the government releases “several hundred” detained immigrants

Washington Post

Wonk Blog

Graham and McCain Optimistic After White House Immigration Meeting


CNN
By Rachel Streitfeld and Kevin Liptak
February 26, 2013

Two leading Republican senators voiced optimism Tuesday after a sit-down with President Barack Obama focused primarily on the hot button topic of immigration.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain both said the meeting at the White House went well, though didn't delve into what specifically was discussed. Graham, who has opposed Obama on topics ranging from national security to budgets, said it was "one of the best meetings I've ever had with the president."

"I was quite frankly encouraged," Graham told CNN. "I think we'll have presidential leadership in a very productive way on immigration reform."

"I think the president's very sincere in wanting a bill and wants to know what he can do to help," Graham, who represents South Carolina, continued. "I told him the talks were going good, me and Sen. McCain are working well with our colleagues."

McCain, on his way to cast a "no" vote for Obama's nominee to become defense secretary, said the immigration meeting was "excellent."

Asked what else what discussed, the Arizona lawmaker said "a number of issues but immigration was the major topic."

An early backer of comprehensive immigration reform, McCain later backed away from supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after his position hurt him with GOP primary voters during his run for president in 2008. This year, he's been more vocal in his support of immigration reform measures, including a bipartisan framework proposed last month in the Senate.

That plan includes a pathway to citizenship that hinges on bolstering border security. Asked Tuesday whether he thought the president would sign a bill making border security a condition of a pathway to citizenship  McCain said "You'll have to ask him, but he understands the parameters of what we're doing."

Graham also said he thought Obama "understands that we need border security that we can afford."

In an interview Sunday, McCain explained improving border security and creating a pathway to citizenship were necessary and supported by the American people.

"Just because they broke the law doesn't mean they're condemned forever to a twilight status," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I believe that most Americans feel that for these people who have come illegally, as long as they pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and get behind everybody else, that's a key element of it. And most Americans now realize we can't have 11 million people sit in the twilight, the shadows of America, forever."

McCain later said that Republicans won't be punished by conservative primary voters if they back comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Detained Immigrants Released Ahead of Sequester


WALL STREET JOURNAL
By Devin Barrett
February 26, 2013

Immigration officials said Tuesday that they have released hundreds of immigrants who had been detained and are still awaiting deportation proceedings, in order to reduce costs in advance of the expected round of spending cuts known as the sequester, which starts to take effect on Friday.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had warned two weeks ago that some immigrants awaiting deportation would be released in order to trim spending, and that such releases could pose risks.

“Under sequestration, ICE would be forced to reduce current detention and removal operations, potentially affecting public safety, and would not be able to maintain 34,000 detention beds,’’ Ms. Napolitano said in written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Congress has mandated that ICE – the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement agency– maintain detention capacity for 34,000 people.

The decision to release some immigrants from detention shows the Obama administration has some degree of latitude in deciding how to implement the cuts.

Ms. Napolitano’s testimony indicated that, within the Department of Homeland Security, officials chose to reduce costs by releasing detained immigrants but made no mention of any plans to furlough ICE employees. Staff furloughs are a major component of cost reductions at other homeland security agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection agency.

Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said Tuesday that officials reviewed cases and released hundreds of people “on methods of supervision less costly than detention’’ as the agency continues to seek their removal from the United States. She said the agency is prioritizing its remaining detention spaces for “serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.’’

The decision was sharply criticized by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, who said the Obama administration is using sequestration as an excuse to carry out a “de facto catch-and-release policy” it had already planned to implement.

He noted that last year the administration sought to decrease its detention space costs by $53 million, but was blocked by Congress.

The move “shows that the administration does not plan on negotiating with Congress to avoid the sequester,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement.

McCain, Graham Upbeat After Obama Immigration Meeting


WALL STREET JOURNAL
By Sara Murray
February 26, 2013

John McCain and Lindsey Graham emerged from a meeting at the White House buoyant but tight-lipped about the prospects of achieving an immigration overhaul this year.

“It’s one of the best meetings I ever had with the president,” Mr. Graham (R., S.C.) gushed after the meeting. He said it was clear President Barack Obama is committed to advancing legislation on the issue, which could help calm GOP concerns that the issue could morph into a political football instead of a legislative priority.

President Obama’s across-the-aisle outreach comes as a group of eight bipartisan senators, including Messers. McCain and Graham, are crafting a comprehensive plan to change immigration laws that would both strengthen border security and develop a path to citizenship for the millions of Americans already in the U.S.

Mr. McCain said he also came away from the meeting encouraged but quickly brushed aside questions about the specific issues that were discussed, saying he wouldn’t divulge details from the meeting.

“I believe that the president is very committed to comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. McCain (R., Ariz.) said after the meeting. “Does that mean he’s committed to anything we do? No.”

Democratic senators working on the bipartisan legislation — which include Illinois’s Dick Durbin, New York’s Chuck Schumer, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and Colorado’s Michael Bennet – met with Mr. Obama earlier this month to discuss the effort. But Tuesday marks the first face-to-face meeting between Mr. Obama and GOP Sens. McCain and Graham, both architects of the Senate effort, since they unveiled the outline of their plan.

As border security emerges as a fault line in the immigration debate, Mr. Graham said the president “understands we need border security that we can afford,” and said his counterpart, Mr. McCain, made strong points on the issue in Tuesday’s meeting.

Pressed for more details, Mr. Graham hopped in an elevator.

“Adios,” he said.


Immigrant Advocacy May Not Help GOP; Study Shows No Candidate Reward


WASHINGTON TIMES
By Stephen Dinan
February 27, 2013
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/27/immigrant-advocacy-may-not-help-gop/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS

Immigrant rights groups and some top Hispanic Republicans argue that the GOP’s only hope of winning over Hispanic voters is to legalize illegal immigrants — but an academic report being released Wednesday that studied the 2006 election suggests that Hispanics don’t reward pro-immigration Republicans.

George Hawley, who teaches political science at the University of Houston, crunched the numbers and found that Republicans who backed immigration reform in that election didn’t fare better with Hispanic voters, and in fact probably suffered overall thanks to a drop in support from white voters.

“While Republican incumbents may have any number of justifications for supporting immigration reforms that provide a pathway to citizenship, they should not expect such policies to be an electoral panacea,” Mr. Hawley wrote in a report for the Center for Immigration Studies, summarizing an academic paper he is publishing in Social Science Quarterly.

The question of political peril and reward from immigration has been front-and-center after the November elections, when President Obama won an overwhelming share of the Hispanic vote en route to a fairly easy re-election victory.

Immigrant rights advocates and many members of the GOP leadership concluded that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney alienated Hispanic voters by running the most hard-line immigration campaign of any major-party nominee in modern history.

Now, those same forces argue that Republicans can recapture some Hispanic voters if they join efforts to pass a broad immigration bill that would grant illegal immigrants a path to citizenship along with stricter enforcement and a rewrite of the legal immigration system.

Indeed, some immigrant rights groups warn that focusing on enforcement will only doom the Republican Party.

But Mr. Hawley said the 2006 election shows otherwise.

He looked at incumbent Republicans running for re-election to Congress that year and their grades on immigration as determined by NumbersUSA, an organization that supports a crackdown. He then looked at exit-poll data for 1,550 Hispanic voters and 14,378 non-Hispanic whites in those members’ districts.

“Whether a Republican member of Congress was a strong liberal or a strong conservative on immigration, most Latinos living in Republican districts did not vote for the incumbent in 2006,” he concluded. “Thus, Republicans who take a more liberal stance on immigration should not expect to see a corresponding increase in their share of the Latino vote.”

All told, the Republicans congressional candidates averaged less than 30 percent support of Hispanic voters in their districts, his study found.

Immigrant rights advocates said the political situation has changed dramatically since 2006 and that the study has been overtaken by events.

“Right now, we have a majority of Americans supporting immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship  a consensus in Washington from both parties — how often can you say that about an issue — that there is an imperative to do something about this issue, and a fair, bipartisan framework that and process that by all accounts is make serious progress towards a legislative debate in the spring,” said Angela Marie Kelley, vice president for immigration at the Center for American Progress.

The latest polling does suggest a shift among voters, including Republicans, who say they are increasingly likely to embrace a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said his group arranged a study of 2008 congressional campaigns looking at 22 competitive races featuring a pro-immigration reform candidate running against a candidate calling for a crackdown. He said that in 20 of those races, the pro-immigration reform candidate won.

He questioned the wisdom of studying 2006, when he said immigration wasn’t as big a mobilizing issue for Hispanics as it has become. He also warned Republicans against taking advice from crackdown groups.

“These are the guys who told Mitt Romney to embrace self-deportation. Now they’re telling Republicans immigration doesn’t matter with Latino voters. Anyone who follows their advice is a fool,” Mr. Sharry said.

Those on both sides grapple with a number of questions about Hispanic voters.

Mr. Hawley, the study’s author, argued that Hispanics aren’t single-issue voters and that in general they tend to resemble Democratic voters on other issues. He said trying to win their support could end up costing Republicans among their base voters.

Some key Hispanic Republicans, though, argue that Hispanics share the stances on social issues to which most Republicans ascribe, which should make them a natural fit for the party.

Immigrant rights advocates argue that while Hispanics may not be single-issue voters, immigration has become a “threshold issue” and they tune out candidates they see as anti-immigrant.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Silicon Valley in Immigration Reform Call

Financial Times
By Anna Fifield
February 24, 2013

A coalition of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and social media experts will on Monday launch a campaign for comprehensive immigration reform, which will culminate in a “virtual march” on Washington in April.

The “March for Innovation” is aimed at convincing lawmakers to back a bill that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to hire the engineers they need to develop tech companies.

“Our immigration laws are so inefficient,” says Prerna Gupta, a co-founder of Khush, a start-up developing intelligent music apps, and the daughter of Indian immigrants.

“Our country was built off the backs of immigrants and I’ve seen first-hand the impact that educated immigrants can have. So as an employer, it’s extremely frustrating not to be able to hire the educated engineers we need,” she said.

When Khush was getting started in 2009, they could not afford the legal fees required to get an H-1B high-skilled visa for one of the co-founders, a Chinese engineer who wrote the code for the app.

Instead, someone else had to spend months learning the code. “It really slowed us down,” Ms. Gupta said.

She is one of a group that includes Steve Case, a co-founder of AOL; Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley angel investor; and Brad Feld, the tech investor and entrepreneur; as well as Joe Green from Causes, the online advocacy application within Facebook, and Joe Trippi, Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign manager.

They are being co-ordinated by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders headed by New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

They are launching the March for Innovation on Monday to start building momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, which President Barack Obama has put at the top of his legislative agenda.

The march will culminate in mid-April, when an immigration reform bill is expected to be going through Congress, with its backers anticipating that hundreds of thousands of people will take to Twitter and Facebook, as well as other sites, to urge lawmakers to back reform.

Reform would involve creating a pathway to citizenship for the US’s estimated 11m unauthorized immigrants, as well as improving border security and overhauling the system under which people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees can apply for high-skill visas.

Mr Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican rival for the presidency last year, as well as business leaders, have all identified the high-skill visa regime as something that should be overhauled to help the economy grow.

While the issue has broad bipartisan support, it could be dragged down by political fighting over the other, more contentious planks of comprehensive immigration reform.

“We’re often debating the wrong thing,” said John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New Economy. “We should be debating how immigration will help us jump-start the economy and how the next great idea not only creates jobs in the tech sector but in housing or hospitality too.”

The US issues only 7 per cent of its visas based on its economic needs, Mr Feinblatt said, compared to 25 per cent for Canada and 58 per cent for the UK.

Mike Maples, a tech venture capitalist who is backing the campaign, says that the issue is not just a political or business issue, but a moral one.

“This country was founded on a promise that people would make enormous sacrifices to come here and build the pie and make it bigger for everyone,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking now to see how we are turning people away. The tech industry is all about building the pie and we need the smartest people in the world to do that.”

Tech companies had some political success last year when they protested against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa).

The legislation was backed by the publishing and entertainment industries and would have held liable the sites that hosted or linked to pirated content. But a strong backlash from the internet industry – Wikipedia blacked out, while Google and Reddit displayed protests – caused lawmakers to shelve the bill.

Obama Makes Immigrants, Advocates Impatient


Washington Post
By Rosalind Helderman
February 22, 2013

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had just begun her remarks to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration when the first protester leapt to his feet.

“You have destroyed our community,” he shouted. Others in the audience joined him, chanting, “Stop the deportations!”

The anger at President Obama’s deportation policies among some of his otherwise most ardent allies could pose a surprising complication in coming weeks to the delicate negotiations to overhaul the nation’s immigration system that are now underway.

The Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any administration in history, provoking deep political tensions that could narrow the president’s ability to make concessions Republicans will probably demand as part of a comprehensive deal.

Latinos are widely credited with helping Obama win reelection in November, and there is high optimism among advocates about the prospects for immigration changes championed by the president.

But the deep resentment over deportations on display at the Senate hearing last week has bubbled up repeatedly as Obama and his allies have tried to devise a coordinated strategy to push an immigration bill through Congress.

In a private meeting with Obama at the White House earlier this month, officials with the nation’s leading immigration groups confronted the him directly.

One advocate told Obama that the Hispanic community was “demoralized” by ongoing deportations, said several participants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the off-the-
record meeting.

Most of the attention on the possible pitfalls ahead for the immigration effort have focused on the likelihood that Republicans will balk at legislation that provides a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

But the continued tension between Obama and immigrant groups could inject a different set of difficulties for the White House.

“In a sense, the president is on borrowed time,” said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Newman said that for many immigrants, Obama’s policies were clearly preferable to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but “that doesn’t erase the fact that there is tremendous apprehension about the dissonance between the president’s rhetoric and his policies.”

Under Obama, about 400,000 illegal immigrants have been deported each year, a record rate. Administration officials contend the high numbers are linked to a massive expansion of resources devoted to immigration enforcement appropriated by Congress before Obama took office.

Administration officials say they have put in place policies that better prioritize deportation efforts, focusing on immigrants who have committed serious crimes, people who just recently crossed the border and others who had been caught repeatedly violating immigration laws.

Napolitano told senators last week that 55 percent of those removed in 2012 had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors and 96 percent fell within one of the agency’s priority categories.

And in the summer, Obama announced his administration would stop deporting many young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children and had committed no other crimes, a move that came partly in response to years of complaints from his immigrant supporters.

“This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency,” Obama told an activist who asked during a Google chat last week what he would do to stop families from being split by deportations while the congressional debate inches forward.

“The problem is that, you know, I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed. And Congress right now has not changed what I consider to be a broken immigration system,” he said.

“We’ve kind of stretched our administrative flexibility as much as we can,” he added. “That’s why making sure that we get comprehensive immigration reform done is so important.”

Asked once again in an interview Wednesday with the San Antonio Univision affiliate about the deportations, Obama offered a blunt answer: “At this point, I need Congress to act.”

A new Pew Research/USA Today poll shows that in the wake of his recent legislative efforts, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos is at 73 percent, up from 48 percent in late 2011 amid disillusionment at the pace of progress toward legal change.

Still, the continued wariness about deportations may help explain the impatience Obama has telegraphed to Congress about the need for quick action on changes to immigration laws.

Members of a bipartisan group of eight senators have been working on an immigration bill that they hope to submit for hearings in March. But Obama has repeatedly insisted that if their efforts drag, he will submit his own bill to Congress.

The seriousness of that pledge was demonstrated last weekend, as a draft of Obama’s backup bill — including a somewhat easier path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants than what the Senate group has discussed — was leaked to USA Today. Republicans complained that the emergence of the White House plan made the bipartisan talks more difficult.

At the same time, in the delicate dance of Washington negotiations, the public pressure from immigrants could also help Democrats win what they consider a better deal, by providing a pointed reminder to Republicans more interested in the demands of their conservative base that Democrats face pressures of their own from supporters.

“I’d be naive if I didn’t think pressure from the left helps us at the bargaining table,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate’s bipartisan working group who asked Napolitano pointed questions about the administration’s stepped-up deportations at last week’s hearing.

“We hear [at] every meeting about pressure from the right. We have to be sure everyone is sensitive to the need to make concessions,” Durbin said in an interview.

The administration has long touted its stepped-up enforcement efforts, partly in an attempt to defuse Republican arguments that immigration change must wait until the border is more secure. Advocates believe that effort is bound to be futile.

Indeed, the argument has largely failed to persuade those who believe the system remains problematically porous and that the current debate will probably result in amnesty for people who came to the country illegally.

Opponents, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), argue that the Obama administration has inflated deportation statistics by including those caught at the border and returned home along with those arrested farther inside the United States.

Sessions contended that the anger from activists is part of a coordinated campaign to create the impression that Obama has cracked down on illegal immigration, even as the administration introduces what he termed “backdoor amnesty.”

“It is truly odd that we live in a time when the Executive Branch takes more seriously the protests of illegals against even weak enforcement of the law than it does the concerns of sworn law officers,” he said in a statement.

But immigrants and their advocates say that despite public promises that criminals are being prioritized for deportation, on the ground, thousands of others are being caught up as well.

That was a central point of activists who raised the issue with Obama at the White House, spending the last 10 minutes of their off-the-record meeting urging him to ensure that his administration is following its own policies.

“I actually don’t trust them,” Natally Cruz, 24, an advocate from Phoenix arrested for protesting at last week’s Senate panel, said of Obama.

Cruz, who was brought to the country illegally when she was 8, was recently accepted for the administration’s new deferral program for young adults. But she said her mother could still be deported, and her uncle was swept up in a raid days before the hearing.

“I heard this four years ago, that there would be an immigration reform,” she said. “They talk and talk. All I see is more people being deported every day.”

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a longtime advocate of immigration changes, said people like him face a quandary.

They want to advocate on behalf of people such as Cruz, even as they understand the need not to undermine the president’s leadership.

“He’s the quarterback of this,” Gutierrez said. “Do you nit at him at the same time?”

Seeing Citizenship Path Near, Activists Push Obama to Slow Deportations


New York Times
By Michael Shear
February 22, 2013

As President Obama intensifies his campaign for a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, advocates for America’s 11 million illegal immigrants are stepping up demands that he stop what has become one of the most aggressive and efficient efforts in decades to round up and deport people who are in the United States unlawfully.

In four years, Mr. Obama’s administration has deported as many illegal immigrants as the administration of George W. Bush did in his two terms, largely by embracing, expanding and refining Bush-era programs to find people and send them home. By the end of this year, deportations under Mr. Obama are on track to reach two million, or nearly the same number of deportations in the United States from 1892 to 1997.

That effort has helped Mr. Obama lay claim to being tough on illegal immigration, giving him some added credibility with conservatives as he calls for an overhaul of the system by the summer. But it has also left him caught between powerful and impassioned political forces at a critical moment in the immigration debate.

Although critics have long cited lax enforcement as a reason to oppose giving illegal immigrants a way to become legal residents, activists say the deportation policy has become an unfair and indiscriminate dragnet that is forcing people out of the country at exactly the wrong moment — when the promise of eventual United States citizenship could be around the corner.

“Enforcing a broken system aggressively right before we’re about to change it is not just not compassionate, it’s cruel,” said Jim Wallis, the chief executive of Sojourners, a Christian social action group. “If you are breaking up families because of politics, we’re going to speak out against you.”

Administration officials insist that the government has worked hard over the last four years to make deporting criminals the top priority, while allowing law enforcement officers more discretion on deciding whom to send home. They say the perception of a huge crackdown is erroneous and misleading.

“We focused on smart, effective enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators,” said Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

But those claims are disputed by immigrant activists, who say that many of those being deported have done nothing wrong except to enter the country illegally. Since 2010, the government has deported more than 200,000 parents of children who are United States citizens, according to a recent report.

“Our communities are being torn apart for minor offenses,” said Lorella Praeli, the director of advocacy and policy at United We Dream, the largest network of young immigrants here illegally. She pointed to a case last month in Arizona, where the mother of a young immigration activist was detained and put on a bus for deportation before an outcry on social media got her case turned around. “We expect more leadership from the president on this issue.”

For Mr. Obama, the rising anger about deportations is an echo of what happened last summer, when activists focused on the plight of illegal immigrants who had come to the United States as young children. Fighting for re-election, the president deferred the removal of the young people from the country.

Now, the same activists are pressing the president and his top advisers to expand the deferrals to a much broader cross-section of illegal immigrants. Representatives of several groups pushed the idea in an online chat with Mr. Obama’s top domestic policy adviser this month. And the president was confronted directly in two recent interviews with Spanish-language television networks and during another online chat.

“In the spirit of your push for immigration reform, would you consider a moratorium on deportations of noncriminals?” María Elena Salinas of Univision asked Mr. Obama last month.

The president said he could not, reflecting a belief among top White House aides and their allies in Washington that a large reduction in deportations would enrage Republicans in Congress and doom any hope for a bipartisan immigration overhaul this year.

Senator John McCain of Arizona said recently that there had been “real improvements” in immigration enforcement efforts, including more security at the border, and that “it helps a lot” in the fight for immigration legislation this year. Administration officials said that kind of praise might evaporate if deportations suddenly stopped.

In a White House meeting with immigration activists this month, Mr. Obama said a moratorium on deportations would go beyond what he could legally do and would undermine the legislative efforts, according to several of those present. Angela Maria Kelley, the vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said some of the activists were being unrealistic.

“It feels like it’s a little bit tone-deaf to what’s going on up in Capitol Hill,” she said. “I’m sympathetic to the feeling that people are hemorrhaging. But at the end of the day the real cure comes from Congress.”

Officials also say there are legal burdens on the administration, which is required to enforce the laws that Congress has passed. Much of the increase in deportations, they say, is the result of huge increases in financing from Congress, with orders to use the money to enforce immigration laws.

Within those constraints, administration officials said that Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, had tried to narrow the department’s focus by giving discretion to prosecutors, stopping some raids, shifting officers to the border and looking for illegal immigrants in jails rather than in communities.

While those efforts have not reduced the overall number of deportations, officials argue that the steps have made them fairer, even as the mandate from Congress to enforce the laws is fulfilled. Officials note that a recent survey found that the president’s job approval rating among Hispanics was 73 percent, up from 48 percent at the end of 2011.

“This enforcement equation is at a different place than it was 10 years ago,” Cecilia Muñoz, the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, said in the online chat this month. “That should be giving us the room to have a constructive debate.”

The administration’s aggressive deportation policies have failed to sway some of the president’s most vocal conservative critics, who continue to insist that Mr. Obama is doing too little to secure the border and crack down on illegal immigrants.

At a hearing on immigration last week, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, railed against what he called the lack of enforcement during Mr. Obama’s tenure, even as Capitol police officers were dragging out immigration protesters who yelled, “Stop deportations now!”

“Had this administration done a better job of enforcement, had been more effective in moving forward with a lawful system of immigration, you would be in a much stronger position with the American people,” Mr. Sessions said.

Ms. Napolitano defended the administration, saying that immigration and border control agents had one of the toughest jobs in the country.

“They get criticized because we’re deporting too many people,” Ms. Napolitano told Mr. Sessions, a bit of exasperation in her voice. “And as I mentioned in my testimony, we’ve deported more people than any prior administration. Then they get criticized for not deporting everyone who is here illegally.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lack of Immigration Reform Threatens California Farmers


Los Angeles Times
By George Skelton
February 20, 2013

Except for illegal immigrants, no group has more at stake in the national fight over immigration reform than California farmers.

"It doesn't pay to plant a product if you can't harvest it," notes Mark Teixeira of Santa Maria, who says he had to let 22 acres of vegetables rot last year because he couldn't find enough field hands to gather the crop. "That hurts."

As security has tightened along the California-Mexican border, the flow of illegal immigrant labor into the nation's most productive agriculture state has slowed significantly, farm interests say.

"It's very difficult to find crews compared to three or four years ago," reports Greg Wegis, a fifth-generation Kern County farmer who grows cherries, almonds, pistachios and tomatoes, among other crops.

Last year, Wegis had to cancel a cherry pick for lack of labor. "It cost me several thousand dollars."

"Migrant workers are moving to other states that are friendlier and where there's less likelihood of getting harassed and deported," he says.

"Obviously [the feds] are doing a better job at the border. Which is great. But it definitely is putting the squeeze on our industry."

Any time some demagogic politician bellows about rounding up all the illegal immigrants and shipping them back to their own country, it sends chills up farmers' spines.

Roughly two-thirds of the state's crop workers "are not properly documented," says Rayne Pegg, who heads the federal policy division of the California Farm Bureau.

"I'm not proud to say I hire illegal aliens," says Teixeira, whose family has been farming for five generations. "Everyone has to show 'documentation.' But I don't work for [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Bottom line, if I have to verify everyone, I'm not going to be able to harvest my crop."

One federal program designed to allow temporary entry of foreign agriculture workers — called H-2A — fails in California because "it's fraught with bureaucratic nightmares," Pegg says. "The federal government doesn't act timely enough for picking and harvesting."

At the harvest peak last September, California had 453,000 agriculture workers, according to the state Employment Development Department. They averaged about $13 per hour. Most pay is based on a work crew's production.

Some farmers, like Teixeira, pay by the hour — $9 in his case, $1 over the state minimum wage. "We also provide health insurance and a 401(k)," he says. And unlike San Joaquin Valley farmers, Teixeira offers a great climate along the ocean. But he still can't find enough hands for his 800 acres.

"Not just any bozo off the street can come in and harvest produce," he says, noting there's a special skill to, for example, cutting lettuce just right.

"Americans won't take these jobs," asserts Dave Puglia, senior vice president of the Western Growers Assn. "Not even the farmworkers raise their own children to take these jobs. It's hard work. And it's not unskilled labor."

California growers need a more reliable source of labor — one they believe would come from immigration reform. Workers would be here legally, able to move freely from farm to farm and able to cross back and forth across the border without worrying about being jumped by some federal agent.

There are an estimated 2.6 million illegal immigrants living in California, nearly one-fourth of the nation's 11 million total. They represent roughly 7% of the state's population. The vast majority — about 1.8 million — are employed.

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 72% of likely voters believe that illegal immigrants who have worked in this country for at least two years should be allowed "to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status." Only 25% think "they should be deported back to their native country."

Also, 54% feel that immigrants benefit California "because of their hard work and job skills." Conversely, 39% call them a burden "because they use public services."

Ironically, 60% of Republican voters consider immigrants a burden and only 33% see them as a benefit. That's their long-held view. But many big growers are Republican.

And that's ultra ironic because, nationally, it has been GOP politicians — often representing farm belts — who have blocked and politicized immigration reform.

California farmers "are all over their legislators about not helping them," says Tom Nassif, president and chief executive of the Western Growers Assn. "But they don't punish their legislators for not helping them. They should make it clear that they need their support."

In November, Latino voters made it clear to Republican politicians — including presidential candidate Mitt Romney — that they didn't appreciate their immigration views. And that's why farm groups now see the best opportunity in many years for reform.

"I've said, 'Look folks, it's time to deal with this,'" Nassif says.

After Romney made his dumb, right-wing-pandering comment in a debate about the need for illegal immigrants to "self-deport," Nassif was brought in as one of the candidate's agriculture advisors.

"I told him he was going to be in trouble with Latinos if he didn't do something," Nassif recalls. "I advised him to do something about providing a legal workforce. But he felt better served by being more conservative."

We'll soon see whether Republican politicians have learned the political lesson.

If President Obama and Congress "don't come up with something in the next couple of months, the prospects for this year are not very good," says Pegg, who's wired into negotiations. "We'll be getting into the next election season."

There's momentum now. The issue is ripe for harvest.