Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Lawmaker sees issue through undocumented past

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna stood before the House on the afternoon of May 9, hours after lawmakers passed the controversial “sanctuary city” bill, and started reading from a prepared statement, her eyes downcast.
“Immigration and all that it encompasses is very personal for me because I was an undocumented immigrant,” Hernandez Luna, 32, said in a halting and teary speech. “You may prefer to use the word illegal alien, but I'm not an alien. I am not a problem that must be handled. I'm a human — a person standing before you now as a representative for the Texas House.”
With her roughly five-minute speech, she did what some would consider crazy in the current political climate. She tried to put a human face — her own — on the illegal immigration issue.
“I believe they have a perception of what an undocumented immigrant should be, and I don't fit in that,” she said in a recent interview. Some of her colleagues across the aisle were unmoved — at least from a policy perspective. They have a firm hold on the House and had overwhelmingly passed HB 12. The bill, which ultimately failed to make it through the Senate, would have kept local governments from prohibiting their police from enforcing federal immigration laws.
“She's a real sweet gal,” said State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball. “I admire the difficulties that she has overcome, but I still stand strong that we have got to protect our borders. We need to enforce our laws.”
Hernandez Luna said her parents packed up a single suitcase and brought her to Houston from Reynosa, Mexico, as an infant, along with her 4-year-old sister. They shared a brick duplex just outside downtown with her father's cousin. They overstayed their visitor's visas, and lived undocumented for eight years.
Working her way up
Her parents paid taxes, she said, and bought a house in Houston within about five years. She remembers fearing as a little girl that her mother would be picked up by immigration agents staking out the local Fiesta grocery store, or that her father would not come home after one of his overnight warehouse shifts.
Celia Fleischman, principal at Gardens Elementary School in Pasadena, said she remembered Hernandez Luna struggling with her English, but quickly catching on. Her mother worked in the school cafeteria, and Hernandez Luna would come in early and sleep in the corner, waiting for school to start. She always had her nose in a book, and was ready to speak up for others, Fleischman said.
“She was very smart and opinionated, even as a little girl. I know why now,” Fleischman said with a laugh.
But Hernadez Luna was shy when it came to where her family was from.
She remembers her parents' relief when Congress, under President Reagan, passed the 1986 amnesty that granted legal status to an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants. As her family sank deeper roots, opening their own restaurant at a flea market, Hernandez Luna graduated from high school at 16, gained citizenship at 18, attended the University of Houston and interned at the state capitol. Out of college, she spent two years working at the capitol before enrolling in the University of Texas School of Law.
Not long after starting her first job as a lawyer, one of the legislators she had worked for, Rep. Joe Moreno, died in a car accident. His staffers and supporters asked her to run in a special election for his seat, she said, and she took an eight-month, unpaid leave of absence to campaign.
She handily beat her opponent, and at age 27, she started representing District 143, a solidly working-class, predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that sprawls alongside the Houston Ship Channel east of downtown.
Her immigration history didn't come up during the 2005 campaign, she said.
“I've never hidden the fact that I was born in Mexico. It's on my bio, ‘born in Reynosa,'” she said. “At the time I ran in 2005, we really didn't have that anti-immigrant sentiment.”
Who gets opportunity?
Hernandez Luna said she has no aspirations for a higher office. She is married to an attorney, practices law full-time when the Legislature is not in session, and is talking about starting a family.
For now, her attention is largely focused on bread-and-butter issues. Immigration enforcement is a federal issue, not one for state legislatures, she said. She remembers bristling the first time she shared her immigration story with fellow lawmakers, at a late-night committee meeting in 2007, when Riddle, the Tomball Republican, said something to the effect of, “You've been given a gift from God.”
“My response to her was, ‘I haven't been given anything. My parents and I have worked very hard for everything I have been able to achieve and accomplish.'”
Riddle remembers it slightly differently.
“I told her she had been blessed, yes indeed,” Riddle said. “When somebody says that they're blessed, that doesn't mean that they're laying under a shade tree sipping on lemonade and the blessings just fall on top of them.”
On one point, the two lawmakers agree: the issue comes down to opportunity. But they remain worlds apart on who is entitled to it.
“I'm grateful for the opportunity that I've been given, and I think it is incumbent upon me to ensure that others have that opportunity,” Hernandez Luna said. “We're not giving anything away. We're giving you the opportunity.”

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Unnecessary immigration appeals to end

 An end to late evidence in points-based system appeals will help stop misuse of the system, Immigration Minister Damian Green said today.
From Monday 23 May, tribunals will not consider evidence submitted after an application has been made, in appeals relating to applications made in the UK under the points-based system.
UK Border Agency statistics show that around two-thirds of appeals allowed by immigration judges are due to late evidence being submitted.
The rules change is designed to end unnecessary appeals and help make sure that applications are right first time. It will apply to all applications made within the UK through the points-based system.
Damian Green said:
'For too long, the taxpayer has had to shoulder the burden of a system which allowed individuals to drag out their appeal by submitting new evidence at the last minute.
'The changes I am making today will put an end to this practice for good.'
The minister added that this is one of a raft of improvements that will make the system 'more robust, efficient and cost effective'.
The government has already introduced an annual limit on economic migrants from outside the EU, as well as making major reforms to the student visa system.
These measures are aimed at attracting the brightest and the best, while reducing net migration and tackling abuse of the system.
The Minister announced the commencement of the rules change in a written ministerial statement, which you can download from the right side of this page.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

SC legislators OK anti-illegal immigration bill

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's House Judiciary Committee voted 15-7 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would require law enforcement to check the status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally during a stop or arrest for something else. Opponents argued that the measure would worsen racial profiling and flies in the face of American freedoms.
Republicans who control the House have called the bill a priority for the session, which ends in two weeks. Approval by the full House would send the bill to a conference committee to work out differences with senators over their version passed earlier this year.
The measure requires law enforcement to try to check the status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. It specifies that the query must follow a stop or arrest for something else. Unlike a law passed in Arizona last year, it says people can't be held on the suspicion. Instead, they must be processed normally if authorities don't respond or can't verify the person's status.
But Rep. Todd Rutherford argued the bill is too open-ended. Without defining reasonable suspicion, or how long someone could be held up on the side of the road, legislators are opening the door for abuse, he said.
Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said if someone can't speak English well and doesn't have identification, that's reasonable suspicion.
Rutherford, who is black, recalled when an officer with a baton told him to cross to the other side of the street for no reason, while others walked by. For legislators to say that only illegal immigrants will be targeted is naïve, he said, adding that his white colleagues will never understand how such treatment feels.
"It happens to illegals and people like me who don't have the benefit of your color," said Rutherford, D-Columbia. "It will only get worse with this bill."
Rep. Bakari Sellers said it's hypocritical for Republicans to talk about cutting government spending while pushing a bill that expands law enforcement's duties and creates a new unit within the Department of Public Safety to enforce state immigration laws.
The 26-year-old Denmark Democrat said foreign college students and others visiting legally will be targeted too.
Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, said they should expect to carry around their paperwork, noting she just returned from a trip overseas.
"When I travel in foreign countries, I don't go anywhere without my passport," she said.
Supporters said the cost of providing education, emergency room health care and other services to illegal immigrants far outweighs the cost of the bill. They said they hope it prompts illegal workers to flee.
The measure would also make it a felony to make fake photo IDs for illegal immigrants. It would also toughen a measure passed in 2008 that put the onus on businesses to check their employees' legal status. It began applying to businesses of all sizes last year.
The change would allow the state's labor agency to fine businesses up to $50,000 if they're repeatedly caught not checking employees' status or for knowingly hiring illegal workers, then refuse to comply with a temporary shut-down order.
Freshman Rep. Tom Corbin, who runs a landscape business, said he knows from experience that businesses employing illegal workers get an unfair advantage because they pay their workers less and can bid jobs for less money. The Travelers Rest Republican said legislators need to give the agency the ability to enforce the laws.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Georgia passes anti-immigration bill

US: Thousands of people marched for immigration reform, among other issues. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images/AFP)
US: Thousands of people marched for immigration reform, among other issues.

“Today is a dark day for Georgia,” says the state’s Association of Latino Elected Officials Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez on Friday.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law on Friday a bill that gives authority for police to question suspects in regards to their immigration status, similar to the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act enacted last year in Arizona, viewed as the strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in memory for most Americans.
Despite threats of court challenges and economic boycotts directed toward the Peach State, Governor Deal passed Georgia House Bill 87 early Friday, saying "Today, we are taking action to uphold the rule of law."
In addition to allowing police to profile suspects in regards to their citizenship, the new immigration enforcement measure also sets new hiring requirements for employers, who will now be required to check the status of newly hired workers on E-Verify, a federal database. Supporters make claims that illegal immigrants have taken jobs from Georgians and have caused a burden on the state’s school system, hospitals and jails.
At around 425,000 people, Georgia has the seventh-highest number of illegal immigrants in the 50 United States. Those that make up that tally, say supporters of the bill, are reaping in the benefits of the state’s tax-paying population.
Others, however, are adamantly opposed to what Gonzalez and fellow activists believe will be a sure-fire fallout in response to the bill’s passing. Members of the state’s agricultural, landscaping and hospitality industries fear that the bill will shatter the state’s economy as migrant workers flee Georgia. In preparation of the bill’s passing, the US Human Rights Network has already canceled plans to have its annual conference in Atlanta. The state’s tourism industry itself is said to generate around $10 billion.
"Our concern stems from the very serious economic repercussions that will be felt against our state on numerous fronts and the very serious civil and human rights abuses that will also likely follow,” says Gonzalez.
Opposition has existed since talk of the bill first began, and those rallying against its ratification have long been plotting legal action.
Before Governor Deal took pen to paper, Charles Kuck made claims that he looks “forward to stopping this unconstitutional law from ever taking effect.” Kuck, an immigration attorney working near Atlanta, has also served in the past as president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, told the Atlantic Journal-Constitution that the bill “is not only an insult to the Latino community and other immigrants, but is also an exercise in cheap political pandering that will cost our state dearly.”
“This is not the end, only the beginning of a new stage. This law can and must be fought; and it can and will be defeated,” adds Nicholls.
Starting July 1, illegal immigrants with falsified documentation face up to 15 years in prison in Georgia. Local and state police will be able to incarcerate illegal immigrants in state and federal jails and even those that encourage immigrants to come to Georgia could face penalties of $1,000.
Come 2012, state and local government agencies will require people applying for food stamps, housing assistance and other public benefits to provide valid documentation.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Anti-immigration poll 'disturbing'

Anti-racism campaigners said an immigration survey has painted a 'disturbing picture' of society's attitudes
Anti-racism campaigners said an immigration survey has painted a 'disturbing picture' of society's attitudes

Almost two-thirds of white Britons think immigration has been bad for the UK, according to a survey which anti-racism campaigners called a "disturbing picture" of society's attitudes.
Research commissioned by the Searchlight Educational Trust also found that Asians were most likely to back a halt to all immigration, at least until the economy had recovered.
Labour MP Jon Cruddas said the findings should "ricochet through the body politic" as they showed the potential for the rise of the far-right unless mainstream parties acted soon.
The poll, carried out by Populus, was one of the largest studies carried out on the subject, based on 91 questions to more than 5,000 individuals.
Immigration was held to have been on the whole a bad thing for Britain by 63% of whites, 43% of Asians and 17% of black Britons. It found that 39% of Asians, 34% of whites and 21% of blacks believed immigration should be halted either permanently or at least until the UK's economy was back on track.
Almost half (48%) were open to supporting a new far-right party as long as it eschewed "fascist imagery" and did not condone violence. And 52% agreed that "Muslims create problems in the UK". Ethnic minority communities generally feel less "proud" at seeing the English flag flown - though only 25% of whites questioned said they felt that emotion.
The Trust said the report, titled Fear And Hope - The New Politics Of Identity, "paints a disturbing picture of our attitudes towards each another and the unknown".
"It also graphically highlights the dangers that lie ahead if the issues highlighted in the research are not addressed. Fear And Hope throws down a challenge to the political parties to really understand what is happening in the body politic and then do something about it."
Director Nick Lowles pointed to some positive findings: "Young people are more hopeful about the future and more open to living in an ethnically diverse society.
"The vast majority of people reject political violence and view white anti-Muslim extremists as bad as Muslim extremists and there is overwhelming support for a positive campaign against extremism."

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mexico criticizes new U.S. anti-immigration law

Mexico Friday criticized the U.S. state of Georgia for approving legislation targeting illegal immigrants.

"It criminalizes migration and opens spaces for the possible misapplication of the law by local officials," Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the U.S. lawmakers and the governor "ignored the numerous contributions of the immigrant communities to the economy and society of that state."

Georgia state governor Nathan Deal signed the legislation, known as SB 87, into law on Friday. He said the new rules were meant to save tax dollars and allow local officials to act on migration matters that have not been addressed by the U.S. federal government.

The new law allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a suspect's immigration status and imposes penalties on those transporting or hiring illegal immigrants.

However, similar legislation approved last year in Arizona has been partially suspended by a U.S. court.

Millions of Mexicans have immigrated to the United States in search of better economic opportunities, but the number of Mexicans heading north has fallen over the past five years.

The National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI) recently reported that an average of 145,000 Mexicans have left the country annually over the past five years, compared with an annual figure of 450,000 for 2000-2005.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Death sentence for US anti-migration activist Shawna Forde

Shawna Forde (centre) listening to opening arguments in her murder trial Forde (centre) orchestrated the robbery
An anti-immigration activist has been sentenced to death for the 2009 murder of a nine year-old-girl and her father.
Shawna Forde, 43, organised a break-in at the Arizona home of Raul Flores apparently to fund her group, which campaigns against illegal immigration.
But the burglary went wrong and 29-year-old Mr Flores was shot dead along with his daughter Brisenia.
Forde was convicted of first-degree murder. Her alleged accomplices have yet to be tried.
She was was also convicted of attempted murder and robbery.
The girl's mother, Gina Gonzales, survived being shot and later identified her attackers.
During the trial, the jury was told the young girl had pleaded with her attackers to not fire on her, but was still shot in the head.
Forde and two men dressed as police officers forced their way into Mr Flores' home in Arivaca, 10 miles (16km) north of the Mexican border.
She apparently believed there were drugs on the premises and had planned to sell them to fund her group of so-called border vigilantes, known as the Minutemen American Defense.
Forde began her own group after reportedly being expelled from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a national volunteer group which monitors US borders for illegal immigrants.
Albert Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush, Forde's alleged accomplices, are scheduled to go on trial later this year.