Does Washington really “get” the border? As we on the southwest border watch our leaders in Washington D.C. debate the complexities of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, we often feel that Washington is out of touch with the everyday realities of California.
To cross the border at San Ysidro to go buy some groceries at Sprouts or Whole Foods, it is likely that you will spend a minimum of 2 hours sitting in your car, oftentimes 3 hours, to move a mere 3 miles. Funding to ease the flow of legal and legitimate crossing at the official Ports of Entry has been slow in coming.
Yet Congress is quick to respond and generous with the cash when the defense industry calls for more spending to militarize the border. A recent study shows that the U.S. spends more on immigration and border enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement combined: a whopping $18 billion was spent in 2012 alone. And according to the Migration Policy Institute report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery, 187 billion federal dollars have been spent on immigration enforcement in the last quarter century. That’s an average of about $7.2 billion every year.
Many individuals and groups who live in the southwest believe that Washington doesn’t really understand the border. The active, aggressive militarization of our borderlands through disproportionate spending on border enforcement does not make our border safer or better.
Rather, the hasty development of the border enforcement apparatus that we see today–giant walls, faulty technologies, seismic sensors, laser landscape imaging, night-vision cameras mounted to towers or drones–will do little to make our border better if human rights and the integrity of families and communities are not also protected.
Many of us who live in the towns and cities of California understand that a better border means safer, more secure communites. Communities where residents celebrate local history and can trust their law enforcement officers and not live in fear that reckless and unchecked enforcement efforts will cost innocent lives.
For the past month, the California Immigrant Policy Center and the National Immigration Law Center have worked together with local organizations and advocates in the state of California to draft a values statement and policy recommendations.
Only with policies that focus on true security–the security of families, of communities, the integrity of our local natural habitats and enviroment–can we hope to have true border security.
We can best ensure a better border with immigration reform developed by and for the people, families, and communities who live here.
Instilling Values at the Forefront of Immigration Reform Legislation
California Values Statement on Immigration Reform
California is home to the largest population of immigrants in the United States. Immigrants are our family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – and many of us are immigrants ourselves. From the fields of the Central Valley to downtown city skyscrapers, immigrants help to drive California’s economic and cultural engines.
More than one in four (27%) of California residents are immigrants. This amounts to over 9.9 million people.
45% of California’s immigrants are citizens.ii Immigrants and their communities make up a crucial part of the voting public. For example, from 1994-2012, the total number of voters in California grew by 3.5 million. Nearly 90 percent of these were Latino and Asian American voters.iii
Immigrant workers are important to California’s economy – comprising more than one-third of California’s labor force.iv
Immigrants from Latin America (55%) and Asia (35%) compose the majority of the foreign-born population in California.
However, and for far too long, our rash and unworkable federal immigration policies have disproportionately and unfairly impacted California. Each and every day, aspiring citizens live in fear of detention and deportation – a fear worsened by federal initiatives that inappropriately coerce state and local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration agents. Moreover, current border enforcement policies have been inefficient, costly, and deadly and have been implemented without allowing California residents along the U.S.-Mexico border to have a say on policies that impact their communities.
There are 2.8 million undocumented Californians – more aspiring citizens than any other state.vi
Over 90,000 Californians have been torn from their families and deported as a result of the controversial “Secure Communities” program – the highest number in the country.vii
Since 2010, unchecked enforcement at California’s southern border has resulted in the death of three residents at the hands of Border Patrol agents.viii
California’s communities need commonsense immigration policies that uphold our basic values and protect the rights we hold dear. We urge the California Congressional delegation to be champions for our families and communities. Our representatives in Congress can play a significant role in protecting families, creating a workable immigration process that provides a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million new Americans, and upholding our basic rights.
Instilling Values at the Forefront of Immigration Reform Legislation
California Principles on Immigration Reform
1. Protection of the unity of the family must remain at the heart of immigration law and policy. We recognize that there are many types of families and our immigration laws should respect all family members, regardless of race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, contact with the criminal justice system, country of origin, or current immigration status. We call for immigration reform that respects the value and fundamental right to protection and unity of the family, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) families. Immigration reform must reunify and keep families together by expeditiously clearing out the family visa backlogs. Family unity requires that the family visa backlogs – which have caused families to separate for as long as 23 years – be immediately and quickly cleared out.
Road to Citizenship
2. Immigration reform must create a road to citizenship for 11 million new Americans. Any road to citizenship should be based on keeping families and communities together, including those family members who have had past contact with law enforcement or immigration officials. The road to citizenship should be as broad as possible and not contain roadblocks. The path also should not include long wait periods.
Ending Unjust Detentions and Deportations
3. The foundation of all immigration law and policy should be the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people. As Americans, we believe all people are created equal and that our laws should treat all people fairly and with respect, no matter the color of your skin or the country of your birth .We oppose penalties for immigration violations and the criminalization of our communities. While all communities feel the impact of harsh enforcement laws and policies, the current system imposes particular burdens on women, members of the LGBTIQ community, people of color, and those who have had contact with the criminal justice system. We call for scaling back laws and policies such as the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) which have resulted in massive deportations of aspiring citizens and compromised the fundamental right to a day in court. Local law enforcement should not be entangled in the federal enforcement of immigration laws. Programs like Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program as well as ICE detainer requests should be eliminated because they undercut community policing and due process.
4. Detentions and deportations must end because they violate our most fundamental rights to liberty and freedom. We call for immigration policy reform that ends the reliance on cruel and costly detention as a cornerstone of immigration enforcement, including the ending of mandatory deportation. All persons detained should be treated humanely and granted access to quality medical and mental health care, counsel, legal information, and other protections. Immigration law and policy must ensure the protection of refugees, women, LGBTIQ, and other vulnerable migrants in detention. Judicial discretion, judicial review, and a fair day in court must be restored to the immigration system in order to ensure due process.
5. Our immigration policies should reflect our country’s core values of fairness and respect for work. Immigration law should protect all workers’ labor and civil rights. The U visa should be expanded to make it a more effective tool for immigrant workers defending their civil rights and to protect them from immigration-based retaliation. The antidiscrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act should be expanded to cover all workers and to ensure an effective remedy for workers who are discriminated against on the basis of national origin, citizenship, and immigration-status.
6. Our immigration policies should uphold labor and employment standards and should ensure that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine the enforcement of labor and employment laws and standards. Workers’ rights should be protected during employer compliance activities, including I-9 audits. Ensuring the transparency of the Department of Homeland Security must be at the core of immigration policies and programs.
7. Our immigration policies should restrict, rather than build on, a burdensome employer sanctions framework. As such, mandating electronic employment verification lessens the power of all workers and threatens the jobs and privacy of many citizens and work authorized immigrants.
8. A better border is efficient, humane, and a cornerstone of economic prosperity for all. 9. A dignified quality of life for border communities depends upon accountable border agencies with oversight mechanisms that uphold basic civil and human rights protections. 10. We believe border communities are gateways for bilateral trade and bilateral relationships. Immigration reform should transform border enforcement by establishing modern, efficient and safe ports-of-entry that generate bi-lateral trade and economic development, promote public safety and create a welcoming environment for port-of-entry users.
Click here to download the 2013CAValuesStatementPolicyRecommendations, a pdf file of the full statement and policy recommendations.