Immigration

  • May 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It seems whenever given the opportunity to weaken the judiciary, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) runs with it and in the process spreads lots of misinformation about the federal courts.

    Grassley, who has helped his Republican colleagues in the Senate block or slow-walk President Obama’s judicial nominees, has called for cutting the number of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, discussed here.

    Now as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins consideration of the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill, S. 744, the Ranking Member Grassley has offered 77 amendments to the legislation. Among them is one, dubbed Grassley17, which would isolate immigration court rulings from federal court review. As it stands now, the bill provides for some judicial review. For example, individuals denied citizenship could seek review in a district court or court of appeals pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.

    But Grassley’s effort to alter the comprehensive immigration measure would close the door to federal courts, except for one – in Washington, D.C. and only for review of constitutional challenges. Thus if immigration judges improperly deny or revoke citizenship, their actions will largely go unchallenged.

    Not only is Grassley’s effort an affront to judicial review, it is, let’s be honest, a part of a wider attempt to greatly slow or scuttle immigration reform. S. 744 is a rather large bill and far from perfect. It includes stringent enforcement provisions including billions of dollars for the Department of Homeland Security to spend on border enforcement. It also requires undocumented immigrants to wait at least 10 years until they can apply for legal residence and another three years until naturalization, according to The New York Times.

    But senators have offered more than 300 amendments to the immigration reform bill. Seth Freed Wessler of ColorLines says the Republican amendments “would largely gut the promise of a path to citizenship and impose nearly unachievable benchmarks for border security.” Nonetheless Wessler notes Democrats control the committee and are thus likely to hold off many of the amendments. Wessler though notes some of Grassley’s other amendments, such as one that would strike language aimed at protecting “immigrants from being deported because” of anti-immigrant laws, such as the one enacted by Arizona.

  • April 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A federal judge in Los Angeles took a step recently to bolster the nation’s indigent defense system for some undocumented immigrants. It was an all-too-rare legal action to help the most vulnerable among us, and unlikely to be celebrated by opponents of immigration reform.

    But poverty in this country is not exclusive to documented Americans, neither are basic human rights. U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, as Bloomberg reports, moved to address the glaring inequality when she recently ruled that three states must pay for legal counsel for mentally disabled immigrants who are detained for potential deportation.

    Gee said that mentally disabled plaintiffs do not have meaningful access to the legal proceedings against them without counsel. “Plaintiffs’ ability to exercise these rights is hindered by their mental incompetency, and the provision of competent representation able to navigate the proceedings is the only means by which they may invoke these rights,” the judge ruled in José Antonio Franco-González v. Holder.

    As Bloomberg noted, federal agencies took action to ensure the measure would apply nationwide.

    In an April 22 statement, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security announced “a new nationwide policy for underrepresented immigration detainees with serious mental disorders or conditions that may render them mentally incompetent to represent themselves in immigration proceedings.”  

    In its landmark Gideon v. Wainwright opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants have a constitutional right, secured by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, to legal representation even if they cannot afford it. During a recent symposium sponsored by the Harvard Law & Policy Review and ACS, UNC Law School Professor Gene Nichol argued that one of the legal system’s greatest failures, which mirror the nation’s overall treatment of the poor, is its ongoing inability to provide the most vulnerable among us competent legal help even in civil matters.

  • April 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senators beholden to the NRA successfully blocked compromise legislation containing a few new measures to promote gun safety, providing, as many quickly noted, another example of the sorry mess Republicans have made of the Senate, albeit with the help of some powerful Democrats.

    Early this year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed serious filibuster reform aside to enter into a deal with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) that was nonetheless trumpeted as an agreement that would curb the use of the filibuster, often requiring a supermajority to move nominations or legislation along.

    After the failed effort to pass modest measures on guns, Salon’s Alex Pareene took down some of the typical excuses for the Senate’s failure, and cut to the point: “The measure failed because of a bunch of asshole senators voted to filibuster it, and they were able to do so because Harry Reid made a deal with Mitch McConnell to preserve the filibuster a few months ago.”

    He concluded that the “mainstream political press” should start giving a more critical look at the “legitimacy of the 60-vote threshold ….”

    Today as authorities hunted for the second suspect of the Boston marathon bombings -- an immigrant of Chechen origin -- a few senators and right-wing pundits moved quickly to undermine consideration of immigration reform now before Congress.

    Elise Foley reporting for The Huffington Post noted that during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) quickly tied the bombings to immigration reform.

    “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he said. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”

    Jillian Rayfield for Salon noted Grassley’s comments, but also provided a stream of Twitter comments from right-wing pundits, like Ann Coulter. Coulter tweeted early this morning: “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now,” referring to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced by eight senators, including Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.).

  • February 20, 2013

    The Atlantic reports that it’s now been nearly three years since a major piece of legislation made its way through the Senate. While the Senate had done things like passing a highway bill, and reapproving the import-export bank, most of the Senate’s legislative agenda for the last two years has been lurching from crisis to crisis – like the deals the ended the fiscal cliff crisis of 2012 and the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Even matters completely within the prevue of the Senate, and once considered routine business, are becoming mired in partisan bickering. The Washington Post commented that the filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the first ever, marked the beginning of a 60-vote Senate. The president’s judicial nominations have fared even worse, with one nominee, Caitlin Halligan, waiting nearly two years for confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. Major action, such as comprehensive legislation on immigration reform and bold measures on climate change, is needed as are judges to fill vacancies on the federal bench (and there are a lot of them), but progress looks bleak in this atmosphere thanks largely to one of the nation’s two major political parties. The American people deserve far better than a Congress full of preening politicians constantly consumed with holding onto or expanding power.  

    -- ESA   

  • February 15, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Cathleen Caron, founder and executive director, Global Workers Justice Alliance. Ms. Caron is the 2010 recipient of ACS’s David Carliner Public Interest Award. The deadline to apply for this year’s Award is March 15.


    David Carliner’s ingenuity is still inspiring us -- it is quite clever really. Although he is no longer with us, the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award helps to continue the good fight by giving progressive young attorneys with big ideas, the unprecedented opportunity to get the word out about what they do, why they do it, and have some fun at the same time. 

    I founded Global Workers Justice Alliance in 2005 to combat worker exploitation by promoting portable justice for transnational migrants through a cross-border network of advocates and resources.  Portable justiceis the right and ability of transnational migrants to access justice in the country of employment even after they have departed. Portable justice is an under addressed element in achieving justice for today’s global migrants. Global Workers’ core work is to train and support a Defender Network, comprised of human rights advocates in migrant sending countries to educate workers on their rights before they migrate, to work in partnership with advocates in the countries of employment on specific cases of labor exploitation, and to advocate for systemic changes. We currently operate programs in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America and regularly provide advice and referral for cases around the world.

    But that description (developed over the years as we better framed the work) is certainly not how it started. It all started scrappy, as most brand new organizations do when founded by the non-famous underdogs. By 2010 we were just getting noticed by major funders.