Immigration ‘Reports’ look at myths, reality

April 15, 2012

Iliana Holguin and Allie Devine have distinctly different backgrounds and live in two very different worlds, yet on Saturday afternoon it was clear they share a passion for immigration reform. And it was clear that both women see such needed changes in national and state law as both humane and pragmatic.

Holguin and Devine were the main speakers at a presentation titled “Immigration Reform & What it Means to Rural Kansas,” held at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia and organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Iliana Holguin of El Paso, Texas

Holguin is an attorney and executive director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees and their families in El Paso, West Texas and Southern New Mexico. She remembers growing up in El Paso when it and Ciudad Juarez, its much larger neighbor just across the U.S.-Mexico border, seemed like one big city.

“As a child I traveled with my mother to Juarez every morning and it never seemed like I was crossing an international border,” she recalled as she began her “Report from the Border.”

But that was before 9/11 and increased national security — and before violent drug cartels turned Juarez into what is now called the “Murder Capital of the World.”

“The laws have changed dramatically in the last 50 years,” she said, while American attitudes toward immigrants have changed as well.

She began her presentation by citing six common myths about immigration today:

  • Having a child born in the U.S. allows parents to stay. (These so-called “anchor babies” are U.S. citizens, but their parents are not and are subject to deportation.)
  • Marrying a U.S. citizen automatically allows the spouse to come to the U.S. or to stay here. (This is one pathway to citizenship, but it is not automatic.)
  • Immigrants come to the U.S. to get welfare. (Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any kind of welfare and even documented immigrants are not eligible for the first five years they are in the country.)
  • Immigrants pay no taxes. (Both documented and undocumented immigrants pay sales and income taxes just like anyone else. For Social Security taxes and most income taxes, she noted, undocumented immigrants provide a “windfall” because they pay those taxes through payroll deductions but have no way to get it back.)
  • Most immigrants entered the U.S. illegally. (Although estimates vary, most studies agree that about 75 percent of the immigrants in the U.S. entered legally.)
  • Immigrants can come to the U.S. legally if they want to.

“Immigration laws today are very, very complicated,” Holguin said.

Most visas issued to enter the U.S. legally are based on either family connections or employment, she explained. But for 2012, there will be just 226,000 “family-based” visas issued for immigrants from anywhere in the world, which means there is a lengthy backlog for people who want to join family members here.

As an example, this year there are 23,400 visas available for the unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens — but according to an April 2012 federal bulletin, those adult children would have had to apply for one of those visas in May 1993 to now have moved to the front of the line. And if their relative is a “lawful permanent resident” instead of a citizen — commonly called a Green Card holder — the backlog is larger and the wait will be longer.

The challenge for workers who are trying to come into the U.S. legally can be even greater, Holguin said.

While “priority workers” and those with advanced degrees have a good chance of receiving visas, “other workers” — typically the kind of employees needed for agriculture and meat processing plants such as those in Southwest Kansas — are only allotted 10,000 visas a year. And, Holguin noted, the April 2012 bulletin lists an eligibility date of September 2002 for that class of visa.

“So how many people think an employer will be willing to wait 10 years for their employee?” she asked the 50 or so people in the audience at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

Another dramatic shift in immigration law, Holguin said, has been the focus on border enforcement. “Cost have increased exponentially in the last 10 years,” she said, “and that’s not just on the border but throughout the United States.”

A huge portion of that goes to the 350 or so detention facilities that have been established in the U.S. In 2009 (the most recent year for which details are available), about 380,000 immigrants were held in these detention centers, at a cost of $1.7 billion.

“Immigration violations are civil,” Holguin pointed out. “Half of the immigrants in detention have no criminal record.”

In El Paso, there are two detention facilities that together house 1,900 adults. (There are also four facilities for children, with a total capacity of 200.)

The cost to detain each adult is $86 per day, so the total cost for the two adult facilities in El Paso is $63 million per year, Holguin said — $86 times 365 days times 1,900 detainees.

She said various studies have shown that less expensive alternatives to detention would work just as well, but neither the government nor the private companies that run detention centers are willing to consider those.

“Immigration detention has become such a lucrative business that there’s a lot of resistance to alternatives,” she added.

 

Allie Devine of Topeka

Meanwhile, in Kansas — like in many other states — alternatives to federal immigration policy have been at the forefront for a number of years.

Former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Allie Devine explained the history of immigration discussions in Kansas and how a current proposal came about.

“As Iliana was on the border fighting those issues and as Congress every year lost its nerve to address immigration,” Kansas business interests began changing the way they thought about the issue.

“The first thing everybody says is, ‘This is a federal issue; there’s no role for the states,’” she said. “For five years, the Kansas business community said that — and we said it because we believed it. But we also understand the political environment that we’re in.”

So, beginning in 2008, “while we understand it’s a federal issue and there still needs to be federal reform, we realized that we need to do something (in Kansas) and do something different.”

That “something” has grown into a coalition of 27 groups “representing virtually every aspect of the economic base of Kansas,” Devine said, that has come together to oppose measures put forward by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and at the same time propose an unusual bill to help provide workers for Kansas businesses.

State Rep. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, listens to the presentation at the Nazareth Motherhouse Saturday.

Devine said the most unusual aspect of House Bill 2712 and its Senate companion, SB 399, is that it brought together business lobbyists and advocacy groups on a single issue, so that they were working side by side for what may have been the first time ever.

“What happened us probably one of the greatest things I’ve seen in all aspects of 25 years in state government,” she said. “We changed the hearts of lobbyists that were focused only on business interests. They now see this as a human rights issue and a community protection issue.”

Instead of the punitive “Arizona-style” laws that have been put forward by Secretary of State Kobach, HB 2712 creates a method for undocumented workers to remain in Kansas. If it becomes law, under 2712 a worker would have to:

  • Prove he or she has been in Kansas for five years
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Agree to study toward English proficiency
  • Agree to work in an industry that needs labor

If the worker meets those criteria, the state of Kansas would support his or her application to remain in the U.S. with legal work authorization. The costs of the new program would be covered by businesses that would pay a $1,000 registration fee and an additional fee of $200 for each employee hired as part of the new program.

She said HB 2712 “would basically put people in a holding pattern, with lawful status, until they can come into the system” of entry visas, as Holguin described.

After designing HB 2712, Devine said, “We were waiting for the immigrant community to tell us they could never support it — but they said, ‘Yes, we’ll support it, because we have nothing else.’”

HB 2712 remains in the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where the last action on it was a set of hearings in mid-February.

If it doesn’t pass, Devine said her coalition will continue to work with the federal government on the same idea but through other channels.

Arturo Ponce from Liberal, Kan., talked about his own experience as an immigrant 24 years ago. He attended the presentation with his wife, Dora.

Also speaking at Saturday’s presentation were Arturo Ponce, who works with the United Methodist Mexican American Ministries in Liberal, Kan., and Sisters Anna Marie Broxterman, Judy Stephens and Esther Pineda. Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, welcomed those attending the presentation and explained the congregation’s focus on immigration reform. Cheryl Lyn Higgins, coordinator for the sisters’ Neighborhood Initiatives offices, was the emcee for the event.

• • • • • • •

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia gave unanimous support to an Enactment Statement on Immigration in November 2011. For a copy,  CLICK HERE.

 

Sister adds testimony against HB 2576

February 14, 2012

 Sister Esther Pineda, director of the Justice and Peace Center in Salina, on Feb. 15, 2012, submitted this letter of opposition to Kansas House Bill 2576. The so-called “Anti-Harboring Bill” would make it a crime to harbor or assist any person who is subsequently found to be in the United States without documentation. The Kansas House of Representatives is holding hearings on HB 2576 and other immigration-related measures this week.

The full text of the letter is below. Or, for a copy in Word document format, CLICK HERE.

 

February 15, 2012

 

House Federal and State Affairs Committee
Representative Steve Brunk, Chairman
Topeka, KS

 

I am submitting this written testimony to be filed with the record of testimony in opposition to HB 2576.

We, Sisters of St. Joseph have been in Kansas since 1883 ministering to the needs of Kansans in the area of education and health care.  Our religious Charism and faith calls us to be attentive to the most vulnerable; among them, the immigrant who finds himself/ herself away from home and, often, in vulnerable situations.

It goes without saying, that our immigration policy is broken. We are pained by the inability of the Federal Government to enact a fair and humane immigration policy; therefore, causing undue and unnecessary hardships on the immigrant who is present among us.  As a community of faith, we are committed to fair and just solutions, but these solutions only come through the Federal government who is charged with the responsibility of immigration; States trying to “piece meal” a solution is at times harmful and at best, not helpful.

In a desperate grasp of the issue, this Kansas legislation (HB2576) is proposing that communities of faith, such as mine, choose between following the law and following the dictates of our faith. Aiding those in need is one of the basic tenants of our faith and of our Religious Community.  The Sisters of St. Joseph must consider the “dear neighbor” without distinction. We take seriously the teaching of Jesus who said, “In Matthew’s text on the Final Judgment : “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a  stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35) .  And I don’t believe Matthew added: AND YOU MIGHT BE ARRESTED FOR DOING SO!

Specifically, we oppose any legislative proposal (such as HB2576) that would:

  • Require clergy and lay leaders to enforce  immigration policies, discriminate based upon immigration status, or take legal responsibility for failing to report the undocumented to immigration officials,
  • Create barriers to essential services for those eligible, particularly the U.S.-born children of mixed-status households.

Living according to our faith and community’s directive to extend compassion should not be criminalized as “harboring.”

Sincerely,
Sister Esther Pineda, CSJ