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Leak of USCIS Draft Memo Confirms Desperation of Anti-Immigrant Groups, Apathy of White House

CA DREAM hunger strikers

[DREAM Act hunger strikers in California / photo: Adrian Gonzales]

Late last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released a draft internal immigration policy memo (pdf) that one or more anonymous anti-immigrant Department of Homeland Security employees had leaked to his office. Shortly before the leak of the draft memo from USCIS, the federal immigration agency which is part of DHS, Senator Grassley, along with seven other Republican Senators, had sent a letter to President Obama warning him against taking the kinds of actions outlined in the draft memo that would ameliorate some of the current unreasonably harsh immigration policies that separate families and punish children.

The policy changes would have:

* Given DHS greater latitude to defer the deportation of undocumented youth brought here as children by their parents.

* Protected spouses and children of members of the military from being deported.

* Eased interpretation of the current strict standard for showing that deportation of a parent, child, or spouse has caused "extreme hardship" to the remaining U.S. citizen family member. Currently, forced long-term (10 years or more) separation from one’s spouse or child cannot be used as a factor in deciding whether "extreme hardship" exists.

* Finalized the rules dealing with children who come to the U.S. alone, and for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other criminal activities.

* Permitted USCIS to exercise discretion to target criminals for deportation proceedings in line with ICE’s stated enforcement priorities.

To me and others, these seem like common sense measures that should have been adopted long ago. To the anti-immigrant groups behind this manufactured scandal, the draft policy memo is the greatest outrage the world has ever known.

Senator Grassley is working closely with the nativist group NumbersUSA, a member of eugenicist John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations, in an effort to use the leak of this draft policy memo to destroy any chance of immigration reform that remains this legislative session. The leak came just as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed a constitutional amendment to revoke birthright citizenship, which could lead to the deportation of citizen children of undocumented parents.

The leak of the draft memo, which was written in April, followed a letter in June from the same group of GOP Senators warning President Obama not to enact administrative reforms in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform. The release of the June letter shows that Grassley and NumbersUSA had the draft memo then and were holding on to it until its release would have maximum political impact.

The timing of the release, coming in the same week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met to discuss moving the DREAM Act forward separate from comprehensive immigration reform [note: Reid’s office is now denying that he discussed the DREAM Act with Pelosi at their meeting last week], the same week that communities around the country mobilized in opposition to SB1070, was no coincidence in my view. The leak was timed to derail the momentum the DREAM Act had gotten over months and years of organizing efforts by DREAMers, including a civil disobedience action in D.C. on July 20 where 21 undocumented youth risked deportation by being arrested in the Senate office buildings and an ongoing hunger strike now in its 12th day in California. The leak was designed to increase pressure on Obama to maintain existing federal SB1070-style programs like 287g that promote collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE and lead to racial profiling of brown-skinned people.

If this is the best attack the nativists can muster, if this is their "secret weapon" against the DREAM Act or any other legislative action on immigration, then I think the pro-migrant community is in good shape.

I believe that the Obama administration, based on its speedy public retreat from the draft memo after a short PR blitz by the nativist caucus in the Senate and NumbersUSA late last week, is not now likely to enact the reforms outlined in the draft memo despite the favorable response from the Latin@ community the leak prompted. On the subject of immigration, Obama has shown very little backbone. The administration still doesn’t seem to believe it needs the Latin@ vote. The administration doesn’t appear to believe that Latin@s will stay home in significant numbers this fall or in 2012 given the complete failure of Democrats to move any immigration reform whatsoever despite holding the White House and both houses of Congress with wide majorities. The administration appears to believe that as long as the GOP is working hand in glove with anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA, Latin@s will always vote for Democrats no matter how little progress Democrats ever make on immigration reform and how little they appear to care about this issue of importance to the Latin@ community.

Beyond political cowardice, the leak of the draft memo and the administration’s lackluster response also publicly exposes the institutional bias against immigrants that I see from DHS every single day as an immigration attorney. Maybe those at the top like Janet Napolitano, or even the local USCIS District Directors, don’t see it, but my clients and I certainly do. We see it in the antagonistic green card interviews, the bad faith efforts by adjudicating officers to sabotage legitimate cases, the burdensome and unreasonable requests for evidence, and the constant shifting of unwritten policies and guidelines that makes it so difficult for immigrants to navigate the legal immigration system successfully.

All of this makes it even more important to pass the DREAM Act this session. It is important for the immigrant rights community because we know now that the Obama administration cannot or will not prevent the nativists from taking control of its own agencies that regulate immigration on the federal level. The inability or unwillingness of the President to control message and policy when confronted with an anonymous anti-immigrant employee within DHS speaks volumes about this administration’s immigration policy priorities.

And passing the DREAM Act this session should be a priority for Democrats if they want to see any engagement at all in November from immigrant rights voters, who have already given up any hope of a comprehensive solution from Democrats in Congress. Democratic leadership has repeatedly broken promises to the community to even introduce a comprehensive reform bill, and so far they’ve met with no measurable consequence. That will not be the case in November when these voters stay home.

So here are my take away points from this whole pathetic affair:

* Elements of the mainstream GOP, caving to pressure from anti-immigrant forces, have adopted ridiculous policy positions like deporting Latin@ citizen children.

* Anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA are feeling panicked at the momentum the immigrant rights movement has gotten from the DREAM Act and pushback against SB1070, and will take any desperate measure to stop the tide from turning in this struggle.

* The leak itself and the White House’s cowardly response confirms the deep, institutional anti-immigrant bias of DHS and the shallowness of the President’s commitment to the Latin@ community.

* The success of DREAM Act organizers at least in part likely triggered this response, and the best chance to salvage any forward momentum this legislative session before large Democratic losses in November is to pass the DREAM Act as soon as possible.

Please feel free to weigh in in comments.

Here is a roundup of some early responses to this story, some of which are linked above:

Immigration Impact
VivirLatino
Change.org
Dreamactivist.org
Miami Herald
New York Times

[Cross posted at Citizen Orange]

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David Bennion

David Bennion

Immigration lawyer and blogger.

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