Morning News, 12/17/09

By Bryan Griffith, December 17, 2009

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1. Dems pursue Obama promises
2. Asylum seekers to be released
3. Immigration and demographics
4. Court to consider enforcement
5. Houston deploys technology

Immigration overhaul bill unveiled in House
By Antonio Olivo and Teresa Watanabe
The Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2009

Reporting from Los Angeles and Chicago - Raising the curtain on a new round of debate over immigration reform, a group of Democratic congressional lawmakers introduced a comprehensive bill Tuesday that, among other provisions, would offer a path to legalization for the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

The bill, championed by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), was decidedly more pro-immigrant than the bipartisan legislation House lawmakers debated two years ago. And the latest version drew immediate fire from the left as well as the right. Groups opposed to legalization derided it as a form of amnesty, and more-liberal factions complained that it relied too heavily on enforcement.

In Los Angeles, immigration activists hailed the measure at a news conference before heading to local lawmakers' offices -- aboard a yellow school bus festooned with banners -- to urge their support.

"This is a big day for us," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "Our community has been awaiting this bill for a long time."

Cabrera called Gutierrez's bill the most generous in more than two decades, citing provisions that would allow migrants to legalize their status without returning to their home countries, prohibit separation of families, offer more visas for workers and relatives, and eliminate local enforcement of federal immigration law.

The bill also calls for beefing up border security and overhauling the federal detention system for jailed immigrants to provide for better medical treatment and other services.

But Ted Hilton, an anti-illegal-immigration activist in San Diego, said that with so many Americans out of work, efforts to legalize millions of immigrants would face a certain backlash.

"When the last American comes off of unemployment, then let's have a conversation about whether we need additional immigrants," Hilton said, adding that he hoped to qualify a California ballot initiative next year to deny several public services to illegal immigrants.

In Washington, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- who has been Gutierrez's partner in backing previous immigration bills -- issued a statement Tuesday saying he was "disappointed" by the latest legislation. "In order for immigration reform to be effective, it needs to be comprehensive," he said. "Any bill without a temporary worker program is simply not comprehensive."
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Feds revising asylum detention policies
By Suzanne Gamboa
The Associated Press, December 16, 2009

Washington, DC (AP) -- The Obama administration said Wednesday it will stop detaining asylum seekers who have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries.

To be released into the U.S., the asylum seekers will have to establish the credible fear and their identities and show they are not dangerous or a flight risk, said John Morton, Department of Human Services assistant secretary overseeing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Foreigners who arrive at a port of entry and are found to have a credible fear will automatically be considered for release into the U.S., Morton said.
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The Bush administration toughened criteria for asylum seekers to win release from detention in 2007. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said those rules were "unduly harsh" and cheered the changes Tuesday. Immigrant advocates wanted to see more details on the change before commenting.

Steve Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tougher immigration laws, said detention ensures people show up for hearings.

"The overwhelming amount of people who apply for asylum don't get it and that's why they don't show up. Lack of detention destroys the credibility and meaningfulness of immigration courts," Camarota said.
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White Americans' majority to continue until 2050, report says
The economic downturn and stepped-up immigration enforcement are slowing the growth of minority groups.
By Nicole Santa Cruz
The Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2009

As federal lawmakers continue to debate overhauling immigration law, the Census Bureau on Wednesday released a set of population projections that highlight the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy.

The country's financial meltdown and post-Sept. 11 immigration enforcement have slowed the growth of minority groups here. If those conditions remain the norm, whites would make up the majority of the population until 2050, eight years later than previously projected.

In addition, the Census Bureau last year predicted that the U.S. would hit the 400-million population mark in 2039. But if current migration patterns continue, the nation will not have hit that milestone by 2050.

The latest numbers, which supplement the 2008 National Population Projections, reflect four immigration scenarios -- high, low, constant and zero.
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Immigration ordinance hearing set
By Kevin Cole
The Omaha World Herald (NE), December 17, 2009

The Nebraska Supreme Court will hear arguments Jan. 7 on the legality of Fremont’s proposed illegal immigration ordinance.

The hearing is set for 9 a.m. in the State Capitol.

Fremont is appealing a judge’s ruling that he had no legal authority to block a special election on a measure to bar the hiring of illegal immigrants and the renting of property to them.

Under the ordinance, renters would have to prove their citizenship before signing a lease.

The city contends that the ordinance would supersede federal law, including the Fair Housing Act.

The issue has divided Fremont since July 2008, when the ordinance was voted down by the City Council. Mayor Skip Edwards cast the tie-breaking vote.

Fremont residents Jerry Hart, Wanda Kotas and John Wiegert then circulated a petition calling for a special election to consider the ordinance. Petitioners gathered more than 3,300 valid signatures, enough to force a vote.
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Immigration screening launches today in city jails
By Susan Carroll
The Houston Chronicle, December 16, 2009

Houston Mayor Bill White will officially launch a fingerprint-based immigration screening program in the city's jails today, fulfilling his pledge to have the system up and running by the time he leaves office.

White, the outgoing mayor and Texas gubernatorial candidate, has faced harsh criticism for perceived flip-flopping on the issue of immigration enforcement in the jails. He previously requested to have the city participate in the controversial 287(g) program that would have trained officers to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents screen for illegal immigrants in the jails, but he backed away from that proposal after negotiations with the federal government broke down.

Instead, White opted for the Secure Communities program, which automatically checks the fingerprints of suspects booked into the city jails against a federal immigration database and notifies ICE when suspects have an immigration history.

White has said Secure Communities requires less manpower and money than 287(g), which has been criticized as being vulnerable to racial profiling.

Under 287(g), jailers are trained to assist ICE agents in identifying suspected illegal immigrants based not only on their fingerprint history, but also on how they respond to questioning about their status. Local authorities also are trained to file paperwork to detain suspected illegal immigrants through 287(g), but not through Secure Communities. Technical issues stalled for months the implementation of Secure Communities, city officials said, though White said he planned to have the system working by January.

Patrick Trahan, a spokesman for White, said White was not available for comment and could not provide more details Wednesday. White and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt plan to hold a news conference this morning and will provide more details then, Trahan said.

Mayor-elect Annise Parker said on the campaign trail that she backs 287(g) and Secure Communities, which are both in place in Harris County's jails. Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans-Davis said Wednesday that Parker was not available for comment on Secure Communities but that her position had not changed on the immigration screening issue.

“The position is that if you get arrested and taken to jail, we're going to check your immigration status,” Evans-Davis said.
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