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, January 24, 2014

Human Rights Watch, in Report on World Abuses, Criticizes U.S. Immigration Laws

Washington Post
By Pamela Constable
January 23, 2014

This week, Human Rights Watch released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. In addition to highly critical reports on Syria, Central African Republic and other countries with repressive regimes or violence conflicts, the New York-based advocacy group highlighted a particular issue in the United States: the abuse of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, under current U.S. policies and conditions. The non-profit group, while describing itself as non-partisan, stated that it supports comprehensive immigration reform.

On Thursday, Washington Post immigration reporter Pamela Constable spoke with Antonio Ginatta, the U.S. Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, about the issue of human rights and immigrants in the United States.

WP: Most Americans might think of human rights as an issue in repressive foreign countries, not so much in the U.S. Can you explain the link your organization sees between human rights and American immigration reform?

Ginatta: We see the intersect between human rights and immigration policy to be varied and vast. The status quo on immigration breeds human rights violation in so many circles. First we highlight the importance of family unity. In the world of human rights, family is seen as the natural and fundamental group that deserves protection, but [U.S.] immigration policy doesn’t focus on family unity in the same respect.

Immigration judges are not allowed to consider family unity to the extent we think is needed to protect human rights. In the case of a very minor or very old criminal conviction, family ties don’t matter. Even if someone has close U.S. citizen family members, the removal still takes priority. We have documented situations where people who have been outstanding members of society, with multiple U.S. citizen children, and who have lived here for decades, still get deported.

WP: What other kinds of immigration policies or practices would you say fall into the category of human rights problems?

Ginatta: One area is violations in the workplace. Workers are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation because of their immigration status. People working in dangerous industries may be afraid to report serious workplace violations or women, such as farm workers, may be afraid to report sexual assaults, for fear they will be reported to immigration authorities and deported.

There is also the right to remedy. This is a key human rights principle. You should have the right to access law enforcement, and policies that create a fear or block between a person who witnesses a crime or is a victim of a crime and the police are human rights violations. We have documented many situations where people are afraid to contact the police because they fear a contact about a crime will become an inquiry into their immigration status.

WP: Do you see the deportation of illegal immigrants as a human rights abuse?

We are very worried about the growth of criminal prosecutions of illegal entrants into the U.S.. This is a federal crime and now people who are trying to come into the U.S. to be reunited with their families are facing federal prison time. These prosecutions have spiked to almost 100,000 a year. They are changing the population within federal prisons. Immigration is becoming the most prosecuted federal crime, and Latinos are becoming the number one ethnic group inside federal prisons because of this.

WP: How would you compare the treatment of illegal immigrants in the U.S. to other Western democracies??

Ginatta: We have documented problems in immigration systems throughout the world. Our main concern is not how the U.S. lines up against Australia or Europe, but how the U.S. lines up against its own obligations to the human rights treaties it has signed. The U.S. has signed the international convention on civil and political rights, and there is language in this treaty that puts a priority on protecting family unity as the fundamental unit in society that merits protection.

WP: Immigration reform today is a highly partisan and emotional issue in the U.S. Does your organization have any political agenda in connection with immigration reform?

Ginatta: We have been working on flaws in the U.S. immigration system for over ten years. We keep documenting the flaws but the laws don’t change, so we have bad laws with the added amount of time that no action has been taken. You’re right, people have preconceptions when they hear the phrase comprehensive immigration reform. But the way we are trying to talk about U.S. immigration system is by documenting personal stories and those of families who have been directly impacted by the flawed system.

WP: What is your official stand on the current debate and proposals for immigration reform?

Ginatta: We are a nonpartisan organization and we have seen positive proposals from both sides of the aisle. We supported many aspects of the Senate bill, and where we saw flaws we raised them. We do take the position that the time for immigration reform is now. We are pushing for these flawed laws to be changed and improved. But we don’t think human rights is a partisan issue.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Immigrants Seen as Way to Refill Detroit Ranks

New York Times
By Monica Davey
January 23, 2014

For Detroit, a city that has watched a population in free fall, officials have a new antidote: immigrants.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan on Thursday announced plans to seek federal help in bringing 50,000 immigrants to the bankrupt city over five years as part of a visa program aimed at those with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in science, business or the arts.

Under the plan, which is expected to be formally submitted to federal authorities soon, immigrants would be required to live and work in Detroit, a city that has fallen to 700,000 residents from 1.8 million in the 1950s.

“Isn’t that how we made our country great, through immigrants?” said Mr. Snyder, a Republican, who last year authorized the state’s largest city to seek bankruptcy protection and recently announced plans to open a state office focused on new Americans.

Later, he added, “Think about the power and the size of this program, what it could do to bring back Detroit, even faster and better.”

The fate of Mr. Snyder’s particular plan ― unusual, officials say, for the way it envisions allotting such visas to a specific city ― remains uncertain because federal authorities have yet to receive a formal request. The proposal comes as part of a push in Midwestern cities ― including Chicago, St. Louis and Dayton, Ohio ― to jump-start growth by attracting entrepreneurial immigrants.

“This is one way you grow the economy,” said Richard Herman, a lawyer in Cleveland who advises cities on such matters and who praised Mr. Snyder’s notion. “The Rust Belt has needed this for decades.”

Mike Duggan, the new mayor of Detroit, who has said he wanted to see an increase in the population within five years, said he backed the idea, as did an array of city leaders who attended the governor’s announcement.

“What seemed like a politically impossible thing in Detroit has changed dramatically,” Mr. Duggan said. “The leadership of this community is united in saying we are going to take full advantage of the governor’s initiative and we are going to make sure everybody understands that Detroit has been historically and is today truly open to the world.”

Still the politics may yet be complicated in Detroit, a mostly black city where 38 percent of people live below the poverty level. “There will be some whose vantage point is going to be: ‘O.K., but what are you going to do to help the people who are already there?’ ” said Eric Foster, a political consultant in Detroit.

The Rev. Charles Williams II of the civil rights group National Action Network said he believed Detroit, as well as other Midwestern states, should be pro-immigration. “However,” he said, “I will say, on the other end of this, I think it’s a little ambitious for Governor Snyder to put together a plan to induce more population when still we have to work on double-digit unemployment and high poverty that’s already in our city right now.”

But advocates of bringing an influx of immigrants into the city say the outcome will ultimately benefit longtime residents, too, bringing new business enterprises and jobs, as well as a more stable tax base. “They’re going to have jobs as part of this process but the part you should focus in on, in particular, are all the jobs they’re going to create for Detroiters, for Michiganders,” Mr. Snyder said.

Under Mr. Snyder’s proposal, 5,000 immigrants would be granted visas in the first year to live and work in Detroit, under a program known as EB-2, in which federal authorities are permitted to grant a maximum of 40,040 such visas nationwide each year. Over the following four years, the number of visas for Detroit-based immigrants with advanced degrees or exceptional ability would go up, ending with 15,000 in the fifth year.

Mr. Snyder said demand already exists for experts in fields like engineering, technology and health care. And he noted that Michigan colleges and universities are home to tens of thousands of international students ― many of whom, he said, ought not depart after graduation.

Representatives for Mr. Snyder said the governor had already had high-level discussions with federal officials about the concept but had yet to submit a formal request. Federal authorities said it was too soon to comment on it.

But a White House official issued a statement about the administration’s broad views, which said, in part, “President Obama is committed to honoring our nation’s legacy of innovation and competitiveness by attracting the world’s best and brightest students and entrepreneurs to start the next great companies here in the United States.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Fewer Immigrants Came to U.S. Last Year

Wall Street Journal
By Neil Shah
January 23, 2014

Immigration to the U.S. faltered in 2013 after three years of increasing growth, a sign of the long shadow cast by the nation’s disappointing economic rebound.

Just over 843,000 people came to the U.S. from overseas between July 2012 and July 2013, after accounting for people leaving, fewer than the 866,000 who came the prior year, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday. On average, about 884,000 foreigners have migrated to the U.S. a year, on net, since 2001.

The data show that six years after the onset of the Great Recession, America’s reputation as a land of opportunity remains dented by a recovery that has been painfully slow by historical standards ― especially for those with lower incomes and less education.

While many economists expect the U.S. economy to finally start picking up this year, the nation’s main demographic trends ― immigration, fertility and migration ― remain in the doldrums.

“Immigration took a dip last year just when it seemed like it was going to rise to more healthy levels,” said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., who analyzed the Census data. “It seems like the recession and its aftermath are still holding back our national population growth.”

After hitting 1.2 million in 2000-2001, net immigration to the U.S. hung around the 900,000s level in the early to mid-2000s. It then sunk to a recent low of about 725,000 people in 2008-2009 as the recession ― and bleak jobs picture ― made the U.S. a less attractive destination to foreigners. As the economy exited recession in mid-2009 immigration started edging up again ― but that progress has now stalled.

Immigration can bring skilled labor to struggling parts of the U.S. and even reverse population declines at a time when Americans are having fewer children. In Michigan, for example, Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking to obtain special federal immigration visas to attract more foreign professionals to Detroit, which lost 25% of its population between 2000 and 2010.

To be sure, the U.S. remains a beacon for people around the world. A report by Pew Research Center in December showed the U.S. actually increased its share of the world’s migrants between 1990 and 2013 and remains the largest destination country by far. One in five, or 46 million, of the world’s migrants now live in the U.S.

Some U.S. states registered relatively big gains in international migrants as a share of overall population growth, including Alabama, Georgia, Maryland and Michigan. Alabama’s population grew about 16,000 between July 2012 and July 2013, on net, with over 5,000 of the increase coming from net international migration, Census data show.

Still, the disappointing immigration data fly in the face of recent economic readings suggesting the U.S. picked up in 2013, especially in the year’s second half.

It’s not just immigration caught in the mud of America’s weak (at least until now) recovery. While demographic data tend to lag behind other economic readings, recently-released levels of fertility and domestic migration ― which economists see as useful gauges of an economy’s health ― have stabilized since the recession but have yet to improve meaningfully.

Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, says Census’s latest data show Americans continued to move to Florida, Arizona and Nevada ― typical destinations, especially for older retirees, who’ve been doing much of the moving lately ― but the volume of these moves was weaker than in the previous year. By the same token, the numbers of people leaving New York and Massachusetts ― which Americans have tended to leave in recent years ― are lower than the previous year.

Low immigration is one reason the nation’s overall population grew only 0.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, which is well below the average annual increase of about 1.8% seen in the 1950s.

Immigration accounted for about 40% of the nation’s increase of 2.26 million people. The remaining 60% came from “natural increase,” or U.S. births outpacing the number of deaths.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Undocumented Immigrants to Attend State of the Union

USA Today
By Alan Gomez
January 23, 2014

For the second straight year, undocumented immigrants will be in the chamber when President Obama makes his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.

As Congress struggles to reach an agreement on a way to overhaul the nation's immigration system, immigration advocates are increasingly pressuring the president to act on his own to stop the deportations of some of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Several of those advocates, and at least two undocumented immigrants, will be able to hear the president firsthand when he is likely to urge the Republican-led House of Representatives to get moving on an immigration overhaul.

The group will be hosted by Illinois Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster, all of whom have been pushing for the House to take up a Senate-passed immigration bill that would allow most of the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.

"This year, we joined together to invite people whose stories illustrate the importance of immigration reform and to make clear that passing comprehensive immigration reform should be at the top of the to-do list," the members said in a joint statement.

The idea of undocumented immigrants sitting in the U.S. Capitol during the president's speech was insulting to some last year and continues to be this time around.

"It reinforces the one message that for this president is unambiguous: Violating immigration laws is just entirely inconsequential," said Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that wants to limit the number of legal and undocumented immigrants entering the country. "The laws aren't being enforced, and here you go, the public needs to get used to it. They can sit and stand anywhere they want, including next to me in the U.S. Capitol."

The two undocumented immigrants invited by the Illinois delegation ― Estefania Garcia and Maria Torres ― have both qualified for the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program allows some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the USA as children to have deportation proceedings deferred for two years.

Immigration advocates want the president to extend similar deferments to the rest of the undocumented population until Congress passes a sweeping immigration overhaul.

Republican leaders of the House of Representatives have shot down the idea of taking up the Senate-passed immigration bill. Instead, they plan to release a set of immigration principles in the coming days with the hopes of moving their own immigration bills through the chamber.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Obama to Talk Minimum Wage, Immigration in Address

USA Today
By Aamer Madhani
January 23, 2014

WASHINGTON -- When President Obama heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to deliver the State of the Union address, expect him to endorse gradually raising the minimum wage, to offer a gentle plea to Republicans for cooperation on an immigration deal, and perhaps to touch on executive action he can take to bolster clean energy in the USA.

Obama and his chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, are still deep in the drafting process of his speech that will inevitably have the familiarity of some of his past addresses, where he focused heavily on his vision for bolstering the economy while offering Congress a laundry list of legislative requests.

But the president and aides have also signaled in conversations with Democratic lawmakers and other allies their hopes to use the speech to offer a mix of big bets and pragmatic outreach to Republicans as he sets to chart his priorities for his final three years in office.

Perhaps highest on Obama's priority list is brokering a long-elusive deal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws. After spending much of 2013 pushing House Republicans without success to embrace legislation that passed in the Senate, Obama has softened his approach.

In recent weeks, Obama has expressed optimism that he can forge a deal with House Republicans that can lead to a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented workers.

His outlook is largely colored by political pressure that is felt by Republicans, who he is confident want to improve their standing with Hispanic voters as they look ahead to mid-term Congressional elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said that the White House has made clear to Democrats that giving Republicans some space on immigration to develop their own plans, as House Speaker John Boehner has vowed to do, would be helpful to the administration strategy.

But Grijalva also said that he remained concerned that Obama ? who has expressed openness to the House taking a piecemeal approach to addressing immigration ? be careful not to fall into a trap that could result in something less than truly comprehensive reform.

"I think the president ? despite the reality of the House ? needs to continue to promote that this has to be done comprehensively," Grijalva said. "If a piecemeal approach is something he's asking (Democrats) to be open to, he has to be pretty strong about saying that piecemeal (legislation) that only deals with enforcement issues or that only makes Republican caucus in the House happy is not immigration reform."

Obama will also use the address to talk about a push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by the end of his time in office, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity in order to discuss the details in advance.

The president made a call last year to raise the minimum wage ? currently at $7.25 per hour?to $9 per hour and more recently endorsed a push by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to gradually increase the rate to $10.10 per hour ? a level that would make certain all full-time workers were earning income above the federal poverty level.

In recent weeks, aides ? including chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman ? have predicted that the Harkin-Miller proposal would help not only 1.6 million Americans paid minimum wage but would also have a ripple effect on another roughly 17 million low-wage workers.

Some Republicans and conservative economists argue that raising the rate would lead to a spike in prices and even lead to employers trimming their workforce. While the Harkin-Miller legislation faces a steep climb, the push is being embraced in and outside Washington.

Last year, five states and Washington, D.C., approved increases in their minimum-wage laws (California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island), and this year several more states are weighing raising the state minimum wage.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is pushing an effort in the Illinois general assembly to raise the state's minimum wage to $10 per hour, said Obama spotlighting the issue "could help a great deal" in the state effort.

The push could also prove to be good politics for Democrats such as Quinn, who is up for re-election in November and criticized the four Republicans in Illinois vying to unseat him in Springfield for not backing a raise in the minimum wage.

"The polls show Democrats, independents, Republicans ? each of those voting groups, if you want to call them that ? favor raising the minimum wage," Quinn said. "It's an article of faith in America that if you work hard, work 40 hours a week, you shouldn't live in poverty."

Obama repeated on Thursday in a speech for the U.S. Conference of Mayors that he was ready to wield the power of executive action to get around a deadlocked Congress. To that end, the president recruited former Clinton administration chief of staff John Podesta to join his team at the start of 2014 to help him navigate spots where he may turn to executive action.

One area in his agenda where he could be ready to take action on his own is addressing climate change and bolstering clean-energy efforts. With last year's address, he challenged Congress to come up with a bipartisan "market-based" plan to curb pollution or that he would take executive action to address the issue.

He followed up his threat with a June speech at Georgetown University in which he called on the State Department not to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline unless it could be determined that it would not lead to a net increase in greenhouse emissions. He also directed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with regulations to limit carbon emissions from existing coal and gas-fired utilities by no later than this June.

Ahead of next week's speech, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also received more than 200 recommendations from a panel of outside experts on action that the president can take without Congress on energy efficiency, renewable markets, renewable-energy financing, alternative-fueled vehicles, new business models and natural-gas rule-making.

The panel, which was led by former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, was tasked to come up with the recommendations by Obama himself.

Ritter, who also met with Podesta earlier this week to discuss the report, said he didn't know if Obama would take up any of the recommendations in his State of the Union address.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if he goes back to the well and re-emphasizes the importance with us dealing with this as a country, and that he's going to undertake actions like he did last June," Ritter said.

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Immigrants Without Legal Status Remain Mostly in Healthcare Limbo

Los Angeles Times
By Soumya Karlamangla
January 19, 2014

When Alva Alvarez gets sick, she buys over-the-counter medicine from the grocery and takes as much as she can until she feels better. The mother of five resorts to this because she can't afford a visit to the doctor to figure out what's ailing her.

Although scenarios like this are supposed to disappear as millions of Americans become newly insured under the national healthcare law, Alvarez's situation isn't likely to improve and could get worse. The San Bernardino resident represents the biggest — and mostly invisible — group of people left out of the Affordable Care Act: immigrants in the country illegally.

Concerned by this, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) proposed Jan. 10 that such immigrants be allowed to get health insurance through a program such as Medi-Cal.

The new healthcare law increases the number of people who can join Medi-Cal, the state's low-income health plan, and requires nearly everyone else to buy insurance. But those in the country illegally aren't eligible for either, which leaves Lara and other advocates worried about the success of universal healthcare if that group's options for coverage decrease as legal residents' options increase.

"It's a lot harder to steer a boat if there are people hanging off the sides," said Anthony Wright, executive director of advocacy group Health Access California.

Typically, people without health insurance have relied on a mix of publicly supported community and free clinics, emergency rooms and county health systems. But as more and more people become insured under the new law, the vastly different ways that California counties have served patients without legal immigration status is prompting concern that large numbers of residents will fall through the cracks.

In San Bernardino County, where Alvarez lives, the government doesn't offer regular health services to immigrants here illegally. If she were to move 12 miles south to Riverside County or half an hour's drive west to Los Angeles County, she would qualify for free county-provided medical care.

That already uneven patchwork could intensify as clinics, hospitals and counties see huge changes in demand and funding because of the Affordable Care Act. Citing financial constraints because of the healthcare overhaul, Fresno County has been trying to stop providing for immigrants without legal status since late last year. And as the effects of the new law continue to play out across the state, it's unclear if any pieces of the healthcare safety net will exist for those immigrants.

The California and Welfare Institutions Code requires that counties be providers of last resort, that they "relieve and support all incompetent, poor, indigent persons, and those incapacitated by age, disease, or accident, lawfully resident therein."

To fulfill this obligation, counties typically pay for basic health services, such as a yearly checkup or emergency room costs, for their poorest residents. However, the vagueness of that mandate — paid for with a combination of state and county money — has caused leaders of the state's 58 counties to disagree over whom they must cover and to what degree.

Some counties offer free or low-cost healthcare to all patients with incomes up to three times the poverty level. Others provide care only for those at or below the poverty level, currently set at an annual income of $15,500 for a two-person household. Some counties require that patients have a medical emergency before they can get care. Some provide for immigrants without documentation, others — such as San Bernardino, San Diego and Orange — don't.

The law doesn't explicitly require counties to include the state's 2.8 million immigrants who lack legal status.

If they're not in a county-run program, those in the country illegally can be treated for dire conditions at an emergency room or see doctors at free or community clinics in their area. However, access to these facilities and the cost also vary greatly across the state. And unlike most county programs, a clinic doesn't typically provide preventive care, allow access to specialists or help pay for medicines.

Alvarez, 34, says that though she's healthy now, she fears that never seeing a doctor could have consequences later. "Sometimes you don't get diagnosed soon enough," she said.

Currently, 11 counties in California include residents without documentation in their healthcare programs. That number, however, could drop as counties adapt to their biggest funding change in 20 years, set into motion by the Affordable Care Act.

State officials anticipate that starting this year, counties will have dramatically fewer people to cover as they shift to Medi-Cal and buy insurance through the Covered California marketplace. To adjust, the state is taking back a total of $300 million from counties' health services budget — an average of 60% from each county — in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Some see this as a moment of opportunity. The California Endowment, a private foundation that supports affordable healthcare, launched radio ads in December to raise awareness about people who don't have healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which feature an immigrant who is here illegally, are part of a $10-million campaign and will play through March in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Monterey and Kern counties.

Though the advertisement appears to encourage governments to reconsider who they cover, counties are reluctant to broaden their systems in a year when they'll see healthcare budgets slashed by millions.

Ron Boatman, who runs San Bernardino County's indigent care program, said immigrants without legal status will still not be covered this year and there are no plans to shrink, or expand, services in any other way.

Fresno County officials are considering barring such immigrants from its program. Caring for these roughly 5,000 people would cost the county $25 million, they said, and the county is getting only $18 million from the state compared with $32 million last year.

Henry Perea, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said he feels the county has a moral obligation to care for the immigrants — vital to the area's agriculture industry.

"I don't think we can ask them to do all that they do, and provide us the food that we eat, and turn our back on them when they get sick," he said. "That still doesn't mean I have an answer for where the money will come from."

Experts predict that even five years from now, between 3 million and 4 million Californians, a quarter of whom will be without legal status, will still not have health insurance.

In the past, cash-strapped counties have cut services to such immigrants to save money. In 2009, Sacramento and Yolo counties stopped providing nonemergency services to them, and Contra Costa County suspended care for adults without legal status, saving $2.4 million, $1.2 million and $6 million respectively.

Counties like Los Angeles that include those immigrants in their health programs espouse the idea that offering preventive and primary care to them actually decreases costs in the long run by averting pricey emergency room visits.

Dylan Roby at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research said that although providing early care has been shown to save money overall, counties would have to pay for more frequent doctor visits and prescriptions up front. And with this year's new financial situation, he said, they would be "very reluctant to bite the bullet."

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

States Take Lead in Boosting Immigrants

Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
January 21, 2014

While Congress mulls an immigration overhaul, state legislatures across the country are passing bills aimed at integrating illegal immigrants rather than cracking down on them.

Last week, New Jersey joined at least 18 states in approving laws or policies allowing undocumented youngsters to pay in-state college tuition, rather than the higher out-of-state rate. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said at a bill-signing that the measure would maximize the investment the state has made in undocumented students, whose K-12 schooling is financed by New Jersey taxpayers.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill last April to give in-state tuition rates to Colorado high school graduates in the country illegally. 

At the other side of the country last week, the House in Washington state passed a measure that would enable undocumented college students to qualify for state financial aid, a measure the state Senate is expected to back.

Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon also extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants last year. Meantime, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont approved access to driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, bringing to 13 the number of states that allow it.

"There is a move away from enforcement measures to measures that support immigrants, such as in-state tuition and driver's licenses," said Ann Morse, director of the National Conference of State Legislatures' immigration policy project. The group will release a report Tuesday about the laws and resolutions passed by states in 2013.

Supporters of the immigrant-friendly bills say that educating youngsters will bolster state coffers as graduates earn good salaries and pay taxes, while issuing licenses to all motorists improves highway safety and fosters better relations between immigrants and law enforcement.

"Immigrant-inclusive laws are not only sound policy, they are also good politics," said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant-rights group. "We expect this momentum to continue in the coming year."

Opponents say giving undocumented immigrants any benefits rewards illegal behavior, encourages more illegal immigration and saps scarce resources from states.

Washington state Rep. Larry Haler, a Republican, voted against offering financial aid to undocumented immigrants. "We don't have the money," he said, adding that the state last year turned down college grants to a third of the 106,000 students who applied.

The growth in inclusive measures marks a shift from previous years, when several states, led by Arizona, passed anti-illegal-immigrant laws. It reflects concerns expressed by some GOP leaders about potential fallout at the polls if Hispanic voters feel antagonized by the party.

After Republican leaders refused to consider a Senate immigration bill last year, several Republicans in the House now are working on a piecemeal proposal to achieve an overhaul.

"Immigration has become a defining, mobilizing issue for Hispanic voters," said Frank Sharry, founder of America's Voice, a national immigrant-advocacy group.

The states' softer approach follows a 2012 Supreme Court decision involving Arizona—whose laws had served as a template for other states—that curtails state authority over immigration enforcement. That year, the Obama administration unveiled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that gives young undocumented immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

While much of the pro-immigrant legislation is originating in blue states, Mr. Christie's support of in-state tuition and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's recent call for immigrants to play a central role in his state's revitalization suggest more Republicans are recognizing the potential political and economic impact of immigrants.

The immigrant-friendly bills carry a cost. In California, where illegal immigrants can qualify for a driver's license starting next year, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, set aside $64.7 million in his proposed 2014-2015 budget to process an anticipated surge in applications that will require more Department of Motor Vehicles staff and offices.

Mr. Christie signed the bill extending in-state tuition to undocumented students only after the New Jersey legislature dropped a provision that would have enabled such students to receive state financial aid. In-state tuition is generally half to a third of the cost of that charged out-of-state students.

The U.S. is home to an estimated 2.1 million undocumented students of college age. In California, which offers both in-state tuition and financial assistance to this group, they represent less than 1% of enrollment at public colleges and universities.

Moses Chege of Tacoma, Wash., say the impact of such legislation could be life-changing. "I'm 18 years old and sound and look American," said the undocumented Kenyan, who was brought to the U.S. when he was 3 years old.

Mr. Chege, who was a commanding officer in his junior ROTC unit before realizing his immigration status was a barrier to the military and college, has testified before lawmakers on the issue. "I had ticked all the boxes—doing well in school, running track, leading worship at church," he said.

The son of parents who work as caretakers to the elderly and infirm, Mr. Chege hasn't been able to afford tuition at any university. "It was almost as if the acceptance letters didn't mean anything," he said. Even at lower in-state rates, Mr. Chege said he can't attend college unless he gets financial aid, which will happen only if the new Washington state measure passes.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

U.S. Immigration Reform Advocates See New Hope in 2014

By Richard Cowan
January 17, 2014

(Reuters) - Immigration reform advocates, who saw their hopes dashed in 2013 for major legislation, are encouraged by stirrings in the Republican-led House of Representatives for taking up the issue.

The Senate last June passed a sweeping immigration bill that would give millions of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship but the legislation has languished in the House.

Over the past few weeks, however, there have been signs that leaders may soon offer a framework for reform.

House Speaker John Boehner informed his rank-and-file on January 8 that leading House Republicans were preparing to lay out "principles" for immigration legislation, according to Republicans who attended the closed-door meeting.

One Republican leadership aide said a framework for reform could be unveiled as early as next week.

"We're seeing a shift underway," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a group that has been pushing for reform. "It's now becoming clearer that the House Republican leadership...are determined to move forward to floor action."

But 2013 began on a similarly upbeat note after President Barack Obama cruised to re-election the previous November with the support of more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters who have been clamoring for immigration reforms.

By mid-year the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan, bill setting a tough, 13-year course for undocumented residents to gain legal status and eventually citizenship.

That same June day, Boehner drove a stake through the Senate's bill, saying his chamber would not consider it and instead would "do our own bill" - one that never materialized on the House floor in 2013.

The senior Republican aide, who asked not to be identified, said the principles to be unveiled could discuss the need for better U.S. border controls and beefing up interior security so that companies cannot easily hire undocumented workers.

Improved procedures for hiring foreign high-tech specialists, as well as unskilled laborers to harvest crops and work on construction projects, also could be put into the mix, the aide said.

Perhaps the most challenging principle to be addressed is what do about the 11 million already in the United States, many brought here as children.

The aide said the principles will be guided by two procedural requirements: the House will not pass a comprehensive immigration bill, as the Senate did, and instead will do them "step by step." And, at no point will the House be drawn into a negotiation with the Senate on the bill it passed last year.

Instead, the aide said, the Senate would have to scrap its bill and debate the individual House bills.

That could make it difficult to ultimately pass legislation. Democrats have warned against settling for half-steps in the fight for immigration reform.


"Principles are one thing and legislation is another. Once the principles are released, there will be lots of details that will have to be fleshed out," said Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, a former immigration lawyer from California who has worked on reform efforts for decades.

Still, Lofgren said in a telephone interview with Reuters, that "it would be premature and a mistake to assume what details" Republicans might include in any bills they advance this year, adding that she is eager to work with them.

Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said, "Based on what we've heard, the fact that the undocumented are going to be mentioned in terms of legalizing, instead of just deporting, is a sea change."

But some veteran Republican aides in Congress note that with the November congressional elections heating up, there could be little time, and incentive, for enacting legislation this year.

Republicans hope to gain strength in both the House and Senate as a result of those elections and waiting until 2015 to actually enact immigration reforms might be more advantageous, they noted.

In the meantime, immigration reform groups and Democrats in Congress will be awaiting details of legislation, not simply Republicans' principles.

"Talk is cheap, so show us a bill," said Lorella Praeli, policy director at United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization.

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