About Me

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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


Friday, September 28, 2012

Court Fast-Tracks Some Green Card Applications

By Paul Elias
September 26, 2012


A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that immigration officials must give priority status to thousands of green card applicants who lost their place in line for U.S. residency when they turned 21.

A narrowly divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the United States Citizen and Immigration Services wrongly determined the applicants were no longer eligible for special visas as children of green card holders after they turned 21.

The immigration service said those children who "aged out" during the process lost their place in line, even if the parents' application took years to process.

Under U.S. immigration law, children 21 and older cannot immigrate under their parents' applications for green cards.

The court ruled 6-5 court otherwise, saying the applicants may keep their "priority date" established when their parents filed for a derivative visa for their children.

The ruling held that Congress meant to aid these applicants with the 2002 passage of the Child Status Protection Act. The act meant to preserve the original date of application of a minor who turned 21 during the pendency of the parents' application, the court ruled.

"We conclude that the plain language of the CSPA unambiguously grants automatic conversion and priority date retention to aged-out derivative beneficiaries," Judge Mary Murguia wrote for the majority.

The court ruled that immigration officials were wrongly forcing many of these applicants to file new applications for residency, putting their application at the bottom of the pile. The new ruling requires immigration officials to consider the original application date while processing the application for residency.

The opinion reversed a trial court judge, who tossed out a class-action lawsuit filed by legal U.S. residents whose children were removed from residency consideration under their application when they turned 21.

"Tens of thousands of children living in the U.S. or abroad who have `aged out' of the green card process would reclaim their place in line based on this decision," said Carl Shusterman, one of the lawyers representing the applicants.

The federal government could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson couldn't be reached after hours in Washington D.C.

Judge Milan Smith wrote a dissenting opinion. Smith called the 2002 law ambiguous and said it's unclear what Congress meant with its passage. Further, he said the new class of applicants now eligible for priority consideration will likely bump other, more clear applications of other seeking residency further down the line.

Immigration Reporter Julia Preston’s Views on ‘Illegal Immigrant’

By Margaret Sullivan
September 26, 2012


Earlier this week, I opened up the question of whether the term “illegal immigrant” is disparaging or simply accurate. The response has been robust, and I’m paying attention to all of it – in e-mails, on Twitter, in comments on my blog posts and in conversations.

As one step along the way, I chatted with The Times’s immigration reporter Julia Preston this morning. Because she is such an important voice in this discussion, I want to present what she had to say as a separate post. Ms. Preston – who speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French — is a former correspondent in Mexico who has also covered the federal courts.

It’s worth noting that Ms. Preston had a story in Wednesday’s paper that uses the term in its lead paragraph. It’s also worth noting that she is not satisfied with the paper’s current stance on this issue and believes it should be more flexible.

I want to restate that, as public editor, I don’t make policy, but I’m hoping to be able to take an informed stand fairly soon.

Here is the gist of my interview with her this morning:

“I think we need a little more flexibility,” Ms. Preston said. “But we should use the term at times – it is accurate. It is a violation of law for a foreign-born person to be present without legal status.”

In many cases, she noted, that is a civil violation – for example, if a person has overstayed his or her visa. However, she said, “If you cross the border without inspection, that’s a crime – a federal misdemeanor.”

She said, “We don’t make the assertion that they are criminals,” but “a shorthand way to describe them is illegal immigrants.”

Ms. Preston called the current situation “a very dynamic debate that is putting a pressure on our language.”

“We are told we are tarring people as criminals. I don’t think that’s true. The majority of readers don’t go to that inference. If they do, they may already have a preconceived idea. The critics of the term are among the most active readers in drawing that inference.”

Ms. Preston, who has covered immigration for six years, tries to answer “every reasonable reader e-mail. I have an ongoing dialogue, and I think I understand how people are reacting.”

In short, her feeling comes down to this: “We could use more flexibility. Whether or not the term is accurate, there is a growing group of readers who are put off by it.”

In addition, she said, the political dialogue is changing and offers some additional options.

In the work context, a worker can accurately be called “unauthorized,” a term many prefer. “It can be useful,” she said.

“In many cases, people are calling themselves undocumented and prefer that term, and in some cases, they are right,” she said. She noted that there was a new federal program suspending deportation for those who were brought to the United States as youngsters 15 and under.

“These young people are saying: ‘I’m not illegal. I’m undocumented.’ ” So the term “has a new currency.”

The Times stylebook – the newspaper’s arbiter of language – “is quite stern on the term undocumented,” Ms. Preston said. “It says it is a euphemism and should be avoided.” Here is the language in the stylebook:

illegal immigrant is the preferred term, rather than the sinister-sounding illegal alien. Do not use the euphemism undocumented.

Ms. Preston disagrees with the ruling on the term “undocumented.” It should not be so strictly avoided. But, she said, neither should “illegal immigrant” be banned. “It’s accurate and it considers the broad terms of the debate. We shouldn’t be banning an accurate term.”

Ms. Preston is well aware that “there’s a constituency now advocating for the language to change.”

This is new, she said. “They have been ‘the other.’ They haven’t had a voice.”

“I’m acutely aware of this issue, and my purpose is to tell stories in a way that everyone can hear them.”

Gov. Brown Should Sign the Trust Act

By Lawrence Downes
September 26, 2012


Gov. Jerry Brown of California has until this weekend to sign the Trust Act, a bill that seeks to restore concern for public safety and sensible law-enforcement to an immigration system that has strayed from those ideals.

The bill requires state and local authorities to be more prudent when the federal government wants to use their jails as immigration holding cells.

Presently, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs inmates’ fingerprints through its databases and finds someone it believes is deportable, it often asks local authorities to hold that person to be picked up for deportation. Most police departments try to comply, though doing so is voluntary.

Under California’s bill, local police would agree to hold inmates for ICE only if they have been convicted or charged with a serious or violent felony. If the inmates are noncriminals or minor offenders who would otherwise be let go, they would not be turned over to ICE.

As the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said: “We want police to distinguish between the woman selling tamales and the gang member who has a record.”

In theory this is not a problem for ICE, which supposedly shares Mr. Ammiano’s priorities. Its officials insist that their main focus is catching “the worst of the worst” — dangerous and violent felons, not peaceable violators of civil immigration laws. In reality, immigration has become a numbers game of mounting arrests and deportations. The Obama administration is deporting 400,000 people a year, tens of thousands of whom have no criminal records or only minor convictions.

The Trust Act is important. It’s not, by itself, going to solve a grossly dysfunctional national immigration system. It’s just one state trying to be level-headed and proportionate about who gets deported, which families get split up, and which policing strategies are smartest, most effective and most humane.

Other states like Arizona and Alabama are doing the opposite, fighting to force their cops and sheriff’s deputies to join the federal crackdown through expanded police-state tactics and racial profiling. Mr. Brown should listen to the voices of the immigrants, civil-rights advocates, police chiefs and sheriffs, local elected officials, members of Congress, Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who have implored him to lead California out of that wilderness. He should sign the Trust Act.

Groups Protest Arizona Immigration Law's Enforcement

September 27, 2012


A day after the most contentious provision of Arizona's immigration law took effect, rallies are taking place around Phoenix to protest the law that civil rights activists contend will lead to systematic racial profiling.

More than three dozen activists stood outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building along a busy thoroughfare Wednesday evening. They chanted: "No papers, no fear."

Carlos Garcia is an organizer with the immigrant rights group the Puente Movement. He says the strategy is to urge people to not cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts -- whether they're in the country legally or not.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled Tuesday that police can immediately start enforcing Arizona's so-called "show me your papers" provision. It requires officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.

In Texas Conviction, an Immigrant Rallying Cry

By Ethan Bronner
September 26, 2012


In January, Rosa Jimenez, an illegal Mexican immigrant, will have spent 10 years in prison in the bleak scrublands of Central Texas for a crime she says she did not commit: forcing a wad of paper towels down the throat of a toddler in her care, making him choke and ultimately die.

She sits here in the Mountain View Prison Unit, a maximum-security facility for women, folding prison laundry, reading Bible stories and praying for exoneration while her two children are brought up by foster parents. To some, Ms. Jimenez has become a symbol of the inequality of the American criminal justice system — a process that began with a 2007 Mexican documentary that showed the prosecutor saying of Ms. Jimenez, “Despite being from Mexico, she’s very intelligent,” and that enraged the mayor of her hometown.

At her trial, the defense’s medical witness — a forensic pathologist who was not an expert in pediatrics or choking, who cost far less than the experts her lawyers originally sought and who swore at prosecutors in the courthouse hall (and later acknowledged doing so on the witness stand) — came off as an amateur.

Thousands of poor Mexicans are in American prisons and, like Ms. Jimenez, were heavily outlawyered and outspent at trial. Her story is that of many like her, yet she has been cast as a kind of hero by some.

But not by Victoria Gutierrez, also an illegal Mexican immigrant and the mother of the dead child.

“Suddenly this is all about her coming here and making a life for herself as if she were the victim,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “We all did the same thing. This is not about her. It’s about my son. Her children are going to school. My son is dead.”

Still, the renewed attention on Ms. Jimenez’s case led to donations to pay for new lawyers and experts, and a Texas appeals judge eventually ordered a new trial. In April, however, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that ruling, saying that while Ms. Jimenez’s lawyers were indeed “outclassed and outmatched,” she had a constitutional right only to a decent defense, not to a great one.

Now the United States Supreme Court is reviewing a petition for a retrial, a filing that was joined by Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, who contends that there is a widespread perception that Mexican nationals cannot get a fair trial in Texas, and says that is “bad for the citizens of both our countries.”

While the Supreme Court ponders the retrial request, the judge in the original trial, Jon Wisser, wrote an unusual letter to the district attorney last month saying that in his view, there was “a substantial likelihood” that Ms. Jimenez was not guilty. The Supreme Court has instructed the district attorney to respond before it takes any action.

It has been a remarkable set of developments for what began as a relatively routine case. Charlie Baird, the judge whose retrial order was reversed, believes Ms. Jimenez’s story has received such attention because it demonstrates something fundamental and troubling.

“This case shows that the poor are not on an equal footing — it’s not a fair fight,” said Mr. Baird, who has also served on the Criminal Court of Appeals and is now retired. “The state had unlimited resources to avail itself of medical experts. Ms. Jimenez went begging for expert assistance. She had woefully inadequate funds to do so.”

Of the pathologist the defense eventually hired, “it would be hard to imagine a worse witness,” Mr. Baird said. “That’s what you end up with when you are given a pittance to hire an expert.”

The case of Ms. Jimenez offers lessons not only about the limits of the criminal justice system but about the lives of some of the millions of illegal Mexican immigrants striving to make it in this country. In an often tearful hourlong interview in prison, Ms. Jimenez recalled her decision to leave Mexico in 1999 at 17 when she came home hungry one day from school and found the refrigerator empty.

“My mother was a single mom, and I knew I had to do something to help her,” Ms. Jimenez said, sitting in a white prison uniform, speaking in careful, measured English learned in prison. “I threatened to quit school if she didn’t let me go to America.”

She arrived in Austin, Tex., where she worked as a housekeeper in a Hampton Inn and began studying for her high school equivalency diploma. Within a few years, she had a daughter, Brenda, and was pregnant with her son. She agreed to baby-sit for a neighbor, Ms. Gutierrez, who dropped off her son, Bryan, then a little over a year old, while she went to work at a restaurant with her brother.

Ms. Jimenez baby-sat for Bryan for seven months without incident. But one day in early 2003, while she was cooking and the two children were playing, she says, Bryan began to choke and turn blue. Ms. Jimenez says she tried to put her finger down his throat to remove the obstruction. She says she ran with him to a neighbor’s, where they called 911.

Emergency workers eventually removed a wad of paper towel from Bryan — five attached sheets, balled up and bloodied. By then, he had lost enough oxygen to be severely brain-damaged. His mother took him off life support three months later.

Medical experts brought in by the state testified that no 21-month-old could have put that much paper towel down his own throat, that his gag reflex would have stopped him. The only possible culprit, they said, was Ms. Jimenez, who, they surmised, must have grown frustrated with his crying. The jury agreed. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. She is eligible for parole in 2033.

At a 2010 hearing on whether there should be a retrial, experts in pediatric airway disorders testified that a child of Bryan’s age could indeed stuff five sheets of wet, balled-up paper towel into his mouth. In their view, his death was most likely accidental.

Mr. Wisser, the trial judge, said in his letter to the district attorney last month that Ms. Jimenez had no motive, no history of such activity and no evidence of substance abuse.

“I believe now, as I did at the time of the trial, that there is a substantial likelihood that the defendant was not guilty of this offense,” he wrote.

Because Ms. Jimenez is here illegally, her mother, who sells tamales back home in Ecatepec, a suburb of Mexico City, has been denied a visa to visit her in prison. But Ms. Jimenez does have support. Consular officials visit, as do her children. Ms. Gutierrez, who has a 4-year-old daughter now, still lives in Austin with her brother, Cerafin Gutierrez, who was like a surrogate father to Bryan. They both work long hours and pay their taxes. They speak excellent English. They consider themselves Americans.

When asked whether Ms. Jimenez might have been wrongly convicted, Mr. Gutierrez walks to the kitchen and pulls off five sheets from the roll of paper towels. Can anyone imagine a child putting that much paper down his own throat, he asks.

Ms. Gutierrez weeps softly through the conversation, a drawing of Bryan on the wall above her head. When she turns on the Spanish-language television news, she sometimes hears reports about how Rosa Jimenez was wrongly convicted and is now rotting unfairly in prison.

Ms. Gutierrez said she never believed the death was an accident. “He never put paper towel in his mouth,” she said of Bryan. “He wasn’t retarded. He was a normal baby. She’s become some kind of symbol, but she’s not my symbol. Why isn’t the president of Mexico concerned about my baby?”

Ms. Jimenez, who spoke no English when her trial took place, now prefers reading in English. In prison, she has been on a waiting list for five years to take a class. Lately she has been reading about the women of the Bible.

She said she was moved by the story of Bathsheba, whose husband was sent by King David to die at the battlefront so David could take her as his wife.

“I imagine her saying to David, ‘You can take my body, but nobody can take my mind,’ ” Ms. Jimenez said.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Deportation Deferrals Put Employers of Immigrants in a Bind

By Julia Preston
September 25, 2012


Manuel Cunha has been fighting for three decades to persuade the federal government to provide more legal immigrant workers for farmers in California'’s verdant San Joaquin Valley. So he was initially excited when President Obama announced in June that he would suspend the deportations of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

But after reading the program'’s fine print, Mr. Cunha is telling the growers and small-business owners he organizes to proceed with caution.

Immigrants applying for two-year deportation deferrals can ask employers to verify their job status as one way to meet a requirement showing that they have lived for at least five years in the United States. But employers who agree to those requests could be acknowledging that they knowingly hired an unauthorized worker --— a violation of federal law. Mr. Cunha fears that the enforcement authorities could one day use the information in their files to prosecute the employers.

"The Department of Homeland Security “is not friendly at all to us,"” said Mr. Cunha, the president of the Nisei Farmers League, which is based in Fresno, Calif. “"We have seen agriculture being audited and targeted. For the workers, after two years this program could end. And then the agency could go after the employers for hiring illegal aliens.”"

Mr. Cunha said the message from Obama administration officials was "Just trust me.”" His reply: “"No, no, there is no more trust.”"

The minefield for employers is one of the hazards that have appeared in the deferred deportation program since the agency in charge, Citizenship and Immigration Services, began receiving applications on Aug. 15. In the first month, the agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, logged in more than 82,000 applications, a figure that officials say shows that the program is advancing at a fast pace.

But with more than 1.2 million young immigrants estimated to be immediately eligible, some immigrant organizations say the application numbers are lower than they expected, in part because of unexpected pitfalls.

To qualify, illegal immigrants must have been under 31 years old on June 15, when Mr. Obama announced the program. They must show that they came to the United States before they were 16, have been here for at least five years and were in the country on June 15. They must also be enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or be honorably discharged from the military, and pass criminal background checks.

If approved, immigrants are granted what is officially known as deferred action, and separately they receive legal work permits. But they do not gain any legal immigration status.

A particularly tricky dilemma is facing farmers and other businesses nationwide that rely on low-wage labor. Many young immigrants work part time to help pay for college. Others are working after dropping out of college, unable to get tuition discounts or financial aid because of their status. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research group, about 740,000 immigrants eligible for deferment are in the work force.

"“If you have actual knowledge that an employee is not authorized to work, you can'’t employ them,"” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis who has advised businesses on how to respond to job verification requests.

"A lot depends on how an employee poses the question," said Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, an organization of small businesses that employ immigrants. "Those who ask for verification for deportation deferrals are admitting to being unauthorized workers. They might eventually obtain a permit to work legally, but in the meantime, the employer might have to fire them," Ms. Jacoby said.

The immigration agency issued new guidelines this month confirming that businesses could provide verification for deferred deportation applicants. This information will not be shared with the enforcement authorities “unless there is evidence of egregious violations of criminal statutes or widespread abuses,” the guidelines say.

Peter Boogaard, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said the agency is seeking to focus enforcement resources on threats to public safety. He said officials would investigate if workers’ applications pointed to “widespread patterns and practices of unlawful hiring” or “abusive employers who are violating other criminal laws.”

Neither Ms. Jacoby nor Mr. Cunha was comforted. “"That'’s a safety net with a lot of holes in it,”" Ms. Jacoby said. She urges advocates to tell applicants not to mention the deferment program when asking for job verification.

The immigration service also clarified a section of the application that had asked immigrants to list Social Security numbers they had used. It is common for them to use fake Social Security numbers, or sometimes real numbers belonging to another person. On an official application, such numbers could be evidence of fraud or even identity theft.

The form is asking only for numbers “that were officially issued to you by the Social Security Administration,” the new guidelines say.

Department of Homeland Security officials “are not conferring immunity on anyone,” an administration official said. “But they are not interested in using this as a way to identify one-off cases where some individual may have violated some federal law in an employment relationship.”

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Loses Immigration Law Appeal

September 26, 2012


A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied an Arizona sheriff's request to reverse a lower-court decision barring his deputies from detaining people solely on the suspicion that they're undocumented immigrants.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a 23-page ruling after considering the narrow question of a preliminary injunction while a Phoenix trial court considers the merits of the entire lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The appeals court ruling focused only on the lower court's limit on Arpaio's immigration powers and doesn't confront the case's ultimate question of whether deputies in Arizona's most populous county have racially profiled Latinos on their patrols.

A three-judge panel ruled U.S. District Judge Murray Snow didn't abuse his authority in granting the order and said the ruling didn't impair the sheriff's ability to enforce state and federal criminal laws.

A call to Arpaio's office for reaction to the appeals court ruling wasn't immediately returned Tuesday evening.

A small group of Latinos claim Arpaio's deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff's 20 special immigration patrols.

A federal judge in December ordered Arpaio's department to refrain from conducting such traffic stops while the class action suit was being considered.

Arpaio appealed, arguing his deputies had probable cause to make the stops.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 against the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America."

The Latino group also accuse Arpaio of ordering some of the patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish.

Arpaio has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn't the person who picked the location of the immigration patrols.

Both sides are awaiting Snow's verdict after a seven-day trial without a jury ended Aug. 2. Snow hasn't indicated when he would rule.

The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematically racially profiling Latinos, and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio in May by the U.S. Department of Justice.

There has never been a finding by a court that Arpaio's office has racially profiled Latinos, though a case that made such an allegation was settled last year for $200,000 without an admission of wrongdoing by the sheriff's office.

Earlier Tuesday, the 9th Circuit turned back the latest effort by a civil rights coalition to bar police from enforcing the most contentious part of Arizona's immigration law.

Opponents of part of the law requiring police to question some people they contact about their immigration status wanted the federal appeals court to block its enforcement.

That provision survived a U.S. Supreme Court review and it went into effect Sept. 18 after a federal judge in Phoenix said it could be enforced.

The 9th Circuit denied the coalition's emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal and their request for certification to the Arizona Supreme Court. An attorney with the National Immigration Law Center said the coalition is assessing its next step.

Court Rejects Bid to Block Arizona "Show Your Papers" Immigration Provision

September 25, 2012


A U.S. federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a bid by a coalition of civil and immigrants rights activists to prevent police from enforcing an Arizona provision that is at the heart of the fierce national debate over illegal immigration.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an emergency motion for an injunction blocking the "show your papers" provision of SB 1070, the state's crackdown on illegal immigrants, pending appeal.

The provision requires police to verify the citizenship or immigration status of people arrested, stopped or detained if there is a reasonable suspicion that they are in the country unlawfully.

It went into effect on September 18 after a U.S. district judge lifted an injunction blocking it.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that three other key provisions of SB 1070 were unconstitutional, but declined to block the "show me your papers" provision. Several other parts of SB 1070 are blocked by separate injunctions issued by the district court.

Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the state crackdown on illegal immigrants into law in April 2010, saying that the federal government had failed to secure the state's border with Mexico.

Brewer is an outspoken foe of Democratic President Barack Obama's administration on immigration.

In a statement Tuesday, the governor said she was under "no illusion that opponents of SB 1070 will stop their baseless allegations and call off their teams of lawyers."

"Know this: They will not succeed. The State of Arizona stands firmly in support of the rule of law, in defense of our citizens and together with our brave men and women in uniform," she added.

Karen Tumlin, managing attorney with the National Immigration Law Center which was among a coalition that challenged the law, said the group is exploring its legal options.

"We need to continue the fight because of the unconstitutional harm it will unleash in Arizona" Tumlin said. "First and foremost, we are concerned about unlawful detention and individuals who may be profiled based on their manner of speech or the color of their skin."

Obama challenged Arizona's law in court two years ago, saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration policy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Young Arizona Immigrant Gets Deferred Action

September 25, 2012


Carlos Martinez has two engineering degrees from the University of Arizona, but he has never been able to use them because he is an illegal immigrant.

But soon, the Tucson resident will be able to work legally after becoming one of the first undocumented immigrants in the country to be approved for a work permit under President Barack Obama's controversial deferred-action program.

Martinez, 30, said he was notified Sept. 14 that he had been granted permission to stay in the country temporarily for two years and that his work permit was being processed. He received a second notification on Sept. 18 that his work permit had been mailed. He expects to receive it as early as today, clearing the way for him to apply for jobs as a computer-software engineer, his dream job.

"I felt like crying. I couldn't believe it," Martinez said. "The first thing I did was go to church to thank God."

As of Sept. 19, just 29 of the 82,361 undocumented immigrants nationally who have applied for deferred action have had their cases completed, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is not known if all those cases have been approved.

Under the program, undocumented immigrants granted deferred action can remain in the country for two years without the threat of deportation. They also receive work permits and can reapply after two years.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials initially said it could take several months for the applications to be processed. The first applications, however, were approved in about a month.

Critics of the program say the speed at which some of the applications have been approved raises concerns about fraud and suggests the program's main goal is to score political points for Obama among Latino voters as the election campaign heats up.

"The only deterrent to fraud is thoroughness," said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that opposes the program. "Given what we know about how the immigration bureaucracy normally works, (the speed of approvals) raises all those questions."

The reason behind the sudden expediency may be "political, if you want to get the political dividend," Camarota said.

The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is aimed at undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were minors, are under age 31 and have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years.

Obama has said he was motivated to administratively allow undocumented immigrants to apply for deferred action because Congress has failed to pass the Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented high-school graduates brought to the U.S. as minors to become citizens if they completed at least two years of college or served two years in the military.

But some Republicans in Congress have called the program a "backdoor amnesty" that rewards illegal immigrants.

As many as 1.7 million young illegal immigrants in the country may be eligible to apply, including 80,000 in Arizona, according to some estimates.

Obama announced the program on June 15. The federal government began accepting applications on Aug. 15.

Martinez said he applied on the first day because he was eager to get a work permit so he could begin pursuing his career.

He said he was surprised he was granted deferred action so fast.

"I was prepared to wait four to six months," Martinez said.

He said he is originally from Cananea, a mining town south of Naco in Sonora. He said he was 9 when his family brought him to the U.S. 21 years ago. They used border-crossing cards to enter legally through the Naco Port of Entry but then remained in the country illegally.

Despite "not speaking a word of English" when he came to the U.S., Martinez said he graduated from Cholla High School in Tucson with a 3.93 grade-point average and was accepted at four universities: Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Miami in Florida.

He chose the UA because he could not afford to pay room and board if he attended a university away from home.

Martinez said he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering in 2003 and a master's degree in software-systems engineering in 2005.

He said he has never been able to use his degrees because, as an illegal immigrant, he cannot work legally in the U.S.

"I have had job offers, but because of my legal status, they couldn't hire me because I was living in the U.S. illegally. They could not sponsor me, either," he said.

To earn money, he said, he cleans yards.

Carmen Cornejo of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an advocacy group, said she believes Martinez is the first undocumented immigrant in Arizona to be granted deferred action. She knows of several undocumented immigrants from the Phoenix area who are in various stages of being granted deferred action.

As more are granted deferred action, she expects more will apply.

"A lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude (before applying)," she said.

Is ‘Illegal Immigrant’ the Right Description?

By Margaret Sullivan
September 24, 2012


Jose Antonio Vargas is a man on a mission. The journalist turned immigration activist wants news organizations to stop using the term “illegal immigrants,” which he finds disparaging and inaccurate. He’s particularly focusing on The Times and The Associated Press to change their policies.

Mr. Vargas has approached me about it by e-mail, and I’ve said I would be happy to hear him out. I should note that, as public editor, I don’t make Times policy on such things. However, I could, at some point, take a stand.

At this point, I don’t know enough.

I do know what Mr. Vargas — who revealed that he is an ‘undocumented immigrant’ in a Times Magazine piece last year — told the Online News Assocation in a speech there last Friday.

And I talked about it Monday morning with Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at The Times. “We do think about this, and we talk about it all the time,” he said.

Asked about the matter by Poynter.org’s Mallary Tenore on Monday, he responded as follows:
  • Obviously we know this is a sensitive area, one that we continue to struggle with. As my colleague Julia Preston, who covers immigration, has suggested, we’re trying hard to be neutral on an issue where there isn’t much neutral ground.

  • For one thing, we don’t reduce our coverage of this complicated issue to a single label. Julia and other Times reporters try to be detailed, descriptive and as accurate as possible in writing about immigrants in a whole range of different situations.

  • But in referring in general terms to the issue of people living in the United States without legal papers, we do think the phrases “illegal immigrants” and “illegal immigration” are accurate, factual and as neutral as we can manage under the circumstances. It is, in fact, illegal to enter, live or work in this country without valid documents. Some people worry that we are labeling immigrants as “criminals” — but we’re not. “Illegal” is not a synonym for “criminal.” (One can even park “illegally,” though it’s not a criminal offense.)

  • Proposed alternatives like “undocumented” seem really to be euphemisms — as though this were just a bureaucratic mix-up that can easily be remedied. Often those phrases seem deliberately chosen to try to soften or minimize the significance of the lack of legal status. We avoid those euphemisms just as we avoid phrases that tend to cast a more pejorative light on immigrants. For example, we steer clear of the shorthand “illegals” and also the word “aliens,” both of which we think have needlessly negative connotations.
So, in keeping with my promise to make this blog a continuing conversation about journalism and journalistic practices, I’ll put the question out there for discussion.

In the meantime, I also hope to talk with Julia Preston. Here are her comments last week in an ABC/Univision story.

What do you think? You can respond in comments to this blog, e-mail me at public@nytimes.com or reply on Twitter, where my handle is @sulliview.

I’ll aggregate the discussion and comment more substantively soon.

Voter ID Laws, Purges Threaten Latino Americans' Voting Rights

By Judith Browne-Dianis and Juan Cartegna
September 24, 2012


Across the country, Latinos are feeling the blow of a new round of voting laws. Take Veronica Figoli. She came to the United States from Venezuela in 1999 as a student, and has since built a successful career in Colorado. She became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and registered to vote—but this past summer she received a letter saying that she needed to prove her citizenship in order to vote in November.

"No matter what I do, I'll always be a second-class citizen," Figoli said of her feelings on receiving the letter. She was just one of nearly 4,000 Coloradans targeted in a misguided purge of registered voters from the voter rolls based on suspicion of their citizenship status.

The problem with large-scale purge efforts such as Colorado's—and a similar effort in Florida, in which officials sent letters to 2,600 registered voters, warning that they would be purged unless they showed proof of citizenship within 30 days—is that the lists are typically full of mistakes. In Miami Dade, where most of the targeted voters in Florida live, more than 98 percent of 562 people who responded to notice letters proved that they were indeed eligible citizens. The majority of those American citizens were Latino.

A new report from the Advancement Project finds that 23 states have pursued discriminatory voting policies that threaten to undermine the participation of more than 10 million Latino citizens this year. These policies include not only voter purges, but laws that require documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, and restrictive voter ID laws mandating the presentation of limited forms of government-issued photo identification before a voter can cast a ballot at the polls.

It's no mistake that Latinos are disproportionately affected by such laws. A giant of the American electorate, Latinos comprise more than 10 percent of the nation's eligible voters—and those numbers are growing. In swing states like Florida and New Mexico, Latino citizens are more than 26 percent and 38 percent of eligible voters, respectively.

Cutting down on this potent voting power, 16 states are pursing purges of their voting rolls using inaccurate immigration data that targets naturalized citizens—the majority of whom are voters of color. These are also people who worked hard to take their oath of citizenship, seeking democracy and freedom, but are now being told to show their papers before they can vote.

Extremely strict forms of photo ID in nine states, including Pennsylvania, also disparately impact Latinos. Nationwide, 16 percent of Latinos do not have the government-issued ID currently required (such as a driver's license or U.S. passport) to vote in these states. Add in the fact that for stateside Puerto Ricans, the second largest group of Latinos in the country, Puerto Rico invalidated all birth certificates issued before 2010, making it doubly hard for them to secure the paperwork necessary to prove citizenship in time for the elections.

In many of the states with laws that disproportionately restrict Latino voting rights, the number of eligible Latino citizens have the power to swing elections. In Florida, eligible Latino voters amount to nine times the margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election, and in Colorado, they are twice the 2008 margin of victory.

Not only do these policies make it harder for eligible Latino citizens to vote, but they threaten to relegate eligible Latino voters to second-class citizenship in which they must jump through more hoops to vote. They are ordered to "show their papers," and intimidated with letters threatening to remove them from the rolls. This runs counter to the core American values of equality and freedom.

To ensure that access to the ballot box is open to all eligible voters, the policies described in Advancement Project's report must be repealed, with Justice Department prosecutions for any violations. It is the duty of election officials to provide free, fair, and accessible elections to every American citizen, no matter their race, and no matter where they were born. Voting is the most fundamental of all of our rights, so these measures must be stopped now to preserve our democracy. The election is only five weeks away, and America deserves better.

Judith Browne Dianis is codirector of Advancement Project. Juan Cartagena is president of Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Alabama Immigration Law Has Surprise Result

By Margaret Newkirk and Gigi Douban
September 24, 2012


Esene Manga, an Eritrean refugee living in Atlanta, hadn’t heard of Albertville, Alabama until a recruiter offered him a job there. Now Manga, 22, earns $10.85 an hour cutting chicken breasts on a poultry-plant night shift, an unexpected beneficiary of a year-old law designed to drive out illegal Hispanic immigrants.

This isn’t what the law’s backers said would happen. Republican state Senator Scott Beason, a sponsor, said at a news conference last year that the restrictions on undocumented workers would “put thousands of native Alabamians back in the work force.”

Instead, it caused a labor shortage that resulted in the importation of hundreds of legal African and Haitian refugees, and Puerto Ricans, according to interviews with workers, advocacy organizations and businesses. Most were recruited by the poultry industry, in a segment of the economy that has been a heavy employer of undocumented workers, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington research group.

Alabama is one of five states that last year passed immigration laws modeled on a 2010 Arizona measure largely invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Last month, an appellate court in Atlanta said many of the Alabama law’s requirements also aren’t constitutional. Other provisions, including one allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants, remain in place.

Destination: Albertville

In Albertville, a city of about 21,000 in the northeast corner of the state, Manga, his friend Abrahaley Araya and about 18 other African refugees started at Wayne Farms LLC’s plant in the days after the law took effect a year ago, according to the two men and Albert Mbanfu of Lutheran Services of Georgia, which helps refugees find jobs.

Johnell Rodriguez, 26, said he was among 17 Puerto Ricans who arrived at another Alabama Wayne Farms plant a week after the law took effect. Haitian Saul Jules said he was recruited in Miami to work in Albertville by JBS SA (JBSS3)’s Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. a few months ago.

"Plants sought refugees because too few local residents were interested or qualified," said Frank Singleton, a spokesman for Wayne Farms, based in Oakwood, Georgia.

"Many legal Hispanic employees left after the immigration law took effect," he said. "The company, which operates six plants in the state, spent $5 million to replace and train new workers," he said. "Turnover in North Alabama was 50 percent last year, and is now as high as 90 percent in some plants because replacements didn’t stay," he said. The company is “having to use alternative methods and sourcing,” including recruiting refugees, Singleton said.

Africa to Alabama

Wayne Farms found Eritreans, displaced by war and conflict, and other Africans through East Coast Labor Solutions LLC, a Fairlea, West Virginia-based labor broker. East Coast has about 200 workers in Alabama, owner Ray Wiley said in an interview.

“Our jobs are often in states where immigration laws have hit the hardest, and mostly in the poultry industry,” he said.

East Coast began calling Atlanta refugee agencies several months ago looking for legal immigrants to come to Alabama for a year, said Mbanfu, refugee employment director for Lutheran Services in Atlanta. He said the company would have taken as many refugees as he could refer.

The agency connected East Coast with refugees who had been in the country three to five years, he said.

Fresh Peppers

Chris Gaddis, head of human resources for Greeley, Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride, which has four plants in Alabama, said the law didn’t affect its workforce. Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN), which has two plants in Alabama, also said there was no effect.

Alabama doesn’t track the number of refugees who come to fill jobs. The state had an estimated 120,000 illegal Hispanic immigrants in 2010, of whom 95,000 were in the labor force, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. They were 2.5 percent of the population and 4.2 percent of the workforce.

Changing demographics are reflected on store shelves. Albertville’s main Hispanic grocery, Tienda El Sol, added coconut milk, new varieties of hot peppers and other items to appeal to newcomers, manager Marjorie Centeno said.

The Alabama law’s intent was to attack “every aspect of an illegal alien’s life,” and “make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves,” Republican House sponsor Micky Hammon said during legislative debate, according to a Birmingham News report.

Unwelcome Mat

The measure let police arrest people after traffic stops if they couldn’t prove legal status. It made it a crime to rent property to illegal immigrants, forbade registering their cars or giving them dog or business licenses, and required schools to check students’ citizenship.

Beason, the senator, said that while he welcomes legal immigrants, he isn’t pleased by the arrival of the refugees.

“We would prefer they hire native Alabamians,” he said. The reason refugees are being hired is probably because “they’re cheaper,” he said.

Beason credits the law with a decrease in Alabama’s unemployment rate. It dropped to 8.5 percent in October 2011 from 8.8 the month before and continued to decline. Unemployment was 8.5 percent in August, the most recent month for which data is available.

The drop “absolutely, directly coincides with when our law went into effect,” he said this month. “It put thousands of Alabamians into jobs.”

‘Ghost Town’

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the rate fell because the labor force shrank. Fewer people had jobs in Alabama in August than did before the law.

In Albertville, poultry plants had long drawn Hispanic workers. In 2010, the Hispanic population in surrounding Marshall County was about three times the state average, according to the Pew Center.

The Pew Center has no estimate on how many Hispanics left Alabama. Anecdotal evidence suggests Albertville lost many.

“Here, it’s like a ghost town for Hispanics,” said Rafael Leon, owner of Accessories La Alianza, near Albertville. Leon sat waiting for customers to walk in and buy prepaid mobile phones and sparkly butterfly hair clips, skin creams and key chains. Rows of glass cases were empty. He said the store was busy before the law.

“Now zero,” he said. “Nobody’s coming in.”

He said he’ll move if business doesn’t pick up by December. Leon said one son is about to go to college, another is in high school and he himself has a baby.

“We’re all kind of depressed,” he said.

Cold Comfort

Centeno, the grocery manager, said she has seen the decline, too. She said poultry companies could have used the money spent to find the refugees to help Hispanics get legal status. She said she has heard from recruits who complain that the plants are too cold and the jobs too difficult.

Jules was one of four Haitians sitting in the Albertville lobby of Alatrade Foods LLC, a chicken-processing company that offers orientation in Creole, hoping for work. Jules said he lost his original job with Pilgrim’s Pride (PPC) after a month.

“I’m not a lucky person,” he said.

Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican, said he was recruited in a San Juan unemployment office by East Coast. He and 31 others flew to Atlanta the next month for poultry jobs, then split into buses to Alabama and North Carolina, Rodriguez said in Spanish through an interpreter.

Manga and Araya, a 32-year-old who now works for Tyson, found themselves living in a dark apartment in an aging complex rented along with its furniture from the labor broker. It’s sparsely furnished, with mismatched chairs and a yellow sofa.

When asked what they do in their spare time, both laughed.

“Sometimes,” Araya said, “we walk to the library.”

He and Manga said working in chicken plants is hard, and pays good money.

“We are here to work,” Manga said. “We go to our jobs and come back.”

Voting Laws May Deter 10 Million Hispanics, Report Says

By Krissah Thompson
September 23, 2012


Civil rights groups are warning that as many as 10 million Hispanics may be deterred from casting ballots because of changes to voting laws.

In a report to be released Monday, the civil rights group, Advancement Project, cites the potential impact of newly restrictive photo identification laws, proof-of-citizenship requirements and late efforts in a few states to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls.

“It has the impact of scaring people and reminding them of [immigration] raids and other kinds of law enforcement that have been targeted toward these communities,” said Penda D. Hair, a co-director of the Advancement Project, part of a coalition of liberal groups that oppose the new voting laws.

Proponents of the efforts to tighten voting laws, including several secretaries of state, say they want to root out voter fraud and are not targeting particular demographic groups.

“The fact is our office only compared our voter rolls against DMV records where individuals showed proof of non-citizenship,” Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office, said in an e-mail. “To insinuate anything else is absolutely false and reckless. Unfortunately, some partisan groups attempt to leverage this effort for their own political gain.”

In-person voting fraud is rare, studies have shown, but there have been recent cases of absentee ballot fraud, and small numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote. In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office estimated last year that as many as 11,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. But after checking a federal immigration database, the state announced this month that 141 noncitizens were registered and as few as 35 had cast ballots.

Several of the states with more restrictive laws and procedures, such as Colorado, have large Hispanic populations. As the deadline to register voters approaches in many states, the Advancement Project’s report warns that the new rules are working against efforts to register Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic.

Both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are working hard to appeal to Hispanics, who could be key to winning important swing states if they turn out to vote in large numbers.

Advocacy groups have been trying for several years to increase the number of Latinos who vote. In 2010, 6.3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote reported that they were unregistered and 10.8 million said they did not vote, according to census figures cited by the report.

“At the end of the day, voting should be free, fair and accessible, and these barriers are standing in the way of an increasing demographic in this country,” said Judith A. Browne-Dianis, a co-director of the Advancement Project.

A dozen state legislatures passed rules last year requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although in four states the laws were vetoed by Democratic governors.

Pennsylvania’s governor signed a voter ID bill in March that is still being litigated, with opponents presenting studies showing that blacks, Hispanics and others in urban areas are less likely to have the required ID.

In addition, 16 states — including Colorado, Florida and New Mexico — have attempted to “purge” noncitizens from registration lists. The Advancement Project cited examples of purges incorrectly flagging the names of naturalized citizens, putting them at risk for having their voter registration invalidated.

Florida halted an effort to remove noncitizens from lists when it became known that the database used by the state to check citizenship was out of date.

Denver resident Veronica Figoli, who immigrated from Venezuela in 1999, was among the legally registered voters in Colorado whose name was flagged for removal from voter rolls. The letter that she received said it was “extremely important” that she affirm her citizenship or withdraw from the voter rolls, which she said made her feel like a “second-class citizen.”

“To get this letter was kind of insulting,” said Figoli, who became a citizen in 2011 after what she said was a costly and stressful process. “There are so many steps and it is so confusing, and it’s expensive. And you are dealing with government and that makes you uncomfortable.” When she got the letter, she said, “I questioned myself.”

Figoli returned the required paperwork but said that others might be more fearful.

“I have a friend who said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything. . . . What if they revoke my citizenship?’ ” Figoli said. “The fear is there.”

Melinda Aguirre, who was born in Denver, also received a letter in English and Spanish questioning her citizenship. “I don’t even speak Spanish,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of [bull] what they are doing with certain people. My mom didn’t get this letter. My brother didn’t get this letter. Their last name is Roybal. But the Aguirres did.”

John Fund, a conservative columnist and author of “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy,” said recent polls show that advocates of cleaning up the voter rolls have public opinion on their side and that they are being unfairly accused of racism. “It is very unfortunate that this issue has been used by groups who want to yell racism in a crowded political theater,” Fund said. “This is not the way to debate these issues.”

Still, the National Council of La Raza, which has been working with a network of groups to register Hispanic voters, was one of a dozen civil rights groups that said last week that voting rights are in a “state of emergency.”

“Part of our frustration is that the debate over the voter integrity process has become a polarized thing,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the group’s director of immigration and national campaigns. “It’s almost like voters have become guilty until proven innocent.”

Ana Navarro, a Republican campaign consultant in Florida, said she doesn’t expect Hispanics there to be dissuaded from registering or voting.

“I don’t get the sense that the average voter is out there ready to set their hair on fire over the voting law changes,” she said in an e-mail. “Political campaigns are in full swing in Florida and there’s just too many substantive issues like the economy, high unemployment, Medicare, and housing, that Floridians are worried about. . . . Ready or not, whether you like or dislike the changes to the process, voting is upon us.”

Floridians start getting absentee ballots in a couple of weeks, and in most states, voter registration closes 30 days before the election.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New American Immigrants Hold the Key to Economic Growth

By Ali Noorani
September 21, 2012


If you’'ve seen a “'Now Hiring'” sign in front of a new business lately, the odds are good that an immigrant is at the helm.

America'’s immigrants opened more than a quarter of all new businesses in 2011, and per capita, they'’re more than twice as likely to do so as people who were born here. During a time of persistently high unemployment, immigrant-owned businesses are responsible for 4 million U.S. jobs.

Those are among the findings in the latest report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, spearheaded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Here'’s another: One in every 10 private-business employee works for an immigrant-led company.

The American economy is slowly getting back on its feet, and immigrant entrepreneurs are helping pick it up and dust it off.

That immigrants are breathing new life into our economy and our country is nothing new; generations of new Americans have sought the same freedom to strive for a better life that you and I, their descendants, call the American Dream.

But immigrants are sparking our economic growth like never before, as the partnership’s report shows. And they are doing so at a critical time, just as 10,000 baby boomers per day turn 65 --— a number that will remain steady for the next 18 years.

As the baby boom generation retires, immigrant entrepreneurs will be critical to the health of our economy, as well as the scope of American economic opportunity. In fact, they already are.

Immigrants’ business start-up rate soared 50 percent between 1996 and 2011, while the start-up rate among U.S. natives dropped 10 percent. And in 2010, amid a recession, companies owned by new Americans generated $775 billion in revenue and $109 billion in income, the latter a 60 percent increase since 2000, according to the report.

Those are not trivial numbers.

New Americans are not only opening businesses and creating jobs, but doing so in growth industries — seven of the eight sectors that the government expects to grow most quickly this decade. From retail trade to health care, from construction to business services, they are triggering growth across the worker spectrum.

Many of today'’s immigrant entrepreneurs will be tomorrow’'s success stories. Look no further than Natalia Luis and Cidalia Luis-Akbar, sisters whose father was ahead of the construction curve when he started his road-paving business M. Luis Construction in 1985.

There is nothing more American than the story of Natalia and Cidalia, who were born in Portugal and now are the company'’s president and vice president, respectively. Their father started the business 27 years ago with “a wheelbarrow and a pickup truck.” It grossed $83,000 its first year.

As of 2010, M. Luis Construction employed 143 people and brought in $54 million, and it was continuing to grow. The company currently employs 215 people. “"Only in America can dreams like ours come to fruition,"” Cidalia was quoted as saying in a 2011 article in Washington Smart CEO.

Natalia Luis, who is in charge of estimating and operations, knows how to run every piece of equipment her company owns --— and she is known for running paving equipment in stilettos when she visits worksites.

The sisters are both known for treating their employees well, and their company-’s success has allowed them to give plenty back to their community. Their support helped create a fetal medicine division at Children-’s National Medical Center in Washington, and they also support education causes.

In short, they-’re a shining example of new Americans who help our economy, our communities and our culture shine a good deal brighter. We should be helping the Luis sisters in our midst start businesses and create jobs, not hindering them by limiting business visas, creating bureaucratic hurdles and, in the case of some states, creating hostile environments that turn immigrants away.

Especially as our native-born population skews older, we should demand that Congress develop a legal immigration process that encourages this kind of immigration and the economic benefits it generates.

Stilettos are optional as we pave the way toward a brighter economic future in America. But new Americans are essential.

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Noorani has more than a decade of successful leadership in public-policy advocacy, nonprofit management, and coalition organizing across a wide range of issues.

Tech Industry Keen on STEM Visas

By Eliza Krugman
September 24, 2012


The tech industry has a message for Republicans and Democrats bickering over competing immigration bills: See the bigger picture. Tech companies, desperate for more high-skilled talent, aren'’t particularly concerned with how Congress delivers more green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees. They just want them.

The House voted down GOP Rep. Lamar Smith'’s STEM green card bill (H.R. 6429) on Thursday. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, have competing bills.

“"While there are differences between the bills (such as whether to eliminate the diversity visa lottery program), CCIA has long believed that reform of the employment-based green card system to reduce the backlogs that currently leave valued professional workers (and their employers) in procedural uncertainty for years is critical,”" Ed Black, head of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. “"And we applaud Rep. Smith, Rep. Lofgren and Sen. Schumer for their leadership in taking action.”"

The bills by Smith, Lofgren and Schumer all would increase the number of visas granted to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math. But Smith offsets that by eliminating a diversity visa program, to Democrats’ dismay.

The tech industry wants lawmakers to see past their differences.

“"There is no debate here,”" Andy Halataei, director of government relations at the Information Technology Industry Council, said in a statement. “"Both parties agree that our best and brightest STEM students should be allowed to innovate and create jobs here at home."”

Christopher Padilla, IBM’s director of government affairs, echoed that sentiment.

“"We thank House Judiciary [Committee] Chairman Lamar Smith and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer for their efforts to enact common-sense legislation and are hopeful that Congress will quickly resolve the differences between these proposals,”" Padilla said, noting that “IBM strongly supports legislative efforts in the House and Senate that would provide a path to citizenship for up to 55,000 foreign-born graduates” with STEM degrees.

Microsoft also put out a statement urging lawmakers to find common ground and move forward.

But despite the plea from the tech industry, the partisan gridlock isn'’t improving.

"“By doing it in less than a week from introduction to vote, and by saying, essentially, my way or the highway and cutting off any chance for compromise, I think Smith chose to have a message bill, not a bipartisan bill that actually creates a STEM visas program,”" said one Democratic Hill aide. “"[Mitt] Romney needs a talking point other than ‘self-deport,’ the Arizona law, and ‘I will veto the DREAM Act.’”"

Democratic leaders, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, have spoken out against the Smith bill.

In a statement, Smith rejected the Democratic criticism.

"“For the last several months, I have worked with Democrats in both the House and Senate trying to reach a deal on STEM legislation. The bill has been delayed for several weeks at the request of various Democratic members. But we cannot wait any longer,”" Smith said. “"American companies need these workers and our economy needs this legislation to help create jobs.”"

Indeed, House Republican leaders have packaged the STEM green cards bill as part of their job-creation agenda.

"“The Democrats have time and again said they support STEM visas,”" House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday. "“'I’m hopeful for a bipartisan vote on this bill so we can say America’'s open for business, we are here for the best and the brightest in the world for them to come and work to help create jobs.”"

Arizona: No 'Dreamer' Driver's Licenses

By Daniel Gonzalez
September 21, 2012


After conducting a review, the Arizona Department of Transportation has concluded that the state will not issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants granted work permits under President Barack Obama's deferred-action program.

The decision, confirmed Friday in response to an inquiry by The Arizona Republic, is consistent with Gov. Jan Brewer's Aug. 15 executive order telling state agencies to take steps to make sure undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action on deportation do not get driver's licenses or public benefits.

Many other states are grappling with the same issue.

The decision angered advocates who believe undocumented immigrants granted deferred action should be able to get driver's licenses.

Without them, the immigrants cannot legally drive to work or school.

The state may face a lawsuit from civil-rights groups who say preventing undocumented immigrants granted deferred action from getting driver's licenses violates state law.

At issue is whether federal employment-authorization documents, or work permits, that will be given to undocumented immigrants approved under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should be accepted by the state to establish legal presence.

California has said the state will issue driver's licenses to such immigrants because it already accepts the documents for other reasons.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, however, have repeatedly stated that undocumented immigrants granted deferred action do not have any legal status in the U.S.

The action simply allows them to stay temporarily in the U.S. for two years without the threat of deportation and to receive a work permit, they said.

In a written statement, Timothy Tait, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, cited those statements to justify not issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants granted work permits under the program. The agency already accepts work permits issued to undocumented immigrants for other reasons, including because they are crime victims or witnesses.

"Arizona law requires that only people living in the country legally can be issued a driver's license or identification card," Tait said in the statement.

Because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said deferred action does not give undocumented immigrants legal status, their work permits "are insufficient for the purpose of obtaining an Arizona driver license or identification card," he said.

The state Motor Vehicle Division's website includes three types of employment-authorization documents on a list of primary documents already accepted to get driver's licenses. Those documents have federal identification numbers, including I-688A, I-688B and I-766.

After Brewer issued the executive order, ADOT officials said they would review that policy.

Since then, the MVD has added a sentence on its website next to the list of accepted work-authorization documents: "An employment authorization document resulting from a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival is not acceptable."

Tait's statement did not say how MVD officials will distinguish work permits granted to deferred-action recipients under Obama's program from those granted to undocumented immigrants for other reasons.

However, the work permits issued under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will have a different number: I-765.

As many as 1.7 million undocumented immigrants, including 80,000 in Arizona, may be eligible for the deferred-action program. It targets undocumented immigrants under age 31 who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and have lived continuously in this country for five years.

So far, more than 82,000 undocumented immigrants nationally have applied for deferred action, and 29 have been granted deferred-action status, according to the USCIS.

Regina Jefferies, a Phoenix lawyer who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the state will likely face a lawsuit over the decision to deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who receive work permits under the new program.

"Their policy violates state law. Very clearly, state law allows people with a work permit and a Social Security number to get a driver's license," she said. "They can be sued, and I am sure that is what will happen."

Carmen Cornejo of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an advocacy group that has been helping undocumented immigrants apply for deferred action, said not issuing driver's licenses to successful applicants unjustly creates hardship for them.

"It's a necessity for them to go to work," she said. "They cannot not drive to work. They cannot not drive to school.

"It puts them in danger with the authorities," who can ticket or arrest them, she said.

Last week, officials from Maricopa Community Colleges announced that undocumented immigrants granted deferred action would be able to use the work permits to receive in-state tuition.

Under state law, undocumented immigrants are normally barred from receiving in-state tuition and must pay more costly out-of-state tuition.

The Arizona Board of Regents is considering whether to allow undocumented immigrants granted deferred action to receive in-state tuition at the state's three universities.