Conference Provides Strategies to Work on Immigration Law and Policy

Article excerpt

SALT LAKE CITY Putting the cart in front of the horse is one way to describe the federal government's pursuing immigration enforcement before immigration reform, according to participants at a recent conference here.

The three-day gathering was convened in Salt Lake City by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC).

The aim of the conference was to inform those working in the immigration sector of current law and policy at state and federal levels as well as to equip them with the strategies needed to help the immigrants they serve and to move the immigration reform debate to the forefront of the national political discussion.

Attendees came with questions and concerns over current enforcement policies in their states, as well as questions as to how these policies, such as Secure Communities, work.

"We don't have any problems with the 'rule of law' and that DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] has to enforce the law," said Kevin Appleby, sharing with attendees some of the interests and concerns of the U.S. bishops and CLINIC. Appleby is the director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services.

"But we have concerns with the fact that there are immigrants who have been here for years, that they built equities in our country, they have contributed, they have U.S. citizen children, and that they should be given consideration as priorities of the department," he continued, before introducing the question-and-answer session with Homeland Security representatives.

The conference title, "Immigration: A 50-State Issue," reflects the atmosphere in the country. As the federal government fails to enact comprehensive immigration reform, more and more states are enacting laws of their own to regulate immigration. Arizona was the first to pass a controversial enforcement bill in 2010, requiring local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, among other things. Though it is being challenged in court, other states have used the Arizona law as a model for their own.

"A lot will be determined this year, certainly with the national election both in Congress and [for the president]," Appleby told NCR. "And then what the Supreme Court says about the Arizona law will set the direction for the debate, because if they uphold that law, it means other states have the green light to move ahead. ... If they strike down most of it, then it cleans the slate, takes some momentum out of the state initiatives, and redirects the attention to Congress."

The topics of Secure Communities, prosecutorial discretion, privatized detention centers and deportations attracted debate and questions from the attendees and speakers at the Jan. 11-13 conference. Comments abounded over President Barack Obama not sticking to his immigration promises, but more spoke of Congress' ineptness and lack of effort on the issue.

Speakers came from the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Migration Studies in New York, the Washington, D.C.-based CLINIC, the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, and other immigration offices, as well as directors from Catholic conferences, Catholic Charities and diocesan offices.

Donald Kerwin, director for the Center for Migration Studies and former executive director of CLINIC, told conference attendees that the "rule of law" is an aspirational standard.

"I'll tell you one thing it doesn't mean: It doesn't mean that the law can't change. ... It doesn't mean just law and order, or rigorous enforcement of the law, no matter what the law is," he said. "That's 'rule by law,' that's what that is. ... And there's rule by law in every repressive country in the world."

He continued: "The U.S. immigration system, while strong and while just in many respects, likewise fails to meet this standard in important ways. …