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07/25/12 | How the Supreme Court Ruled on SB 1070 and What It Means for Other States

Washington, D.C.—One month ago today, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Arizona v. United States, which invalidated three provisions of the immigration law known as “SB 1070” and left a fourth open to future challenges. More than any matter in recent history, the case settled a range of important questions regarding the role that states may play in the enforcement of federal immigration law. As a result, the ruling will affect not only SB 1070, but the fate of other state immigration laws being challenged in court and the odds of similar laws passing around the country.

Today, the Immigration Policy Center releases an updated version of its Q&A on Arizona v. United States, which discusses how the Supreme Court decided the case and what the ruling means for immigration laws in other states. As debates over the ruling continue, understanding the basis for the Court’s opinion will prove critically important in furthering a rational discussion on the implications of the decision. 

To view the Q&A Guide in its entirety, see: 

 For more information, contact Wendy Sefsaf at wsefsaf@immcouncil.org or 202- 812-2499.

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03/29/12 | The Council Applauds Supreme Court Decision Rejecting Retroactive Application of Immigration Law Provision

Washington, D.C.—Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court issued an important decision, Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211, rejecting the retroactive application of a provision of a law passed by Congress in 1996 that has prevented many lawful permanent residents (LPRs) from returning to the United States after a trip abroad.  Citing the "deeply rooted presumption" against applying new laws retroactively, the Court ruled 6-3 that LPRs who temporarily leave the country cannot be denied readmission on account of criminal convictions that occurred before the law took effect.  

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03/28/12 | Mocking Humane Immigration Detention Standards

Washington D.C. - Today, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on new immigration detention standards recently issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Cynically entitled “Holiday on ICE,” the hearing reflects Chairman Lamar Smith’s allegation that the new standards—which set minimum requirements for medical care, access to counsel, and other living conditions—are a “hospitality guideline” for detained immigrants. Roughly 34,000 immigrants, including lawful permanent residents, and many immigrants who have never been convicted of a crime, are detained under civil immigration laws each day. It is anticipated that the hearing will be a vehicle for promoting mandatory detention proposals sponsored by Chairman Smith, who maintains that more detention, rather than less, should be the goal of our civil immigration system. 

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01/31/12 | Missouri State Legislature Pursing Budget Busting Solutions to Immigration

Washington D.C. – As Missouri faces a $704 million shortfall in fiscal year 2012, state legislators are currently pursuing a costly and short-sighted anti-immigrant law. Senate Bill 590 is similar to the immigration law passed in Alabama and is currently working its way through the state legislature. The costs associated with the bill are unknown because the fiscal note attached to it is woefully incomplete. According to the Missouri fiscal note, the law would cost taxpayers $156,000 the first year, and $43,000 in subsequent years, primarily for recording and reporting the immigration status of Missouri’s school children.  However, the fiscal note claims that the provisions to detain, arrest, jail, and prosecute suspected unauthorized immigrants will have no additional costs.   The note further claims the costs for enforcement activities will be “absorbed with existing resources,” meaning that resources will be diverted away from other important law enforcement activities.

Other states pursuing similar measures, such as Kentucky and Utah, have estimated the costs, which reach into the tens of millions of dollars. Aside from the costs of implementation there are whopping costs for defending these measures in court. Missouri legislators should consider the following evidence before final votes on SB 590.

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01/26/12 | The Real Meaning of “Self-Deportation”

Washington D.C. - The term “self-deportation” has found its way into the GOP presidential primary race, with candidate Mitt Romney outlining a vague immigration platform which includes "self-deportation," or the idea that unauthorized immigrants will voluntarily choose to leave the U.S. if life here is made unbearable enough. While "self-deportation" may be a new idea to some, those who monitor immigration policy understand that it is code for “attrition through enforcement” - a plan pursued by extremist immigration-control organizations in Congress and state houses across the nation. 

Mr. Romney explains how he thinks "self-deportation" would work by saying “if people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place they can get work.”  However, as described in a forthcoming report from the Immigration Policy Center, "self-deportation" - or, more accurately, "attrition through enforcement" - goes far beyond denying unauthorized immigrants work. The strategy is currently embodied in state laws that include provisions denying education, transportation, and even basic services like water and housing to anyone who cannot prove legal immigration status. So far, the states that have attempted to roll out this plan have done little more than undermine basic human rights, devastate local economies, and place unnecessary burdens on U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants. 

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09/29/11 | Alabama’s Dangerous New Anti-Immigrant Law

Washington D.C. - Yesterday, Judge Sharon Blackburn failed to enjoin major portions of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, HB 56, leaving many dangerous sections open to implementation. Local police, for example, are required to act as federal immigration enforcement agents by demanding proof of legal status from anyone who appears to be foreign. Other provisions—that go further than Arizona’s law—insist public school administrators check the legal status of students and their parents and create confusing and burdensome new restrictions on contracts between the state government and immigrants and between private citizens and immigrants. It’s unclear how far the restrictions on contracts will go, but at a minimum they will limit access to housing and utilities for anyone who cannot produce the proper documentation.

Although supporters claim the law will solve the state’s economic problems and reduce crime, HB 56 will inflict greater economic damage to Alabama, costing the state millions to implement and defend. And the crime argument simply doesn't hold water. Since 1990, Alabama’s unauthorized population has risen from five thousand to 120 thousand.  Yet the violent crime rate in the state has fallen by more than a third. Restrictive immigration laws have proven to reduce, not maximize, law enforcement effectiveness.

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08/22/11 | DHS: Prioritizing Enforcement and Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion

Washington D.C. - Today, the American Immigration Council hosted a briefing to discuss the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement last week that it would issue agency-wide guidance to make certain that prosecutorial discretion is exercised in a manner that ensures the agency's enforcement resources are used to remove those who pose the greatest risk to public safety. DHS also announced the creation of a joint committee with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that will review nearly 300,000 cases currently in removal proceedings to determine which ones are low priority and can be administratively closed in order to begin unclogging immigration courts. While it is unclear how these proposals will play out in practice, the federal government must continue to assert its authority over immigration given the rise of state legislative initiatives that seek to impose different priorities on immigration enforcement.

Melissa Crow, Director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council discussed the practical implications of the use of greater prosecutorial discretion and had a warning for immigrants not in removal proceedings:

“Prosecutorial discretion is not a new concept, and is exercised on a daily basis by law enforcement agencies. It refers to the authority of a law enforcement agency or officer to decide whether – and to what extent – to enforce the law in a particular case. Prosecutorial discretion can take a variety of forms, depending on the nature of the case involved.

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07/25/11 | Dissecting the HALT Act: Last Safety Valves in Immigration System Under Attack

Washington D.C. - Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act” (HALT Act), a bill that would suspend discretionary forms of immigration relief until January 21, 2013—the day after the next Presidential inauguration. 

Today, the Immigration Policy Center held a briefing to describe how the HALT Act systematically attacks many of the discretionary forms of relief available to immigrants. Immigration policy experts described the implications of limiting the Administration’s discretion in prosecuting immigration cases, as well as the impetus behind the bill. 

Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, said:

“The HALT Act seeks to disable or suspend a number of immigration provisions that provide any discretionary relief to immigrants in order to chastise the Administration for a series of policy memos that contemplate using executive branch authority to improve current laws. Its authors seek to discourage the Administration from interpreting the law in ways that are more streamlined or benefit more individuals.” 

Beth Werlin, Deputy Director of the Legal Action Center, further explained:

“By taking away the power to grant deferred action, the HALT Act is basically interfering with the Administration’s ability to prioritize its removal cases and focus its resources on serious criminals and those who pose a true security risk.”

Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, commented on the impetus behind the bill:

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07/18/11 | The Case for Discretion and Proportionality in Our Immigration System

Washington D.C. - It has long been the case that those responsible for carrying out and enforcing our nation's laws do so with a measure of discretion and proportionality.  Every day, law enforcement officials and judges exercise discretion in charging and sentencing decisions, weighing differing priorities and social values, and matching punishments with crimes.  Consequently, minors are treated differently in the criminal system, and traffic violators and murderers receive different punishments. The use of judgment and proportionality is so ingrained in our legal system—with the exception of immigration law—that we take it for granted. Today, the need for discretion and proportionality is needed more than ever in our antiquated and over-burdened immigration system to ensure that the government spends its limited resources on high priority cases, and that immigrants who have a strong case for remaining in the U.S. are able to do so if current law provides for an avenue of relief.  

To that end, a wide range of organizations, including the American Immigration Council, have been asking the Obama Administration to use its executive authority to exercise discretion in the immigration context. In June, Director John Morton of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memo outlining new guidance on the use of prosecutorial discretion in a wide range of circumstances.  The memo signals a greater commitment to using limited resources to enforce immigration law with an understanding of the need for measured action and fairness in the immigration context. 

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07/13/11 | More Fear and Loathing in the House Judiciary Committee

Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up two immigration bills that supposedly address community safety, but in reality are simply the latest attempts to restrict immigration and limit due process for immigrants. Neither Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011,” or Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011” (SAFE Act) offer solutions to the immigration crisis. Instead, Chairman Smith’s bill would authorize indefinite detention for a wide range of immigrants, while Rep. Goodlatte’s bill would eliminate the diversity visa—a lottery that offers 50,000 visas per year to immigrants from countries that send few people to the U.S. Once more, the House Judiciary Committee is using fear to restrict our immigration system.

While studies have repeatedly shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, “The Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011” attempts to exploit the public’s fear of crime to advance an anti-immigration agenda. The bill would expand the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to subject certain immigrants to indefinite—that is, potentially life-long—detention, even though the Supreme Court has held that such detention raises serious constitutional concerns. The bill relies on the continued detention of immigrants—many of whom have never committed a crime—as a stand-in for fixing the underlying problems of our broken immigration system. Similarly, the deceptively titled SAFE Act simply eliminates 50,000 visas that currently go to immigrants from many countries in Africa and elsewhere that have less of a tradition of immigrating to the U.S. 

Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, noted:

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