Understanding the Immigration Debate

George Clack for IndivisibleHoCoMD, grclack@gmail.com

Today’s Goal

  • A common response to undocumented or illegal immigrants: “They’re violating the law, so deport them. Enough said.”
  • My view: the issue of immigration is much more complex than that
  • My purpose: to explore some of that complexity with you.

Some Facts About Undocumented Immigrants

Total in USA now = 11 million, or 3.4% of the U.S. population.

Two-thirds came here via a visa or work permit and overstayed their time. 13.6 years is the median amount of time in USA.
Many have families with children born in USA, who are U.S. citizens.

Basic Vocabulary of Immigration

Unlawful presence – a foreigner who enters the USA legally through a work permit or travel visa, but overstays the time permitted. Not a crime. Penalty = deportation.

Improper entry – it is a misdemeanor violation of federal immigration law to enter USA anywhere but places designated by immigration officers. Penalty = Up to six months in prison and $250 fine for each violation plus deportation. Must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Border Patrol enforces near U.S. borders and ICE in rest of country.

Asylum seekers – foreigners who come to USA fearing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a social group. They may apply for asylum once in USA. Their entry to country may be legal or illegal.

Temporary Protected Status

Special category granted to citizens of countries where there is a natural disaster or civil war. Up until Trump, 10 countries with 437,000 people.

The program is “temporary” but was renewed for many years by Bush and Obama administrations. Many with TPS permits have lived in USA for 20 years.

Trump’s DHS has ended to TPS for Nicaraguans and Haitians recently, but extended Hondurans; 159,000 Salvadorans come for renewal in January.

DACA or “the DREAMers”

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by Obama in 2012.
  • Allows undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children to remain in the USA to work or attend school.
  • No direct path to lawful permanent residence or to citizenship.
  • 780,000 have received DACA permits.
  • Trump decided to end new DACA permits in six months and let Congress decide the program’s fate.
  • Dreamers will be deported starting March 5 as their permits expire unless Congress extends the program.

Latest Republican Approach to Immigration

The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act sponsored by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue; endorsed by President Trump in August 2017. The bill would:

Over 10 years reduce the number of green-card visas from one million a year to 539,000.

Institute a priority point system favoring skills over family connections. Points would be based on education, ability to speak English, high-paying job offers, age, record of achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative.

Cut the number of refugees admitted by half – to 50,000 per year.

Immigration Act of 1965

Replaced quota system by country with family-member connection as key criterion.

Unintended consequence: shifted system to favor immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Africa.

Immigrant share of U.S. population in 1970 = 4.7% vs. 13.4% today.

U.S. immigration peak was 1890: 14.8% of population.

Response to Senate Immigration Bill

“If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant work force. Hotels, restaurants, golf courses and farmers will tell you this proposal to cut legal immigration in half would put their business in peril.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

“The bottom line is, to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn’t make much sense. It’s a nonstarter.”

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York

Economists on Why immigration Is Vital

Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.

Immigration brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.

Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.

Immigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life- improving products and drive economic growth.

Open letter sent to President Trump in April 2017 by 1,470 economists

What Is ICE?

  • ICE = Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • In charge of 7,000 ICE agents who track down and pick up undocumented immigrants in USA.
  • Also runs detention facilities for immigrants awaiting hearings.
  • Backlog of cases awaiting Dept of Justice hearings = 550,000. Averagelength of time for deportation or asylum case to be heard = 670 days.
  • Trump administration has proposed ICE budget increase of 19% – not counting a wall at Mexican border.

Arrests and Deportation

Bush administration

deported about 2 million between 2001 and 2008.

Obama administration

deported about 3 million undocumented immigrants between 2009 and 2016.

Trump administration

ICE arrests are up 43 percent over the same time period as last year.

The Special Case of Refugees

• “Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm. Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or

membership in a particular social group or political opinion. ”

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Some Facts About Refugees

  • Current levels of refugees entering USA = 110,000 a year. Obama proposed raising it to 125,000 and Trump has proposed cutting it to 45,000.
  • Since the creation of the U.S. Refugees Resettlement Program in 1980, about 3 million refugees have come to live in the USA – more than in any other country. USA is withdrawing from UN declaration on supporting migrants.

Origins of Refugeesfor Childhood

• In FY-2016, 46% of refugees admitted to USA were Muslim and 44% were Christians.

46% 44%

• Top five countries of origin in FY-2016: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Burma (Myanmar)

Iraq Somalia

What Is Sanctuary ?

  • There is no legal definition of the term “sanctuary.”
  • As many as 600 local governments in USA claim to be “sanctuaries.”
  • “Sanctuary” is a powerful symbolic label in the immigration debate .

Sanctuary for a City or County

  • Local police will not routinely stop people and check their immigration status.
  • Once a person is arrested, police will not hold the accused person for ICE agents to pick him or her up.

ICE Warrants and Judicial Warrants

  • ICE detainers /administrative warrants are requests to local law enforcement to hold a person for up to 48 hours.
    • Signed only by ICE agent or supervisor.
    • Immigration lawyers, ACLU, and some courts say these violate Constitution.
  • Judicial warrant – a judge has found probable cause that a person committed a crime and should be detained.
    • Much harder to get than an ICE detainer.
    • Sanctuary jurisdictions honor judicial warrants.

The Maryland Trust Act

  • Bill passed Maryland House of Delegates in 2017 session.
  • Never got out of committee in State Senate.
  • Would bar police statewide from stopping, arresting, or detaining individuals to check for immigration violations.Co-Sponsors of The Maryland Trust Act

Terri Hill Clarence Lam Eric Ebersole

Key Provisions of the Trust Act

• Databases – No state or local resources could go to creating a database to track undocumented immigrants in Maryland.

• Profiling – No law enforcement official could ask about the immigration status or citizenship of a person stopped and questioned.

• Detainment – Local law enforcement authorities would be prohibited from detaining people at the request of ICE unless ICE presents a judicial warrant.

• Public places – The Maryland Attorney General would issue guidelines on public schools, hospitals, and courthouses. These are all venues where ICE agents have seized undocumented immigrants.

287(g) Exception / Frederick & Harford Counties

  • Under federal law local police may enter into cooperative arrangements – known as “287(g) agreements – to aid ICE.
  • Frederick , Anne Arundel, and Harford counties have existing 287(g) agreements.
  • All persons detained in the Frederick County jail must answer a questionnaire that includes these questions:
    • What country were you born in?
    • What country are you a citizen or national of?
  • The answers can lead Frederick County correctional officers to open an investigation into whether the arrestee is in the country illegally.
  • If so, the officer alerts an on-site ICE agent, who can begin immigration proceedings against them.
  • An amendment to the Maryland Trust Act would allow counties to enter into 287(g) agreements.

The Down Side of 287(g) agreements:

  • Local jurisdictions are liable if there are law suits as a result of a person being held.
  • They create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that makes immigrants less willing to cooperate with police.

Sanctuary for Places of Worship

• Some 800 churches, synagogues, mosques claim to be sanctuaries.

ICE’s “Sensitive Places”

• ICE internal procedures list “sensitive places” where ICE agents shouldn’t go to apprehend immigrants = places of worship, schools, hospitals.

Two Kinds of Religious Sanctuaries

• Support – if immigrant detained by ICE, • congregation’s members have pledged to get legal help, take care of family, donate money, transport to hearings, etc.

Refuge – immigrant actually living in church, synagogue, or mosque to avoid ICE detention.

B’nai Jeshurun congregants at rally for refugees in 2017.

Javier Flores with his son in basement room at the church that has been Flores’s sanctuary, Arch Street United Methodist Church, Philadelphia , 2016.

Fact: Here for the Long Term

• About two-thirds of undocumented

immigrants have lived in the USA for

at least a decade

Pew Research Center – November 2016.


10 Years or More

Less than 5 years


Undocumented Immigrants’ Role in USA

They fill vital niches in farm labor, meat-processing plants, construction, healthcare, domestic service, restaurants, landscaping.

Economic Effects of Undocumented Immigrants

  • As a group, they are a net plus for the U.S. economy.
  • Some studies show they can depress wages for low-skill jobs.

Who Will Pick Our Fruits and Vegetables?

The North Carolina Case Study

  • Undocumented immigrants = 70% of farm workers nationwide, according to American Farm Bureau Federation.
  • North Carolina case study in 2011:

o 489,000 unemployed statewide.

o NC Growers Association listed 6,500 available jobs.

o 268 unemployed North Carolinians applied, and 245 were hired. On the first day of work, 163 showed up; total of seven finished the season.

o Mostly Mexican workers took the rest of the jobs; 90 percent made it through to the end.

Why Cracking Down Is Not Wise

  • The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are productive members of their community who contribute to our country and do not cause problems.
  • Fear of ICE contributes to undocumented immigrants’ reluctance to have interactions with police and other governmental authorities.
  • Humanitarian reasons:

o Splitting up families – many have children who are

American citizens.

o Many came to USA to escape threats to their lives.

“American citizen Lace Rodriguez and her husband Javier Guerrero from Mexico, embrace with their son Javier Jr. (3), in 2013 in Nogales, Mexico. The family lived together in Phoenix before Guerrero, an undocumented worker from Mexico, was detained by the Border Patrol, held for three months by ICE and then deported. Guerrero had lived in the United States for 17 years. He and Rodriguez, a medical student, have two children, and she is nine-months pregnant with a third.” Alicia A. Caldwell | Associated Press, April 2017

The Roxana Santos Story

Deportation often means separating families.

“It all began in October 2008 … with lunch. Roxana Orellana Santos was eating her lunch outside her workplace when two Frederick County sheriff’s deputies approached her and asked about her immigration status. The deputies had no other reason to question Roxana Orellana Santos. Other than being brown skinned and Latina looking, she had committed no offense. Nevertheless, the deputies determined that there was an outstanding civil deportation warrant, and took her in. Roxana Orellana Santos was held for 37 days without any criminal charges, again other than being Latina.”

Women In and Beyond the Global, July 31, 2015, Dan Moshenberg

Fact: Immigrants Less Likely To Commit Crime

• Undocumented and documented immigrants are far less likely than native- born Americans to commit crimes and to go to jail. Most undocumented immigrants are arrested for violating immigration laws, not for violent crimes

Incarceration Rates by Immigrant Status, Ages 18-54







Undocumented Immigrants Legal Immigrants



Cato Institute Report, March 2017

Do Immigrants Pay Taxes?

  • Studies have shown that over the long-term immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
  • Social Security – undocumented immigrants contribute $13 billion a year and take out $1 billion.• Refugees – pay more in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits after eight years in this country.

Why Don’t They Just Get in line?

Even if a prospective immigrant meets the formal requirements to immigrate to the USA, the wait can be very long.

As of May 2016, for most countries, unmarried children of U.S. citizens must wait more than five years and siblings of U.S. citizens must wait more than 10 years.

For a Filipino with a relative in the USA the wait is 17 years.

American Immigration Council, August 2016

Obama Policy vs. Trump Policy (So Far)

  • Obama deported 409,000+ in FY-2012 – most of any U.S. president.
  • Obama’s executive order to ICE for deportations – concentrate on criminals and those captured crossing border.
  • Instituted DACA program in 2012.
  • Tried to work with Congress forimmigration reform.
  • Compromise plan quickly derailed by Republican conservatives in Congress.

Obama Policy vs. Trump Policy (So Far)

  • During 2016 campaign Trump said he’d deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
  • After election said he’d deport 2 million within two years.
  • Wants to build a $21.6 billion wall at Mexican border.
  • His executive order steps up enforcement for non-criminals.
  • Proposed ICE budget increase of 19%; ICE agents to go from 7,000 to 17,000.
  • Threatened fed grants to sanctuary cities.
  • Ended DACA program.
  • Endorsed RAISE Act to cut numbers of immigrants and make system “merit-based.”

What LA Archbishop Jose H. Gomez Says

Our Laws Have Failed to Correspond with Reality

“We have built an economy that depends upon immigrant labor; yet we have not changed our laws in any corresponding way. After decades of non-enforcement, nothing short of deep reform will work.”

On these principles:

  • Every immigrant is a human person, a child of God.
  • We must keep families together.
  • Our nation should have secure borders and immigration laws that are just, realistic, and consistently and compassionately enforced.

So What’s the Answer to Illegal immigration?

  • IMHO – NOT open borders and NOT a wall.
  • Compromise in Congress needed: path to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants along with better border control.
  • Higher numbers for legal immigration by refugees and needed workers, both high-skilled and low- skilled.
  • U.S. alliances to help create stable societies around the world. Fortress America will not work.

Xenophobia under another name: the Trump-Sessions “ rule of law” canard demolished. https://tinyurl.com/yagyn9tf

True or False?

  1. Under a McCarthy-era U.S. law, immigrants held in ICE detention centers can be required to labor for one dollar a day.
  2. Because they can’t get legal Social Security numbers, undocumented immigrants pay no taxes.
  3. Between 2002 and 2016, 7 percent of immigrants deported to their home countries from the USA were convicted felons.
  4. The country’s leading private-prison company, GEO Group, donated a total of $475,000 to Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
  5. The Department of Justice, which administers the immigration court system, has gone to court to prevent a Seattle group from providing legal workshops to immigrants in detention.
  6. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you are automatically entitled to citizenship.
  7. In Frederick County, Maryland, all persons booked into the county jail must answer these questions: “Where were you born?” and “What country are you a citizen of?”

Quiz Time

Which president has deported the most undocumented immigrants?

How long does it take a typical case to be resolved in the immigration court system? Six months, two years, five years?

Undocumented immigrants make up what percentage of the U.S. population? 2%, 10%, 20 %?

Do undocumented immigrants have rights under the U.S. Constitution?

True or false? Undocumented immigrants pay more in Social Security taxes than they take out.

The Howard County Sanctuary Bill (CB-9)

  • Extensive public hearings this winter on bill introduced by County Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa in December 2016.
  • Would have codified in law Howard County’s informal practice – police do not report immigrants to ICE or hold an immigrant without a judicial warrant.

The Howard County Sanctuary Bill (CB-9)

  • Measure passed on a 3-2 County Council vote and was vetoed by County Executive Allan Kittleman.
  • Needing a 4-1 vote in County Council to overcome the veto, it lost on another 3-2 vote.

No Yes No Yes Yes

The Howard County Sanctuary Bill (CB-9)

  • March 8, 2017 – County Executive Kittleman and Council Chairman Jon Weinstein announced a compromise agreement.
  • By end of April 2017 all county departments, including police, would review their immigrant policies and make them publicly available
    in writing.March 8, 2017

Montgomery County on Sanctuary

“Montgomery County’s policy is not to inquire about anyone’s immigration status, nor does the County conduct any immigration enforcement or investigations. We believe that this is the right balance for this County.

“Montgomery County is not a ‘sanctuary’ jurisdiction. Local police and the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation work cooperatively with ICE in their work on immigration and customs violations and drug and human trafficking.

“The County’s arrest and detention information goes to the State and all State information is accessed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through their Secure Communities initiative.”