Immigration Update

Congress not making immigration legislation progress; and local immigrant rights organizers gather to call attention to those separated from their families via detention or deportation

Life without undocumented immigrants
Life without undocumented immigrants (Illustration By Doug Potter)

As lawmakers headed back to Washington last week for the pre-election session, it seems unlikely that any headway will be made regarding any compromise legislation. The New York Times is reporting that congressional Republicans have "all but abandoned" a broad overhaul of immigration laws to concentrate on – you guessed it – national security. House Speaker Dennis Hastert dashed whatever naive hopes may have lingered that the House and Senate might work together on this, saying, "We cannot support the Reid-Kennedy amnesty bill. This Democrat immigration bill wouldn't secure the border, it would erase it." The Ohio Republican went on to liken the border to a sieve and to link the war in Iraq to immigration policy. "We are at war," he said on Monday. "We must act like it."

Meanwhile, while legislators continue to sit on their hands, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to make their bosses at the Department of Homeland Security happy with their go-get-'em attitude. In late August, during a six-day sweep in Las Vegas called Operation Return to Sender, ICE arrested 109 immigrants. But they deported only 35. The rest were held in detention centers to await hearings with an immigration judge. A couple of days later, in upstate New York, ICE arrested 34 undocumented workers at a tomato greenhouse, just weeks after they cracked down on 41 undocumented people hired to clean up at a county fair. Earlier this month, in Washington State, ICE agents arrested 26 employees of a linen cleaning service.

This past Thursday, local immigrant rights organizers gathered to call attention to those who are separated from their families via detention or deportation. About 200 people milled about the south steps of the Capitol. "Texas is ground zero for tough enforcement of immigration laws, with national guardsmen stationed at our border, police in Houston enforcing immigration laws, and the expansion of detention facilities," said Silky Shah of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, one of the event organizers. The newest of Texas' five detention centers, in Pearsall, just south of San Antonio, can hold up to 1,020 people.

After about an hour of music, poetry, and speeches translated in both English and Spanish, the group marched down Congress toward City Hall, where they held a candlelight vigil to honor those who have died crossing the border – on average, more than a person a day. The day's events coincided with an immigrant rights rally in DC where there were up to 5,000 supporters and is part of a series of demonstrations that will occur around the country through the rest of the month.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

immigration, national security, Dennis Hastert, Reid-Kennedy amnesty bill, Operation Return to Sender, Silky Shah, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition

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