Feet in 2 Worlds

Arizona Goes Nationwide as States and Cities See Slew of Proposed Laws Regulating Immigration

If the first two weeks of this month are any indication, 2011 is going to be a headline-grabbing year for immigration legislation. On January 5, timed to coincide with the first day of work for the 112th Congress, a group of Republican state lawmakers let loose a fierce battle cry, promising to force the question of birthright U.S. citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrant parents all the way up to the Supreme Court.

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Same-Sex Marriage Meets the Immigration Debate

PHOENIX, Ariz. — David used to be one of those people who say: “Get out of our country if you don’t belong here.” That was until he fell in love with an undocumented immigrant.

After seven years of living together, David, an American citizen, worries about his same-sex partner’s ability to remain in the country. Guille, 38, came to the U.S. over nine years ago from Colombia, and his tourist visa has expired.

While federal immigration laws allow heterosexual residents to sponsor their spouses to immigrate to the country, gay and lesbian couples are not afforded the same benefit.

“My rights are being denied because Guille is a ‘boy,’” said David, 48, who asked for both of their last names to be withheld because of his partner’s immigration status.

A bill introduced in Congress last February might open up new options for couples like David and Guille.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners to immigrate legally to the country in the same way heterosexuals sponsor their spouses. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Immigration Equality are supporting the bill submitted by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D.-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.).

UAFA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to add definitions for “permanent partner” and “permanent partnership” that would include same sex-couples in a committed relationship.

The bill provides same-sex partners the same benefits as heterosexual couples. It also includes provisions to deter fraudulent partnerships, which could be punished with prison sentences of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

For supporters of the bill, it boils down to family unity.

“This is about whether they can be a couple at all,” said Immigration Equality executive director Rachel B. Tiven. “To say to someone ‘you can’t be a couple, you can’t be a family because you’re gay’ is just cruel.”

The absence of provisions in federal law that contemplate same-sex couples have forced many to make difficult choices, Tiven said.

A recent news story about a lesbian couple –Jay Mercado, an American woman, and Shirley Tan, her partner from the Philippines– illustrates the challenges. Despite having lived together for over 23 years and getting married in San Francisco, the government tried to deport Tan denying her claim for asylum. Eventually, Tan got to stay thanks to a private bill submitted by a California lawmaker.

More than 36,000 gay and lesbian Americans could benefit from this change in the law, according to the 2000 Census and research conducted for Immigration Equality by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law. UAFA would not change the situation for people who entered the country illegally, but could benefit those like Guille with an expired visa.

“It’s been a struggle, once your visa expires you have nothing,” said Guille, 38, who drives around town with an outdated Florida driver’s license. David often worries about Guille, especially in Phoenix where there is an intense crackdown on illegal immigration by the local sheriff’s office.

Advocates recognize that with the economy being a priority, the the bill’s chances this year are slim. But some are hopeful that there’ll be support from the Obama’s administration.

In a March 26th article published in Bay Windows, a statement by White House spokesman Shin Inouye offers hope. “The president thinks Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country. We will work closely with Congress to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” Inouye said.

Couples like Guille and David have a different perspective when it comes to UAFA.

“You’re mixing groups of people that some in the U.S. don’t want to give rights too,” said David. He believes any type of immigration reform should be part of a larger comprehensive approach that focuses on the economic benefits and contributions of immigrants.

“It needs to be done in a way that does not allow extremists to preach against it,” he added. “I think this bill needs to be more educational than anything else.”

Tiven remains positive. Since the bill was introduced it has picked up support from 100 cosponsors in the House and twenty in the Senate.

“Ultimately we want it to pass, we want total equality for gay and lesbians couples,” Tiven said. “We’ll work hard on any solution. Whether is as a stand-alone bill or part of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Some believe the bill has a better chance of passing on its own than as part of a larger comprehensive immigration package.

“The issue of illegal immigration and those who are illegally in the country is too politically charged,” said Linda Elliot, co-chair of the Public Policy Committee at the Human Rights Campaign. “We have to do this in steps.”

Elliot believes it would be easier to gather public support for a bill that addresses committed couples trying to stay together by finding a way to migrate legally into the U.S.

Currently, at least twenty countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel allow citizens and legal residents to sponsor their same sex partners for legal immigration.

What Does Napolitano at Homeland Security Mean for Immigration Reform?

As Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano appears ready to become the first Democratic secretary of Homeland Security, pro- and anti-immigration observers are trying to decipher what her designation will mean for the future of immigration laws under President Barack Obama.

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Why Did ICE Head Julie Myers Resign the Day After the Election?

Less than twelve hours after the results of last weeks' election were announced, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Wednesday that Julie Myers, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is leaving the agency by November 15.

Myers, who has led the agency since 2006, was the controversial face of the Bush administration's enforcement-focused immigration policy.

As Feet In 2 Worlds has reported,  recent large-scale ICE raids have been deeply unpopular, particularly among Latino voters and voters from other immigrant groups, and served to further tarnish the Republican brand. Post election analysis shows that Latinos gave Obama the winning edge in six states, helping to propel him into the White House and adding to Democratic majorities in Congress.


During Myers' tenure, the agency doubled the number of undocumented immigrants swept up into deportation proceedings to reach a new record of 274,000 sent back to their home countries in 2006. The agency also saw its budget grow exponentially -- and used it mostly for enforcement tactics including large-scale immigration raids that largely targeted undocumented workers rather than their employers.

Caught in the Citizenship Backlog

As Feet in 2 Worlds has reported recently, the candidates haven't been talking much about immigration policy. But according to a couple of new reports released this week in honor of National Citizenship Day (September 17), immigration and naturalization are very much on the minds of the nation's newcomers -- whether they can vote or not.

According to a new fact sheet [here's the pdf file] issued this week by the Immigration Policy Center, nearly 1.4 million naturalization applications were filed in fiscal year 2007 -- almost double the number filed in 2006.

What's more, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, the processing arm of the Department of Homeland Security), the number of people caught in the immigration processing backlog at the end of 2007 soared to 1.1 million people -- a nearly 250% increase from the previous year. Though USCIS promises to process naturalization applications within 10 to 12 months of their filing, according to a recent report [pdf here] from the Office of Immigration Statistics, it's doubtful all the immigrants waiting to become citizens will actually achieve citizenship in time to vote in this year's election.

Processing times vary in different regions: the longest wait, USCIS says, is in Charlotte, NC, where by the end of this month it will take 14.9 months to process citizenship applications. Processing in Los Angeles and Miami is expected to take roughly one year; these two cities together accounted for nearly 20 per cent of new naturalized U.S. citizens last year.

The shortest processing time is five months, projected in 17 regions nationwide.

This means that someone in Charlotte who applied to become a U.S. citizen in July 2007 would probably not be able to do so by the end of this month, meaning they would not have been able to vote in the local primary elections last week. It's also unlikely they would become a citizen in time to vote in the general election, as voter registration deadlines in some states are at least one month before the actual election. (Locally, a New York Immigration Coalition report says that nearly 60,000 immigrants in New York's immigration backlog will be able to vote in November if USCIS keeps to its initial promise of a six-month processing time. The report goes on to say that New York has 126,000 cases mired in the immigration backlog.)

In a close election -- the most recent New York Times poll puts McCain and Obama in a statistical dead heat -- a few thousand voters can make or break a candidate's chances -- particularly in battleground states in the Southwest and South such as Nevada, Colorado or Virginia, which have seen record numbers of new voters signing up in this election.

The McCain campaign clearly feels those new citizens -- specifically, Latinos and their families -- are crucial swing voters and is going after them big-time. One of its latest attack ads in Spanish, released at the end of last week in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, questions whether Obama is "on our side" and accuses him of opposing comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

McCain's arguments are all the more pointed given news from the latest National Latino Survey [pdf here] released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center. The survey found half of all Latinos and 63% of Latino immigrants feel the, "situation of Latinos in this country is worse now than it was a year ago." One in ten of those surveyed, regardless of where they were born, reported being stopped by police or local authorities with questions about their immigration status.

MCain's accusations stem from Obama's vote to support an amendment proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to end the so-called guest worker program after five years. The bill was ultimately supported by Democrats and rejected by Senate Republicans -- including McCain -- only 12 of whom voted for it.

Both the New York Times editorial page and immigrant rights advocate Frank Sharry decry the ad as "fraudulent", according to the Times. Sharry is now the executive director of America's Voice, but back then he was the head of the National Immigration Forum, one of the key immigrant rights groups supporting the federal bill, which had an enormous number of amendments.

Here's Sharry's take on the union-backed Dorgan amendment, which narrowly passed, 49 to 48 -- though the whole immigration reform bill ultimately failed in Congress:

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The Myth of the Latino Swing Voter

In this year’s historic elections Latinos are poised to play a historic role. If Latinos vote in the precedent-setting numbers that marked their participation in the presidential primaries, they could be responsible for putting a candidate in office.

When Sen. Hillary Clinton exited the race in June, the support that she had among this voting block appeared up for grabs. Both campaigns released Spanish language ads and Sen. John McCain even traveled to Mexico and Colombia to appeal to Hispanic voters. Demographic profiles showed that Latinos could help decide who would win key battleground states like New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

But despite the hype, perhaps Latino votes aren't really that swing-able? Ever since Clinton's departure, polls have shown Latinos steadily moving to support Obama. A recent Gallup Poll appears to confirm this trend, showing Latinos backing Obama 59% to 29% over McCain. The poll concludes that Latino support enjoyed by Clinton appears to have shifted to Obama.

The shift in poll numbers raise the question: Is this group really as elastic as the political narrative has suggested?

Happy Holidays!